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The world vision of al-Ghazali and its consequences

mehriran.de/en - Islamic states seek to legitimize their system from a variety of sources. One of the main sources is the world vision of al-Ghazali and his explanations about a religious state and the representation of God's will on earth by the government that is carried by the clergy. Human beings are reduced to beings that need to be obedient and have no free will. On the other side philosophers and mystics like Avicenna, al-Faraby and Averroes are hardly known. Their model of a society is based on human development and free will.

al-Ghazali

Many books have been accomplished by al-Ghazali[1] but the most important book is named Ihiya ulum al-din (The revival of religious sciences). This book is written in Arabic language and consists of 54 volumes. There exists as well an extract of this book in Farsi language which is named Kimiayeh Sa'âdat (The Alchemy of Happyness). These books are witnesses of how al-Ghazali legitimises the constitution of a religious society. One can understand that these books of al-Ghazali are a reaction of a theologian to the proposal of al-Faraby[2] about the model of a virtuous society.


al-Farabi

The summary of the world-vision of Imam Mohammad al Ghazali

Al-Ghazali in the beginning talks about the existence of God and how we know that God exists. He explains in different manners the existence of God after which he explains that God exists by necessity and not voluntarily. It means that God cannot decide not to be. God is - and his existence is a necessity, it is not optional. Afterwards he writes about the qualities of God. One of the qualities of God mentioned in al-Ghazalis work is the fact that God doesn't have any beginning and any end - he is endless and eternal. He existed before the existence of any other being and will exist after the disappearance of all beings. It is the meaning of infinity and the meaning of eternity. Timelessness exists and is not in any place and no place is empty from his presence.

He explains all of these points in detail and refers to all of the verses of the Quran and many sayings attributed to Prophet Mohammed regarding this point.

Later he adds another quality of God: the creator. According to al-Ghazali God created the whole universe for his own purpose, for a goal he knows and we don't know. God created all beings, may they be huge or tiny in order to be worshipped by them. Each creature, each being which exists in the universe unconsciously worshipps its creator. And later he created the human being in order to be worshipped by him consciously and unconsciously.

Further on he raises the question how to worshipp God correctly and consciuosly, meaning how to pray in a conscious way to your Lord. He explains that human beings are created to pray to God, that is the reason for which God created man. But how to pray correctly no one knows according to al-Ghazali. For this reason God sent the Prophets in order to teach us how to be obedient to him and how to worship him correctly. Thus he created the religions. According to al-Ghazali God sent many Prophets of whom the last one was Mohammed, who brought with him the Quran, which is preserved from any deterioration in which he gives the frame of a religion in which everybody can live correctly worshipping God and be related to others and work correctly  with others and be positive and not do any wrong in his life and when he passes away the gate of heaven will be open to him and he will enter in heaven and if a person doesn't do according to the expectations of the creator of the universe he will end up in hell.

According to al-Ghazali it is not enough to send a Prophet to explain how to live, it is necessary for a Prophet and for those who are coming after the Prophets to create a society in which people can live correctly and pray towards God correctly and reach to the real happyness. Happyness in this case means being a good worshipper for behaving correctly in the society and to die correctly as a Muslim and go directly to heaven. It is the role of the government, of the state, to manage the society according to the teachings of the Prophet in order to guarantee the eternal happyness for everyone.  After this passages al-Ghazali starts to explain in detail every single action that a Muslim should do: how to wash his face, how to wash his hands, from which water he should do the ablution, which water is good, which water is not good, how to wash after using the toilet - every little aspect of daily life from the birth of the baby till the passage to the other world is being explained by him for the life of everybody. And if we will perform our lives according to the advise of al-Ghazali we will be happy in the other world and in this world. And if we don't do we will be punished in this world by the government and in the other world we are doomed to go to hell.

It is the description of a theocratical system which has the absolute and total and limitless control upon people who are living in the society. They don't have any freedom and they should accept that they are not created to be free but to be obedient. This is a brain-washed society and the governmental system which is the clerical power and which is legitimized by the support of the clerical power has the total freedom to do whatever it would like on behalf of the replacer of Prophet Mohammed and the representative of the high authority of God.

We can see nowadays how more and more books and articles are being published based on al-Ghazali or written about him and all of these publications are somehow connected to Islamic states that are seeking to legitimize themselves by refering to al-Ghazali. They claim that al-Ghazali had two periods in his life. During one period - his first life period - he was on the straight way, when he legitimized this kind of system. His second period is being regarded as a deviation and as wrong when he turned towards Sufism. They say it is not important if al-Ghazali criticized himself about his first life period and what he had said then about an Islamic state. They claim that in his second life period he insisted he was wrong in his first life period but according to the writers affiliated to Islamic states nowadays in that second period when he renounced his thoughts of his first period he started to become wrong. So his self criticism is not accepted by the writers affiliated to Islamic states.


Alireza A'arafi, head of al-Mustafa University


Mohsen Araki, head of the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of thought


Abdol-Hossein Khosrowpanah, head of the Institute for research in Philosophy

If we do a research on the authors who nowadays write on al-Ghazali we find a relation with Islamic states such as the Islamic Republic of Iran and certain ideological centres such as the International University of al-Mustafa under the leadership of Alireza A'arafi, the World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of thought under the leadership of Mohsen Araki, Anjomane Falsafe (Institute for research in Philosophy) under the leadership of Abdol-Hossein Khosrowpanah and more. All of them would like to legitimize an Islamic government. They claim to be the representatives of the legitime religious state, which is explained to the Sunni world by al-Ghazali. They hold the position not to distinguish between Sunni and Shiite, everything is just about Islam (this a quotation of a speech by Khamenei mid of december 2016 ).

The reply to al-Ghazali by Averroes

This means we must be very careful concerning the authors of these books. The best and most credible book concerning al-Ghazali is Tahâfat-ol Tahâfeh (The errors of the book about errors) written by Ibn Rushd (Averroes)[3]. It is a philosophical reply to al-Ghazalis Tahâfat ol Falsafe (The errors of the Philosophers). This book has been burned soon after it had been written but fortunately it had been translated before the original was devoured by the flames. Averroes's book has never been accepted in the Islamic regions but fortunately it was published in Spain just in the moment when the Islamic Empire historically ended.


Ibn Rushd, Averroes 


Ibn Sina, Avicenna

Averroes was a sociologue, a theologian, a historian and a philosopher, but mostly he was a philosopher whereas al-Ghazali was a theologian who besides focussing on the verses of the Quran and the sayings attributed to Mohammed used the methods of the philosophers for analyzing and reasoning against philosophy. For this reason when he writes about God, eternity, immortality, infinity he is using the jargon of the philosophers who were living before him, such as Avicenna[4], such as al-Faraby. But from that point he is in deviation of the way of the philosophers because the philosophers say everything is obedient than a human being. A human being is regarded by the philosophers as the being with free will. At that point al-Ghazali claimed that the philosophers are wrong and they open the gates to a way of disobedience. He held that people should be obedient to God and in consequence to the representative of God, which according to al-Ghazali is the governmental state.

In conclusion, al-Ghazali reduced Islam to a govemental ideology. When he did this he was a high clerical authority in service of the government. He wrote these ideas and Fatwas in order to satisfy Khowajeh Nezam ol Molk e Toussi[5] the grand vizir of Malekshah e Saljoughi, and the Abbassid Khalifs of Baghdad. 

© Seyed M. Azmayesh, December 2016


[1] Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al-Ghazālī c. 1058 – 18. December 1111

[2] Abū Naṣr Muḥammad ibn Muḥammad al Farabi c. 872[2] in Fārāb[3] – between 14. December, 950 and 12. January, 951 in Damascus

[3] Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rushd‎, 14. April 1126 – 10. December 1198

[4] Abū Alī al-Husain ibn Abdullāh ibn Sīnā, c. 980 in Afschāna near Buchara in Khorasan; † Juni 1037 in Hamedan

[5] Nizām al-Mulk Abū ʿAlī al-Hasan ibn ʿAlī ibn Ishāq at-Tūsī; * 10. April 1018; † 14. Oktober 1092