The Confessions of al-Ghazali/intro

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WHEN we move with Al Ghazali or Zamakhshari through the deeply searching paths of Arab philosophy, we feel that we are following the guidance of men whom modern thought has in no way outgrown. They lacked much of our scientific knowledge, but none of our reasoning powers. Al Ghazali has sounded all philosophy's profundities of thought, and Zamakhshari has soared to theology's highest peak of adoration.

Al Ghazali (1049-1111), as we have already said, is often ranked next to Mohammed as a teacher and uplifter of his Arab brethren. He was a native of Khorassan, named Abu Hamid Mohammed. Arab custom, however, seldom designates a noted man by his birth-name. He is most often honored with the distinctive prefix " Al," which means " The," much as we use the word as a superlative. Thus just as Holy Writ speaks of The .Nazarine, so Al Ghazali probably means " The Man of Ghazali," the village of his birth, though the name may also be derived from his father's trade in gazzel (thread), and so may mean " The Thread Merchant." As a youth Al Ghazali studied much and traveled widely; and his wanderings led, as did those of most men in his day, to Bagdad. Here he became famed as the foremost philosophic teacher of the age. But his own philosophy did not satisfy him. Withdrawing from his official position on the ground of ill-health, he wandered over the world for eleven years, seeking true wisdom. He felt at last that he had found it in the ecstasy of religious faith; and then, resuming his public teaching, he led an earnest reform in Mohammedanism, bringing his people to look more deeply and nobly upon their faith. So convincing were his appeals and explanations that his people called him "The Decisive Argument for the Faith."

Al Ghazali's own search for truth is told in his remarkable little book here given in full, " The Rescuer from Error," in which the Rescuer is Mohammed with his Koran. Al Ghazali wrote many other works, religious and philosophical, but none which have so profoundly touched modern readers as this simple, earnest account of himself. It is a " confession " worthy to rank with the "Confessions of Saint Augustine," or any greatest work of its own type. Al Ghazali soon afterward withdrew from public life, hoping to teach men more by his books than by spoken words, and he died in seclusion in his native home.

Great as was the influence of Al Ghazali, he was scarcely a typical Mohammedan teacher. He was, as his book will show, an independent thinker who reached his firm religious faith only after seeking through all systems of philosophy. He had tasted of the emptiness of materialism, and had faced the black shadows of despair. Of far other type was Zamakhshari, the most renowned of commentators on the Koran. He seems never to have doubted the divinity of the holy book. He spent years in studying it, and while he used keen intelligence in weighing its every word, and even shocked his narrower coreligionists by the freedom of his criticism, yet it was always criticism based on the assumption that of course the Koran was right, and that the only danger lay in that men might blunder in interpreting its meaning. He therefore called his celebrated commentary the " Kashshaf," or " Discoverer of Truth."

We give here the noted opening of this work. The main attack upon the author by the orthodox Mohammedans of a later age was because the commentary began with the words, " Praise be to God who created the Koran," whereas the orthodox regarded the book as always existent with God, so that instead of " created " they would have had the writer say that God " revealed " the Koran.

Zamakhshari (107-1143) was born and died in Khiva in Turkestan. He was, however, another of the many youth eager for knowledge who took advantage of the wide-spread dominion of the Arab caliphs to travel far through the East. He journeyed indeed through such hardships that he lost a leg, frozen in a snowstorm; and he dwelt so long in Mecca, the holy city, that he was called the " neighbor of God." It was from such earnest men as Zamakhshari and Al Ghazali, the " neighbor of God " and the " Decisive Argument," that the Mohammedan religion learned its final form, and the reader will be ignoring the real and manifest energy and intellect of these great men if he dismisses their religion lightly as a teaching easily to be disproved or childishly defective.