Oliver Leaman

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online November 2010 | | DOI:


Al-Ghazali (c. 1058–1111) is widely regarded as one of the most impressive thinkers in the Sunni Islamic world, encompassing a wide range of intellectual positions through his career. He started off as a fairly standard Ashʿarite theologian but then became interested in philosophy in the Peripatetic tradition, which he sought to refute, yet he also held onto some of its main principles and arguments. In his position as a major thinker in the Sunni state based in Baghdad, he also spent some time and effort refuting the Ismaʿili challenge to orthodox Islam. Finally, he became entranced with a version of Sufism and abandoned his official role and public status, preferring the relative solitude and isolation of the mystical form of life. In all his writings, al-Ghazali put his own character into his work, and it is never possible to accuse him of following others’ ideas slavishly. Indeed, if there is one theme that al-Ghazali can be said to have maintained throughout his life, it is his repugnance for taqlid (imitation) and his advocacy of the significance of discovering the truth for oneself. Given his frequent change of view, he was often accused by his enemies of being inconsistent, and the precise nature of his thought is difficult to pin down definitively, thus leading to extensive controversy between those who believe that he is basically a philosopher with an interest in mysticism and those who regard him predominantly as a mystic with occasional philosophical ways of expressing himself.

Article.  3206 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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