• Al-Ghazali and the Ismailis: A Debate on Reason and Authority in Medieval Islam.

    I.B. Tauris in association with The Institute of Ismaili Studies, London 2001, pp. xxi + 128.

    Ismaili Heritage Series 5

    ISBN Paperback:
    1 86064 819 3
    ISBN HardBack:
    1 86064 792 8
  • Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (AH 450/1058 - 505/1111 CE) is arguably one of the most influential thinkers in the history of Islamic thought and modern scholarship has awarded him a greater share of attention than any other mediaeval Muslim figure. As part of his corpus of some forty or more works, al-Ghazali wrote a number of treatises in which he attempted to refute the doctrines of the Ismailis. The most detailed of these is the Fada’ih al-Batiniyyainfo-icon wa fada’il al-Mustazhiriyya (The Infamies of the Batiniyya and the Virtues of the Mustazhiriyya) - more commonly referred to as the Kitab al-Mustazhiri.

    The purpose of the work was to systematically analyse and dismantle the Ismaili doctrine of ta‘lim, the ‘authoritative instruction’ of the imaminfo-icon of the time, as expounded by Hasan-i Sabbah (d. AH 518/1124 CE), the head of the Ismaili da‘wainfo-icon organisation in Persia at the time. Written during the formative phase of Hasan-i Sabbah’s activities, just before the Imam-Caliphinfo-icon al-Mustansir’s death, sometime between February 1094 and November 1095, al-Ghazali saw the Ismailis of Alamutinfo-icon as being an extension of the larger political rivalry the Fatimidsinfo-icon had with the Saljuqs. However, it is quite clear that al-Ghazali’s polemic, in spite of his many references to the Fatimid caliph in Egypt, was directed towards the activities and ideas connected with the infiltration of the Ismailis of Alamut inside the Saljuqinfo-icon empire. The Kitab al-Mustazhiri is probably the last composition before his personal crisis and departure from Baghdad towards the end of 1095, after which he turned into a reclusive traveller, returning almost eleven years later to a life dedicated to Sufi ideals.

    Questions about power and authority are at the heart of the Kitab al-Mustazhiri which brings us, so far as the written word can, face to face with the workings of al-Ghazali’s restless mind. His treatment of these questions reveals fully the complexity of the challenges facing his society, while at the same time reflecting the dilemmas of an intellectual whose conscience was caught between competing commitments.

    Situating al-Ghazali’s text within a wider intellectual and political history of ideas, Farouk Mitha illustrates how the Kitab al-Mustazhiri can serve as an instructive example for the study and understanding of central questions in mediaeval Islamic thought. Through close textual analysis, the author examines the key themes of the thesis expounded by al-Ghazali and explores the style of its argumentation. By treating the work as a repository of ideas, beyond its value simply as text, Al-Ghazali and the Ismailis re-evaluates the historical significance of the Kitab al-Mustazhiri as well as the political and ideological factors which motivated al-Ghazali to engage with the Ismailis of the Fatimid and early Alamut periods.

    Al-Ghazali’s debate with the Ismailis constitutes an important chapter in the history of Islamic thought. By exploring the wider intellectual and political significance of this encounter, and building upon the work of other scholars, this study presents novel insights into al-Ghazali’s work and the influential role of Ismaili thought in mediaeval Islam.

    Al-Ghazali and the Ismailis will be a valuable resource to students and scholars of Islamic Studies and Religious Studies more generally, in addition to those concerned with the intellectual, social and political history of Islam in the 5th/11th and 6th/12th centuries.

  • Foreword




    1. Ecology of the Kitab al-Mustazhiri: Historical Place and Time

      Al-Ghazali and the Saljuqs
      Al-Ghazali and the Abbasid Caliphateinfo-icon
      Al-Ghazali and the Ismailis

    2. Anatomy of the Kitab al-Mustazhiri: Content and Style

      Al-Ghazali’s Muqaddima: A Justification
      Defining a Method
      The Adabinfo-icon al-Firaq Legacy: A Taxonomy of Exclusion
      The Place of Kalaminfo-icon: Reason and its Limits
      The Demands of Fiqhinfo-icon: Limits and Norms
      The Body Politic in Medieval Islam: Justification and Narcissism

    3. Towards a Re-reading of the Kitab al-Mustazhiri

      Orthodoxy: A Problem of Interpretation
      Reason: Subjectivity versus Objectivity
      Authority: Spiritual versus Temporal




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  • Dr. Farouk Mitha

    Dr. Farouk Mitha is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at University of Victoria, Canada. He was Academic Course Director at the Institute of Ismaili Studies (IIS), for the Secondary Teacher Education Programme (STEP) from 2008-2011, and is currently involved with the IIS in developing curricula for Human Resource Development Programmes. He has a B.A. in History from the University of Toronto, a M.A in Islamic Studies from McGill, a M.A in International Education from the University of London, and a Ph.D. in English Literature and Education from the University of Victoria. His current...Read more