12 Nov

Abu Hamid Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Ghazali was born near Tus in Iran in 1058, where he received his education in Islamic sciences. In 1091, he was appointed as professor at the newly-founded Nizarnmiyah College at Baghdad by Nizam-ul-Mulk, the Grand Vizier of the Seljuq Sultan, Malik Shah. After four years, al-Ghazali left his job, because he was assailed by doubt about rationalism, the basis of Greek philosophy, which was then widespred among Muslim philosophers. He then devoted himself to spiritual thought and mystical (sufi) exercises. He died in 1111 A.D. He wrote a number of books, among which the following are important for his political ideas.

  • lhya-l Ulitm (Revival of Religious Sciences): it was his masterpiece;
  • Tibnil Masbuk (Molten Gold) a politico-ethical handbook for the guidance of the kings:
  • Simil Alamain or the Mystery of the Two Worlds, which was really meant for the edification of the rulers of his native country;
  • lqtisad Bi'l Itiqad or the Moderation in Belief, in which Ghazali speaks as a jurist, and;
  • Nasihat ol-Muhik or Counsel for the Kings.


No account of al-Ghazali's political theory would be complete without keeping in view the conditions of the Muslim World in his times. Several factors were at work in the Islamic World. Firstly, the Abbasid Caliphate was in a state of utter decrepitude. A century earlier, in the days of al-Mawardi, it was still a force. But it had lost all political influence in al-Ghazali's time. However, there was one difference. While in al-Mawardi's days, the Abbasid Caliphs were mere puppets in the hands of the Shi'ite Buwayhids, their new masters, the Seljuq Sultans, who were Sunnis, showed 'great respect towards them. Nevertheless, the Caliphate was now only a religion-spiritual office, without any political influence. Secondly, the Seljuq Sultans were the real rulers of the eastern regions of the Islamic World. Recognising their supremacy, al-Ghazali declared sultanate Nor the sovereign power of the sultan or king as the protector and defender of the Caliphate, an institution which he considered essential for the unity of the Islamic World. Thirdly, the challege of the Shia rulers of Egypt, the Fatimids, was still a threat to the Abbasid Caliphate. Lastly, a new danger had appeared in the very heartland of Islam ,i.e, in Palestine and Syria. It was the incursion of the West European Crusaders or the Christian warriors of the Cross. They had established the kingdom of Jerusalem and threatened to advance on to other Muslim lands. It was in such perilous conditions that al-Ghazali expounded his theory of caliphate as the defender and champion of the unity of the islamic World.


In his political thought, al-Ghazali sought inspiration from both Islamic and non Islamic sources, such as those of ancient Persia. For instance, in his Nasihat, he made impartial use of examples attributed to Arab caliphs and Sasanid kings, to Sufi saints and ancient Persian sages; they (Muslim writers like al-Mawardi and those who came after him) Islamize Zoroastrian maxims such as "religion and empire are bothers"; and they assume rightly or wrongly a substantial identity and continuity between Sasanian and Islamic state institutions". This is one reason why we find frequent reference to the Greek, Persian and Indian stories in his writings, far more than we find in al-Mawardi's writings. Thus while admonishing the Seljuq Sultan, he said he should hear the sayings of the kings, ponder over their doings, study their stories as related in books and try to copy their acts of justice and benevolence."


According to al-Ghazali, the Khilafat is a divine state which "is required not by reason but by the Shariah or divine law." He thus denied the philosophers the right to examine the nature of the Caliphate. He further says that politics exists for "man's welfare in this world and bliss in the next, attainable only if government is rooted in the legal science and completed by the political science".

While the practical affairs of the state are to be left to the sultan or Amir or the ruler, the imam or khalifa should devote himself to religious and spiritual functions, for he is the "shadow of Allah' on earth. He should, therefore, be modest, simple and just, for he is a fountain of justice. AL-Ghazali writes that Shafiq al-Batkhi, a learned ascetic, once said to Harun ar-Rashid, the great Abbasid Caliph: "you are a fountain and the other officials, who help you to govern the world, are the streams which flow from it. If the fountain is clear, there can be no damage from silt in the channels; if the fountain is turbid, there will be no hope (of maintaining) the channels. Al-Ghazali adds "This and a number of other anecdotes from the history of Hjjaj bin Yusuf, Harun ar-Rashid, Mutahid Billah and other rulers are given to indicate the respect of the sovereigns for those who excelled in learning and the sciences, and equality between the ruler and the ruled which was the ideal set up in those days (of early Islam)".

Al-Ghazali enjoins on the khalifa (imam) that he should confine himself to religious duties in the strict sense and to concentrate on the study of the Shariah and practice the religious virtues of piety, humility, charity and campassion, for he was the khalifat Allah. By the way, in this respect, it was an innovation on the part of al-Ghazali, for the Khulafa-e-Rashideen never claimed themselves to be khalifat Allah; instead they claimed to be Khalifat ur-Rasul Allah. Anyhow, al-Ghazali says that the khilafat (caliphate) is necessary because it protects the Muslim World from internal and external dangers. In fact, "the good order of religion is possible only through the good order of the world", which, in its turn is dependent on an "imam who is obeyed". And by imam he meant the sultan, as he said a few lines later. Quoting a Hadith of the Holy Prophet P.BU.H), he said further that "deen is the foundation and the sultan is the guardian.


AL Ghazali has enumerated ten duties of the imam or khalifa. They are as follows:

  1. He must have the ability to wage jihad or holy war.
  2. He should discharge the duties of government and administration, called kifayo infiqh or Islamic jurisprudence,. even though indirectly, through the experts and a conscientious Wazir.
  3. He should have knowledge or ijtihad for purposes of ijtihad. In this respect, al-Ghazali advises the imam to consult the Ulema or religious experts.
  4. He must be pious. Indeed, piety is an important duty, for although a caliph might not have political power, he must be a religious leader and preceptor of the people.
  5. He must do justice (adala), which is, indeed, the highest form of ibada or worship.  Knowledge and application of shanah are the caliph's sure guides in his august office. Knowledge and ibada guarantee the good order of religion (nizam al din).
  6. He must study the shanah.
  7. He should practice the religious virtues of piety, humility, charity , and compassion as the Khilafat Allah.
  8. He should meet men of calibre and encourage them to speak about the affairs of the state.
  9. He should see that his servants, magistrates and other officers perform their duties diligently; and
  10. He should not give himself up to the deceptive feelings of pride.
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