Imām Ghazālī’s Wasīṭ
By Mln. Yaqub Abdurrahman
Imām Ghazālī’s Life
There is little doubt that Imām Ghazālī is one of the greatest theologians and jurists that Islām has produced so far. Allāh gifted him with unparalleled traits. Ibn Kathīr described his scholarly character:
“He excelled in many sciences and wrote prolifically on a vast array of subjects. He was the most knowledgeable in all that he discussed. He became a master in his youth and then taught at Baghdād’s Niẓāmiyyah. At that time, he was thirty-four years old.”
Indeed, Ghazālī led an extraordinary life. His full name is Zayn al-Dīn Abū Ḥāmid Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Muḥammad b. Aḥmad. He was born in AH 450 in the city of Ṭūs.
Ṭūs is a famous city located in Khurāsān. Today, it is situated in northeastern Iran, north of Meshad. It is a city of rich heritage and history that was conquered during ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān’s caliphate. The caliph Hārūn al-Rashīd is buried there, as well as ʿAlī b. Mūsā.
The agnomen, Ghazālī, was ascribed to him because his father was a wool-spinner by trade. Some consider that this name is retained from the provenance of a village named Ghazālah near Ṭūs. There is a difference regarding the name “Ghazālī.” Some render it with a doubled zāy.
Imām Ghazālī was young when his father passed. His father lived on what he earned from spinning wool and spent the remainder of his time sitting in the scholars’ gatherings. He managed to leave a small amount of wealth in order to see to the needs of Ghazālī and his brother.
He entrusted the care of his sons to an ascetic, Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Rādhakānī, who taught them reading and writing until the money that he left depleted. Thereafter, the ascetic sent them to school where they began to study the Islāmic Sciences. Ghazālī once remarked: “We went to school to learn jurisprudence in order that we get food…” This was the main incentive that prompted him to commence his education. Later in life, he would recall his condition at this point in his career and say: “We sought knowledge for reasons other than Allāh, but Allāh denied that it be for other than Him.”
Ghazālī continued his education in Jurjān under the jurisprudent Abū Naṣr al-Ismāʿīlī. Jurjān was a city located between Khurāsān and Ṭabrastān. The geographers differed regarding its region. Some considered it located in Khurāsān and others in Ṭabrastān. Many scholars hailed from Jurjān. Its inhabitants were known for bravery and chivalry.
Thereafter, Ghazālī departed Jurjān and returned to Ṭūs. He then went to Nīshāpūr, a famous city located in Khurāsān, in northeastern Iran, approximately fifty kilometers west of Meshad. It is situated on the southern tip of the Binauld Mountains.
In Nīshāpūr, he studied under Imām al-Ḥaramayn al-Juwaynī. Imām al-Ḥaramayn was born in Nīshāpūr in AH 419. He was a distinguished jurisprudent and legal theorist who held the chief lecturer position at Nīshāpūr’s Niẓāmiyyah until he passed in AH 478.
Ghazālī once reminisced regarding his student years:
“We went to school to study jurisprudence in order that we get food. We stayed there for some time and then traveled to Abū Naṣr in Jurjān, and thereafter, to Imām al-Ḥaramayn in Nīshāpūr.”
During his time studying under Imām al-Ḥaramayn, Ghazālī excelled in the sciences of theology, philosophy, and law. He departed Nīshāpūr after his teacher passed in AH 478.
Around AH 484, he moved to Baghdād where he attended the center of learning that Niẓām al-Mulk had established. Ḥasan b. ʿAlī al-Ṭūsī, who is most famously known as Niẓām al-Mulk, was born in AH 408. He was the Seljuq vizier in Baghdād. He passed in AH 485.
Niẓām al-Mulk established an educational center consisting of the most learned intellectuals of the day. Baghdād, throughout this era, was flourishing. Scholarship and civilization had reached a pinnacle in the city. There, Ghazālī became known for his knowledge, profundity, and eruditeness. Imām Nawawī said: “He had become ʿIrāq’s foremost scholar. Later, he would become the scholar of Khurāsān.” He was vested with the chief lecturer position at the Niẓāmiyyah. To hold this appointment was an honor. Ghazālī had reached a level of great distinction by virtue of his learning.
In AH 488, he left the position. He informed the people that he was going to perform the pilgrimage to Makkah. He had found himself enveloped in spiritual illness. For the next ten years of his life he would trek various lands searching for a cure. He left Baghdād the same year and traversed the land on a spiritual journey. He left Baghdād and travelled to Makkah.
Ten years later, Ghazālī returned to Ṭūs. When he reached Ṭūs, he was requested to take the lecturer position at Nīshāpūr’s Niẓāmiyyah, to which he responded: “I have not been allowing myself, for the sake of my faith, to answer the call and benefit students; perhaps it is necessary that I do so.”
Ghazālī was a prolific author. In fact, his Wasīṭ is just one of his many works. Be that as it may, the importance and status of his Wasīṭ is significant. There are two primary factors that distinguish this book. They are: (1) its content and (2) the sources from where it was taken.
Ghazālī arranged the Wasīṭ into four primary chapters: (1) worship, (2) transactions, (3) marriage, (4) and crimes, punishments, and matters related to the magistrate. He organized the subject matter under these, featuring discussions of detailed case law in well-sequenced chapters and sub-chapters.
The content is conveyed in well-presented passages with fluid explanations. The work surely attests to his in-depth knowledge of jurisprudence. He was a master jurisprudent, well-known for his proficient ability in argumentation and debate.
Ghazālī presented the fiqh by employing his Madhhab’s principles and precedents. He occasionally cites the source evidence. At times, he includes discussions and opinions from other scholars of Ahl al-Sunnah, such as the three imāms and others. Throughout, he does so with impeccable scholarly etiquette.
The sources from where he took his knowledge are rooted in the legacy of Shāfiʿī Fiqh. Sayyid ʿAlawī al-Saqqāf mentioned:
“After Imām al-Ḥaramayn wrote Nihāyat al-Maṭlab, which is a commentary on Mukhtaṣar al-Muzanī, a work that Imām Muzanī related from Imām Shāfiʿī, the people have not been engaging with anything else. Then, his student, Ghazālī, summarized Nihāyat al-Maṭlab into a lengthy work under the title Basīṭ. Thereafter, he summarized the Basīṭ into a work under the title Wasīṭ…”
Thus, Ghazālī’s Wasīṭ is directly sourced to Imām Shāfiʿī himself. Two hundred and forty-six years passed between Imām Shāfiʿī’s death and Imām Ghazālī’s birth. As mentioned, Imām al-Ḥaramayn was Ghazālī’s teacher. Imām al-Ḥaramayn studied with his father, Shaykh Abū Muḥammad al-Juwaynī, who studied with al-Qaffāl al-Marwazī, who studied with Abū Zayd al-Marwazī, who studied with Ibn Surayj, who studied with Anmāṭī, who studied with Imāms Muzanī and Murādī, who were two of Imām Shāfiʿī’s direct students. And Imām Shāfiʿī’s knowledge goes back to his predecessors, all connecting to the Prophet Muḥammad (upon him be peace).
Accordingly, the inspiration and teachings of the Wasīṭ carry the scholarly bond of Islāmic legal tradition. Moreover, the Wasīṭ left a lasting impression on scholarship. Abū Shāmah al-Maqdisī noted:
“Thereafter, leading the Shāfiʿī School in another period, were the works of Abū Isḥāq al-Shīrāzī and Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī. May Allāh have mercy on them. The people ardently studied their books. The circulation of copies multiplied as they attained a prestigious reputation. A tremendous benefit was gained.”
Twenty Abridgements and Commentaries on the Wasīṭ
As Ghazālī’s Wasīṭ was disseminated, the scholars authored both summarizations and commentaries on it. Some of them are:
– al-Wajīz is Imām Ghazālī’s own summarization of his Wasīṭ.
– al-Muḥīṭ fī Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ. This was penned by one of Ghazālī’s students, Muḥī al-Dīn Abū Saʿīd Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā b. Manṣūr al-Naysābūrī. Born in AH 476, he was a well-distinguished jurist who lectured at Nīshāpūr’s Niẓāmiyyah. The Oghuz killed him in AH 548 when they invaded.
– Gharāʾib al-Wasīṭ by Yaḥyā b. Abī al-Khayr al-ʿImrānī, who passed in AH 558.
– Taḥqīq al-Muḥīṭ fi Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ by Muḥammad b. Yaḥyā’s student, Najm al-Dīn Muḥammad b. al-Muwaffaq al-Khabūshānī. Khabūshānī passed in AH 587.
– Sharḥ Mushkilāt al-Wasīṭ by Asʿad b. Maḥmūd al-ʿIjlī, who passed in AH 600.
– Ḥawāshī al-Wasīṭ by Qāḍī ʿImād al-Dīn ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, who is known as Ibn al-Sukkarī. He passed in AH 624.
– An abridgement of the Wasīṭ by ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. ʿAbd al-Karīm al-Jīlī. He passed sometime after AH 629.
– Sharḥ Mushkil al-Wasīṭ by Ibrāhīm b. ʿAbd Allāh b. Abī al-Damm, who passed in AH 642.
– Sharḥ Mushkil al-Wasīṭ by Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ, who passed in AH 643.
– Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ by Qāḍī Aḥmad b. ʿAbd Allāh al-Asadī, who is known as Ibn al-Ustādh. He was born in AH 611. He succeeded his uncle as Aleppo’s chief justice. Much of his commentary on the Wasīṭ was lost during the Mongol invasion, but small portions of it are extant. He also wrote marginalia on Ibn al-Ṣalāḥ’s Fatāwā. He passed in AH 662.
– Muntahā al-Ghāyāt by Muwaffaq al-Dīn Ḥamzat b. Yūsuf al-Ḥamawī, who passed in AH 670.
– al-Tanqīḥ by Imām Nawawī, who passed in AH 676.
– Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ by Muḥammad b. ʿAbd al-Ḥākim al-Bilifyāʾī. I did not locate a death date for him. Ibn al-Subkī was a student of his son, Qāḍī ʿUmar b. Muḥammad al-Bilifyāʾī. The son was born sometime after AH 680 and passed in AH 749. I listed him here according to his son’s birth date.
– Sharḥ Mushkil al-Wasīṭ by Zahīr al-Dīn Jaʿfar b. Yaḥyā al-Tizmantī, who passed in AH 682.
– al-Ghāyat al-Quṣwā fī Dirāyat al-Fatwā by Qāḍī Nāṣir al-Dīn ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar al-Bayḍāwī, who passed in AH 685.
– al-Maṭlab al-ʿĀlī fī Sharḥ Wasīṭ al-Ghazālī by Aḥmad b. Muḥammad b. ʿAlī, who is known as Ibn al-Rifʿah. He passed in AH 710. It is an extensive commentary. Ibn al-Rifʿah did not complete it.
– Sharḥ Mushkilāt al-Wasīṭ by ʿUmar b. Aḥmad al-Nashāʾī, who passed in AH 716.
– Mukhtaṣar al-Wasīṭ by Ibrāhīm b. Hibat Allāh al-Isnāʾī, who passed in AH 721. He included the verifications of Imāms Rāfiʿī and Nawāwī in the work.
– Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ by Aḥmad b. ʿAlī al-Yamānī, who is famously known as Ibn al-ʿĀmirī. He passed in AH 725.
– al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ fī Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ by Najm al-Dīn Aḥmad b. Muḥammad al-Qamūlī. Qamūlī passed in AH 727. As well, he summarized his commentary in another work under the title, Jawāhir al-Baḥr fī Talkhīṣ al-Baḥr al-Muḥīṭ fī Sharḥ al-Wasīṭ. This summarization was further abridged by Sirāj al-Dīn al-Yamānī in a work under the title, Jawāhir al-Jawāhir.
And Allāh knows best.
 al-Bidāyah wa al-Nihāyah, 8:173-74.
 Muʿjam al-Buldān, 2:282.
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 6:18.
 Tanqīḥ, 1:95.
 al-Lubāb fī Tahdhīb al-Ansāb, 2:379.
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 6:19.
 Bidāyat al-Hidāyah, 14.
 Muʿjam al-Buldān, 3:42-45.
 Ibid., 4:422-24.
 Nīshāpūr’s Niẓāmiyyah was an institute of higher Islāmic learning. It should not be confused with the Niẓāmiyyah in Baghdād as they were separate institutes. (Irshād al-Muhtadīn ilā Nuṣrat al-Mujtahidīn, Folio 3-4)
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab 3:370; Siyar ʿAlām al-Nubalāʾ, 11:137; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyat al-Kubrā, 3:158.
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 6:19.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyat al-Kubrā, 4:316-30.
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 6:20.
 al-Madkhal ilā Madhhab al-Imām al-Shāfiʿī, 353-54.
 Mukhtaṣar Ṭabaqāt al-Fuqahāʾ, 274.
 Tanqīḥ, 1:97-98.
 Shadharāt al-Dhahab, 6:20.
 al-Fawāʾid al-Makkiyyah, 64-65.
 al-Kitāb al-Muʾammal fī al-Radd ilā al-Amr al-Awwal, 140.
 Muʿjam al-Muʾallifīn, 12:112; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 7:26.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 7:338.
 Muʿjam al-Muʾallifīn, 12:69.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 8:127.
 Muʿjam al-Muʾallifīn, 5:144; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 8:170.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 8:256.
 Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 1:53; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 8:116.
 Muʿjam al-Muʾallifīn, 6:257.
 Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 1:295; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 9:30.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyah, 2:132.
 Ibid., 2:157.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 9:153. I relied on a footnote in Muʿallimī’s edition of Ibn al-Samʿānī’s Ansāb 2:315 to verify the name Bilifyāʾī.
 Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 3:152; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyah, 2:172; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 8:139. I relied on Suyūṭī’s Lubb al-Lubāb 1:52 to verify the name Tizmantī.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyah, 2:173.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 9:26.
 Muʿjam al-Muʾallifīn, 7:272; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 10:371.
 Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿiyyat al-Kubrā, 9:400.
 Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 2:13; Ṭabaqāt al-Shāfiʿyyah, 2:248.
 Kashf al-Ẓunūn, 1:613, 2:161.