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 increasing sense of loss of the presence of God in these scholarly religious investigations. After carefully studying the works of numerous Sufis and understanding their principles intellectually, he appears to have had an epiphany in which those principles became experiential.
The Incoherence of the Philosophers
The Incoherence and the reply by Averroës (The Incoherence of the Incoherence) constitute one of the most famous philosophical exchanges in the Islamicate world and were also very widely discussed in medieval and Renaissance Europe. Al-Ghazālī...
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