There are many students of knowledge who speak of this topic and perform several fallacies . These fallacies will be elaborated on as we skim through the topic, but the essential one that is most misunderstood is the conflation between kalam and mantiq, that even someone as illustrious in scientific Islamic knowledge such as Hatim al-Awni does. If even he can fall into such fallacious thinking, then its quite susceptible for others not of his caliber to conflate the two. Typically, the conflation that takes place is the mistaken notion that kalam is the simple employment of logic and logical deduction.
Let us begin by citing holistic defense for the usage and employment of kalam as a scientific outlook, and then our response will follow subsequently to contextualize, confirm, or invalidate any specific aspects that are erroneous in conjunction to classicl Islamic sunni theology.
It has been argued
What is the ruling on Ilm al-Kalam? We see many brothers bringing quotes from the Salaf condemning the usage of Kalam. However, this is a flawed method from many angles. Firstly, Kalam during the time of the Salaf is significantly different than what later scholars defined it as.
The Ash’ari polymath Al-Adud al-Iiji (r) defines it as:
علم يقتدر معه على إثبات العقائد الدينية بإيراد الحجج ودفع الشبه.
“A science through which the ability to affirm religious beliefs is gained by bringing forth arguments and defending against doubts.”
Secondly, the science of Kalam during the earlier generations was associated with heretics and misguided sects. The condemnation of Kalam by many early authorities was possibly not about the science itself as much as it was about the people associated with it.
Thirdly, many of the Athari scholars studied and used Kalam, and even heavily depended on it to prove their arguments against their opponents. An example of these scholars includes, but is not limited to: Abu Ya’la, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, Najm al-Din al-Tufi, among others.
Fourthly, some people will object to this post, stating that many of the scholars I named condemn the people of Kalam in their works. To this I say: the condemnation is of the people who use the science most often, usually Ash’aris and Maturidis. It is directed towards the people of Kalam, and not the Kalam itself. Just like some of the Salaf would critize the people of Hadith for not being very competent in Fiqh, despite them being people of Hadith themselves. That would not be considered a condemnation of Hadith sciences itself.
Lastly, I will end off with the following quotes from our Hanbali scholars, explaining the ruling of Kalam, when it is permissible, and when it is not. Imam Ahmad said in one narration (paraphrased): “We were quiet, until the innovators called us to discourse (kalam), so we broke our silence.” The Hanbalis took from this that it is permissible to debate innovators with rational arguments, coupled with textual evidences.
Ibn Muflih quotes from grandson of Abu Ya’la that he said: “The correct opinion in the Madhhab is that learning Kalam is legislated and prescribed.”
Sheikh Mansur al-Buhuti says in Kashaf al-Qina’: “[Kalam is impermissible] only if purely rational arguments are used. As for using textual evidences, or rational evidences along with textual evidences, then this is Usūl al-Dīn, and the way of the people of Sunnah. This is the meaning of Sheikh Taqī al-Dīn [Ibn Taymiyyah]’s words.” And Allah knows best.
We will go through each point in detail to contextualize where the error lies in order to sharpen our understanding of orthodoxy and the theological underpinnings of the “whys” that are embedded in the points raised so that the reader has a much more profound depth of the subject than the mere mediocrity of either decontextualized demonization of kalam or decontextualized acceptance of kalam, as this defense above present its acceptance but in a decontextualized format.
Firstly, we need to understand that the condemnation that the salaf were vehement about is at face value the practice itself. But the “WHY” of this is rooted in the result of kalam! What type of beliefs does it yield? What exactly from orthodox Muslim fundamentals does it essentially nullify and supplants with its own rules? So yes, we do find that the salaf had an unwavering condemnation of kalam that seemingly has an atmosphere of intolerance for the mere practice of engaging and using it. But that intolerance is to be juxtaposed back to the “yielding affect” of kalam and the outcome it lands its end user to adopt as a theological position. In short, every practitioner of kalam, in the time of the salaf ALWAYS yielded their theological positions to the conclusions of atheistically inclined doctrines for God, a denial of scriptural sources simply because these scriptural sources are revealing anthropomorphic conceptions of the Lord. That is WHY kalam was condemned, bot because of its being a mere source or tool of reasoning, but the yielding result that landed its end user to heterodox positions that contravened the Will of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ and how the early muslims understood this!
The definition brought by al-Ayhi is meaningless here because that is a basic meaning of the science BEREFT of the yield. One can say the same for the definitions of philosophy. The ruling of learning philosophy is itself allowed in Islam. Why. Because its just a medium of understanding the world. Where the exhibitions of tahrim (prohibition) comes to play in, for example, a science like philosophy, is when the student studying the science questions the veracity of Allah’s injunctions or claims of Himself or any other aspect of the unseen, and acquires the audacity to deny them or distort them to mean something else entirely in a pattern that contravenes how the early muslims understood them. This is where the specific tahrim comes into play, when we factor in the yielding result!
So to conclude with this point in using this initial definition, it does not serve much purpose as this definition is simply portraying the science as a curriculum. Moreover, we will later on establish, that the yielding result of kalam studies winds up contradicting the actual definition. Instead of the student learning kalam for allegedly “affirming religious belief”, the student winds up denying them either by way of the kalam style of “t’awil” (which is NOT mere explanation. See al-Amidi’s definition as t’awil in the meaning the the mutakalim is a highly technical meaning that is synonymous with distortion [tahrif]) or tafwidh bil-m’ana (which is beyond the subject of this post). Likewise instead of utilizing arguments for the defense of orthodox muslim belief, the tangential trajectory of the mutakalim winds up ultimately employing arguments as a rebuttal to orthodox Muslim belief, NOT for the defense of it. And instead of the mutakalim genuinely defending the religion against doubts, the yield result winds up with the end-user of kalam creating doubts in the religion and diverting the people away from proper orthodox Muslim belief. The historical data speaks for itself. This is not my own theory pulled out of thin air. Muslim theological history corresponds with this fact!
The next argument cited is a genuinely a weak argument. It argues that the basis that the salaf condemned kalam was because it was associated with heretics and misguided sects. This is an obtuse form of thinking. Its actually a reverse-logic. The salaf did not condemn kalam because it was associated with heretics and misguided sects, the salaf argued that the reason for them being and morphing into heretics and thereby creating misguided sects is precisely BECAUSE of kalam theology. Historical data reveals that kalam does not produce orthodox thinking and groups, it produces heterodox thinking and groups.
This person maintains that “The condemnation of Kalam by many early authorities was possibly not about the science itself as much as it was about the people associated with it.” This statement contains a correct notion and an incorrect notion. He is correct in that the salaf’s main intent behind the prohibition of kalam is not necessarily about the science itself. Yet he maintains his reversed logic in that he asserts that its the people who were associated with it that made the salaf condemn kalam. And again, this is reverse logic because individual people are not heretics just for being who they are. What makes a heretic is entirely based on their departure from orthodoxy. How these individuals became heretics is rooted in their involvement with kalam and thus contravening orthodoxy.
Another fallacious argument is presented. It states that “Thirdly, many of the Athari scholars studied and used Kalam, and even heavily depended on it to prove their arguments against their opponents. An example of these scholars includes, but is not limited to: Abu Ya’la, Taqi al-Din Ibn Taymiyyah, Najm al-Din al-Tufi, among others.
The first fallacy that needs to be addressed here is that the censure of kalam is not about the study of it, it is about the yielding results thereof. Athari scholars simply studying it does nothing to subtract the normative condemnation of it.
The second fallacy is citing these three vastly different authorities as a basis for the argument. The first, abu y’ala was anti-kalam, which resulted in him yielding confused theological positions where at times he would make general statements of that seem to assert the protocol of tafwid and then elsewhere make more refined instances of profound details on the Attributes that would contravene the protocol of tafwid. And sometimes he would fall into t’awil and at times condemn t’awil offered by the mutakalimin. Idtirab is the most accurate term to describe Qadhi Abu Y’ala’s theology. Then at-Tufi is cited, a modernist shi’i who contradicts pretty much everything about the hanbali madhab in creed. Is he even a source for emulation here? And of all peopleC these two are used in conjunction with Ibn Taymiyyah for crying out loud. Does ibn taymiyyah even use “kalam”. No. Ibn taymiyyah “studied” kalam. That is known. But did he use it? Now we come back to the initial fallacy of conflation that many a ulema and tulabul-ilm have fallen victim to in their attempt at understanding ibn taymiyyah. Ibn taymiyyah did not employ kalam to defend Islam, contrary to convention asharized wisdom. Rather he used logic to refute kalam. He only studied kalam in order to understand the psyche of the mutakalim! That was and is the purpose of properly studying kalam. Is to be able to fully understand the psyche and paradigm of the mutakalim, NOT to utilize it for the purposes of establishing theological proofs for soundness of theology!
This argument offered does nothing to nullify the condemnation of kalam. Citing that people have studied it does not mean
1. That they’ve used it
2. That the normative condemnation of it is now somehow uplifted
The fourth argument offered I have no real opposition to. He says “Fourthly, some people will object to this post, stating that many of the scholars I named condemn the people of Kalam in their works. To this I say: the condemnation is of the people who use the science most often, usually Ash’aris and Maturidis. It is directed towards the people of Kalam, and not the Kalam itself. Just like some of the Salaf would critize the people of Hadith for not being very competent in Fiqh, despite them being people of Hadith themselves. That would not be considered a condemnation of Hadith sciences itself.”
I have no objection to this from the outset. However, what this person needs to realize is that the REASON why these athari scholars (subtracting at-Tufi, he was not athari) refuted these individuals was PRECISELY FOR kalam. If these people would have reneged from the stances of their theological positions which they themselves were routed to BY KALAM, they would not have landed on heterodox conclusions worthy of them being refuted by these scholars in the first place. and they would have remained beholden to the intended pure beliefs Allah favored for them through the orthodox conception of the Book and Sunnah.
This context is what is being dismissed by this person and thereby paralyzing his conception of kalam.
Moving further along, he continues by stating a mostly correct argument. He says “Lastly, I will end off with the following quotes from our Hanbali scholars, explaining the ruling of Kalam, when it is permissible, and when it is not. Imam Ahmad said in one narration (paraphrased): “We were quiet, until the innovators called us to discourse (kalam), so we broke our silence.” The Hanbalis took from this that it is permissible to debate innovators with rational arguments, coupled with textual evidences.”
The opposers of kalam from our madhab do not deny this. Let us contextualize two faults here
1. Imam Ahmad’s breakage of silence DOES NOT mean that he engaged in kalam or used kalam. It means he found it acceptable to RESPOND to them (mutakalimun). This is a standard Athari position. This actually refutes the revisionist asharized neo-hanbalis (حنابلة الجدد) and some of the more modernist revisionist thinkers who claim affinity to the school who have partaken to condemn ibn taymiyyah for arguing against the mutakalimun.
2. DO NOT conflate “rational arguments” and coupled with textual evidences that this is what the science of kalam is. Let us discuss the essence of kalam in a bit more detail.
Kalam is a specific form of philosophy. It is NOT philosophy, it is a form of it. Aristotelianism is a form of philosoohy and is different than platonism. And yet these are different from neo-platonic philosophy. Kalam is not formal logic just as formal logic is not kalam. That would be like saying philosophy itself is logic and logic is itself philosophy. A logic is used for each genre or systems theory, but it does not mean that logic, or more precisely, ilmul-mantiq, is itself kalam or philosophy. Even languages have logic. Whether it is human languages or even computer languages. Each systemic concept has its own logic use-case embedded in it. Brief example. Arabic has its own logic of forming from right to left, which is opposite of English in which its own logic tends to create forms from left to right. And these various logical patterns embedded in each has its own extended depictions that affect a person’s world view. Without getting sidetracked into Chomskyian linguistic psychology, the point here is that it is a common feature of designed and formulated systems have their own set of logic protocols. Just as this is the case, the revelatory data (scriptural sources of Islam), that is the Book and Sunnah, and as a compendium to this, the athar of the salaf that give us insight into the logic of that data, this Islamic system has ITS OWN logic.
So what is the difference between Islamic theology and kalam theology? People should learn the logic that governs the two.
Islamic theological discourse predicates itself on understanding the revelatory data in two logic patterns
A. By its own inclusive authority. Allah is true because He asserts so in His own book. We are not in need to going outside into a different systemic platform to establish this. In fact, our source dictates that an extra source that confirms this is our own fitrah.
B. The elaborations provided to us by the companions and their students and the salaf in general. Because of the revelatory data’s assertion that the first three generations are blessed and are identified as the benchmark for correct perceptions of life and Divine doctrine, this added element which is akin to the sunnah being an explicative elaboration of the Qur’an, the athar of the salaf serves that same function in explication of the sunnah thereby forming a holistic functional logical thinking pattern that forms the psyche of a Muslim as a default. And that the departure of this method is what creates the division between orthodoxy which follows that pattern from heterodoxy, which diverts from this pattern.
In other words, this logic pattern is supposed to be the normal default thinking pattern of a Muslim. In this paradigm, the Book and Sunnah is its own criterion. This is the conclusive point here. All other paradigms are SUBJECTED TO the book and the sunnah because the Book and Sunnah is judged by this orthodox Muslim as the criterion to judge everything else. Every other logic system can be correct or faulty precisely because they are man made. But we judge all of them IN LIGHT OF the Book and the Sunnah. This is the Islamic orthodox paradigm.
Let us contrast this world view paradigm asserted above with the Kalam paradigm. In kalam theology, in the behavioral structure of argumentation (jidal), the Scriptural sources (Qur’an and Sunnah) are NOT deemed as the criterion to determine truth. You, the reader, think this is a loaded claim. You are mistaken. This is literally the behavioral and psychological pattern of the kalam paradigm that governs the logic of the the mutakalim. The real mutakalim does not make the Book and Sunnah as the criterion to determine conclusive theological stances. The basis of kalam predicates the derived principles of usulul-kalam, mostly developed by the mu’tazili al-Allaf and the theories of huduth al-ajsam (atomism) and its derivative ideological developments as the basis to understand life, existence, and theological conceptions of the Divine. What does this mean? It means that instead of the Divine source of the Qur’an and Sunnah as thee criterion to understand Allah (or anything else for that matter), the criterion that is used are the principles of kalam that kalam ideology has deemed to be universal truths, and then as a theological practice, it judges the Qur’an and Sunnah IN LIGHT OF these developed principles they themselves created to determine the veracity of how the revelatory data is to be understood!
This is the methodical structure of kalam theology. Now we can contrast the two paradigms. In the sunni orthodox paradigm, kalam principles are judged and deemed acceptable or not based on their congruence with the revelatory data. In contradistinction to this, in the kalam paradigm, this methodology is reversed. In the kalam paradigm, the revelatory data is NOT the governing criteria to determine sound beliefs, rather the revelatory data is judged and deemed accepted or reinterpreted based on the scriptural data being incongruence with the principles of kalam theology. If there is incongruity, the mutakalim is governed by its own logic-pattern to follow the following methods
1. To reinterpret the textual evidence (t’awil). This reinterpretation as was understood in the sunni paradigm was essentially deemed in taking place in the formats of tahrif (distortion), or t’atil (denialism) of the main intended meaning and opting to improbable meanings that did not match the Arabic conception understood in the language. This sunni conception is not to be condemned as baseless. Even kalam protagonists admitted this is what is happening within the practice of t’awil.
The bigger question is why did kalam protagonists feel the need to perform this t’awil (reinterpretation)? The answer lies in kalam’s own governing logic! The reasoning that they gave is because the apparent readings of the texts of the revelation were blatant kufr (blasphemies). In other words, they reasoned with this logic of their, that if a reader were to accept what they were reading from the Qur’an and Sunnah at face value, that he would be guilty of kufr of tajsim and become a mushrik. They further reasoned, that in order to escape this horrific condition, the reader had to judge what he was reading and bring it back to definitive rational principles. The question now is, is it any rational principles? The answer is a resounding no! The “definitive rational proofs” that they were speaking of, was their own kalam theosophical principles that they themselves developed as a dialectic, which is what kalam theology is.
What was the Sunni paradigmatic response to this? Obviously, this made no sense to the sunni oriented frame of mind! And obviously, they were appalled and figured that whoever had this theological view of the understanding the revelation of Allah was himself a heretic. As usual, the Sunni paradigm had a different logic pattern that governed its own intellectual rationalism. In the Sunni rational discourse against this kalam narrative, they argued that this reasoning itself is the very anthropomorphism that was warned against by Allah. They argued that the Book of Allah intended purpose was to be a book of guidance. And that the default purpose of Allah was to guide all of humanity. The sunni paradigm argued that it is impossible that Allah would have revealed a book of which is basic reading would have landed the reader into blasphemy if the purpose of the Lord was to land the reader into guidance, not kufr!
Moreover, the Sunni rational paradigm argued against the protagonists of kalam that this premise of kalam was appalling to the average muslim who could never conclude that the versus read as is were a guideline to kufr. Such a belief is an affront to a Muslim. They argued that this idea that in order to escape this kufr was for the reader to divest considerable amount of rational research into kalam speculative theology in order to escape this kufr is even more ridiculous. They argued that the function of revelation was to guide ALL of mankind and hence SOUND theological conception of God could be arrived at and achieved by basic apparent meanings understood in the versus of the Qur’an. They argued that this kalam premise was in fact a precursor to restricting orthodox sound theological belief to an intellectual class which contravenes the grand Divine purpose of the Lord intending to guide all of humanity to His way.
To conclude, the sections provided above were only to provide a demonstration of what is taking place between Sunni discourse and how that discourse is fundamentally different from the logic pattern that governs the kalam paradigm and its own discourse. This was needed in order to demonstrate to the reader the nature of kalam versus the curricula of kalam, which was provided as a basic definition of kalam that this author uses to support the use of kalam. Likewise we have demonstrated in this process that, following the protocols of kalam principles essentially functions as a contravention of the stated definition provided above. Instead of “confirming religious beliefs”, the end-user (mutakalim) winds up denying them. Instead of using rational arguments for the defense of orthodoxy, it uses those arguments to the detriment of orthodoxy. Instead of using arguments to quell doubts, kalam arguments in fact exacerbate doubts in the mind of the innocent bystanders who are then beguiled away from the religion of Allah as a result of these arguments that form doubts in their theological composition in how they understand their Lord. And because of these yielding facts that history itself attests to, this is thee contextual basis of why kalam remains a condemned practice because what it is, is essentially a malpractice of Islamic theology just as modernism is involved in the legal malpractice of the religion.
Our brother in faith provides two lasting quotes by both ibnul-Muflih and al-Buhuti رحمه الله on both of them, which is provided above. These are basic rulings with regards to the acceptability of STUDYING kalam. That is fine for whoever holds that view. This is NOT what is condemnable. What remains as the condemnable aspect of kalam is the yielding affect it has for whoever swallows its premises hook, line, and sinker.
To conclude, the purpose of this response to to clarify several facts
A. Kalam is NOT to be conflated with utilizing rational arguments. Kalam is an entire philosophical field of thought. It is not simply rational arguments. This is a common blunder many students of knowledge and even scholars fall into!
B. Kalam is not logic
C. The thematic antagonism that governed the discourse of sunni scholars against kalam was not to be understood as neutralized to merely learning kalam. Yes, there are some authorities who came to that conclusion, but the overarching bulk of scholarships disapproval of kalam is not the mere learning of its premises, the central antagonism of sunnism against kalam was mainly on the yielding result.
D. While Im on the subject, allow me to knock out two birds with a stone. It should also be understood that kalam is NOT jidal (argumentation). This is another conflation that many people fall into as well. Kalam is not jidal. Yes, most jidal can consist of kalam discourse, but jidal is simply the act of argumentation. Someone who consistently argues does not defacto mean they are using kalam, or promote kalam, or believe in kalam. Imam Ahmad saying that we are breaking out silence and arguing back DOES NOT MEAN that now Imam Ahmad believes in kalam, use the arguments of kalam, or promotes kalam. In this vein, it should not be construed that Ibn Taymiyyah simply partaking in jidal confirms that he is now a protagonist of kalam, used kalam arguments, or promoted kalam.