The Sufi ‘moderate’ Al-Ghazali

By Alyssa A. Lappen
American Thinker | July 21, 2007

All Islamic scholars recognize 12th Century Sufi master, supposedly “liberal” Al-Ghazali (d.1111), to have been an orthodox Muslim.

Even the late hagiographer, professor William Montgomery Watt (1909-2006), wrote that Al-Ghazali, “the greatest Muslim after Muhammad,…brought orthodoxy and mysticism into closer contact,” theologians nearer to accepting “mystics as respectable,” and mystics “within the bounds of orthodoxy.”1

But avowed Naqshbandi Sufi Muslim, Suleyman Ahmad Stephen Schwartz, in a July 20 discussion of Islamic “moderation,” stresses Al-Ghazali’s “beliefs of the heart,”—expunging Al-Ghazali’s fierce advocacy of jihad warfare.

In his Wagjiz, dating to 1101 A.D., Al-Ghazali advised on vanquished non-Muslim dhimmi peoples:

one must go on jihad (i.e., razzias or raids) at least once a year…one may use a catapult against them [non-Muslims] when they are in a fortress, even if among them are women and children. One may set fire to them and/or drown them…If a person of the Ahl al-Kitab [People of The Book – i.e. Jews and Christians] is enslaved, his marriage is [automatically] revoked….One may cut down their trees…One must destroy their useless books. Jihadists may take as booty whatever they decide...they may steal as much food as they need…

…the dhimmi [may never] mention Allah or His Apostle…Jews, Christians, and Majians must pay the jizya [non-Muslim poll tax]….[O]n offering up the jizya, the dhimmi must hang his head while the official takes hold of his beard and hits [the dhimmi] on the protuberant bone beneath his ear [lower jaw]… They are not permitted to ostentatiously display their wine or church bells…[T]heir houses may not be higher than the Muslim’s, no matter how low…. The dhimmi may not ride an elegant horse or mule; he may ride a donkey only if the saddle is … wood. He may not walk on the good part of the road. [Dhimmis must] wear [an identifying] patch, even women, and even in the [public] baths…[Dhimmis] must hold their tongue…. 2

Al Ghazali viewed non-Muslim dhimmis as a typical Muslim theologian and jurist in the Abbasid-Baghdad Caliphate—who incited tangible dhimmi persecution, as Baghdad’s Obadyah the Proselyte, observed in about 1100 A.D.:

…al-Muqtadi [the Baghdad Caliph, 1075-1094], had given power to his vizier, Abu Shuja… [who required] each male Jew should wear a yellow badge on his headgear…and …a piece of lead…hanging round the neck …inscribed with the word dhimmi to signify [they] had to pay poll-tax. Jews also had to wear girdles round their wastes. Abu Shuja further imposed two signs on Jewish women. They had to wear a black and a red shoe, and …a small brass bell on her neck or shoe… [to] announce the separation of Jewish from Gentile [Muslim] women. He assigned cruel Muslim men to spy upon Jewish women, …to oppress them with… curses, humiliation, and spite. The Gentile population [mocked] all the Jews, and the mob and their children …beat up the Jews in…Baghdad…When a Jew died, who had not [fully] paid up the poll-tax [jizya] …the Gentiles did not permit burial until [it] was paid. If [he] left nothing…, the Gentiles demanded that other Jews should…meet [his] debt…in poll-tax; otherwise they …would burn the body. 3

The much lauded Al-Ghazali, in short, was equally radical as countless classical and contemporary Muslim theologians, who like Yusuf al-Qaradawi justifies jihad terror and “incidental” murders of non-combatants, plus religiously decreed non-Muslim inferiority.

And (Suleyman Ahmad forgets) Al-Ghazali was also virulently misogynist, as in his Revival Of The Religious Sciences and the Book of the Counsel for Kings, which defines womens’ “role,” describes their guile, mischief, meanness, and immorality—and attributes their suffering to the treachery of Eve. Besides having to stay home “spinning,” women could not stay informed, visit or talk to neighbors, and must satisfy their husbands “in everything,” wear old clothes say prayers and fast.

…God on high has punished women…: “When Eve ate fruit which He had forbidden to her from the tree in Paradise, the Lord, be He praised, punished women with eighteen things: (1) menstruation; (2) childbirth; (3) separation from mother and father and marriage…; (4) pregnancy; (5) not having control over her[self]; (6) a lesser …inheritance; (7) …liability to be divorced and inability to divorce; (8) [allowing] men to have four wives, but for [women] to have only one husband; (9) …stay[ing] secluded in the house; (10) …keep[ing] her head covered inside…; (11) [requiring] two women’s testimony … [versus] testimony of one man; (12) …not go[ing] out of the house unless accompanied by a near relative; (13) [letting] men take part in Friday and feast prayers and funerals, while women do not; (14) disqualification for rulership and judgeship; (15) [decreeing that merit ha[ve] one thousand components, only one …attributable to women, while 999 are attributable to men….”4

In short, Al-Ghazali, like his contemporaries, deserves no reverence whatever. He was neither a “moderate,” nor a saint.

1. Watt, W.M. [Translator]. The Faith and Practice of Al-Ghazali, Oxford, England, 1953, p. 13.
2. Al-Ghazali (d. 1111). Kitab al-Wagiz fi fiqh madhab al-imam al-Safi’i, Beirut, 1979, pp. 186, 190-91; 199-200; 202-203. [Translation by Dr. Michael Schub, from Legacy of Jihad: Islamic Holy War and the Fate of Non-Muslim Peoples, (2005) ed. Dr. Andrew G. Bostom, p. 199]
3. Scheiber, A. “The Origins of Obadyah, the Norman Proselyte,” Journal of Jewish Studies (Oxford), Vol. 5, 1954, p. 37. Obadyah the Proselyte, who was born in Oppido (Lucano, Italy), became a priest, and converted to Judaism circa 1102 A.D., living lived in Constantinople, Baghdad, Aleppo, and Egypt.
4. Ibn Warraq, Why I Am Not a Muslim, 1995, Amherst, NY, p. 300.

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Alyssa A. Lappen is a U.S.-based investigative journalist. She is the former Managing Editor at the Leeb Group (2012-2017); a former Senior Fellow of the American Center for Democracy (2005-2008); and a former Senior Editor of Institutional Investor (1993-1999), Working Woman (1991-1993) and Corporate Finance (1991). She served six of her 12 years at Forbes (1978-1990) as an Associate Editor. Ms. Lappen was also a staff reporter at The New Haven Register (1975-1977). During a decade as a freelance, her work appeared in Big Peace, Pajamas Media, Front Page Magazine, American Thinker, Right Side News, Family Security Matters, the Washington Times and many other Internet and print journals. Ms. Lappen also contributed to the Terror Finance Blog, among others. She supports the right of journalists worldwide to write without fear or restriction on politics, governments, international affairs, terrorism, terror financing and religious support for terrorism, among other subjects. Ms. Lappen is also an accomplished poet. Her first full-length collection, The Minstrel's Song, was published by Cross-Cultural Communications in April 2015. Her poems have been published in the 2nd 2007 edition of Blood to Remember: American Poets on the Holocaust and both 2007 issues of Wales' award-winning Seventh Quarry: Swansea Poetry Magazine. Dozens of her poems have appeared in print and online literary journals and books. She won the 2000 annual Ruah: A Journal of Spiritual Poetry chapbook award and has received a Harvard Summer Poetry Prize and several honorable mentions.

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