Ab? profound that he has been honoured with the

Ab? ??mid Mu?ammad ibn Mu?ammad al-Ghaz?l or more frequently known as, Al-Ghazali,
is argued to be one of the most influential and fundamental philosophers in the
Islamic tradition. His scholarly works were so profound that he has been
honoured with the transliterated title: “hujjatul Islam”, meaning in Arabic “the
proof of Islam”. Whereby his philosophical ideologies and spiritual advice did
not only reform the great thinkers of his time but also transcended time and
place itself and are hence very much relevant in today’s western and eastern academia
as they were 900 years ago. This phenomenon is argued to be primarily
achievable through divine assistance and therefore as such, it acts as a truth
for the Islamic tradition. Moreover, it was unanimously agreed upon by the
scholars of the past that he was a reviver of the Islamic tradition as the
prophetic tradition states every century a person will come and revive the
Islamic religion (because of their tremendous teachings and scholarly work).This
report will serve as a brief biography of his life and will highlight some of the
key milestones of his spiritual and academic journey in order to conclude
whether his teachings and lifestyle are still relevant in today’s modern era.Al-Ghazali was born in 1058 in a town called Tus, a city that dwells in
the northeast of Iran. Al-Ghazali was born into a family of academics, his
great uncle was a scholar by his own weight and although his father was not, he
would spend much of his time in the company of scholars and Gnostics. It was, therefore,
the wish of Al-Ghazali’s father that Al-Ghazali became a scholar of great
repute. Orphaned at an early age, Al-Ghazali pursued his father’s aspirations and
studied to be an Islamic scholar. Funds were made for him and hence he had the
opportunity to study under the giant scholars of his era, including the likes
of al-Juwayni, who was known to be “the most outstanding Muslim scholar of his time”.
Growing up, Al-Ghazali showed tremendous academic potential, as a boy, he
attained a deep conceptual understanding of theology and religious
jurisprudence. So much so, the prime minister of the Ottoman Sultan at the time
took particular interest in his studies and closely monitored him.

 

As Al-Ghazali was maturing, he travelled
across Iran and Asia to take advantage of their scholars. At the tender age of
15, he embarked on a journey from his hometown Tus, to Gurgan, a town that
resided at the Caspian Sea. Whilst on his journey, he encountered a group of
bandits. They stripped him for his wealth, goods and all his notes that he
accumulated from years of studying. Al-Ghazali
submitted to the unfortunate event of being robbed materialistically, however
he urged the bandits to return his notes as they had no use for them and all
that he was worth were in those notes. The bandits agreed to return his notes,
however, the chief bandit made a remark and stated what kind of knowledge is
that where a bandit could it take it away from you? At that moment Al-Ghazali had an epiphany that he
must internalise and memorise everything he wrote. He later then went on to say
that the greatest advice he ever received was from this highway robber.He continued to
travel after seeking knowledge in Gurgan, he went on to travel to Nishapur,
famous at its time for producing Scholars. There he was disciplined by remarkable
scholars and where he also met the likes of Al-Juwayni. His enormous potential
was actualized and his reputation for Logic, reasoning, theology and philosophy
was reaching its zenith. After the death of his grand teacher Al-Juwayni, he
decided to travel to Baghdad which was known to be the centre of knowledge and where
some of the best scholars would be produced. His name and reputation had already
reached Bagdad and upon arrival, at the age of 33, he was selected to be a head
professor at Nizammiyah College -at the time a highly prestigious institution
similar to that of Oxford or Harvard. Within a period of almost 4 years, Al-Ghazali produced an immense
academic output and was the author of several revolutionary books. One of those
being a book named “The aims of the Philosophers”
and another called “The incoherence
of the Philosophers” which would
refute the very aims of the philosophers that he stated in the previous
book. 

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His works
brought much attention to him and thousands of people would attend his lessons at
a given time. His philosophical and theological arguments were seen as
impregnable, his speeches were eloquent and his reputation peaked. He came to
prominence very early on in his career and was constantly held high by the
public eye. This however deeply troubled him, in his autobiography he states
that he suffered from severe anxiety as he constantly doubted his intentions
for why he taught, so much so, that upon giving a lecture, he suddenly lost the
ability to articulate himself. The very thing that enabled him to reach the
highest station in academia, was also the very thing that ended his career. His
tongue. Subsequently, he abruptly left his students confused and embarked on a
sudden journey that lasted 12 years. He justifies this journey to the fact that
everything he had achieved was not for the sake of reaching enlightenment but
rather mutual boasting and display. The journey was necessary in order for him
to self-reflect, prioritise his morals and essentially find the remedy for his overwhelming
anxiety.The first 2
years of his profound journey was spent as a janitor and a sweeper of the
mosques of Damascus in order to humble himself. Upon one incident, whilst
sweeping, he overheard a scholar praising his work whilst oblivious to how
Al-Ghazali looked like and instantaneously left the area for the fear that pompousness
may enter his heart due to what the scholar was uttering.

Al-Ghazali then went on a pilgrimage to Mecca, travelled across the Muslim world and spent
much of his time in secluded areas where he would remember God, self-reflect
and prepare himself for his hereafter. He continued to write books during his
journey and wrote his the famous book “the alchemy of happiness” (Figure
2) but also his most memorable book “The
Revivification of the Religious Sciences”. The
book not only contained his scholarly genius but also 10 years of
self-reflection. The book is composed of 40 smaller books in which he delves
into subtle matters like the defects of the tongue and the mysteries of prayer.
It has been translated into multiple languages and still read and taught till
this day.   

After his journey came to an
end, Al-Ghazali returned to his
hometown where he would spend the rest of his life studying prophetic
traditions and practised what he attained from his journey. He passed away at
the age of 53 in year the 1111. It was said he died whilst lying down and that under
his head was a poem he wrote about the departure of his soul and meeting his
creator.To conclude, I
believe Al-Ghazali was a
brilliant role model to those wishing to seek the truth; whatever that truth
may be. His genius, coupled with his sincerity to admit to his faults leaves me
in utter admiration. He had the sincerity to acknowledge that the wealth he
accumulated, the social status he attained and the constant standing ovations he
received were only fuelling his ego and did not serve any favour for what he
was preaching. Coming from a humble background where he lived in poverty he
swiftly attained the height of academic success whilst still youthful and a
social status that was honourable. However he returned back to a humble
lifestyle to correct his human error. I believe in order for someone to be as
truthful to themselves as much as he was, it requires tremendous sincerity and
an unwavering objective to reach a philosophical reality. To give up everything
he worked for and embark on a journey to explore himself and establish his own
reality whilst discarding his immense knowledge and social power leaves me in awe.
Not only was he proven to be a profound philosopher but also in my estimation
an exceptional teacher of how a human being should be. I therefore believe, the
books that he wrote and arguably, more importantly, the teachings derived from his
journey transcended time and place entirely. Being from an era almost 1000
years ago and where his cultural practices were from across the globe, does not
prevent his actions and teachings from penetrating our hearts today. Whereby an
extravagance in wealth, social power and bravado are delusions of this world. All
of which are still relevant in today’s time. Attaining such goals are frivolous
and will not benefit you but rather cripple you in the long run. I, therefore,
believe Al-Ghazali showed immense determination, fortitude, humility and
sincerity as a student but also throughout his spiritual journey. His qualities
and lifestyle really do justify his honorific status. That being, the proof of
Islam.