Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi’i al-Ghazali was born in 1058 AD, in what is now Khorasan, Iran (then called Tus). He was formally schooled in his early adulthood, studying under al-Juwayni, a prominent theologian located in Nishapur. During this period, the young al-Ghazali produced various texts on Islamic law and theology, which are still used to this day. Al-Ghazali then moved on to writing religious treatises that were used in the political struggles of his time. At the age of 34, however, he accepted a position as rector and professor of the Nizamiya madrasa, located in Baghdad. It was during this period that he produced two of his most important texts, “The Intentions of the Philosophers,” and its companion piece, “The Incoherence of the Philosophers.” At this point, al-Ghazali left his position, ostensibly for the purposes of making various pilgrimages, and spent the next ten years in or between the cities of Damascus, Mecca, Medina, and Tus (his birthplace). During this period, he wrote the seminal “Revivification of the Religious Sciences,” a massive work containing 40 books, in which he outlined the meanings behind the practices of Islam. At this point, al-Ghazali returned to teaching. Synthesizing jurisprudence, philosophy, theology, and Sufism in an attempt to teach the totality of proper Muslim belief and practice, he was known for tailoring his lessons to his students, offering spiritual guidance to logicians, and teaching rhetoric to mystics. Abu Hamid Ibn Muhammad Ibn Muhammad al-Tusi al-Shafi’i al-Ghazali died in 1111 AD.
An extremely influential figure with respect to both philosophy and religion, al-Ghazali was known in his own time as “the Proof of Islam,” as well as “the Renewer of the Religion.” (Buchman, xix). He was also known to be a challenger to philosophy’s dominance of religion, questioning the former’s failure to explain many matters of faith, such as the state of the soul, and the nature of infinity. Al-Ghazali thought it was imperative that a true Muslim not lose sight of the reasons for his practice. Sufism, at its root, concerns one’s own relationship with Allah, and he wanted to communicate his belief that the restrictions and practices of Islam were next to meaningless without a proper understanding of their meaning. By utilizing the forms and language of philosophy, al-Ghazali was able to present his own views in the scholastic language of his opponents. It is because of this combination of faith and logic that al-Ghazali’s writings survived, remaining important to this day.
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