ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI
ABU HAMID AL-GHAZALI
Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi'i al-Ghazali was born in
1058 C.E. in Khorasan, 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 author- ship of a number of everlasting books. He died
in 1128 C.E. at Baghdad.
Ghazali's major contribution lies 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, 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.
He was a prolific writer. His immortal books include Tuhafut
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.
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 (Averros) wrote
a rejoinder to his Tuhafut.