A study of the Life and Personality of Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Tusi al-Ghazali, together



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of retreat.'
1 Ibn Jubayr (ob. 1217 A.D), a traveller and writer belonging to Granada, who has left an account of his travels between 1183 and 1135, says : The mosque has three monastic cells, one at the Western side, which is like a high tower, comprising spacious dwellings and roomy cells, all of them locked off and inhabited by pious Maghribins, and the highest of the chambers was the retreat of Abu Hamid al-Ghaz3ll, may God have mercy on him, and to-day it is inhabited by the jurist al-ZAhid Abii 'Abdallah b. Said." p. 266. Y 4ot also states : " Under the Dome of Nasr are two black and white columns, which are said to have come from the throne of Baigls (the Queen of Sheba), but God knows best. The Western minaret of the mosque is that in which al-GhazAll used to worship, and Ibn Tumart (cf. pp. 63 . below). It is said

{fia~W-us;e-d-f be a fire-temple and that a flame of fire rose from it, which the

people of Harran used to worship." Geog. Worferbucb, II, p. 596.

1 Subkl, Tab., IV, p. 104.. al-Dhahabf stated that al-GhazAll joined h'agr, but that Na$r appointed one of his own pupils, Na. r A112h a1-ilasltI, to succeed

him. Ibid.

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28 AL-GHAZALr'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY



al-Ghazali now lived the life of an ascetic, wearing coarse clothing and practising the greatest abstinence in the matter of food and drink, and giving most of his time to devotion. He found leisure for writing, too, and while here he wrote the greatest of all his works, the Ihya 'Ulum al-Din (The Revivification of Religion). His biographers relate that one day al-Ghazali happened to enter one of the Damascus colleges' and found a lecturer there who was quoting his teaching, and using the words - al-Ghazali said ... " and, fearing lest he should be overtaken
ity pride, he left Damascus and began to wander about the country. He himself states that. he went to Jerusalem, where he gave himself up to the contemplative life, spending much of his time in prayer in the great Mosque of 'Umar, where, as in Damascus, he secluded himself, locking the door of his retreat behind him. As time went on, he seems to have gathered round
.him a circle of disciples. Abu'l-Futiih al-Maraghf stated at
a conference in Amul, in Tabaristan, that he had been present
at a gathering in Jerusalem, at the " Cradle of Jesus," a which
included al-Ghazali, Isma`il al-Hakimi, Abu'l-Hasan al-Basri
and Ibrahim al-Shabbak al-Jurjani3 and a large number of pious
strangers, and these verses were improvised, one account says,

by al-Ghazali himself


" May I be your ransom, if it were not for love you would have

ransomed me,


But by the magic of two eye-pupils, you have made me captive. I came to you when my breast was straitened by desire.

Had you known how great was my longing, you would have come to me,'

Abu'l-Hasan al-Basri was filled with ecstasy and his emotion so affected those present that one of the company died on the spot, a
From Jerusalem, al-Ghazali went to Hebron and the Hijaz and thence to Egypt, visiting Cairo and Alexandria, where he stayed for a time, and there he seems to have resumed his
1 It is said to have been the Amlniyya Mladrassa, but this was not founded

until A.H. 514, after al-Ghazali s death, Cf. l5'ustenfeld, op. cit., p. 43. Cf. Le Strange, Palestine under the Moslems, p. r66. Cf. p. 63 below.

Subkl, Tab. IV, p. 205.

scholarly, activities, and taken up teaching again.' After. this he appears to have taken once more to a wandering life, visiting various sanctuaries and shrines, living all the time the life of an ascetic, eating dry bread, wearing rags, carrying a bag for his scanty provisions and a staff in his hand, seeking to purify his soul by self-discipline and good works until, as his biographer says, he became the " Pivot of Existence " (Qu(ib al-Wujud), a general blessing to all creatures and a guide to the attainment of- the' satisfaction of the All-Merciful.2 It seems most probable

xJ that it was during this period that someone followed him, as he was wandering in the open country, wearing a patched garment and carrying a water-jar and staff. Now that person had previously seen him in his lecture-room, lecturing to an audience of three hundred students and a hundred of the notables of Baghdad, and he' said : " O Imam, is not the work of teaching better than this?" al-Ghazali looked at him with indifference and replied: ."When the full moon of happiness has arisen, in the firmament of desire, then the sun of reason approaches the setting-place of attainment," and he recited these verses

" I- abandoned the love of Layla and my happiness was afar off,

And I returned to the companionship of my fast halting-place.

And my desires called out to me, Gently, for these

Are the stations,of one whom you love, go slowly, alight."

I had-spun..a- fine thread for them .and I did not find

A wearer for my thread, so I broke my spindle." -

It was probably during this period of wandering that be paid a visit to Hamadan, and we are told that he had as his companion while wandering, Ably Tahir al-Shabbak (called also al-Shaybanit a fellow-pupil of the Imam al-Haramayn.

al-Ghazali now returned to his own country and for a time was teaching in Baghdad and lecturing on the Ikya, though evidently still living a life of semi-retirement. He established himself also as a preacher and " spoke with the tongue of those who have attained to the Truth." He no longer based his teaching on the authority of others, nor did he rely for his instruction on the Traditions. He was now engaged in, calling men to repentance,

Cf. H. Gtsche, p. 248. Subkl, Tab. IV, p. 105.

i Ibid.

s Dlunkwi, al-Kaadkib, fols. i94b, t95a. Afi'pnr al-'Ilm (Tarjania).



p. is.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

9

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30 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY



urging them to turn their backs on this world, and to prepare for the journey to the world to come, seeking guidance for them­selves from those who were possessed of gnosis and the Divine

enlightenment. 1 It is said that one day his brother Ahmad came to him and recited these verses

You have sought to guide others and have not guidance yourself,

Men listen to your preaching but you do not listen to theirs, 0 whetstone, how lpng will you sharpen iron, And yet not receive a cutting edge yourself ? "2

It was perhaps on account of this fraternal rebuke, added to his own sense of unworthiness, that al-Ghazali became dissatisfied with himself as a preacher. Ibn Sam'anf quotes a letter of his to Abu Hamid A. b. Salamat in which he writes : " I do not think myself worthy to preach, for preaching is like a tax and the property on which it is levied is the acceptance of the moral for oneself. How, then, can anyone who has no property pay a tax ? How shall one who has no garment himself clothe another ? When is the. shadow straight, if the wood is crooked ?" 8

Abu Said al-Nawgani 4 related that while attending al-Ghazali's

lectures on the 1'hya he heard him recite these verses

He has made their native lands dear unto men, Places wherein their hearts long to be

When men remember their homes, they are mindful

Of childish days there and they yearn for return."

And then al-Ghazali wept and his hearers wept with him.8

Once again he gave up his work at Baghdad and retired to Tus, living a life of seclusion, occupying himself with reflection and his spiritual state, aiming at guidance and spiritual help for each one who sought him out and visited him. Then, after a time he began to write again and produced a number of books.

r Subkr, Tab. IV, p. 105. When u these

Ibcaf, p. 8 Ibn Khallikin attributes similar verses to Ibn T6mart. ~4hen they bade thee were they lent them your assistance,

How often did you forbid them to thee re n indifference

How often did you admonish sonsin) were we not obeyed. Whetstone (of others' wit), howyet gwiu you sharpen heeded.

a ' 5ubkedge yourself? Riog. Diet., III, p. 21 n steel and never receive

jab. IV, p. 112.

Ibid., p. 63.

i Ibid., p. 112.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 31

At this time his manner of life met with general approval and his authority was unquestioned.

This state of things continued until Fakhr al-Mulk Jamal al-Shuhada became Vizier and established his court and retinue in Khurasan ; he heard where al-Ghazali was living and was informed of his high reputation and his great learning and the spiritual state to which he attained, in the purity of his faith, and his manner of life. So Fakhr al-Mulk sought for a blessing from him and visited him and listened to his teaching, and then besought him not to let his rare qualities and gifts remain fruitless, without profit to others, giving no light from their radiance. The Vizier used every importunity and pressed al-Ghazali until at last he agreed to go, and was carried off to Nishapur, where he was appointed as lecturer in the Maymuna Nizamiyya College, being unable to escape from the pressure put upon him by the Government. This was irk 4q_q_[_iio6-7. al-Ghazali himself con­sidered that this was the will of God, Who had aroused the desire of Fakhr al-Mulk, in order that al-Ghazali should combat the decay of faith among Muslims. He felt also that the desire for peace and protection from worldly persecution were not sufficient motives to justify him in persisting in a life of solitude. Further­more, he had consulted a number of spiritually-minded men, possessed of vision, and they were unanimous in advising him to quit his life of seclusion and go forth from his retreat. In addition to this, a number of these pious men had dreams which confirmed their decision, and indicated that God had pre­determined this event for the beginning of the century (A.H. 500). " For God Most High," writes al-Ghazali, " had promised a revival of religion at the beginning of every century." So he hoped that this was his God-given task and he went to Nishapur with this purpose in view. " The impulse was not from myself, but from God and it was not I who acted, but He Who made me act. I asked Him, therefore, first to make me regenerate and then to give regeneration to others through me : to guide me unto the Truth and then to enable me to guide others thereto."'

His intention, then, was to give all the guidance he could to

r al•Mangidb, p. 3a.

32 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

others, by making known the results of his long meditation, and

to benefit those who sought him out, but without any return

to what he had abandoned, or allowing himself to be fettered

by the desire for reputation or controversy and disputation

with his opponents. Now, he was often attacked and opposed

and suffered calumny and slander and disparagement, but he

remained unmoved by it and was not concerned to reply to those

who cast aspersions upon him. Abu'l-Hasan 'Abd al-Ghafir

al-Farisi, who had known a7-Ghazali before his conversion and

his long absence from the world, found a great change in him

now. He saw nothing of his former corruption and his contemp­

tuous attitude towards other men, whom he despised in his pride

and arrogance, being deluded by what he had been given of

eloquence and intellectual power and the opportunity for good

works, added to his desire for reputation and a high position.

He had now completely changed and was free from these defects.

'Abd al-Ghafir supposed at first that he was simply restraining

himself, but he was convinced, after investigating the matter,

that it was not so, but that the man had recovered his sanity

after being possessed by an evil spirit.

al-Ghazali used to talk to his disciples at night, of what had

happened to him, from the time when the nature of the journey

along the road to God was first revealed to him, and how he

attained to the mystic experience, after he had for so long been

absorbed in his studies, and had realised his superiority to others, in his teaching, and the ability by which God had distinguished him in regard to all types of learning, and his capacity for research and criticism, until at last he had freed himself from pre­occupation with theory, apart from practice and concern with the life to come, and what might help him thereto. So he had betaken himself to the study of Sufism under al-Farmadhi.I They asked him then how he came to be willing to leave his life of retirement in his own home and to return to Nishapiir when summoned thither, and he justified his action by saying that his religion did not allow him to reject the call and to deprive students of the benefit they might gain through his teaching.

1 Subkr, Tab. IV, pp. log, iog. Cf. also IV, p. 9 and p. 17 above. Yafi'i, op. ri' , f0?. 258a.

ATE-GHAZALT'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 33

He felt it -was incumbent on him to communicate the truth and to give utterance to it. 'Abd al-Ghafir felt that be was sincere in his explanation. A statement made by al-Ghazali in one of his books has a bearing on this decision. He says there that the work of the teacher is to perfect the hurn n heart, to adorn and purify it and to urge it to draw near to God. Teaching, therefore, is a form of service to God Most High, a kind of vice­gerency of God, and the most glorious of vicegerencies, for God has given to the learned mart that. knowledge which is the most distinctive of human attributes : he is, as it were, the treasurer of His most precious treasure, who is given leave to expend it upon everyone who has need of it, and what rank is more glorious, asks al-Ghazali; than that of the servant who is a mediator between God Himself and His creatures, in bringing them near to Him, and showing then the way to salvation? 1 al-Ghazali added that he gave up his teaching work, before it gave him up. a As noted above, he had to suffer much opposition and calumny, and Fakhr al-Mulk, who might have protected him against such attacks, was assassinated in A..x. 5oo/rtob-y. It was possibly at this time, not earlier, as his biographers assume, that al-Ghazali thought of taking refuge in the West, with Yusuf'b. Tashfinf the. Sultan of Morocco, of whose just administration he had heard (cf. P. 2I above), but hearing of Yi suf's death, which occurred in this year, he abandoned the groject.r­

He retired once more to his home in Tus and established a college for students of theology, close by, and also a convent for Sufis. It must have been during this period that once again he was summoned by the Grand Vizier al-Sa'id to take up teaching again in the Nizamiyya College in Baghdad, but al-Ghazali

wrote him a decisive letter of refusal, reminding him that he had given up that same work, in order to betake himself to a life of

devotion, for the sake of God and in accordance with His purpose.

He writes : " Know that men are divided into three groups,

in turning towards what is their Qfbla (the,: direction towards which all Muslims turn in prayer).

Fdtihat al-'Ufam, p. 7.

s Yafi'i, op. C it ff. 258a, 258b. Subkr, Tab. IV, iog.

a Subkl, Tab. IV, p. 104. Vafi'r, op, cit., fol. 256b. N

t

34 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY



(a) The people at large, who limit their consideration to this

transient world, and of these the Prophet expressed his disapproval

when he said : "No wolves attacking the sheepfold are more

destructive to the faith of the Muslim than the love of wealth

and honour."

(b) The second are the elect, who give their chief attention

to the next world, knowing that it is more excellent and more

enduring than this, and they do good works for its sake, but the

Prophet showed how they are in error, when he said : " This

world is forbidden to those who belong to the next, and the next

is forbidden to those who belong to this, and both are forbidden

to those who belong to God Most High."

(c) The third are the elect of the elect, and they are those who

know that beyond everything is something else which belongs

to those that set, I and the wise man does not love that which

sets (i.e., is but transient). These are convinced that this world

and the world to come are but the creation of God and the most

important things in them are eating and pro-creation, which

are shared with the brutes and the reptiles and neither of the two represents a high rank. Therefore they have turned away from both and turned towards their Creator, Who is the Author of their being and their King. To them has been revealed the meaning of "God is more exalted and abides,"' and they are convinced of the truth of : " There is no god but God," and none who turns aside to what is other than Him is free from secret polytheism. For them all existent things are divided into two, God and what is other than God. They have considered this under the similitude of the two scales of a balance, and their heart is the tongue of that balance. Whenever they see their hearts inclining towards what is noble and honourable, they judge that the scale is weighted down by good works, and when they see their hearts inclining towards what is base, they judge that the scale is weighted down by evil deeds.

As the first class are common in comparison with the second, so also the second class are common in comparison with the third, and the three classes can be reduced to two. Therefore I say that

t Sera VI, 6.

' SQra XX, ys.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 35

the Chief Vizier has summoned me to descend from the higher rank to that which is lower and I, for my part, summon him to ascend from the lower to the higher, which is the highest of the high. The road which leads to God Most High, from Baghdad and from Tiffs and from every other place, is one, no one of them is nearer than any other. Therefore I ask God to arouse him from the sleep of heedlessness, so that he may consider the morrow while it is still to-day, before the matter is taken out of his hands. So farewell." 1

During this. time in 'ins, al-Ghazaii was dividing up his time in the way best fitted to serve the needs of those around him. He devoted himself to reading the Qur an, to studying the Traditions afresh, to associating with the godly, to teaching work, and to prayer, so that he should not waste a single moment of his own time or of the time of those with him, content now " to wait with Love for Death's unhasting ,feet." " The mystic," he wrote, " is always mindful of death, because he has been promised union with his Beloved and the lover never forgets such a promise. So he desires the coming of death, in order that he may be delivered from this sinful world and be transported

1 into the Presence of Him Who made the worlds. The highest stage is not to choose for oneself, either life or death, but to desire most that which is most desired by his Lord," and he quotes the words of the Sufi Shibli, as he lay dying, " The house in which Thou dwellest hass no need of a lamp." 2 As the shadows lengthen, to look upon His Face is enough for His lover, who knows that he is passing out of darkness into eternal light. So al-Ghazali passed his last days in tranquillity, waiting, " until Time itself overtook him and the days withdrew the gift that had been bestowed upon his generation and God Most High called him to the glory of His own Presence." 3

He died on Monday the i4th of Jumada II, A.H. 505 (Dec. 18th, A.D. IIII), at the age of fifty-three. His brother Ahmad relates that at dawn on the day of his death al-Ghazali performed his ablutions and prayed and then said : " Bring me my shroud,"

IL Mi'y8r al-'Ilea (Tarja*aa), pp. II. as. Khwinskl,.Raa4dl al-Jaankl, p. req.

• Ihya, IV, p. +30.

• Subkt, Tab. I , p. 109. YA6'l, OP. Cit. fol. 258b.

36 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

and taking it, he kissed it and laid it over his eyes and said " Most gladly. do I enter into the Presence of the King, and he

stretched odt his feet and went forth to meet Him, and so passed into the Paradise of God, " worthy of all honour, of loftier station than the stars, giving more guidance to men than the full moon when darkness has fallen."' He was buried outside

labaran., in a grave near that of the poet Firdawsi, and Ibn al-Sam'anl records that he visited his grave there.

There is a story to the effect that when al-Ghazali fell ill and felt that his death was approaching, he sent away those who were with him and no one entered his presence until the next morning,

when they went in as he had bidden them and they found him facing the Qibla, clad in his shroud, dead, and at his head they found a sheet of paper bearing these verses

" Sa to my friends, when they look dpon me, dead, Weeping for me and mourning me in sorrow Do' ot believe that this corpse you see is myself. In the name of God, I tell you, it is not I, I am a spirit, and this is naught but flesh It was my abode and my garment for a time. I am a treasure, by a talisman kept hid, Fashioned of dust, which served me as a shrine, I am a pearl, which has left its shell deserted, It was my prison, where I spent my time in grief. I am a bird, and this body was my cage

Whence I have now flown forth and it is left as a token, Praise be to God, Who bath now set me free,

And prepared for me my place in the highest of the heavens. Until to-day I was dead, though alive in your midst. Now I live in truth, with the grave-clothes discarded. To-day I hold converse with the saints above, Now, with no veil between, I see God face to face. I look upon the Tablet 2 and therein I read, Whatever was and is and all that is to be. Let my house fall in ruins, lay my cage in the ground, Cast away the talisman, 'tis a token, no more. Lay aside my cloak, it was but my outer garment. Place them all in the grave, let them be forgotten. I have passed on my way and you are left behind. Your place of abode was no dwelling-place for me.

• MunAwf, op. cit., fol. 195 4. Mi'var al-'Ilm (Tarjama), p, 13.

dab. IV, p. 106.

• al-Law-(1 al-ma lfus.

A ALT' E AND PERSONALITY 37

Think no is death, nay, it is life,

A life that s es all we could dream of here, While in this world. Here we are granted sleep, Death is but sleep, sleep that shall be prolonged. Be not affrighted when death draweth nigh, It is but the departure for this blessed home. Think of the mercy and love of your Lord, Give thanks for His grace and come without fear. What I am now, even so shall you be, For I know that you are even as I am. The souls of all men came forth from God, The bodies of all are compounded alike Good and evil, alike it was ours.

I give you now a message of good cheer

May God's peace and jov for evermore be yours." 1

There were many elegies composed in honour of al-Ghazali after his death, the most famous being that of the poet Abu'l­Muzaffer al-Abiwardi (Ob. 507 X1113). z The Imam Isma'il al-Hakimi 3 also expressed his grief in lines taken from one of the most celebrated qasidas of Abu Tammam 4

" I wondered how to endure it, when deprived of him by death,

I, who shed tears of blood, when he was away from me,

But these are times when so much seems strange,

That we have ceased to wonder thereat."5

One of al-Ghazali's pupils, the well-known Sufi Abu'l-'Abbas al-Alishi composed verses in praise of both his teacher and his teacher's masterpiece, the Ibya.I

It is related that just after al-Ghazali's death, Abu'l-'Abbas Ahmad b. Abi'l-Khayr al-Yamani, known as al-Sayyad, had a vision. He was sitting at the open gates of Heaven and lo, a band of angels were descending to the earth, bearing robes of

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