Ghazzali and the Tripartite Scheme

Both Muslim and western historians have aptly described Ghazzali's life as a journey. It was a physical journey, from Nishapur to Baghdad to Damascus and Mecca and eventually back to Nishapur. Yet it was also a spiritual journey, from philosophy to skepticism to mysticism. The Intentions was the starting point of this journey.27 Ghazzali himself contributed to this understanding: "I realized that to refute a system before understanding it and becoming acquainted with its depths is to act blindly. I therefore set out in all earnestness to acquire a knowledge of philosophy from books, by private study without the help of an instructor."28

The Intentions was the fruit of this study. However, Muslims and westerners alike have maintained that the Intentions was thoroughly superseded by the Incoherence. Yet that left them with a problem. In the Intentions of the Philosophers, Ghazzali builds up a philosophical system. In the Incoherence, he tears this system apart. If that is the entirety of his project, then we are left with nothing but ruins.

In other words, the first step in Ghazzali's conversion was universal doubt: doubt of philosophy, of theology, of authority and of the material world. Because of this, Orientalists have understood Ghazzali as a thinker in the vein of Descartes, Hume or the Greek skeptics.29 Yet as with Descartes, doubt was a beginning for Ghazzali, not a conclusion. Ghazzali describes how he overcame doubt in the Munqidh min al-dalal. After uncovering the fruitlessness of intellectual proofs for the existence of God, Ghazzali discovered the reality of the divine through spiritual experience. In his writings, Ghazzali does not promote skepticism or disbelief, but rather right belief. It seems logical, then, that the project which Ghazzali embarked on with the Intentions would not end with ruins, but rather with a new and impregnable fortress built on top of them.

Scholars have located that fortress in two different places. In the Incoherence, Ghazzali gives reference to a third book that he will write to provide a alternative intellectual system to that of the philosophers: the Q&wd "'(The Principles of Belief).30 In fact, Ghazzali wrote no book by that name. However, he did later write a chapter with that title as part of the J^ya ulum ai-dint^n which he describes his spiritual system. Recognizing this, MacDonald suggested that we can understand these three works—the Intentions ofthe Philosophers, the Incoherence ofthe Philosophers and the Qaw* cjqd —together.31 Michael Marmura, in his recent translation of the Incoherence, argues that the third element should actually be considered

(Moderation in Belief), despite its different title.32 For in the Iqtisad, Ghazzali both refers directly to the Incoherence and explains his purpose as

A1 "j } * < a>_ j laying out the 1awa ta aila '"'"the principles of belief."33 Either way, scholars have maintained that this final work completes the tripartite scheme of Ghazzali's intellectual career: construction, deconstruction, and reconstruction.

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