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Short Biography of Imam Al-Ghazzaali

Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid

category: History & Biographies


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I (al-Dhahabi) say: as for al-Ihya’, it contains many false ahaadeeth, and it contains much that is good. I wish that it did not contain etiquette, rituals and asceticism that are in accordance with the ways of the philosophers and deviant Sufis. We ask Allaah for beneficial knowledge. Do you know what is beneficial knowledge? It is that which Allaah revealed in the Qur’aan, which was explained by the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) in word and deed, and the type of knowledge which we are not forbidden to acquire. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever turns away from my Sunnah does not belong to me.” So, my brother, you must ponder the words of Allaah and persist in studying al-Saheehayn, Sunan al-Nasaa’i, Riyaadh al-Nawawi and al-Adhkaar by al-Nawawi, then you will succeed and prosper.

Beware of the opinions of the philosophers, the practice of spiritual exercises, the starvation of monks, and the nonsense talk of those who stay alone for long periods in their monasteries. All goodness is to be found in following the pure and tolerant way of the haneefs. And seek the help of Allaah. O Allaah, guide us to Your straight path.

Al-Maaziri praised Abu Haamid with regard to fiqh, and said that he had more knowledge of fiqh than of usool al-fiqh (the basic principles of fiqh). With regard to ‘ilm al-kalaam which is usool al-deen, he wrote books in this field, but he did not have deep knowledge of it. I realized that he was lacking in experience in this field, because he studied the branches of philosophy before he studied usool al-fiqh, so philosophy made him audacious in criticizing ideas and attacking facts, because philosophy goes along with one’s train of thought, without any shar’i guidelines.

A friend of his told me that he spent a lot of time studying Rasaa’il Ikhwaan al-Safa, which contains fifty-one essays. It was written by someone who has studied sharee’ah and philosophy, then had mixed the two. He was a man who was known as Ibn Seena, who filled the world with his books. He had a good knowledge of philosophy, which led him to try to refer all the basic principles of ‘aqeedah to philosophy. He strove hard and achieved what others had failed to do. I have seen some of his books and I noticed that Abu Haamid quotes him a great deal when he speaks of philosophy. With regard to Sufi views, I do not know where he got them from, but I have seen that some of his companions mention the books of Ibn Seena and their contents, and he also mentioned the books of Abu Hayyaan al-Tawheedi. As far as I am concerned, he picked up his Sufi ideas from him. I was told that Abu Hayyaan wrote a huge book about these Sufi ideas, and al-Ihya’ contains a lot of baseless ideas… then he said: In al-Ihya’ he mentioned ideas that have no basis, such as starting with the index finger when cutting the nails because it is superior to the other fingers, as it is the finger used in tasbeeh; then moving on to the middle finger because it is to the right of the index finger, and ending with the thumb of the right hand. He narrated a report concerning that.

I (al-Dhahabi) say: this is a fabricated report. Abu’l-Faraj al-Jawzi said: Abu Haamid wrote al-Ihya’ and filled it with fabricated ahaadeeth which he did not know were fabricated. He spoke of inspiration and deviated from the framework of fiqh. He said that what is meant by the stars, moon and sun that Ibraaheem saw was the barriers of light that keep a person from Allaah, not the things that are well known. This is like the words of the Baatiniyyah.

(Siyar A’laam al-Nubala’, part 19, p. 340).

Then at the end of his life, al-Ghazzaali (may Allaah have mercy on him) came back to the belief of Ahl al-Sunnah wa’l-Jamaa’ah. He focused on the Qur’aan and Sunnah and condemned ‘ilm al-kalaam and its proponents. He advised the ummah to come back to the Book of Allaah and the Sunnah of His Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him), and to act in accordance with them, as was the way of the Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them and those who follow them in truth until the Day of Judgement). Shaykh al-Islam (may Allaah have mercy on him) said: After that he came back to the path of the scholars of hadeeth, and wrote Iljaam al-‘Awwaam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalaam.

(Majmoo Fataawa, part 4, p. 72)

A glance at Iljaam al-‘Awwaam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalaam will prove to us that he had indeed changed in many ways:

1 – In this book he advocated the belief of the salaf, and pointed out that the way of the salaf was the truth, and that whoever went against them was an innovator or follower of bid’ah.

2 – He emphatically denounced ta’weel (interpretation of the attributes of Allaah in a manner that differs from their apparent meaning). He advocated affirming the attributes of Allaah and not misinterpreting them in a manner that would lead to denying the attributes of Allaah.

3 – He emphatically denounced the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam and described all their principles and standards as “reprehensible innovations” which had harmed a great number of people and created trouble for the Muslims. He said: “The harm caused to a great number of people is something that has been seen, witnessed and experienced. The evil that has resulted since ‘ilm al-kalaam began has become widespread even though people at the time of the Sahaabah forbade that. This is also indicated by the fact that the Messenger (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and the Sahaabah, by consensus, did not follow the way of the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam when they produced arguments and evidence and analysis. That was not because they were incapable of doing so; if they had thought that was something good, they would have done it in the best manner, and they would have studied the matter hard, more than they did with regard to the division of the estate among the heirs (al-faraa’id).”

He also said: “The Sahaabah (may Allaah be pleased with them) needed to prove the Prophethood of Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) to the Jews and Christians, but they did not add anything to the evidence of the Qur’aan; they did not resort to arguments or lay down philosophical principles. That was because they knew that doing so would provoke trouble and cause confusion. Whoever is not convinced by the evidence of the Qur’aan will not be convinced by anything other than the sword, for there is no proof after the proof of Allaah.”

See Abu Haamid al-Ghazzaali wa’l-Tasawwuf.

These are a few of the comments that trustworthy scholars have made about al-Ghazzaali (may Allaah have mercy on him). Perhaps this is enough for those who wish to be guided. And Allaah is the Guide to the straight path.

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