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To understand Al-Ghazali requires some basic understanding of Muslim history and culture. During what Europe calls the 'Dark Ages,' Islamic civilization was still progressing to the zenith of the known world's accomplishments in scholarship, science, literature and other pursuits of cultivated civilizations. Islam had spread beyond the confines of the Arabian peninsula, having incorporated the Persian world, and other nearby non-Arab cultures. In Sufism or mystical Islam, many poets were highly accomplished and regarded scholars or even jurists.

Al-Ghazali is one of the greatest Islamic jurists, theologians and mystical thinkers of all time. His name is renowned from Morocco to Indonesia, from northern Russia to the southern tip of Africa.He was schooled in the various branches of Islamic learning in his home town of Tus, Gurgan and Nishapur in the northern part of what is today Iran. Thus, he was ethnically Persian, a non-Arab. This is a common characteristic of many major Muslim historical figures, something to keep in mind in current times, when Islam is portrayed as a religion of the Arabs. He was appointed head of the Nizamiyyah College at Baghdad in AD 1091 by the local Seljuk sultan. As the intellectual head of the Islamic community, he lectured on Islamic jurisprudence at the College, formulated responses to heresies and addressed questions from all segments of the community. After four years of this, however, Al-Ghazali had a serious spiritual crisis and finally left Baghdad, renouncing his career and the world. It's important to note that he did not have any misgivings about Islam itself. Al-Ghazali was instead filled with fear about his own intentions before the Divine, as a famous and acclaimed intellectual to whom people turned, and his potential lack of humility. After two years of travel in Syria and Palestine and performing the the pilgrimage to Mecca, he returned to Tus, where he spent the remainder of his years in writing, Sufi practices and teaching his disciples until his death. In the meantime he resumed teaching for a few years at the Nizamiyyah College in Nishapur.

Al-Ghazali embarked on the Islamic mystic path Sufism - in his later life, and wrote THE seminal works on Sufism and ethics in Islam. His works are read today by scholars and the common people alike, and they are unique and valuable in the Muslim world because they clearly define Sufism's central place and relation to Islamic orthodoxy. These works include Mizan al-'amal (The Balance of Action), composed just before retirement, Ihyulum al-din (Revival of the Religious Sciences), his magnum opus written after retirement, Kitab al-arbain fi usul al-din (The Forty Chapters on the Principles of Religion), Kimiya-yi saadat (The Alchemy of Happiness), Mishkat al-anwar (The Niche of the Lights) and others. Al-Ghazali revived the entire structure of the religious sciences on the basis of Sufism, while at the same time arguing for the official recognition of the latter and providing it with solid philosophical foundations. He became an influential and lauded figure in society, a highly regarded and venerated individual with political and scholarly clout. Several times in his life, and finally towards the end, he renounced such recognition, and devoted himself to the life of a mystic, teaching his disciples, and of course, devotions to God. Not much is known about the mystical teacher whom Al-Ghazali took as a Sufi guide. It is thought that he was an itinerant who was not formally schooled. Al-Ghazali's poems are a result of his taking this Sufi Path.