Imam al-Ghazali

Imam al-Ghazali Imam al-Ghazzali

Dr. G.F. Haddad

Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad, Abu Hamid al-Tusi al-Ghazzali [or al-Ghazali] al-Shafi‘i (450-505), “the Proof of Islam” (Hujjat al-Islam), “Ornament of the Faith,” “Gatherer of the Multifarious Sciences,” “Great Siddîq,” absolute mujtahid, a major Shafi‘i jurist, heresiographer and debater, expert in the principles of doctrine and those of jurisprudence. Shaykh Yusuf al-Qaradawi stated that, like ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Aziz and al-Shafi‘i for their respective times, al-Ghazzali is unanimously considered the Renewer of the Fifth Islamic Century. Ibn al-Subki writes: “He came at a time when people stood in direr need of replies against the philosophers than the darkest night stands in need of the light of the moon and stars.” Among his teachers in law, debate, and principles: Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Râdhakâni in Tus, Abu Nasr al-Isma‘ili in Jurjan, and Imam al-Haramayn Abu al-Ma‘ali al-Juwayni in Naysabur, from where he departed to Baghdad after the latter’s death. Ibn ‘Asakir also mentions that al-Ghazzali took al-Bukhari’s Sahih from Abu Sahl Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Hafsi. Among his other shaykhs in hadith were Nasr ibn ‘Ali ibn Ahmad al-Hakimi al-Tusi, ‘Abd Allah ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Khawari, Muhammad ibn Yahya ibn Muhammad al-Suja`i al-Zawzani, the hadith master Abu al-Fityan ‘Umar ibn Abi al-Hasan al-Ru’asi al-Dahistani, and Nasr ibn Ibrahim al-Maqdisi. Among his shaykhs in tasawwuf were al-Fadl ibn Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Farmadi al-Tusi – one of Abu al-Qasim al-Qushayri’s students – and Yusuf al-Sajjaj.

On his way back from Jurjan to Tus al-Ghazzali was robbed by highwaymen. When they left him he followed them but was told: “Leave us or you will die.” He replied: “I ask you for Allah’ sake to only return to me my notes, for they are of no use to you.” The robber asked him: “What are those notes?” He said: “Books in that satchel, for the sake of which I left my country in order to hear, write, and obtain their knowledge.” The robber laughed and said: “How can you claim that you obtained their knowledge when we took it away from you and left you devoid of knowl-edge!” Then he gave an order and the satchel was returned to him. Al-Ghazzali said: “This man’s utterance was divinely inspired (hâdhâ mustantaqun): Allah caused him to say this in order to guide me. When I reached Tus I worked for three years until I had memorized all that I had written down.”

Al-Ghazzali came to Baghdad in 484 and began a prestigious career of teaching, giving fatwa, and authoring books in nearly all the Islamic sciences of his day. His skill in refuting opponents was unparalleled except by his superlative godwariness, which led him to abandon his teaching position at the Nizamiyya school four years later, deputizing his brother Ahmad, famous for his preaching, to replace him. Upon completion of pilgrimage to Mecca al-Ghazzali headed for Damascus, then al-Qudus, then Damascus again where he remained for several years, taking up the ascetic life with the words: “We sought after knowledge for other than Allah’s sake, but He refused that it be for anything other than Him.”

He came out of seclusion in 499 and travelled to Cairo, Iskandariyya and other places, finally returning to Baghdad where he taught his magnum opus Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din until his death in nearby Tus, occupying the remainder of his time with devotions, Qur’an recitations, prayer and fasting, and the company of Sufis. Ibn al-Jawzi narrated in al-Thabat ‘Inda al-Mamat (“Firmness at the Time of Death”) from al-Ghazzali’s brother Ahmad: “On Monday [14 Jumada al-Akhira] at the time of the dawn prayer my brother Abu Hamid made his ablution, prayed, then said: ‘Bring me my shroud.’ He took it, kissed it and put it on his eyes, saying: ‘We hear and obey in readiness to enter the King’s presence.’ Then he stretched his legs, facing the Qibla, and died before sunrise – may Allah sanctify his soul!” It is related that al-Shadhili saw a dream in which the Prophet (s) pointed out al-Ghazzali to Musa (as) and ‘Isa (as) asking them: “Is there such a wise scholar in your communities?” to which they replied no.

The following is a list of some of al-Ghazzali’s works as found in al-Zabidi ’s and Ibn al-Subki’s recensions: Four works in Shafi‘i fiqh: the large al-Basit, the medium, seven-volume al-Wasit, and the two-volume al-Wajiz, condensed in al-Khulasa. Al-Wasit received many commentaries and abridgments, among them al-Nawawi’s Rawda al-Talibin.

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