Al-Ghazzali

(Al-Ghazel, in Latin)

1058-1111

Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazzali

Muslim Aversion to the writing, Impact on Christianity

Doctor Wajih Saadeh An Arab American Catholic Scholar

Al-Ghazzali was born in Tus of Khurasan in Northeast Iran, which was destroyed by the conqueringMongols in 1389. He studied a Jurjan adjacent to the Caspian Sea, then at Nayshabur where he met many learned scholars such as Al-Juwayni, who lectured in both Mecca and Medina, the two holy cities of Islam. Jerusalem is the third. Al-Ghazzali was given the title "Imam Al-Haramayn", The Priest of the Two Mosques and "Al-Shykh", Head of the Church of Islam. Al-Juwayni was Theologian, Mutakallim (Scholastic) and headed the famous Nizamiyah School which Nizam Al-Mulk built and where Al-Ghazzali studied for eight years (1077-1085). He studied theology, philosophy, logic, and natural science. He had a good knowledge of Persian, but studied and wrote in Arabic, "the tongue of the Angels," as it was called then, by all scholars of the period. When in Baghdad he joined the court of the saljuks where he met the greatest scholars and poets, patronized by the Persian Wazir (minister of the court), Nizam Al-Mulk, who built the already mentioned Nizamyah School named after him, and where Al-Ghazzali was appointed professor for four years. He taught theology and philosophy, and many scholars and men of learning came to him for learning and consultation.

Al-Ghazzali, a moslem jurist, theologian, and mystic, whose vital literary work, "The Revival of the Religious Sciences", made Sufism, the Islamic mysticism, and acceptable addition to orthodoxy in Islam. He was a follower of the Asharite theology and an eloquent and strong defender of the Sunnite system in Islam: he also opposed the Batini theology to guarantee the right place for Sufism within Islam, pointing out the integral character of Moslem religious experiences. Mysticism means love, closeness to God, the Divine, "As Al-Ashari made rationalism in Islamic theology compatible, so Al-Ghazzali led the orthodox doctors and jurists to accept Mysticism." In fact, the conversion to Islam of the Berber inhabitants in North Africa, the farming inhabitants in Egypt, and others, was due to this mysticism in Islam. Al-Ghazzali and Al-Ashari in Islam are the correspondents of the Greek and Latin fathers of the Christian Church.

Al-Ghazzali studied Christianity by way of the Christian Greeks, and become familiar with the doctrine and faith, and made both fundamental ingredients in his religious teaching and theology. He also read the Greek philosophy of Plato, Aristotle and others.

This distinguished theologian was accused of being greatly influenced by Christianity, by some moslems critic. He talked of the purity of the soul, and love, and said, law should not be mingled with religion. He refuted some Islamic practices as bringing one close to God, such as ablution, (washing parts of the body)... He said, only by doing good things and praying that one comes close to God.

Consequently, there developed a moslem aversion to his teachings and theology: In fact: you do not find his teachings and writings on academic syllabus in universities in some moslem countries.

In his, The Revival of the Religious Sciences, Al-Ghazzali explains how the common religious practices of Sunnite Islam can be the ground of an inner life of strong devotion. He mastered the Neoplatonic philosophy of Al-Farabi and Avicenna and wrote a clear exposition of that which widely spread in Latin the name Al-Gazel. He was named the greatest Moslem after the Prophet Mohammed and given the title, "Proof of Islam." This is less for that reconciliation than for his defense of orthodoxy against the propaganda of the Ismaili revolutionary movement and against the Arabic Neoplatonism of Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina.

Al-Ghazzali influenced Jewish thought and thinking by way of those writers of the Thirteenth Century who wrote in Arabic, and by translating his works into Hebrew, Jewish writers who knew no Arabic in Prevence and Spain gained and acquired great knowledge from this Moslem theologian. Arab Midieval thought made and inspired Jewish Midieval thought.

When in Damascus, Syria, Al-Ghazzali lived in the Mosque, as it was the custom of travelers at that time. There he wrote his masterpiece, The Revivication of the Sciences of Religion (Ihya Ulum Al-Din). The title explains the idea that at a head of each century God sends a promised revivifier, and Al-Ghazzali believed that to be himself. Also in this book he brought for the first time the problem of education in Islam and tied the organic relation with a profound ethical system. In his writings he employed Greek dialectics to strengthen the structure of scholasticism, gave the coup de grace to philosophy except for elements palatable to orthodox theology, and made mysticism acceptable to the canon law. His works put forth a claim to maintain their hold on Moslem readers everywhere for years to come. In this book, which was the twenty-eighth of his writings, he affirmed the essential teachings and dogmas of Islam. It is like the Summa Theologiae of St. Thomas Aquinas, and a jurist in the Thirteenth Century considered it as being close to Qoran. As one scholar said, "Should all books on Islam be destroyed, the Ihya, if spared, will make up for the loss.

The same importance is given to the Arab poet Abu-Al-Ala Al-Maarri (d.1057), who could express a new note capable of interesting us today, and the poet Al-Hariri (d.1122), who wrote Al-Maqamat, seems to our modern taste to be a real virtuoso of language and is, in fact, the symbol of a dead language.

Alongside Al-Ghazzali, Arab Middle Ages can include Ibn Al-Athir of Iraq (d.1233) or the puritan Syrian jurist and theologian Ibn Taamiyyah (d.1328), whose passion and fecundity recall the Arab Spanish Ibn Hazm, who was a theologian, moralist, and polimicist. Al-Ghazzali categorized Moslem thinkers into three groups: Theists, deists or naturalists and considered them infidels. It seems that Islam produced in Al-Ghazzali the Augustine and the Kant of Islam, and in such a mileau he wrote his great book, Tahufut Al-Falsafa (The Destruction of Philosophy). In this book he wrote, "All the acts of reason were turned against reason. By a transcendental dialectic, as subtle as Kant, the Moslem mystic argued that reason leads to universal doubt, intellectual backruptcy, moral deterioration, and social collapse. Seven centuries before Hume, Al-Ghazzali reduced reason to the principle of causality, and causality to mere sequence. Philosophy, logic, science, cannot prove the existence of God or the immortality of the soul; only direct intuition can assure us of those beliefs without which no moral order, and therefore no civilization, can survive." He also said, "I have poked into every dark recess, I have made an assault on every problem...I have scrutinized the creed of every sect, I have tried to lay here the inmost doctrines of every community. All this have I done that I might distinguish between true and false, between sound traditions and heretical innovations. Therefore I investigated the various kinds of knowledge I had, and found myself destitute of all knowledge with this characteristic of infallibility except in the case of sense perception and necessary truth. So I said, now that despair has come over, there is no point in studying any problem except on the basis of what is self evident, namely, necessary truths and the affirmation of the senses. "He then arrived at the truth which God sent, meaning the Moslem religion, and simultaneously Satan-Devil-sent to the heretics teaching contradictory to orthodoxy, therefore God brought to existence the class of theologians to cope and mend the confusion which the heretics had brought forth. This is the way by which theology and theologians were created and formed.

His sickness of nostalgia in 1099 interrupted his solitary life and forced his return to his home town for recovery. He had one daughter and no sons, a brother and many sisters. He visited the dome of the Rock Mosque in Jerusalem when the Fatimids lost it to the Crusaders. In 1106 in Nayshabur he held the professorship of theology at the Nizamiyyah School. Al-Ghazzali believed in a validating act of faith in the most stringent structured doctrinal system. In spite of the fact that law is binding, it should not be in any way intermixed with religion. And the soul being God-like knows him only through his revelation in natural realization of the Divine. Mind and will play their parts, reasoning articulates the experiential data and develops them in accordance with Qoranic revelation on which Al-Ghazzali falls back somewhat after the manner in which the reformers turned to the Bible; the will guides man through the phases of the purgative life to the beatic vision. The secrets of the heart are many, and so are the degrees of religious insights. The Theosophy of his esoteric writings allows a freer rein to the Neoplationists and Christian ideas which he had made his own, but neither contradicts nor supplants what he has to say to the general public, since religious trust is experienced in several superimposed frames of reference.

Al-Ghazzali, the greatest theologian of Islam, reconciled the new scholasticism with the intuitive mystical religion of the Sufis, insuring therfore, a permanent impression of Sufism in Islam. In trying to preserve the unity of the Moslem people (Umma), he said, "Piety was the only qualification for the Caliphate Office," meaning power could be legally possessed in the hand of the governor who administers for the Caliph. He also believed that the mentioning of the Caliph's name alone on Friday prayers and the engraving of his name on the coins, insured the unity of the Umma. The prevailing current of disbelief in Islam turned away and orthodoxy was ascertained from the teachings of Al-Ghazzali, which encountered the philosophers and the skeptics. Even Christian theologians were pleased to find in his translated works a strong support of religion, a possession of piety, and an elucidation of piety, as no one had written since St. Augustine. The pursuit of science diminished, and the mind of Islam channeled itself into the Hadith and Qoran. Undoubted the acceptance of Al-Ghazzali to mysticism was a considerable victory to Sufism, and religious thought was rendered to Sufi monks and ascetics, coinciding with the rise of the Franciscans in the Christian world. A new monasticism took shape in Islam in the Twelfth Century.

Al-Ghazzali died December 1111 and under his bed a paper was found containing the following stanzas: "Do not believe that this corpse you see is myself. I am spirit and this is naught but flesh. I am pearl which has left its shell deserted. It was my prison where I spent my time in grief. I am a bird and it was my cage. Whence I have not flown forth and it is left as a token. Praise be to God, who hath now set me free.

Al-Ghazzali was one of the greatest writers and thinkers in Islam. He has 457 titles in his name, some of which were in music, songs, and dances and he wrote a volume of verse. His ascetic writings became elements of importance in Sufi rituals. He excelled in the writing of his small book, Al-Munqith min Al-Dalal (Rescuer from Loss), which has an autobiographic sketch containing a confession which makes it rare and unique in Arabic literary works, leading students of history and philosophy closely to the confession of St. Augustine, who became the most celebrated of the Fathers of the Church. This book shows us the stages of skepticism and the self-examining method whereby the truth seeker continued his search, finding at last his recovery in the pursuit of asceticism. He also mentions the Bible, David, and Jesus (Isa in Arabic) and said, "Jesus , son of Mary, peace be upon him." It was then a period when philosophy and theology were at odds.

His book, Magasid Al-Falasifah (Objectives of Philosophers), is a presentation of theories and thought of philosophers as he understood them from original translation, and from studies of his two opponents, the Neoplatonist Al-Farabi (d. 950) and Ibn Sina (d. 1037). In this book he touched upon logic, metaphysics from which he chose for the reason of submitting the material he decided on doing. He was under the influence of Aristotolian Syllogism and Neoplatonic concept, accepting them in his approach to both theology and jurisprudence. His books, Maqasid and Tahafut, were read by two great thinkers. The first was Ibn Tufail (d. 1185), the writer of the famous Hayy Ibn Yagthan (Living Son of a Vigilant), the seeker who, from examples of nature, arrived at the knowledge of God's existence of nature (a prototype of Robinson Crusoe), and the second, Ibn Rushd (Averroes 1126-1198) the greatest commentator and one of the greatest Arab writers. Al-Ghazzali opposed the Islamic Ismaili sect and in 930 A.D. the Qaramatis moved the black stone away from Mecca, contradicting therefore the Hadith of Prophet Mohammed, "My community shall not agree on an error." The two important groups in Islam were the Ulama (theologians) who, in most cases, referred to the Qoran, and the jurists who relied on the Hadith. Therefore, certain legal aspects had to be faced and conditions and issues had to be met which had never been treated before. However, due to the contributions of Al-Ghazzali, jurisprudence became acceptable to change and therefore penetrated the limits of religion and as a result arrived at an intelligible measure. He also developed his theory of light in his Mishkat Al-Anwar (Niche of Lights), a commentary on Qoran 24:35: "Man's soul also stems from teh Universal Divine. This Divine is then its ultimate goal and its greatest ques t is assent to it. Action begins with control of the natural appetite and emotion including hunger, lust, and anger, as means to purifying the soul. Self-indulgence is clearly incompatable with the strife against the flesh, the world and the Devil...Contemplation of the Divine beauty inspires love, contemplation of the Divine majesty inspires awe." His impact on Sufism is clear and apparent in the fraternal orders. They are the AlQadiri Order, the Al-Rifai Order, and the Al-Shathili Order. These orders left another impact on Christianity in Spain and throughout Europe. Al-Ghazzali left inroads on Jewish thought and set the pattern for the development of Islamic thought.

Ibn Tumart (d. ca. 1130), the founder of Al-Muwahids dynasty in Morocco and Spain was a student of Al-Ghazzali in Damascus, and on his return to Mecca proclaimed himself Al-Mahdi. Ibn Tumart confirmed the unity of God against anthropomorphism, influential then, practiced asceticism, and opposed drinking and other ill practices. Al-Ibri (d. 1286), a Jacobite bishop of Aleppo, who lived in Baghdad, followed the mystic practices of Al-Ghazzali in writing two mystical works closely associated to this Moslem ascetic. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) came under the impact of these mystical Islamic teachings when studying at teh University of Naples, founded by the Norman King Fredick II of Sicily, who patronized Arab learning and had these teaching translated into Latin. St. Thomas Aquinas studied Al-Ghazzali, and both theologians agree on the kind of gnosis for complete and perfect knowledge of God which Aquinas called "Grace," and therefore "the contemplation of God (truth), a distinctive of many, is the utmost goal one can have, and the Beatific Vision an end in itself."

Long before Aquinas, Al-Ghazzali wrote in his Ihya that "heavenly bliss is proptionate to the intensity of God's love gained by the elect on Earth." Raymond Martin followed Al-Ghazzali in making happiness in the other world mere spiritual in the vision of God. Blaise Pascal (d. 1762) severed spiritual crisis like Al-Ghazzali, and recovered by way of mysticism, too. Dante (d. 1321) felt the impact of Islamic teachings and in his minor prose works he made references to Ibn Sina, Ibn Rushd, and Al-Ghazzali. Dante's view's on the inner light, the beatific vision and the ascent of the seven heavens copy the system of Muhyi Al-Din Ibn Arabi, the Spanish Mistic of whom Al-Ghazzali the teacher, made account.

Speaking on marriage, Al-Ghazzali said, "He who marries a women because of her faith receives from God both wealth and faith, but he who marries for her wealth and beauty make wealth and beauty unlawful to him," Al-Ghazzali had never mentioned anything about the education of women, believing, as appeared from his writings, that the place of a woman is in her home and approving her status as such at the time. He believed that parental education should concentrate on building character in children. In Al-Ghazzali's writings, Christianity and Islam appear to be very close in character and practice, and this true contention came as a result of the mutual exchange of thoughts and ideas which took place between theologians and religious writers and philosophers of the two religions. Al-Ghazzali took thoughts and ideas from the Christian Greeks. To them he added his own experiences and his new thoughts. There after Christian European Scholars acquired new thoughts from Arab writers and philosophers such as Al-Ghazzali, and that learning exchange between the peoples of the Mediterranean enhanced the knowledge of the two peoples living on the two sides of that sea. This state of learning and communication is still going on around the basin of the Mediterranean as it was in the past and as it will be in the future, including at any time all fields of study and religion.