What Is Kalam?
Ilm al-Kalam (عِلْم الكَلام, literally “science of discourse”), usually foreshortened to Kalam and sometimes called “Islamic scholastic theology”, is the study of Islamic doctrine (‘aqa’id). It was born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against doubters and detractors. A scholar of Kalam is referred to as a mutakallim (plural: mutakallimūn), and it’s a role distinguished from those of Islamic philosophers, jurists, and scientists.
Murtada Mutahhari describes Kalam as a discipline devoted to discuss “the fundamental Islamic beliefs and doctrines which are necessary for a Muslim to believe in. It explains them, argues about them, and defends them” (see also Five Pillars of Islam). There are many possible interpretations as to why this discipline was originally called so; one is that the widest controversy in this discipline has been about whether the “Word of God“, as revealed in the Qur’an, can be considered part of God’s essence and therefore not created, or whether it was made into words in the normal sense of speech, and is therefore created.
Main article: Speech
As early as in the times of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 CE), the discipline of Kalam arose in an “attempt to grapple” with several “complex problems” early in the history of Islam, according to historian Majid Fakhry. One was how to rebut arguments “leveled at Islam by pagans, Christians and Jews”. Another was how to deal with (what some saw as the conflict between) the predestination of sinners to hell on the one hand and “divine justice” on the other, (some asserting that to be punished for what is beyond someone’s control is unjust). Also Kalam sought to make “a systematic attempt to bring the conflict in data of revelation (in the Qur’an and the Traditions) into some internal harmony”.
Historian Daniel W. Brown describes Ahl al-Kalam as one three main groups in the time around the second century of Islam (Ahl ar-Ra’y and Ahl al-Hadith being the other two) clashing in polemical disputes over sources of authority in Islamic law. Ahl al-Kalam agreed with Ahl al-Hadith that the example of the Muhammad, the prophet of Islam, was authoritative, but it rejected the authority of ahadith on the grounds that its corpus was “fill with contradictory, blasphemous, and absurd” reports, and that in jurisprudence, even the smallest doubt about a source was too much. Thus, they believed, the true legacy of the prophet was to be found elsewhere. Ahl al-Hadith prevailed over the Ahl al-Kalam and most of what is known about their arguments comes from the writings of their opponents, such as Imam al-Shafi’i.
As an Islamic discipline
Even though seeking knowledge in Islam is considered a religious obligation, the study of ‘Ilm al-Kalam is considered by Muslim scholars to fall beyond the category of necessity and is usually the preserve of qualified scholars, eliciting limited interest from the masses or common people.
The early Muslim scholar Imam al-Shafi‘i held that there should be a certain number of men trained in kalam to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people.
Similarly, the Islamic scholar Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, held the view that the science of ‘Ilm al-Kalam is not a personal duty on Muslims but a collective duty. Like al-Shafi’i, he discouraged the masses from studying it.
The Hanbali Sufi, Khwaja Abdullah Ansari wrote a treatise entitled Dhamm al-Kalam where he criticized the use of kalam.
The contemporary Islamic scholar Nuh Ha Mim Keller holds the view that the criticism of kalam from scholars was specific to the Mu’tazila, going on to claim that other historical Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghazali and An-Nawawi saw both good and bad in kalam and cautioned from the speculative excess of unorthodox groups such as the Mu’tazilah and Jahmites. As Nuh Ha Mim Keller states in his article “Kalam and Islam”:
“What has been forgotten today however by critics who would use the words of earlier Imams to condemn all kalam, is that these criticisms were directed against its having become ‘speculative theology’ at the hands of latter-day authors. Whoever believes they were directed against the `aqida or “personal theology” of basic tenets of faith, or the ‘discursive theology’ of rational kalam arguments against heresy is someone who either does not understand the critics or else is quoting them disingenuously.”
Major kalam schools
- Jahm bin Safwan
- Jewish Kalam
- Kalam cosmological argument
- Logic in Islamic philosophy
- Logos in Islam
- Logos in Christianity
- Qadr (doctrine)
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia