Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination
Abu Hamid al-Ghaz&257;l&299;, a Muslim jurist-theologian and polymath who lived from the mid-eleventh to the early twelfth century in present-day Iran, is a figure equivalent in stature to Maimonides in Judaism and Thomas Aquinas in Christianity. He is best known for his work in philosophy, ethics, law, and mysticism. In an engaged re-reading of the ideas of this preeminent Muslim thinker, Ebrahim Moosa argues that Ghaz&257;l&299;'s work has lasting relevance today as a model for a critical encounter with the Muslim intellectual tradition in a modern and postmodern context.
Moosa employs the theme of the threshold, or dihliz, the space from which Ghaz&257;l&299; himself engaged the different currents of thought in his day, and proposes that contemporary Muslims who wish to place their own traditions in conversation with modern traditions consider the same vantage point. Moosa argues that by incorporating elements of Islamic theology, neoplatonic mysticism, and Aristotelian philosophy, Ghaz&257;l&299;'s work epitomizes the idea that the answers to life's complex realities do not reside in a single culture or intellectual tradition. Ghaz&257;l&299;'s emphasis on poiesis--creativity, imagination, and freedom of thought--provides a sorely needed model for a cosmopolitan intellectual renewal among Muslims, Moosa argues. Such a creative and critical inheritance, he concludes, ought to be heeded by those who seek to cultivate Muslim intellectual traditions in today's tumultuous world.
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I started to read this book because I had a decidedly distasteful attitude towards Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali and I decided that perhaps I was not giving the man a fair shake. I had recently read that in Al ... Read full review
The alternative, and more appropriate, headline title for this review may be “Crafting a desired archaeology of resistance to epistemicide.” I opted for the simpler one because the alternative is a trifle pompous for a headline. But that is as far as simplicity goes.
Engaging with Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination is not a simple matter. First, it is not undertaken without the enduring companionship of a good current dictionary. There is emphasis on good because not every dictionary is a good home to words like ‘epistemicide’ or ‘heresiology’ or ‘teleiopoiesis.’ And because these words abundantly populate this book it does not mean that its writer is pompous. The words are used by the writer in analyses of key concepts related to Ghazali’s work. They are neither superficial nor superfluous. They are integral to the work of a serious scholar taking a serious look at a serious scholar and his work.
Moosa poses the challenge of courageous thinking within Muslim discursive traditions today. In essence, he echoes Ghazali’s call for a revival of the sciences of religion in this age and recognises, with nostalgia, the ‘refreshing complexity and robust manner in which ideas were crafted’ in the golden era of Islam.
In recognising this important phenomenon in Ghazali the writer also recognises that Muslims today are in the midst of the globalisation of liberal capitalism and other hegemonies, and it is in this context that they have to confront their own traditionalism, modernism and fundamentalism. In Moosa’s analysis, Ghazali is an eminent model for this desired paradigm shift. And he further recommends three important elements that are ‘forcefully present’ in Ghazali and that are relevant today. Moosa refers to the three elements as topoi (plural for topos) and he refers to Ghazali as a bricoleur, the one who creates using a diverse range of materials (multiple discursive traditions).
The first element is poiesis and ethos. Poiesis, in crude terms, relates to the production of knowledge within a given tradition. (In my reading it seems that the interrogation of knowledge is the more significant aspect in its production.) Ghazali re-creates ways of looking at the origin and general structure of religion, its elements and laws, particularly with respect to characteristics like space, time, causality and freedom. He does so, as bricoleur, by means of a new narrative integrating thoughts from within multiple discursive traditions, namely philosophy, law, theology and spirituality. The result is an organic whole representing a paradigm shift, re-imagining Islam, for his time, and all time.
Ethics is equally important to Ghazali and Moosa points out that Ghazali remains true to the ‘emancipatory ethics of salvation’ in order to lend legitimacy to tradition, to render it abidingly relevant and to dissociate it from the inertia of stagnation within. In real terms, poiesis and ethos bring together the onto-theological vision of the jurists as well as the mystical vision experienced by the sufis. Not even piety and personal responsibility were disjoined from his dance with multiple discourses.
The second element is what Moosa calls the dihliz-ian space, a threshold space, a space that affords Ghazali an insider-outsider vantage point. More importantly, it is the epistemological fulcrum locating the balance of coherence and integration between discourses. This position is pre-eminent for dialogical thinking and critical enquiry of particularly established positions and ossified assumptions. It is also a position that empowers and lends agency to Ghazali’s oscillation, with eminent coherence, between discursive traditions as apparently irreconcilable as the juristic and the mystical.
The third is life in exile. Ghazali becomes the stranger located on the threshold of multiple discursive traditions. Furthermore, it is in embracing this estrangement and abandoning his prestigious professorship that Ghazali found the mystical dimension to subdue his worldliness and complement
1 Agonistics of the Self
2 Narrativity of the Self
3 Poetics of Memory and Writing
4 Liminality and Exile
5 Grammar of the Self
6 Metaphysics of Belief
7 Dilemmas of Anathema and Heresy
8 Hermeneutics of the Self and Subjectivity