GHAZALI AND THE POETICS OF IMAGINATION – Book Sample
Introduction – GHAZALI AND THE POETICS OF IMAGINATION
In many ways, this book is a dialogical encounter with perhaps the most in-ﬂuential intellectual in the Muslim tradition: Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī.1 It is a dialogue with many voices, one that fosters motion, discovery, playfulness, and invention.
It is a dialogue that serendipitously began some three decades ago, when on a busy street in what was then Bombay, now Mumbai, as a shell-shocked but aspiring student ready to study in one of India’s many seminar-ies (called madrasas or dār al-ulūms), I bought my ﬁrst book on the history of Islamic thought. I purchased it from a secondhand bookseller on the clut-tered pavement of Mumbai’s Mohammed Ali Road. I still vividly recall the garish red vinyl cover of the book; it was a translation of a few selected chap-ters from Ghazālī’s inﬂuential and well-known text Resuscitation of the Sciences of Religion (Iḥyā ulūm al-dīn).
For some years, this red book adorned the shelves of my student residence rooms. I remember that the translator was someone of South Asian descent. However, there is a reason why I impulsively purchased the book: the name ‘‘Imām al-Ghazālī’’ resonated with me. My religious and cultural education in South Africa had made me aware that Ghazālī was a major ﬁgure in the history of the Muslim tradition, but I did not know why he was considered so important.
To be brutally honest, at the time of purchasing the red book at age seven-teen I could barely understand what this author was saying. And, like so many well-intentioned book acquisitions, this one never came oﬀ the shelf for seri-ous reading during my student days. I made perhaps one or two attempts to make sense of its contents only to be frustrated by my inability to grasp its purpose. So I jealously guarded this book like one would revere the pages of a talisman.
Eventually, however, I either lent this precious acquisition to some-one who never returned it, or, as is the custom with unused books, it vanished mysteriously when neglected by its owner!
Whatever the fate of that red-covered book, Ghazālī never left me entirely. Over the years, haltingly and hesitatingly, I started to read selected pages of the Resuscitation, often mining it in search of inspiration or ideas in preparation for a talk. And gradually, even surreptitiously, this author became an indis-pensable companion in my intellectual and existential journey. I oﬀer what follows as but one installment—the distance of one way station—in my jour-ney with Ghazālī.
My own intellectual journey ranges from early studies in the scholastic Mus-lim tradition with grounding in the classical texts of Arabic grammar, litera-ture, law, legal theory, theology, philosophy, and logic, among other subjects, to an encounter with modern disciplines of the humanities and the social sci-ences. In trying to make sense of two intellectual traditions while existentially battling racism, colonialism, and imperialism in my own South African com-munity, I have had to struggle with several issues and questions. In more than one way, this book also maps the way I negotiate these questions in the com-pany of Ghazālī.
Known as ‘‘al-Gazel’’ in the Christian West, Ghazālī is by far one of the most inﬂuential thinkers in the world. His enduring legacy has guaranteed his emi-nence as an intellectual not only for Islamdom but also beyond it: his relevance surpasses the limitations of cultures and creeds. His critical interventions in religious thought gave the Muslim intellectual tradition an unprecedented vitality and depth for which he has been canonized over the centuries, even though some Muslim intellectuals have viewed—and continue to view—him as a contested ﬁgure.
Near the modern city of Mashhad in northern Iran, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥam-mad al-Ghazālī was born in ../– .. This was some seven years before the Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest of England. Ṭūs, the city of his birth, was particularly poor; it had been ravaged by severe drought and consequent famine for several years.2 Ghazālī was born to a modest house-hold; his father probably derived his income from vending wool, which may explain the attribution ghazzāl (wool spinner or vendor) in his family name. Others speculate that the attribution refers to an unidentiﬁed village of the same name.
There have been as many Ghazālīs as there have been readers of this major ﬁgure. The popular version of Ghazālī as the man who encounters doubt and dramatically changes the direction of his life is a thrilling account, immortal-izing his ideas and his sterling contributions to religious thought. In many parts of today’s Muslim world, Ghazālī is a household name, while in some other locations people have only a vague recollection or memory of him as an renowned scholar or a pious ﬁgure. By his critics, Ghazālī is also viewed as formidable, but formidable for the harm that he has done. They charge that it was he who sowed the seeds for some of the most interminable discursive aporias in Muslim thought.
I concur with the well-attested-to view that one can identify at least two major phases in the life of Ghazālī. The ﬁrst encompasses his student years in Ṭūs, Jurjān, and later in Nisapūr. His formative education took place in each of these three cities with teachers such as Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Rādhkānī (d. ca. /) in Ṭūs and Abū al-Qāsim Ismāīl b. Masada al-Ismāīlī (d. /), who was the leading jurist and scholar among the Shāﬁīs in Jur-jān.3
There is a good chance that Ghazālī either encountered Abd al-Qāhir al-Jurjānī (d. / or /), a literary critic and an inﬂuential language theorist of his time, in that city or at least became familiar with Jurjānī’s ideas, since there are unmistakable traces of them in Ghazālī’s writing. At the Nisa-pūr branch of the Niẓāmīya, Ghazālī studied with one of the leading schol-ars of the time, Imām al-Ḥaramayn Abd al-Malik b. Abd Allāh al-Juwaynī (d. /), better known as Abū al-Maālī al-Juwaynī, who held the cele-brated chair in Shāﬁī law for thirty years.,……
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