AL-GAZALI (Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad at-Tusi al-Gazali, also al-Ghazali or al-Ghazzali)—a Moslem theologian, mystic, philosopher, and lawyer, b. 1058 in Tus (Khurasan in Persia, today located in Iran), d. in Tus in 1111.
Al-Gazali received his education in Jurjan and then in Nishapur, where he studied under the renowned Ash’arite theologian Imam al-Haramain, a follower of Sufism (a type of mysticism). Under his direction, Al-Gazali learned the major principles of the Ash’arite school, and he remained faithful to these principles to the end of his life. After his teacher’s death in 1085 al-Gazali joined the Selduk court of vizier Nizam al-Mulk and became his friend. In 1091 Nizam al-Mulk made al-Gazali the lecturer of law in the Nizzamiyah Academy (Madrasah Nizamiyyah) in Baghdad where in a short time he gathered many students around himself. During this period he studied the works of philosophers, especially Avicenna and al-Farabi. As a result of his studies he wrote Maqasid al-falasifah (The intentions of the philosophers) which was a summary of the views of both philosophers, and Tahafut al-falaifah (Refutation of the philosophers) which was directed entirely against philosophy. Because of an inner crisis he resigned in 1095 from his post as orthodox “doctor” and he left Baghdad as a dervish. For about two years he wandered through Syria and Palestine, made a pilgrimage to Mecca, then returned to Tus where he wrote, taught, and practiced the discipline of the Sufis until his death. Under pressure of eminent theologians he once again began to deliver lectures in 1106 in the Nizamiyya College and was the spiritual and intellectual leader in a battle against heresies.
Al-Gazali’s inner development in his search for “certain knowledge” up to the point of his conversion is described in his autobiography—al-Munqid min al-dalal (The deliverer from error), which he wrote shortly before the end of his life (around 1108). He writes that from his youth he used to seek the truth about reality. He arrived at the point where he doubted the senses and even the reason as means to completely certain knowledge. The “light of God” delivered him from skepticism and restored his trust in reason. After a thorough study of the teachings of Moslem theologians, philosophers, Izma’ilites, and Sufis he became convinced that the only road to the truth can be found in Sufism. He thought that to this purpose he should renounce the world and dedicate himself to mystical practices, and for this reason he made a personal decision that ultimately led him to leave Baghdad.
Al-Gazali also wrote works on Moslem theology, including al-Iqtisad fi’l-i‘tiqad (The middle way in theology, 1095), a work clearly influenced by the theology of the Ash’arites. Al-Gazali wrote his most important works concerning Sufism and ethics later in life—Mizan al‘amal (Criterion of the deed), Ihya’‘ulum al-din (Revivification of the sciences of religion), Kitab al-abra‘in fi usul al-din (Forty chapters on the principles of religion), Kimiya-yi sa’adat (Alchemy of happiness), Mishkat al-anwar (The lower world).
Al-Gazali influenced Moslem culture primarily with his mystical writings. His influence on Europe’s philosophical culture is through his work Maqasid al-falasifah, which was transled around 1145 by Dominic Gundissalvi in Toledo under the title Logica et philosophia Algazelis Arabis. This text is a summary the views of al-Farabi and Avicenna and was regarded upon to the mid-nineteenth century as an original work of al-Gazali.
Al-Gazali’s thought is characterized by a critical approach to philosophy, since he thought that the methods of philosophy are inadequate for the main problem man faces when he seeks the truth—philosophy does not lead to the true knowledge of God. The mistake of philosophy is that it reduces the criterion of truth to correctness in lines of reasoning that are often in discord with Revelation. When he attacks philosophy, Al-Gazali criticizes the views of Aristotle, al-Farabi, and Avicenna, and is most critical of the statement that the world is eternal, that God does not know individual things (as Avicenna taught), and that the resurrection of the human body is impossible. The only right road to absolute certainty regarding revealed truths is the way of Sufism, since the light of God is the only true foundation whereby we can overcome the skepticism to which philosophy leads. We may achieve certainty by asceticism and mystical experience, where we may reach God and in ecstasy (fana’) we may know the truth in full. However, al-Gazali had an ambivalent attitude toward philosophy. He criticized philosophy but it was also an important part of his teaching. Al-Gazali used philosophical arguments and Aristotelian logic in his fight against the philosophical views of al-Farabi and Avicenna.
These philosophers thought that the world was eternal and that the emanation of the First Intellect and other beings happens because of the necessary causation of God’s essence—therefore the world as a whole is coexistent and coeternal with God. Al-Gazali opposed this idea and tried to refute the thesis of universal causality that was the basis for the view that the world is eternal. According to al-Gazali, the correct and orthodox starting point is to recognize that God is the highest Being and the single actually operative Will. The world was thus created by God, since God alone is a necessary being while others, including matter, need a cause for their existence, and this cause is God as the one cause that creates. Although al-Gazali accepts the existence of secondary natural causes, he still denies the existence of any necessary connection between a cause and effect that would exist independently of God’s will. In his theory about causal connections al-Gazali is a precursor of David Hume, and he states that causal connections are only in appearance. They are the result of the human habit of making connections between events that happen in sequence in nature. Al-Gazali also criticized al-Farabi’s and Avicenna’s doctrine that the operation of God’s will is always a necessary act because of God’s simplicity. He argued that God acts in an absolutely free manner. The properties attributed to God do not introduce any plurality to His essence. God can also know individual things, since this does not cause any change in the divine nature or introduce any plurality into that nature (as Avicenna stated). God has complete knowledge of the individual thing, from its generation to its destruction, and independently of any changes concerning it, God’s eternal knowledge does not change. According to al-Farabi and Avicenna, the soul in man is immortal if it approaches God by operations of knowledge and attains the state of indestructible spiritual substances. Al-Gazali opposes these views, returning to the Koran with his thesis of the resurrection of the body. He also holds that the body is the most important factor in human action during earthly life. The resurrection is quite simply a “second creation” of man by God.
Al-Gazali’s theological views do not differ essentially from the teachings of the Ash’arite school, although in his later works his views change under the influence of his philosophy and Sufism. He demonstrates the existence of God by starting from the world as something that has been created. He opposes the Mu‘tazilite school and states that God’s properties are distinct from His essence, although they are added to the essence. God has seven attributes: power, wisdom, life, desire, hearing, seeing, speaking. These attributes are eternal in God. God’s attributes do not bring any plurality into Him. They exist in a different way taht what we know, and therefore God is something that is one. In theological discussions one of the points of dispute was the problem of the relation of God’s power to man’s free action. Al-Gazali takes a middle position between the theologians who accept man’s free will and the old orthodoxy of Islam that holds to a radical determinism. God creates both man’s power and his action, and on this basis we must recognize that man is responsible for his own actions.
It is commonly thought that al-Gazali’s contribution in the history of Islam was that he connected Sufism with Moslem orthodoxy. Toward the end of his life, however, al-Gazali thought that Sufism as a doctrine is better than theology or philosophy: only Sufism leads the learner to a positive knowledge of God and nature. Al-Gazali had an influence on the subsequent intellectual orientation of Islam. With his critique of philosophy he hastened the demise of philosophy in the Arab world and contributed to the absorption of speculative philosophy into Sufi doctrine. In the Islamic world philosophy would thereafter move in the direction of mysticism. Al-Gazali’s incorporation of philosophy into Sufism was especially evident in his conception of man. According to Al-Gazali, man is composed of soul and body, but man’s essence is his soul. The human soul is a spiritual substance completely different from the body (the theologians of his time generally held that the soul is a “subtle body”). The soul is something divine and this enables man to know God. Al-Gazali emphasizes the independent existence of the soul to such a degree that he states that the body is an instrument for the soul on the way to the future life. Man possesses appetitive, locomotive and rational powers: when these are in in order and harmony we may observe the virtues of temperance, fortitude, wisdom, and justice. If there is some excess or shortcoming in these dispositions, the man then has vices, and the cause of vices is a love of the world. Religious practices may help man to free himself and straighten out the vicious habits of the soul by bodily practises where he uses the internal relation between the body and the soul. By such exercises a man draws near to God as he turns his evil inclinations into an imitations of God’s attributes. Al-Gazali’s cosmology also holds a similar relation between philosophy and Sufi doctrine, as does his position on man’ resurrection and final end.
Al-Gazali’s critique of philosophy and his mysticism are often compared with the philosophical and theological thought of St. Thomas Aquinas and Nicholas Autrecourt. They are also compared with the philosophies of Descartes and Pascal. Al-Gazali&rsqu;s views also influenced thinkers such as Jehuda Havlevi, Moses Maimonides, and Raymond Martin.
Published editions of al-Gazali’s most important works include the following: Maqasid al-falasifah, ed. S. Dunya (K 1961); Tahafut al-falasifah, ed. S. Dunya (K 1980); Mi‘yar al-‘ilm ed. S. Dunya (K 1980); Al-Igtisad fi’l-i‘tiqad, ed. I. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara 1962; partial translation Al-Gazali on Divine Predicates and Their Properties, Lahore 1970); Miyar al‘ilm, ed. S. Dunya (K 1964; translation: Ghazali: Critère de la’action, P 1945); Al-Quistas al-Mustaqim, ed. V. Chelhot (Beirut 1959—Al-Quistas al-Mustaqim et la conaissance rationelle chez Ghazali, Bulletin d’Études Orientales 15 (1955-1597), 7–98; Al-Gazali: The Just Balance, Lahore 1978); Ihya’ ‘ulum al-din ou vivification de la foi, analyse et index, P 1951); Miskat al-anwar, ed. A. A. Afifi (K. 1964; Nisza świateł, Wwa 1990); al-Mustasfa min ‘ilm al-usul (K 1937); Al-Munqid min al-dalal, ed. J. Saliba and K. Ayyad (Damascus 1934; W. M. Watt, The Faith and Practice of Al-Gazali, Lo 1953); Kimya’yi sa‘adat (C. Field, Ghazzali, the Alchemy of Happiness, Armonk (NY) 1991).
D. B. Macdonald, The Life of Al-Gazali, with Especial Reference to His Religious Experiences and Opinions, Journal of the American Oriental Society 20 (1899), 71–132; M. Abu Ridah, Al-Gazali und seine Widerlegung der griechischen Philosophie, Ma 1952; F. Jabre, La notion de certitude selon Ghazali dans ses origines psychologiques et historiques, P 1958; M. Allard, M. Bouyges, Essai de chronologie des oeuvres de Al-Gazali, Beirut 1959; A. R. Badawi Mu’allafat Al-Gazali,, K 1961; H. Laoust, La politique d‘al-Ghazali, P 1970; H. Lazarus-Yafeh, Studies in Al-Gazali, J 1975; M. Sherif, Al-Gazali’s Theory of Virtue, Albany 1975; P. Bromski, Koncepcja człowieka w “Metafizyce” Al-Gazalego [Conception of man in al-Gazali’s “Metaphysics”], in: Awicenna i średniowieczna filozofia arabska [Avicenna and mediaeval Arab philosophy], Wwa 1982, 94–144; M. Gietka, Znaczenie filozofii w doktrynie Al-Gazalego [The meaning of philosophy in al-Gazali’s doctrine], in: ibid., 144–149; E. L. Ormsby, Theodicy in Islamic Thought: The Dispute over Al-Gazali’s “Best of all Possible Worlds”, Pri 1984; M. Campanini, Una via a Dio nel pensiero mistico di Al-Gazali, RSF 46 (1991) 3, 463–479; R. C. Taylor, Faith and Reason, Religion, and Philosophy: Four Views from Medieval Islam and Christianity, in: Philosophy and the God of Abraham. Essays in memory of J. A. Wiesheipl, Tor 1991, 217–233; R. Frank, Creation and the Cosmic System: Al-Gazali and Avicenna, Hei 1992; M. Zaksouk, Al-Gazali Philosophie im Vergleich mit Descartes, F 1992; M. Campanini, Al-Gazali ed Anselmo: elementi di confronto, RSF 48 (1993) 3, 457Ndash;465; R. Frank, Al-Gazali and the Ash’arite School, Durham 1994; M. Campanini, Al-Ghazzali, in: History of Islamic Thought, Lo 1996, I 258–274.
Reet Otsason, Lech Szyndler