New Publication on ‘Ghazali: The Revival of Islam’ by Eric Ormsby of the IIS
Professor Eric Ormsby, who has been reading, teaching and writing about the works of Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111 CE) for almost thirty years, has written a book for the general reader on this influential theologian and mystic. The new book attempts to disentangle the many Ghazalis of legend and polemic to present him anew, in clear and readable fashion.
Ghazali remains a controversial figure almost a millennium after his death, not least for his unjust attacks on Ismaili teaching and doctrine. He is admired by many, Sunni and Shi‘i alike, but disliked by almost as many others. In Saudi Arabia, for instance, his books are banned.
This book ‘Ghazali: The Revival of Islam’ was written as part of the series ‘Makers of the Muslim World’. Professor Patricia Crone, general editor of the series, invited Professor Ormsby to write on Ghazali. She wanted a book which “an intelligent astrophysicist” with no prior knowledge of Islam could read and enjoy. That meant no footnotes, no technical discussions, and not even any diacritical marks on Arabic or Persian terms---none of the features of the usual scholarly book. Professor Ormsby accepted the challenge and the result is this fascinating work.
In this book, the events of Ghazali’s life, including his famous nervous breakdown of 1095 CE, are discussed, as are his most important writings in law, theology, philosophy and Sufi mysticism. A useful feature of the book is the inclusion of Ghazali’s writing with many excerpts given, often in new translation. Professor Ormsby sets out to show the hidden coherence of Ghazali’s thought; he also offers fresh interpretations of certain of his most controversial doctrines, arguing, for example, that Ghazali’s notorious attacks on Ismaili teachings suggest that he was more deeply influenced by Ismaili thinkers than he acknowledged.