The younger brother of the famous Ashʿarī theologician and Shāfiʿī jurist Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī (1058–1111), Aḥmad al-Ghazālī (d. 1123 or 1126) was a Ṣūfī shaykh who lived and preached in the Saljuq state and, in some cases, possibly influenced its fortunes. Owing to his best known and probably most important work, the Sawāniḥ ("Inspirations"), he is treated in the Persian Ṣūfī tradition as one of the principal representatives of the so-called "School of Love" (madhhab-i ʿishq). However, he remained virtually unknown in the West, outside the narrow circle of experts on Persian Ṣūfism, until the publication of Nasrollah Pourjavady's English translation of the Sawāniḥ in 1986. The aforementioned translation, which provided access to his principal text, introduced al-Ghazālī to the Western non-specialist reader and made him a recognizable figure. Nevertheless, a detailed account of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's life, works, and views that would place him in the wider historical and cultural context was still absent. Lumbard's book is a timely attempt to fill that gap—though, as we shall see, it has some gaps of its own.
The title of the book, Aḥmad al-Ghazālī, Remembrance, and the Metaphysics of Love, can be viewed as an attempt to modify and expand the currently prevailing image of its subject, by placing the practical aspect of his teaching, focused predominantly on dhikr ("remembrance", that is the technique of the invocation of God's names) next to—or, indeed, before—the theoretical one, that is, his metaphysics of love. To me, this attempt is not exactly successful, because, as one concludes from Lumbard's own analysis, Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's spiritual practice, though of remarkable interest, does not possess such clear and distinct originality as his teaching on the (passionate) love (sometimes viewed as an essential attribute of the divine essence, in a way identical with the latter). To put it bluntly, the word "remembrance" in the title seems superfluous to me.
The book consists of an introduction, two parts, and a conclusion. The first part, "Life and History," comprises two chapters ("Sources for the Aḥmad al-Ghazālī Tradition" and "The Life and Times of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī"); the second, "Practice and Teachings," consists of three chapters [End Page 1017] ("Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's Spiritual Practice," "The Roots of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's Teachings," and "Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's Metaphysics of Love").
In the introduction, Lumbard discusses the importance of his subject and the current state of research on him, and outlines the goal of his study. The discussion contains a lot of useful information but, in my opinion, is at times slightly blurred in terms of its structure. The first section, "Why Study Aḥmad al-Ghazālī?," in fact, deals with various aspects of his influence on the later Persian Ṣūfism and, for that reason, might have looked more appropriate in the conclusion.
The first chapter examines the sources of the information about Aḥmad al-Ghazālī. Obviously, these are either al-Ghazālī's own works or the writings of other authors. Lumbard divides the latter into original, middle, and derivative, in terms of their importance, and into accounts from individual Ṣūfīs and biographical literature, in terms of form. He arrives at the conclusion that the examined sources "should be taken as multiple refractions and reflections of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's personality through the personalities of his biographers and the agendas behind their works" (p. 49).
The second chapter deals with the life and times of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī. Its brief (pp. 52–54) first section provides a sketchy outline of the emergence and development of the Saljuq state. The second, much longer (pp. 54–75) section provides a detailed account of Aḥmad al-Ghazālī's life, from his childhood spent...