Why Ghazali Matters 16 April 2008Posted by mecca in Culture, Psychology, Spirituality.
“Ghazalian experience” refers to a drastic turn one makes in life that seems incomprehensible—especially to popular culture—when one utterly discards what others would traffic their souls for. Theologian, jurist, and sage, Abu Hamid al-Ghazali matters today, after nearly a thousand years, because of his scholarship but also because of his crisis. Ghazali had been well-established as the premier scholar in law and theology, occupying the most-coveted seat of academia, at the Nizamiyya University in Baghdad. He had veneration, prestige, status, wealth, and a great mind. He was the monarch of intellectuals.
But there came a moment in the man’s life when inner agitations caused him to wiretap his soul. It turned out that the knife fights secretly going on inside him were over the fact that he was spiritually damaged. The man walked away from it all. He left his position, wealth, prestige, and students. And for more than 10 years, Ghazali wandered the Middle East, often living anonymously and on the bare essentials, to purge from his soul the trained assassin of religious faith and character: arrogance. This he admitted himself. His spiritual ride—his desperate search for sincerity—took him to Damascus, Jerusalem, Madina, Makkah and Egypt.
Ghazali, of course, returned from his “trip,” thus completing the hero’s journey. The revived genius and mystic at last found peace. His spiritual reconstruction imbued all that he was to write, whether iconoclastic treatises or spiritual reams that helped people realign themselves spiritually. By sound historical accounts, Ghazali’s personal triumph stimulated a wave of spiritual vitality and reoriented the goals and aims of religious studies that are felt to this day.
It is good to be wary of the stiff academic view that Ghazali’s impact is a matter of a gifted mind and remarkable scholarship. Rather, what makes Ghazali the standout personality is not merely his layered erudition, but the desperation that nearly destroyed him and his battle to take back what he was courageous enough to discover he had lost. A hidden master moving alone and without the identity of his former glory, a warrior taking his jihad to find certitude during his lost-and-found years—this breathed relevance into his erudition and admitted a more direct route between the secluded realm of scholarship and its inevitable social impact in popular culture.
That’s why Ghazali matters. Crisis, candor, dismantling, and reconstruction: something anyone can relate to.