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Encyclopedia > Ghazali

Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazali (born 1058 in Tus, Khorasan province of Persia, modern day Iran, died 1111, Tus) was a Persian Muslim theologian and philosopher, known as Algazel to the western medieval world. Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, or al-Ghazzali as he is written sometimes, contributed significantly to the development of a systematic view of Sufism and its integration and acceptance in mainstream Islam. Al-Ghazali was both a Sufi and a scholar of orthodox Islam, belonging to the Shafi school of thought.

Al-Ghazali remains one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Islamic thought. He lectured at the Nizamiyyah school of Baghdad (the highest ranked academy of the golden era of Islamic civilization) between 1091 and 1096. He was the scholar per excellence in the Islamic world. He had literally hundreds of scholars attending his lectures at the Nizamiyyah. His audience included scholars from other schools of jurisprudence. This position won him prestige, wealth and respect that even princes and viziers could not match.

After some years he distributed his wealth and left Baghdad to begin a spiritual journey that lasted over a decade. He went to Damascus, Jerusalem, Hebron, Madinah, Mecca and back to Baghdad where he stopped briefly. He then left for Tus to spend the next several years in seclusion. He ended his seclusion for a short lecturing period at the Nizamiyyah of Nishapur in 1106. Later he returned to Tus where he remained until his death in December, 1111.

He is also viewed as the key member of the influential Asharite school of early Muslim philosophy and the most important refuter of Mutazilites. His 11th century book the "Incoherence of the Philosophers" marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology, as Ghazali effectively discovered philosophical skepticism that would not be commonly seen in the West until George Berkeley and David Hume in the 18th century. The encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism, or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of Allah, the Islamic divine being. The logical consequence of this belief in practice, and an outcome that has developed in part from it over the subsequent centuries, is a turn towards fundamentalism in many Islamic societies.

The Incoherence also marked a turning point in Islamic philosophy in its vehement rejections of Aristotle and Plato. The book took aim at the falasifa, a loosely defined group of Islamic philosophers from the 8th through the 11th centuries (most notable among them Avicenna) who drew intellectually upon the Ancient Greeks. Ghazali bitterly denounced Aristotle, Socrates and other Greek writers as non-believers and labelled those who employed their methods and ideas as corrupters of the Islamic faith.

In the next century, Averroes drafted a lengthy rebuttal of Ghazali's Incoherence entitled the Incoherence of the Incoherence; however, the epistemological course of Islamic thought had already been set.

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




  • al-Munqidh min al-dalal
  • al-1qtisad fi'I-i`tiqad
  • al-Risala al-Qudsiyya
  • Kitab al-arba?in fi usul al-din
  • Mizan al-?amal


  • Ihya ?ulum al-din, "The revival of the religious sciences", Ghazali's most important work
  • Kimiya?-yi sa?adat, "The Alchemy of Happiness"
  • Mishkat al-anwar, "The Niche of Lights"


  • Maqasid al falasifa
  • Tahafut al falasifa, "The Incoherence of the Philosophers", of which Ibn Rushd wrote his famous refutation Tahafut al-tahafut (The Incoherence of the Incoherence)


  • al-Mustasfa min ?ilm al-usul


  • Mi?yar al-?ilm (The Standard Measure of Knowledge)
  • al-Qistas al-mustaqim (The Just Balance)
  • Mihakk al-nazar f'l-mantiq (The Touchstone of Proof in Logic)


  • Laoust, H: La politique de Gazali, 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
  • Marmura: Al-Ghazali The Incoherence of the Philosophers, (2nd ed.). Brigham: Printing Press. ISBN 0-8425-2466-5.


Possessions You possess only whatever will not be lost in a shipwreck.

Gain and Loss I should like to know what a man who has no knowledge has really gained, and what a man of knowledge has not gained.

From 'The Way of The Sufi' by Idris Shah

External links

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