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Aḥmad Ghazālī (Persian: احمد غزالی; full name Majd al-Dīn Abū al-Fotuḥ Aḥmad Ghazālī) was a Persian mystic, writer, and eloquent preacher (c. 1061–1123 or 1126). He is best known in the history of Sufism for his ideas on love, expressed primarily in the celebrated work entitled Sawāneḥ.
The younger brother of the celebrated theologian, jurist, and Sufi, Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad al-Ghazālī, Aḥmad Ghazālī was born in a village near Tūs, in Khorasan. Here he was educated primarily in jurisprudence. He turned to Sufism while still young, becoming the pupil first of Abu Bakr Nassaj Tusi (died 1094) and then of Abu Ali Farmadi (died 1084). He was advanced in Sufism by 1095, and his brother Abū Ḥāmid asked him to teach in his place in the Nezamiya of Baghdad and assume responsibility during his planned absence.
Aḥmad Ghazālī’s thought, centered as it was on the idea of love, left a profound mark on the development of Persian mystical literature, especially poetry celebrating love. Many of the topoi (maẓāmīn) used by later poets such as ʿAṭṭār, Saʿdī, ʿIrāqī, and Ḥāfeẓ, to name but a few, can be traced to his works, particularly the Sawāneḥ.
Among his predecessors, he was influenced most strongly by Ḥallāj, and he made of his idea of essential love the basis of his own thought. His belief that all created beauty is an emanation of divine beauty was likewise Hallajian or neo-Platonic in origin. Since God is both absolute beauty and the lover of all phenomenal beauty, Aḥmad Ghazālī maintained, to adore any object of beauty is to participate in a divine act of love. Hence the practice of naẓar-bāzī or šāhed-bāzī, gazing on young and beautiful faces, a practice for which he became notorious.
Aḥmad Ghazālī travelled extensively in the capacities of both Sufi master and a popular preacher. He visited Nishapur, Maragheh, Hamadan and Isfahan. He initiated and trained eminent masters of Sufism including Ayn al-Quzat Hamadani, Abu al-Najib al-Suhrawardi. The latter was the founder of the Suhrawardiyya Order and its derivatives such as the Kubrawiyya, Mevlevi and Ni'matullāhī orders.
He died in Qazvin in 1123 or 1126 and is buried there.
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