Al-Ghazali (1058–1111)

Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazzālī , best known as Al-Ghazali. was born in 1058 in Tous, Iran. He was a significant Muslim scholar and jurist who became a key figure in Islamic philosophy.

His notable work, “The Incoherence of the Philosophers,” critiqued the ideas of Greek-influenced philosophers. He arguied that some of their views contradicted Islamic teachings. This work profoundly impacted Islamic philosophy, sparking discussions on the interplay between reason and revelation.

Al-Ghazali’s philosophical explorations prompted a personal spiritual transformation, documented in his autobiography, “Deliverance from Error.” Known as the “Proof of Islam,” Al-Ghazali’s influence extended to theology, mysticism, and jurisprudence.

He is best known for his confrontation with the philosophers and the publication of his spiritual masterpiece “Iḥyā’ ‘Ulūm al-Dīn’”, the “Revival of the Religious Sciences.” His integration of Sufi mysticism with orthodox Islam contributed to a more balanced religious approach. Al-Ghazali’s controversial theological ethics is underpinned by the golden rule “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”) , which he often uses as a summarising principle of moral guidance in a variety of contexts.

Al-Ghazali was one of the first Muslim jurists who introduced the consideration of a “public benefit” (maslahah) into Islamic jurisprudence. In addition to developing clear guidance of how to gain redemption in the afterlife, religious law (Sharî’ah) also aims at creating an environment that allows each individual wellbeing and the pursuit of a virtuous and pious lifestyle. Al-Ghazali argues that when God revealed divine law (Sharî’ah) He did so with the purpose (maqsid) of advancing human benefits in this world and the next. Al-Ghazali identifies five essential components for wellbeing in this world: religion, life, intellect, offspring, and property. Whatever protects these “five necessities” (al-daruriyyat al-khamsa) is considered public benefit (maslahah) and should be advanced, while whatever harms them should be avoided. The jurisprudent (fiqh) should aim at safeguarding these five necessities in his legal judgments. In recommending this, al-Ghazali practically implies that a “maslaha mursala,” a public benefit that is not mentioned in the revealed text, is considered a valid source of legislation (Opwis 2007 and 2010, 65–88)

Source: Best – Islamic Scholars in History: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Further reading: Al-Ghazali and the Golden Rule: Ethics of Reciprocity in the Works of a Muslim Sage