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
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.