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Who is Imam Al-Ghazali?

Who is Imam Al-Ghazali?


Assalam aleykom. One question. Who is Imam Al-Ghazzali and should he be revered as one of the greatest scholars?

Wa alykum as-salaam,

It actually is sad that there are Muslims who can quote modern scholars verbatim, but are unaware of Imam Al-Ghazali. I have read some rather odd accusations thrown at him, and I hope to shed some light upon the historical figure and scholarly giant that was Imam Al-Ghazali.

Imam Al-Ghazali was, without question, one of the most influential Islamic Scholars in history. His work spread the gamut of Islamic sciences, and while he was a follower of the Shafi’i school of jurisprudence, his work in various fields has meant that Ghazali’s influence is so wide that academics have written all sorts of praise, including:

“Ghazali’s place in Islam is sufficiently important and representative that much of what will be said about him has Islamic application outside the confines of his thought.”

Or that he was “one of the most renowned and influential writers in the history of Muslim religious thought.”

There’s more, but I think you get the picture.

Ghazali was a jurist, he was the head of the most important academic institution in the world, the Nizamiya in Baghdad, but he left that position because he felt that the scholars of his time were no longer serving God by educating their brothers and sisters, rather, they became arrogant, making themselves out to be celebrities, debating in public for personal glory, rather than education (either for themselves or others). Becoming a superstar scholar had its benefits, you could become a Qadi (judge) you could have the rich and powerful be your patron, so you could get paid a lot of money, and Ghazali felt that this corrupted the study of Islam.

Islamic scholar Timothy J. Gianotti writes about Ghazali’s perspective about this situation and its result:

“In light of these disturbing developments, al-Ghazali forwarded the bold suggestion that real religious knowledge had passed away, even as Islam, as a political force, had come to dominate a vast portion [of] the civilized world, and so, he explains, he was driven to compose a work that would endeavor to resuscitate religious knowledge in Islam. In the light of his explanation, then, the entire work is rightly seen as ‘a compendium of all Muslim religious science… interpreted and arranged from a single point of view: how to make preparations for ‘seeing God’ (ru’yat Allah) or ‘meet with God’ (liqa’ Allah) in the Hereafter.”

The work that Dr. Gianotti is referring to is Ihya ulum al-Din, which is translated as “The Revival of the Religious Sciences” or “Reviving Religious Knowledge.” So powerful a work, it has become a standard reference point for Islamic Scholarship, regardless of label.

When you look at how his work was able to so soundly refute certain movements in Islamic scholarship that they never recovered, it is a testament to the strength of his fusion of a jurisprudential mindset and one that factored in the discipline of Aqidah (theology).

While many cite him as some sort of “Sufi mystic” in the same inaccurate characterization of Rumi, Ghazali was a jurist, and the law was critical towards his mindset, yet he was also wary of simplistic or purely legal approaches towards Islam, and most importantly, The Qur’an.

His work Jawahir Al-Qur’an was (and still is) so influential that it pushed the thought of scholars from across the different schools of law and theology. It was such a powerful work that Ibn Taymiyyah, the famous Hanbali jurist, cited from it when discussing concepts of The Qur’an. So, rather than placing Ghazali in this “Sufi” category–which is used, wrongly, as an insult–Muslims should read his work, regardless of how you identify yourself, because his work has influenced your Islamic education, I guarantee it.

In short, Ghazali is important, and even if you are not inclined towards the spiritual elements of his work, the way we understand the work of not just scholars who followed him but even those who preceded him, is guided by his work, and so, I would argue, that it is without question that he should be revered as one of Islam’s greatest scholars.

I hope this answers your question, insha Allah.

I pray this reaches you and your families in the best of health and Iman, insha Allah.

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