Imam Ghazali


Naima Sohaib

Muslim Heroes series No. 9

Translated by Eman Asif Misbah

Copyright  2016 Naima Sohaib

Shakespir Edition

No part of this book may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or otherwise, including photocopying, recording, Internet or any storage and retrieval system without prior written permission from the Publisher.

Available in print at Dawah Books


Translated from the Urdu book “Tareekh-e-Islam ki Azeem Shakhsiat” by Naima Sohaib

Table of Contents

Title Page


Imam Ghazali – Introduction


Childhood and Primary Education

In the Presence of Imam ul Harmain

In the Court of Nizam ul Mulk

Widespread Fame and Appointment as the Great Teacher

Ghazali in the Throes of Skepticism

The Conditions at the Time of Al Ghazali

Emergence of the Batinia Sect

Forsaking of Homeland

End of Solitude

The Reformation Masterpiece of Imam Ghazali

Revival of Islamic Sciences – A Landmark Book of Purification, Reform and Accountability

Opposition to Imam Ghazali

Repeated Call for Restoration to Previous Position and the Imam’s Refusal

The Knowledge of Ahadith


The Outsanding Personality of the Imam


About the Author

About the Translator


[][] Foreword

All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

This booklet is ninth in a series, translated from a book compiled on Muslim heroes by my good friend Naima Sohaib. The selection includes Muslim scholars, philosophers, reformers and military generals. It tells us about these unique individuals who selflessly worked for the cause of Islam. I hope that Muslims today will find their stories a source of inspiration.

The current narrative is about a remarkable Muslim hero from the world of learning. Imam Muhammad Ghazali was one of the most celebrated scholars in the history of Sufi Islamic Thought. One of the greatest jurists, theologians and mystics of the time, he is unanimously considered as the Reviver of Islam in the 5th Hijri. He changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from the influence of Greek and Hellenistic philosophies. Imam Ghazali is credited with integrating Sufism into mainstream Islam.

The Western medieval world knew him as Al-Gazel, the man who launched a devastating attack on contemporary philosophical thought. His famous works include “Ahya ul Uloom ud Din” (Revival of Religious Sciences) – a book that combined mysticism with practical everyday life. He was the most staunch refuter of Muttazalite thought.

May Allah reward Sana Dossul, Aarti Lakhwani and Sohaib Umar for the editing, Nadeem Siddiqui for the designing and Asif Misbah, my husband, for his constant encouragement and support.

Eeman Asif Misbah

[]Imam Ghazali

The Reformer of the 5th Century Hijri and the Genius who Brought about Islamization of Contemporary Knowledge


His name was Muhammad, his title was Hujjat-ul-Islam, and he was popularly known as Al-Ghazali.


He was born in the district of Toos in Khurasan (currently in Iran) in 450 Hijri.

[]Childhood and Primary Education

Muhammad’s father was incidentally unlettered, and having acutely felt the disadvantage throughout his life, he was anxious not to let the same thing happen to his children. Unfortunately he did not live for long. On his deathbed, however, he handed over his two boys to a friend, entrusting them to his care and strongly insisted on their education in order to compensate for his lack of one. This friend arranged for the boys’ scholastic needs after their father died. But, after some time, the funds that their father had left were depleted out and there was no way that the same kind of schooling could be continued. The trustee apprised the children of the situation and admitted that he had no wealth of his own that he could spend on them. He recommended that they should join a madrassah (school for religious education). In those days, formal madrassahs were few in number but there were many informal ones in every other house. These were free of cost for the students; their running and maintenance was borne by the elite of the city. Hence young Muhammad and Ahmed registered themselves in one such institution.

After completing the primary level, Muhammad took an interest in Fiqh sciences, especially the Fiqh of Imam Shaafai, under the tutelage of Ahmed Rafkani. For further education, he traveled to Jurjaan and presented himself before Imam Abu Nasr Isma’eeli. The methodology in those days was different from that of modern times. The teacher would dictate, the students would record, and these writings were called Taaleeqaat. Muhammad, armed with his books, returned to his home country. On the way back, he was accosted by dacoits and was robbed of all belongings, including his notes. Distressed, he approached the leader of the thieves and beseeched him to return the laborious collection that he had traveled so far and worked so hard for. The chief dacoit laughed and ridiculed him, commenting on the use of such knowledge that was contained in a heap of papers. He returned the folders to Muhammad. His words had a profound impact on the youth’s mind and he spent the next three years of his life in committing his knowledge to memory.

[]In the Presence of Imam ul Harmain

Muhammad was restless due to his love of learning, so he proceeded to Nishapur. This city was a centre of learning in those days especially because of the presence of the Imam ul Harmain. The Imam was not only a renowned scholar, a good preacher and an acclaimed author but the authority on Islamic matters was vested in him. Muhammad Ghazali became an avid student, and because of his dedication and intelligence, he soon shone among the rest.

It was a practice in those days that when the teacher concluded with his discourse, the best student would repeat the lecture to the students so that they would be thoroughly familiar with the topic. Very few students would reach this status. Young Ghazali was selected for this purpose. His teacher was so pleased with him that he compared Ghazali to a wide river of knowledge. He was proud of his student, who, at such a young age, had already authored a book.

Till the Imam ul Harmain was alive, Muhammad Ghazali stayed under his guidance. On his death, he departed from Nishapur. His scholarly status had already elevated to the extent that he now had no equal in the Islamic Empire. And he was just 28 years old.

[]In the Court of Nizam ul Mulk

When the Abbaside hold weakened over the Islamic Empire, different countries proclaimed their independence and broke away from the central hold. In 425 Hijri, Artughral Baig gained control over Iraq and laid the foundation of the Saljooqi Dynasty. His son Alap Arsalan and his grandson Malik Shah further strengthened the kingdom and increased its territory so that it started to count among the largest in the contemporary world. This was a memorable period in terms of peace and progress in culture and civilization.

The king, Malik Shah, who was a contemporary of Imam Ghazali, had entrusted the affairs of his sultanate to his able prime minister Nizam ul Mulk Toosi. Nizam ul Mulk was a highly capable man who ran the empire with excellence. Renowned for his keen interest in the propagation of knowledge, he decorated his court with a multitude of scholars and intellectuals. On hearing about him, Imam Ghazali also expressed a desire to visit the royal court. He was welcomed with much fanfare.

[]Widespread Fame and Appointment as the Great Teacher

In those days, contests, debates and rhetorical gatherings had gained popularity among the elite. A contestant would become celebrated if he had the ability to defeat his opponents in debate. In Nizam’s court too, there were heated discussions and arguments on different topics. Imam Ghazali was foremost in taking part in these debates and would always emerge victorious because of his great intellectual capabilities as well as oratory. Nizam ul Mulk wanted to benefit from his exceptional knowledge and appointed him the head of Madrassah Nizamia, making Muhammad Ghazali the first to receive such a great honour at a young age of 34 years. This position was a coveted one among the learned men.

When the Imam started giving discourses at the Baghdad institute, he became an instant hit due to his intellectual depth and articulation. The elite along with the masses began to attend his classes. His class included a large number of teachers, members of the privileged section of society and the general public. The nobility greatly valued him.

His immense influence on the rulers can be ascertained by an incident. The Imam once used his influence to convince the Queen of the Saljooqi Dynasty to include the name of the Abbaside Caliph in Friday sermons. This was customary but important, as it was tantamount to accepting their supremacy. In this manner, Imam Ghazali helped to avoid a clash between the two empires. The Queen had great regard for the Imam and could not reject his advice.

The Abbaside Caliph requested Muhammad Ghazali to write a book against the Baatinia Sect which was promoting Greek philosophical ideas in the minds of people. The Imam acceded to his request and came up with a book called ‘Mustazhari’, named after the Caliph.

[]Ghazali in the Throes of Skepticism

It has been mentioned that scholars were widely acclaimed and respected during the time of Imam Ghazali. The caliphs, the elite and the ministers were all students of eminent scholars. They held them in the highest esteem and would not refuse any request presented by them. Considering that this was the condition of the elite, what can be said regarding the masses. We can only imagine the sway scholars held over the common man.

In this connection, Shibli Naumani mentions an incident in his book ‘Al-Ghazali’ about Allama Abu Ishaq Shirazi. He says that in those days, Abu Ishaq Shirazi and Imam ul Harmain were regarded as the most prominent figures in religious circles. Allama Shirazi was once nominated as an ambassador of the Abbaside Caliph and traveled to Nishapur. On passing through numerous villages and cities on his way, he was accorded a warm welcome by the entire people of these towns, to the extent that the shopkeepers showered gold coins on him. This kind of adulation was enough to make any person conceited.

Imam Ghazali also received the same kind of attention in Baghdad. He started enjoying his popularity among the elite and the masses alike. At such a young age, he was granted widespread fame and esteem. Most of his time was spent in scholarly discussions and debates. Imam Ghazali had an inquiring mind by nature and Baghdad was a melting pot of philosophies and beliefs as compared to Nishapur. It was exposed to all kinds of sects—including Shia, Sunni, Mautazli, Zindiq, Atheists, Majoosi and Christians, who had complete freedom of expression and aired their views without inhibitions. Imam Ghazali’s investigative psyche encouraged him to look closely into all these sects, but the overabundance of opinions on every topic offered by various sects threw the Imam in a quandary. There arose qualms and misgivings about religious matters and beliefs. What he had taken for granted in matters of faith that was instilled in his mind since childhood now seemed shaky. He felt that Christian and Jewish offspring were also indoctrinated in their faith right from the start. He thought that real knowledge meant that there should be no doubts remaining whatsoever.

For two months, he remained in a state of suspicion and questioned all sources of knowledge, unable to trust his logic, mind, intelligence or sensibilities. After some time, he regained his composure and began an analytical research into the various bodies of religious knowledge. He examined every sect in detail, be it Atheists, Zoroastrians, Sufis, Philosophers, leaving no stone unturned in search of truth. He approached every philosopher, intellectual, Sufi and hermit; he even turned to non-Muslims and atheists to analyze their ideology but failed to receive any clear answers that would guide him to satisfaction.

Imam Ghazali narrates his state in his book Al Munqaz Fi Zilaal (The Breaking of Ignorance) as follows:-

“It occurred to me that knowledge was not a sufficient tool to reach the ultimate truth in life. Truth could be ascertained only through a change in personal choices and conditions of life. The knowledge I possessed, be it religious or intellectual, had led me to a firm faith in Allah and the Day of Judgment. This was not due to sufficient proof but it came with experience. I was convinced that the only way to prosper in the afterlife was to attain piety and to restrain the soul from hankering after desires. This could only be achieved by focusing singularly on Allah and living in such a manner that the heart would remain free from worldly desires. This would not be possible without shunning wealth and possessions.

When I analyzed my current situation, I found myself immersed in material well-being. Although I found teaching the most rewarding profession, on further examination, I discovered that I was engaged in subjects that were neither important nor beneficial in the Hereafter. When I pondered over my motives for teaching, it became clear that the objective was not solely to please Allah, but was aimed at gaining popularity. Now I was convinced that I was at the brink of disaster. Unless I managed to change my condition, I was in grave danger. For some time, I toyed with the idea of leaving the material world and get out of Baghdad, but I could not reach a conclusive decision.

Six months passed in this state. The world and its pleasures pulled me in one direction and the strings of faith in my heart tugged at me towards the next life. My soul repeatedly called out to me that time was running out, the journey ahead was long and that all my efforts in this world were for the sake of recognition and fame. My mind would urge me to maintain the status quo because this could be just a passing phase and this much-coveted status would never be accorded to me once I left this position. Thus the clock kept ticking till finally the matter was taken out of my control and my tongue lost the power of speech. Although I tried to continue my classes on a weekly basis, I had literally become speechless and no words would come out.

I became depressed at no longer being able to deliver anything coherent. That was just the beginning. Next to be affected was my digestive system. My appetite kept reducing till it became difficult to swallow a single bite or even a drop of water. Gradually my other senses and organs started failing. I was in a state of weakness and helplessness. The doctors gave up hope of recovery because they felt that there was a deeper psychological issue here that was beyond their understanding. Till there was a complete mental recovery, there would be no improvement in physical symptoms. I turned to Allah in this state of vulnerability and helplessness and beseeched Him for help. Allah strengthened my resolve to abandon the worldly hankerings and to leave Baghdad. With great difficulty I managed to convince the authorities to let me leave the city. I expressed the desire to go to Makkah but my real intention was to go to Syria.

When the inhabitants of Iraq became aware of my intentions, they reprimanded me and tried to stop me in every way. No one realized that there could be a spiritual purpose behind leaving Iraq. In their opinion I was already at the highest level where religion could be served, then why would I leave? Many rumours circulated about the reason for my departure. Those who were away from the government circles thought that I had been asked to leave by the rulers. But those that were in the know of things knew how intense was the government’s desire that I should continue in my job and the monarchy’s reluctance to relieve me of my office. Who in his right mind would leave such glory and honour. At last, I bid farewell to Baghdad, and keeping the bare essentials with me, I donated the rest of my possessions.”

Now Imam Ghazali was ready to forsake the attractions of the world.

[]The Conditions at the Time of Al-Ghazali

Muhammad Al Ghazali lived at a time when philosophical and rationalist thought dominated the intellectual arena. Greek text was being translated in the Arabic language because the Abbaside Caliphs (especially Mamoon Rasheed) were impressed by Greek philosophy. All kinds of Greek literature was available, including texts on subjects like Maths, Logic and Medicine. The Muslim mind started to become influenced by Greek thought. There was no harm in benefiting from the earlier Greek works but the questions and answers posed by Greek authors had started to shift the paradigm of thought in the minds of Muslims. The Muslim intellectuals started to think and argue in a manner similar to their Greek counterparts, leaving aside the Islamic paradigm. What is life? What is the connection between humans and the universe? What is the connection between God and the universe? What are the qualities of God? These questions have been sufficiently and satisfactorily answered in the Holy Quran, but now, Quranic wisdom was not enough to satisfy the Muslim mind.

Through the Quran, Allah informs us about His existence, the creation of human beings and the universe, and about the beginning and end of the world. This knowledge was now being substituted by the exaggerated opinions, inferences and philosophies of Greek thought. These things attracted he attention of Muslim intellectuals just as much as they had welcomed the early Greek efforts in physical sciences that were of benefit to mankind. This train of thought was proving to be dangerous and could lead anywhere. The common terms used in religion were suddenly given new interpretations. The interpretation of Quranic verses was now done in a way that was based on rationalistic principles, instead of the age old method of adhering to the ways of the rightly guided predecessors.

At that point the Muslim Ummah was the only nation in the entire world that was thirsty for knowledge and seeking it from everywhere. Curiosity and intellectual pursuits had become a part of their nature. Their burning desire to explore the universe and discover its secrets would not allow them to rest in peace. They were in a state of perpetual mental flurry to acquire more knowledge from anywhere and anyone. Under the same spirit they tried to obtain knowledge from the Greek. But the fatal mistake was in their failure to evaluate these disciplines in the light of Quran and Sunnah. Human nature generally borders on the extreme. The Muslims of that age were so obsessed with gathering knowledge that they forgot the difference between right and wrong. On the flip side, today we find the Muslims in a state of apathy towards the acquisition of worldly sciences.

The Muslim intellectuals of that time were deeply attracted to Greek wisdom and ideology. The efforts of renowned scholars like Yaqoob Kindi, Abu Nasr Farabi and Bu Ali Seena were directed towards the learning of the technicalities and teaching of Greek philosophy. Aristotle had a charismatic effect on Muslim society and culture because of his strong personality, deep thinking and writings. It appeared as though he was no less than a prophet for the Muslim intellect.

In the middle of the 4th century Hijri, a secret organization by the name of Ikhwan us Safa was formed in Baghdad. It was based on the same lines as the Free Mason society. It took Greek thought as its standard, and all religious debates and discussions on major principles were subject to it. Decisions on current issues were taken by this association. Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi, in his landmark book “The History of Dawah and Courage”, has stated the purpose behind this organization in the following words, “The Islamic Shariah has become polluted by the combination of ignorance and waywardness. It can only be cleansed through philosophy, because philosophy and logic are dominant over religious principles and traditional deductive processes in religion. Now the ultimate perfection lies in the blend of Islamic law and Greek philosophy.”

This movement targeted the young generation of Muslims specifically for the reason that untrained and fresh minds absorb new ideas better. Their literature was propagated throughout the Muslim lands. The Muttazalites (rationalists) were foremost in accepting this Free Mason approach.

It would be appropriate to mention here that while the Muttazalites tried to explain religious principles in the light of reason and logic, yet in their widest imaginations they had never thought of doubting the accepted concepts like revelation, prophets, revealed books and Allah himself. But these philosophers had deviated largely from mainstream religion.

The principles of philosophy are completely different from those of religion. Religion is presented simply and in an uncomplicated manner. In contrast, philosophers tend to present all beliefs in a complex, convoluted fashion making matters of faith difficult to grasp by the common masses. But the common Muslim had come under the influence of the philosophers.

Islam was sent by Allah for the guidance of mankind. The arguments presented in the Quran revolve around this purpose. On the contrary, philosophical debates often involve inane issues and vain concepts. Many a times, they have no practical aspect and do not provide guidance to human life. Above all, there is a critical difference between philosophy and Quran. The former is an inexact and uncertain body of knowledge created by the human mind while the latter is a revelation by Allah, and is knowledge sure and supreme. After the opening chapter, the next chapter in the Quran declares that it is a book in which there is no doubt and it is a source of guidance for the God-conscious. People who are engaged in doubts and uncertainties about its origin and about Allah will never benefit from it.

Philosophy raises a series of basic questions on which depends the direction of human life. The One who created man also has the responsibility to answer these basic questions satisfactorily in order to prepare human beings for the Hereafter. Allah has sent us the Quran for guidance and informs us of definite, absolute knowledge through this remarkable revelation. One cannot attain this reality through the five senses, logic, rationale or philosophy alone. Knowledge based on heavenly revelation is superior to conclusions reached by human intellect. Yet blind adherence to philosophical conjectures belittled the importance of religion and the wisdom of the prophets. These inferences had a drastic effect on the minds of Muslims in terms of basic beliefs and behaviour. There arose groups among Muslims who would openly put down religion and publicly express their contempt in matters of faith. These were Muslims only by name and not by spirit or practice.

[]Emergence of the Batinia Sect

Under the influence of Greek thought, the Muslim mind became vulnerable to all new concepts and new ideas in religion. Taking advantage of this state of affairs, a grave plot was concocted against Islam which aimed at shaking the very foundations on which the Islamic faith was established. The point was to steer the Muslim masses away from the real principles and character of Quranic Shariah and to mar the unity that existed in Muslim circles. Thus the superiority that the Muslims enjoyed among the nations of the existing world would be lost. The instigators of this scheme were the displaced monarchs and their disciples who had lost their positions or kingdoms. They had converted to Islam because it seemed advantageous to do so. Also conniving with them were those Muslims who thought the restrictions of Islam to be burdensome and unnecessary. Their pleasure-seeking natures were on the look-out for a religion that suited and supported their life-styles. The Rafizi (Shiites) also managed to gain a place under this umbrella.

The Batinia Sect tried to develop uncertainty about Islamic principles and ideology. They propagated the view that just as words have literal and deeper meanings, likewise the verses of the Quran and the text of the Ahadith have literal and hidden meanings. According to them, only scholars could determine the implied connotation. All those who followed the Quran literally were deemed as unintelligent. That is why they had allowed themselves to be trapped by the stringent conditions of the Shariah.

Hence new interpretations were given to established concepts in religion like prophethood, revelation, angels, the Day of Judgment, Shariah, Obligatory Duties, Halaal, Haraam, Salaat, Zakat, Fasting, Hajj, etc. Until now these terms had been agreed upon by all the scholars and the common Muslims and there was no conflict of opinion. The Batinia faction understood that this unity on basic principles was the foundation on which Islamic pillars were built. Hence if the foundation was damaged, the whole establishment would collapse automatically.

Islam is not open to personal interpretation of this nature. If every person, considering himself to be intelligent enough, tries to interpret the Quran in his own way, the religion of Islam would be a concoction of desires, limitations, waywardness and imagination. The final word of Allah would become subject to distortion.

The Batinia faction did not only have malevolent designs on the principles of Islam, but they also had political ambitions. For the realization of their political dreams, they would target important and influential persons. The Islamic states in power at those times were significantly drained by their maneuvers. Many accomplished personalities were attacked and killed. Among them were Nizam-ul-Mulk Tusi and Fakhr-ul-Mulk. No scholar or king in the Islamic Empire could sleep peacefully in the night for fear of being slain by the Batinia group.

Hence it was a tough period for Islam as devout Muslims were not safe from the Batinia schemes. Some of the masses joined the flow and some were merely spectators. The intellectuals viewed the picture with horror but were helpless to stop the current of erroneous concepts and beliefs that had crept into religion. They took shelter in mosques, madrassahs and other places of solace and worship.

[]Forsaking of Homeland

We know through the Quran that only those people shall attain salvation that make an effort against the evil forces. This concept is reinforced in the event of the Sabbath-breakers. The ones who forge ahead in disbelief, the ones who encourage them, and the ones who are silent spectators will all be losers in the hereafter.

This was the environment in which Imam Ghazali found himself, a specialist in all the religious sciences of his time. He became the most renowned scholar of his day and age. His days were occupied in intellectual debates. With the passing of time, he realized that he was unmindful of true reality and he was oblivious of the true existence of his Lord. Awareness of the pointlessness of unending discourses and intellectual discussions brought the realization of the emptiness inside. He delved into a valley of suspicion about the state of existence and reality and, for a while, lost himself.

Imam Ghazali left his worldly abode and traveled to Syria. He spent his days and nights in solitude, spiritual exercises and purification of his soul. For a long period he remained in a state of seclusion at the Jamia Mosque of Damascus. Then he traveled towards Jerusalem and paid respects to the grave of Ibrahim (AS) and the birth place of Jesus (AS). There he was enveloped in a strange frame of mind.

The search for truth would sometimes lead him to scholars of religion and sometimes to the jungles and deserts where he would introspect and analyze himself. A person met Imam Ghazali in this state, roughly clad in a robe with a water skin in his hand. This man had witnessed the Imam presiding over a class of 400 students, so he was utterly bewildered. But the Imam had no concern for what the public thought of him.

Later, the love of Makkah and Madina drew him to Hijaz and he performed Umrah and Hajj. After that, he returned to his homeland. He writes:

“After performing Hajj, the love of my family and their constant prayers drew me back to my homeland, even though I had initially bolted out of my country in frustration. Here, I kept to my self and continued the process of self-purification. However, different incidents and financial circumstances of the family did not let me rest in peace. The contentment of the heart and its focus were broken. But I would not give up hope and from time to time, I would continue to experience a cleansing of the heart and soul. Ten years passed and the current state of affairs remained unchanged. In this solitary confinement, I gained deep insight, the details of which cannot be described here. For the benefit of the readers, I would like to say that I came to the definite conclusion that only the Sufis are on the true path to Allah. Their character is the best, their way the most righteous, their manners and behavior superior. If all the scholarly intelligence was combined, if all the wisdom of the sages was collected, if the knowledge of the scholars of Shariah was put together, it would not be able to produce more righteous living than the Sufi way. Their way of life resembles the pattern followed by the Holy Prophet (SAW) and he was the brightest light that ever traversed the earth.”

[]End of Solitude

The endless endeavours at purification of the heart and soul did much to alleviate the mental confusion and anxiety that Imam Ghazali had been experiencing. The clouds of skepticism vanished and reality became crystal clear. When the heart was illuminated, it could perceive the essence of all religious branches of knowledge. The Imam started to recognize the theoretical and practical weaknesses existing in the various segments of Muslim population. He meditated on the reasons for these deficiencies and began to see how these issues could be resolved. It occurred to him that a monumental task lay ahead – to free the Muslim masses from the skepticism of the philosophers, the waywardness of the mystics, and the empty rhetoric of the scholars. Imam Ghazali writes about the thoughts that were cropping up in his mind,

“I had a strong intuition that this was what I needed to do, and this was the need of the hour. I thought to myself that this life of solitude was not ordained by Allah. The disease of transgression and deviation had spread like a malady throughout the Muslim Ummah and the doctors (scholars) themselves were ailing. The creation of Allah had reached a point of self-annihilation. Then I convinced myself by arguing that this gigantic endeavour was impossible for me to carry out alone. The era of the Prophet (SAW) was long past. Evil forces were at large. If I tried to convince the masses out of their erroneous beliefs which they had adopted and were fond of, the whole Muslim Ummah would turn against me. How would I face them alone and how miserable life would become. This responsibility should be undertaken in times of ease, and in times when the ruler is religious minded and powerful. With these arguments, I persuaded myself not to get involved in the affairs of the Muslim Ummah. I convinced myself of the permissibility of a life of seclusion.

Apparently Allah had other plans for me. He put the thought across to the ruling Sultan who called me to his court in Nishapur in order to combat the elements hostile to Islam. This was an order from the top and non-compliance would have resulted in serious consequences. I realized that I no longer had an excuse to remain in this state. The solitary confinement to which I had accustomed myself would now be no more than laziness and comfort seeking. The cocoon that I was ensconced in was just a shell to protect myself from discomfort and trials. Allah states in the Quran, Do people think that they will be spared by merely stating their belief and they won’t be tested? The ones that passed earlier have all been put to the test. Allah has surely to see who is sincere and who is a liar.

Allah has revealed the following to His Prophet (SAW), the most honourable among mankind: Many prophets have been rejected before you, but they remained patient under difficulties and duress – till Our support reached them. No one has the power to change the verdict of Allah and whatever befell previous prophets has reached your ears.

I consulted a number of spiritually elevated souls regarding this. They unanimously supported the idea of ending my isolated existence. Further backing came in the form of dreams to many righteous associates. There were indications that this step would be very fruitful for the Muslim Ummah. There was a month left for the 5th century Hijri to begin, and it appeared to be the start of a great reformation movement. According to a Hadith, Allah sends a reformist (Mujaddid) at the start of every century to refresh His religion for its followers. All these signs and visions motivated me to plan for the monumental task ahead.

This was 499 Hijri and the month of Zil Qa’ada. I had departed from Baghdad in 486 Hijri. My solitary way of life had lasted for 11 years. Things happen according to Allah’s design. It had once seemed impossible and insane to leave the pomp and show, and the highly coveted position that I had commanded in Baghdad; but Allah made the impossible possible. Similarly, it had, until recently, seemed unimaginable to end the comfort zone of a secluded life, away from the distractions of the society. But once again Allah pushed me in the right direction.”

For a second time, Imam Ghazali was restored to his previous position as the Imam of the Nizamia Madrassah in Baghdad. An interesting account is written by him about his emotional state after assuming this position. His narrative contains a lesson for every Muslim scholar, preacher and missionary,

“Having returned to the field of dissemination of Islamic education, I felt that the two situations had no similarity. There was a world of difference in my outlook now. Previously, I was teaching subjects that had a material benefit and I would invite all and sundry to it with my speech and conduct. My ambitions were materialistic. But now I invite to a realm of knowledge that takes one away from worldly charms. Today I seek spiritual progress and development for myself and for others. I do not know if I shall ever realize my goals or whether I shall die before my dream comes true. My experiences and my faith have taught me that real power lies in the hands of Allah. Only He can save a person from falling into error and protect him from evil. He alone can guide towards truth and reformation. I did not make an effort on my own; Allah forced me to struggle for this cause. I did not start this work; Allah put me to the task. I pray to Allah that he should reform me first, and then may others find guidance through me. Reality should dawn on me and give me the ability to submit before divine revelation. Falsehood should be revealed to me and I should be saved from its trap.”

[]The Reformation Masterpiece of Imam Ghazali

Imam Ghazali started his reformation efforts with the pen and the tongue. The purpose was to correct the erroneous concepts of atheistic and Batinia sects which had crept into the Muslim minds. Before he took on this endeavour, he wrote books on philosophy according to the Greek methodology, with a view to end its sway over the masses. Perhaps he wanted to prove firsthand his expertise in Greek thought and dilute Greek philosophers’ influence over all and sundry. His book “Objectives of Philosophy” highlights key concepts in philosophy in simple terminology. The uniqueness of this book lies in the fact that the most intricate concepts have been presented in such a simple and easy-to-understand manner that everyone can comprehend them. This effort of the Imam put all aspects of philosophy within the reach of the common man and mitigated the admiration and awe that was associated with the subject.

This book had far-reaching effects on the masses in terms of understanding the principles and conjectures involved in philosophy. It was now needed to reject these errand philosophies in a well-argued manner. Imam Ghazali writes, “In those days, some persons had the notion that their intellect was superior to that of the common man. They would look down upon religious commandments and key principles, and were heavily impressed by great philosophers like Aristotle, Plato, etc. These Greek scholars would mock religious ideas, and as they ruled the world with their conjectures, it was assumed that their theories could not be rejected. Their opposition to religion meant that indeed Islam too was merely a play of words and there was no truth to it. They thought the verses of the Quran were just captivating and alluring but did not represent reality. I decided to oppose their fallacious viewpoints on religion which were based on weak underlying principles and point out their errors in order to expose their inadequacy and absurdity.”

Keeping these objectives in mind, Imam Ghazali produced an extraordinary book called Tahafat ul Falasafa. In this volume, the Imam demonstrated the inanity and ridiculous concepts contained in Greek philosophy. He pointed out their mistakes and fallacious assumptions with an Islamic viewpoint. So magnificent was his critique that it broke the back of Greek influence and the Muslim intellectuals as well as masses were no longer impressed by Greek scholars. Instead of assuming a defensive posture, the Imam launched into an offensive. Rather than using apologetic language, he openly rejected their false assumptions, which really came out of nowhere and were incredulous. Imam Ghazali writes, “I am amazed that even a crazy man can be impressed by such preposterous notions, let alone the intelligentsia who claim to go into the nitty gritty of even basic issues.”

This was the special endeavour that Islam needed for the enlightenment of Muslims. Till then, any opposition to Greek philosophy had been conducted in an apologetic manner. The language used in Ghazali’s book was poised, confident and non-apologetic. One reaction to this work was that a wave of anger and frustration erupted in the circles of intellectuals. Another effect, which was the desired objective, was the gearing of the Muslim masses towards true guidance.

The Imam also clashed with the Batinia sect. This sect had been instrumental in weakening the fundamentals of faith by introducing new terminology and new ways of thinking in what had been established principles. Muslim morality was at a low point because of the flaws that had crept in the Muslim mental fiber due to the combined influence of Batinia and various other sects.

In the recent past, when Imam Ghazali had adopted a secluded lifestyle, his heart still bled at the condition of the Muslims. Rich or poor, elite or humble, educated or ignorant, pious or drunkard – moral ruin seemed to be the order of the day. The scholars of religion who could have provided a guiding light to the masses seemed too busy in worldly pursuits. In this state of frustration and unrest, the Imam wrote his memorable book, “Ahya ul Uloom ud Deen.”

[]Ahya ul Uloom ud Deen (Revival of Islamic Sciences) – A Landmark Book of Purification, Reform and Accountability

The book ‘Revival of Islamic Sciences’ was written with a view to reform Muslim character and correct their belief system. It critically views the different segments of the society and gives sound advice and solutions for the betterment of each. Outstanding work of this nature is produced once in many centuries. To this day, this book remains amongst the most famous and effective in the Muslim world.

The book throws light on the core reality of life as well as the depth of existence. It also explains the reasoning behind Islamic principles and commandments. Prior to this, no one attempted to do such a comprehensive work on this subject. Another unique feature of this book is that it gives suggestions on how to inculcate righteous behaviour and offers ways and means of staying away from satanic influences. On the one hand, the Imam has furnished the seeker of truth with advice on reform and purification, and on the other hand, he has aimed at educating and liberating the masses from unproductive thinking, hence bringing them into the fold of Islam. He has employed Quranic references, Ahadith and sayings of eminent companions to accomplish these goals.

“The Revival of Islamic Sciences” is an incomparable book on Islamic philosophy of ethics. Throwing light on spiritual diseases, human psychology and physical needs, it provides excellent guidance on how to lead an Islamic existence. When Imam Ghazali speaks about a particular topic, he discusses it in a comprehensive manner. For instance, in the discourse on backbiting, the Imam explains what is bad-mouthing, what are its causes, what are its consequences and how can we stay away from this disease of the heart. In addition, he furnishes the reader with relevant quotes from the Quran, Ahadith, from the lives of the Companions of the Prophet, and the stories of devout men. By the end, a complete picture is formed in the mind of the reader about the subject under discussion. This is the aim that the Imam has kept in mind throughout the book.

Imam Ghazali has identified the weaknesses present in various elements of the social order by critically examining the then existing structures. He has stated that the purpose of a man’s life is to succeed in the Hereafter and to gain the pleasure of Allah. The trickery and connivance of Satan has deluded mankind out of recognizing true reality and has shifted man’s focus towards the glitter and glamour of worldly life.

In the days of Ghazali, the religious scholars were engaged in endless debates, the elite were lavishing in their luxury, and the government officials were involved in their cruel and corrupt practices. The general population was consumed with decadent traditions, religious innovations and sinful activities. Imam Ghazali critically analyzed all these elements of the society and gave practical and useful tips on reforming the state of affairs.

First, the Imam criticized the religious scholars who were responsible for spreading the light of the Quran and prophetic wisdom. He points out rightly that had the scholars not fallen into sin, the rulers would not have deviated from Islamic practices to such an extent. They would have feared the backlash from the scholars on adopting malevolent practices. However, the scholars had lost the ability to rebuke the rulers for their mistakes because they had become sycophants themselves of the stately class. Imam Ghazali describes the righteous attitude of the earlier righteous scholars in these words:

“Such was the attitude of the scholars; they were least impressed with the riches and opulent lifestyle of the Sultans. They were confident and self-reliant, hopeful of martyrdom in order to gain the pleasure of their Lord. Since they had pure intentions, they succeeded in melting the hardest of hearts.

Today, the situation is quite the reverse. The love of wealth and riches has paralyzed the tongues of the scholars. When they do speak up, their words seem hollow because they are not backed by action. Even today, if they purify their intentions and work sincerely, seeking to disseminate correct knowledge, they would be successful in their efforts to reform the society. The degeneration of the masses results from the moral corruption of the ruling gentry which is a result of the moral decay of the religious scholars. This unethical conduct of the scholars stems from their love for worldly wealth and position. A person who is enveloped in the love of materialism can hardly lift a finger to correct even ordinary men, let alone undertake the reformation of men of stature.”

The Imam is critical of the fact that matters of little practical usage and importance in legal law were highlighted, while issues that pertained to the betterment and improvement of every human being were ignored.

Imam Ghazali next turns his attention to the Sultans whose prosperity and wealth smacked of extortion and illegal means. These riches were presented to the religious scholars to buy their hearts and souls. He expresses his views thus:

“The monarchs are generous towards those religious scholars who they know can be manipulated. These scholars are expected to support them, help them further their own personal goals, add glory to their courts by their presence, pray for their success, praise them to the skies, whether absent or present in the court. The first issue here is one of humiliation, the second of visiting them for royal services, the third of sycophancy, the fourth of aiding them in their times of need, the fifth of attendance in the royal court, the sixth of expressing affection and friendship, and faithfully supporting the Sultan against rivals, the seventh of hiding and covering the heinous crimes committed by the gentry. If a person is not ready to stoop to even one of these levels, the monarchs will not spend a mean penny on him even if he is of the caliber of Imam Shaafai. Hence it is presently not lawful to accept any stipend or allowance from the royal treasury, even if it is known to be collected through lawful means, because this would lead to the consequences mentioned above. What to say about wealth which has been obtained through illegal or suspicious means.”

Hence we see that Imam Ghazali considers the mutually beneficial relationship between the kings and the scholars as the core cause for the moral decay of the Ummah. He rebukes the religious scholars and advises them to stay away from royalty, their courtiers, ministers and the elite class. The Imam himself wrote a series of letters addressed to the kings, their governors and the members of the royal assemblies with a view to reform their conduct.

A revivalist is blessed with insight into the weaknesses, character traits and attitudes of each segment of the society. He is a psychoanalyst, and a truth seeker, and has his finger on the pulse of the nation. He can diagnose the issues, trials and tribulations that the society is facing as a whole. Imam Ghazali had all these attributes and more. He had remarkable powers of observation and he had the courage to speak the truth. He detected the spiritual diseases present in the Muslim masses and criticized their false doctrines. He targeted the sins, false beliefs and moral diseases that the masses had fallen into. The Imam also pointed out questionable customs that the Muslims had adopted without being aware of the same. He had a holistic approach towards the social order and was able to pick out the major transgressions of the Muslims. Imam Ghazali can be credited with doing a thorough job and he included the mosques, market places, roads, and social gatherings in his analysis.

The amazing quality about this volume is that it throws light on a wide range of topics, and at the same time it does justice to each subject matter under discussion. To put it another way, it scores high on both reach as well as richness. The benefits and unique features of this book rendered it indispensable for future generations and it was widely acclaimed among all segments of the society.

While perusing the book, one does feel that weak Ahadith and traditions have been included. Imam Ghazali acquired the knowledge of Ahadith at a later stage in his life, hence the authenticity of the Prophetic sayings mentioned in the book could be examined more carefully and commented on. In fact, many scholars have pointed out the grade and class of the Ahadith in commentaries on the book. Ahya-ul-Uloom has been translated into many languages including Urdu. Those of us who are constantly concerned about the purification of their hearts will benefit a lot from this book.

[]Opposition to Imam Ghazali

Imam Ghazali had accepted the exalted position – the highest seat of learning in the Islamic Empire – at the request of Fakhr-ul-Mulk, the prime minister of Sanjar Saljuqi, the governor of Khurasan. Fakhr-ul-Mulk was a man of letters. He personally visited the Imam and requested him to occupy this position of eminence in Nishapur. However, a year later, Fakhr-ul-Mulk was martyred at the hands of a Baatinia extremist. Following this event, Imam Ghazali relinquished his position after a few days and settled in Toos. Here he laid the foundation of a Madrassah and a sanctuary, where he taught all kinds of religious and spiritual sciences till he died.

Imam Ghazali had reached a point where his fame had spread far and wide. He was envied by some segments of the society who had a malicious intent towards him. This led to the Imam being produced in Sanjar’s court on the basis of a book he wrote many years before which contained some criticism on Imam Abu Hanifa. Sanjar was himself not learned enough to decipher the truth. Believing the accusers he ordered the Imam to attend the court. Imam Ghazali, who had sworn against entering a royal court, proceeded as a response to the official order and stopped short before reaching the destination. Here he wrote a lengthy dispatch to the governor. After reading the letter, Sanjar was even keener to meet him and eagerly awaited the Imam’s explanation on the matter that he was being accused of. Finally, with a heavy heart, the Imam entered the court of Sanjar. The governor stood up in reverence for this fascinating celebrity of the Muslim Empire, who was shaking with trepidation at this moment. Imam Ghazali asked a companion to recite any verse of the Quran. He recited the following verse: “Isn’t Allah sufficient for his servant?”

These words of revelation had an immediate calming effect on the Imam’s nerves. He courageously delivered a heartrending speech in the court, which highlighted the pathetic condition of the Muslim Ummah and also refuted the false claims made against him.

Sanjar was visibly moved by the Imam’s soulful rendition. He wished that the scholars of Iraq and Khurasan were present to benefit from the vast knowledge of the Imam. He also announced that he would make it mandatory on all the scholars to pay an annual visit to Imam Ghazali and seek resolution of their difficulties on various issues from him.

[]Repeated Call for Restoration to Previous Position and the Imam’s Refusal

Once again, Imam Ghazali was pressed to accept the key position as head of the Nizamia Baghdad. The intense desire of the Abbasid Caliph, the letter of request by the Prime Minister, and the stamps of approval of all the dignitaries of the court did nothing to change the Imam’s mind.

Imam Muhammad Ghazali wrote a lengthy letter in reply, explaining his reasons for refusing the coveted position. He stated personal grounds as well as his promise made at the grave of Prophet Ibrahim (AS) that he would leave the arena of confrontations and debates. As Baghdad thrived on argumentative contests, these would be unavoidable if he accepted the position offered to him. Another cause was his desire to stay away from royal visits. Additionally, it was against his policy to accept stately gifts and allowances, and he had no source of income in Baghdad. He was also concerned about the 150 students who had gathered in Toos to benefit from his knowledge.

[]The Knowledge of Ahadith

Imam Ghazali was not an expert on Ahadith and he realized the presence of this vacuum. Hence when the famous scholar of Ahadith, Umar Bin Abi Hasan visited Toos, the Imam wasted no opportunity and hastened to extend his hospitality to him. The scholar taught him Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim.


The Imam remained immersed in his teaching activities till his last days. He woke up one fine Monday morning, in 505 Hijri, in the month of Jumadi-us-Saani, and performed his ablution. He ordered a burial shroud for himself and patted his eyes with it and uttered the words, “May the will of the Lord be done.”
Then he lied down and stretched his legs. The people around him realized that he had passed away. He was buried at the place called Tahiraan.

[]The Outstanding Personality of the Imam

A look at Imam Muhammad Ghazali’s life reveals some exceptional features, qualities which are hardly figured in personalities of historical fame. We discuss these qualities one by one in the following pages.

The Unrelenting Pursuit of Truth

When we read the account of Imam Ghazali’s life, it strikes us that Allah chooses those souls for his perceptive understanding whose intention is His exclusive pleasure. Such people are willing to sacrifice personal glory, wealth, family, homeland, and anything else that comes in the way.

The same unrelenting pursuit of truth was present in the quest of Salman Farsi (RA), the Prophet’s beloved companion. He too purified his intention for the sole pleasure of Allah and was prepared to meet all kinds of hardships and adversities in his search for the truth. It takes an extraordinary human being to go through such arduous ordeals. The Quran mentions the tremendous zeal exhibited by Ibrahim (AS), his worthy sacrifices and his selflessness. Allah honoured him by calling him his Khalil (friend) and the Leader of future mankind. This rank was bestowed upon him for his never-ending loyalty to Allah, and his amazing spirit of submission to the will of Allah, which led him to attempt to slaughter his beloved son when so ordered. Never was there a moment’s hesitation in carrying out the commands of Allah in Ibrahim’s life. He never faltered. He left an incredible example for mankind to follow – the model of uprightness and unswerving search for the truth.

Abul-Hasan Ali Nadvi comments, “This unrelenting pursuit of truth led Imam Ghazali away from the glamorous royal status and headed him towards years of solitude in the wilderness and deserts. Despite heavy persuasion he refused to attend the court of the dignitaries and was indifferent to all the honour bestowed upon him. He once mentioned in his book that the last thing to leave the heart of a true believer is the love of position or glory in the world. The last years of Imam Ghazali are a witness to the fact that he attained this lofty goal.”

Hence we see that the Imam decided to forsake fame, position, honour, wealth and family to purify his soul. He put aside his pride and ego and changed his course from the desire of the world to the desire for God. Although he was an expert in the contemporary sciences taught in the Islamic world, he was still aware of his weak knowledge of Ahadith. Thus, when the whole world was raving about his accomplishments and knowledge, the teacher of teachers Imam Ghazali was busy learning Ahadith as a serious student.

The Concern for the Reformation of the Ummah

Next was his return to the real world from his solitude in order to improve the lot of the Muslim masses. It may be difficult for an ordinary person to comprehend, but the reality is that once a person is acquainted with the remembrance of Allah, His qualities and traits, and feels His presence through mystical experience, it becomes very hard for him to return to a normal worldly existence. This was a real test that the Imam faced. First he left the world for Allah’s sake, and then resumed his position for the same, in order to reform the Ummah. This sincerity of purpose shines through in his writings.

Abul-Hasan Ali Nadvi writes, “His purity of intention is acknowledged by friend and foe alike, and it leaps out of his writings. The great scholar of Islam, Ibne Taimiya, was a strong critic of Imam Ghazali and had differences of opinion with him, but still counts him among the greatest of the sincere Muslims. The main reason for the popularity and impact of his writings is this purity of intention.”

Besides the writing of precious volumes for the betterment of the Muslims, Imam Muhammad Ghazali also stood up against injustice and erroneous practices in the courts of Muslim rulers. He wrote numerous letters to ministers and the elite, bringing their attention towards their negligence and weaknesses. These efforts at reforming the society and the rulers had a significant impact. However, because the mindset of the nation was completely derailed, there existed the need to re-establish the foundations of the Muslim Empire on the principles of Islam. This was not possible during the reign of the Saljooks. However, a Spanish student of Imam Ghazali, by the name of Muhammad Bin Abdullah, was a staunch follower and he overthrew the tyrannical government of Ali Bin Yusuf Tashfeen. Now a new caliphate came into existence – the Muwahiddin Dynasty. A capable and sincere ruler, Abdul Momin, was placed on the throne. Sultan Abdul Momin and his sons laid the foundation of a just society based on Islamic principles – consultation, justice and general welfare of the masses.

Exemplary Preparation to Fight the Forces of Falsehood

The laborious endeavor that Imam Ghazali undertook towards the eradication of fabricated sciences is an example for Muslim scholars of all times. By his own practice, he demonstrated the way to fight against literary and practical ordeals that may come in the way of Muslims till the Day of Judgment. His methodology is to first get a firm grasp on religious sciences so that they penetrate deeply into the heart and mind. Next, one should become an expert on contemporary sciences to the extent that one’s proficiency is acclaimed by friend and foe alike. Then, one should challenge the modern philosophies against Islamic principles, logic and experience. If modern concepts do not contradict any of these three conditions, they could be accepted, otherwise one should reject them with full conviction of the heart. This is a successful method of eradicating the foundations of fabricated ideologies.

If we study Islamic history, we realize sorrowfully that a lot has been done by the religious scholars to propagate the religion of Allah, but they could not make efforts of equal measure to combat bogus ideologies – which was the need of the hour. Perhaps the biggest reason for this was that Muslim scholars did not perceive the intense effort and study required to understand in depth the false theories before seeking to dispute them. It seems that they were content to merely gain expertise in religious sciences. This is where they erred, in our opinion. Religious proficiency may be enough for gaining success in the Hereafter, but for fighting the satanic forces prevalent in the world, the least exertion put in must be equal to the effort exhibited by the negative elements in propagating their false ideologies. In this regard, a cursory glance reveals that the west’s struggle for supremacy is unsurpassed in terms of western ideologies, theories and doctrines. The west is neither concerned with the pleasure of Allah nor the eternal quest for Jannah. On the other hand, Muslims have recognized the truth and are aware of the promises of their Lord. Yet, their efforts are pathetic and substandard. Thus we see that Allah has passed on the control of worldly affairs to the western superpowers and the whole world turns to them for support and guidance.


[] Reference books

p<{color:#000;}. Tareekh-e-Da’wat o Azeemat by Syed Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi

p<{color:#000;}. Al Ghazali by Shibli Nomani

p<{color:#000;}. Muslim Falsafa by Dr. Abdul Khaliq

p<{color:#000;}. Falsafay kay Bunyadi Masail by Qazi Qaisar-ul-Islam

[] About the Author

Naima Sohaib, 40, is the author of “Tareekh-e-Islam ki Azeem Shaksiat”, a 500-page book in Urdu about twenty most prominent Muslim scholars, reformists, revivalists and caliphs of the last 1400 years, including several from the twentieth century. The book is written in easy language, punctuated occasionally by pertinent and thought-provoking comments by the author.

Naima has a Masters in Islamic Studies from University of Karachi and did her B.Sc. in Mathematics from Lahore College for Women. She has also authored several storybooks for children. She lives in Karachi with her husband and four daughters.

[] About the Translator

Eeman Asif Misbah, 45, is the English translator of the original Urdu book. She converted from Hinduism in 1996 after studying Islam for several years. Her passion to seek knowledge about great personalities of Muslim history led her to the present translation work. She is an avid reader of Islamic books.

Eeman is an MBA from Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. An expert in human resource management and general administration, she worked in the financial sector before her marriage. She lives in Karachi with her husband and two children.

Imam Ghazali

Imam Muhammad Ghazali is one of the most celebrated scholars in Muslim history. One of the greatest jurists, theologians and mystics of the time, he is unanimously considered as the Reviver of Islam in the 5th century Hijri. He changed the course of early Islamic philosophy, shifting it away from the influence of Greek and Hellenistic philosophies. Imam Ghazali is credited with integrating Sufism into mainstream Islam. The Western medieval world knew him as Al-Gazel, the man who launched a devastating attack on contemporary philosophical thought. His most famous work “Ahya ul Uloom ud Din” (Revival of Religious Sciences) gained wide recognition in his time and remains relevant to this day.

  • ISBN: 9781370918515
  • Author: Naima Sohaib
  • Published: 2016-09-04 09:05:51
  • Words: 10207
Imam Ghazali Imam Ghazali