(1058 - 1128 C.E.)
Al-Ghazali is most famous for his contributions in
philosophy, religion and Sufism. He is also known as Algazel in the West.
Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i al-Ghazali was born
in 1058 C.E. in Khorman, Iran. His father died while he was still very
young but he had the opportunity of getting education in the prevalent
curriculum at Nishapur and Baghdad. Soon he acquired a high standard of
scholarship in religion and philosophy and was honored by his appointment
as a Professor at the Nizamiyah University of Baghdad, which was
recognized as one of the most reputed institutions of learning in the
golden era of Muslim history.
After a few years, however, he gave up his academic pursuits and worldly
interests and became a wandering ascetic. This was a process (period) of
mystical transformation. Later, he resumed his teaching duties, but again
left these. An era of solitary life, devoted to contemplation and writing
then ensued, which led to the authorship of a number of everlasting books.
He died in 1128 C.E. at Baghdad.
Al-Ghazali made major contributions in religion, philosophy and Sufism. A
number of Muslim philosophers had been following and developing several
viewpoints of Greek philosophy, including the Neoplatonic philosophy, and
this was leading to conflict with several Islamic teachings. On the other
hand, the movement of sufism was assuming such excessive proportions as to
avoid observance of obligatory prayers and duties of Islam. Based on his
unquestionable scholarship and personal mystical experience, Ghazali
sought to rectify these trends, both in philosophy and sufism.
In philosophy, Al-Ghazali upheld the approach of mathematics and exact
sciences as essentially correct. However, he adopted the techniques of
Aristotelian logic and the Neoplatonic procedures and employed these very
tools to lay bare the flaws and lacunas of the then prevalent Neoplatonic
philosophy and to diminish the negative influences of Aristotelianism and
excessive rationalism. In contrast to some of the Muslim philosophers,
e.g., Farabi he portrayed the inability of reason to comprehend the
absolute and the infinite. Reason could not transcend the finite and was
limited to the observation of the relative. Also, several Muslim
philosophers had held that the universe was finite in space but infinite
in time. Ghazali argued that an infinite time was related to an infinite
space. With his clarity of thought and force of argument, he was able to
create a balance between religion and reason, and identified their
respective spheres as being the infinite and the finite, respectively.
In religion, particularly mysticism, he cleansed the approach of sufism of
its excesses and reestablished the authority of the orthodox religion.
Yet, he stressed the importance of genuine sufism, which he maintained was
the path to attain the absolute truth.
Al-Ghazali was a prolific writer. His immortal books include Tuhafat al-Falasifa
(The Incoherence of the Philosophers), Ihya al-'Ulum al-Islamia (The
Revival of the Religious Sciences), "The Beginning of Guidance and his
Autobiography," "Deliverance from Error." Some of his works were
translated into European languages in the Middle Ages. He also wrote a
summary of astronomy.
Al-Ghazali's influence was deep and everlasting. He is one of the greatest
theologians of Islam. His theological doctrines penetrated Europe,
influenced Jewish and Christian Scholasticism and several of his arguments
seem to have been adopted by St. Thomas Aquinas in order to similarly
reestablish the authority of orthodox Christian religion in the West. So
forceful was his argument in the favor of religion that he was accused of
damaging the cause of philosophy and, in the Muslim Spain, Ibn Rushd wrote
a rejoinder to his Tuhafut.
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