Al-Ghazālī (Dictionary of World Biography: Middle Ages)
Article abstract: Al-Ghazālī is widely regarded as the greatest theologian of Islam; his thought and writing bridged the gap between the Scholastic and the mystical interpretations of religion and formed an ethical and moral structure that has endured.
Abū Hāmid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Tūsī al-Ghazzālī was one of a number of children born to a prominent family of the Ghazala, specialists distinguished for their knowledge of Muslim canon law (Shariʿa). Although little is known of his childhood, his pattern of education strongly suggests that his family intended for him to follow its professional traditions. Much of his education and religious training was at home in Tus, with some time also spent at the important intellectual center of Jurjan. His advanced education was undertaken at the major university city of Nishapur. In 1085, al-Ghazālī visited the influential Nizām al-Mulk, the most important vizier of the early Seljuk period and a major figure himself in the propagation of education and scholarship. In 1091, Nizām appointed al-Ghazālī to a professorship at the university which he had established in Baghdad in 1065.
For several years, al-Ghazālī remained in Baghdad as a popular and successful lecturer, whose classes drew students by the hundreds. Beneath it all, however, al-Ghazālī was a deeply troubled man. His views became increasingly skeptical with respect to theology...
(The entire section is 2017 words.)
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Abū Hāmid al-Ghazālī (not to be confused with his younger brother, Ahmad Ghazālī) is best known for his writings on ethics, the proper foundations for ethics, and mysticism (which is, for al-Ghazālī, continuous with ethics). His work enjoys widespread respect, earning him the honorific title “the scholar among the inhabitants of the world.” Unlike many other philosophers, who were happy to begin their reflections with reason or sense experience, al-Ghazālī placed great emphasis on the importance of the Qur’ān and the hadīth (traditions) of the life of Muhammad.
Al-Ghazālī was a successful and respected professor of theology at the most important college in the Seljuk empire, the Nizāmiyya, in Baghdad. In 1095, however, he suffered a severe personal crisis, left the Nizāmiyya, traveled throughout the Middle East, and eventually resettled in his ancestral home, Tus. There, he wrote the many treatises that secured his enduring, central place in Islamicate thought.
The crisis of 1095 was focal to al-Ghazālī’s later thought. A superb logician, he was not only able to construct impressive systematic theology but also was aware that intellectual argumentation about that which transcends the abilities of argumentation is built on a foundation of sand. Furthermore, the scholarly endeavors of orthodox legalists and theologians came to seem arid, even spiritually sterile, to al-Ghazālī, who appears to have felt an...
(The entire section is 841 words.)