Al-Ghazali: Biographical Experience
In terms of historical ideas, one cannot overlook the premise that al-Ghazali’s figure stands out prominently among leading Western thinkers. With many people considering him as history’s greatest theologian, his polemic against Chiefly Sina Ibn, the Neopolitan Philosophers, had a significant impact to Islamic philosophy. Until recently, the dialect between reason and faith has had a common theme in terms of religious thought. The philosophy of the Islamic religion is no different. In this case, Al-Ghazali was at the leading line of this debate. F. Rahman, a professional Islamic intellectual, maintained it as a “near impossible” task of trying to understand Ghazali’s deliverance from error in a coherent form. Admittedly, this is not a surprise when one considers the tumultuous and often vibrant intellectual journey that was taken by Al-Ghazali took in his life (biography). In Deliverance from Error, Al-Ghazali’s autobiography divides philosophy by using logical argument that has “nothing against or for religion”.
Deliverance from Error by Al-Ghazali serves as a major source of the little we can gather about his life. The book is autobiographical but should not be downright regarded an autobiography. It serves as a source of intellectual analysis of Al-Ghazali’s spiritual growth, and presents arguments that defend his view of a higher human apprehension as compared to rational apprehension. In other words, this is the apprehension of the prophet when the truth is revealed to him by God. A close study of the book reveals that Al-Ghazali does observe strict chronology all the time. However, he has managed to schematize how he described the development of his intellect.
With this in mind, Al-Ghazali in his book divides the various truth seekers into distinct groups of Mystics, Philosophers, Theologians, and Authoritarians. When these groups are considered, it is found that scholastic theology managed to achieve a fair elaboration degree in the defense of orthodox Islam. When this argument is compared to his biography, Al-Ghazali grew is known to have grown up practicing this tradition. Additionally, he never ceased being a theologian when he achieved mysticism. He gives a mild criticism of theologians. His regard of contemporary theology considers it a success but does not suffice to attend to his needs. This is because scholastic theology did not provide its assumptions with elucidation. Additionally, there was minimal change in his view on theology when he achieved mysticism. Change only occurred in his interests.
From another viewpoint, the philosophers Al-Ghazali was concerned with most were Ibn Sina and Al-Farabi, whom he used to refer to as ‘theistic’. Their philosophy was more of a branch of Neoplatonism. This philosophy had a sufficient adaptation to Islamic monotheism so they could claim to be Muslims. Even though they played an acknowledgeable part in stimulating Christian scholastics, their contribution to intellectual progress was not significant. To the great Muslims, however, their positions were considered unacceptable since they contradicted essential principles of the Muslims. Al-Ghazali’s achievement in this case was mastering their thinking technique-mostly Aristotelian logic- and its consequential use for the refashioning of Islamic theology. Undoubtedly, Al-Ghazali was able to learn a lot from Neo-Platonists. However, allegations that he up took their principles should be disregarded because they are based on false works attributed to him.
Those that Al-Ghazali refers to as the ‘authoritative instruction’ or ta’lim party maintained that truth is attained by the acceptance of the Imam’s pronouncements rather than by reason. Al-Ghazali’s argument in this case is that the doctrine played a fundamental role in political reference because it was the rival state’s official ideology. There had been the element of asceticism in Islam since Muhammad’s time. However, Sufism was considered more than asceticism. Al-Ghazali received assistance for his personal problems mainly from mystics or Sufis, yet he criticized their extravagances. He was in immense pain of keeping his mysticism harmonious with common religious duties. When he achieved mysticism, he argued that he would not cease being a Muslim more than he was an Ash’arite theology.
Al-ghazali and Rabi’a
A spiritual wave developed with a main view of exercising considerable influence on the popular beliefs of Muslims. This mystical movement is referred to as Sufism. It was seemingly fostered from the spurning notion of punishment or reward as a factor that impelled one to show God obedience. In this case, love was the one admissible factor. This saying can be attributed to Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya. A quote in page 153 of her biography states her confession over how God’s love has consumed her, and that her heart no longer bears hatred for anyone. In this case, the aspect of spiritual freedom involves submitting oneself to God and that this is the only way for communion with God.
On the other hand, Al-Ghazali in his biographical experience talked about a similar religious concept. According to Al-Ghazali, religion is made up of three components. These include conducts, work, and belief. He maintained that each element is complementary to one another, and it is sufficient to make a man receive the reward of God through salvation. By salvation, Al-Ghazali implies complete retribution from the punishment of Hell. He states that attaining paradise requires one to live according to God’s law. By God’s law, Al-Ghazali means more than simply being a strict Muslim or an orthodox. This should not be considered an assurance of salvation. Complete salvation can only be achieved through submission of one self to the divine God.
When compared, Al-Ghazali’s biographical experience is indeed in connection with that of Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyy. In this case, we can establish that both have a similar view on the Muslim aspect of religion. Rabi’a talks about having spiritual freedom. She states that she has achieved it through submitting herself to God and gets the reward of having her heart filled with His love. In this case, she considers this the only way of being saved from God’s punishment. On the other hand, Al-Ghazali talks about salvation and can be taken to mean the same as Rabi’a’s love. According to Al-Ghazali, failure to achieve salvation renders one subject to go to Hell. This is connected to Rabi’a’s view of God’s punishment to those that fall short of God’s love.
Al-Ghazali is indeed among history’s greatest theologians. However, attempting to generate an informed understanding his deliverance from error is not easy. Even though this book is autobiographical, I believe that my findings suggest that his intention was not fixed on giving an autobiography. In this case, his book serves as a source of intellectual knowledge regarding his of spiritual growth and presents valid arguments that defend his view of a higher human apprehension compared to rational apprehension. He uses a coded way of relating his arguments with his biography.
al-‘Adawiyya, Rabi’a. Rabi’a: Her Words and Life in ‘Attar’s Memorial of the Friends of God. Trans. Paul Losensky and Michael Sells. New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1996. Print.
al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid Muhammad. Deliverance from Error (al-Munqidh min ad-Dalal). Trans. W. Montgomery Watt. London: George Allen and Unwin, 1951. Print.