AL-GHAZALI’S CONCEPT AND THOSE WHO CRITICIZE

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

 

  1. A.    Al-Ghazali’s Life:
  2. B.     Al-Ghazali’s Works
  3. C.    Al-Ghazali’s Works
  4. D.    Al-Ghazali’s Thought:
  5. E.     Al-Ghazali’s Problem of Knowledge
  6. F.     Those Who Criticize

Book Refereences

 

  1. A.    Al-Ghazali’s Life:

Al-Ghazali’s full name is Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Ibn Ahmad al-Tusi. He was born in 450/1058 in Tus, Khurasan near Meshhad in present-day Iran. He 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.  His father was a wool spinner (ghazzal) and thus, relative to this profession, al-Ghazali acquired this name. (al-Subki, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyah al-Kubra, vol. VI, pp. 191-193) Although he was born in Tus, a Persian, non-Arabic land, Al-Ghazali wrote the overwhelming majority of his works in Arabic, the lingua franca of his world.

Before his death, al-Ghazali’s father entrusted him and his brother Ahmad to a Sufi friend. He asked him to spend whatever little money he left behind, to teach them reading and writing. When the money was finished, the Sufi asked them to join a school so that they might subsist. According to Al-Subki (Tabaqat, vol. VI, p.195), schools used to provide room, board and stipend.

Al-Ghazali began studying at Tus where his teacher was Ahmad Al- Radhakani. His next station was Jurjan where he wrote Al-Ta`liqah from the lectures of Abu Al-Qasim Al-Isma`ili Al-Jurjani. He returned to Tus for three years only to leave afterwards for Nishapur, where he joined the Nizamiyyah school and studied under Imam Al-Haramayn Al-Juwaini for eight years until the death of his teacher in 478 AH / 1085 CE. (Al-Subki, Tabaqat, vol. VI, pp. 195-196) During this period al-Ghazali excelled in all the Islamic sciences with the exception of the science of the Hadith; he confessed this in the last paragraph of his work Qanun al-Ta’wil (The Law of Metaphorical Exegesis). This may have been the reason for the presence of  some unsound traditions in his works, such as the famous Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din (The Revival of the Islamic Sciences).

After the death of Al-Juwaini, al-Ghazali went to the Camp (Al-Mu`askar) of vizier Nizam Al-Mulk who founded the Nizamiyyah schools. The Camp was reputed as a meeting place for scholars who debated in the Islamic sciences. al-Ghazali won the respect of other scholars and was assigned by Nizam Al-Mulk to be the teacher at the Nizamiyyah of Baghdad. He lectured there between 484 AH / 1091 CE and 488 AH / 1095 CE.  (Al-Subki, Tabaqat, vol. VI, pp. 196-197) This position won him prestige, wealth and respect that even princes, kings and viziers could not match. (Al-Zubaydi, Ithaf, vol. I, p.7)

During this period, al-Ghazali studied philosophy on his own and wrote Maqasid al-Falasifah (The Aims of the Philosophers) and appeared as if he was one of them. His critique of philosophy followed, in a book he called Tahafut Al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers). Almost all scholars tend to generalize and say that al-Ghazali gave a coup de grace to philosophy in this book. Indeed, few notice that he was critical of Greek metaphysics and its spread in an “Islamic” dress at the hands of reputed Muslim philosophers such as Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi. A detailed discussion of al-Ghazali’s relationship with philosophy and science will follow.

The end of al-Ghazali’s career at the Nizamiyyah of Baghdad was unexpected. The circumstances surrounding this event became known as the “Spiritual Crisis” of al-Ghazali. He discussed the reason that prompted him to quit his position in Deliverance from Error. After discussing the methodologies of the Muslim theologians (Al-Mutakallimun), the philosophers and the esoterics (Al-Batiniyyah), he chose the Sufi path as the way to acquire indubitable knowledge. He noted though that this method has prerequisites; one should abandon all worldly attachments. Al-Ghazali thought that, in order to implement this, he should “shun fame, money and to run away from obstacles.” (Al-Munqidh, p. 134)  He made it clear that any deed that was not for the sake of Allah was an obstacle. Upon scrutinizing his activities, he decided that his motivation for teaching was not for the sake of Allah. (Al-Munqidh, p. 134) Of this al-Ghazali said:

“For nearly six months beginning with Rajab, 488 AH [July, 1095 CE], I was continuously tossed about between the attractions of worldly desires and the impulses towards eternal life. In that month the matter ceased to be one of choice and became one of compulsion. (Allah) caused my tongue to dry up so that I was prevented from lecturing. One particular day I would make an effort to lecture in order to gratify the hearts of my following, but my tongue would not utter a single word nor could I accomplish anything at all.” (Hayman and Walsh, eds., Philosophy in the Middle Ages, p. 277)

Al-Ghazali’s health deteriorated and the physicians gave up any hope for they realized that the source of his problem was not physical. He “sought refuge with Allah who made it easy for his heart to turn away from position and wealth, from children and friends.” (Hayman and Walsh, p.278) He distributed his wealth and departed from Baghdad to begin a spiritual journey that lasted for about eleven years. He went to Damascus, Jerusalem, Hebron, Madinah, Makkah and back to Baghdad where he stopped briefly. This part of the journey lasted until Jumada Al-Akhirah, 490 AH / June,1097 CE. He continued to Tus to spend the next nine years in seclusion (Khalwa).  He ended his seclusion to teach for a short period at the Nizamiyyah of Nishapur in 499 AH / 1106 CE. From there he returned to Tus where he remained until his death in Jumada Al-Akhirah, 505 AH / December,1111 CE. (Abu Sway, M., al-Ghazali: A Study in Islamic Epistemology, p. 24)

Yet, before delving into al-Ghazali’s ideas, it is important to remember that he lived in what might be described as a post-golden age context. The production of the exact sciences faded away, the Islamic state had grown into a massive caliphate that faced disintegration as the provincial governors gained power. Just before al-Ghazali was born, the institution of the Sultan was introduced or rather forced on Baghdad. The year 450 AH marked the first time a split in power took place between the Sultan, who was the actual ruler, and the Caliph whose role was reduced to dignitary functions. (Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. XII, p. 66)

It was a classical case of a wealthy and powerful civilization that lost track of its sense of direction and lost sight of its roots, its source of power. The indulgence in material life had led many celebrities to abandon public life and to live in seclusion. It was a search for a meaning of life in asceticism. Sufism thrived before al-Ghazali was born and he ultimately subscribed to the mystics’ path.

Al-Ghazali was famous as a thinker who was of different opinion with other Muslim thinkers in his era, so that he deserved the title of Hujjatul Islam. In educational matter, he was of the opinion that the education had to be directed to self nearness to God the Almighty and from here life prosperity in the world and happiness in the hereafter would be obtained. Man can be perfect and recognize his Lord only through knowledge.

 

  1. B.     Al-Ghazali’s Works

Al-Ghazali wrote more than seventy books covering different sciences. Here are some famous books written by him.

  1. Ihyaa Ulumuddin, this book is very essential and well known concerning Theology, Sufism and  Moral. One of authors who wrote Al-Ghazali’s opinions on Moral is Dr. Zaki Mubarok in his book entitled,”Al-Akhlaq ‘indal Ghazali”.[1]
  2. Ayyuhal Walad, a book about Moral. He put emphasis on this book on description about development of Al-Ghazali’s thoughts and his educational background and his position among Muslim Philosophers and his influences toward philosophy in his era.[2]
  3. Al-Munqizu min ad-Dhalal. This book was written when he was fifty years old, five years before his demise. He wrote in this book his acknowledgement and confession. He told about his developing thoughts and spirituality until when he was confused between doubtful and hopeful. Then he was relieved from darkness to light. [3]
  4. Maqasidul Falasifah and Tahafutul Falasifah. Both books are about Philosophy. The former is concerning the summary of Philosophy sciences, he also explained about Logics , Metaphysics, and natural sciences. His explanation is not out from Aristotle’s Basics written by Al-Farabi and Ibnu Sina. Wheras the latter  is aiming at destruction of philosophical doctrines, indicating existing contradictions in the philosophy. He explained the doctrines which were not in harmony with reasons. Accordingly the book of Tahafutul Falasifah destroyed the contents of Maqasidul Falasifah.[4]
  5. The other books among other things entitled Mizanul ‘Amal and Mi’zarul Ilmi. Both explained about action and knowledge, and Sufism doctrines. Minhajul ‘Abidin Book is his last writing about Moral. A book written on request of Sultan Muhammad bin Malik entitled Al-Masbuq fi Nasihati Muluk, is about rights and duties of kings and state ministers. Al-Mustasyfa’ Book is his writing on Usul Fiqh.

 

  1. C.    Al-Ghazali’s Thought:

Al-Ghazali was an encyclopedic and prolific scholar. He was trained as a jurist in the Shafi`i school which is traditionally Ash`arite in its expression of Islamic faith. He contributed many books to these fields. In addition, he wrote extensively about Islamic mysticism. He wrote about politics and the sects of the time, and he wrote poetry. Yet, in what follows, the discussion will be restricted to his position on science.

The early works of al-Ghazali were in the area of jurisprudence. Nevertheless, in Al-Mankhul fi `Ilm al-Usul, a book on usul al-fiqh. He devoted a chapter to a discussion of the nature of the sciences (al-kalam fi haqa’iq al-`ulum). It should be noted that al-Ghazali’s use of the word “sciences” is general and restricted to the natural or physical sciences; it covers all subjects of knowledge including those of the Shari`ah.  This chapter included important insights reflecting his position regarding science. One of these in sights was regarding the definition of `ilm [science].  He said:  “science cannot be defined” (inna al-`ilma la hadda lah). He explained his statement by saying that it was possible to know science and that “our inability to define (science) does not indicate our ignorance about the same science”. (Al-Mankhul, p. 42)

Al-Ghazali divided the sciences or knowledge into eternal and accidental. Eternal knowledge belongs to God alone. He divided accidental knowledge into immediate (hajmiyy) and theoretical (nazariyy).  The first is the kind of knowledge that one has to know with the beginning of reason, such as the existence of the self. On the other hand, theoretical knowledge is the result of sound thinking (al-nazar al-sahih). Related to this is al-Ghazali’s definition of reason. He said that it is “the qualification which enables the qualified [person] to perceive knowledge and to think about the cognizable.” (Al-Mankhul, pp. 44-45)

While al-Ghazali classified the senses into different categories in terms of their function in acquiring knowledge, he maintained that there were no differences between the sciences once knowledge is acquired, regardless of how difficult the subject of the science is.  This view of al-Ghazali regarding the equality of the sciences, once they are achieved, is consistent with his position regarding his interchangeable use of the terms “science” and “knowledge”.  (Al-Mankhul, p. 48)

The first period of public teaching at the Nizamiyyah of Baghdad (478-488 AH/1085-1095 CE) was the time when al-Ghazali encountered philosophy.  In Al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, a biographic work that he wrote towards the end of his life, he sketched his quest for knowledge. Al-Ghazali reduced the list of the seekers for knowledge to four groups: the dialectical theologians (Al-Mutakallimun), the esoterics (al-Batiniyyah), the philosophers, and the Sufis (Al-Munqidh, p. 89).  His discussion of philosophy is the most relevant to his position on science.

Al-Ghazali stated that in his quest for true knowledge he started studying philosophy after he was done with `ilm al-kalam, which did not provide “certain knowledge” (`ilm al-yaqin) he sought. In his introduction to the section on philosophy he outlined his approach to this new field. He wanted to pursue philosophy to a level higher than that of the most knowledgeable in the field. Only then, he argued, could one know the intricate depths of the science, as he referred to philosophy. (Al-Munqidh, p. 94)

Al-Ghazali was aware that he could not rely on secondary sources, such as those of the Mutakallimun, in order to study philosophy.  For him, their books included fragmented philosophical words that were complex and contradictory to one another.  Instead, he decided to read books of philosophy directly without the assistance of a teacher. Although he was teaching three hundred students at the Nizamiyyah of Baghdad and writing on the Islamic revealed sciences at the same time, in his spare time he was able to master philosophy in less than two years. He spent almost another year reflecting on it. (Freedom and Fulfillment, p. 70) al-Ghazali wanted the readers, through such a detailed account of his effort, to have confidence that he had a thorough grasp of philosophy and that his conclusions are trustworthy.

As a result of his study he wrote two books: Maqasid al-Falasifah (The Aims of the Philosophers) and Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers).  It was al-Ghazali’s intention to write a book that would encompass the thought of the philosophers without criticizing or adding anything to it. Of this objective, he said:

“I thought that I should introduce, prior to the Tahafut, a concise account that will include the story of their aims (maqasid) which will be derived from their logical, natural and metaphysical sciences, without distinguishing between what is right and what is wrong, without additions and along with that they believed what they believed as their proofs.” (Maqasid, p. 31)

This book, which is a pioneer work in its attempt to deliberately present an objective account of the thought of adversaries, was followed by the Tahafut, which included his critique of the contents of the first one. It was this latter work (i.e. Tahafut al-Falasifah) that prompted Ibn Rushd to write Tahafut al-Tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence) which constituted a systematic rebuttal of al-Ghazali’s critique of this mélange of Greco-Islamic philosophy.

In Maqasid al-Falasifah, al-Ghazali divided the sciences of the philosophers into four major categories: mathematical (al-riyadiyyat), logical (al-mantiqiyyat), natural (al-tabi`iyyat) and metaphysical (al-ilahiyyat). (Maqasid, p. 31)  He listed politics, economy and ethics as subdivisions under metaphysics. In al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, he listed politics and ethics as major sections along with the first four. (al-Munqidh, p. 100) Only mathematics and logic will be discussed here.

Regarding mathematics, al-Ghazali thought that it dealt with geometry and arithmetic. Neither of these subjects contradicted reason.  As a result, he did not think that he ought to include a detailed account of mathematics in his book. (Maqasid, pp. 31-32)

Knowledge is divided, in the second section of the book of knowledge of  Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, into `ulum shar`iyyah (sciences of the Shari`ah) and ghayr-shar`iyyah (non-Shari`ah sciences). To the latter belongs mathematics and medicine, which al-Ghazali described as praiseworthy sciences.  The latter sciences are considered fard kifayah (i.e. there should be enough Muslims who are experts in the concerned field to the degree that they can fulfill the needs of the Islamic society). Nevertheless, al-Ghazali criticized unnecessary studies in mathematics that do not have practical applications. (Ihya’, pp. 16-17)

The fact that al-Ghazali categorized mathematics and medicine as fard kifayah is a positive position. This means that the society at large would be committing a sin if they neglect any of these sciences to the degree the shortage would have negative impact on the society. In fact, he blamed the students of jurisprudence for their indulgence in minute details of the Shari`ah. The context indicates that they better study medicine instead of specializing in issues in jurisprudence that might never prove to be of any benefit. (Ihya’, vol. I, p. 21) Despite this positive stance, al-Ghazali did not remain consistent in his position.

Al-Ghazali had fears that though geometry and arithmetic are permissible, they might lead a person to blameworthy sciences. (Ihya’, vol. I, p.22) He did not discuss the reasons that led him to take such a position. It should be noted that this remark is atypical for al-Ghazali and does not reflect his general position regarding arithmetic, geometry and the exact sciences. The context itself might provide some insight as to why al-Ghazali was cautious in dealing with mathematics and the exact sciences.  During his time, there were no compartmentalized studies, and every student learned all branches of knowledge. Al-Ghazali was afraid that a student might be deceived by the accuracy of mathematics and then generalize and consider all the subjects included in philosophy, including metaphysics, to be as accurate.

In al-Mustasfa min `Ilm al-Usul, al-Ghazali stated that arithmetic and geometry are pure rational sciences that are not recommended for studying. They fluctuate between false, yet plausible guesses, and true knowledge that yields no practical applications. (Al-Mustasfa, p. 3)  This shift from his early position that studying mathematics is fard `ayn might be attributed to his acceptance of the Sufi path. Al-Mustasfa was written towards the end of al-Ghazali’s life when he was deeply absorbed by tasawwuf.

Al-Ghazali did not see any practical application for the study of physics, and thus declared it useless. He knew that physics is concerned with substances and their properties, yet he stated that some of the input of the philosophers contradicted the Shari`ah. (The Book of knowledge, p. 54) Thus practical application, or rather the lack of it, caused al-Ghazali to reject a particular science as the above example, or at least criticize it (Ihya’, pp. 16-17). This position should be seen in the context of the civilizational development of the 5th century AH/ 11th century CE.

Regarding logic, he defined it as “the law (qanun) that distinguishes a sound premise and analogy from a false one, which leads to the discernment of true knowledge.” (Maqasid, p. 36) In reviewing the subjects of logic, which he believed to be neutral in its relationship with the Shari`ah, (al-Munqidh, p. 103) al-Ghazali stated that induction (istiqra’) could be correct only if all parts were covered.  If only one part could be different, then induction in this case could not yield true knowledge.

Al-Ghazali criticized the philosophers on twenty accounts in the Tahafut.  Of relevance to the discussion here is his position on issue number seventeen, causality. Long before David Hume, al-Ghazali said that, in his opinion, “the conjunction (al-‘qtiran) between what is conceived by way of habit (fi al`adah) as cause and effect is not necessary (laysa daruriyyan).” He provided a list of pairs that were usually thought of as cause and effect by the philosophers (e.g. fire and burning, light and sunrise, diarrhea and laxatives). For him, the conjunction between them was a result of the sequence in which Allah created them, not because this conjunction was necessary in itself. Moreover, he thought that it was possible for one of these pairs to exist without the other. He did not see any contradiction since these pairs are the phenomena of nature and nature as such, according to the philosophers own admission, does not belong to the realm of necessity but that of possibility, which may or may not exist. (Tahafut, p. 239)

Al-Ghazali criticized the philosophers’ proof of causality because it was limited to observation (mushahadah) which depends on the senses, a source of knowledge that he could not accept on its own merit. Thus his position regarding causality is consistent with his theory of knowledge. Using the example of fire and burning, he said that “observation could only prove that burning took place when there was fire, and not by the fire.”  He held that inert and lifeless objects such as fire are incapable of action and thus cannot be the agent (al-fa`il) that causes burning. To prove his point, al-Ghazali used a proof, which is neo-platonic in its tone, from the arguments of the philosophers.  They held that accidents (a`rad) and incidents (hawadith) emanate at the time of contact between “bodies”, from the provider of forms (wahib al-suwar) whom they thought to be an angel. Accordingly, one cannot claim that fire is the agent of burning.  In addition, he argued that the agent “creates” burning with his will (bi’iradatihi). al-Ghazali reduced the problem of causality to that of “will” which makes it rationally possible for the agent, whom he held to be Allah, not to create burning even though there is contact. (Tahafut, pp. 242-243)

Al-Ghazali presented this theory of causality in order to allow room for the existence of miracles (mu`jizat) that were associated with the prophets, without resorting to allegorical interpretations as the philosophers did. One of the miracles that he chose as an example was that of Prophet Ibrahim. The story was that his people attempted to burn him for breaking their idols by throwing him into fire but no burning took place. In the Qur’an (21:69) it was Allah’s will that the fire would not harm Ibrahim.  al-Ghazali maintained that Allah was the agent (fa`il) of every action, either directly or indirectly (i.e. by the angels). (Tahafut, pp. 243-247)

Al-Ghazali knew that he could not exhaust all the sciences in his writings. He had an insight that there are more sciences within reach of human beings. He said: “It appeared to me through clear insight and beyond doubt, that man is capable of acquiring several sciences that are still latent and not existent.” (Jawahir al-Qur’an, p. 28)

 

  1. D.    Al-Ghazali’s Problem of Knowledge

The Division of Knowledge

He divided knowledge that must or must not be studied by students into three categories, namely:[5]

  1. Insulted knowledge, much or a little, this knowledge has no benefits for mankind in the world and in the next world hereafter, for examples, black magic, nujum, and shaman. This knowledge will bring about danger when it is studied, and will doubt the existence of Allah. Therefore this kind of knowledge must be kept off.
  2. Praised knowledge, much or a little, for example, theology, religious knowledge. This knowledge will make a person have  clean, holy soul from dirt and badness and can make self nearness to God Allah.
  3. Praised knowledge at certain level, which is not allowed to deepened, because this knowledge can lead to Faith shaking and ilhad, for example, knowledge of philosophy.

From the three groups of knowledge, Al-Ghazali divided again into two groups viewed from its interest, namely:

  1. Fardhu Knowledge (obligatory) to be known by all Muslims, such as religious knowledge, knowledge having source from the Holy Quran.
  2. Fardhu Kifayah knowledge to be studied by every Muslim. This knowledge is used ease worldly life affairs, such as Mathematics, Medical, technical and agricultural sciences, and industry.

In his book entitled “Ikhya’ Ulumuddin”, Al-Ghazali explained in detail on the division of knowledge. Like other philosophers who divided knowledge into many kinds and varieties.

            In teaching knowledge to children, Al-Ghazali put emphasis on the contents of the Holy Quran itself. Because the teaching of the Holy Quran is beneficial for human life in the world as well as in the next world hereafter, in order to strengthen the soul   and to beautify the conduct and to be near to God Allah the Almighty.

On the contrary, Linguistic and Grammar are useful just for studying religious knowledge, or useful just for emergency situation.   Whereas Medical Science , Mathematics, and Technology are merely useful for human life in the world. The Poems and Literature , History, Politics and Ethics, are useful for human kind viewed from cultural aspect for the pleasure of having knowledge and as equipment in social life as well .

Al-Ghazali had proposed some knowledge that should be studied at schools as follows:

1)      Quranic and Religious knowledges, such as Islamic Jurisprudence (Fiqih), Tradition (Hadith) and Quranic Interpretation (Tafsir).

2)      Groups of language, Arabic Grammar (Nahwu), Makhraj and its pronunciation, because this knowledge is functioned to assist the religious knowledge.

3)      Knowledges of Fardhu Kifayah, namely Medical Science, Mathematics, many kinds of technology, including politics.

4)      Cultural knowledge like poems , History, and several branches of Philosophy. The kinds of knowledge mentioned above are positioned in accordance with their interest in orderly taxonomically. [6]

These kinds of knowledge should be made curriculum substances for Islamic Education Institutions, although the form must be modified, formulated, or completed, according to local social demands. As Education I

 

  1. E.     Those Who Criticize

Today’s “Salafis” have revived a particularly bad trait of some naysayers of the past, which consists in attacking Imam Ghazali and belittling those who read his works and cite them to illustrate their opinions. This concerns especially his major book Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din, because it is a landmark of tasawwuf whose immense success and readership the enemies of tasawwuf find particularly galling. Some go so far as to claim that Ghazali was mad when he wrote it, others misconstrue Ghazali’s deathbed reading of Imam Bukhari as a renunciation of tasawwuf, others yet bring up the condemnations of the book by a handful of scholars known for their anti-sufi bias. Yet Allah has allowed the book to tower high above the clamor of its few detractors, and its translations keep increasing in number and quality. The following is intended to provide readers with reliable references concerning his life and works so as to protect ourselves, with Allah’s help, against the slurs of ignorance and envy.

  1. Salah al-Din al-Safadi (d. 764), Abu Hayyan al-Andalusi’s student, relates in his great biographical dictionary entitled al-Wafi — which contains over 14,000 biographies:
  2. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Ahmad, the Proof of Islam, the Ornament of the Faith, Abu Hamid al-Tusi (al-Ghazali), the Shafi`i jurist, was in his later years without rival.

In 488 he gave up the entirety of his worldly estate (and his professorship at the Nizamiyya, where he had taught since 484) and followed the way of renunciation and solitude. He made the Pilgrimage, and, upon his return, directed his steps to Syria, where he abided a while in the city of Damascus, giving instruction in the mosque retreat (zawiyat al-jami`) which now bears his name in the Western quarter. He then voyaged to Jerusalem, exerting himself greatly in worship and in visiting the holy sites and places. Next he travelled to Egypt, remaining for a while at Alexandria…

He returned to his native city of Tus (shortly before 492). Here he compiled a number of valuable books [among them the Ihya’] before returning to Nisabur, where he was obliged to give lessons at the Nizamiyya (499). He subsequently forsook this and made his way back to his home city, where he assumed the directorship of a retreat (khaniqah) for the Sufis and that of a neighboring college for those occupied with learning. He divided his time among good works such as reciting through the Qur’an and holding lessons for the People of Hearts (the Sufis)…

It is among the noblest and greatest of books, to the extent that it was said concerning it: If all books of Islam were lost except the Ihya’, it would suffice for what was lost… They disapproved of him for including in it hadiths which were not established to be authentic, but such inclusion is permitted in works of encouraging good and discouraging evil (al-targhib wa al- tarhib). The book remains extremely valuable. Imam Fakhr al-Din al-Razi used to say: “It was as if Allah gathered all sciences under a dome, and showed them to al-Ghazali,” or something to this effect. He passed away… in 505 at Tabaran… the citadel of Tus, where he was interred.(1)

The above clearly refutes the fabrication by some that Ghazali disavowed tasawwuf towards the end of his life. Let us turn to the fabrication of those who try to separate between the Ghazali of usul al- fiqh and the Ghazali of tasawwuf. When they are told that Imam Ghazali’s books on the methodology and foundations of Islamic law are considered required reading in the field — such as his Mustasfa and Mankhul and Shifa’ al-ghalil — they say that he wrote them before his period of seclusion during which he adopted tasawwuf. In reality, the greatest and most comprehensive of the four books he wrote on Usul al-fiqh (Principles of law) was composed in the last period of his life as stated by Dr. Taha al-`Alwani in his book Usul al-fiqh al-islami:

Al Imam al-Ghazali’s Encyclopedia of Shari`a Source Methodology, his fourth book on the subject, and his last word, was al- Mustasfa, which has been printed several times in Egypt and elsewhere. Indeed, this is the work he wrote after coming out of his period of meditation and seclusion.(2)

  1. 3.      The notice on Ghazali in the Reliance states:

In Damascus he lived in seclusion for some ten years, engaged in spiritual struggle and the remembrance of Allah, at the end of which he emerged to produce his masterpiece Ihya’ `Ulum al-Din [Giving Life to the Religious Sciences], a classic among the books of the Muslims about internalizing godfearingness (taqwa) in one’s dealings with Allah, illuminating the soul through obedience to Him, and the levels of believers’ attainment therein. The work shows how deeply Ghazali personally realized what he wrote about, and his masterly treatment of hundreds of questions dealing with the inner life that no-one had previously discussed or solved is a performance of sustained excellence that shows its author’s well- disciplined intellect and profound appreciation of human psychology. He also wrote nearly two hundred other works, on the theory of government, Sacred Law, refutations of philosophers, tenets of faith, Sufism, Koranic exegesis, scholastic theology, and bases of Islamic jurisprudence.(3)

  1. What about Ghazali’s scholarly critics? The most vocal, Ibn al- Jawzi — a detractor of Sufis — dismisses the Ihya’ in four of his works: I`lam al-ahya’ bi aghlat al-Ihya’ (Informing the living about the mistakes of the Ihya’), Talbis Iblis, Kitab al-qussas,(4)  and his history al-Muntazam fi tarikh al-muluk wal-umam.(5) His views influenced Ibn Taymiyya and his student Dhahabi. The basis of their position was Ghazali’s use of weak hadiths, a list of which is provided by Taj al-Din al-Subki in his Tabaqat. Is their criticism justified or an exaggeration? Most likely the latter, in view of the fact that both the hafiz al-`Iraqi (d. 806) and the hafiz al-Zabidi (d. 1205) after him documented every single hadith in the Ihya and never questioned its usefulness as a whole. Rather, they accepted its immense standing among Muslims and contributed to its embellishment and spread as a manual for spiritual progress. As Subki stressed, Ghazali never excelled in the field of hadith.(6)

More importantly, the majority of hadith masters hold it permissible to use weak hadiths in other than the derivation of legal rulings, such as in the encouragement to good and discouragement from evil (al-targhib wa al-tarhib), as countless hadith masters have indicated as well as other scholars, such as al-Safadi himself.(7) It must be understood that Ghazali incorporated all the material which he judged of use to his didactic purposes on the bases of content rather than origin or chain of transmission; that most of the Ihya consists in quotations from Qur’an, hadith, and the sayings of other than Ghazali, his own prose accounting for less than 35% of the work;(8) and that most of the huge number of hadiths cited are authentic in origin.

In conclusion, we say as al-Safadi that the Ihya’ ranks as a work of targhib or ethics, which is the principal business of tasawwuf. Criteria of authenticity for evidence cited in such works are less rigorous than for works of `aqida and fiqh according to the majority of the scholars, as the next section shows. To hold works of tasawwuf to the criteria of the latter works is to blame apples for not being oranges. Consequently, as al-Safadi correctly indicated, the criticism of Ihya’ `ulum al-din by some on the basis of weak hadiths does not stand, nor does similar criticim of like works, for example Dhahabi’s criticism of Abu Talik al-Makki’s Qut al-qulub and others. Those who cling to such criticism while ignoring the massive endorsement of tasawwuf and its books by the Muslim scholars cling to their own prejudice rather than sound knowledge. Our advice to these brethren is: We remind you of al-Dhahabi’s advice in his biographical notice on Ibn all-Farid in Mizan al-i`tidal: “Do not hasten to judge, rather, keep the best opinion of Sufis”;(9) of Imam Ghazali’s advice in al-Munqidh min al-dalal: “Think good thoughts (about Sufis) and do not harbor doubts in your heart”;(10) and of Ibn Hajar al-Haytami’s fatwa concerning critics of those who respect tasawwuf and believe in awliya’: “Bad thoughts about them (Sufis) is the death of the heart.”(11) Take the great good that is in each of the works of the Sufis in the proper manner, respect the masters of tasawwuf, the least among whom towers high above you in knowledge, do not search out the disagreements of scholars, and stick to humbleness and respect before those who speak about Allah from Whom comes all success.

Book Referrences

 (1) Salah al-Din Khalil ibn Aybak al-Safadi, al-Wafi bi al-wafayat (Wiesbaden, 1962-1984) 1:274-277 (#176).

(2) Taha Jaber al-`Alwani, Usul al-fiqh al-islami: Source Methodology in Islamic Jurisprudence, ed. Yusuf Talal DeLorenzo (Herndon, VA: IIIT, 1411/1990) p. 50.

(3) Reliance of the Traveller p. 1048.

(4) Ibn al-Jawzi, Kitab al-qussas wa al-mudhakkirin p. 201.

(5) Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam 9:169.

(6) Taqi al-Din al-Subki, Tabaqat al-shafi`iyya 4:179-182.

(7) See al-Hakim, al-madkhal li `ilm al-hadith” (beginning), al- Bayhaqi Dala’il al-nubuwwa (introduction), Nawawi, al-Tibyan fi `ulum al-qur’an p. 17. The latter says: “The scholars are in agreement on the legitimacy of using weak hadiths in the realm of virtous works.” Al- Sakhawi stated the view of the scholarly consensus on this question in the Epilogue of of his al-Qawl al-badi` fi al-salat `ala al-habib al- shafi` (The admirable doctrine concerning the invocation of blessings upon the beloved intercessor) (Beirut: dar al-kutub al-`ilmiyya, 1407/ 1987) p. 245-246.

(8) T.J. Winter, trans. Ghazali’s “Remembrance of Death” (Cambridge: Islamic Texts Society, 1989), Introduction, p. xxix n. 63.

(9) al-Dhahabi, Mizan al-i`tidal 3:214.

(10) al-Ghazali, al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Damascus 1956) p. 40.

(11) Ibn Hajar al-Haytami, Fatawa hadithiyya (Cairo: al-Halabi, 1970) p. 331.

(12). Reproduced with permission from Shaykh M. Hisham Kabbani’s _The Repudiation of “Salafi” Innovations_ (Kazi, 1996) p. 326-330.

(13)Blessings and Peace on the Prophet, his Family, and his Companions

(14)GF Haddad [7 Sep 1996]

(15)Abu Bakar Aceh, Prof. Dr. Sejarah Filsafat Islam, Semarang, Raadhani, p. 135.

(16)Muhammad Luthfi Jum’ah, Tarikh Falasifatil Islam, Egypt, Najib Metri, p. 68.

(17).Abu Bakar Abdur Razak, Ma’al Ghazali, Cairo, Darul Qaumiyah, p. 50

(18) . DR. Sa’ad Mursa Ahmad, Tathawur Al-Fikry Al-Tarbawy, Mathaabi’ Sajlul, Arab, Al-Qahirah,   p. 283


[1] Abu Bakar Aceh, Prof. Dr. Sejarah Filsafat Islam, Semarang, Raadhani, p. 135.

[2] Muhammad Luthfi Jum’ah, Tarikh Falasifatil Islam, Egypt, Najib Metri, p. 68.

[3] Abu Bakar Abdur Razak, Ma’al Ghazali, Cairo, Darul Qaumiyah, p. 50.

[4] Muh. Luthfi Jum’ah, op.cit., p. 69.

[5] DR. Sa’ad Mursa Ahmad, Tathawur Al-Fikry Al-Tarbawy, Mathaabi’ Sajlul, Arab, Al-Qahirah,   p. 283 – 284

[6] Sa’ad Mursa Ahmad, Ibid., p.284.

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