Al-Ghazālī's Contribution to the Sunnī Juristic Discourses on Apostasy

  • Ahmad Atif Ahmad


The significance of al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) in Islamic intellectual history cannot be disputed, but his influence on the Sunnī juristic discourse on apostasy may be exaggerated. Ghazālī’s contribution to the Sunnī juristic discourse on apostasy includes a trilogy: first, an attack on the philosophers known as Tahāfut al-falāsifa (The Incoherence of the Philosophers) in which he accuses them of unbelief if they believe in the eternity of the world or God’s ignorance of the particular events of the world or deny bodily resurrection in the world to come. Second is an attack on contemporary Ismāʿīlīs in his Faḍāʾiḥ al-bāṭiniyya (The scandals of the esoteric factions) where he holds their leaders to be infidels in addition to being a source of sedition. Third comes an attempt at providing a conceptual distinction between doctrinal heresy and apostasy while equating the concept of zandaqa with apostasy in his Fayṣal al-tafriqa bayn al-islām wa-l-zandaqa (The distinction between Islam and zandaqa/unbelief). The Sunnī juristic discourse on apostasy was neither influenced by Ghazālī’s attempt to provide a decisive conceptual distinction between apostasy and doctrinal heresy nor by his equating of zandaqa and apostasy. Sunnī jurists referred to examples of apostasy that Ghazālī provided but did not seem to agree with his ambition of resolving the question of apostasy and distinguishing it from heresy once and for all, which left deciding who is an apostate in specific cases a matter of judicial discretion.