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Imam Ghazali.

(450-505AH)
Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali was born and died in the district of Toos, present day Iran during the medieval
era, & post Golden Age of Islam. He later bore the title of respect Hujjat al-Islam (Proof of Islam) for the
role he played in defending Islam against the trends of thought that existed at the time. He was the son of a
wool spinner, and before his father died hed placed his sons care with a sufi friend, lea!ing some money to
get them educated in reading and writing. "hen the money ran out they #oined a local school, for in those
days schools pro!ided board, lodge, and a stipend. $ducation and %nowledge were celebrated by entire
caliphates and dynasties. Tertiary education was in reach of the most common man, contrary to present day
educational systems, where higher education is out of the reach of the ma#ority of poor people.(Al-
Subki, Tabaqat, vol VI, p.195)&(Jamil Ahmed, u!d"ed #"eat $u%lim%, p.1&'
&ust as Imam Abu Hanifa and other giant scholars were raised from such humble beginnings, Al-Ghazali
became one of the most eminent Islamic thin%ers, and the greatest scholar'#urist of his time. He specialized
in Islamic theology, philosophy, Islamic psychology, cosmology, and #urisprudence. He later turned into a
sceptic and roamed for twel!e years in search of absolute truth of %nowledge and mental peace which he
ultimately found in (ufism. Thus he also mastered mysticism and (ufism. The imam first studied at us and
later in !urjan, where he studied "i#$ under his teachers %u$ammad-Al-&ad$#afi, and A'u-(asar
Ismailee. An inspirational story is re!ealed about the circumstances which ser!ed as incenti!e for his
educational progress. )nce on his way home he was accosted by highway robbers who stole his
belongings including his lecture notes. He begged the leader to return his notes, whereupon the leader
moc%ed that the imam had wasted all his energies if his education depended on those papers only. He was
acutely affected by these words, so much so that he memorised all his notes within the next three years.
(Jamil Ahmed, u!d"ed #"eat $u%lim%, p 1&()
After attending lectures for about *+ yrs, he wrote his boo% ,Al-Taliqah). He then went to (is$apur
studying at the -izamiyyah school under Imam-ul-Harama*n for eight years until his teachers death. (Al-
Subki, Tabaqat, vol. VI, p. 195-19'). He was so brilliant, and had ac.uired so much
%nowledge that he had helped his teacher, in his educational pursuits, at the young age of /'- 01. 2opular
comments mention that there was no other e.ual in %nowledge to Al-Ghazali at the time, in the entire
Islamic world. At Imam-Al-Haramains death Al-Ghazali suffered grief and left to #oin the camp of the then
vi+ier (i+am Al-%ul#, who is famed as the greatest of administrators, and was the founder of the
-izamiyyah 3ni!ersity in 4aghdad. The camp was a meeting place for scholars who de'ated Islami,
-,ien,es, and by now the Imam had excelled in all the Islamic sciences except the science of Hadith as he
confessed in the last paragraph of his boo% ,Qanun al-Tawil) (The Law of Metaphorical Exegesis). (Al-
Subki, Tabaqat, vol. VI, p. 19'-19() In the eminent literary circles of the camp he won utmost
respect and admiration of other scholars as well as the !izier who then assigned him as principal of
-izamiyyah 3ni!ersity 4aghdad at the age of 56. (Jamil Ahmed, u!d"ed #"eat $u%lim%, p
1&))
He wrote a boo% after the then 7aliph called Mustahari8 in reply to the dogmatic beliefs of ,4atinia8, and
his fa!ourite pupil, -$ei#$ -a**ed 'in Al "aris compiled his daily lectures into two !olumes %nown as
,Ma!lis-i-"haalia8. Al-Ghazalis career rose to great heights of prestige, wealth and respect which %ings,
princes nor !iziers could match. He was ad!isor in state affairs, and reigned supremely in his great
arguments and debates. 4aghdad was the mecca, and centre of learning for the highest of scholars9 and
social life was wrapped in pomp and splendor. "hilst teaching the sciences and daily lecturing at the
uni!ersity, he mastered philosophy in his spare time within two years, and wrote the boo%, ,The Aims of
the Philosophers), in an attempt to ob#ecti!ely account the beliefs, ideas and thoughts of !arious
ad!ersary philosophers. He followed with a !olume on criti.ues of those philosophies called .$e
Incoherence of the Philosophers). It was here that he included his ,riti,ism of the ,ontents of the
adversaries, espe,iall* Gree# p$ilosop$ies of Aristotle, /lato, -o,retes and the li%e. He also criticized
Greco-Islamic philosophies, which arose when :uslim philosophers li#e i'n -ina and Al-"ara'i a'sor'ed
Gree# p$ilosop$* into Islamic 'eliefs. Al-Ghazali declared these Gree%s as non-belie!ers and those who
followed their methods and ideas as ,orrupters of t$e Islami, fait$. Ghazali famously claimed that when
fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned directly by God rather than by the fire, a claim
which he defended using logic and reasoning. He also declared that God is usually seen as rational rather
than arbitrary, so all natural laws disco!ered or pro!en through metaphysics, mathematics or whate!er
means, were ultimately still created, controlled and directed by Gods rational will. Another important point of
his argument was the Gree% belief that the world or life was an eternal space, and Al-ghazali re#ected this
!iewpoint arguing that it was a .,reated spa,e) 0$i,$ is onl* temporaril* finite. Thus, Ghazzali is
unanimously ,onsidered the &ene0er of t$e "ift$ Islami, 1entur*. Ibn al-(ub%i writes; <He came at a
time when people stood in dire need of replies against the philosophers than the darkest night stands in
need of the light of the moon and stars.< .(Al-Subki, Tabaqat, vol VI, p.19))
Al-Ghazalis career at -izamiyyah 4aghdad was unexpectedly ended in a space of 6yrs. The circumstances
under which it ended became %nown as the .#piritual $risis of Al-"haali8. He wrote about it in his boo%
%eli&erance from Error). He was plagued with a restlessness e!en as he was steeped in the pomp and
glory of his achie!ements. He is .uoted as saying that he was .tosse' (etween the attractions of
worl'l) 'esires an' the impulses towar's eternal life*)(a*ma! a!d +al%h, ,hilo%oph* i!
the $iddle A-e%, p &(() Also, he followed the (haffi madhab by origin, but whilst in 4aghdad he
mixed freely with a !ast array of sects, thoughts and ideas li%e &ews, 7hristians, :agians, =indi.s, (hias,
(unnis, >eists, :aterialists, -aturalists, atheists, idol and fire worshippers amongst many. His intensi!e and
deep argumentation in such di!erse discourses led him to turn as sceptic. He yearned for something he
couldnt find in the educational !olumes of theology or philosophy in the high literary circles of the city. He
finally resol!ed to ma%e a spiritual pilgrimage which in itself presents a fascinating story. .(Al-$u!diq,
p.1./)
Imam Al-Ghazali first se!ered connections within his social and imperial circles. He resorted to a hunger
stri%e and shunned medical ad!ices, becoming increasingly ill, until he was physically unable to lecture to
his students. He described his state as his; .mouth ha' 'rie' up of wor's). 3pon scrutinizing his
acti!ities, he decided that his moti!ation for teaching was not for the sa%e of Allah. (Al-$u!diq, p
1./) Through his studies of earlier mystics it dawned on him that the mystic method was the route to ta%e
in reaching the destiny he wanted. He embraced that it had practical prere.uisites of abandoning all worldly
attachments. He was clear that any deed that was not for the sa%e of Allah was an obstacle. He thus shed
his expensi!e garments for the garb of saints, lea!ing the peoples wonderstruc% at his transformation. His
inner self re!olted the paucity of human %nowledge, and he shunned fame, money, glory and worldly
desires in a bid to run away from what he decided were obstacles to his goal of spiritual peace He finally
left 4aghdad as a (ufi, wrapped in a rough blan%et in search of the absolute truth. (Jamil Ahmed,
u!d"ed #"eat $u%lim%, p 1&))
Al-Ghazali, the ascetic roamed the lands for twel!e years before reaching his goal. He resol!ed to undergo
the different phases of renunciation practiced in mysticism. He went to >amascus where he holed into a
room in a mos.ue in solitude for two years spending the time in zi%r, meditation, and di!ine ser!ice, where
he occasionally discussed mystic topics at the Great :os.ue of the 3mmayyads,and became the disciple
of (hei%h ?armadi, the greatest mystic sage in his time who was respected in the length and breadth of the
Islamic world. An interesting story is related as the reason for his lea!ing >amascus. H$ happened to !isit a
madressah where the lecturer was praising and .uoting him from one of his boo%s. He left immediately in
fear that his pride may be aroused or that he be recognized and glorified in their compliments and honour of
him. Thereafter he went to &erusalem to !isit the birthplace of &esus @A(A, and the gra!e of $brahim @A(A,
where he too% three oaths which he %ept to until his death. These oaths entailed ne!er to !isit the palaces
of rulers again9 nor accept their presentation, and ne!er to engage in religious debate e!er again. He then
!isited :a%%ah to perform the Ha#, and :adina :unawarrah to !isit the gra!e of the :aster@(A"A, staying
there for a long time. He further toured He#az, Alexandria, and $gypt, !isiting !arious religious sites within
the Islamic domains.
>uring these years as a nomad, he wrote his most prominent boo% ,Ihya B ul B 3loom8 which incorporated
his spiritual experiences. (ubse.uently, it was this boo% that inspired a great spiritual re!i!al within circles
unfriendly towards mysticism. It re!olutionized and profoundly influenced the social and religious outloo% of
Islam in di!erse ways. His intense de!otion and prayers to God had purified his heart and re!ealed the
di!ine secrets hitherto un%nown to him. Although the Abbasid 7aliphs and (al#u%s incessantly as%ed him to
engage in literary pursuits in their dominions, he refused, and carried on teaching acti!ities in his hometown
until his death. )n a :onday in C+CAH, he rose to perform his prayers, prayed and sent for his death
shroud. He %issed it, rubbed it against his eyes, saying, ,"hate!er be the order of my Dord, I am prepared
to follow.8 He then lay out flat with straightened, stretched legs, and when the people loo%ed at him he was
dead.
Al-Ghazali had set himself to study philosophy and theology afresh, and embodied results in !olumes of
boo%s. These were later translated into se!eral $uropean languages, especially in Datin in the twelfth
century.