1st Edition

Ghazālī’s Epistemology A Critical Study of Doubt and Certainty

By Nabil Yasien Mohamed Copyright 2024

    Focusing on Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) – one of the foremost scholars and authorities in the Muslim world who is central to the Islamic intellectual tradition – this book embarks on a study of doubt (shakk) and certainty (yaqīn) in his epistemology.

    The book looks at Ghazālī’s attitude to philosophical demonstration and Sufism as a means to certainty. In early scholarship surrounding Ghazālī, he has often been blamed as the one who single-handedly offered the death-blow to philosophy in the Muslim world. In much of contemporary scholarship, Ghazālī is understood to prefer philosophy as the ultimate means to certainty, granting Sufism a secondary status. Hence, much of previous scholarship has either focused on Ghazālī as a Sufi or as a philosopher; this book takes a parallel approach, and acknowledges each discipline in its right place. It analyses Ghazālī’s approach to acquiring certainty, his methodological scepticism, his foundationalism, his attitude to authoritative instruction (taʿlim), and the place of philosophical demonstration and Sufism in his epistemology.

    Offering a systematic and comprehensive approach to Ghazālī’s epistemology, this book is a valuable resource for scholars of Islamic philosophy and Sufism in particular, and for educated readers of Islamic studies in general.

    Introduction  1. Ghazālī’s Scepticism and Quest for the Foundations of Knowledge  2. Certainty at the Nexus between Reason and Religious Authority  3. Scepticism, Certainty and the Philosophical Tradition  4. Certainty within the Sufi Tradition  Epilogue


    Nabil Yasien Mohamed is a fellow at the Cairo Institute for Liberal Arts and Sciences. His research interests include Ghazalian studies, classical Islamic philosophy, Sufism, contemporary Islamic thought, ecology, theology, epistemology, and ethics.

    "For al-Ghazālī, knowledge of God leads to nothing less than eternal felicity in the hereafter. But what method does he prescribe to gain knowledge of God? Nabil Yasien Mohamed offers a lucid and insightful answer to this crucial and surprisingly vexing question."

    Kenneth Garden, author of The First Islamic Reviver: Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and His Revival of the Religious Science, Tufts University, United States

    "Nabil Yasien Mohamed provides insightful analysis of al-Ghazālī’s understanding of certainty that corrects many misunderstandings regarding his epistemology. This essential contribution demonstrates the centrality of Sufism and the knowledge of unveiling in al-Ghazālī’s thought and its relationship to philosophy and other fields of knowledge.□□"

    Joseph Lumbard, Associate Professor of Quranic Studies at the College of Islamic Studies, Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar

    "This study on the nature of doubt and certainty in al-Ghazīlī’s thought will prove to be a useful contribution to the age-old controversy surrounding al-Ghazālī’s differential attitude towards philosophy and Sufism. The author skilfully adjudicates between the two seemingly polarised views of al-Ghazālī with respect to the place of philosophy and Sufism in his thought and demonstrates a fine understanding of the various contentious issues involved in these matters."

    Farid Al-Attas, author of Applying Ibn Khaldun: The Recovery of a Lost Tradition in Sociology, National University of Singapore

    "This book provides an eye-opening and well-structured exploration of Imam al-Ghazālī's epistemology. It highlights the continuum between his rational and mystical deliberations on the nature of knowledge. Crucially, the centrality of praxis as a mode of knowing in Islam is foregrounded. I believe admirers of Ghazalian thought will derive much benefit from this book."

    Auwais Rafudeen, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies and Arabic, University of South Africa

    "Nabil Yasien Mohamed’s study takes both philosophical demonstration and the Sufi method in a parallel fashion. He puts equal weight on both sides of al-Ghazālī in order to acknowledge each discipline in its right place. There is no doubt that this book will be a noteworthy contribution to the literature on Islamic epistemology and more particularly on Ghazālī studies."

    Alparslan Açıkgenç, Professor Emeritus, Uskudar University, Istanbul Honorary Member, Turkish Academy of Sciences (TUBA)

    "This is a clear and accessible introduction to the philosophical and mystical tradition of one of the towering figures of Islamic thought. It shows al-Ghazali’s synthesis of Greek philosophical thought and Islamic mysticism while remaining faithful to the more traditional Islamic jurisprudence and theology."

    Mariam al-Attar, author of Islamic Ethics: Divine Command Theory in Arabo-Islamic Thought, the American University of Sharjah, UAE

    "Ghazālī’s Epistemology: A Critical Study of Doubt and Certainty, is a carefully written and source-based monograph on the relationship between faith and reason in the thought of Ghazālī. The book is an excellent exhortation to reflect on scepticism as imperfect knowledge that requires belief as striving after the knowledge of God by doing the good."

    Hans Daiber, Professor Emeritus, Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität

    "Nabil Yasien Mohamed has managed to navigate the complexities of al-Ghazālī’s life and thought in a clear manner. His writing is lucid and traverses a vast array of literature. He has shaken loose many of the confusions that still hang over the life of the Imam, and avoids reducing the Imam to one method: rational or spiritual."

    Steven Styer, Al-Bhukhary Fellow at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies and lecturer at the Faculty of Theology and Religion, University of Oxford