The Mujasima claim that Kalam is a prohibited science, and that its conclusions cannot be used as a basis for belief. They argue this by appealing to what has been reported from Imams like Al-Shafi’i, who allegedly attacked Kalam and those who practice it[1]. 

In response, we say: all we mean by Kalam, is that which Imams like Al-Taftazani defined:

 الكلام هو العلم بالعقائد الدينية عن الأدلة اليقينية
Kalam is the knowledge of religious creeds, based on their decisive evidences[2].

It is the science of demonstrating the truth of Islam, and the falsehood of any belief that opposes it. Thus, its being permissible is necessarily known to be from the religion (Ma’lum Min Al-Deen Bil Darura). To say otherwise, is tantamount to either claiming that this religion cannot be proven to be true, or that it is forbidden to prove it to be true, and neither claim can come from a Muslim.

Given the above, when we read that great Imams like Al-Shafi’i criticized ‘Ilm Al-Kalam, and if we grant that he actually said what was reported of him, then either:

    • Al-Shafi’i criticized “Kalam” as defined above.
    • Al-Shafi’i did not criticize “Kalam” as defined above.

If the first, then Al-Shafi’i criticized something which is necessarily known to be from the religion[3]. But this cannot be the case given the agreed upon status of the Imam between us and the Mujasima.

So all that’s left is the second option, and in this case there is no problem. Al-Shafi’i was merely speaking about another practice that was called “Kalam” in his time, and this practice differs from ‘Ilm Al-Kalam as practiced by the Mutakalimun of Ahl Al-Sunnah[4]. 

Ibn Al-Tilmisani and the Permissibility of Kalam

Shaykh Al-Tilmisani elucidates on the permissibility of ‘Ilm Kalam in his commentary of Ma’alim Usul Al-Deen. He writes:

And as for those from amongst the literalists and the Hashwia [another word for Mujasima] who agree that reasoning leads to knowledge, but argue that reasoning [when it comes to religious matters] is impermissible or an innovation. Those who say: “there is no way to acquire theological knowledge except by way of the Quran, the Sunnah, and the Ijma’ Ummah”. Those who argue that it was not reported that the Companions engaged in this discipline [i.e. Kalam], and no one heard them speaking about “Jawahir” or “A’rad”, and that which the Companions did not engage in is an innovation, and innovations must be avoided.

They also support their position by appealing to what has been reported from the Prophet ﷺ, who entered upon his Companions to find them speaking about destiny. Angered by this, he told them: “this topic destroyed those nations that came before you, and I insist that you no longer speak of it”[5]. And his ﷺ saying: “remain upon the religion of the elderly”[6].

We respond to all of the above by asking them to prove to us that the Quran and the Sunnah are authoritative. And it is impossible to prove revelation by appealing to revelation[7]. So they will have to resort to rational argumentation [to prove theological positions, and this is all what we mean by Kalam].

Furthermore, he who claims that the Companions did not know about Allah and His Messenger has committed a tremendous misdeed[8]. And in the same way he did not hear of them using terminology like “Al-Jawhar” and “Al-‘Arad”, he also did not hear of them using terminology like “Munqati’”, “Mawquf”, “Tajrih” or “Ilgha’”, and other terms that were developed by the late scholars of Hadith and Jurisprudence[9].

As for the Prophet’s ﷺ declaring it impermissible for one to delve into the topic of destiny, then this is because it is one that cannot be grasped [by most]. But this does not make it impermissible for one to reason about topics that can be grasped. And as for his [ﷺ] saying: “remain upon the religion of the elderly”– if he did actually say this –  it is understood to be referring to remaining upon the path of complete submission [to Allah ﷻ], and this is from amongst the great goals [for the worshipper to seek][10].

– Ibn Al-Tilmisani, Sharh Ma’alim Usul Al-Deen (pg.50)


[1] The Mujasima only use such reports as an excuse to justify their hatred of this noble science. In reality, they hate Kalam because it is the discipline which exposes the foolishness of their beliefs best.

[2] Tahzib Al-Mantiq wa Al-Kalam, (pg 15).

[3] And if we suppose that Al-Shafi’i did in fact attack that which is necessarily known to be from the religion, then this would only make it obligatory for Muslims to oppose his opinion, and it would impugn on his status as an Imam. It would not make what was attacked impermissible.

But this is obviously far fetched, given the status of Al-Shafi’i.

[4] The exact identity of that which Al-Shafi’i was actually criticizing in this case, is a secondary matter. But many scholars posit that he was attacking the Kalam of the Mu’tazila in particular- those arguments that they used to support their false beliefs.

[5] Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 2133. 

[6] I could not find a reference for this narration.

[7] As that would be circular.

[8] Since Kalam is the knowledge of religion creeds based off their decisive evidences. So claiming that the Companions did not practice Kalam, is tantamount to claiming that they did not have any basis for their belief in Islam. And this is most surely a heinous thing to say.

[9] In other words, in the same way the Companions did not utilize the terminology of the Mutakalimun, they also did not utilize the terminology of the scholars of Hadith and Fiqh. The hypocrisy of the Mujasim here is exposed. For he does not argue that the disciplines of Hadith and Fiqh are innovations, even though the terminology utilized by both was not known to the Companions.

And terminology is only used to compress long expressions so that discussing advanced topics is made easier. For example: instead of constantly saying “a quality that does not exist necessarily for the being it is attributed to”, we simple say “accident”. There is no difference in meaning between the two. The term “accident” or “‘Arad” was only developed for the sake of efficiency (i.e. expressing the meaning signified by the longer sentence, using only a single short word). It is thus foolish for one to attack an entire discipline by arguing that the terminology should not be used.

[10] Another common objection that Ibn Tilmisani did not respond to, is the claim that ‘Ilm Al-Kalam is based on Aristotelean philosophy. And since Aristotle was a disbeliever, one should not base his beliefs on Kalam.

To this we respond: this is known as the “genetic fallacy”; arguing that a proposition is false because someone you don’t like said it. For even if we grant that the conclusions of the Mutakalimun are based on Aristotle’s philosophy, then this would not make those conclusions false. After all, it is not impossible for Aristotle to have been right on some issues.

But of course we do not grant that ‘Ilm Al-Kalam is based on Aristotelean philosophy. And it is well known that the Mutakalimun were the chief opponents of the Aristoteleans (like Ibn Sina and Ibn Rushd) in the Islamic world. He who conflates the two groups (the Philosophers and the Mutakalimun) is one that should probably avoid such discussions. 

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