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Al-Ghazālī (الغزالي)
File:Imam Ghazali.gif
Full name Abū Ḥāmed Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī
Born 1058
Tus, Iran
Died December 19, 1111 (aged 52–53)
Tus, Khorasan
Era Islamic Golden Age
Region Muslim world
School/tradition Sunni Islam (Shafi'i, Ash'ari)
Main interests Islamic theology, Islamic philosophy (classical), Fiqh, Sharia, Sufi mysticism, Islamic psychology, Islamic logic, Islamic cosmology
Notable ideas Methodic doubt, skepticism, occasionalism, quantum theory, Kalām cosmological argument, temporal finitism, Big Bang cosmology, possible worlds
Major works Revival of Religious Sciences, The Incoherence of the Philosophers

Al-Ghazali (1058 — 19 December 1111[1]), full name Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad Ghazālī (Persian & Arabic: ابو حامد محمد ابن محمد غزالی), sometimes Algazel in English, was an Islamic theologian, jurist, philosopher, cosmologist, psychologist and Sufi mystic of Persian origin,[2][3] and remains one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Sunni Islamic thought. He is considered a pioneer of methodic doubt and skepticism,[4] and in one of his major works, The Incoherence of the Philosophers, he changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from an Islamic metaphysics towards an Islamic philosophy based on cause-and-effect that was determined by God or intermediate angels, a theory now known as occasionalism. He was born in Tus, a part of the Khorasan province of Persia. He died there as well.

Ghazali has sometimes been referred to by historians as the single most influential Muslim after the Prophet Muhammad.[5] 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.[5] 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.[5]


Ghazali was born in 1058 in Tus, a city in Khorasan province of Persia. 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. In 1070, Ghazali and his brother went to Gurgan to enroll in a madrassah (Islamic seminary). There, he studied fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) next to Ahmad ibn Muhammad Rādkānī and Abu'l Qāsim Jurjānī. After studying for approximately 7 years in the seminary, 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'ālī Juwaynī, known as Imam al-Haramayn. After the death of Al-Juwayni in 1085, Ghazālī was invited to go to the court of Nizamul Mulk Tusi, the powerful vizier of the Seljuq sultans. The vizier was so impressed by Ghazali's scholarship that in 1091 he appointed him as chief professor at the Al-Nizamiyya of Baghdad. He used to lecture to more than 300 students, and his participation in Islamic debates and discussions made him popular in all over the Islamic territories.

He passed through a spiritual crisis in 1095, 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 on December 19, 1111. He had one son named Abdu'l Rahman Allam.

School affiliations

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 Sunni 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 (Arabic: شرف الأئمّة‎), Zainuddin (Arabic: زين الدين), Hujjatul Islam, meaning "Proof of Islam" (Arabic: حجّة الاسلام). 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 Asharite school.[6]

Major works

File:Alchemy of Happiness.png

1308 Persian edition of the Alchemy of Happiness

Ghazali wrote more than 70 books on the sciences, early Islamic philosophy, Islamic psychology, Kalam and Sufism. His 11th century book titled The Incoherence of the Philosophers marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology, as Ghazali effectively developed philosophical skepticism that would not be commonly seen in the West until René Descartes, George Berkeley and David Hume. Al Ghazali accepted a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not merely the product of material conjunctions but simultaneously the immediate and present will of God.

The Incoherence of the Philosophers

Main article: The Incoherence of the Philosophers

The Incoherence of the Philosophers marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its strong criticisms of Aristotelianism and Neoplatonism. The book took aim at the falsafa, 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 ancient Hellenistic philosophy. Ghazali criticized the philosophical traditions of Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers and labeled those who employed their metaphysical doctrines as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

The Incoherence of the Philosophers is famous for proposing and defending the Asharite theory of occasionalism. Ghazali famously claimed that when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned directly by God Who simultaneously willed the fire to burn, a claim which he defended using logic. He argued that because God is usually seen as rational, rather than arbitrary, his behaviour in normally causing events in the same instance they are witnessed (i.e., what appears to us to be efficient causation) can be understood as a natural outworking of that principle of reason, which we then describe as the laws of nature. Properly speaking, however, these are not laws of nature but laws by which God chooses to govern his own behaviour (his autonomy, in the strict sense) – in other words, his rational will. It has been noted by several contemporary scholars that his theory of nature bares some striking similarties to contemporary quantum physics (see below).

Ghazali expressed support for a scientific methodology based on demonstration and mathematics, while discussing astronomy. After describing the scientific facts of the Solar eclipse resulting from the Moon coming between the Sun and Earth and the Lunar eclipse from the Earth coming between the Sun and Moon, he writes:[7]

Whosoever thinks that to engage in a disputation for refuting such a theory is a religious duty harms religion and weakens it. For these matters rest on demonstrations, geometrical and arithmetical, that leave no room for doubt.

In his defense of the Asharite doctrine of a created universe that is temporally finite, against the Aristotelian doctrine of an eternal universe, Al-Ghazali proposed the modal theory of possible worlds, arguing that their actual world is the best of all possible worlds from among all the alternate timelines and world histories that God could have possibly created. His theory parallels that of Duns Scotus in the 14th century. While it is uncertain whether Al-Ghazali had any influence on Scotus, they both may have derived their theory from their readings of Avicenna's Metaphysics.[8]

In the next century, Ibn Rushd (also known in the West as 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.

File:Munqidh min al-dalal (last page).jpg

Last page of Ghazali's autobiography in MS Istanbul, Shehid Ali Pasha 1712, dated A.H. 509 = 1115–1116.

The Deliverance From Error

The autobiography Ghazali wrote towards the end of his life, The Deliverance From Error (Al-munqidh min al-ḍalāl; several English translations[9]) is considered a work of major importance.[10] 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,"[11] 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.[12]

In this work, Ghazali expressed support for mathematics as an exact science, but argues that it cannot be used as a form of proof for religious or metaphysical doctrines due to their non-physical nature. He argues that religion and metaphysics are not in need of mathematics in the sense that poetry is not in need of mathematics or in the sense that philology or grammar can be mastered without any knowledge of mathematical sciences. He also argues that every discipline has its own experts and that an expert in one discipline, in this case mathematics, may fail miserably in other disciplines, in this case religion and metaphysics. Ghazali saw the practical usefulness of mathematics and condemns those who deny the mathematical sciences:[7]

A grievous crime indeed against religion has been committed by the man who imagines that Islam is defended by the denial of the mathematical sciences, seeing that there is nothing in revealed truth opposed to these sciences by way of either negation or affirmation, and nothing in these sciences opposed to the truth of religion.

The Revival of Religious Sciences

Another of Ghazali's major works is The Revival of Religious Sciences (Arabic: احياء علوم الدينIhya 'Ulum al-Din or Ihya'ul Ulumuddin). It covers almost all fields of Islamic religious sciences: Fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence), Kalam (Islamic 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 Salavation (Rub' al-'munjiyat). It is said that he used Abu Talib al-Makki as one of his sources. He then wrote a brief version of this book in Persian under The Alchemy of Happiness (Kīmyāye Sa'ādat).

In this book, he classified the mathematics and medicine of medieval Islam as praiseworthy (mamdūh) sciences and considers them to be a community obligation (fard kifāyah). He writes:[7]

Sciences whose knowledge is deemed fard kifāyah comprise [all] sciences which are indispensable for the welfare of this world such as: medicine which is necessary for the life of the body, arithmetic for daily transactions and the divisions of legacies and inheritances, as well as others. These are the sciences which, because of their absence, the community would be reduced to narrow straits.

Key contributions

Physics and metaphysics

See also: Islamic physics, Islamic metaphysics, and Early Islamic philosophy


Ghazali was responsible for formulating the Ash'ari school of atomism. He argued that atoms are the only perpetual [continual], material things in existence, and all else in the world is “accidental” [having temporary attributes or form] and lasts for only an instant in comparison with the universe. Nothing accidental can be the cause of anything else, except perception, as it exists for a moment. Contingent events are not subject to natural physical causes, but are the direct result of God’s constant intervention, without which nothing could happen. Thus nature is completely dependent on God, which is consistent with other Ash'ari Islamic ideas on causation, or the lack thereof.[13]

In atomic theory, Ghazali alluded to the possibility of dividing an atom. In reference to the wide divisions among Muslims, he wrote: "Muslims are so good at dividing that they can divide the atom. If you see two Muslims, probably they belong to 3 parties."[14]

In the fourteenth century, Nicholas of Autrecourt considered that matter, space, and time were all made up of indivisible atoms, points, and instants and that all generation and corruption took place by the rearrangement of material atoms. The similarities of his ideas with those of Ghazali suggest that Nicholas was familiar with the work of Ghazali, who was known as "Algazel" in Europe, either directly or indirectly through Ibn Rushd.[15]

It was only in the nineteenth century that our atomic theories came into place, with the quantum mechanical model being most up to date.


Occasionalism is a philosophical theory about causation which says that created substances cannot be efficient causes of events. Instead, all events are taken to be caused directly by God. (A related theory, which has been called 'occasional causation', also denies a link of efficient causation between mundane events, but may differ as to the identity of the true cause that replaces them.[16]) The theory states that the illusion of efficient causation between mundane events arises out of God's causing of one event after another. However, there is no necessary connection between the two: it is not that the first event causes God to cause the second event: rather, God first causes one and then causes the other.

The doctrine first reached prominence in the Islamic theological schools of Iraq, especially in Basra. The ninth century theologian Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari argued that there is no Secondary Causation in the created order. The world is sustained and governed through direct intervention of a divine primary causation. As such the world is in a constant state of recreation by God. The most famous proponent of the Asharite occasionalist doctrine was Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali. In The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Al-Ghazali launched a philosophical critique against Neoplatonic-influenced early Islamic philosophers such as Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina. In response to the philosopher's claim that the created order is governed by secondary efficient causes (God being, as it were, the Primary and Final Cause in an ontological and logical sense), Ghazali argues that what we observe as regularity in nature based presumably upon some natural law is actually a kind of constant and continual regularity. There is no independent necessitation of change and becoming, other than what God has ordained. To posit an independent causality outside of God's knowledge and action is to deprive Him of true agency, and diminish his attribute of power. In his famous example, when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned not because of the heat of the fire, but through God's direct intervention, a claim which he defended using logic. In the 12th century, this theory was defended and further strengthened by the Islamic theologian Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, using his expertise in the natural sciences of astronomy, cosmology and physics.

Because God is usually seen as rational, rather than arbitrary, his behaviour in normally causing events in the same sequence (i.e., what appears to us to be efficient causation) can be understood as a natural outworking of that principle of reason, which we then describe as the laws of nature. Properly speaking, however, these are not laws of nature but laws by which God chooses to govern his own behaviour (his autonomy, in the strict sense) — in other words, his rational will. This is not, however, an essential element of an occasionalist account, and occasionalism can include positions where God's behaviour (and thus that of the world) is viewed as ultimately inscrutable, thus maintaining God's essential transcendence. On this understanding, apparent anomalies such as miracles are not really such: they are simply God behaving in a way that appears unusual to us. Given his transcendent freedom, he is not bound even by his own nature. Miracles, as breaks in the rational structure of the universe, can occur, since God's relationship with the world is not mediated by rational principles.

Quantum theory

It has been noted that Al-Ghazali's theory of physical reality anticipates some of the core principles of contemporary quantum physics (also known as quantum mechanics) by almost a millenium. In her 1993 paper, Causality Then and Now: Al Ghazali and Quantum Theory, the scholar Karen Harding stated:[17]

"The extent of the commonalities is striking. For example, both deny that the regularities in the behavior of objects should be attributed to the existence of causal laws. Further, they agree that events in the world ate not strictly predictable. Both accept the idea that unexpected, unpredictable things can and do occur. According to al Ghazali's explanation, God is omnipotent and involved in the world at every moment and can, therefore, cause anything to happen. The Copenhagen Interpretation of quantum theory says that it is impossible to predict the exact behavior of an object based on physical laws. As a result, while one might expect a lead ball to fall when it is dropped, there is a definite possibility that the ball will rise instead."

Karen Harding concludes:[17]

"Although separated by culture and by nearly ten centuries, the similarities between al-Ghazali and the Copenhagen Interpretation are remarkable. In both cases, and contrary to common sense, objects are viewed as having no inherent properties and no independent existence. In order for an object to exist, it must be brought into being either by God (a1 Ghazili) or by an observer (the Copenhagen Interpretation).
In addition, the world is not entirely predictable. For al-Ghazali, God has the ability to make anything happen whenever He chooses. In general, the world functions in a predictable manner, but a miraculous event can occur at any moment. All it takes for a miracle to occur is for God to not follow His "custom." The quantum world is very similar. Lead balls fall when released because the probability of their behaving in that way is very high. It is, however, very possible that the lead ball may "miraculously" rise rather than fall when released. Although the probability of such an event is very small, such an event is, nonetheless, still possible.
Both al-Ghazali in the eleventh century and quantum theory in the twentieth century imply that the world is very different from what common sense would lead one to believe. The appearance of objects is deceiving. Objects do not have an independent existence, as one has come to expect. Objects created each moment, either by God or by an act of observation. Furthermore, it is not possible, even in principle, to predict the exact behavior of objects, but only the probability of occurrences. Such a view of the physical world is, then, both new and old."

In a 2003 paper, Ümit Yoksuloglu Devji and Eric L. Ormsby further elaborated on Harding's comparative analysis between Al-Ghazali's theory and contemporary quantum physics. They state:[18]

"An of the above point to parallels between al-Ghazali's concept of the structure and machinations of the natural world, as outlined in the Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa, and the views of the quantum physicists regarding systems operating within the physical universe. For both, generally speaking, notions of an inherent causality guiding events in the universe are rejected. As well, regarding the place of human consciousness, particularly in terms of the inability of human observation in discovering an objective reality, the views of both are in general agreement. The consequent reevaluation of what is possible and impossible is evident in both as weIl, although the two views differ in terms of the details. Finally, the work of both points to the need for a reconsideration of preexisting beliefs about the physical world and how it operates, from a human perspective."

Devji and Ormsby conclude:[18]

"Although more than nine centuries separate the thinking of al-Ghazali in the Seventeenth Discussion of Tahafut al-Falasifa from the work of the quantum theorists, numerous parallels can be drawn between the conclusions reached by both as to the nature of physical reality and the ability of the human mind to perceive an objective view of its structure.
These parallels can be grouped under four general headings, as follows:
  1. The invalidity of the idea of causality as an inherent system consistently operating within the physical/natural realm.
  2. The impossibility of human perception to apprehend an objective 'always true' vision of the operating structures of physical matter and the universe.
  3. A subsequent reevaluation of what can be confidently asserted to be possible and impossible within the physical realm.
  4. A consequent call for a reconsideration of the sources and means of obtaining knowledge about the physical realm."

Cosmology and astronomy

See also: The Incoherence of the Philosophers, Islamic cosmology, and Islamic astronomy

Al-Ghazali's criticism of Aristotelian physics and Aristotelian cosmology played an important role in the development of an independent astronomy over the next several centuries. From the 12th century onwards, Islamic astronomy began becoming a science primarily dependant upon observation rather than philosophy, primarily due to religious opposition from Islamic theologians, most prominently Al-Ghazali, who opposed the interference of Aristotelianism in astronomy, opening up possibilities for an astronomy unrestrained by Aristotelian philosophy.[19]

The theologian Adud al-Din al-Iji (1281–1355), under the influence of Al-Ghazali's Ash'ari doctrine of occasionalism, rejected the Aristotelian principle of an innate principle of circular motion in the heavenly bodies,[20] and maintained that the celestial spheres were "imaginary things" and "more tenuous than a spider's web".[19] Under such influences, Ali al-Qushji (d. 1474) rejected Aristotelian physics and completely separated it from astronomy, allowing astronomy to become a purely empirical and mathematical science. This allowed him to explore alternatives to the Aristotelian notion of a stationary Earth, as he explored the idea of a moving Earth. He concluded, on the basis of empirical evidence rather than speculative philosophy, that the moving Earth theory is just as likely to be true as the stationary Earth theory and that it is not possible to empirically deduce which theory is true.[19]

Possible worlds

Al-Ghazali, in The Incoherence of the Philosophers, defends the Ash'ari doctrine of a created universe that is temporally finite, against the Aristotelian doctrine of an eternal universe. In doing so, he proposed the modal theory of possible world, arguing that their actual world is the best of all possible worlds from among all the alternate timeline and world histories that God could have possibly created. His theory parallels that of Duns Scotus in the 14th century. While it is uncertain whether Al-Ghazali had any influence on Scotus, they both may have derived their theory from their readings of Avicenna's Metaphysics.[21]

His Ash'ari-based views influenced the theologian Fakhr al-Din al-Razi (1149–1209) to reject the Aristotelian notion of the Earth's centrality within the universe and instead propose the notion of a multiverse consisting of countless world and universes, "such that each one of those worlds be bigger and more massive than this world as well as having the like of what this world has." Al-Razi also criticized the Aristotelian notion of solid celestial spheres and suggested these may be "merely the abstract orbit traced by the stars."[22]

Kalām cosmological argument

The Kalām cosmological argument is a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of a first cause for the universe, and the existence of God. Its origins can be traced to medieval Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Kalām tradition.[23] Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[24] Saadia Gaon,[25] Al-Ghazali,[26] and St. Bonaventure.[27] William Lane Craig revived interest in the Kalām cosmological argument with his 1979 publication of a book of the same name.[28][29]

The classical argument, as formulated by its most notable proponent Al-Ghazali, is as follows:

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.[30]

In his modern formulation, William Lane Craig states that it is logically impossible for the number of past events to be infinite, and therefore the universe must have a definite beginning to its existence. From the position of Cosmology, Craig cites the Big Bang theory as evidence for the second premise, pointing to the temporal beginning of the universe, as opposed to the Cyclic model, vacuum fluctuation models, and Hartle–Hawking state model.[31]

Ghazali, however, thought that it is at least theoretically possible for there to be an infinite regress, and that there is nothing that necessitates a first-cause simply by pure deductive reason. He thus disputes one of the essential premises of the first-cause argument. Muhammad Iqbal also rejects the argument, stating: "a finite effect can give only a finite cause, or at most an infinite series of such causes. To finish the series at a certain point, and to elevate one member of the series to the dignity of an un-caused first cause, is to set at naught the very law of causation on which the whole argument proceeds."[32]

Temporal finitism

In cosmology, in contrast to ancient Greek philosophers such as Aristotle who believed that the universe had an infinite past with no beginning, medieval philosophers and theologians developed apposing arguments for the universe having a finite past with a beginning (temporal finitism). This view was inspired by the belief in creation shared by the three Abrahamic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The most significant aspect of such arguments' history was their development and formulation by Medieval Islamic and Jewish philosophers & theologians, most notably; Islamic philosopher, Al-Kindi (Alkindus); the Jewish philosopher, Saadia Gaon (Saadia ben Joseph); and finally Islamic theologian Ghazali. They proposed two sorts of logical arguments against an infinite past, the first being the "argument from the impossibility of the existence of an actual infinite", which states:[33]

"An actual infinite cannot exist."
"An infinite temporal regress of events is an actual infinite."
".•. An infinite temporal regress of events cannot exist."

His second argument, the "argument from the impossibility of completing an actual infinite by successive addition", states:[33]

"An actual infinite cannot be completed by successive addition."
"The temporal series of past events has been completed by successive addition."
".•. The temporal series of past events cannot be an actual infinite."

Both arguments were adopted by later Christian philosophers and theologians, and the second argument in particular became more famous after it was adopted by Immanuel Kant in his thesis of the first antinomy concerning time.[33]

Al-Ghazali also formulated other logical arguments against an infinite past. According to Robert C. Koons: "Another example is mentioned by al-Ghazali. Suppose that the sun and moon have each been revolving around the earth throughout an infinite past. There are 12 revolutions of the moon for every revolution of the sun. As we go back in time, the gap between the number of months and years grows ever wider, yet, taken as a whole, there are an equal number of elapsed months and years (both infinite). Cantorian set theory agrees with this paradoxical result: the cardinal number of months and years is exactly the same." Al-Ghazali's argument for a finite beginning is regarded as a precursor to Big Bang cosmology. [7]


According to Al-Ghazali, the concept of time only came into existence when the universe came into existence: [8]

Time is generated and created, and before it there was no time at all. The meaning of our words that God is prior to the world and to time is: He existed without the world and without time, then He existed and with Him there was the world and there was time.

Biology and medicine

See also: Islamic medicine

Ghazali's writings are believed to have been a source of encouragement for the study of medicine in medieval Islam, particularly anatomy. In The Revival of the Religious Sciences, he classed medicine as one of the praiseworthy (mahmud) secular sciences, in contrast to astrology which he considered blameworthy (madhmutn). In his discourse on meditation (tafakkur), he devoted a number of pages to a fairly detailed anatomical exposition of the parts of the human body, advocating such study as a suitable subject for contemplation and drawing nearer to God."[34]

In The Deliverance from Error, Ghazali made a strong statement in support of anatomy and dissection:


His support for the study of anatomy and dissection was influential in the rise of anatomy and dissections carried out among Muslim physicians in the 12th and 13th centuries,[35] by the likes of Ibn Zuhr and Ibn al-Nafis, among others. Ibn Rushd, a critic of Ghazali, also agreed with him on the issue of dissection.[36]


See also: Logic in Islamic philosophy

In Islamic logic, Al-Ghazali had an important influence on the use of logic in Islamic theology, as he was the first to apply the Avicennian system of temporal modal logic to Islamic theology.[37] He also established the application of three types of logical systems in Islamic Sharia law and Fiqh jurisprudence: reasoning by analogy, deductive logic, and inductive logic. In cases that have multiple legal precedents, he recommended the use of inductive logic, stating that the "larger the number of pieces of textual evidence is, the stronger our knowledge becomes."[38]


See also: Islamic psychology

In Islamic psychology and Sufi psychology, Ghazali discussed the concept of the self and the causes of its misery and happiness. He described the self using four terms: Qalb (heart), Ruh (spirit), Nafs (soul) and 'Aql (intellect). He stated that "the self has an inherent yearning for an ideal, which it strives to realize and it is endowed with qualities to help realize it." He further stated that the self has motor and sensory motives for fulfilling its bodily needs. He wrote that the motor motives comprise of propensities and impulses, and further divided the propensities into two types: appetite and anger. He wrote that appetite urges hunger, thirst, and sexual craving, while anger takes the form of rage, indignation and revenge. He further wrote that impulse resides in the muscles, nerves, and tissues, and moves the organs to "fulfill the propensities."[39]

Ghazali was one of the first to divide the sensory motives (apprehension) into five external senses (the classical senses of hearing, sight, smell, taste and touch) and five internal senses: common sense (Hiss Mushtarik) which synthesizes sensuous impressions carried to the brain while giving meaning to them; imagination (Takhayyul) which enables someone to retain mental images from experience; reflection (Tafakkur) which brings together relevant thoughts and associates or dissociates them as it considers fit but has no power to create anything new which is not already present in the mind; recollection (Tadhakkur) which remembers the outer form of objects in memory and recollects the meaning; and the memory (Hafiza) where impressions received through the senses are stored. He wrote that, while the external senses occur through specific organs, the internal senses are located in different regions of the brain, and discovered that the memory is located in the hinder lobe, imagination is located in the frontal lobe, and reflection is located in the middle folds of the brain. He stated that these inner senses allow people to predict future situations based on what they learn from past experiences.[40]

In The Revival of Religious Sciences, he wrote that the five internal senses are found in both humans and animals. In Mizan al Amal, however, he later stated that animals "do not possess a well-developed reflective power" and argued that animals mostly think in terms of "pictorial ideas in a simple way and are incapable of complex association and dissociation of abstract ideas involved in reflection." He wrote that "the self carries two additional qualities, which distinguishes man from animals enabling man to attain spiritual perfection", which are 'Aql (intellect) and Irada (will). He argued that the intellect is "the fundamental rational faculty, which enables man to generalize and form concepts and gain knowledge." He also argued that human will and animal will are both different. He wrote that human will is "conditioned by the intellect" while animal will is "conditioned by anger and appetite" and that "all these powers control and regulate the body." He further wrote that the Qalb (heart) "controls and rules over them" and that it has six powers: appetite, anger, impulse, apprehension, intellect, and will. He stated that humans have all six of these traits, while animals only have three (appetite, anger, and impulse).[40] This was in contrast to other ancient and medieval thinkers such as Aristotle, Avicenna, Roger Bacon and Thomas Aquinas who all believed that animals cannot become angry.[41]

Ghazali wrote that knowledge can either be innate or acquired. He divided innate knowledge into phenomenal, (material world) and spiritual (related to God and soul), and divided acquired knowledge into imitation, logical reasoning, contemplation and intuition. He also argued that there are four elements in human nature: the sage (intellect and reason), the pig (lust and gluttony), the dog (anger), and the devil(brutality). He argued that the latter three elements are in conflict with the former element and that "different people have such powers in different proportions."[40]

Ghazali divided the Nafs into three categories based on the Qur'an: Nafs Ammarah(12:53) which "exhorts one to freely indulge in gratifying passions and instigates to do evil", Nafs Lawammah (75:2) which is "the conscience that directs man towards right or wrong", and Nafs Mutmainnah (89:27) which is "a self that reaches the ultimate peace." As an analogy between psychology and politics, he compared the soul to that of a king running a kingdom, arguing that the bodily organs are like the artisans and workers, intellect is like a wise vizier, desire is like a wicked servant, and anger is like the police force. He argued that a king can correctly run the state of affairs by turning to the wise vizier, turns away from the wicked servant, and regulating the workers and the police; and that in the same way, the soul is balanced if it "keeps anger under control and makes the intellect dominate desire." He argued that for a soul to reach perfection, it needs to evolve through several stages: sensuous (like a moth which has no memory), imaginative (lower animal), instinctive (higher animal), rational ("transcends animal stage and apprehends objects beyond the scope of his senses") and divine ("apprehends reality of spiritual things").[42]

He stated that there are two classifications of diseases: physical and spiritual. He considered the latter to be more dangerous, resulting from "ignorance and deviation from God", and listed the spiritual diseases as: self-centeredness; addiction to wealth, fame and social status; and ignorance, cowardice, cruelty, lust, waswas (doubt), malevolence, calumny, envy, deception, and greed. To overcome these spiritual weaknesses, Ghazali suggested the therapy of opposites ("use of imagination in pursuing the opposite"), such as ignorance & learning, or hate & love. He described the personality as an "integration of spiritual and bodily forces" and believed that "closeness to God is equivalent to normality whereas distance from God leads to abnormality."[43]

Ghazali argued that human beings occupy a position "midway between animals and angels and his distinguishing quality is knowledge." He argues that a human can either rise to "the level of the angels with the help of knowledge" or fall to "the levels of animals by letting his anger and lust dominate him." He also argued that Ilm al-Batin (esotericism) is fard (incumbent) and advised Tazkiya Nafs (self-purification). He also noted that "good conduct can only develop from within and does not need total destruction of natural propensities."[43]


File:Grave of Ghazali.PNG

The grave believed to belong to Ghazali

Ghazali had an important influence on Medieval philosophy, among Muslim philosophers, Christian philosophers, and Jewish philosophers like Maimonides.[44][45]

Islamic world

Ghazali played a very major role in systematizing Sufism and elucidating its place within Islam and Islamic law (Sharia). 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 Sunni 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.

Whether the actual outcome of freezing Independent legal reasoning Ijtihad was the goal of Ghazali is highly debatable. While he himself was a critic of the philosophers, Ghazali was a master in the art of philosophy and had immensely studied the field. After such a long education in philosophy, as well as a long process of reflection, he had criticized the philosophical method.

Dimitri Gutas and the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy consider the period between the 11th and 14th centuries to be the "Golden Age" of Arabic and Islamic philosophy, initiated by Ghazali's successful integration of logic into the Islamic seminary Madrasah curriculum.[46] Emilie Savage-Smith has also shown that Ghazali was a source of encouragement for the study of medicine in medieval Islam, and that his support for the study of anatomy was influential in the rise of dissections carried out among Muslim physicians in the 12th and 13th centuries.[47]


Margaret Smith writes in her book Al-Ghazali: The Mystic (London 1944): "There can be no doubt that Ghazali’s works would be among the first to attract the attention of these European scholars" (page 220). Then she emphasizes,


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


Scholars have noted the similarities between Descartes' later Discourse on Method (1596–1650) and Ghazali's earlier work[4] (1058–1111) and the writer George Henry Lewes went even further by claiming that "had any translation of it [The Revival of Religious Sciences] in the days of Descartes existed, every one have cried out against the plagiarism."[48]

List of works

File:Pen case of Ghazali.PNG

The pen box belonging to al-Ghazali, preserved in the Cairo museum.

Ghazali had mentioned the number of his works "more than 70", in one of his letters to Sultan Sanjar in the late years of his life. However, there are more than 400 books attributed to him today. Making a judgment on the number of his works and their attribution to Ghazali a difficult step. Many western scholars such as William Montgomery Watt (The works attributed to Al-Ghazali), Maurice Bouyges (Essai de chronologie des oeuvres d'Al-Ghazali) and others prepared a list of his works along with their comments on each book.

Finally, Abdel Rahman Badawi, an Egyptian scholar, prepared a comprehensive list of Ghazali's works under 457 titles:

  • from 1 to 72: works definitely written by Ghazali
  • from 73 to 95: works of doubtful attribution
  • 96 – 127: works which are not those of Ghazali with most certainty
  • 128 – 224: are the names of the Chapters or Sections of Ghazali's books that are mistakenly thought books of his
  • 225 – 273: books written by other authors regarding Ghazali's works
  • 274 – 389: books of other unknown scholars/writers regarding Ghazali's life and personality
  • 389 – 457: the name of the manuscripts of Ghazali's works in different libraries of the world

The following is a short list of his Major 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
  • Sirr al-`Alamin (Secret of the Worlds)
  • al-Risālah al-Qudsiyyah (The Jerusalem Tract)


  • Mizan al-'amal (Criterion of Action)
  • Ihya' ulum al-din, "Revival of Religious Sciences", Ghazali's most important work
  • Bidayat al-hidayah (Beginning of Guidance)
  • Kimiya-ye sa'ādat (The Alchemy of Happiness) [a compact version of Ihya, 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)
  • Makashfa Al Quloub


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

Works in Persian

Ghazali wrote most of his works in Arabic and few in Persian. His most important Persian work is Kīmyāyé Sa'ādat (The Alchemy of Happiness). It is Ghazali's own Persian version of Ihya'e 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 Khadiv-jam, an Iranian scholar. It has been translated to English, Arabic, Turkish, Urdu and other languages.


a manuscript copy of al-Munqidh min al-Dalal, Persian, 1705 A.D.

Apart from Kimya, the most celebrated of Ghazali's works in Persian is Nasīhatul Mulūk (The Counseling Kings), written most probably for Sultan Ahmad Sanjar ibn Malekshah. In the edition published by Jalāluddīn Humāyī, 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 Khosrau I. Nasihatul Muluk was early translated to Arabic under the title al-Tibr al-masbuk fi nasihat al-muluk (The Forged Sword in Counseling Kings).

Zād-e Ākherat (Provision for the hereafter) is an important Persian book of Ghazali. The greater part of it consists of the Persian translation of one of his Arabic books, Bedāyat al-Hedāya (Beginning of Guidance). It contains in addition the same contents as the Kīmyāyé Sa'ādat. 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-nāma (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 Hamāqāti ahli ibāhat or Raddi ebāhīyya (Condemnation of antinomians) which is his opinion 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 made an impressive speech when he was taken to the king's court in Nishapur in 1106, giving very influential counsels, asking the sultan once again to excuse 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 he ordered Ghazali to write down his speech so that it would be sent to all the religious scholars of Khorasan and Persian Iraq.

See also

  • List of Iranian scientists and scholars


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Further reading

  • Laoust, H: La politique de Gazali, Paris 1970
  • Campanini, M.: Al-Ghazzali, in S.H. Nasr and O. Leaman, History of Islamic Philosophy 1996
  • Watt, W. M.: Muslim Intellectual: A Study of al-Ghazali, Edinburgh 1963
  • Zwemer, S. M. A Moslem Seeker after God, New York 1920
  • Nakamura, K. Al-Ghazali, Encyclopedia of Philosophy

External links

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