A renowned scholar who preached, wrote and spread only those things that he practiced. This immortal genius and thinker was born in 1058 in Tus in the province of Khurasan . His real name was Abu Hamid ibn Muhammad an-Nishapuri. “Ghazzali” was a title taken probably from his birthplace, Ghazala, or from his father’s trade, Ghazzal, meaning wool merchant. His father was a very religious Sufi who used to find special pleasure in associating with Sufis and dervishes.
He started his career with a great Sufi who gave him lessons in the Qur’an, Hadith and Sufism. He then studied the Shari’a for some time with Shaykh Ahmad at-Tusi and then he went to Jurjan to become a disciple of Imam Abu Nasr of Jurjan.
He devoted himself to studying Sufism and in 1078 was admitted into the famous Nizamiyya Madrasa of ishapur. He became a disciple of the principal of the Madrasa, Shaykh Abu’l-Ma’ali; the Imam of the Haramayn. Under his leadership, he learned religion, philosophy, jurisprudence and natural law. His profound learning and unusual genius struck everyone.
Suddenly, at the age of forty, when he was the undisputed leader of Baghdad , he gave up and left all his fame, name and wealth, and went away in search of the Truth. He cut himself off from the world and went away into the desert to find his Lord. He remained in hiding for ten years, far away from the distracting crowds, meditating on his Lord and the Hereafter. Like a dervish he roamed from place to place, to Syria, to Palestine, Jerusalem, Cairo, Alexandria, etc. and also to the tombs of many distinguished awliya’ , and to many mosques in many countries. While he was in this wretched condition he found his Lord. His inner eyes opened and he found the Truth.
In 1106 he came back to Baghdad and at the request of the then Prime Minister of Baghdad he agreed to start teaching again in the Nizamiyya Madrasa. During this period he wrote his famous book Ihya ‘Ulum ad-Din . From this book he used to deliver lectures (khutbas) that were so full of spiritual enlightenment and all-embracing knowledge that people used to call him the Hujjatu’l-Islam or the Proof of Islam. But after only two years he again left the Nizamiyya Madrasa for his hometown of Tus where he spent the rest of his life.
In Tus he established a madrasa and khanqah for the Sufis. It was devotion to meditation and to the Sufi line of worship that he first learnt and he had been trained under several renowned Sufis. That was also what he chose in the end and the way he spent his final years. At last he died, taking leave of this fleeting world at the age of 53 on 10 December 1111.
Al-Ghazzali was one of the greatest thinkers and geniuses the world has known. The focus of his thoughts and the principal aim of his teachings and of his learned discourses were to attract people to morality. He well realized that the society of his time was steeped in the glitter and worship of this world and hence realized the necessity of tremendous moral teaching and religious injunctions. He devoted most of his time and most of his writings to distracting people from the enjoyment of this world and to diverting them to the uplifting of their soul and spirit. His unique scholarship, wide experience, sharp insight, deep thinking and wonderful sense of judgment went a long way to give a direction to the then disillusioned Muslim society.