Friday, September 14, 2007

My Hero, Al Ghazali...

I have come across a particular philosopher two times in my studies thus far. The first time he and I crossed paths was last year in my Medieval Philosophy course. Al Ghazali, an Islamic philosopher from the 11th century, was just someone for me to study then. I didn't really connect with him. I think I was just on a different part of my journey back then, but this week when he and I met again, it was different.

I'm reading a book right now for my Does God Exist? course. It's called "A History of God," and it goes over a chapter about the history of philosophers and their connection to the question, "Does God exist?" That's a question that I've struggled with for a little while, but not in the traditional sense. My problem is that I don't know how to define God. What is God? I'm sure that there is something out there that is "God," but whether that is Brahman, some ultimate consciousness, Reason, the Self, I'm just unsure. This is where my man Al Ghazali comes in.

Around 1070, Al Ghazali became a scholar. He wanted to answer the questions he had about God and the world surrounding him. He studied every branch of knowledge he could. He was a mathematician, a physician, and ultimately settled on philosophy. Al Ghazali tried to answer the deep question, "Does God exist?" using logic and metaphysics, to which he was ultimately unsuccessful.

The story goes that he eventually became so distraught that he was actually clinically depressed. He wanted to kill himself to end his anguish over the question. He couldn't take anything on faith, and there are very solid philosophical arguments either way, so he sank deeper into confusion and depression. Eventually, a doctor told him he had to quit this obsession with these questions or he would meet his demise. It was then that Al Ghazali took his leave from philosophy and became a Sufi, a mystic. After several years as an ascetic in the wilderness, he came back having experienced God first hand and his fears were stilled.

Al Ghazali says all the things he learned about God were a heuristic ladder to reach the experience of God, which is the ultimate goal of life. Eventually, you can only learn so much. You've got to throw away all of that knowledge and experience something. Knowledge can only get you so far.

For me, Al Ghazali is my hero. I struggle with philosophy and religion in the same way that Al Ghazali did. I often wonder whether I'm going into this profession for the wrong reason. I'm not doing it ultimately for the love of philosophy itself, but I want to learn more about different faiths so I can hopefully figure out the truth behind this world that I'm living in. That's why I can't stop. My problem is the same as Al Ghazali's though. Words aren't going to tell me what this world is really about, or what God is. I've got to experience that personally. That's the only answer I can come up with. Now if I could only find the time....


Anonymous said...

On the 19th January, 2008 they are going to show the film Alachemy of Happiness which I am going to watch.

But then, I am so used to listening to the Distinguished Al Ghazali Professor Dr Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas [b 1931- ] without being his student ie. not a registered student .

Anyway, Professor Al-Attas lifted the burdens by reading many books of al Ghazali by writing "Prolegomena to the Metaphysics of Islam" and the seminal work "Islam & Secularism" which one other American graduate student finds it a greater work of the 21st Century at least for Western readers.

You may like to browse for "kamiya-e saadat" the Alchemy of Happiness by al ghazali translated Claude Field .

Dr Timothy Winters [Abd al Hakim Murad] of Cambridge, UK is another example of he translated parts of Ihya ulum al din .

otherwise, many happy readings and keep in touch

Anonymous said...

brilliant film by Ovidio Salazar ex-Hollywood American now moved to UK!

a must see film.....

anyway, the DVD is available on-line which has commentary by:

Hamza Yusuf, American at the Zaytuna Institute, California and
Prof Dr Karim Crow

you would want to miss the film or DVD ....

Salazar's next project underway , at least the script is being written ...Jalaludin RUMI ....!!!

BTW you may want to read the "Concept and Reality of Existence" by Toshihiko Izutsu considered the best book on reality and existence written in 20- 21st century available on-line from

cheers mate !