Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Mystery of Imam Ghazali's Grave

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL is the founder-president of Center for Islam and Science, Canada, and editor of Islam & Science, a journal on science and civilization from Islamic perspectives. He holds a Ph.D. in chemistry from University of Saskatchewan, Canada. He has held academic and research positions at University of Saskatchewan (1979-1984), University of Wisconsin-Madison (1984-85), and McGill University (1986). During 1990-1999, he lived and worked in Pakistan, first as Director (Scientific Information) for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) and later as a director at Pakistan Academy of Sciences. He is currently working on a major project, Integrated Encyclopedia of the Qur'an.

He lies buried in an unmarked grave in the middle of a farmer's field. The first time I visited Tus to visit his grave at the Haruniye, where a small grave-like structure merely said: "a place of remembrance for Imam Ghazali", I was lucky to find a guide who told me of a recent archaeological find that led to conclusive rejection of this place being the burial place of one of Islam's most influential thinkers, whose works have inspired generations of scholars during the last thousand years.

Imam Ghazali's mausoleum in Tus, present-day Iran


The middle-aged tourist guide, busy with a European tourist had then told me to "go over there, to the left of Firdawsi's tomb, pass through the town, and go out to the broken mud wall."
It was a beautiful winter day and the walk back to the famous tomb of Firdawsi was not difficult. However, when I turned left and found myself in the ancient city of Tus, with a few houses on both sides of the road and old men sitting in front of shops, it was suddenly an entrance into a world of previous centuries.
Tus, the birthplace of Imam Ghazali and numerous other luminaries of Islam, was a small town unlike any other I had seen in Iran: a feeling of serene silence, a dip in history, a remembrance of times past.
I had then walked through the street until I reached the broken mud wall of the old city which had stood there for at least a thousand years. There were signs of archaeological digging just before the wall.
Khurasan's archaeological department had discovered the ruins of an ancient castle and a few workers were restoring that building. It was, however, not until I crossed over the road and went outside the mud wall that I saw a few bricks lying in a vast and empty field that I finally reached an inner state of presence with the Imam.
It was still. The air was clean and there was nothing under the blue sky more enchanting than that empty and field where a few bricks were lying around a hole that someone had started to dig but then abandoned.
I walked towards the bricks and found the remains of an old grave with a few bricks lying around it. Someone had written "Imam Ghazali" with small ancient bricks. Other than that, there was no sign. The hole had been left untouched for months, as there were no signs of any new digging or unearthing of the parched clay around it.
But it was an inner certitude, filled with the spiritual presence of a man whose greatest work, Ihya Ulum al-Din, was written at a time when the entire Muslim world was experiencing one of its most difficult situations and the Mongol hordes were just about to overrun the entire eastern lands of Islam in the following century.
On that winter morning, I had spent the first half of the day at that spot, where Imam Ghazali was buried in AD 1111 by a few people who had seen him pass the last years of his life in relative peace and isolation after his famous and celebrated escape from Baghdad, where he held the most prestigious academic position of the time at the Nizamiye.
In his autobiography, Imam Ghazali was to recount the details of how he had experienced a spiritual crisis while teaching in Baghdad and how he had decided to leave Baghdad silently.
Scholars have poured over al-Manqid min al-Dalal for centuries to elaborate details of this fascinating man's spiritual travail but what is most amazing is that Imam Ghazali was to write his greatest works after recovery from his spiritual crisis in this relatively small town in the final years of his life, thus leaving behind a legacy that remains one of the most intense and deep encounter of a Muslim sage with the life and times of successive generations; Imam Ghazali and his Ihya remain relevant to our times just as they were to his.
That first visit in 1999 was followed by four others. And thus when I arrived at his grave again on July 21, 2010, it was a sort of returning to the familiar physical and spiritual landscape. Over these years, and during my periodic visits, I saw the development of plans to build a dome over the grave. But today, a few other discoveries were awaiting.
The archaeological department of Khurasan has now built a foundational wall for a planned dome or building. One side of the wall is almost five feet high. But within the walled area, there were the remains of a centuries-old structure which I had never seen before.
It was as if the old structure had just emerged from the ground since my last visit three years ago. Made with small bricks of the special kind used for the shrines of revered persons, these remains could have been that of a dome. Scattered around these remains were blue pieces of old decoration, suggesting that the grave was not left unattended at least at some point in history, either before or after the Mongols passed through Tus on their way to Baghdad in 1258.
Was there a proper dome constructed over the grave in 1111, the year of al-Ghazali's death or shortly afterwards and was that building looted, plundered, and destroyed by the Mongols, or were the dome and shrine constructed decades or even centuries after their devastating journey through Tus?
A pen box belonging to Imam Ghazali, preserved in the Cairo museum.
All this remains to be determined. The blue of the glazed tiles, the scattered remains of the old structure and many other details around the grave can provide clues, if they are not lost before expert help arrives.



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