ʿIlm al-Kalām (Arabic: عِلْم الكَلام, literally "science of discourse"),[1] usually foreshortened to Kalām and sometimes called "Islamic scholastic theology" or "speculative theology", is the study of Islamic doctrine ('aqa'id).[2] It was born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of the Islamic faith against the philosophical doubters.[3][4]

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.[5] 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.[6]

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"[2] (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.[3]


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.[7] One was how to rebut arguments "leveled at Islam by pagans, Christians and Jews".[7] 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".[7]

Ahl al-Kalām

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).[8] 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.[9] 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.[9] Brown also describes the Muʿtazila as "the later ahl al-Kalām", suggesting the ahl al-Kalām were forerunners of the Muʿtazilites.[10]

As an Islamic discipline

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.[11]

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.[12]

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.[11]

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.[13]

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.[14] 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.[14]

Major kalam schools

Sa'id Foudah, a contemporary Ash'ari scholar of kalam (Islamic systematic theology).





See also


  1. ^ Abdel-Haleem, M. A. S. (2008). "Part I: Historical perspectives - Qur'an and hadith". In Winter, Timothy (ed.). The Cambridge Companion to Classical Islamic Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 19–32. doi:10.1017/CCOL9780521780582.002. ISBN 9781139001816.
  2. ^ a b Mutahhari, Murtada; Qara'i, 'Ali Quli (translator). "An Introduction to 'Ilm al-Kalam". muslimphilosophy. Retrieved 29 March 2018. {{cite web}}: |first2= has generic name (help)
  3. ^ a b  • Treiger, Alexander (2016) [2014]. "Part I: Islamic Theologies during the Formative and the Early Middle period - Origins of Kalām". In Schmidtke, Sabine (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 27–43. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199696703.013.001. ISBN 9780199696703. LCCN 2016935488.
     • Abrahamov, Binyamin (2016) [2014]. "Part I: Islamic Theologies during the Formative and the Early Middle period - Scripturalist and Traditionalist Theology". In Schmidtke, Sabine (ed.). The Oxford Handbook of Islamic Theology. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. pp. 264–279. doi:10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199696703.013.025. ISBN 9780199696703. LCCN 2016935488.
  4. ^ Madeleine Pelner Cosman, Linda Gale Jones, Handbook to Life in the Medieval World, p. 391. ISBN 1438109075
  5. ^ Gardet, Louis (1978). "Kalām". In Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E. J.; Heinrichs, W. P.; Lewis, B.; Pellat, Ch.; Dumont, C.; Paterson, M. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam, Second Edition. Vol. 4. Leiden: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0421. ISBN 978-90-04-16121-4.
  6. ^ Clinton Bennett, The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies, p. 119. ISBN 1441127887.
  7. ^ a b c Fakhry, Majid (1983). A History of Islamic Philosophy (second ed.). New York: Columbia University Press. pp. xvii–xviii.
  8. ^ Brown, Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought, 1996: p.51
  9. ^ a b Brown, Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought, 1996: p.13-5
  10. ^ Brown, Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought, 1996: p.15
  11. ^ a b Bennett, Clinton (2012). The Bloomsbury Companion to Islamic Studies. Bloomsbury Academic. p. 119. ISBN 1441127887.
  12. ^ Black Macdonald, Duncan (2008). Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence, and Constitutional Theory, Chapter=III. The Lawbook Exchange, Ltd. p. 187. ISBN 158477858X.
  13. ^ Jeffry R. Halverson, Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam, 2010: p 37. ISBN 0230106587
  14. ^ a b "Nuh Ha Mim Keller - Kalam and Islam".


  • Bulğen, Mehmet (December 2019). "al-Māturīdī and Atomism (İmam Mâtüridî ve Atomculuk)" (PDF). ULUM: Journal of Religious Inquiries. Ankara: ULUM İslami İlimler Eğitim ve Araştırma Merkezi. 2 (2): 223–264. doi:10.5281/zenodo.3601654. eISSN 2645-9132. Archived from the original on 27 November 2020. Retrieved 19 January 2022.
  • Caspar, Robert (1998). A Historical Introduction to Islamic Theology: Muḥammad and the Classical Period. Studi arabo-islamici del PISAI. Vol. 11. Rome: Pontifical Institute of Arab and Islamic Studies. ISBN 9788885907102. OCLC 42577199.
  • Halverson, Jeffry R. (2010). "The Doctrines of Sunni Theology". Theology and Creed in Sunni Islam: The Muslim Brotherhood, Ash'arism, and Political Sunnism. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 12–31. doi:10.1057/9780230106581_2. ISBN 978-0-230-10658-1.
  • Kars, Aydogan (2019). Unsaying God: Negative Theology in Medieval Islam. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/oso/9780190942458.001.0001. ISBN 9780190942458. LCCN 2018048099. OCLC 1147875085.
  • Madelung, Wilferd; Schmidtke, Sabine, eds. (2016). Al-Ṣāḥib Ibn ʿAbbād, Promoter of Rational Theology: Two Muʿtazilī kalām texts from the Cairo Geniza. Islamic History and Civilization. Vol. 132. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. pp. i–102. doi:10.1163/9789004323735_001. ISBN 978-90-04-32373-5. ISSN 0929-2403. OCLC 952470870.
  • el-Omari, Racha (2016). The Theology of Abū l-Qāsim al-Balkhī/al-Kaʿbī (d. 319/931). Islamic Philosophy, Theology and Science: Texts and Studies. Vol. 99. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/9789004259683_001. ISBN 978-90-04-25968-3. ISSN 0169-8729. LCCN 2014034960. OCLC 1041077026.
  • Renard, John, ed. (2014). Islamic Theological Themes: A Primary Source Reader. Berkeley and Oakland: University of California Press. doi:10.1525/j.ctt6wqbpp. ISBN 9780520281899. LCCN 2014005897.
  • Rudolph, Ulrich (2015). Al-Māturīdī and the Development of Sunnī Theology in Samarqand. Islamic History and Civilization. Vol. 100. Translated by Adem, Rodrigo. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/9789004261846_001. ISBN 978-90-04-26184-6. ISSN 0929-2403. LCCN 2014034960. OCLC 900892852.
  • Sabra, A. I. (January 2009). "The Simple Ontology of Kalām Atomism: An Outline". Early Science and Medicine. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. 14 (1-3: Evidence and Interpretation: Studies on Early Science and Medicine in Honor of John E. Murdoch): 68–78. doi:10.1163/157338209X425506. ISSN 1573-3823. JSTOR 20617778. PMID 19831225.
  • al-Salimi, Abdulrahman, ed. (2021). Early Ibadi Theology: New Material on Rational Thought in Islam from the Pen of al-Fazārī (2nd/8th Century). Islamic History and Civilization. Vol. 182. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/9789004459571_001. ISBN 978-90-04-45957-1. ISSN 0929-2403. OCLC 1256592318.
  • Thiele, Jan (December 2018). "Recent Scholarship in the Field of kalām". Studia Islamica. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. 113 (2): 223–243. doi:10.1163/19585705-12341378. ISSN 1958-5705.

Further reading

  • Brown, Daniel W. (1996). Rethinking tradition in modern Islamic thought. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521570778. Retrieved 10 May 2018.
  • Eissa, Mohamed. The Jurist and the Theologian: Speculative Theology in Shāfiʿī Legal Theory. Gorgias Press: Piscataway, NJ, 2017. ISBN 978-1-4632-0618-5.
  • Wolfson, Harry Austryn, The Philosophy of the Kalam, Harvard University Press, 1976, 779 pages, ISBN 978-0-674-66580-4, Google Books, text at archive.org

External links

  • Kalam and Islam by Sheikh Nuh Keller
  • Kalam and Islam, Living Islam
  • Islamic Kalām: Rational Expressions of Medieval Theological Thought, Encyclopedia of Mediterranean Humanism