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Short Biography of Imam Al-Ghazzaali
Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid
category: History & Biographies
Praise be to Allaah.
Al-Ghazzaali was Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Toosi, who was known as al-Ghazzaali. He was born in Toos in 450 AH. His father used to spin wool and sell it in his shop in Toos.
The life of al-Ghazzaali needs to be discussed at length because he went through a number of stages. He indulged in philosophy, then he recanted and rejected that. After that he indulged in what is known as ‘ilm al-kalaam (Islamic philosophy) and gained a sound grasp of its basic principles; then he rejected that after it became clear to him that it was corrupt and filled with contradictions. He was focusing on ‘ilm al-kalaam during the period when he refuted philosophy, and at that time he was given the title of Hujjat al-Islam, after he had refuted the arguments of the philosophers. Then he recanted ‘ilm al-kalaam and turned away from it. He followed the path of the Baatiniyyah (esotericists) and learned their knowledge, but then he rejected that and showed the beliefs of the Baatiniyyah to be false, and exposed the manner in which they tamper with the texts and rulings. Then he followed the path of Sufism. These are the four stages that al-Ghazzaali went through. Shaykh Abu ‘Umar ibn al-Salaah (may Allaah have mercy on him) spoke well of him when he said: “A lot has been said about Abu Haamid and a lot has been narrated from him. As for these books – meaning al-Ghazzaali’s books which contradict the truth – no attention should be paid to them. As for the man himself, we should keep quiet about him, and refer his case to Allaah.” See Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali wa’l-Tasawwuf by ‘Abd al-Rahmaan Dimashqiyyah.
No fair-minded person would deny the rare level of intelligence, ingenuity and cleverness that Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali attained. Al-Dhahabi said of him: “Al-Ghazzaali, the imaam and shaykh, the prominent scholar, Hujjat al-Islam, the wonder of his time, Zayn al-Deem Abu Haamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Toosi al-Shaafa’i al-Ghazzaali, the author of many books and one possessed of utter intelligence. He studied fiqh in his own town, then he moved to Nisapur in the company of a group of students. He stayed with the Imaam al-Haramayn and gained a deep knowledge of fiqh within a short period. He became well-versed in ‘ilm al-kalaam and debate, until he became the best of debaters…” (Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, part 9, p. 323)
You will find that even though Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali had such a deep knowledge of fiqh, Sufism, ‘ilm al-kalaam, usool al-fiqh, etc., and even though he was such an ascetic and devoted worshipper, and had such a good intention and vast knowledge of Islamic sciences, he still had an inclination towards philosophy. But his philosophy emerged in the form of Sufism and was expressed through Islamic ideas. Hence the Muslim scholars, including his closest companion Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi, refuted his ideas. Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi said: Our shaykh Abu Haamid went deep into philosophy, then he wanted to come out of it but he was unable to. There were narrated from him opinions which sound like the Baatini way of speaking, and that may be verified by looking in al-Ghazzaali’s books. See Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, part 4, p. 66.
Even though al-Ghazzaali was very advanced in knowledge, he had little knowledge of hadeeth and its sciences, and he could not distinguish between sound ahaadeeth and weak ones. Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: “If we assume that someone narrated the view of the salaf but what he narrated is far removed from what the view of the salaf actually is, then he has little knowledge of the view of the salaf, such as Abu’l-Ma’aali, Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali, Ibn al-Khateeb and the like, who did not have enough knowledge of hadeeth to qualify them as ordinary scholars of hadeeth, let alone as prominent scholars in that field. For none of these people had any knowledge of al-Bukhaari and Muslim and their ahaadeeth, apart from what they heard, which is similar to the situation of the ordinary Muslim, who cannot distinguish between a hadeeth which is regarded as saheeh and mutawaatir according to the scholars of hadeeth, and a hadeeth which is fabricated and false. Their books bear witness to that, for they contain strange things and most of these scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam and Sufis who have drifted away from the path of the salaf admit that, either at the time of death or before death. There are many such well-known stories. This Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali, despite his brilliance, his devotion to Allaah, his knowledge of kalaam and philosophy, his asceticism and spiritual practices and his Sufism, ended up in a state of confusion and resorted to the path of those who claim to find out things through dreams and spiritual methods. (Majmoo’ al-Fataawa, part 4, p. 71).
He also said: Hence, even though Abu Haamid refuted the philosophers and classed them as kaafirs, and expressed veneration of Prophethood [as opposed to philosophy], etc., and even though some of what he says is true and good, and indeed of great benefit, nevertheless some of his writings contain philosophical material and matters where he followed the corrupt principles of philosophy that contradict Prophethood and even contradict sound common sense. Hence a group of scholars from Khurasaan, Iraq and the Maghreb criticized him, such as his friend Abu Ishaaq al-Margheenaani, Abu’l-Wafa’ ibn ‘Aqeel, al-Qushayri, al-Tartooshi, Ibn Rushd, al-Maaziri and a group of earlier scholars. This was even mentioned by Shaykh Abu ‘Amr ibn al-Salaah in his book Tabaqaat Ashaab al-Shaafa’i, and was confirmed by Shaykh Abu Zakariya al-Nawawi, who said in his book: “Chapter explaining some important things for which Imaam al-Ghazzaali was denounced in his books which were unacceptable to the scholars of his madhhab and others, namely his odd statements such as what he said in Muqaddimat al-Mantiq at the beginning of al-Mustasfa: ‘This is the introduction to all knowledge, and whoever does not learn this, his knowledge cannot be trusted at all.’”
Shaykh Abu ‘Amr said: “I heard Shaykh al-‘Imaad ibn Yoonus narrating from Yoosuf al-Dimashqi, the teacher of al-Nizaamiyyah in Baghdad, who was one of the famous deans of the school, that he used to denounce these words and say, “Abu Bakr and ‘Umar and So-and-so and So-and-so…” meaning that these great leaders had a great deal of certainty and faith even though they had no knowledge of this Muqaddimah and of any of the ideas contained in it.” (al-‘Aqeedah al-Isfahaaniyyah, part 1, p. 169).
Al-Dhahabi narrated in his book Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’ that Muhammad ibn al-Waleed al-Tartooshi said in a letter which he sent to Ibn Muzaffar: As for what you mentioned about Abu Haamid, I have seen him and spoken to him, and I think that he is a man of great knowledge, he is intelligent and capable, and has been studying all of his life, spending most of his time in study, but then he drifted away from the path of the scholars and entered the crowd of worshippers. Then he became a Sufi and forsook knowledge and its people, then he got involved with “inspiration”, those who claim to have spiritual knowledge, and the insinuating whispers of the Shaytaan. Then he mixed that with the views of the philosophers and the symbolic phrases of al-Hallaaj, and he started to criticize the fuqaha’ and the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam. He almost went astray from the religion altogether. When he wrote al-Ihya’ [i.e., Ihya’ ‘Uloom al-Deen], he started to speak of the inspiration and symbolic words of the Sufis, although he was not qualified to do that and had no deep knowledge of such matters. Hence he failed, and filled his book with fabricated reports.
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