Muhammad al-Ghazali happens to be one of the most celebrated philosophers of Islamic thoughts. Today, his work continues to be essential in the different studies of theology, jurisprudence, mysticism and philosophy. At the time of his life, he had the title Proof of Islam (Hujjat al-Islam) due to the role he played, which was defending Muslims of his time against the existing trends of thought. I consider him one of the greatest faith renewals of the 11th century. The title he holds to date bases on the intellectual fights against dangerous ideas and some of the philosophies that affected the Muslim world. From his teachings and philosophies, it is clear that he left nothing unattended while working towards bringing back Islamic scholarships even in the face of heterodox threats. Like many Muslim scholars of his time, he was fluent in Arabic and originated from a Persian family. His education centered on the Islamic laws and Islam basics.
With his intensive works, I find it normal for him to have experienced a spiritual crisis to a point that he had doubts about the intentions of his teachings. At one point, he stated that the intention he had was motivated and instigated by fame and need for widespread prestige and not purely to God. I think this recognition of the spiritual dilemma led to his travels to Damascus, Hejaz and Jerusalem, and a consequent abandonment of the post he held at Nizamiyya. It was at this time that his focus went to purification (tazkiya) of the soul, specifically his. This also resulted in the analysis of different approaches towards Islam that had popularity at that time. In 1106, he decided to go back to Baghdad and take up his former post, which was teaching. From this, I have learnt of the great influence his search for purification and numerous travels had on the public and the Muslim society as a whole. The different controversies he faced were his strong points as he continued to do what he did best. In the end, he decided to move back to Tus, his hometown, a place where he later died in the year 1111 (Mitha, 2001).
One of his major works is “Deliverance from Error” where he takes his time to describe the different approaches used in finding truth that a majority of the 11th century population followed. At that time, philosophy was a popular ideology and had its influence from the Aristotle models. Some of the proponents of this genre of philosophy in the Muslim world were al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. Like any other philosopher of his time, al-Ghazali discovered some of the dangers of the Aristotelian logics and philosophy. His problem came from the different conclusions of this philosophy. He had great disbelief in the ideas of eternity, God’s non-existence and his not all-knowing nature. He thought therefore that he had to refute the philosophers that believed in these false concepts that contradicted with his Islamic beliefs. Following this, he published “the incoherence of the philosophers” to show the problems brought about by the arguments of the other philosophers. He used the same logic against them to prove the different loopholes in their arguments that otherwise resulted in disbelief. He suggested following the correct belief and not concentrating on heterodox beliefs.
The other issue that was of importance to him was the large number of Muslims that accepted the belief in Ismaili Shia. This based on the fact that there existed a hidden or unknown Imam. According to al-Ghazali, this Imam is also a suitable creed and Islamic law source. These Ismailis ruled Egypt at the time of al-Ghazali, and they believed that prophet Muhammad was never the final word when it comes to religious matters. Instead, the Imam who was also a special figure could give guidance with regard to religious matters. al-Ghazali refuted the claims using an Imam in the scriptural basis. He supported this by illustrating that no authentications existed in the narrations by Prophet Muhammad with regard to the existence of an Imamate after his death. The philosopher analyzes the derivation of the Islamic law and its role to explain the necessity of an Imam. He concludes that the doctrine of the Ismailis deceived the common Muslims and the illiterate. To make his arguments valid, al-Ghazali concludes that the world can only be understood by practicing Islam effectively as Prophet Muhammad and the earlier Muslim generations taught it.
Most Orientalist scholars accused al-Ghazali of the decline of scientific advancements of the Islam. According to these scholars, he refuted leading scientific scholars such as al-Farabi and Ibn Sina as he also took scientific ideas as an issue. With this in place, he took up the role of providing a distinction between science and philosophy. According to al-Ghazali, the study of mathematics and other sciences is an issue as it contradicts the Islam faith and therefore needs to be avoided. He urges the students to accept only the important and valid scientific ideas and reject those that stand falsified.
Many scientific scholars refuted al-Ghazali since he urged the scientific students not to accept all beliefs of scholars blindly due to their achievements and. As much as very few people understood him, al-Ghazali protected the scientific field for future scientists by preventing the mixing of practical philosophy with theoretical that would otherwise result in the dilution of science to a different field based on reasoning and speculation. The other important work of al-Ghazali is revival of religious sciences. This writing covered the specific fields of Islamic sciences such as jurisprudence, theology and Sufism. This work had four sections, which are acts of worship, daily life norms, ways to perdition and ways to salvation (McCarthy, 2000).
Apart from others who understood the importance of his works, I think, al-Ghazali has had a significant influence on the philosophies of Islam and Christianity in the medieval times. One of the Christian scholars influenced by the works of al-Ghazali is Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas’ studies were on Arabic writers and their influence at the time. His interests in the studies, culture and laws of Islam get their attribution from Islamic philosopher’s works. This resulted in the comparison of the works of al-Ghazali and their consequent impacts with that of Thomas Aquinas.
The only difference comes from the existing beliefs and methods used. While al-Ghazali had a definite rejection of the non-Islamic philosophers due to their nature of unbelief, Aquinas embraced the works of all philosophers and incorporated their teachings into his. He also integrated the concepts of Shariah laws with Sufism. It is through his work that the status of Sunnite Islam strengthened compared to that of other schools. According to al-Ghazali, Sufism concerned the relationship of Muslims with Allah and Islamic practices happened to be meaningless if individuals had no clear understanding of the faith itself (McCarthy, 2000).
Al-Ghazali happens to be one of the philosophers that consider knowledge seeking a form of worship and consequently teaching as an obligation or duty of individuals. For this reason, he proposed a code of ethics that is professional in nature. The theologian also applied the same to students for their normal day. He suggests invocations to God together with private worship and seeking for knowledge from professors and other scholars. For students, the code of ethics requires them to be pure spiritually before they seek for any form of knowledge. They should also reduce their demand for worldly possessions and put their devotion in knowledge and spiritual life. Although he still maintained the place of women in society is in the homes and under men, he encouraged them to be educated and have rights to demand from their parents or husbands.
In general, the consequent impact of al-Ghazali’s teachings is evident due to the number of factors. The power, comprehensiveness and profundity of his thoughts such as the Ihya’ Ulum ad-Din are studied today. Most of his teachings constituted the elements of conservatism and continuity together with those of change and renewal of beliefs of faith. With his works, the philosopher was able to reinstate the principles of fear concerning religion and instead put his emphasis on the creator who is the center of human life. He also made a great contribution to the weakening natural sciences and philosophy that were supported by different scholars who argued over the same.
Al-Ghazali’s influence spread out to Christianity and other European thoughts. The scholars of the modern period and the middle ages also took up some of his teachings. His constant writings on education reflect clearly his ideas of high thinking when it comes to the Islamic world. According to the philosopher, science must have conformity with Shariah together with practical applications that must also be beneficial to the society. He proved that spiritual life is the most important aspect of human life that must guide the actions and intentions. With spirituality and the thirst for knowledge, it is therefore possible for one to achieve the goals without having to be influenced by others.
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In conclusion, it is evident that al-Ghazali had the interest in Muslim faith at heart since he fought to protect the Islam world from the challenges of intellectuals. He made sure to oppose the confrontations that threatened the practices and beliefs of Islam. His effort together with that of other scholars of his time resulted in the resurgence of Islamic practices and beliefs as directed by Prophet Muhammad and was free from corruption. Al-Ghazali was an influential figure with regard to religion and philosophy. He challenged philosophy with regard to the dominance it had over religion as he questioned the failure to explain issues of faith including infinity and state of the soul. Al-Ghazali’s works happen to survive to date because of the eloquent combination of logics and faith to bring out his ideas and criticisms of other philosophers. Islamic thoughts on education, especially the Sunnite, tend to follow the courses mapped out by al-Ghazali. Nowadays, this influence continues to remain valid even after the introduction and impact of western civilizations together with emergence of contemporary and modern Arab civilizations (Mitha, 2001).
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