Answered by Shaykh Gibril F Haddad
Wa `alaykum as-Salam:
What you quoted is not Ihya Ulum al-Din nor Imam al-Ghazzali's words but what appears to be a slightly incoherent and incomplete English translation of some of its meanings. Yet it does not, as far as this reader sees, contain anything contrary to the `Aqida of Ahl al-Sunna.
Nor does the above translation contain any notion of "purgatory" -- another worldly place between heaven and hell which appeared in Western Christian literature around the middle of the 12th century CE. [See on this "The Birth of Purgatory" (La Naissance du Purgatoire) by the eminent French medievalist Jacques Le Goff whose classes I was honored to attend while at the Ecole Normale Superieure in Paris.]
Imam al-Ghazzali reflects the Sunni understanding of al-A`raf which is a temporary place for those that will be tested before they reach their ultimate destination for one of several reasons, either because their good and bad deeds are equal, or because the Divine Message did not reach them, or because they died before reaching the age of legal responsibility, or for other reasons.
See for example the mention of the A`raf in the last few pages of the Hanafi Handbook of Fiqh, Manners and `Aqida titled al-Hadiyya al- `Ala'iyya by Imam `Ala' al-Din `Abidin, the son of the famous Imam Muhammad `Abidin the author of the Hashiya, Allah have mercy on them.
There IS a notion of purgatory in Islam, namely, hellfire for any Muslim that enters it - which we pray Allah spare us - since the firm belief of Ahl al-Sunna is that no Muslim shall abide in Hellfire forever but only so they be cleansed of their faults. And Allah knows best.
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