al-Ghazali’s Return to the Madhhab of the Salaf; Looking at his Ash’arism and his iljam al-Awam An Ilm al-Kalam

Compiled, Translated & Annotated
 Abu Khuzaimah Ansari



Perspectives on al-Ghazālī                              

The Stages in al-Ghazālī’s Life                 

Al-Ghazālī’s Views on Kalām                  

Al-Ghazālī’s Ashʿarism                                   

Al-Ghazālī’s Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām 

Manuscripts of the Iljām                   

Contents of the Iljām                                                 

Reception of al-Ghazālī’s View and the Iljām        


ʿAudhu Billāhi min ash-Shayṭān al-Rajīm

Bismillāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm

Alḥamdullilāhi Rabbil ʿAlamīn, Waṣalatu Wassalām ʿAla Rasūlillahil Karīm, Wa ʿAla Alihī Wa Aṣḥābī Wa Man Tabiāhum Bi-Eḥsan Ilaʾ Yaum al-Dīn; Wa Baʿd

All Praise belongs and is directed to the Rabb of everything

 that exists, Praise and Salutations be upon His

Final beloved Messenger, his revered family

 and his noble Companions and upon

 those who follow them in good

until the end of times,

 To proceed,


From what we know of al-Ghazālī is that he retracted from his ardent Ashʾarī approach and returned back to the way of Ahl al-Sunnah or as he described, Madhhab al-Salaf. We find that he eventually denounced the Kalām approach or the way of the Kalāmiyyah. This has been well documented and accepted by many authorities, while some are still denying this established fact. What we learn from this historical fact and what is of primary focus is the rejection of the kalām system; which was adopted by many in order to understand the divine attributes or the Asmāʾ wa’l-Ṣifāt of Allāh. However, it must be said that actually never totally left Ashʿarism and began taking early steps[1], how much he left and how much of the creed of the Salaf he adopted is open for much discussion and debate.

Al-Ghazālī censured the kalām approach and therefore believed it was no longer an acceptable or viable approach for the the common Muslims. This eventually led al-Ghazālī to author is well known, Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām.

Al-Ghazālī wrote this treatise to aid the Muslims masses shortly before he died, and I will discuss the details and importance of this treatise later. It is similarly imperative to understand the various stages in al-Ghazālī’s life and the treatises he wrote and to correlate them with his theological views, which will essentially offer insight to his beliefs as well as his Ashʿarism and kalām approach. Unfortunately, these substantial changes or stages in al-Ghazālī’s life failed to create an acceptable understanding in some Islamic and modern academics, who continue to promote al-Ghazālī as an all out ardent Ashʿarī, who traversed this theological discourse uniformly throughout his life.

This is an incorrect notion as the proceeding pages will evidence, it is however, acceptable to believe that he retained many aspects of Ashʿarism which was inevitable because to his lifelong attachment to this theological school. Al-Ghazālī also denounced and repudiated key premises of Ashʿarism, which were considered central ideas of Ashʿarism and I mention some of them further as we proceed through this paper, In-Shāʾ-Allāh. So, in order to evidence his denunciation and retraction from orthodox Ashʿarite beliefs and the Kalāmiyyah approach or theological rhetoric, we move onto the various stages in al-Ghazālī’s life.

We find from those who knew him on a personal level, there were other concerns with his personality and approach which perhaps led to some of these changes, self realisation, criticism from his contemporaries and personal experiences, all seem to have played a relevant part. It would therefore, be important to present a brief synopsis of this to get a broader picture of his mindset.

Perspectives on al-Ghazālī

Al-Ghazālī was someone who had a level of acumen and intelligence, he was pleased and aware of his knowledge and capabilities. He had ability to discern between different ideologies and methods of creed derivation, all of which is deduced from his summary of the various approaches he mentions in his Munqiḍh.[2] He was unsparing with his comments and rebuttal of the other sects, namely the Batinī’s and philosophers.  He was also not shy to express his contempt and scorn on them and used harsh words. We can draw lessons from this while showing the Ashʿaris and other bystanders how al-Ghazālī himself was unforgiving to other deviant creeds and belief systems, giving the Ashʿari’s and other sympathisers something to reflect over. A contemporary of al-Ghazālī, ʿAbd al-Ghāfir al-Fārisī (d.529H) says about him,

I visited him many times and it is without inference that whatever I saw of him in the past with regards to malice and harshness towards people, he looked down on them through his being led astray and by what Allāh had given him in terms of thought and expression and through the seeking of rank and position, had come to be the opposite and was purified from stains. I used to think there was a level of pretence with him, but I realized after investigation, it was the opposite to what I had thought and that he was a man who had recovered after being mad.[3]  

This serves as a direct account from a contemporary evidencing al-Ghazālī changing during his life and his approach in general to the Shariʿah. He also shows his dislike for taqlīd and blind following in general, where he encourages people to seek the truth and develop ones own Madhhab, he says,

So, stop relying on the Madhhabs and seek the truth by looking into issues and become a founder of a Madhhab. Do not follow a guide like a blind man so that he leads you along while there are thousands of similar guides around you, calling out to you that he ruined and misguided you from the right path.[4]

These statements and others show al-Ghazālī was an independent thinker, just like his teacher al-Juwaynī, he was not shackled and bound by the chains of taqlīd or blind following or imitation. Al-Ghazālī and al-Juwaynĩ were independent theologians, which perhaps the main reason why they left fundamental Ashʿarism and departed from many aspects, as if they were both unfaithful Ashʿarites. If having a culmination of anti taqlīd sentiments, being independent, having a precedence of his teachers, there is no doubt this approach led al-Ghazālī to depart from Ashʿarism, how much is the focus of discussion.

The Stages in al-Ghazālī’s Life

Al-Ghazālī while passing through a number of stages during his life, also authored a number of works that depicted and offered an insight to his thought. This paper will not exhaust these various stages of his life, but rather it will highlight some key changes, which essentially reveal some of his final views.

He was born in 450H in Tus and received his early education in a madrassah around 465H, he went to study in Jurjan.[5] Around 473H he travelled to Nishapur to study at the acclaimed Nizāmiyyah school. At the Niẓamiyyah he studied with one of the leading authorities of the Ashʿarī school, ʿAbd al-Mālik al-Juwaynī (d.478H) who had some sort of influence over him.[6] It is a given without a doubt that he must have studied ʿAqīdah, theology and subsidiary issues including kalam, and philosophy at the Niẓāmiyyah school and also independently with the various teachers at the madrassah.

After the death of al-Juwaynī,[7] he went on to serve the minister Niẓām al-Mulk of the Seljuq empire in Baghdad, as part of an advisory board. On this board they debated and discussed an array of issues ranging from ʿAqīdah and fiqh. Al-Ghazālī remained with Niẓām al-Mulk for approximately six years. Then in 484H Niẓām al-Mulk appointed him as a professor at the Baghdad Niẓāmiyyah school which he had founded. He remained as a professor at the Niẓāmiyyah for approximately four years until 488H where he served as the chair of Shafiʿī fiqh.

It was in Baghdad when al-Ghazālī really focused and exerted extensive time consulting the books of the philosophers. In fact, he spent half of his time in Baghdad, approximately two years as he mentions in his autobiographical discourse, Munqidh Min al-Ḍalāl.[8] When he completed his research he proceeded to write a number of treatises outlining the aims of the philosophers and refuting their ideas.  

Al-Ghazālī even at this early age showed signs of crisis in his approach and belief. In some places he outlines his views which become manifest through his writings. One of the earliest periods of skepticism he displayed was during the time he started to delve deeper into the Islamic sciences and leaving for Baghdad from Nishapur. It was during this period that began having doubts about his approach to the Islamic sciences. He became very doubtful, his intellectual thought failed him and he was unable to reconcile his uncertainties with reason or any of the other sciences he knew. At the same time, he became very ill, lost his appetite and was in a state of sheer confusion.

It will not be surprising to learn, during this period in Baghdad between 484-488H, while serving as a professor of Shafiʿī fiqh in the Baghdadi branch of the Niẓāmiyyah and after researching the ideas and principles of the philosophers and refuting and answering their claims, al-Ghazālī suffered a nervous break down.[9] While in Baghdad he extensively studied philosophy and its books and wrote a number of treatise[10] in refuting them. Al-Ghazālī says he studied the books of the philosophers for two years while he remained in Baghdad.[11]  

It is important to understand al-Ghazālī experienced this breakdown after reading and writing about the philosophers which was understood to be ‘a crisis of faith’. How tragic is it then; to see novice Ashʿarīs claim philosophy is the recourse to understand ʿAqīdah and the tenets of Imān? This clearly demonstrates how uninformed and the lack of knowledge the new age Ashʿarī has, who is oblivious of the unprecedented dilemma al-Ghazālī had to contend with.

According to biographers and historiographers, this bewildered state of confusion lasted for approximately six months.[12] When he recovered from it, which al-Ghazālī described as, ‘when Allāh illuminated his heart’. It was after this period when he decided to study in great depth four groups, the Mutakallimūn, the Bāṭiniyyah, the Philosophers and the Ṣūfī’s. He authored his well known book, Munqidh Min al-Ḍalāl (Deliverance from Error) based on his study of these four groups while outlining his own discourse, understanding and personal journey, as it was a semi autobiography of his journey to the truth.

After suffering his nervous breakdown and his crisis of faith, al-Ghazālī excused himself from his teaching post under the guise of travelling to Makkah for Ḥajj[13] but in reality it was ruse to get away and use the time to self reflect. In 488-489H he travelled to Damascus where he remained for two years,[14] spending time on worship and meditating the Ṣūfī way. It is perhaps during this period he began writing his Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn (Revival of the Islamic Sciences). He then travelled to Jerusalem, where he wrote his al-Risālah al-Qudsiyyah (The Jerusalem Tract). He then travelled to Hebron in Palestine and then eventually on to Makkah and Madīnah. He spent a short while there and then returned to Baghdad for a brief period before moving on to his ancestral home of Tus around 490H.

He remained in Tus for ten years until approximately 499H in retirement. Then the son of Niẓām al-Mulk, Fakhr requested al-Ghazālī to resume teaching at the Niẓāmiyyah school in Nishapur, where al-Ghazālī had begun his Islamic journey. It is not known how long he remained in Nishapur teaching[15] but a conservative estimate is about 2-3 years, as we know he died in his home town of Tus where he lived for a few years before he died in 505H.[16]

We therefore, learn that al-Ghazālī’s life, from the time he began seeking knowledge throughout his career can be divided into six distinct periods with some overlap between the fifth and sixth period.

The First Period – 465-478H

This early learning period from 465H when he first began seeking knowledge until 478H, when al-Juwaynī, who was teaching at the Niẓāmiyyah school in Nishapur died.

The Second Period – 478-488H

This teaching and advisory period can be summarized as the Baghdad Niẓām al-Mulk period. Where he served as an advisory minister to him for six years and under his courtesies. He went onto accept the chief Shafiʿī jurist position for four years, all at the Baghdad branch of the Niẓāmiyyah school.

The Third Period – 488-490H

This period can be aptly described as the deep crisis and revival period. In this period al-Ghazālī suffers from an enormous breakdown in the Rajab of 488H which lasts for six months. It is then followed with a period of two years of travel, search for the truth coupled with writing.

The Fourth Period – 490-499H

This period can undoubtedly be described as the retirement period. Al-Ghazālī retired to his ancestral home of Tus. What he exactly did during this period is not well documented.

The Fifth Period – 499~503H

This period can be classified as his resumption period, wherein he returns to Nishapur to the Niẓāmiyyah to continue teaching at the behest of Fakhr al-Mulk. It is difficult to ascertain the exact length of this period; however, we can can make certain presumptions. Al-Ghazālī completed his major work on Uṣūl al-Fiqh, al-Mustaṣfā Min ʿIlm al-Uṣūl around 503H as some of the manuscripts of the book indicate. It would make sense if, Al-Mustaṣfā being a work of Uṣūl al-Fiqh was written during this period when he renewed his teaching at the college as it’s a work that would be written while teaching and not retirement. Nonetheless, it is also possible of potential overlaps from this period to his last peri0d of final retirement.

The Sixth Period – 503-505H

The final retirement period, wherein he returns to native Tus until he dies.

The importance of dividing al-Ghazālī’s life in such a manner will allow us to place certain treatises to these specific periods and thereby map his transformations. He also cross references many of his works, which further allows us to form an approximate chronology; this will also assist us to record theological changes through his life.  

I divided al-Ghazālī’s life into six parts; I found this easier to show his respective works on theology, philosophy and theological rhetoric during these distinct periods and in turn his transformation. ʿAbd al-Karīm al-ʿUthmān, in his Sīrah al-Ghazālī wa Aqwāl al-Mutaqaddimīn Fihi (The Biography of al-Ghazālī and the Statements of the Earlier [Scholars] About Him) divided this period into five and also dates the treatises that are relevant to our paper.[17]  The most extensive research is perhaps offered by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, who authored, Muʾallafāt al-Ghazālī.[18] He presents four periods.[19] I have focused on the works related to kalām, philosophy and Aqidah.




















  Maqāṣid al-Falāsifa Risālah al-Qudsiyyah al-Arbaʿīn Fī Uṣūl al-Dīn al-Munqidh Min al-Ḍalāl Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām
  Tahāfut al-Falāsifa[20]
Iḥyāʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn
  Miʿyār al-ʿIlm Fī Fann al-Manṭiq Qawāʿid al-Aqāʾid Fayṣal al-Tafriqa Baynal Islam waʿ Zanādiqah    



  Miḥak an-Naẓar Fī al-Manṭiq   Al-Qanūn al-Kullī Fī al-Taʾwīl    
Al-Iqtiṣād Fī al-Iʿtiqād

We find from this tabulation that after reading and researching on Kalam and Philosophy during his early period this led to al-Ghazālī having a breakdown. He went onto write the Iḥyāʾ, the al-Arbāʿīn, the Fayṣal and the more important works of al-Munqiḍh and the Iljām, both of which refute and repudiate the ideas of Kalām and any other approaches.

Al-Ghazālī’s Views on Kalām

Al-Ghazālī described ʿIlm al-Kalām (Kalām for short) or commonly known as the Mutakallimūn[21] as those who claim to follow theory and speculation. He uses the words Ahl al-Raʾyy waʾl Naẓar, meaning the people of opinion and speculation.[22] We therefore, find even the definition of kalām poses a serious problem to the orthodoxy of Islamic Creed.

One of the key factors in why al-Ghazālī perhaps rejected and denounced the way of theological rhetoric was due to the harms associated with it. He believed the kalām approach had both benefits and harms coupled with both advantages and disadvantages. He says,

We refer to ʿIlm al-Kalām and say it has advantages and disadvantages, usefulness and harm, commendable and obligatory as the need arises. When it is harmful it is unlawful and from its harm is that it raises doubts and undermines the pillars of Imān and strips them of their certainty and definiteness. These points are confused at first and then reestablishing them through evidences is uncertain and varies among individuals.[23]

Al-Ghazālī further outlined a nominal system in utilizing his writings to correct any wavering issues of belief. He advised those who were of a single theological background and were not subjected to the polemics of theological discourse, that such people should rely on his foundation of beliefs in his Iḥyāʾ. That children and those exposed to theological polemics read and learn al-Risālah al-Qudsiyyah Fī Qawāʾid al-ʿAqāʾid. If further, an adolescent was astute and aware of doubts or he was skeptical, this then indicated uncertainties and the beginning of disbelief has started, in such a case he should be reading al-Iqtiṣād Fī al-Iʿtiqād.

Al-Ghazālī then, which is the most crucial part, he says if doubt, uncertainty and disbelief persist, then kalām is useless and redundant in attempting to establish belief in the fundamental aspects of ʿAqīdah and Imān.[24]

This approach is contrary to the modern day apprentice Ashʿarī, who misleadingly endeavors to bolsters support for Ashʿarism – claiming, salvation or redemption from ‘atheism’ lies through the approach of kalām. Al-Ghazālī disproves this notion or theory from the onset, showing the falsehood of the modern self styled novice Ashʿarī. We find the Ashʿarī neophyte’s propagating ʿIlm al-Kalām and philosophy as the only and essential resolution to most theisms, during the process of which they embark on a scathing attack on the Salafīs for the allegedly simplistic approach to complex matters of theology.

Al-Ghazālī further expresses his view regarding kalām, wherein he conveys its objectives but is conversely critical of its methodology. He says in general conclusion regarding kalām,

I carefully studied and pondered over it. I consulted the treatises of the experts of this science and I also composed a few treatises on the subject. I learnt that this science, although it fulfilled its aim, it did not attain my aim. Where its aim and intent should be to preserve the ʿAqīdah of Ahl al-Sunnah and defend it from the corruption of the people of innovation (Ahl al-Bidʿah).[25]

In order to emphasise his point – kalām being redundant to ascertain tenets of ʿAqīdah, he affirms the existence of the true, pristine and divine ʿAqīdah. He says,

Allah sent to his servants through the message of his Messenger, an ʿAqīdah which is the truth and a means of rectification for his Din and the affairs of this world and all of this (i.e. ʿAqīdah) have been set by knowing the Quran and reports (hadith). Then Shayṭān misguided the innovators with his evil whisperings with principles that opposed the Sunnah. So the people adopted these plots and almost corrupted the true ʿAqīdah for the people.[26]

Al-Ghazālī does not invalidate kalām in totality, he mentions its advantages and some token benefits but is also swift in mentioning its major disadvantages and harms. He says,

Allah then brought forward a group of mutakallimūn to defend the Sunnah with the system of theological rhetoric (i.e. kalām) to expose the heresies of the reprehensive innovators which opposed the documented established Sunnah. This is therefore, the origin of theological rhetoric and its people.[27]

Al-Ghazālī’s Ashʿarism

Al-Ghazālī has various statements concerning the Ashʿaris and the the Ashʿarism which can only be interpreted as him departing from the theological school, in whatever capacity while retaining certain aspects of it. This in line with his al-Iljām and other works makes perfect sense, more so when we have established when they roughly authored. He says for example,

Perhaps you might say, your words (ie. Al-Ghazāli’s) in this book are divided into those which conform to the school of the Ṣūfīs and those which conform to the school of the Ashʿarites and some Mutakallimūn. So, the words are to be only understood according to a particular school, which one of these schools is correct.[28]

Here al-Ghazālī and based on the views of others, makes a distinction between the school of the Ṣūfīs and the Ashʿarites and some of the Kalamiyyah. He concludes by making the premise that only one school is correct. If he was a fully fledged Ashʿarī, al-Ghazāli had no need to address this dilemma in this way, this therefore suggests the contrary with his ardent Ashʿarism, as claimed by the later adherents of the theological school, mores on in our era on the various social media platforms. In another statement al-Ghazālī is again seem to take a middle path between the Ashʿaris and the Ḥanābillah ie the Salafī creed. In retrospect, they don’t seem like the words of an established Ashʿari elder. He says,

Because each group of people declare the detractors to be disbelievers and connect with them the denial of the Messenger of Allāḥ Sallalahu alayhi Wasallam. The Ḥanābillah declare the Ashʿarites as unbelievers, alleging that they deny the Messenger when he talked about the Faqwa i.e. aboveness of Allāh and His sitting on the throne. The Ash’arites declare the Ḥanābillah to be disbelievers, alleging that they are anthropomorphist.[29]

He further answers a rhetorical question:

Question: Should the names and attributes of Allah be applied as they are or should ta’wil be made of them using reason (i.e logic)? Qadi Abu Bakr’s (al-Baqillani) view is that its possible to make ta’wil of them provided the Shari’ah does not prohibit or restricts it or if it (i.e. the Shari’ah) shows the literal (Zahir) meaning does not apply to Allah. Al-Ash’ari’s (Abul Hasan) view is they should be taken as they are because it is impossible to apply metaphorical (majaz) meanings to the description (i.e. wasf/kayfiyyah), accept when it permissible (according to the Nusus). Our view is to separate the issue and say, what is simplified to the Name should be readily accepted. As for what can be simplified to the description and does not require permission for interpretation and also be readily accepted.[30]

Furthermore, at another instance he talks about Ashʿarīs in the third person, making a distinction that he was not part of them with designation. He says:

The Ashʿarīs and Muʿtazilah went on to adopt taʿwil because of excessive investigation. They went onto admit the taʿwīl of many literal senses. Those closest to the Hanabillah in matters of the Hereafter are the Ashʿaris. They affirm most of the literal senses except a few. The Muʿtazilah have gone further in the taʿwīl than the Ashʿarīs. With this, they (i.e. the Ashʿarīs) are compelled to use taʿwīl in matters.[31]  

We essentially find from these statements a level of incoherence and confusion from al-Ghazālī in following traditional Ashʿarism. This is perhaps an important premise to establish his resignation from Ashʿarī doctrines.

A person who looks at the central beliefs of the Ashʿarī theological school will come to know al-Ghazālī failed to adhere to them. For instance, the issue of al-Aṣlaḥ (optimism), Jawhar al-Farḍh (atomism) and the soul, his views were different. This is what led Ibn Khaldūn to conclude that logic, although it was a science used by other civilisations, it was denounced by early Muslim scholars and theologians. It later developed credence due efforts of al-Ghazāli and others like al-Razī. Ibn Khaldūn said:

It should be known early Muslims and early speculative theologians (i.e. ʿIlm al-Kalām) greatly disapproved of the study of this discipline. They vehemently attacked it and warned against it. They forbade the study and teaching of it. Later on, ever since al-Ghazālī and al-Rāzī, scholars have been somewhat more lenient in this respect. Since that time, they have gone on to study logic, except for a few who have recourse to the opinion of the ancients concerning it and shun it and vehemently disapproved of it.[32]

Al-Ghazālī was concerned about the common people (the awwām) and this is what perhaps led him to depart from orthodox Ashʿarism in order to help them.

Although we don’t find any direct statements from al-Ghazālī denying he was an Ashʿarī, we do find his opposition to traditional Ashʿarite theology and views, which was possibly the onset of him returning to the true creed.

Al-Ghazālī’s Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām

I have already introduced the Iljām. He authored it two weeks before he died. The Iljām is authentically established from al-Ghazālī and several authors have attributed it to him. Al-Subkī[33] (d.771H), al-Ḥusaynī al-Wāsiṭī[34] (d.776h), Ibn Qāḍhī Shuhba[35] (d.779H) and al-Zabidī[36] (d.1205H). Contemporary authors have also attributed it to him like, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawi[37], ʿAbd al-Karīm al-ʿUthmān[38], ʿAbdul al-Amīr al-Aʿsam[39] and Mashhad al-Allāf.[40]

Most researchers are also agreed al-Ghazāli authored the Iljām two weeks before he died. One manuscript is dated the 1st of Jumāda al-Thānī, 505H whereas he died on the 14th of the same month. Mashhad al-Allāf said:

A book on the Way of the Salaf and is the last book that al Ghazālī wrote at the beginning of Jumāda al-Akhir, 505H, that is, shortly before his death on Monday, Jumāda al-Akhir 14, 505H by no more than two weeks.[41]

He goes onto say:

It is considered a very important work of Imam al-Ghazālī because you can clearly read in it that his method was the same as that of the righteous predecessors (al-Salaf al-Ṣāliḥ), so much so that Iljām is named in some manuscripts as Risāla fī Madhhab Ahl al-Salaf (A Treatise on the Way of the Salaf) in which he emphasized Imam Mālik’s statement as the foundation of his subject sticking to it, and repeating it in a number of places.[42]

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī confirmed the aforementioned entries on Iljām, giving additional listings of it in Brockelmann, the British Museum, and several other sources.[43]

Manuscripts of the Iljām

In the introduction of the Dār al-Minhāj edition it is accepted as the book of al-Ghazālī[44]. It further mentions his student Abū Saʿīd al-Jāwalī al-ʿIrāqī transmitted it from him in Baghdad and many major scholars have attributed it to him.[45]

The introduction mentions 6 different manuscripts of the Iljām and offer details of each one.[46] From them, the most relied upon is that of Shahīd ʿAlī Pasha and is housed in Istanbul no.1712. It is a complete manuscript and the closest to in time to the author. It mentions the manuscript is dated just 3 years after the death of the author.[47]  The manuscript is dated as the middle of Shaʿbān 507H, which makes it just 2 years, this is a mistake in the introduction. The confusion is over when the original book was written and when it was further copied. A colophon on the manuscript clearly says it was completed on the 1st of Jumāda al-Akhar, 505H while the manuscript was copied in 507H.[48] The Iljām has been published many times in Cairo, Istanbul and Beirut.

Contents of the Iljām

I have already mention al-Ghazālī’s view on the contradictions and disadvantages of kalām and says that it is only useful in some matters. In the Iljām he presents his views of disapproving of Kalām and that it did not lead to the standard of knowledge in belief in Allāh. He said,

Acquired by the speculative proofs of Kalām based on propositions that are acceptable only because of their popularity with leading scholars, the ignominy involved in repudiating them, and the people’s aversion to any dissemination of doubt in them. In this manner, the science of Kalām is useful in some theological matters, constituting a justified belief (Taṣdīq Jāzim) for the few who do not perceive the possibility of its contradictions.[49]

He was of the view that beyond this, he saw little or no benefit in Kalām advocating instead of teaching of Qurʾanic proofs to the common people.[50] al-Ghazālī in the Iljām distances himself from the Ashʿarī approach to divine attributes, which was to make taʿwīl – figurative interpretation and rather aligns himself with the Salafi approach of abandoning taʿwīl. He says,

I say that it is unlawful (harām) for preachers on the pulpits to answer questions that delve into taʾwīl and elaborates (on sifāt); rather the preacher’s duty is to confine themselves to what we have mentioned here as well as the Salaf, strongly emphasizing Allah’s sanctity and negating anthropomorphism.[51] 

Al-Ghazālī opens the Iljām with the following words,

Know that the truth with the people of insight, in which there is no doubt, is the Madhhab al-Salaf. By that I mean the way of the companions and the followers (Tabiʿīn).[52]

He further says,

The way of the Salaf is true and is opposite to bidʿah, which is blameworthy…..The common people delving into interpretation (taʾwīl) of Sifāt is a blameworthy bidʿah……Therefore, opposition to it-abstinence from speculative inquiry into sifat (i.e. Kalām) is recommended and praiseworthy.[53]

Reception of al-Ghazālī’s View and the Iljām

Mashaad al-Allāf said,

This book (Iljām) is one of the most authentic books attributed to [al-Ghazzālī], yet Orientalists eschewed it because of its commitment to the Sunna, maxims, and lessons pertaining to the unification of Muslim ranks and their guidance to the straight path. Orientalists tried to disregard it and misdirect students of knowledge away from it.[54]

Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ (d.643H) said,

In several places, al-Ghazālī eloquently articulated fleeing from everything besides this path (of kalām and taʾwīl), and ultimately reined in every scholar and lay person to it with his bridle – i.e., his book Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām. It is definitely the last book of al-Ghazālī, in which he urged them to adhere to the way of the Salaf and those who followed them.[55]

Mullā ʿAlī al-Qārī quotes the view of the Ḥanafī scholar, Sirāj al-Dīn al-Qazwinī (d.750H) who said,

Al-Ghazālī came around to accepting that taʾwīl was unlawful after he had praised it.[56]

Some later Ashʿarites apologists like Saʿīd Foudah and Ḥussayn Athāys tried with great endeavor in pushing al-Ghazāli used kalām.[57] Fiazuddin Shuʿayb said,

The reactions of Ashʿarīs to al-Ghazzālī’s apparent adoption of the Way of the Salaf varied: they either belittled his knowledge of kalām or persisted in typecasting him as a proponent of Ashʿarī thought. The latter is obvious in the works of Ibn ʿAsākir (d. 1176), al-Subkī (d. 1370), and Ibn Khaldūn (d.808/1406), to name a few.[58]

The Mālikī scholar al-Māzarī (d.530), for example, when asked about al-Ghazālī’s theology, said,

As for ʿilm al-kalām, which constitutes the foundations of the religion (uṣūl al-dīn), al-Ghazālī also wrote on it but did not expatiate it or attain mastery (mustabḥir) of it. I investigated the reason, discovering that it was due to his study of philosophy (falsafa) before achieving mastery in uṣūl al-dīn; consequently, his reading of falsafa caused him to take an audacious approach on semantics but was lax toward realities. That is because falsafa proceeds on its own thoughts ungoverned by rulings of sharīʿa or without fear of contradicting the leaders who follow it.[59]

Al-Subkī responds to his and says:

I concur with al-Māzarī’s statement that he was not proficient (mustabḥir) in kalām, but I argue that his feet were firmly rooted in it, though not to the same extent as they were in the other sciences; so his opinion is speculative. As for his statement that al-Ghazālī was preoccupied with falsafa before he engaged uṣūl al-dīn, it is not so; rather, he did not study falsafa until after he had delved into uṣūl al-dīn, as he himself clearly explained in al-Munqidh Min al-Ḍalāl. Furthermore, al-Māzarī’s claim that al-Ghazālī read falsafa before becoming proficient (mustabḥir) in uṣūl al-dīn, which comes after his previous statement that he was not proficient (mustabḥir) in uṣūl al-dīn, is contradictory.[60]

Makdisi wrote,

His work entitled Iljām al-ʿAwām ʿAn ʿIlm al-Kalām was a source of embarrassment to the Ashʿarite propagandists who reacted to it in various ways…the Ashʿarite apologists (in general) do not mention Ghazzālī’s Iljām itself, though their concern about it and his reference to Shāfiʿī in the Iḥyāʾ as prohibiting Kalām  is evident….[61]

Fiazuddin Shuʿayb said,

al-Ghazzālī had his fair share of critics among Shiʿīs, Muʿtazilīs, Zanādiqa, and Sunnīs, such as al-Māzarī, al-Ṭarṭūshī (d. 520/1127), Ibn Ṣalāḥ (d. 643/1245), Ibn Taymiyya (d. 728/1327), Ibn Qayyim (d. 751/1350), and others who differed with him on a wide range of issues, including Arabic grammar, philosophy, Sufism (taṣawwuf), Ḥadīth, and Kalām[62]

Written by the one who is in need of Allah’s forgiveness

Abū Khuzaimah Anṣārī

Dhul Qa’dah 1441H/ July 2020




[1] Did al-Ghazali Come Back to the Manhaj of the Salaf? / Shaykh Al-Albaani. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8QxsSovc9JY. Accessed, 10th April, 2020.

[2] This is al-Ghazālī’s well known work titled, al-Munqidh Min al-alāl waʾl Mūwaṣṣil Ilāʾ Dhīʾl ʿIzzah Waʾl Jalāl. I have discussed the Arabic editions in a later footnote. The publication of this works also has an interesting history. The text of al-Munqidh was discovered in 1842 by Auguste Schmölders who translated the text and published it in French for the first time. Its first English translation appeared in 1909 by Claude Field, The Confessions of Al Ghazzali (London: John Murray, 1909) and then again titled as The Faith and Practice of al-Ghazālī (London: George Allen and Unwin Ltd, 1953) by M. Montgomery Watt, the recent reference point for Yasir Qadhi! Richard Joseph McCarthy also translated it Deliverance from Error (Boston: 1980). Reprinted 1st edition, Deliverance from error: An annotated translation of al-Munqidh min al Dalāl and other relevant works of Al-Ghazālī. (Louisville: Fons Vitae, 1999). 2nd edition, 2001. in 2001 again, a husband and wife from al-Azhar University, Dr. Muhammad Muhammad Abū Laylah and Dr. Nurshif ʿAbd al-Raḥīm Rif’at published a critical Arabic edition with an English translation of the Munqidh titled, Deliverance from Error and Mystical Union with the Almighty (Washington: The Council for Research in Values and Philosophy, 2001). The edition bears a certificate from the Director General of the Department for Research, Writing and Translation at al-Azhar al-Sharif Islamic Research Academy, Sami Sharʿawī that the Munqidh contains nothing that contradicts Islamic ʿAqīdah and we have no objection to its publication.  (Introduction to the Arabic (page F) English section, 329).

[3] ʿAbd al-Karīm al-ʿUthmān, Sīrah al-Ghazālī wa Aqwāl al-Mutaqaddimīn Fihi, 44. (Damascus, Dār al-Fikr, 1961), introduced by Dr. Aḥmad Fuwʾād al-Ahwānī. Taken from al-Subkī’s abaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyah.

[4] Al-Ghazālī, Mizān al-ʿAmal, (Cairo: Dar al-Maʿārif, 1964), 409. Al-Ghazālī also said, ‘As for legal matters, it it is the way of the Qurʾān, I don’t do taqlīd of any of the Imāms, neither al-Shafiʿī has any claim upon me nor Abū Ḥanīfah has any right upon me.’ Makātīb al-Fārisī Ghazālī Bi-Nām Faʾil al-ʿAnām Min Rasāʾil ujjah al-Islam (Tehran: Kitābfurūshī Ibn Sinā, 1333) Ed. ʿAbbās Iqbāl, 12.

[5] Introduction to the Ijām. 1st ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Minhaj, 1439 / 2017), 15.

[6] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[7] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[8] Munqidh Min al-alāl, 32.

[9] Munqidh Min al-alāl, 38.

[10] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[11] add reference from hourani

[12] Munqidh Min al-Ḍalāl, 32.

[13] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[14] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[15] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[16] Introduction to the Ijām, 16.

[17] ʿAbd al-Karīm al-ʿUthmān, Sīrah al-Ghazālī wa Aqwāl al-Mutaqaddimīn Fihi, 202+ (Damascus, Dār al-Fikr, 1961), introduced by Dr. Aḥmad Fuwād al-Ahwānī.

[18] ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Badawī, Muʾallafāt al-Ghazālī. 2nd ed. (Kuwait, Wikalah al-Maṭbūʿāt, 1977)

[19] Muʾallafāt al-Ghazālī, 10.

[20] This was complete in the Muharram of 488H, just 6 months before al-Ghazālī had a nervous breakdown.

[21] In modern writings some people have translated Mutakallimūn, the people of kalām as theologians which is questionable at best. What is more appropriately correct for them is scholastic, speculative theologians or the people of theological rhetoric. 

[22] Al-Ghazālī, Munqidh Min al-alāl, 38. Annotated and introduced by Maḥmūd Bayjo, reviewed by Dr. Muḥammad Saʿīd Ramaḍān al-Būṭī and Shaykh ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Arnāʾūṭ. (Syria, Dār al-Taqwā, ?, Dār al-Fatḥ, Jordan, ?) 2nd edition. Edition Munqih part of Majmūʿa Rasāʾil al-Imām al-Ghazzālī, 581. Ed. Ibrāhīm Āmīn Muḥammad (Cairo, al-Maktabah al-Tawfikia, ?). Edition Munqidh, annotated and introduced by Dr. Jamīl Ṣalībā and Dr. Kāmil ʿAyyāḍ, (Beirut: Dār al-Andalus, 2003) 89.

[23] Al-Ghazzālī, Iʿ ʿUlūm al-Dīn, 1:116.

[24] Iʿ ʿUlūm al-Dīn, 1:116.

[25] Munqidh Min al-alāl, 32.

[26] Munqidh Min al-alāl, 32.

[27] Munqidh Min al-alāl, 39.

[28] Mizān al-ʿAmal, 405.

[29] Al-Ghazālī, Fayal al-Tafrīqah Bayna al-Islam Waʾl Zanādaqah. Ed, s. Dunyā. (Cairo: ʿIsā al-Bābī al-Ḥalabī, 1961), 175.

[30] Al-Ghazaʿī, al-Maqsad al-Asnaʾ Fī Shar Maʿnī Asmāʾ Allāh al-usnā. Ed. F. A. Shehadi. (Beirut: Dār al-Mashriq, 1971) 192.

[31] Fayal, 185.

[32] Ibn Khaldūn, al-Muqaddimah, 3:113.

[33] Al-Subkī, abaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyah al-Kubrā, 5th ed. (Cairo: Dār Iḥyāʾ al-Kutub al-ʿArabī, ?), 6:225.

[34] al-Ḥusaynī al-Wāsiṭī, al-abaqāt al-ʿUliyyah cited from al-Faylasūf al-Ghazzālī, 181.

[35] Ibn Qāḍhī Shuhba, Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyah (Hyderabad: Dāʾira Maʿārif al-ʿUthmāniyyah, 1978), 1:328.

[36] Murtaẓa al-Zabīdī, Itāf al-Sādah al-Muttaqīn Bi-Shar īʾ ʿUlūm al-Dīn (Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, ?), 1:41.

[37] ʾallafāt al-Ghazālī, 15, 231.

[38] Sīrah al-Ghazālī, 205.

[39] ʿAbdul al-Amīr al-Aʿsam, al-Faylasūf al-Ghazzālī, 2nd ed. (Beirut: Dār al-Andalus, 1981), 181.

[40] Mashhad al-Allāf, Kutub al-Imām al-Ghazālī al-Thābit Minhā wal-Manhūl (2002), http://www.ghazali.org/biblio/AuthenticityofGhazaliWorks-

AR.htm. Accessed April 21st, 2020.

[41] Mashhad al-Allāf, Kutub al-Imām al-Ghazālī al-Thābit Minhā wal-Manhūl.

[42] Mashhad al-Allāf, Kutub al-Imām al-Ghazālī al-Thābit Minhā wal-Manhūl.

[43] ʾallafāt al-Ghazālī, 231-233.

[44] Introduction to the Ijām, 19.

[45] Tārīkh al-Islam, 38:361, abaqāt al-Shāfʿiyyah, 6:153 cited from Introduction to the Ijām, 19.

[46] Introduction to the Ijām, 22-25. The reader may refer to these pages for details.

[47] Introduction to the Ijām, 22.

[48] Fiazuddin Shuʿayb, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām. Islam & Science, Vol. 9 (Winter 2011) No. 2, 153.

[49] Iljām, 112, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 157.

[50] Iljām, 115-116, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 157.

[51] Iljām, 64, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 158.

[52] Iljām, 53, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 160.

[53] Iljām, 87-95, al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 161.

[54] Mashhad al-Allāf, Kutub al-Imām al-Ghazālī al-Thābit Minhā wal-Manhūl.

[55] Al-Shawkānī, Irshād al-Fuūl, 2:47.

[56] Mullā ʿAli al-Qārī, Shar al-Fiqh al-Akbar, 30.

[57] See their works, Mawqif al-Imām al-Ghazālī Min ʿIlm al-Kalām and Mawqif al-Ghazāli Min ʿIlm al-Kalām, respectively.

[58] al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 166.

[59] al-Subkī, al-abaqāt al-Shafiʿiyyah, 6:240–41, from al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 167.

[60] al-Subkī, al-abaqāt al-Shafiʿiyyah, 6:247; al-Zabīdī, Ithāf, 29, from al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 167.

[61] George Makdisi, Ashʿarī and the Ashʿarites in Islamic Religious History II, Studia Islamica 18 (1963):32–33.

[62] al-Ghazzālī’s Final Word on Kalām, 167.

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