Al-Ghazālī’s Turning point:

 A critical look at writings on Al-Ghazālī’s Crisis



Muhammad Hozien1


This paper is latest version (11/09/01) to be presented at the Middle East Studies Association (MESA) November 18, 2001.

1.                 Introduction:

Al-Ghazālī continues to be one of the most important Muslim thinkers to this day. Al-Ghazālī wrote on a range of subjects that continue to generate interest amongst scholars of Islam. His intellectual legacy continues to have an impact on Muslims today. Al-Ghazālī is unique -not to mention a difficult person to assess- just mentioning him brings to mind a multitude of personalities instead of just one. When one speaks of Ibn Rushd, Ibn Sina or Ibn Taymiyah, one would have as singular image of his personality in mind. This is why we should verify which role of Al-Ghazālī are we referring to?  Are we speaking about the saintly Sufi mystic? Is it the Shāfi‘i jurist? Or is is it the philosopher? Or is it the philosophy critic?

This paper discusses the reasons that brought about his crisis leading to his departure from Baghdad at the high point of his career. There was little precedent, except with the Sufis as will be mentioned hereinafter, at his time. The time period for the apex of his crisis is dated circa 488 /1095. This is a “work in progress.”  I make no claims to comprehensiveness as it is aimed at a few select works on al-Ghazālī’s life in general and his crisis in particular.2

Recent writers3 on al-Ghazālī restate modern re-assessments given by MacDonald,4 Jabre,5 and Watt.6 Their re-assessments are not always compatible within the whole framework of al-Ghazālī’s life and social milieu. The re-assessments concentrate upon two issues:

1.      Al-Ghazālī’s alleged fear of Ismaili assassins.

2.      Al-Munqidh min al-Dalāl,7 as a work of autobiographical fiction.

It is these two issues, that I wish to deal with in detail in this paper and not any specific work of the authors just mentioned.

2.                 Outline of al-Ghazālī’s life:

Muhammad ibn Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī at-Tusi was born in 450/1058 and died on Monday morning (14/6/505) December 18, 1111. Al-Ghazālī’s life begins with his father who loved the company of jurists and Sufis alike; he hoped to have children who would become Sufis and jurists. Al-Ghazālī was born in the village of Tabaran nearby Tus in northeast Iran. He came from a modest background. His father died when he and his younger brother Ahmad were still young. His father left them with little money in the care of a Sufi friend. When their father’s money ran out, they enrolled in a Madrasah. The Madrasah system enabled them to get a stipend including room and board. He then studied fiqh at the hands of a Sufi in his hometown called Ahmad ar- Radhkani. Then he traveled to Jurjan and studied under Abu Nasr (?) al-Ismaili.8 He returned home briefly and then traveled to Nisahapur to study with the famous scholar al-Juwayni (d. 478/1085) at the Nizamyah College there. Al-Ghazālī stayed as his student until Al-Juwayni died. He was one of his most illustrious students and al-Juwayni called him an ocean of knowledge.9 Thereupon al-Ghazālī went to al-Muaskar (the camp) of the Seljuk wazir Nizam al-Mulk. He stayed at al-Muaskar, which was a gathering place for scholars and quickly distinguished himself in such an illustrious company. Nizam al-Mulk recognized the genius of al-Ghazālī and appointed him as a professor at the famed Nizamyah college of Baghdad.10 It was there that his crisis would take place.

At the height of his career, al-Ghazālī underwent a personal crisis so severe that it caused impediment to his speech, his eating and his health. According to his own account, first it was thought of as a medical ailment. The doctors diagnosed it, as a psychological ailment for which there was no medical cure. This is his first crisis11 and he was cured by Divine inspiration (Nuran Ilahi.)

After the first crisis, he was struck with another crisis that would have greater consequences. According to his own account it is fear of Divine punishment that brings about this second crisis. He believed his actions were motivated by worldly gains and that they were not purely for the sake of God. He tried many times quitting his job at the Nizamiyyah college and leaving Baghdad but, he would have that intention one day and not the next.

Al-Ghazālī came to realize that his crisis had one solution; that he must escape from his current environment. As he saw it, he would have to truly dedicate his life to God through asceticism. He would have to fully cleanse himself of all unnecessary material possessions. He would have to do this very soon before his life ended and there was no better time than the present. He resigned his teaching position and assigned his brother in his place. He would leave his family as well, after providing them with a trust fund12 to continue providing them with a steady source of income. Baghdad had an excellent system of trusts that he even praised it in his works.

He would tell his people that he was leaving for Hajj so that people would not discover his true intention -leaving for good. He was beloved by his numerous students and had many admirers, including the current sultan, –not to mention many who were jealous. Had he made his intentions public he would not have been allowed to drop everything and just take off.

After leaving Baghdad, he changed direction and headed towards Damascus.13 He literally disappeared from the intellectual scene for ten years. He did not teach or lecture any teachings.14 This period of isolation would inspire the writing of his famed Ihya (Revival).

    He decided that it is ‘time’ for him to come out of ‘self imposed exile’ and back into teaching and lecturing, after some consultation with his ‘brethren’. He would head home after briefly stopping at a Sufi Lodge opposite of his old school: al-Nizamiyah of Baghdad. He was requested by the Nizam al-Mulk’s son to accept a teaching position at the Nizamiyah school of Nishapur. He would, however, leave it after a short stint. Then he established a school and a Sufi lodge in his hometown to continue teaching and learning. He died shortly thereafter, in 1111.

3.                 Al-Ghazālī’s crisis in Perspective:

Al-Ghazālī’s crisis although of primary importance to him personally occupied only a small part of his life. It should be noted here that a clear distinction has to be made from his episode of doubt and the events that led him to leave Baghdad. With that said it is also noted that the cure15 of the episode of doubt led to his second crisis.16 It was a major turning point in his life and career. One could envision what his career might have been had he not been plagued by his second crisis. He would have perhaps written a great juristic work on Shafi Fiqh.17 He could have had a longer and more luminous teaching career. He in fact has done much more for his lasting legacy due to his crisis. For example, his major work the Ihya was written after his crisis.

One could possibly make a case that in his life he had many smaller crises that culminated in a major crisis. The earliest time possible that this crisis could have taken place is when he was a student of al-Jawayni and Ilm al-Kalam which was his first introduction to rational sciences. Next attack could be in the camp of al-Nizam al-Mulk in which he had to argue and discuss with many scholars that were present. The final attack would have been at Baghdad after making a methodical study of philosophy. Here I would like to make a distinction between the episodes of doubt that was the symptoms of these crises and the final crisis that led to his departure from Baghdad. We should remember that he only spent four years at the Nizamayah of Baghdad. After al-Ghazālī left Baghdad he was no longer plagued by episodes of crisis. According to his own account, Sufism had cured him. This account is problematic as it is based on conjecture and circumstantial events that may have never taken place.

Some have argued18 that he was not cured but continued to have episodes of doubt and more crises. They point out to the works that have been attributed to him. Aside from the fact that this account is even more of conjectural nature then the previous as it is not based on circumstantial events. Here I would emphasize that these writings are of suspect attribution to him at best. Even if one considers that al-Ghazālī has written these works they would not necessarily point to a crisis but to a vibrant scholar who has re-worked and reformulated issues over and over again. It is perhaps this resilient quality that al-Ghazālī was not afraid to re-visit issues that he had already dealt with in his previous works or in his youth.

Al-Ghazālī’s crisis is not only important to his personal development as a scholar. It also has implications on his major works –namely al Ihya - that were completed both during and after his self imposed exile. There are two other works that are of prime importance – al-Munqidh and al-Mustasfa; his work on Isul al-Fiqh. Al-Munkhul was praised by al-Juwayni and written before coming to Baghdad, however it is al-Mustasfa –the latter post-crisis work- that is more important. Other important works were written before his crisis, [specifically his Maqasid al-Falasifah (Aims of Philosophers) and Tahafut al-Falasifah (Incoherence of philosophers.)].

4.                 An overview of writings on the crisis:

To understand the reasons behind the onset of the crisis one must make use of other sources as well. Of particular importance are his biographers, contemporaries and historical records of the period. Since then, there have been many analyses of his crisis and what brought it about. As implied by the title of this essay, there has been more than one re-assessment, as well re-assessments of the re-assessments.

Al-Ghazālī’s own assessment of the crisis is found in his autobiographical laden work al-Munqidh and he also drops some auto-biographical hints here and there in the introductions to his other works. Assessments of the crisis by Al-Ghazālī’s admirers tend to support al-Ghazālī’s view as laid out in al-Munqidh. While others who are less sympathetic, or who were flat out antagonistic, naturally do not support al-Ghazālī’s assessment and his personal account. They offer many theories that are less than plausible and highly unlikely to have taken place.

Also not unique to Ghazālīan studies is sharp positions and opinions regarding his crisis and his personality specifically. It is not surprising that there are biographers of Al-Ghazālī who were not ardent fans. On the other hand, there were many staunch supporters as well who were blinded by their strong admiration –not to mention adoration, for him. Al-Ghazālī’s strong personality that shines throughout his writings has had such an effect on people; so much so one scholar once declared that there are no neutral biographers of al-Ghazālī. There have been very few middle-roaders with regards to Ghazālīan scholarship.

Therefore depending on your sources, you are liable to get many different, as well as opposing, viewpoints that are not sympathetic to their subject. Al-Ghazālī is one such personality that elicits such variant responses and provocative reading of his life from people. One only needs to read some of Ibn Rushd’s comments on his at-Tahafut (his philosophical criticism) to get an idea of the heated rhetoric that is taking place. Recently al-Jabri has compared al-Ghazālī’s Tahafut to an inquisition of freethinking.19

5.                 A critique of the role of Ismaili Fear in the crisis:

Undue emphasis has been placed on al-Ghazālī’s alleged fear of Ismaili assassins. So much so that many consider it an unquestionable fact that is part and parcel of al-Ghazālī’s biography. For example R. Arnaldz work on Ibn Rushd states this in the paragraph that he mentions on al-Ghazālī’s life. Not only is this alleged fear unwarranted, it is also misplaced.

In the words of one of his contemporary biographers “a door of fear was opened for him”20 It is the fear of the divine and not fear of others that would be the spark that would send him up and running. Jabre, who translated it as a fear of Ismailis, misunderstood this passage. The earliest source in the western world to mention this fear is D. Macdonald’s 1899’s article about the life of al-Ghazālī.21 The fear would have been more appropriate for political leaders of that period. There are several facts that totally contradict this provocative theory. Namely that al-Ghazālī continued to write anti-Ismaili/Ta’limi works after and during his period of exile. Therefore this fear could not be a contributing factor to the cause of his crisis. The Ismaili political power continued to increase after al-Ghazālī’s crisis, which would in fact lead al-Ghazālī to write more works that are anti-Ismaili/Ta’limi. Had there been any fears he would not have written them any more. On a further note, who wants more trouble than one could handle?

Many have cited the assassination of Nizam al-Mulk as another cause to bring about his fear of the assassins. This sounds shocking given the fact that Al-Ghazālī wrote the first anti-Ismaili/Ta’limi work three years after the assassination of Nizam. Therefore if he were afraid of Ismailis after Nizam’s assassination he would not have written the work. Further, it has been questioned that the assassination of Nizam22 [recently by M. Ibrahim] was not from an Ismaili hand rather as a result of inter-court tensions.23

Had there been any real fear of Ismaili reprisals against him, al-Ghazālī  would not write have written further tracts on the issue. Al-Ghazālī, throughout the rest of his life, would write at least five more anti- Ismaili/Ta’limi24 tracts (7 in total in his lifetime.)25 Even if he was “forced” -as MacDonald and others would allege- by the Khalifah al-Mustazhir bil-lah to write the tract that would not explain why he continued to write them in the future. Furthermore, he would not have gone into lands that are under heavy Ismaili influence. Prof. Abu Sway points out that had al-Ghazālī truly feared the Ismailis he would not go back home where the Ismaili influence was greater. Additionally, Nizam’s son was also assassinated at Ismaili hands and al-Ghazālī continued to write against them.

An incident from al-Ghazālī’s youth had demonstrated his bravery. Upon his return from Jurjan, one of his educational trips, bandits attacked the caravan and looted everything including his precious notes. Al-Ghazālī bravely –or recklessly went up to the leader of the bandits demanding his notes. This incident would at least indicate that later on in life al-Ghazālī would not just turn and run at the first sign of trouble.

According to historical accounts of the years, that al-Ghazālī spent in Baghdad there was no fear of Ismailis concerning the scholars. The scholars that died during that period died of natural causes and none of them at the hands of assassins.26

I would argue that fear of the political climate would not contribute to his crisis and did not adversely affect al-Ghazālī. Al-Ghazālī was dealing with his own internal demons and not external ones. It is however that in spite of the terrible political strife, al-Ghazālī was doing very well and left at a high point in his career. The fact remains that he did not wait till things got worse to do this. It was actually easier for him to leave then than at any other point in his life. He would not have been able to leave his family well off. He alludes to this fact in al-Munqidh that it was God who made it easier for him leave. So he must have seen all these events as facilitating his leave. Had there been any fear or real concern he would not run. He would, at least, take his family to safety. He would not leave his brother in his place and just run off out of fear for his own life.

Furthermore27, the timing must have been just right; it was just a coincidence that it was almost Hajj time and that he would announce his intention late in the season. This, I would have to assume, because otherwise others would have followed him. [i.e. his students, friends and admirers.] A last minute decision would explain his sudden departure –“he said he was going to Hajj and he never came back.” This is what it would have seemed in retrospect to his students. As a matter of fact one of his students Abu Bakr ibn al-Arabi would see him and ask him about his sudden departure. This leads one to think that this was the trigger for writing his autobiographical portions of al-Munqidh).

6.                 Al-Munqidh: an authentic source of information on the crisis:

A work can have historical value even though it might not be chronologically ordered or accurate. There are many examples of autobiographical accounts that are not chorological such as Usamah bin al-Munqidh’s account.28 Further a work can have literary value and still have historical value and be in itself a work of history. Al-Aqd al-Farid by Ibn Abdi Rabihi –The history of al-Andlus set in verse- is one such example. More than one writer on al-Ghazālī has noted that al-Munqidh (his quasi-autobiography) is not one of historical importance. On the contrary, I do believe that it is one of immense historical, as well as psychological, value to anyone who is studying al-Ghazālī. Least of all, it is also perhaps how al-Ghazālī wanted others to see him in this period of his existence. Al-Ghazālī placed emphasis on his crisis and analyzed himself on a psychological level in addition to writing a biting social commentary on the occupation of teachers and the social position that they occupied. It is the equivalent of al-Ghazālī sitting on the proverbial couch in retrospect since he wrote it many years after the crisis.

Al-Ghazālī’s own assessment of the events as he lived them and his own feelings are of vital importance to understanding his crisis and personality. Even though it does not offer us a total raison d’être of all his works during and after his crisis. His realization that he had to totally alter the course of his life at that time directly influenced his output. This alteration had led him not only to change his whole life-style but to sort out his priorities as well.

MacDonald has been the source of the alleged Ismaili fear in al-Ghazālī, however on the other hand he was firm in considering al-Munqidh as true state of al-Ghazālī’s affairs. MacDonald says about Munqidh: “…[T]he result of a careful study of it has been to convince me of the essential truth of the picture which al-Ghazālī there gives us of his life.” Watt however, disagrees with this position and is supported by Jabre and others. McCarthy provides support and goes into great detail to prove al-Munqidh’s veracity in his book “Freedom and Fulfillment.” He cites many arguments pro and against al-Munqidh. He states in his introduction, “I see no reason why they [the biographical passages from al-Munqidh] should not be accepted literally, despite al-Baqri and … Jabre.” McCarthy also cites additional sources to support his position for which there is no need to repeat here.29

Although al-Ghazālī did state clearly that he was going to Hajj, he went directly to Syria instead. He did perform Hajj two years later and visited the holy places. This strategy was to prevent others from thwarting his plans to leave Baghdad altogether. This unusual strategy has caused some critics to question the truth of the al-Munqidh not to mention of al-Ghazālī himself. McCarthy, as well as others, did answer these criticisms by stating that al-Ghazālī had little choice in this matter given his position at that time. He had so many people that were attached to him that would not simply allow him to leave.

Even though Watt did not consider al-Munqidh as “historically valid” he did accept its basic premise namely that of the “conversion” to the mystic life as genuine.30 Margaret Smith in her biography of al-Ghazālī said: “The reasons for the abandonment of his career and for the rejection of all that the world had to offer him –a decision which astonished and perplexed all who heard of it– al-Ghazālī sets forth in his apologia pro vita sua [al-Munqidh].”31 Prof. Nakamura says of al-Munqidh: “ ‘by and large genuine and reliable’ and that his two crises are historical facts beyond doubt with no evidence to the contrary.”32

Critics also charge that he was made to know that he was no longer desired at the Nizamiyah of Baghdad. This was not true years later he would be welcomed back on his way home. Also the son of Nizam al-Mulk would invite him to accept a position at the Nizamiyah of Nishapur. Critics have also stated that there was a general decline in education due to the depressed and charged political atmosphere. The fact remains that the political crisis did not have an immediate effect on the educational and intellectual environment at al-Ghazālī’s time for the Nizamiyah continued to flourish for many years after his death.

7.                 Secondary factors contributing to the crisis:

Many other reasons were given by scholars about what brought about his crisis should be considered as secondary contributing factors. One such issue is his background; a poor family from a small village whose member suddenly rose to fame and renown in a short time period. The argument being that his sudden move to the city from such a rural area would be an additional contributing factor to his leaving. There have been cases in which scholars of fame and renown that came from poor backgrounds without any affect whatsoever on their mind. One such scholar is Murtada az-Zubadi author of Taj al-Urus: the commentary on the al-Qamous and a commentary on al-Ghazālī’s Ihya. Az-Zubadi did not go into crisis, until his wife died.

A secondary contributing factor is his study of philosophy. Ibn Taymiyah has mentioned that al-Shifa of Ibn Sina had made al-Ghazālī sick and it had contributed to his crisis. Al-Shifa could have contributed to his skepticism and methodical doubt. While this theory is very interesting and insightful it has its weaknesses. There have been many scholars who have studied philosophy without having a nervous breakdown. For example, Ibn Taymiyah himself as well as ar-Razi, author of the famed at-Tafseer al-Kabir were not affected in any way.

Turning back to al-Ghazālī’s own account of his crisis in al-Munqidh, we would be led to critically re-assessed events of his life in harsher tones from a skewed perspective –even though it is al-Ghazālī’s. This, I would argue is not correct. What al-Ghazālī had done in his life is not wrong even by his own standards and there is no shame in it. He was just like any other professor/scholar of his time. No mater how hard one looks at his life one would not find any shortcomings there because they simply did not exist33. It is not the outward actions that are the cause of his problem because the problem itself is internal and psychological in nature. Al-Ghazālī knew the problem, the malady, and the cure. He knew all the theories that he needs to diagnose his problem. He is a jurist, not to mention one of the best of his time. The doctors who came to look at his condition only re-affirmed for him the severity of his condition. He only needed to implement the cure. That moment would be the moment in which the Divine would make it easier for him to leave. He mentions this fact in al-Munqidh.

Another factor that could prove to be the straw that broke the camel’s back is the visit to Baghdad of a famous Sufi, Abul-Hasan al-Abbadi in 486/1093, who had quite an effect on students and scholars of that time. According to Ibn Katheer’s account: “more than thirty thousand men and women were present at his circles, many people left their livelihood, many people repented and returned to mosques, wines [intoxicants] were spilled and [musical] instruments were broken.”34

Al-Ghazālī’s abandonment of everything should be seen in light of other famous Sufis who did similar such as al-Muhasibi (d. 243/857).35 Al-Junyad (d. 298/910)36 had doubts of his worthiness to lecture, Abu Bakr Dhulaf al-Shibli37 (d. 334/946) who was governor of Deoband renounced his position and asked the inhabitances for forgiveness. Abu Yazid al-Bistami38 (d. 261/874) gained his knowledge on a hungry belly and Abu Talib al-Makki al-Harithi (d. 386/996) lived on a diet of wild herbs.39 These names mentioned are the ones that al-Ghazālī cities as sources for his Sufi research in al-Munqidh. So it is not strange that al-Ghazālī would follow suit to these past masters.

Others during his time, on the outside looking in considered his leaving as a curse on the Muslim world. The Muslim world did not deserve such a scholar and he was gone as quick as he came. As soon as his star was shining it disappeared –or so it seemed to chroniclers of the time.

He must have tried to cure himself but without much success. He finally realized deep inside himself that he had to abandon his current environment altogether. He had no choice but to make the sacrifice. He literally walked out leaving everything behind, his fame, his family, his fortune and the world. Ten years later, he realized that he had proved to himself, and to the whole world that he had become a changed man.



1 The author is indebted to the many e-mail exchanges with Professor Ebrahim Moosa of Duke University and Professor Mustafa Abu Sway of al-Qudus University who wrote on this topic. I found his article in Kula Lumpur while we both attended a conference on al-Ghazālī in October 2001 after submitting this paper to MESA. Both are al-Ghazālī specialist. Note that Profesoor Moosa is writing a biography of al-Ghazālī for Oxford’s “one world publications”, titled “Ghazali of Tus”. My daughter has helped in correcting my linguistic quirks. It goes without say that any remaining mistakes are all mine. Here is an older version of the paper 

2 At the time of writing, I was unable to get a hold of an important article that re-evaluates al-Ghazālī’s Crisis and was only able to access second hand. The article was “An approach to Ghazali’s Conversion” by Kojiro Nakamura: Orient XXI (1985).

3 Including accounts by R. Frank, E. Ormsby, Carra de Vaux, A. A. al-‘Asam and Umar Farrukh.

4 D. B. MacDonald, “The life of al-Ghazālī with Especial Reference to His Religious Experiences and Opinions,” Journal of American Oriental Studies, XX(1899) pps 71-132.

5 Farid Jabre in his introduction to the French Translation of al-Munqidh.

6 W. Montgomery Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A study of al-Ghazālī Edinburgh: The Edinburgh University Press, 1963.

7 Translated by W. M. Watt in The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazālī. London: George Allen & Unwin, 1953. Also a more recent translation by R. J. McCarthy, Freedom and Fulfilment: An Annotated Translation of Al-Ghazālī’s al-Munqidh min al-Dalāl and other Relevent Works of al-Ghazālī, Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1980. Arabic version used is: Majmo’at Rasial al-Imam al-Ghazālī (The collected treatises of al-Imam al-Ghazālī), Edited by Ahmad Shamsuddin, vol. 7, Beirut: Dar al-Kotb al-Ilmiyah, 1988. Here the editor did write an informative introduction that not only summarizes but analyzes al-Munqidh.

8 According to As-Subkiyy, Tabaqat al-Shafi`iyyah al-Kubra, vol. VI, p. 195. Al-Ghazālī’s teacher in Jurjan was Abu Nasr al-Isma`ili. His full name was Muhammad Ibn Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Isma`il (d. 405 AH/1014 CE) The actual teacher full name was Isma`il Ibn Mas`adah Ibn Isma`il Ibn Ahmad Ibn Ibrahim Ibn Isma`il (d. 477 AH/1084 CE.) It is obvious that Abu Nasr was the cousin of Abu al-Qasim’s grandfather. Many orientalists and Muslim scholars copied the mistake of Al-Subkiyy. (Courtesy of Prof. Abu Sway).

9 As-Subki, Tabaqat Ashafiyah al-Kubra, edited by A.F. Helo and M. M. Tanji. Matbat al-Halabi first edition. 6:196.

10 See events of 484. Nizam gives him the title of “Zayn al-Din Sharaf al-Dawlah” [The beauty of the faith and the honor of the state.] Ibn al-Jawazi, who is a Hanbali from a rival school of thought states: “His words were acceptable and extremely bright.” (wa-Kan Kalamahu ma-Qubulan wa-Dhakahu Shadeedan). His was assigned in Jumada I in 484 / June 1091.

11 This is pointed out by Watt, Nakamura and Abu Sway and confused by many others who just lumped both into one.

12 Prof. Abu Sway states: I think he depended on public funds (i.e. waqf), not that he established a trust for them! It could be a combination of both, see al-Munqidh p. 61.

13 As to why he chose Syria is not a concern of this paper.

14 Some biographers claimed that he did write occasionally and this is disputed by Prof. Abu Sway. See Watt, Bogyes and Badawi as listed in appendix 1.

15 The cure which was a divine light which led him to give up worldly attachments.

16 Mustafa Mahmoud Abu Sway, Al-Ghazālī’s “Spiritual Crisis” Reconsidered. Al-Shajara (1996:Nos. 1&2, pps 77-94). Kula Lumpur, P. 81.

17 He did in fact have illustrious writing career as he wrote several works on Shafi` Fiqh including Al-Wajiz, Al-Basit, Al-Wasit  and Khulasat Al-Mukhtasar. (Abu Sway)

18 E. Ormsby in his sometimes inaccurate, and other times lacking study of al-Munqidh claimed that even his episode of methodical doubt, which he confuses with his second crisis, occurred in his youth! Further he claims that al-Munqidh is work of literary fiction written in Saja’ which is simply not true. K. Nakamura correctly states that it is written in an easy and simple manner.

19 See his introduction to Ibn Rushd’s Fasl al-Maqal. Edited by M. A. al-Jabari, Markaz Darast al-Wihda al-Arabiyah, 1997. p. 40. See also on page 21 he considers/calls him the state ideologue.

20Futiha ‘alayhi bābun min al-khawf” Statement by ‘Abd al-Ghafir al-Farisi. as-Subki, 6:209. This fact is mentioned by Abu Sway, p. 90.

21 PPs. 78 and 80

22 See Ibn Katheer’s account. For the events of 485. 12:148-149 and an overall biography on pages 149-151. Ad-Daylami youth was assassinated shortly after. It could have been a plot by Malik Shah or by Zubidah Khaton in order to secure a position for her husband who also died shortly and she made a short lived successful bid for her five-year-old son to rule. Al-Ghazālī was one of the few scholars who disapproved of her son’s rule. There was a fight and her side lost. Therefore, al-Ghazālī’s political status was further enhanced by this success.

23 It has been stated that there were strong anti-Nizami feelings at the Abbasid court that wanted to get rid of him.  It could have possibly been these forces that plotted and carried out the assassination and not the Ismailis. The fact that the assassination looked like the work of Ismailis was a God sent to them.

24 This is mentioned in al-Munqidh, Beirut, 1988, 7:54.

25 Cf. Abu Sway p89. cff.48 for a complete listing and A. Badawi’s mu’alfat al-Ghazālī.

27 It is interesting that Murtda al-Zubadi in his commentary on Ghazali’s Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, Ithāf al-Sādah al-Muttaqin bi-Sharh Asrār Ihyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, notes that al-Ghazālī went to Hajj and then headed to Syria. See 1:7.

28 An Arab-Syrian Gentleman and Warrior in the Period of the Crusades (Records of Western Civilization Series) by Usamah Ibn Munqidh translated by Philip K. Hitti. Columbia University Press; ISBN: 0231121253. May 2000. With an introduction by Richard W. Bulliet.

29 Freedom and Fulfillment. Twayne Publishers, Boston. 1980 pps. xxix and thereafter. Jamil Salibah in his book Tarikh al-Falsafah al-Arabiyah (History of Arabic Philosophy) attests to the truth of al-Munqidh's on page 405. al-Shirka al-Alamiyah 1995.

30 Watt, P. 140.

31 Margaret Smith, Al-Ghazālī the Mystic, London: Luzac, 1944. p. 23.

32 Nakamura, p. 49.

33 They did not exist or we do not know because the available sources do not discuss these aspects. (Abu Sway).

34 " وكان يحضر مجلسه في بعض الأحيان أكثر من ثلاثين ألفا من الرجال والنساء وتاب كثير من الناس ولزموا المساجد وأريقت الخمور وكسرت الملاهي" Ibn Katheer, al-Bidyah wal-Nihaya, Events of 486. 12:144. It was the visit by Ardashir Ibn Mansur Abu al-Husyan al- Abbadi in 486/1093.

35 Ibn Khallikan, Wafyat al-Ayan wa Anba’ Abna’ az-Zaman, Translated by De Slane edited by S. Moin al-Haq. Kitab Bahvan, New Delhi (1996). 2:157-8, no. 145.

36 Ibid, 2:128-131, no. 140

37 Ibid, 2:308-310. no. 217 and Ibn Katheer’s vol. 11 pps 229-230 events for the year 334.

38 Ibid, 2:474, no. 290.

39 Ibid, 4:279-280 no. 604. Also see Shaqeeq al-Balkhi who also abandoned his possessions and engaged himself in pursuit of knowledge see Ibn Khallikan 2:435, no. 276. Also for al-Juwani see vol 3. no. 353, al-Jawazi no. 345. al-Ghazālī’s brother is listed in vol. 1 no. 37.


Chronological Table of al-ghazali’s life


Birth of al-Ghazali at Tus (450.A.H.)

c. 1069

Began Studies at Tus

c. 1073

Went to Gurgan to study


Study at Tus


Went to Nishapur to study


Death of al-Faramdhi


Death of al-Juwayni, left Nishapur (iv. 478)


Arrival in Baghdad (v. 484)

1092 Oct. 14

Nizam-al-Mulk killed (10. ix. 485)

1091(late) –1094

Study of Philosophy*

1093, June

Present at sermons in Nizamiyya

1094, Feb.

Present at oath to new caliph, al-Mustaz’hir


Finished maqasid

1095, Jan 12

Finished Tahafut

1095, Feb.

Tutush killed, Barkiyaruq recognized in Baghdad

1095, July

Impediment in speech (vii. 488)**

1095, Nov.

Left Baghdad (xi. 488)

1096, Nov.-Dec.

Made pilgrimage of 489

1097, June

Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi saw him Baghdad (vi. 490)


Went by Hamadhan to Tus

1104, Dec.

Barkiyaruq died

1106, July

Returned to teaching in Nishapur (499)**

c. 1108

Wrote Deliverance from Error

1109, Aug. 5

Finished Mustasfa (on law) (6. i. 503

c. 1110

Returned to Tus

1111, Dec.

Finished Iljam

1111, Dec. 18

Death (14. vi. 505)

Source: Watt, Muslim Intellectual: A Study of Al-Ghazali, Edinburgh University Press 1963; p. 201



According to Fr. M. Bogyes, al-Ghazali’s works are divided up into 5 distinct periods:


Time period


1st:  465 - 478

Fiqh and Isul al-Fiqh

2nd: 478 - 488

Fiqh, Isul, Khilaf (comparative law), Logic, philosophy, Kalam, Aqeedah, Fatwas (legal writing), Sectarianism

3rd:  488 – 499**

Fatwas, Herisography, Aqeedah, Ihya (one of a kind), Fiqh

4th:  499 - 503

Al-Munqidh, Isul (The great al-Mustasfah), Aqeedah

5th: 503 - 505

Iljam (anti-Kalam tract), Dura al-Fakhira fi uloom al-Ikirah (sufi), Minhaj al-Abeedeen

Source: A. Badawi’s Mu'alfat al-Ghazali (Les Oeuvres D’al-Ghazali). Kuwait. 1977


*Al-Ghazali himself states that he studied philosophy for two years.

** Period of his self imposed exile


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