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ʿIlm al-Kalām (Arabic: عِلْم الكَلام, literally "science of discourse"), usually foreshortened to Kalām and sometimes called "Islamic scholastic theology" or "speculative theology", is the study of Islamic doctrine ('aqa'id). It was born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of the Islamic faith against the philosophical doubters.
The Arabic term Kalām means "speech, word, utterance" among other things, and its use regarding Islamic theology is derived from the expression "Word of God" (Kalām Allāh) found in the Quran. A scholar of Kalām is referred to as a mutakallim (plural: mutakallimūn), and it is a role distinguished from those of Islamic philosophers, jurists, and scientists.
Murtada Mutahhari describes Kalām 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 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 Quran, 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.
As early as in the times of the Abbasid Caliphate (750–1258 CE), the discipline of Kalām 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 Quran and the Traditions) into some internal harmony".
Historian Daniel W. Brown describes Ahl al-Kalām as one of three main groups engaged in polemical disputes over sources of authority in Islamic law during the second century of Islam -- Ahl ar-Ra'y and Ahl al-Hadith being the other two. Ahl al-Kalām agreed with Ahl al-Hadith that the example of the Islamic prophet Muhammad was authoritative, but it did not believe it to be divine revelation, a status that only the Quran had (in its view). It also rejected the authority of the hadith on the grounds that its corpus was "filled 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 Muhammad was to be found elsewhere, i.e. in the sunnah, which is separate from the hadith. Ahl al-Hadith prevailed over the Ahl al-Kalām (and Muslims, or at least mainstream Muslims, now accept the authority of the hadith), so that most of what is known about their arguments comes from the writings of their opponents, such as Imam al-Shafi'i. Brown also describes the Muʿtazila as "the later ahl al-Kalām", suggesting the ahl al-Kalām were forerunners of the Muʿtazilites.
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1Al-Ahbash; Barelvis 2Deobandi
3Salafis (Ahl-i Hadith & Wahhabis)
4Sevener-Qarmatians, Assassins & Druzes
5Alawites, Qizilbash & Bektashism; 6Jahmīyya
7Ajardi, Azariqa, Bayhasiyya, Najdat & Sūfrī 8Nukkari; 9Bektashis & Qalandaris; Mevlevis, Süleymancıs & various Ṭarīqah
10Bahshamiyya, Bishriyya & Ikhshîdiyya
Although seeking knowledge in Islam is considered a religious obligation, the study of 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 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 al-Ghazali held the view that the science of kalam is not a personal duty on Muslims but a collective duty. Like al-Shafi‘i, he discouraged the masses from studying it.
Despite the dominance of kalam as an intellectual tradition within Islam, some scholars were critical of its use. For example, 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 Muʿtazila, 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 Muʿtazila and the Jahmis. 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.
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