Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali

Biography of Al-Ghazali Abu Hamid

Abu Hamed Mohammad ibn Mohammad al-Ghazzali, known as Algazel to the western medieval world, born and died in Tus, in the Khorasan province of Persia (modern day Iran) was a Persian Muslim theologian, jurist, philosopher, and mystic.

Ghazali has sometimes been referred to by historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Others have cited his movement from science to faith as a detriment to Islamic scientific progress. Besides his work that successfully changed the course of Islamic philosophy—the early Islamic Neoplatonism developed on the grounds of Hellenistic philosophy, for example, was so successfully refuted by Ghazali that it never recovered—he also brought the orthodox Islam of his time in close contact with Sufism. The orthodox theologians still went their own way, and so did the mystics, but both developed a sense of mutual appreciation which ensured that no sweeping condemnation could be made by one for the practices of the other.


Al-Ghazali was born in 1058 in Tus, a city in Khorasan province of Persia (Iran). His father, a traditional sufi, died when he and his younger brother, Ahmad Ghazali, were still young. One of their father’s friends took care of them for the next few years. Later in 1070, Ghazali and his brother went to Gurgan to get enrolled in a madrassah. There, he studied fiqh (islamic jurisprudence) next to Ahmad ibn Muhammad Radkani and Abu’l Qasim Jurjani. After approximately 7 years of studying, he returned to Tus.

His first important trip to Nishapur occurred around 1080 when he was almost 23 years old. He became the student of the famous Muslim scholar Abu’l Ma’ali Juwayni, known as Imam al-Haramayn. After the death of Al-Juwayni in 1085, Al-Ghazali was invited to go to the court of Nizamul Mulk Tusi, the powerful vizier of the Seljuq sultans. The vizier was so impressed by Al-Ghazali’s scholarship that in 1091 he appointed him as chief professor in the Nizamiyya of Baghdad. He used to lecture to more than 300 students, and his participations in Islamic debates and discussions made him popular in all over the Islamic territories.

He passed through a spiritual crisis in 1095 and abandoned his career and left Baghdad on the pretext of going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Making arrangements for his family, he disposed of his wealth and adopted the life of a poor Sufi. After some time in Damascus and Jerusalem, with a visit to Medina and Mecca in 1096, he settled in Tus to spend the next several years in seclusion. He ended his seclusion for a short lecturing period at the Nizamiyyah of Nishapur in 1106. Later he returned to Tus where he remained until his death in December, 1111. He had one son named Abdu’l Rahman Allam.

School affiliations

Al-Ghazali contributed significantly to the development of a systematic view of Sufism and its integration and acceptance in mainstream Islam. He was a scholar of orthodox Islam, belonging to the Shafi’i school of Islamic jurisprudence and to the Asharite school of theology. Ghazali received many titles such as Sharaful A’emma , Zainuddin, and Hujjatul Islam, meaning “Proof of Islam”.
He is viewed as the key member of the influential Asharite school of early Muslim philosophy and the most important refuter of Mutazilites. However, he chose a slightly different position in comparison with the Asharites; his beliefs and thoughts differ, in some aspects, from the orthodox Asharite school.


Incoherence of the Philosophers

His 11th century book titled The Incoherence of the Philosophers marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology. The encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of God.
The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna and Al-Farabi) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labeled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.
In the next century, Averroes drafted a lengthy rebuttal of Ghazali’s Incoherence entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence; however, the epistemological course of Islamic thought had already been set.


The autobiography Ghazali wrote towards the end of his life, The Deliverer From Error (Al-munqidh min al-?alal; several English translations) is considered a work of major importance. In it, Ghazali recounts how, once a crisis of epistemological skepticism was resolved by “a light which God Most High cast into my breast…the key to most knowledge,” he studied and mastered the arguments of kalam, Islamic philosophy, and Ismailism. Though appreciating what was valid in the first two of these, at least, he determined that all three approaches were inadequate and found ultimate value only in the mystical experience and insight (the state of prophecy or nubuwwa) he attained as a result of following Sufi practices. William James, in Varieties of Religious Experience, considered the autobiography an important document for “the purely literary student who would like to become acquainted with the inwardness of religions other than the Christian” because of the scarcity of recorded personal religious confessions and autobiographical literature from this period outside the Christian tradition.

The Revival of Religious Sciences

Another of Ghazali’s major work is Ihya’ Ulum al-Din or Ihya’u Ulumiddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences). It covers almost all fields of Islamic sciences: fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), kalam (theology) and sufism. It contains four major sections: Acts of worship (Rub’ al-‘ibadat), Norms of Daily Life (Rub’ al-‘adatat), The ways to Perdition (Rub’ al-muhlikat) and The Ways to Salvation (Rub’ al-munjiyat). Many admirable comments were made regarding this book: “If all Islamic sciences were disappeared, they could be taken back from Ihya’u Ulumiddin.” He then wrote a brief version of this book in Persian under The Alchemy of Happiness (Kimiya-yi sa’adat).

The Jerusalem Tract

At the insistence of his students in Jerusalem, Ghazali wrote a concise exposition of Islam entitled The Jerusalem Tract.

Ghazali’s influence

Ghazali had an important influence on both Muslim philosophers and Christian medieval philosophers. Margaret Smith writes in her book Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944): “There can be no doubt that Al-Ghazali’s works would be among the first to attract the attention of these European scholars” (page 220). Then she emphasizes, “The greatest of these Christian writers who was influenced by Al-Ghazali was St. Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274), who made a study of the Arabic writers and admitted his indebtedness to them. He studied at the University of Naples where the influence of Arab literature and culture was predominant at the time.” In addition, Aquinas’ interest in Islamic studies could be attributed to the infiltration of ‘Latin Averroism’ in the 13th century, especially at [the University of] Paris.

Ghazali’s influence has been compared to the works of St. Thomas Aquinas in Christian theology, but the two differed greatly in methods and beliefs. Whereas Ghazali rejected non-Islamic philosophers such as Aristotle and saw it fit to discard their teachings on the basis of their “unbelief,” Aquinas embraced them and incorporated ancient Greek and Latin thought into his own philosophical writings.

Ghazali also played a very major role in integrating Sufism with Shariah. He combined the concepts of Sufism very well with the Shariah laws. He was also the first to present a formal description of Sufism in his works. His works also strengthened the status of Sunnite Islam against other schools. The Batinite (Ismailism) had emerged in Persian territories and were gaining more and more power during Ghazali’s period, as Nizam al-Mulk was assassinated by the members of Ismailis. Ghazali strictly refuted their ideology and wrote several books on refutation of Baatinyas which significantly weakened their status.

Works in Persian

Al-Ghazali wrote most of his works in Arabic and few in Persian. His most important Persian work is Kimyayé Sa’adat (The Alchemy of Happiness). It is Al-Ghazali’s own Persian version of Ihya’ul ulumuddin (The Revival of Religious Sciences) in Arabic, but a shorter work. It is one of the outstanding works of 11th-century-Persian literature. The book was published several times in Tehran by the edition of Hussain Khadev-jam, a renown Iranian scholar. It is translated to English, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and other languages.

Apart from Kimya, the most celebrated of Ghazali’s works in Persian is Nasihatul Muluk (The Counseling Kings), written most probably for Sultan Ahmad Sanjar ibn Malekshah. In the edition published by Jalaluddin Humayi, the book consists of two parts of which only the first can reliably be attributed to Ghazali. The language and the contents of some passages are similar to the Kimyaye Sa’adat. The second part differs considerably in content and style from the well-known writings of Ghazali. It contains the stories of pre-Islamic kings of Persia, especially those of Anoshervan. Nasihatul Muluk was early translated to Arabic under the title al-Tibr al-masbuk fi nasihat al-muluk (The Forged Sword in Counseling Kings).

Zad-e Akherat (Provision for the hereafter) is an important Persian book of Ghazali but gained less scholarly attention. The greater part of it consists of the Persian translation of one of his Arabic books, Bedayat al-Hedaya (Beginning of Guidance). It contains in addition the same contents as the Kimyayé Sa’adat. The book was most probably written during the last years of his life. Its manuscripts are in Kabul (Library of the Department of Press) and in Leiden.

Pand-nama (Book of Counsel) is another book of advice and probably attributed to Sultan Sanjar. The introduction to the book relates that Ghazali wrote the book in response to a certain king who had asked him for advice. Ay farzand (O son!) is a short book of counsel that Ghazali wrote for one of his students. The book was early translated to Arabic entitled ayyuhal walad. His another Persian work is Hamaqati ahli ibahat or Raddi ebahiyya (Condemnation of antinomians) which is his fatwa in Persian illustrated with Quranic verses and Hadiths.

Faza’ilul al-anam min rasa’ili hujjat al-Islam is the collection of letters in Persians that Ghazali wrote in response to the kings, ministers, jurists and some of his friends after he returned to Khorasan. The collection was gathered by one of his grandchildren after his death, under five sections/chapters. The longest letter is the response to objections raised against some of his statements in Mishkat al-Anwar (The Niche of Light) and al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Rescuer from Error). The first letter is the one which Ghazali wrote to Sultan Sanjar presenting his excuse for teaching in Nizamiyya of Nishapur; followed by Ghazali’s speech in the court of Sultan Sanjar. Ghazali makes an impressing speech when he was taken to the king’s court in Nishapur in 1106, giving very influential counsels, asking the sultan once again for excusing him from teaching in Nizamiyya and refuting the accusations made against him for disrespecting Imam Abu Hanifa in his books. The sultan was so impressed that ordered Ghazali to write down his speech so that it will be sent to all the ulemas of Khorasan and Iraq.


Al-Ghazali died at Tabran in Jamadi al Ukhra 505 AH at the age of 55 years. Ibn al-Jawzee narrated in al-Thabat ‘Inda al-Mamat (“Firmness at the Time of Death”) from al-Ghazzali’s brother Ahmad: “On Monday [14 Jumada al-Akhira] at the time of the dawn prayer my brother Abu Hamid made his ablution, prayed, then said: ‘Bring me my shroud.’ He took it, kissed it and put it on his eyes, saying: ‘We hear and obey in readiness to enter the King’s presence.’ Then he stretched his legs, facing the Qibla, and died before sunrise – may Allah sanctify his soul!”

Imam al-Ghazzali was  fondly referred to as the “Hujjat-ul-lslam”, Proof of Islam, He is honoured as a scholar and a saint by learned men all over the world.

Al-Ghazzalli taught his followers to love and serve Allah, trust in Him and to do good. He enjoined them to realise that man can do nothing without the help of Allah ; but that should not be made an excuse to be lazy and indolent. Man possesses the freedom of choice as far as good and evil actions are concerned, but this freedom does not extend beyond certain limitations.

Imam al-Ghazzali’s life was spent in self-sacrificing service of God and his fellowmen. He left behind him a fine example for all men to follow.

What Some of the Scholars Say about Imam Al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ ‘Ulum Al-Deen

It is best to begin by quoting what some of the scholars and the saleheen (pious) say about Ihya’ Ulum al-Deen (The Revival of the Religious Sciences) by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Naf’anAllahu bih (450-505 A.H/1058-1111 C.E).

To quote al-Habib ‘AbdAllah bin ‘Alawi bin Hasan al-‘Attas Naf’anAllahu bih in his book The Way of Bani Alawi, (p. 17).

Our master ‘Abdallah bin ‘Alawi al-Haddad has said:

“Al-Ghazali is a graceful favour bestowed by Allah upon this nation (ummah). He has investigated the sciences and weaved them. No ‘alim can have his rank”.

And: “The books of al-Ghazali quench thirst for they are a cure of the heart’s sicknesses”.

And: “To love al-Ghazali is an incomparable gift, and you will see this in akhira. Only the believer whose heart is enlightened and who deals justly with his self loves the books of al-Ghazali, he has guided us with his books and the barakat of his secrets.

And: “Never have the people of truth agreed about the perfection of anyone as they have about that of Imam al-Ghazali. A traveller’s journey is not complete until he has read the books of al-Ghazali, for they help him in his journey and protect him from the evil of his self”.

And: “The one who engages in reading the Ihya’ is gaining firmly established knowledge, for the reading of it may suffice as a teacher and a shaykh. Nothing is more beneficial to the people of this time than to read the Ihya’, for it is life and happiness in akhira“.

And: “The Ihya’ is a miracle”””.

Another important reference is the sharh (appreciative explanation) of the Ihya’ titled Ta’reef i’l Ihya’ bi Fadhaail i’l Ihya’ (Introducing “The Revival” with the Grace of “The Revival”) by al-Habib ‘AbdulQadir bin Shaykh Abubakr bin Shaykh ‘Abdallah al-‘Aydaroos, Naf’anAllahu bihim. (This is given as an annex to the Ihya’ in Arabic) He narrates that according to his forefather, Shaykh ul-Akbar ‘Abdallah al-‘Aydaroos (passed away 865 A.H/1461 C.E), the Ihya’ is a sharh (explanation) of the Holy Qur’an Kareem and the blessed Hadith Shareef, and the reading of it brings you maghfira (forgiveness of Allah Ta’ala). May Allah Ta’ala give us this maghfira, Aameen Yaa Rabbal ‘Aalameen.

Indeed Shaykh ‘Abdallah al-‘Aydaroos and his son, the equally illustrious Shaykh Abubakr al-‘Aydaroos Naf’anAllahu bih (passed away 914 A.H/1508 C.E) popularised the books of Imam al-Ghazali so much that several editions of the Ihya’ were produced in their time. Dars (lessons) used to be given from the Ihya’ and in the time of Shaykh Abubakr al-‘Aydaroos, the reading of the Ihya’ from the first page to the last, all the more than 1800 pages of it, was completed 25 times. Allahu Akbar! This tradition continues to this day among the ‘ulama, Al-Hamdu Lillah!

In his sharh (explanation), al-Habib ‘AbdulQadir al-‘Aydaroos Naf’anAllahu bih gives a neat little summary about the contents of the Ihya’. According to him,

  • the first volume on ‘Ibaadaat (worship) is about Huququllah (rights of Allah),
  • the second volume on ‘Aadaat (the proprieties of daily life) is about huquq ul ‘ibaad (the rights of Allah’s servants on you),
  • the third volume on Muhlikaat (the ways to perdition) is about tazkiyat u’l qalb min sifat il madhmumah (purification of the heart of condemnable qualities), while
  • the fourth volume on Munjiyaat (the ways to salvation) is about tahliyatul qalb min sifaat il mahmudah (the embellishment of the heart with praiseworthy qualities).

He also quotes the views of many other mashaayikh (spiritual masters) about the Ihya’. Shaykh Abu Muhammad al-Kaazruni said, for example, that if all the books were to perish, the Ihya’ would be sufficient to replace them all.

Shaykh ‘Ali bin Abubakr bin Shaykh ‘AbdulRahman al-Saqqaf said that if a non-believer opened the Ihya’, he would become a Muslim because it is a hidden secret and a magnet for the heart.

Al-Faqih ul ‘Allamah Ismail bin Muhammad al-Hadhramy calls Imam al-Ghazali “Sayyidul Musannifeen” (the leader of all the authors).

Imam Abu’l Hasan al-Shadhili once saw Rasulullah Sallallahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam in a dream pointing to Imam al-Ghazali and asking Sayyidina Musa ‘Alayhissalam and Sayyidina Isa ‘Alayhissalam whether they had seen such a hibr (most knowledgeable scholar) in their ummah (community). They responded “No”.

Another great work on the Ihya’ is by Shaykh Hafiz al-Iraqi (725-806 A.H), a Hafiz of Hadith Shareef who knew more than 300,000 ahaadith by heart. His book is titled Takhreej Maa Fi’l Ihya’ Minal Akhbaar (Identification of the Hadith in “The Revival”) In it he identifies the verses of the Qur’an Kareem referenced in the Ihya’ as well as the sources of Hadith Shareef. He identifies the Hadith Shareef in three categories:

  1. those that are in the Sahihayn of Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim;
  2. those that are in the rest of the Sihah Sitta (the six authentic books of hadith), that is, in the Jami’ of Tirmidhi, Sunan of Abu Dawud, Sunan of An-Nasaai, and Sunan of Ibn Majah; and
  3. those that are in the rest of hadith compilations, such as the al-Muwatta (The Well-Trodden Path) of Imam Malik, Shu’ab al-Iman (Branch of the Faith) and Dalaail un Nubuwwah (Proofs of Prophethood) of Imam al-Bayhaqi, and the Musnad collections of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Al-Daylami, al-Bazzar, and Abu Yala, among others.

This monumental piece of scholarship forms the footnotes to the Ihya’ in the original Arabic, such is the stature of the Ihya’!

According to Shaykh Hafiz al-Iraqi,

  • the first volume of the Ihya’ on ‘Ibaadaat (worship) is a must for those dedicated to aakhirah (the afterlife),
  • the second volume on ‘Aadaat (the proprieties of daily life) is a must for those who want to live according to the religion of Islam,
  • the third volume on Muhlikaat (the ways to perdition) is a must for those who want to achieve tazkiyatun nafs (purification of the ego/self), and tathirul qalb (purification of the heart) while
  • the fourth volume on Munjiyaat (the ways to salvation) is a must for those who want to be among the muqarrabeen (those drawn near to Allah) and siddiqeen (the sincerely truthful).

According to him, the Ihya’ is medicine for the heart, medicine for the soul and a means to achieve everlasting bliss in paradise.

In the Muqaddimah (Introduction) to the Ihya’ in Arabic, Vol.I, we learn that according to Imam Muhammad bin Yahya, Imam al-Ghazali is the second Imam Shafii, Naf’anAllahu bihim.

Imam Abu’l ‘Abbas al-Mursi said that Imam al-Ghazali achieved the status of Siddiqiyyah ‘uzma (the greatest station among the siddiqeen, the truthful). We learn of this in the “Introduction” to the Gujarati translation of Minhajjul ‘Aabideen (The Path of the Worshippers), another of Imam al-Ghazali’s books, translated by Janab Shabbir Ali Patel Razvi.

According to al-Habib ‘Abdallah al-‘Attas in The Way of Bani ‘Alawi, the Ihya’ is totally concerned about the realisation of ‘ubudiyyah (worship of Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala). He quotes Shaykh Abdallah bin Ahmad Baa-Sudan Naf’anAllahu bih from his kitab Al-Futuhaat al-Arshiyyah (The Openings of the Divine Throne): “Swim in the sea of the Ihya’ and you shall be counted among the living”.

Among other mashaayikh who have written on Imam al-Ghazali are:

  • Imam Hafiz ibn ‘Asakir
  • Imam Abu’l Faraj ibn al-Jawzi
  • Shaykh ‘Afifuddin ‘Abdallah bin As’ad al-Yafi’i al-Yamani
  • Imam Taj al-Deen al-Subki
  • Al-Sayyid Muhammad al-Murtada al-Husaini al-Zabidi

Sayyidunal Imam ‘AbdAllah bin ‘Alawi al-Haddad Naf’anAllahu bih (henceforth referred to as al-Habib Mawlana al-Haddad) explains in Ad-Dawat u’t Taammah (The All-Out Call) that the ‘ulama are agreed that Imam al-Ghazali was the mujaddid (renewer) of the fifth century. He calls him Hujjat ul Islam (The Proof of Islam) as do one and all.

Naf’anAllahu bihim, may Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala make us benefit from them all, Aameen Yaa Rabbal ‘Aalameen.

Hasbunallahu wa nimal Wakeel
Allah is Sufficient for us and (He is) the most excellent Trustee (3:173)

Al-Ghazali Abu Hamid’s Works:

al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Rescuer from Error)
Hujjat al-Haq (Proof of the Truth)
al-Iqtisad fil-i`tiqad (Median in Belief)
al-maqsad al-asna fi sharah asma’ Allahu al-husna (The best means in explaining Allah’s Beautiful Names)
Jawahir al-Qur’an wa duraruh (Jewels of the Qur’an and its Pearls)
Fayasl al-tafriqa bayn al-Islam wa-l-zandaqa (The Criterion of Distinction between Islam and Clandestine Unbelief)
Mishkat al-Anwar (The Niche of Lights)
Tafsir al-yaqut al-ta’wil

Mizan al-‘amal (Criterion of Action)
Ihya’ul ulum al-din, “Revival of Religious Sciences”, Ghazali’s most important work
Bidayat al-hidayah (Beginning of Guidance)
Kimiya-yi sa’adat (The Alchemy of Happiness) [a résumé of Ihya’ul ulum, in Persian]
Nasihat al-muluk (Counseling Kings) [in Persian]
al-Munqidh min al-dalal (Rescuer from Error)
Minhaj al-‘Abidin (Methodology for the Worshipers)

Maqasid al falasifa (Aims of Philosophers) [written in the beginning of his life, in favour of philosophy and presenting the basic theories in Philosophy, mostly influenced by Avicenna’s works]
Tahafut al-Falasifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), [in this book he refutes the Greek Philosophy aiming at Avicenna and Al-Farabi; and of which Ibn Rushd wrote his famous refutation Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence)]
Miyar al-Ilm fi fan al-Mantiq (Criterion of Knowledge in the Art of Logic)
Mihak al-Nazar fi al-mantiq (Touchstone of Reasoning in Logic)
al-Qistas al-mustaqim (The Correct Balance)

Fatawy al-Ghazali (Verdicts of al-Ghazali)
Al-wasit fi al-mathab (The medium [digest] in the Jurisprudential school)
Kitab tahzib al-Isul (Pruning on Legal Theory)
al-Mustasfa fi ‘ilm al-isul (The Clarified in Legal Theory)
Asas al-Qiyas (Foundation of Analogical reasoning)

Source with modifications from myself:


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