al-Ghazālī


al-Ghazālī
(Algazali, Abū Hāmid Muhammad ib Muhammad al’Ghazālī)
(1058–1111)
   Some 400 titles are attributed to the influential Muslim theologian, philosopher, legalist, and mystic al-Ghazālī.While many of these are false attributions made to him because of his reputation, there is no doubt he was extremely prolific in a variety of genres. His most important works are his spiritual autobiography The Deliverance from Errord (Al’Munqidh min al-Dalāl), his theological work reconciling mysticism with orthodox Islam called The Revival of the Religious Sciences (Ihya’Ulūm al-Dīın), and his refutation of the Aristotelian influence so prevalent in Islamic philosophy in the 11th century, The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifah).
   Al-Ghazālī was born in Tūs, Persia. Orphaned as a child, he obtained a good education in his native city, and then in Nishapur, where he was taught by the leading theologian of the time, al-Juwaynī.When his master died he went to study in Baghdad, where he was appointed to a teaching position at the prestigious Nizāmiyyāh school. A popular instructor, he also produced a number of philosophical and theological texts while there. However, in about 1095 he underwent a spiritual crisis, left his family and his prominent position, and spent the next 11 years in Syria as a poor Sufi (the mystical branch of Islam), devoting his time to meditation and mystical devotion. By 1105–06, al-Ghaz ālī seems to have overcome his personal crisis, and when approached by the son of one of his former patrons to return to teach again at Nishapur, he agreed. Ultimately he retired from Nishapur to return to his home at Tūs, where he taught Sufism, and where he died around 1111. Al-Ghazālī made lasting contributions to world literature, Islamic theology, and philosophy. His philosophical interest was sparked by the growth of Aristotelianism in Islamic philosophy. He became the main spokesman for the Ash’arite (orthodox philosophers’) reaction to Aristotelian doctrines proposed by Alfarabi and Avicenna. He admired the sciences of mathematics, natural science, and especially logic, but thought that in the area of metaphysics the Aristotelians had gone wrong. Al-Ghazālī began his critical attack by writing a summary of the Aristotelian opinions called The Intentions of the Philosophers (Maqāsid al-Fal āsifah), a summary so objective that European scholastic theologians, who knew no other work of al-Ghazālī’s, assumed that he was himself an Aristotelian. Al-Ghazālī followed this text with his famous The Incoherence of the Philosophers (Tahāfut al-Falāsifah), in which he refutes 20 philosophical opinions of the Aristotelians. He singles out three positions for special condemnation as heretical to Islam: The philosophers’ denial of the resurrection of the body, a doctrine which al-Ghazālī insisted must be accepted literally; the Aristotelians’ belief that God could only know universals, which he thought denied the doctrine of individual providence; and the philosophers’ belief in the eternity of the world, which al-Ghaz ālī thought rejected the notion that God was the direct cause of all effects in the universe. His powerful refutation evoked an equally powerful response from the later 12th-century Islamic philosopher AVERROËS, whose treatise The Incoherence of the Incoherence was written specifically to respond to al-Ghazālī ’s text.
   The Deliverance from Error, al-Ghazālī’s autobiographical text, tells of his education and his spiritual and intellectual crisis of 1095, a crisis of doubt that left him unable to teach and forced his resignation from his position at Niz āmiyyāh. He describes as well his years of wandering and the mystical illumination he received as a Sufi that led to the resumption of his faith. Finally, his monumental theological work, The Revitalization of Religious Sciences, sought to unify Islamic orthodoxy with the growing Sufi mysticism he had experienced himself. The text strives to eliminate some of the excesses of Sufism while still maintaining that genuine Sufism is the way to find ultimate truth.
   Bibliography
   ■ Abrahamov, Binyamin. Divine Love in Islamic Mysticism: The Teachings of Al-Ghazali and Al-Dabbagh. New York: Routledge-Curzon, 2002.
   ■ Al-Ghazālī. Deliverance from Error: An Annotated Translation of Al-Munqidh min al Dal-al and Other Relevant Works of Al-Ghazali. Translated by Richard Joseph McCarthy. Louisville, Ky.: Fons Vitae, 1999.
   ■ ———. The Incoherence of the Philosophers: A Parallel English-Arabic Text. Translated by Michael E. Marmura. Provo,Utah: Brigham Young University Press, 1997.
   ■ ———.On Disciplining the Soul and On Breaking the Two Desires: Books XXII and XXIII of The Revival of the Religious Sciences. Translated by T. J.Winter. Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1995.
   ■ Hyman, Arthur, and James J.Walsh. Philosophy in the Middle Ages: The Christian, Islamic, and Jewish Traditions. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983.
   ■ Watt,W. Montgomery. The Faith and Practice of Al- Ghazali. London: G. Allen and Unwin, 1953.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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