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



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The boy should not live too easy and comfortable a life, nor be allowed to grow fond of outward adornment, lest he should waste his life when he grows up, in seeking for material posses­sions, and so perish eternally. As soon as the child shows signs of discrimination, he must be watched more carefully, so that his choice shall be directed towards what is good and the evil shown to be such, and rejected, and so he will maintain purity of heart and attain to a sane and well-balanced judgment.

The boy should lead an active life and take plenty of exercise, lest he grow sluggish, and after he has finished his lessons he should be allowed to play games which he enjoys, but he should cease to play in the presence of his elders. His father must preserve the dignity of speech in talking to his son and should upbraid him but rarely and this only in private, not publicly. The mother should rebuke him for what is shameful and say that she will tell his father if he does not amend his ways. I

If al-Ghazali suffered the loss of children while still young, it must have been a consolation to him to remember the tradition, which he quotes, to the effect that on the Day of Resurrection, when all mankind are examined as to their deeds, those who have died as infants will gather round the judgment Seat of God the All-Merciful and He, looking upon them, will say to His angels, "Take them hence_ to Paradise." 2 It was no doubt with his own children in mind that al-Ghazali says that if a child is no longer with us and we wish to maintain our love for him, absent or present, living or dead, we speak at length of his courage and generosity and his learning and the rest of his lovable qualities, and so our love and our memories are kept alive,'

al-Ghazali was survived by three daughters and, apparently,

M. Rids, op. cit., pp. 5o d. Ihya, IV, p. 69. Ihy6, III, p. 227.

a Ibya, IV, p. 257.

Itfiran al-'Ama!, p. 91.

IhYa, IV. p. 286,

6o AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

by his wife, since it is mentioned more than once that he died
in poverty, having reserved of his former wealth only what was
sufficient to maintain, them. It was presumably the urgent
requests of his little daughters to which he refers when he says
that " the prayers of his infant children " induced him to give
up a wandering life and to return to his native land. r It is
much to be desired that we had the letters which passed between
al-Ghazali and his wife and children, when he was absent from
them. The company of his' daughters must have been a great
satisfaction to sd devoted a father and as we have seen, his frequent references to women and girls as exemplars in the religious life does not suggest that he would consider them as of less real consequence than his sons. He quotes with approval the story of a little slave-girl who used to take the Prophet by the hand, in Medina, and relates that he did not withdraw his hand from hers, but used to let the child accompany him wherever she wished. 2 One of his daughters, .who was named Sitt al-Nisa, had a son called 'Ubayd Allah, whose great-great-grandson, Majd al-Din Muhammad was alive in Baghdad, in the year 710/1310,3 so that al-Ghazali probably had grandchildren to delight his last years.
A man with al-Ghazali's personality and capacity for friendship naturally gathered many friends and disciples around him and some of his associates were men of outstanding character and importance. Among his fellow-students in Nishapflr was Abu'l­Mazaffar Ahmad al-Khawafi, 4 who also studied under the Imam
al-Haramayn and was one of his most distinguished and most
favoured pupils, who was permitted to discuss with him by day
and by night and earned the highest commendation from the
Imam. He was said to earn his living by his success in debate
as al-Ghazali was able to earn his by his success in writing.
al-Khawafi began to teach in the lifetime off the Imam and was
appointed as Qadi of Tvs, but he gave up his appointment in
order to devote himseT-to the life of a religious ascetic.
al-Khawafi died at Tds in 500/1106.6
One of al-Ghazali's earliest friends, whose life was exactly

Mungidh, p. 22.

_''y4, III, p. 306. , Cf. .'i, ab. e.,, p. 4,
° Subkr, Tab. TV, pp. 55,p308. bov.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 6r

contemporary with his own, was Abu H5-mid 'Ali al-Tabari al­Harrasi, 'Imad al-Din, known as al-Kiya (= one of high rank or great influence), born the same year as al-Ghazali, in 450/1058, in Tabaristan, and also a Shafi'ite. He went to Nishapur and studied under the Imam al-Haramayn, who made him an assistant tutor. We are told that he was a good-looking man, with a clear voice, who expressed himself in a polished and agreeable style, and 'Abd al-Ghafir, one of his contemporaries, declared him to be a second Abu Hamid (al-Ghazali), " Nay, more pro­found in learning, more holy in life, more pleasing in voice and more agreeable in countenance," r but he admits that al-Ghazali had the keener intelligence of the two and was quicker in exposi­tion and explanation. It was said that when al-Kiya had memorised a piece of work, he used to repeat it at each step as be went up the stairs leading up to the Nizamiyya College at Nishapur and there were seventy steps. From Nishapur he proceeded to Bayhaq, where he taught for a time and then went to 'Iraq, where he was appointed chief professor at the Nizamiyya College, and held his chair for the rest of his life. He was there, we know, in 495, and was high in favour with the Seljuk sultan Maid al-Mulk Barkiyaruk, sod of Malik Shah, who appointed him chief Qadi. al-Kiya was a traditionist, and in one of his sayings be declares : " When the horseman of the Traditions gallops about in the hippodrome of contestation, the heads of analogical deductions are struck off and given to the winds." He is also said to have been responsible for the following lines, while engaged in a discussion with Abu'l-Wafa' b. 'Uqayl al-IHanbali

" Have pity on thy servant, for he has the dryness

Of Media, while thou hast 'Iraq and its waters."

al-Kiya died in 504/1110 and the poet Abu Ishaq Ihrahim', al-Ghazzi composed this elegy upon him after his death : "Islam weeps the absence of its sun and sheds floods of tears, compared with which the rain would not be copious. Behold that learned divine, who used to receive us with an open and smiling counten­ance : with that look of pleasure which, to a visitor, was the best of welcomes. Death may tread him under foot, but his vast

1 Cf. p. iG above. Ibn Khallikan, op. Cit., II, p. 229.

62 AL-GHA,ZALI'5 LIFE

AND PERSONALITY

learning has spread abroad to distant climes.

lessons gave new life to Ibri Idris al_ l ` There instructive position, intelligence and reflection stand a and, their who

was so fortunate as to note them down He unfading brightness. The obscurities ' possesses" now a torch of -

scurities of jurisprudcnce, elucidated

by thy words, are like the foreheads of brown horses marked with a white star. Did I

him and exclaim ; ' know throe equal, I should invoke

from th The age is impoverished and requires succour

Y riches."' Among his works were the U -

(Principles of Religion) and Aljkdm al-Qur'dn $alDof the Q~an), s (The Ordinances

Another contemporary and intimate friend of al-Ghazali, of the greatest importance, because he has left us so much information concerning al-Ghazali was Abu'I-Hasan

Isma iI al, born at Abd al-Ghafir b.

infant r lFarisi,Nishapur, in 45111059. He was an

P gy, able to read the Qur an at the age of five, and to

recite the articles of the faith in Persian

on his mother's side, of Abu'1-Q He was a grandson

the author of one of the earliest treatises alu m shayri,

alQushayriyya), with whom he studied the traditions, andahe learnt also from his grandmother Fatima hint Abi 'All al-Dahhaq (al-Daggaq), He studied for four

al-Harama Years under the imam

yn, as a fellow-student of al-Ghazali and al-Kiya. On leaving Nishapur, he went to Khwarazm (the district along the banks of the Oxus, extending to the Caspian Sea), where he

studied and lectured. Thence he travelled, by way of Afghanistan, to India. On his return from his travels, he was appointed as

ere


preacwasherwhilineNishapur hand taught in the mosque of Akil.

that al-Ghazi returned to take

It

up teaching work and 'Abd. al-Ghafrr was once



m

association with his one-time fellow-student and was greatly

close

astonished at the complete change in his character. 3 He died in Nishapur in 529/1134• He was the author of a number of



works, including Kitab al-Arba'in, Majma' al-Ghard'ib and an outline history of Nishapur•+

' Ob, '2041820 . Cf. Ibn Khallikdn, op. cit.. II, pp. 569.

' Subkr, Tab. IV, pp, z8r 8. Ibn Khallikan, Biog. Dial., II, two books are extant at Cairo.

' Cf. p. 32 above P 229. These

Ibn Khallikin, op. cit„ 11, p

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 63

A faithful friend of al-Ghazali, who had also been his fellow­student under the Imam al-Haramayn and had gone with him to 'Iraq was Abu Mahir Ibrahim al-Shaybani (called also al-Shabbak) al-Jurjani.. After al-Ghazali had resigned his Chair and had become a wandering ascetic, al-jurjani accompanied him to the Hijaz and Syria. He then returned to his own country of jurjan and took up the work of teaching and preaching, and his teaching proved so acceptable to his hearers that a College was built for him. He was _killed in a 'raid, and so attained to martyrdom, in 513 /1119.1

Another faithful friend and fellow-student was Isma'il Abu'l-Qasim al-Hakimi al-Tusi, who went with al-Ghazali to 'Iraq. He was older than al-Ghazali, who, we are told, treated him with great honour and gave him precedence. The two went together to the Hijaz and Syria. al-Hakimi died in 529/1135 and was buried beside al-Ghazali8

s "` -

al-Ghazali numbered among his students some who later became famous in various spheres of life. Among the best-known of these was Abu 'Abdallah M. Ibn Tumart, known as al-Mahdi, born 485 /io92 at Sus in Morocco. While still very young, he became renowned for his piety, and as a youth, desiring to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, he travelled to Cordova and, thence to the Hijaz. It was presumably at this time that he met al-Ghazali in Damascus, while he was living there as an ascetic, in retirement, and shared his retreat in the mosque of the Umayyads. a Visiting 'Iraq for the purpose of acquiring learning, he there met al-Ghazali, al-Kiya al-Harrasi and al-Turtashi, and in Baghdad attended the lectures of al-Ghazali at the Ni;am­iyya, probably attracted to his teaching by his previous meeting with him.' It was while Ibn Tumart was in Baghdad that news reached al-Ghazali that the Sultan 'Ali b. Yusuf b. Tashfin (ob. 537 /1143), described as a mild, grave and virtuous prince, but a Malikite, and very submissive to the theologians, had ordered his books to be destroyed, because he was told that they contained pure philosophy, which he abhorred as heretical.



1 Subki, Tab., IV, p. 200.

s Ibid., pp. 204. ff. Cf. p. 37 above.

• Cf. p. 26 above.

• Cf. P. 29 above.

170. Subki. Tab. IV, p. 255.
iV.

64 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE--AND-PERSONALITY

When al-Ghazali heard this, he foretold that the Amir's power wouwould be taken from him and his son killed and his son's successor

ld be one who was even then, present in his

audience. The young Ibn Tumart, as he listened, prayed that this might cone to pass by his means. He returned to Alexandria and thence to North Africa, having acquired on his travels a knowledge of the Ash'arite-doctrine, mingled with something of the Mu'tazilite teaching and the Shi'ite theory of an infallible Imam descended from `Alt. The disturbances caused by his heretical teaching caused him to be expelled from Tripoli, but he secured a large following among the Berbers and proclaimed

himself Mahdi and overthrew 'All and the Almoravide dynasty,

which was replaced by the Almohades (a name taken from the

title of al-Muwahhid, which Ibn Tilmart claimed for himself).

Ibn Tumart himself was killed in 1130, but his teaching disseminated in N. Africa and Spain by his successors. He

wrote a number of works, including one on Tawhidand the Kanz

al-'Ulum dealing with religious philosophy.,

Another of al-Ghazali's students, who later occupied a pro­

minent position, was Abii l3akr Muhammad Ibn al-'Arabi, born

at Seville in 46711076, who was travelling in the East with his father in 1092, He visited Damascus and Baghdad, where he may have met al-Ghazali and must, in any case, have heard of his teaching, and proceeded to the Hijaz, but returned to Baghdad, in order to attend al-Ghazali's lectures. Ibn al-'Arabi afterwards returned, by way of Cairo and Alexandria, to Seville, where he acted as Qadi for a time and later was teaching, until his death there, in 546/1151. To him we owe certain replies given to him by al-Ghazali in response to his questions, which may have been sent in writing from Spain, or may have been given to him

in person and set down by him in writing. s

One of the most famous of al-Ghazali's students was Abu Sa'id b. Yahya al-Nishapuri, known as Muhyi al-Din, born in 476/1083-4, who studied larvunder Abu Hamid and his .fellow­

' Ihn Rhallikan, op. cii., III, p. soy. Subkr, Tab., IV, PR 71 ff. 'Abd al-4VShid al-Marakushr, History of the al-Mohades, ed. R. Dozy, D. 13- Macdonald notes that Ibn Tamart laboured, very different Manner, to bring about in the West the same revival of faith and religious 8life

though in a very v

toswhich al-Ghazsn gave himself in the East. J.A.O.S., 1899- p. i'3.

Cf. -N'S. Paris, 5291.

A -GHAZALI'S LIFE AND ,PERSONALITY 65

student Abu'l-Nazaffar al-Khawafi and became an eminent jurisconsult, being appointed as chief of the jurisconsults at Nishapur. So great was his reputation that persons came from all directions to study under him. He lectured at the Ni7,amiyya College at Nishapur and later, at the Niz, amiyya College at Herat. It is related that at one of his lectures someone `was moved to recite these lines : " The mouldering remains of religion and of Islam receive new life from our master Muhvi al-Din, son of Yahya.' When lie teaches, he seems To have received a revelation from God, the Lord -of the Throne." al-Nishapuui said that his master al-Ghazali and his knowledge could be known only by one who had himself reached or almost reached, intellectual perfection. al-Nishapuri wrote al-Aluhil in explanation of al-Ghazali's Wasit. He was killed in battle, when the Ghury attacked the Seljuks, in 548/11153. a

Another of al-Ghazali's students, who became- a dis iiiguished and popular teacher, was Abu'l-Fath al-U*iili, born in 466 /1083-4, who was at first a Hanbalite, but later studied under al-Ghazali and al-Kiya. He lectured at the NiZamiyya for,a time and then in his own house and pupils thronged to him' in-siich numbers that he was occupied all day long and continued teaching after nightfall. A group of students besought him to lecture to them on al-Ghazali's Ihyd : he refused at first on the ground of lack of time, but he finally gave way and agreed to lecture on it at midnight. He died in 518 /1124.9

Among al-Ghazali's students were Ibn 'Uqayl and Abu'l­Khattab, who attended his classes during the period when he first held his chair in Baghdad, and made notes of his lectures and quoted his sayings in their own works.'

Another faithful recorder of al-Ghazali s words was the Shaykh Sa'd b. Farts, known as al-Luban, who was present at al-Ghazali's sermons after his return to Baghdad (cf. P. 29 above), when the people thronged his assemblies to hear him preach. The Shaykh made a record of the sessions for exhortation and found that they amounted to one hundred and eighty three. The Shaykh read

Malryi al-Din = the Reviver of Religion : Yahya = he lives.

• Ibn Nhallikiin, op. cii., II, p. 628. Subki, Tab., IV, p. 197.

• Subkl, lab., IV, pp, 42 #.

• hh Rida, op. tit., p. g.

AGHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY hiis, iiote!i. of these- addresses to al-Ghazali, who, after he had --to rrected -them, gave the Shaykh leave to make use of them,

and the Shays pied them out into two stout volumes. I

Otherstuden d disciples of al-Ghazali are mentioned by

his biographers, 2 but little is known of the subsequent career of most of these.

'

BrockelmannIbfd., p• 16 , P• Perhaps 44• the Hitab a1-Ma,,-,jr or fhe Na a'ih al-Ghazdlr,



Cf. , I, P 2x and Suppf., P. 752. . Murtad

- t, Ifhn

CHAPTER V

al-Glfazdli's Literary Style. His wide resources. His


extensive use of Imagery.

al-Ghazali's literary style is clear, attractive, readable and, in some ways, curiously modern. His knowledge of Persian is perhaps the reason why he uses Arabic with a freedom. and lack of formality which is unusual among Arabic writers. Every­where he shows himself to be a master of his subject and possessed of the power of penetrating men's minds and souls. I Much of his written work represents the substance-of his lectures-and . bears the marks of a teacher's endeavour to impress his meaning upon his audience, but an audience which-consisted chiefly of scholars and divines whose education had been much the same as his own and whose learning was not- greatly inferior. But there are short works of his written in a style simple enough for the common folk and with the type of illustration which could be expected to appeal to them.


To his profound learning and his wide experience of men and life al-Ghazali added a religious passion for truth which is revealed on every page of his greater works and gives them their claim to immortality. The intellectual curiosity which had combined with his search for truth to make him study philosophy and natural science, as well as theology, jurisprudence and the traditions, enabled him to draw upon a great and varied store of knowledge, for both his method of exposition and his illustrations. His arguments are closely reasoned, especially in the most com­prehensive and characteristic of his writings, the Ihyd Whim al-Din, 2 which was the outcome of long reflection, culminating in the period of solitude and meditation which followed his conversion. In this great work we have his mystical teaching
' His style, in its ease and lucidity, has been compared with that of St. John Chrysostom (the Golden-tongued) Cf. Carra de Vaux, Les penseurs de I'Islani, IV, p, too.

3 In Islam, this work may be said to take the place of the Sunnua Theoloefca of St. Thomas Aquinas in Christendom. Cf. #. Guillaume, Prophecy and pivinalion, p. 326.


68 AL-GHAZALT'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

set forth in an ordered sequence of thought, original, profound

and mature, which is based upon reasoning as sound as it is

subtle. But his lesser works show the same literary character­

istics and are equally lucid and well-reasoned, containing a wealth

of imagery and appeals to analogy. Not onlyy the fact that he

had great resources of knowledge at his command, but the

additional fact that he was a lover of both plants and animals

and aa close observer of-Nature in all her manifestations, is re­

vealed in al-Ghazali's choice of images and illustrations. Every

kind of creature seems to have attracted his attention, whether

bird or beast, and anything which could fly or creep or swim.

Earth and water, too, flowers and trees, the heavens and the

winds, and, not least, men and women, all have come under his

observant eye, and all that he observed, as well as his own personal

experience, was drawn upon to make its contribution, directly,

or by way of illustration, to his teaching.

He notes that the gnat, in spite of its minute size, acts with

deliberation and intelligence : that, though so small, it has been

created with a body as perfect as that of the elephant and is

possessed of all the faculties and functions which other animals

enjoy. He goes on to speak of how it is guided to man and the

human pore, to seek its'nourishment and how its eyes, though

perfect, are too small to possess eyelashes, the purpose of which

is to preserve the eyes from dust, and it is therefore provided

with antennae to serve the same end. Then he observes how,

through the weakness of its sight, it falls into the lighted lamp,

because it is seeking the daylight and supposes the lamp to be a

window in a dark room, and if it flies beyond it, yet it returns again to it, until it is consumed. The gnat serves as an illustration of the wonders of God's handiwork, but also of man's blindness and ignorance, when he is attracted by the lights of desire and does not realise that they make for his destruction, not only here, but in the fire which is not quenched."

al-Ghazali also bids his readers consider the bee and its capacity for building a house of wax, and its choice, from all forms, of that which is hexagonal, not round or square or pentagonal, the square being rejected because the space in the cor4ers would

' I!4Ta, IV, p. 273.

AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY 69

be wasted, while the cells would not fit into the round shape only the hexagonal is perfectly fitted to its needs. Then, too, from the flowers and fruit blossom the bees obtain nectar, from which they extract the wax for their houses and the honey for their nourishment, and from these men can secure liEht and medicine. al-Ghazali goes on to note how the bees preserve the nectar from all defilement and will slay any intruder who might enter the hive and defile it, and how they obey their queen, who administers justice impartially towards them. He bids his readers draw the moral from this simple illustration, for as human architects fall short of the bee's unerring instinct for building, and of its perfect accomplishment of its purpose, so also man's knowledge falls short of the Divine knowledge, for what he knows is not worthy to be called knowledge in comparison with the Omniscience of God.'
Of the limitations of science and the need for a knowledge which is beyond that attained by the senses, al-Ghazali writes : " The mere physicist is like an ant which, as it crawls over a sheet of paper, observes black letters spreading over it, and refers the cause to the pen alone. The astronomer is like an ant of rather wider vision, which catches sight of the fingers moving the pen, that is, he knows that the elements are under the influence of the stars, but he is unaware that the stars are under the control of the angels. So also those whose eyes do not look beyond the phenomenal world are like those who mistake servants of the lowest rank for the king himself." s
Reason is compared by al-GhazalL.with a horseman going out to hunt, whose horse represents human lust and his dog passion. When the horseman is a skilled rider and his horse well broken in, and his dog thoroughly trained and obedient, he deserves to be successful : but if he lacks wisdom and his horse is restive and his dog savage, and his horse will not obey his urging, nor the dog his signals, he does not deserve to obtain what he seeks .3 al-Ghazali gives another illustration taken from hunting, to show how desire and passion can be turned to good purposes and how those in whom they are strong, but well under control,
e {

r TheAlchemy of Happiness, p. 35. 9 3llzin al-'Aural., p.-47.

7 AL-GHAZALI'S LIFE AND PERSONALITY

reach a higher degree than those in whom they are repressed

altogether. Some people say that the hunter who hunts without

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