In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section al-Ghazali

  • Introduction
  • Bibliographies
  • Life
  • The Attack on Philosophy
  • Al-Ghazali the Theologian
  • Causality

Islamic Studies al-Ghazali
Oliver Leaman
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 May 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0028


Al-Ghazali (c. 1058–1111) is widely regarded as one of the most impressive thinkers in the Sunni Islamic world, encompassing a wide range of intellectual positions through his career. He started off as a fairly standard Ashʿarite theologian but then became interested in philosophy in the Peripatetic tradition, which he sought to refute, yet he also held onto some of its main principles and arguments. In his position as a major thinker in the Sunni state based in Baghdad, he also spent some time and effort refuting the Ismaʿili challenge to orthodox Islam. Finally, he became entranced with a version of Sufism and abandoned his official role and public status, preferring the relative solitude and isolation of the mystical form of life. In all his writings, al-Ghazali put his own character into his work, and it is never possible to accuse him of following others’ ideas slavishly. Indeed, if there is one theme that al-Ghazali can be said to have maintained throughout his life, it is his repugnance for taqlid (imitation) and his advocacy of the significance of discovering the truth for oneself. Given his frequent change of view, he was often accused by his enemies of being inconsistent, and the precise nature of his thought is difficult to pin down definitively, thus leading to extensive controversy between those who believe that he is basically a philosopher with an interest in mysticism and those who regard him predominantly as a mystic with occasional philosophical ways of expressing himself.


A very comprehensive listing of new translations, critical works, and articles on the thinker appear in Daiber 1999 and Daiber 2007. The al-Ghazali website has some less familiar material in non-English languages but is far less comprehensive. A very useful set of references may be found in Griffel 2007, an entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

  • Daiber, Hans. Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy. 2 vols. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999.

    Excellent and comprehensive bibliography by the major authority in the area.

  • Daiber, Hans. Bibliography of Islamic Philosophy: Supplement. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2007.

    Contains excellent recent references.

  • Griffel, Frank. “Al-Ghazali.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2007.

    Presents a very up-to-date and clear exposition of the main issues in al-Ghazali’s thought, with excellent bibliographical material.

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