in category Kalam (Theology)

Is the Islamic science of kalam (speculative theology) of any benefit?

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The subject of Ilm al-Kalam comprises little more than "Futile Debates".

For over a millennium theologians (mutakallimeen) have debated topics like:

  • Did God speak with Sound (صوت) - or No Sound?
  • Did God speak with Arabic Letters (حرف) - or No Letters?
  • Is God's Speech Eternal (كلام الله قديم) - or can it be new?
  • Did God Speak Within Himself (كلام نفسي) or not?
  • Can God do the impossible or the contradictory?

Whilst it can be argued there is a time and place for these discussions in academic circles, there is no real benefit in any of these discussions for the layman.

If you are young and new to these debates, it may be fashionable to belong to a cause and debate opponents, but you will reach the same conclusion after many years of wasted effort.

Imam al-Tibbi wrote 700 years ago in a similar context:

. والمنازعة في ذلك كمن يأتيهم كتاب من سلطان يأمرهم فيه وينهاهم، وهم يتشاجرون في أن الكتاب: كيف خطه، وكيف عبارته، وأي شيء فيه من صنعة الفصاحة والبلاغة؟ ويذهلون عن صرف الهمم إلى الانتداب لما ندبوا إليه".
"Quarreling about these issues is like the example of a people to whom their king sent a letter in which he commanded them to do certain things and forbade them from doing certain things.
What they did instead is: they quarrelled among themselves about the letter itself:
How did he write it?
How did he phrase it?
What kind of eloquence and rhetoric does it contain?
And their astonishment at these issues distracted them from the actual mandate which they were assigned to do."

فالسبيل الأمثل والطريق الأعدل- أيها الإخوان من الطائفتين- أن تتركا المنازعة والخوض فيما لم يشرع فيه أصحاب النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم. فاعملوا في تلاوة كتاب الله وتدبره والعمل بما فيه
"O my brothers from both of these opposing camps: The best and fair way forward is to abstain from disputing and delving into issues altogether which the companions of the Prophet did not indulge in.
Act on what you recite from the Book of God, reflect on it and simply perform what is mentioned in it." (Futuh al-Ghayb 1/629)

The best way for us is to leave all of this and stop where the Sahaba stopped. The classical scholars acted on the following formula:

مذهبنا صواب يحتمل الخطأ
ومذهب مخالفينا خطأ يحتمل الصواب
"Our Madhab is correct,
but it could be incorrect.
The Madhab of our opponents is incorrect,
but it could be correct."

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