Algazel (Ghazzālī, Al-)
ALGAZEL (GHAZZĀLĪ, AL-)
Arab philosopher and theologian; b. Ṭūs, province of Khorāsān, Persia, 1058; d. Ṭūs, 1111.
Life. Algazel received his early education in his native city and at Jurjan, where the teaching of the mystics, or Sufis, was emphasized (see sufism). The decisive period of his formation began, however, when he attended the lectures of a famous theologian, al-Juwaynī, at Nisāpour. There he acquired a deep knowledge of Islamic theology and law and was initiated into the philosophical speculations of alfarabi and avicenna. From the beginning, Algazel shared with his teacher a distrust for authority in matters of religion. This distrust accompanied him all his life, explaining in great part the distinctive features of his intellectual and spiritual evolution.
When al-Juwaynī died in 1085, Algazel joined the scholars whom the vizier, Niẓām al-Mulk, had gathered around him. After six years in this group, he was named professor of Muslim law at the famous Niẓāmiya College in Baghdad. In 1095 he resigned his post, left Baghdad, and on the pretext of making the pilgrimage to Mecca retired to Damascus. In his Al-Munqidh min aḍ-ḍalāl (Deliverance from Error), he explains this decision on religious grounds as a need to deepen his spiritual life and to free himself from worldly preoccupations; scholars suggest, however, that political considerations had something to do with his retirement. Following this, he spent two years in Syria, made the pilgrimage to Mecca, visited Jerusalem, and lived the life of an ascetic, studying and practicing mysticism. He then returned to Ṭūs, probably before 1098 or 1099. He abandoned his life of private teaching and ascetical practices in 1106 when, on demand of the vizier, Fakhr al-Mulk, he returned to Nisāpour as professor at the Niz: āmiya College there. This second period of teaching lasted until 1109, when he retired to T ūs, to remain until his death.
Thought. Algazel is among the profound religious teachers of Islam. A polemist of first rank, he is mainly responsible for the intellectual orientation taken by orthodox Islam since his day. He assured the triumph of the theology of al-ash’arĪ; at the same time, he contributed to the decadence of philosophical speculation by his attacks on certain classical Neoplatonic doctrines held by Alfarabi and Avicenna. He also endorsed mysticism, thitherto the object of suspicion and condemnation by the orthodox followers of Islam.
Algazel's writings, especially Al-Munqidh minaḍ-ḍalāl, show that his conversion expressed itself in the form of universal doubt, somewhat similar to that of R. descartes but arising in a different context. Algazel was convinced that there is in man an innate ground of religious experience that is generally oriented by parental authority. Thus children born of Christians become Christians; those born of Jews become Jews. Such influence cannot be justified, particularly since it would put all religions, Islam included, on the same footing. To found his own religious life and to work for the revival of the true religion, for him Islam, it was necessary for Algazel to uncover the fundamental experience that would justify all the rest. In describing his search for this, he follows a logical rather than a chronological pattern. He begins by doubting sense knowledge, which, as the intellect shows, contains contradictory elements. But he holds that even clear intellectual concepts cannot be accepted at face value, for they too might be found wanting if they could be examined by a higher faculty.
Algazel finally escapes from these harassing doubts not by argument and demonstration, but by the light that God has given him. Once received, this light from God allows him to evaluate the four principal positions that have been defended by the theologians, the philosophers, the Batinites, and the mystics. In weighing each position, Algazel is not purely negative, but seems conscious that the shortcomings of any one explanation do not render it valueless. It is this attitude that caused Algazel to be accused of insincerity, for his adversaries were not slow to point out that, after attacking them, he incorporated much of their doctrine in his own synthesis.
Algazel criticizes the theologians for adopting principles admitted by their adversaries and for using arguments based merely on universal consent. His criticism of the philosophers is that they have some excellent logical principles but fail to live up to them in proving their own positions, being content merely to echo a long tradition taken over from the Greeks. The third group whose doctrine Algazel rejects is the Batinite Sect, which claimed that all religious truth must be received for no other reason except the infallible authority of a teacher (their infallible Imām, at that time the Fatimite Caliph of Cairo); their position is a radical denial of his own, which claims that authority can never replace experience. The fourth group, the mystics, receives Algazel's full adherence. In his view, purity of heart obtained by recollection is the first condition of progress in the mystic way, which leads to complete absorption in God (fanā ). At this point there is a period of visions and revelations, later reaching its perfection in a nearness to God. The prophets are those who reach the highest degree of experience and are thus constituted physicians of the heart. It is through their influence and the following of their precepts that a man can eventually hope to attain light.
Works. A great number of works have been attributed to Algazel (see Bouyges). During his first teaching period, up to 1095, he wrote some treatises on logic and composed the Maqāṣid al-Falācifa, a summary of philosophical doctrines, which he then refuted in the Tahāfut al-Falācifa (Incoherence of the Philosophers). He wrote also some works on Moslem canon law and a treatise on theology, the Iqtisād. During his retreat (1095–1105) he composed his principal work, Iḥyā ‘Ulūm ad-Dīn (Revival of the Religious Sciences), together with numerous minor works dealing with the spiritual life. In 1105–06, while teaching at Nisāpour, he wrote his intellectual autobiography and later Mishkāt al-Anwār (Niche of Lights), a highly esoteric account of his religious thought. In the years preceding his retirement from teaching in 1095 and immediately following it, he wrote several works against the Batinite Sect, among others, Al-Qistās al-Mostiqīm
(The Just Balance).
See Also: arabian philosophy; islam.
Bibliography: Works in translation. The Faith and Practice of al-Gazālī, tr. w. montgomery watt (London 1953); Streitschrift des Gazali gegen die Bātinijja-Sekte, ed. i. goldhizer (Leiden 1916; repr. 1956); The Alchemy of Happiness, tr. c. field (London 1910); Mishkat al-Anwār (The Niche for Lights), tr. w. h. t. gairdner (London 1924; Lahore 1952); O Disciple (Beirut 1951); Al Qistās al Mostiqīm (Damascus 1955–57); Worship in Islam, tr. and commentary e. e. calverly of Book of the Ihyā on the Worship (Madras 1925; 2d ed. London 1957); Ihyā ouloûm eddin ou Vivification des sciences de la foi, analyzed by h. bousquet (Paris 1955). averroËs, Tahāfut al-Tahāfut, tr. s. van den bergh, 2 v. (London 1954), contains text of Algazel's Tahāfut quoted by Averroës. Studies. a. bouyges, Essai de chronologie des oeuvres de al-Ghazali (Algazel) (Beirut 1960). a. j. wensinck, La Pensée de Ghazzâlî (Paris 1940). d. b. macdonald, "The Life of al-Ghazzālā with Especial Reference to His Religious Experiences and Opinions," The Journal of the American Oriental Society (New Haven 1843–) 20 (1899) 71–132. s. m. zwemer, A Moslem Seeker after God (New York 1920). m. asinpalacios, "Algazel" dogmatica, moral, ascetica (Zaragoza 1901); La Mystique d'al-Gazzali (Beirut 1914); La espiritualidad de Algazel y su sentido Cristiano, 4 v. (Madrid 1934–41). j. obermann, Der philosophische und religiöse Subjektivismus Ghazalis (Vienna 1921). m. smith, Al-Ghazālī: The Mystic (London 1944). f. jabre, La Notion de la ma'rifa chez Ghazali (Beirut 1958).