Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination

Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination

Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination

Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination


Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, a Muslim jurist-theologian and polymath who lived from the mid-eleventh to the early twelfth century in present-day Iran, is a figure equivalent in stature to Maimonides in Judaism and Thomas Aquinas in Christianity. He is best known for his work in philosophy, ethics, law, and mysticism. In an engaged re-reading of the ideas of this preeminent Muslim thinker, Ebrahim Moosa argues that Ghazali's work has lasting relevance today as a model for a critical encounter with the Muslim intellectual tradition in a modern and postmodern context.

Moosa employs the theme of the threshold, or dihliz, the space from which Ghazali himself engaged the different currents of thought in his day, and proposes that contemporary Muslims who wish to place their own traditions in conversation with modern traditions consider the same vantage point. Moosa argues that by incorporating elements of Islamic theology, neoplatonic mysticism, and Aristotelian philosophy, Ghazali's work epitomizes the idea that the answers to life's complex realities do not reside in a single culture or intellectual tradition. Ghazali's emphasis on poiesis--creativity, imagination, and freedom of thought--provides a sorely needed model for a cosmopolitan intellectual renewal among Muslims, Moosa argues. Such a creative and critical inheritance, he concludes, ought to be heeded by those who seek to cultivate Muslim intellectual traditions in today's tumultuous world.


An unexamined life is not worth living.—Socrates

In many ways, this book is a dialogical encounter with perhaps the most influential intellectual in the Muslim tradition: Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī. 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 shellshocked but aspiring student ready to study in one of India's many seminaries (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 cluttered 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 chapters 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 . . .

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