Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem
Imam al-Ghazali radiallahu anhu, his name is Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Tusi. He had the laqab which is a name that is given usually people are given a laqab like Sayyidina Hamza was called Asadullah and then the kunya is Abu Hamid but his laqab was Zaynudeen, the beauty of the deen. He was born in Tus in Khorasan in 450 after hijrah which is about 1058. He was born into a very poor family not extremely poor but poor. His father was a weaver and when he died they were very young and he put them in charge of a local shaykh there who was probably, he was not an alim by any means but he was a very righteous man and he had some knowledge. He educated them in their early education but Imam al-Ghazali both of them Ahmad al-Ghazali who is his brother became a faqih and also a poet and is noted for his spirituality as well but Imam al-Ghazali very early on showed his brilliance and they both entered into the madrassah. That is everything their father left, he left towards their education. He asked this shaykh to give them their education and he ended up becoming a student. He went to one of the nearby cities and studied and during that time one of the greatest shaykhs of Islam happened to be in the area and that is one of the things you note in Islamic history. In fact it is really noted in human history.
You will find very often that very brilliant people, they emerge at a time where there are other brilliant people to nurture their brilliance which is very helpful. Imam al Ghazali was very fortunate and so was Imam al-Juwayni to have a student like Imam al-Ghazali because one of the blessings of a great teacher is to have great students and Imam al-Ghazali became the student of probably the greatest teacher at the time who was Imam al-Juwayni who was called Imam al-Haramayn. He was a brilliant Shafi faqih. His book in usool is a very important book in usool and Imam al-Ghazali would go on to actually develop usool and write his own book in usool that surpassed his teachers book. Imam al-Juwayni was also a great theologian but Imam al-Ghazali, his genius emerges in fiqh early on, usool fiqh and also in ilm al-kalam. These were the two areas that he was really a master of and during that time there was a lot of trouble in the Muslim world for a lot of different reasons partly because the period he was living in was a period in which the creed of Islam was going through some transitions. First of all the Mutazila were still very powerful and the Mutazilite were rationalists and they were people that believed that the aql the intellect should actually be the criteria by which you judge matters of religion. So you put the Quran under the microscope of the intellect and the intellect examined the Quran and then the intellect determined how you viewed everything and the opposite if that was the traditionalist path with which the intellect had very little to do with anything and we just took revelation so we took the Quran and the hadith and we understood them at a literal level and we do not use the intellect to interfere with that understanding.
Imam al-Juwayni was probably in the middle of that. Fakr ad-Din ar-Razi a later scholar said that in the verse that Allah says in Surah Nur in ayatul nur when He says “light upon light” he said it was revelation on the intellect that revelation illuminates the intellect so you need both and there should be a balance in the two. You do not want revelation that does not have intellect but you do not want intellect overriding revelation however you can understand revelation by the intellect “oh it must mean this because it certainly cannot mean that” and so he was coming out of that madrassah which placed an immense amount of emphasis on the intellect but not to the degree where the intellect overshadowed the revelation. That is an important aspect of it. Imam al-Juwayni said about Imam al-Ghazali that he was an ocean so his own teacher was aware that he had an ocean. He said he was a copious or vast ocean of knowledge and what is really extraordinary about him I think is despite his brilliance, he was somebody who was incredibly introspective and aware of his internal states which is often very rare in people. You can have the most brilliant person but they are completely oblivious to their inward state and you will see this if you have gone to university. You have professors that are obviously very brilliant but they are not aware of their own internal states. They can be arrogant and be completely unaware of it and he was arrogant. Imam al-Ghazali was somebody who was, he belittled people, his genius was such that he never lost an argument. If he was in any type of debate he floored his opponents and he became very big headed and aware of his brilliance and aware of his superiority over other people. He was extraordinary eloquent in both Arabic and Persian and so when he gave talks people were just in awe of his ability to speak and what happened he was in his thirties at a very young age, he was only about 34, he became the head professor at the most prestigious university in all of Islam which was Nizamiyya in Baghdad so in academic, 34, you are just finishing your PhD by 34 so that is like a young whipper snapper. He is being put in charge of and at his lessons hundred of ulema attended. The students did not even get into the lectures because it was all ulema.
So you can imagine the situation that he was in. It was the ulema that were attending his lectures, it was not the students because a lot of them could not understand what he was talking about. The thing about Imam al-Ghazali and it is really unusual. Every discipline that he learned he would write a book in it and that book would become the definitive book of that discipline. In every single subject he became the authority of that subject during his time and just to give you an example he wrote a book Maqasid al-falasifah (aims or ends of the philosophers). He learned philosophy in two years he said in his autobiography in his spare time. When he says he learned philosophy that meant that he learned what philosophy was at that time in other words he knew the subject of philosophy because at that time philosophy was limited. Now you have a lot of different philosophers. At that time you only had certain philosophers and you could actually learn all of the philosophies. He mastered Plato, Aristotle, Ibn Sina, Al-Farabi in his spare time. He says he read it when he had free time and then he wrote a book called Maqasid al-falasifah and the book was like a best seller because he explained the philosophers better than they could explain themselves and some of the ulema actually criticised him for making philosophy much more accessible than it had been before because it was like philosophy for dummies. He made it so clear that everybody could understand it and people suddenly thought ‘oh he is a philosopher, he was joined the ranks of Al-Farabi, Ibn Sina’ who were not considered to be within the Sunni matrix at that time. So he wrote this book but he followed the book up with a book called Tahafut al-falasifa (Incoherence of philosophers) and the reason he did that because he wanted first to make sure that everybody knew philosophy and then he wanted to deconstruct philosophy so he put a book out to let everybody know so all the philosophers read it and they said Abu Hamid he is quite a philosopher and then he wrote a book to say here is what is wrong with philosophy so he showed them. People do not realise the service he did for Islam because philosophy was threatening Islam and that is why he did it. He says that he did not find anybody else among the ulema that was doing that and he felt an obligation to do that so he did that. He wrote a book called Tahafut al-falasifa and he also did a great favour because he went through philosophy, he defined six branches of philosophy. He said out of six branches, five branches are actually fine, they are not really a problem. Politics is not a problem, that is an Islamic science. Ethics is not a problem, that is an Islamic science. Mathematics is not a problem, that is an Islamic science. He said these are all fine but when we get into metaphysics, we have a problem and then he identified 20 problems with metaphysics in philosophy and from those 20 problems, he identified three problems in particular and he wrote that in his Tahafut al-falasifa that the philosophers are a problem because they believe in the eternity of the world. They do not believe that the bodies are resurrected and they do not believe that Allah knows particulars. They believe He knows universals. So he refuted why and he did it using logic because that is also one of the branches of philosophy. He said not only was logic a problem, he said it was actually a fard khifayah which was quite radical at the time as well and that Ibn Taymiyyah took case of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali because Ibn Taymiyyah said that logic should not be used in a kalam, theology, and he actually makes a brilliant case for it and the problems with logic that nobody had identified earlier than Ibn Taymiyyah so actually Ibn Taymiyyah’s contribution to the attack of logic is really important too. Ibn Taymiyyah noted that one of the problems with logic is that there are presuppositions in logic that are never challenged. Nobody really noticed that. You have to believe certain things within the framework of logic because to do what he was saying the first principles of logic are not really being questioned and that is a problem because they can be questioned and that is a very modern idea.
Imam al-Ghazali said logic was fine. It was basically just a method for reasoning. It was a heuristic tool that somebody could learn and then use in their reasoning and he said he felt it should be fard khifayah because if people do not know how to reason they are susceptible to flaws in their reasoning and also the sophistical reasoning which is logically flawed reasoning is very common and if you do not learn the problems that go with reasoning, you can fall into them very easily like the common flaw that is used in people’s arguments is what they called an adhomenum attack for instance where you are not really attacking the argument, you are attacking the arguer so people will reject what somebody says because of who it is and there are many others that he felt people should learn. Then he wrote a book on logic which became a very popular book also. So he wrote this Tahafut al-falasifa and some people say that philosophy, he struck philosophy a blow in the Muslim world that it never recovered from. That has been an argument. Some people say that Imam al-Ghazali, it is actually problematical that he did because philosophy was something that was beneficial and about 100 years later one of the great Andulusian scholars Ibn Rushd the grandson of the grandfather Ibn Rushd ibn Quartaba wrote a book Tahafut al-Tahafut (the incoherence of the incoherence) which was a refutation of Imam al-Ghazali’s book and that book was taken up oddly enough in the West so that became a major major intellectual landmark in the West. The West did not take Tahafut al-falasifa. They took Incoherence of the Incoherence so the West chose to go the way of Ibn Rushd and not the way of Imam al-Ghazali. The Muslim world chose to go the way of Imam al-Ghazali and not the way of Ibn Rushd. Now one could argue and many modern Muslims have argued is that Imam al-Ghazali is actually at the root of the backwardness and the problems that are wrong with the Muslim world. This is a modern argument that you will actually find in books and amongst certain groups of thinkers of the Muslim world particularly in the late 19th early 20th century. There was a real attack of Imam al-Ghazali. Now you have to understand the importance of that attack because Imam al-Ghazali was called Hujjat al Islam, the proof of Islam. Imam al-Ghazali is to Islam is what St Thomas Aquinas was to Catholicism. He really laid the foundations for the Islamic religion during his time and those foundations carried the religion for the next several centuries really almost a thousand years so there are Muslims that argued that.
Now if you look at it at a deeper level you have to become aware of the fact that the West have lost their religion. The path and the course that they chose to take destroyed their faith. Europe is a faithless civilisation now really now America is not a philosophical country. America has never engaged in serious philosophy. The only philosophical tradition in America is pragmatism. Europe was engaged in philosophy at a very deep level. America it is a very pragmatic country and it has had a very interesting relationship with faith. It is kind of a love-hate relationship but it has had an interesting relationship with faith but Europe’s faith the underpinnings of it were beginning to erode in the 17th century and 18th century. By the 19th century at the intellectual level there was serious erosion. The 20th century with two world wars pretty much wipes out the faith of Europe. That is what happens.
Now one of the real interesting aspects of the modern world is the faith of the Muslims. This is something that if you look at the modern world the faith of the Muslims is an anomalous aspect to the modern world and what is interesting about the faith of the Muslims, the faith of the Muslims is still very strong amongst even the intelligentsia although we are seeing the erosion of it now which is a very dangerous sign because secularity is becoming very strong in the intellectual classes like if you go to South Asia you go to Pakistan, you meet with the intellectuals, the people that are at that very high level you will often find that they are opposed to religion. The same would be true in the Arab world. You will find that a lot of the intelligentsia the people that study thought, philosophy and things like that, you will find that. So that is becoming the case but it was not the case.
So Imam al-Ghazali he dealt this blow to philosophy. Now the second thing that he did which was extremely important is Imam al-Ghazali took the esoteric element to religion and if you look at any religious tradition you will find very often that a split occurs early on between exoteric religion and esoteric religion. Exoteric religion is the formal aspect of the religion in the outward, it is the body of the religion and so you for instance of Judaism the exoteric aspect of Judaism is the 613 laws that they have to follow to be a Jew. So you learn these laws and they become of