15 years after his burial place was discovered, precious little has been done to either restore or maintain it.
In mid-2007, a casual and curious dig by a local resident at a desolate land that served as a pasture for cattle had laid bare one the greatest treasures of the Muslim world—the lost tomb of Al Ghazali, a polymath widely acknowledged as one of the most learned Muslim scholars to have ever lived.
The finding of his tomb in the historic city of Tus—just 24 km from Iran’s second-most populous city Mashhad—had laid to rest years of search for the final resting place of the man who had challenged the Aristotelian viewpoint on the creation of the world and was even given the honorific title of Hujjat al Islām (Proof of Islam).
But 15 years after the tomb was found, it still awaits renovation and restoration, even as the elements eat away at its very foundations. For all his achievements during his lifetime, the tomb of Abu Hamid Muhammad Ibn Muhammad Al Ghazali—who died at the age of 53 in 1111 CE—still awaits the glory and respect it deserves.
There is a fascinating story about the discovery of the tomb. The local resident, though not an expert, was aware of the history of Tus, where the great Persian poet Ferdowsi once lived and composed his most famous work Shahnameh.
Intrigued by the mound at the grazing ground, the curious resident is said to have dug at the top and found signs of old structures. He reportedly informed the local authorities, who sent a team to inspect the site.
It was this team which first discovered the foundations of the cupola on Al Ghazali’s tomb, which rests on what is now waqf land managed by Astan Quds Razavi, Iran's largest foundation.
For centuries, the exact location of Al Ghazali’s tomb had been a matter of conjecture and debate among Islamic scholars and experts. Several other tombs had earlier piqued interests but were later found to be just memorials.
For example, one of them is located only a few kilometres from the discovered tomb, in the courtyard of a madrasa named Haruniyya, believed to have been built by the Abbasid caliph Harun al Rashid.
But an inscription on the tomb bearing the theologian’s name, besides other details, is now widely acknowledged as a marker of its authenticity.
Besides Al Ghazali, the graves of four of his students were also discovered nearby.
The foundations of the cupola, originally octagonally built with Seljuk architectural features, give an idea of what this place was like once. This place probably did not survive the destruction by the invading Mongols, who had passed through these lands in the first half of the 13th century. The ruined state of the cupola stands testimony to the violent times.
However, the tomb today appears to have been abandoned. Barring a few patches of ugly plasterwork to hide the cracks, nothing has been done to restore this archaeological treasure.
The neglect is all the more surprising since Iran is known to put great efforts in preserving graves with historical significance.
According to a statement by the Iranian Foundations and Charities Institution, there are 8,167 imamzada (sons or grandsons of the Twelve Imams) shrines in Iran today. According to some sources , many shrines touted as Imamzada shrines are believed to have emerged after the 1979 Iranian Revolution.
Ghazali's tomb is not alone in this regard. It must be said that Persian scholar Nizam al Mulk's tomb is also not in good condition, although it was better than Ghazali's. As it is known, these two names, who are people from the same geography, have an exceptional place in the history of Islamic civilization.
The influence of Nizam al Mulk on Islamic state philosophy and the influence of Ghazali on thought is indisputable.
Centuries ago, Al Ghazali had profoundly said: “Dear friend, your heart is a polished mirror. You must wipe it clean of the veil of dust that has gathered upon it, because it is destined to reflect the light of divine secrets.”
When finally the dust and cobwebs are removed from his tomb, it will perhaps reflect Al Ghazali’s life and work on a world which needs his teachings more than ever.