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KALĀM . In common usage kalām signifies speech, language, sentence, proposition, words, but in the field of Muslim religious thought it has two particular meanings: the word of God (kalām Allāh ) and the science of kalām (ʿilm al-kalām ), which may be understood as dogmatic theology or more precisely the defensive apologetics of Islam. Apart from a few preliminary remarks on kalām as the word of God, the present article is devoted to kalām in the latter sense.

Etymology and Definitions

Kalām Allāh is mentioned several times in the Qurʾān (for example, sūrahs 2:75, 9:6, 48:15). God spoke to the Prophets (2:253). He "spoke clearly to Moses" (4:164, 7:143, and elsewhere). However, one finds neither kalām nor mutakallim (speaking) in the list of the most beautiful names of God (asmāʾ Allāh al-usnā ). Rather, it was the theologians who, on the basis of Qurʾanic evidence, ascribed the attribute of kalām to God and designated the Qurʾān as kalām Allāh. From this development arose the very controversial problem of the relationship of the Qurʾān to the Word as a divine attribute. Here it may be mentioned in passing that during the European Middle Ages, Thomas Aquinas described the mutakallimūn (whose occasionalism and negation of causality he refuted) as "loquentes in lege maurorum" ("those who speak on behalf of Islam").

As for the science of kalām, this term came to mean Muslim dogmatic theology. In his effort to determine the origin of the usage, Harry A. Wolfson suggests that the word kalām was used to translate into Arabic the different meanings of the Greek term logos as "word," "reason," "argument." It was also used to signify the act of expounding or discussing a specific science, and the mutakallimūn became those who deal with this science, for example al-kalām al-abīʿī, peri phuseos logoi. The "physicians" (phusikoi, phusiologoi ) are sometimes called al-mutakallimūn fī al-tabīʿīyat, those who deal with questions of physics. The Greek term theologoi is translated by aāb al-kalām al-ilāhī or al-mutakallimūn fī ilāhīyāt (i.e., those who deal with the divine). Gradually, the term came to signify the specific, perfectly defined science that is the object of the present study.

In his renowned Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldūn gives the following definition of ʿilm al-kalām: "The science of kalām is a science that involves arguing with logical proofs in defense of the articles of faith and refuting innovators who deviate in their dogmas from the early Muslims and Muslim orthodoxy. The real core (sirr ) of the articles of faith is the oneness of God" (Cairo, n.d., p. 321; trans. Rosenthal, New York, 1958, vol. 3, p. 34).

This role of defensive apologia and of apologetics attributed to the science of kalām has remained standard in Islam. The modernist shaykh Muammad ʿAbduh wrote that the purpose of kalām was the "fixing of religious beliefs for the aim of working to conserve and consolidate religion" (Riālat al-tawīd, p. 5; trans., p. 5).

Al-Ījī (d. 1356), commented on at length and intelligently by al-Jurājnī (d. 1413), initially defines the function of kalām as seeking "to guarantee the proof (of the existence) of the Creator and of his unicity" (Mawāqif, vol. 1, p. 26). Later in the same work he explains that "kalām is the science that bears the responsibility of solidly establishing religious beliefs by giving proofs and dispelling doubts" (pp. 3435). He goes on to state explicitly the purpose, the usefulness, the degree of excellence, the questions treated, and the explanation of the chosen term.

Finally, to cite a nineteenth-century popular manual, al-Bājūrī's gloss on the Jawharat al-tawīd, kalām or tawīd is defined as "the science that enables one to establish clearly religious beliefs, based on definite proofs of these beliefs" (āshiyah ʿalā Jawharat al-tawīd, p. 8). For al-Bājūrī this definition is the first of the ten "foundations" that converge to form each branch of knowledge. The second element is the subject: God, the envoys and the prophets, the contingent being insofar as he serves to give existence to his Maker, and the samʿīyāt, or traditionally accepted truths. The third element is its utility: the knowledge of God supported by decisive proofs and the acquiring of "eternal happiness." The fourth is the degree of excellence, and the fifth, the relationship of this science to the other disciplines. The people of kalām consider their science to be the most noble of all because of its subject and see it as the basis of all other fields of knowledge. The sixth element specifies the founders of the science: for orthodox kalām, al-Ashʿarī (d. 935) and al-Māturīdī (d. 956), who "coordinated the writings related to this science and refuted the specious ambiguities introduced by the Muʿtazilah." The seventh element is the name: tawīd or kalām. The eighth is the means used, namely rational and traditional arguments. The ninth is its legal category, because the study of kalām is considered obligatory by its adherents. Finally, the tenth includes the questions treated, which deal with what is necessary and impossible to attribute to God and to the prophets.

Origins and Sources of the Science of KalĀm

Among the influences that can be detected in the science of kalām, direct sources include the Qurʾān, adīth, consensus of the community, and reason, while indirect sources can be traced to the pre-Islamic religions of the Byzantine and Sasanid empires and Greek philosophy as well as political dissensions of the early Islamic period.

The Qurʾān

This is the primary element on which the science of kalām is built. Islam is first of all the religion of the Book: It is a surrender to a God who, in the eyes of the believers, reveals himself in the book par excellence, the Qurʾān, his uncreated word. The Qurʾān is neither a history of the people of God nor a life of Muammad; it is rather a "discourse" that God holds with humanity in the first person.

The Qurʾān presents itself in effect as an absolute beginning of revelation. The earlier revelations (Jewish and Christian) have not been preserved in the authentic versions and thus cannot serve a "given." Consequently Muslim theology finds itself before an all-encompassing document, transmitted by a single man and corresponding to a very limited period of time. There is no progressive revelation, no preparatio coranica according to a divine plan, no development comparable to that of the Old Testament in relation to the New, or that within the New Testament itself. All the dogma is explicitly given in the Qurʾanic text.

This Qurʾanic core, the starting point of the science of kalām, is not systematic. It is essentially a collection of "revelations" stretched out over approximately twenty years, in which the Prophet informs his followers of the orders of God according to the circumstances, some of which are political.

A person knowledgeable in kalām finds four elements in the Qurʾān. First there is a theodicy: the existence of God, his unity, his eternal self, his omnipotence, the source of life and death, his fixity, his omniscience, and his mercy. God is endowed with speech and with will. He is the Creator. Second comes an anthropology: God created humankind from dust. He breathed his spirit into humanity (wa-nafakha fīhi min rūihi ). The human intelligence is superior to that of the angels. Adam disobeyed God, but his sin is not passed down to his descendants; thus, there is no original sin in Islam. The human being is the vicegerent of God (khalīfat Allāh ) on earth, the ruler of the created world, which must be submitted to God's will. Third there is an eschatology: the judgment of the individual, heaven, hell, and the Last Judgment; God is the master of death. Finally there is morality: personal, familial, social; the rights of God.

Although the Qurʾān presents itself as a divine revelation, it nonetheless communicates no mysteries that are truly supernatural. There is the global mystery of the divine being (al-ghayb ), which is transcendent and entirely inaccessible in itself to human intelligence, but no mystery of the Trinity nor of the incarnation, nor of the redemption, and therefore no mystery of the church or of the sacraments. Quite the contrary, the very idea of the incarnation is vigorously rejected. Thus the theologians, those knowledgeable in kalām, have only to organize the elements of a natural theodicy in their attempt at synthesis. If one disregards the pejorative connotation that the word rationalism has acquired in Western Christian milieus since the eighteenth century, one can say that Muslim theology is basically rationalist: In practice it denies the possibility of access to an order of supernatural mysteries. For its clearest representatives who are not necessarily always the most religious, Muslim theology is essentially a superior metaphysical system to which are added, in an incidental manner, a few positive notions relating to matters of cult, which are revealed by God in the Qurʾān.

Finally, the Qurʾān was revealed in Arabic. For Muslim theologians this fact indicates an essential link between the religious notion and the nature of God. The Arabic Qurʾān is the very word of God himself. Consequently the Arabic language is seen as itself revealed, or at least as the one that best expresses the word of God. This explains the primary role played by language in the elaboration of Muslim theology and the importance of the schools of grammar in the interpretation of the sacred texts.


This term refers to the corpus of words and actions of the Prophet, the "perfect model" whose least word assumes normative value. In dogmatic and moral authority, the canonical collections of these adīth are second only to the Qurʾān, at least according to traditional Muslim thinkers.

The consensus of the community (Ijmāʿ)

This consensus of the community as represented by its doctors is an internal factor of regulation. According to Henri Lammens, it is a kind of instinct of the people, who when faced with certain innovations react according to the spirit of Islam. The Prophet had said, "My community will never agree on an error," and from this his disciples concluded that the community is infallible as far as its beliefs and religious practices are concerned.

The idea of ijmāʿ, although quite complex in theory, showed itself to be effective in practice to maintain a traditional line of orientation through the stirrings caused by new conditions. Because Islam has neither an official ministry nor an advisory body, the ijmāʿ exercises more or less tacitly the role of regulator within the Muslim community. Qualified reformers aroused by God could legitimately undertake to reestablish the Muslim community in the purity of its original line or could propose solutions to the demands of the modern world in conformity with the religious law.


For a certain number of narrow traditionists, especially in the early period, the only acceptable attitude from the religious point of view was an exclusive loyalty to the Qurʾān and the adīth with no rational elaboration. Nevertheless, for traditional theology reason became an essential factor in the problem of faith. It is necessary for every adult, who should not be satisfied with a blind acceptance of tradition (taqlīd ) but must be able to demonstrate rationally the existence of God and the truth of the Muslim religion. The theologians themselves use reason to establish the authenticity of their historical notions, to criticize evidence, to defend dogmas, and to refute objections. This tendency went so far that in certain treatises on theology the major part is devoted to ʿaqlīyāt, those truths that reason can reach on its own, with the Qurʾān serving as a confirmation. A certain number of positive notions, the samʿīyāt, are known only by revelation; these are concerned with eschatology, prophetology, the caliphate, and similar matters. The degree to which reason is used also varies with the schools: Some restrict its use to logic as instrument; others apply an untiring dialectical zeal to the smallest theological problems.


The influence of Christianity was felt either in an informal way, notably through the Bible itself or through contacts that Muslims had with Christians living in Muslim lands, or formally via discussions with Christian theologians, especially in Damascus and Baghdad. Among these theologians were the Nestorians concentrated in Hira, the Jacobites (monophysites), and finally the Melkites, including John of Damascus and his disciple Abū Qurrah, as well as several dissident sects that were more or less Christian. As they attempted to defend the dogma of Islam in discussions with these groups, Muslim theologians were led to address certain problematic issues such as free will and predestination, the divine attributes, and the uncreated Qurʾān. (In the Qurʾān Jesus is considered to be the word of God.)

Greek philosophy

In the eyes of Muslim thinkers, Greek philosophy was perceived as a single body of knowledge within which Plato and Aristotle, far from being in opposition, played complementary roles in relation to each other. Apocryphal Neoplatonic writings such as De causis and the Pseudo-Theology of Aristotle served to reinforce this conviction. These Greek teachings, known directly or via the commentators, exercised an influence in two directions. Certain Muslim thinkers adopted an orientation that was straightforwardly rational in the eighteenth-century French sense of the term. They denied all revelation, maintaining only a vague notion of a distant philosophical God. This was especially true of Abū Bakr al-Rāzī, the Rhazes of the Latins.

Other thinkers, loyal to their faith, took on the task of defending the principal dogmas of their religion with this instrument newly placed between their handsGreek thought. These were the Muʿtazilah, the first theologians of Islam. They soon split into two main groups. The dissidents among them, such as al-Ashʿarī, wished to retain only the minimum of philosophy indispensable for theological elaboration and stressed more the properly religious core of the Qurʾān. The other group, the falāsifah, including hellenizing philosophers such as al-Kindī, al-Fārābī, Ibn Sīnā, Ibn Rushd, and others, were more philosophers than Muslims; for them religious ideas were only a superstructure or a pretext for philosophizing. The ijmaʿ came to favor the first trend, and the ideas of the Ashʿarīyah became the shared philosophy of Islam, while the second tendency was met with great reticence, and its doctrine was hardly tolerated.

Manichaeism and Mazdakism

The invasion of Iran brought the Muslims in contact with a very rich and complex cultural climate, where the Armenian and Syrian Christians in particular were already engaged in controversies with the Mazdaeans and the Magians. The ardent monotheism of Islam, which for fear of taking anything away from God's omnipotence made God the creator of evil as well as good, offered a new battlefield for Mazdaean apologists, as is demonstrated by the Shkand gumānīk vichār, a ninth-century Mazdaean apologetic treatise. The theologians responded by elaborating treatises against the dualists.

As for the Manichaeans, their survival in the tenth-century East, attested by Ibn al-Nadīm's Fihrist, leads one to believe that with the fall of their Mazdaean persecutors and the period of calm that followed the Muslim conquest, their doctrine was able to find a new lease on life.

Political dissensions

The political struggles among Muslims mark the starting point for the elaboration of theological problems. Given that traditional Islam is inseparably dīn wa-dawlah, "religion and state," it is normal that everything concerning the polity, the transmission of power, legitimacy, and the struggle for public authority should express itself in religious terms and provoke violent conflicts among the partisans of opposing opinions. It was in this way that the problems of the nature of faith, of its relationship to works, of the possibility for faith to increase or decrease, of the status of the unrepentant sinner who is nevertheless a believer, of the caliphate, and like questions developed among the Muslims.

The Principal Schools and Major Themes

Here this article shall pursue a mainly chronological order that will permit the author to trace the emergence and development of the problem.

The early creeds

The earliest surviving documents that give an official expression of doctrine are the first creeds, some of which have been studied by A. J. Wensinck in The Muslim Creed. From what has been observed concerning the fragmentary nature of the Qurʾān, it is not surprising to find no systematic résumé of doctrine there. What Muammad affirms above all are the divine transcendence and unity, the declaration in fiery terms of the horrors of the judgment, and the prophetic character of his message.

But a few decades after Muammad's death, the expansion of the new religion and the political and social questions that arose led the heads of the community to express the essential traits of Islam and to condense them into a formula that was easy to recite and easy to remember. Some of these formulas are found in the adīth collections. For example, Muammad is asked, "What is Islam?" and he answers, "It is to associate nothing with God, to perform the ritual prayer, to give the prescribed alms, and to fast during Ramaān." When he is asked, "And what is faith?" he answers, "It is to believe in God, his angels, his book, his meeting [with believers in Paradise], and his Prophet, to believe in the resurrection and the final destiny."

The development of Islam, the struggle with the tribes in revolt, and the conquests slowly necessitated a distinction between islām ("submission") and īmān ("faith"). It is possible to be Muslim in different ways, and external posture is not necessarily a sign of inner faith. It was at this point that the "five pillars of Islam" were defined. These are usually expressed in the following terms: "Islam is built on five pillars: faith, ritual prayer (alāt ), the tithe (zakāt ), the fast of Ramaān, and the pilgrimage." Thus Islam presents itself in its entirety as faith and acts. The holy war is not yet mentioned.

However, conversion to Islam prompted the development of a simple formula expressing in a few words the essential message of the new religion: the shahādah ("witnessing") served this function. By reciting it, the new converts entered the Muslim community; it was their profession of faith: "There is no god but God, and Muammad is the messenger of God."

A profession of faith reduced to its simplest expression, the shahādah would be sufficient as long as internal discussions did not pit the disciples of the same master against one another. But once dissension arose, there was inevitably an orthodox party that sought to set down its position in precise terms and heaped anathema on those who did not accept it in its entirety. It was in this context that the first creeds would appear.

The Fiqh al-akbar

One of the principal creeds to come down to the present is the Fiqh al-akbar. Although it is tempting to see it as nothing more than the simple development of the formula of the profession of faith, such is not the case. The shahādah is a formula of adherence to the Muslim community; the creed is the profession of faith of the community itself, which wishes to state its position in relation to the dissenting sects. This particular profession mentions neither the unity of God nor the mission of Muammad, because neither is called into question. It states the following articles:

  1. We consider no one (of those who profess Islam) to be an unbeliever on account of his faith, nor do we deny his faith.
  2. We command the good and forbid the evil.
  3. What reaches you could not have missed you, and what misses you could not have reached you.
  4. We do not disavow any of the companions of the Apostle of God, nor do we adhere to any one of them in particular.
  5. We leave to God the question of ʿUthmān and ʿAlī. He alone knows the secret and hidden matters.
  6. Knowledge in matters of religion is better than knowledge in matters of the law.
  7. The difference of opinions in the community is a blessing of God.
  8. Whoever believes what should be believed but says, "I do not know if Moses and Jesus are prophets or not," is an unbeliever.
  9. Whoever affirms that he does not know if God is in heaven or in hell is an unbeliever.
  10. Whoever says he does not know the punishment in the tomb belongs to the sect of the Jahmīyah, which is condemned to perdition.

The Waīyah

It is with the Waīyah (Testament) of Abū anīfah (d. 767) that the major problems begin to emerge; it is true that these are not yet classified in homogenous groups, but one feels that the work of conflicting has started. The twenty-seven articles of this creed can be separated into the following themes.


The problem of faith. The text affirms that faith resides in witnessing with the tongue, believing with the mind, and knowing with the heart. It does not increase or decrease (art. 2). The believer and unbeliever really are such (art. 3). Muslim sinners do not cease to be Muslim (art. 4). Works are distinct from faith (art. 5). Finally, faith allows people to be classified in three categories: believers with pure intentions, unbelievers who recognize their lack of belief, and hypocrites (art. 14).


Predestination. This problem is treated throughout the Waīyah. First of all it is affirmed against the dualists and the Qadarīyah that God alone controls good and evil (art. 6), that mortal acts are created by God (art. 11) because human beings have no natural power (art. 12), and that God creates the faculty at the same time as the act (art. 15). Finally it is God who orders the (celestial) pen to write (art. 17); that is to say, he determines all things.

The theme of human actions is very closely associated with that of predestination, because these actions are totally dependent on divine will. The relationship between these two forms the crucial problem of speculative moral philosophy. Along with predestination, the distinction of three kinds of actions is affirmed: These are the obligatory, the optional, and the reprehensible. About ten affirmations follow to detail the eschatological beliefs: the punishment of the tomb (art. 18), questioning in the tomb (art. 19), heaven and hell (art. 20 and 27), the scale (art. 21), the reading of the book (art. 22), the resurrection (art. 23), God's meeting with the inhabitants of Paradise (art. 24), the intercession of the Prophet (art. 25), and God's sitting on the throne (art. 8). In addition there are affirmations concerning the uncreated or created nature of the Qurʾān (art. 9), the order of precedence of the first caliphs (art. 10), the precedence of ʿʾishah (art. 26), and the validity of ablutions performed on shoes (art. 16).

Fiqh al-akbar II

The Fiqh al-akbar II leads one onto much more defined ground, for debate had obliged the religious leaders to clarify beliefs, to reject anything that could threaten the transcendence of God, and to specify the role of the prophets and the value of their message.

From the very first affirmation, the global content of the faith reveals itself: God, the angels, his envoys, the resurrection, the decree concerning good and evil, the calculation of sins, the scale, heaven and hell. The entire theological base to date is thus set out: Theology already possesses all the material it will have to systematize. The different articles of the creed, about forty in all, take up each point in turn and develop them slightly without, however, following the order proposed at the start.

Muʿtazilī problematic and theses

The Muʿtazilah, "the first thinkers of Islam," gave the science of kalām a systematic form. The great Muʿtazilah lived either in Basra (Abū al-Hudhayl al-ʿAllāf, d. 849; al-Naām, d. 846; al-Jāi, d. 872) or in Baghdad (Bishr ibn al-Muʿtamir, d. 825; Abū Mūsā al-Mirdar, d. 841; Thumāmah ibn al-Ashras, d. 828).

Although they did not teach the same doctrine on all matters, they nonetheless shared a common spirit. Historians and heresiographers have not been wrong in summarizing the characteristics of their doctrine in five affirmations called al-uūl al-khamsah: the unity of God (al-tawīd), his justice (al-ʿadl), the promise and the threat (l-waʿd wa-al-waʿīd), the "neutral" position in relation to the sinner (al-manzilah bayn al-manzilatayn ), and finally the "commanding of good and forbidding of evil" (al-amr bi-al-maʿrūf wa-al-nahy ʿan al-munkar ).

First thesis: tawīd

Concerned with avoiding the slightest anthropomorphism in the question of divine attributes, the Muʿtazilah applied in all its vigor the via remotionis, God's transcendence (tanzīh ). The anthropomorphic verses should be "interpreted" symbolically, and in some cases even rejected. Similarly, contradictory adīth s were set aside. Against the "people of adīth " and the ʿAlids, the Muʿtazilah could affirm their agnosticism on the matter of the nature of God. Without going as far as the Jahmīyah, who completely denied the attributes of God, they affirmed that all these attributes are identical with God's essence and that they have no real existence. Against the Dahrīyah (materialists) they affirmed a personal creator God. If God is completely spiritual, he cannot be seen by the senses, from which came their rejection of the "vision of God" in the future life, the ruʾyah of the traditionists. The absolute transcendence of God in relation to the world led them to distinguish rigorously between the preeternal and the mudath (that which has begun to be) and made them reject energetically any notion of ulūl (the infusion of the divine into the created).

The Muʿtazilah accepted a "contingent" or "created" divine knowledge of free intentions and of possibilities in general. They studied the object and the limits of divine power, analyzed human control over their actions, and affirmed that they created such actions by "generation" (tawallin ).

With the same concern to eliminate any suspicion of associationism, they affirmed the created character of the Qurʾān, the word of God. In the history of the Muʿtazilah, this position attracted the most attention because of its political repercussions. The Qurʾān, they held, is a "genus" of words, created by God. It is called the "word of God" because, in contrast to human words, the Qurʾān was created directly.

Second thesis: the justice of God

In conjunction with tawīd, this belief served to describe the Muʿtazilah, or rather, they proudly described themselves as the "people of justice and unity." By analyzing the notion of human justice and extending it to God, they drew two conclusions.


As an intelligent and wise being, God must necessarily act according to a purpose, with a view to a determined plan. There is a chosen, objective order in the universe, and thus intermediary purposes, themselves related to an ultimate purpose. Consequently there are an objective good and evil prior to the determination brought by religious law. God is obliged always to do the best, al-ala; he can wish only the good.


God does not want evil. He does not order it because his wish (irādah ) and his commandment (amr ) are identical. Evil is created by humans, as is good for that matter, because people create all their actions, good or evil. They have in effect received from God a "power" (qudrah ), that allows them to act freely. For this reason they will inevitably receive a reward for their good actions and a punishment for their evil ones.

Third thesis: the promise and the threat

This concerns the fate of the believer (muʾmin ), the sinner (fāsiq ), and the unbeliever (kāfir ) in the hereafter. The term "the names and the statutes" (al-asmāʾ wa-al-akām ) is also used, referring to the juridical statutes that determine the fate of each group. The basic problem is that of faith and disbelief. For the Muʿtazilah, to have faith is not merely to assent in the heart and to make the verbal profession (shahādah ) but also to avoid the "major sins" (kabāʾir ). The unbelievers and the unrepentant Muslim sinners are condemned to hell.

Fourth thesis: the "intermediate position" between faith and disbelief

This is a corollary to the Muʿtazilī concept of divine justice and faith and is easily assimilated to the preceding thesis. The position of the Muslim sinner (fāsiq ) is intermediate between that of the believer and that of the unbeliever. Although condemned in the hereafter to eternal damnation (albeit one less rigorous than that of the kāfir ), the sinner remains nonetheless a member of the Muslim community while on earth.

Fifth thesis: "commanding the good"

In contrast to those who saw internal criticism as sufficient, the Muʿtazilah favored direct action. Order must be reestablished "by the sword." If there is a hope of defeating adversaries one must overthrow the guilty leaders, even kill them if necessary, and force them, on pain of death, to accept the true doctrine.

This is not the place to discuss the history of the Muʿtazilah, their temporary triumph and final defeat. History books recount different stages of the minah (inquisition), which represents the final struggle of the upholders of rational doctrines against the narrowly traditionalist thinkers. The rationalists were defeated and the "people of adīth " triumphed decisively. The fact remains nevertheless that the Muʿtazilah represent a turning point in the history of Muslim thought and they left a definitive mark, even if by reaction, on the problematic of kalām.

It was one of the deserters from the Muʿtazilah, Abū al-asan al-Ashʿarī, who succeeded in finding the conciliatory via media between their rationalism and the literalism of the traditionists. A longtime disciple of al-Jubbāʾī, the head of the Muʿtazilah of Basra, he broke publicly with his teacher and turned violently against his former companions. At first he attempted to win over the literalists by expressing his admiration for Ibn anbal, as can be seen at the start of his Ibānah, or "elucidation" of the principles of religion.

However, his real theological work would consist of attempting to reconcile the different schools. By his conversion he intended to rediscover the meaning of traditional doctrine, to "return" to the Qurʾān and to the teaching of the first Muslims. In the field of exegesis he energetically rejected the overly drastic tanzīh of the Muʿtazilah as this led to taʿīl, a complete dissection of the notion of God. He wished to maintain a literal interpretation of the text and in this respect appeared to present himself as a faithful disciple of Ibn anbal. This was a literalism peculiar to al-Ashʿarī, however, because the later Ashʿarīyah would distance themselves considerably from the rigid literalism of their founder and thus would provoke the anger of Ibn azm and the anābilah themselves (Laoust, Ibn Taymiyya, pp. 8182). Likewise on the question of the "vision of God" and of the anthropomorphic terms and the attributes (Ibānah, p. 47), he presented positions to which Ibn anbal would have ascribed without hesitation.

Such was the al-Ashʿarī of the direct sources. But for al-Juwaynī (d. 1085), who became al-Ghazālī's master, al-Ashʿarī was not a theologian following the opinions of Ibn anbal but rather a conciliator of two extreme positions. In his Tabyīn (pp. 149ff.) Ibn ʿAsākir demonstrates how his master, when dealing with the principal questions, followed a middle course between the exaggerations of the Muʿtazilah and those of the ashwīyah who, it is true, were recruited among the extremist anābilah. Table 1 summarizes the principal Ashʿarī positions in comparison with those of the extremists. All later kalām would see al-Ashʿarī as its founder.

Al-Māturīdī was a follower and contemporary of al-Ashʿarī. His disagreements with al-Ashʿarī stemmed above all from the fact that they followed different legal rites. Al-Ashʿarī was probably a disciple of al-Shāfiʿī. Al-Māturīdī was by contrast a clear disciple of Abū anīfah, a Persian like himself. He favored liberal, rational solutions, staying as close as possible to the Muʿtazilah while remaining within the limits of orthodoxy. An example of this approach is seen in his attitude toward the problem of liberty and kasb. Al-Māturīdī's solution attempted to respect the intervention of the human being, to whom he attributes the "qualification" of acts. Similarly al-Māturīdī affirms that the believer can say, "I am a believer in truth," whereas al-Ashʿarī required the restriction, "if God wishes it." (This is the problem of the istithnāʾ. ) For the Māturīdīyah it was inconceivable that God would punish those who had obeyed him, while the Ashʿarīyah accepted the possibility, at least in theory. For the Māturīdīyah, often called "shameful Muʿtazilah," reason, even without the religious law, would have taught that there is an obligation to know God; for the Ashʿarīyah, this awareness comes exclusively from revelation. The different points of divergence, which number about fifty, remain secondary and in no way prevent the Ashʿarīyah and Māturīdīyah from being considered without distinction as "people of tradition and adīth, " the former in the western part of the empire (Syria, Iraq, Egypt), and the latter in the eastern part.

The Ashʿarīyah spread into Persia under the Seljuks, then into Syria and Egypt under the Ayyubids and the Mamluk sultans, and finally into the Maghreb under the Almohad dynasty led by Ibn Tūmart (d. 1130?). This triumph was characterized by ongoing development of the doctrine, with the names of the qāī al-Bāqillānī, al-Juwaynī (Imām al-aramayn), and finally al-Ghazālī serving to demarcate the principal stages.

From the via antiqua to the via moderna

In his famous Muqaddimah, Ibn Khaldūn (d. 1406) presents the time of al-Ghazālī (d. 1111) as a watershed in the evolution of kalām. The via antiqua, characterized by a dialectic inspired primarily by the logic of the doctors of the law, gave way to the via nova, which relied on the Aristotelian syllogism. This break should not be overemphasized, however: At least from the point of view of the subjects discussed, influences must have been felt earlier via the Muʿtazilah, some of whom had read Aristotle. This tendency can already be seen in the writings of al-Bāqillānī (d. 1013), himself an untiring opponent of the Muʿtazilah, and even more strongly in those of his disciple al-Juwaynī. The latter was indeed an ancient in his dialectic, but an ancient who foretold the victory of the new method, which would triumph through his disciple al-Ghazālī and come even closer to the falāsifah with later theologians.

This article shall now trace this evolution in the Tamhīd of al-Bāqillānī, the Irshād of al-Juwaynī, and the Iqtiād of al-Ghazālī. It shall finish with the treatises in which the new tendency takes full shape.

The Tamhīd of al-Bāqillānī

In his Tamhīd, al-Bāqillānī, who has not yet broken away from his apologetic preoccupations, mixes his presentation of beliefs with long

Extreme by DefaultAl-ash'arīExtreme by Excess
SOURCE: Gardet and Anawati (1948), pp.58-59
The attributes
Denied (ta'īl, ibāl) by the Mu'tazilah, Jabarīyah, Rāfiah.They are real, but not like human attributes.They are like human attributes (ashwīyah).
Human acts
People have a power (qudrah). They are susceptible to acts kasb (Qadarīyah, Mu'tazilah).No power. God creates the of human beings, who are endowed with kasb (attribution, juridical charge).Neither power nor kasb (Jabarīyah).
The vision of God
Denied by the Mu'tazilah, Jahmīyah, and Nājjarīyah.God will be seen (by the eyes) but without ulūl, without terms, without modes, as he sees us.God will be seen like things of the senses (ashwīyah).
Omnipresence of God
God is everywhere without ulūl or direction (Mu'tazilah).God existed before there was place. He created the throne and the seat. He has no need of place. The creation of place has in no way changed his nature.God is "infused" (ulūl) in the throne. He is seated on the throne which is his place (ashwīyah).
Ta'wil (interpretation)
Hand = power and grace; face of God = his existence; descent of God = descent of certain verses, or of his angels; sitting on the throne = domination (Mu'tazilah).The hand and face are real attributes like hearing and sight = attribute = attribute.The hand is a real limb, the face is a face with human form. The descent is real, as is sitting on the throne (ashwīyah).
The Qur'ān
It is the created word of God (Mu'tazilah).The [eternal] Qur'ān is the uncreated word of God, eternal, unchangeable. The individual letters, the ink with which it is written are created.All is uncreated (ashwīyah).
It is created (Mu'tazilah, Jahmīyah, Najjārīyah).Faith is of two kinds: that of God, uncreated; that of the believers, created.Faith is absolutely uncreated (ashwīyah).
The eternal punishment
The Muslim who commits a grave sin is eternally damned (Khārijīs, Mu'tazilah).The Muslim sinner is given up to divine goodwill. God can accept that person immediately into Paradise or mete out punishment in a temporary Hell.The fate of the Muslim sinner will be debated only on the Day of Judgment (Murji'ah).
The Prophet does not have the power of intercession (Mu'tazilah).Intercession of the Prophet on behalf of believing sinners with the permission of God.Muhammad and 'Ali can intercede without God's order or permission, even for unbelievers (Rāfiah).
The caliphate
Mu'āwīyah, alah, Zubayr, and 'A'ishah are guilty. Their testimony is not accepted (Mu'tazilah). They are not guilty (Umayyads).Every mujtahid achieves a result. There is general agreement on this principle.All these people are unbelievers (Rāfiah).

discussions against non-Muslim sects and dissident Muslims themselves. The following is the schema of his presentation:

Preliminary. Science; nature; foundations.

  1. De Deo Uno. (1) Existence of God: (a) division of known objects; (b) accidents; (c) created nature of the word and proof of the existence of God. (2) His attributes: he is one, living, knowing, hearing, seeing, speaking, willing; he has no appetite. (3) Divine action: neither motive (ghara) nor cause (ʿillah); he acts freely.
  2. Apologetic Section. Refutation of the astrologers, dualists, Magians, Christians, Brahmans (Hindus), Jews, and corporalists (mujassimah, i.e., those who maintain a literal interpretation of the anthropomorphic verses of the Qurʾān).
  3. The Caliphate. (1) Principles of methodology and nature of the caliphate. (2) Qualities required of the caliph. (3) The first four caliphs. (4) Validity of their caliphate. (See also Gardet and Anawati, 1948, pp. 154156.)

The Irshād of al-Juwaynī

Al-Ghazālī's master, also called Imām al-aramayn ("imam of the two holy places"), presents the principles of his classification more than once in his Irshād. At some points he divides his treatise between what exists necessarily in God and what is possible, that is to say, between what God can and cannot accomplish. At others he distinguishes between matters accessible to reason and those attainable only through the traditional path. Although it is not easy to find one's way through the Irshād, its plan can be drawn up in the following manner:

Introduction. The character of reason; the nature of science.

  1. The Existence of God. (1) Contingency of the world (its beginning in time). (2) Proofs of the existence of God (a novitate mundi ).
  2. What Necessarily Exists in God. (1) Attributes of the essence: the unity of God. (2) Attributes of qualification: (a) knowledge of the attributes; (b) knowledge of the attributes themselves (the word; the divine names; other attributes).
  3. What God Can and Cannot Accomplish. (1) Visibility of God: the creation of human acts. (2) The promise and the threat. (3) Prophetology. (4) The "traditional" questions (samʿīyāt ): (a) sundry aspects: terms assigned to things, subsistence for maintaining life, censure of human actions; (b) eschatology; (c) names and the juridical qualifications; (d) the caliphate.

The Iqtiād of al-Ghazālī

The author of the Iyāʾ discussed ex professo and with precision the science of kalām in a compendium entitled Al-iqtiād fī al-iʿtiqād (The just mean in belief). He intended to remain loyal to Ashʿarī orthodoxy, simplifying to the extreme the dialectical debates and eliminating the philosophical investigations that his master al-Juwaynī had integrated into his treatises.

Al-Ghazālī devotes four chapters to a general introduction on kalām. The first underlines the importance of this science: It allows the reader to know God, his tributes, and the work of his messengers. However, he takes pains to state in the second chapter that this concerns only a certain number of people, because, with relation to the truths of faith and the doubts that can arise, one must distinguish different categories of people who are not equally able to devote themselves to this science. Kalām is safely used only to resolve certain doubts of the believers and to try to convince intelligent unbelievers. Finally, the fourth chapter analyzes the sources.

Next al-Ghazālī divides all the questions considered into four large sections, each precisely articulated. Because God is the object of kalām, one must first study him in his essence; this is the aim of the first section. The second section deals with the attributes; the third, with the action of God and his personal acts; and the fourth, with his envoys. The following is a general outline of the whole work:

Preliminaries. The nature of kalām; its importance; its methodology.

  1. The Divine Essence. (1) God exists. (2) He is eternal. (3) He is permanent. (4) He is insubstantial. (5) He is incorporeal. (6) He is nonaccidental. (7) He is undefined. (8) He is not localized. (9) He is visible and knowable. (10) He is one.
  2. The Attributes of God. (1) The attributes in themselves: life, knowledge, power, will, hearing, sight, speech. (2) The "status" of the attributes: (a) they are not the essence; (b) they are in the essence; (c) they are eternal; (d) the divine names.
  3. The Acts of God (what God can or cannot do). (1) God can choose (is free) to impose no obligation on his creatures. (2) Or he can choose to impose on them what they cannot do. (3) God does nothing in vain. (4) He can make innocent animals suffer. (5) He can fail to reward one who obeys him. (6) The obligation of knowing God comes from revelation alone. (7) The sending of prophets is possible.
  4. The Envoys of God. (1) Muammad. (2) Eschatology (and faith). (3) The caliphate. (4) The sects.

Evolution of the via moderna

Elsewhere (Gardet and Anawati, 1948) this author has shown the evolution of the via moderna with the progressive introduction of philosophy through an examination of kalām treatises such as the Nihāyat al-aqdām of al-Shahrastānī (d. 1153), the Muaal of Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 1209), and the awālīʿ al-anwār of al-Bayāwī (d. 1286). Here shall be given the end result of this evolution as it is crystallized in the Mawāqif of al-Ījī with the commentary of al-Jurājnī. With this work is reached the high point of the science of kalām in Sunnī Islam. Ījī/Jurājnī, with the glosses of other commentators, represent the largest (four volumes of more than five hundred pages each) and most systematic work of orthodox Muslim speculative thought. The work supplied material for years of specialization in the great Muslim universities, and one is obliged to recognize, especially by comparison with previous works, that its fame is well deserved. Even if the truly traditional parts, and the theology strictly speaking, are treated soberly, the philosophical part with its long critical introduction receives ample development. Consisting of six treatises and an appendix, the work is divided and subdivided with care:

  1. Preliminaries. (1) The presuppositions of kalām and all knowledge. (2) Science (or knowledge) in genere. (3) The division of knowledge (the first two operations of the spirit). (4) The existence of sciences or necessary knowledges. (5) Reasoning. (6) The different forms of reasoning.
  2. General Principles. (1) Being and nonbeing. (2) Essence. (3) The necessary and the possible. (4) The one and the many. (5) Cause and effect.
  3. The Accidents. (1) In genere. (2) Quantity. (3) Quality. (4) The relations (nisab ): local relations, space, movement. (5) Relationship (iāfah ).
  4. Substance. (1) The body. (2) Accidents of bodies. (3) The separate soul. (4) The intellect.
  5. "Rational" Theology (Ilāhīyāt ). (1) The divine essence. (2) The transcendence of God (the via remotionis ). (3) His unity. (4) The positive attributes. (5) "Possible" attributes: visibility, knowability. (6) The acts of God (problem of human acts). (7) The divine names.
  6. The Traditional Questions (Samʿīyāt ). (1) Prophet-hood. (2) Eschatology. (3) Statutes and names. (4) The caliphate.

Appendix. The sects.

Rigid Ashʿarīyah

The so-called way of the "modernists" was in effect the most original line of thought in the fully evolved Ashʿarī kalām. One can note among the most characteristic representatives al-Shahrastānī, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, and al-Isfahānī (d. 1348). Al-Rāzī, although he called himself an Ashʿarī, did not hesitate to adopt Māturīdī theses, or even Muʿtazilī influences.

Other modernists, possibly less daring, nonetheless did not hesitate to borrow in their turn from falsafa various ideas on logic, nature philosophy, or metaphysics. This was the most orthodox of the tendencies that issued from the thought of al-Ījī, including al-Jurājnī, who called himself an Ashʿarī. Very close to him in methodology was his adversary al-Taftāzānī (d. 1389), who attempted to oppose the conclusions of falsafa while still placing himself on the same plane as philosophy.

The glosses, commentaries, and discussions multiplied, often with a great richness of argumentation and certain original views. But this did not serve the elaboration of kalām as a theological science: The clearest result of such studies was to throw the teaching of kalām by reaction into the constraints of "rigid conservatism."

Kalām would soon ossify under the Ashʿarī writ, and, losing the freshness of its early years, it would become frozen in the stereotyped forms of "manuals" endlessly commented and recommented. If one compares the nineteenth-century Jawharat al-tawīd of al-Bājūrī with the Muaal of al-Rāzī, one finds the same major divisions, the same responses, the same "intemporality." The manuals of that age are often a compendium of all the past, but framed and codified by the most rigid solutions of the school.

An enumeration of these manuals and their authors would be lengthy indeed; suffice it to mention the two writers who are situated at the beginning and the end of this long period, and who had and still have an important place in official teaching. One is al-Sanūsī, from the fifteenth century, famous for his kalām treatises set out according to the three cycles of teaching (Umm al-barāhin ) called Al-ughrā (The small), or the Sanūsīyah, then Al-wusā (The median) and Al-kubrā (The great). The other is Ibrāhīm al-Bājūrī, (d. 1860), rector of al-Azhar, who wrote commentaries on his predecessors, al-Sanūsī himself, al-Laqānī, and his own master, al-Faālī. The differences are minimal between al-Sanūsī and al-Bājūrī. One of those who would attempt to arouse theology from its sleep, Shaykh Muammad ʿAbduh (d. 1905), would write of this period, "Whoever studies the works of this era will find only discussions on words, studies on methodology. And he will find these in only a small number of works chosen by weakness and consecrated by impotence."

Reformist period

It was precisely Muammad ʿAbduh, the disciple of the reformer Jamāl al-Dīn al-Afghānī (d. 1897), who would try to renew the problematic of kalām within the scope of the general renaissance of the Middle East. His originality in this field was his religious rationalism. He believed deeply in Islam, but he wanted a thoroughly interpreted religion that could respond intellectually to the demands of criticism, socially to the desire of the humble to live a decent life, and politically to the ardent passion among the people for liberty.

Against the traditional Ashʿarī ideas that crushed the believer under the weight of a fatalist predestination, he would state the existence of human liberty as the basis of all action and responsibility. He did not want to concern himself with what he considered metaphysical subtleties and turned instead to a somewhat agnostic pragmatism. It was practice that interested him above all. Thus divine law, reason, conscience, and common sense affirm human responsibility and therefore human freedom. It was useless to go over the old discussions again on the bases and nature of this freedom. It was enough to recognize that it did not contradict God's omnipotence, because, as he said, "God is the cause to the extent that people act, and people are the cause to the extent that God acts." This is far from the Ashʿarī kasb ("acquisition") that denies any real power to human beings.

He added to this clear attitude toward human freedom an affirmation of natural law, which once again suggests the influence of the Muʿtazilah. Like the latter he recognized that there are things objectively good or evil, naturally beautiful or ugly, and concludes that a "natural law" is possible. Religious law does not differ essentially from natural morality. "The law came simply to show what exists (al-wāqiʿ ). It is not the law that makes it good" (Risālah, p. 80, trans., p. 56).

In his discussion of prophecy, he shows similarly rationalist tendencies. While keeping the orthodox position, he stresses the psychological and social aspects of prophecy (ibid., p. 127/86).

In discussing kalām he insists above all on the political factor in the formation and differentiation of the schools. He recognizes that foreign elements integrated into the community prompted the first dogmatic discussions (ibid., intro., p. 55). The rational character of the science of kalām is affirmed forcefully: It is reason that is called upon to examine the proofs of the beliefs and rules of conduct imposed by religion in order to show that they truly come from God (ibid., p. 129/88). In response to Hanotaux he does not hesitate to write, "In the case of a conflict between reason and tradition, it is reason that must decide. This is a position that would only be opposed by a few people, from among those whose views cannot be taken into consideration" (Gardet and Anawati, 1948, p. 86, n. 3).

In his Riālat al-tawīd, Shaykh ʿAbduh spends little time on the metaphysical introductions so common in traditional manuals. After stating the usual definitions of the impossible, the contingent, and the necessary, he establishes the classic proof of the existence of God and his attributes. To be necessary, endowed with life, knowledge, and will, to be all-powerful, free, onethese are all attributes that reason can discover on its own. He is very circumspect on the question of the relationship of the attributes with the essence of God: He advises [the believer] to have the wisdom to "stop at the limit that our reason can reach" (Risālah, p. 52/37).

The "new theology" of the Egyptian grand muftī also shows itself in his attitude toward the origins of faith: He contests the authority of the juridical schools resting on the consensus of the community (ijmāʿ ) and rejects servile traditional imitation (taqlīd ). Only the Qurʾān and authentic sunnah should serve as the base of ijtihād, this effort of personal elaboration of religious positions by qualified theologians. The same concern for adaptation is shown in his commentary on the Qurʾān, which he wished to be pragmatic and oriented essentially toward "moral direction" (hidāyah ); it was to be in accord with modern civilization and encourage activity, energy, and personal labor. The anthropomorphic passages should be interpreted by using reason (taʾwīl ʿaqlī ) in the manner of Ibn Rushd. God's transcendence (tanzīh ) must be ensured at all costs.

Muammad ʿAbduh was able to inspire the best of his disciples with a spirit of openmindedness and renewal. Especially worthy of mention is Shaykh Muafā ʿAbd al-Rāzīq, who was appointed rector of al-Azhar in 1945.

Parallel to this reformist movement in Egypt and the Near East a no less sustained effort for renewal, sui generis, occurred in British India. This was particularly due to the work of Sayyid Amad Khān (d. 1898), whose Tabyīn al-kalām (Commentary on the Holy Bible) dates from 1862 to 1865; Syed Ameer Ali (d. 1928), author of The Spirit of Islam (London, 1922), and Muammad Iqbāl, whose Six Lectures on the Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam was published in 1934.

Two Final Remarks

A complete presentation of kalām in Islam should also take into consideration Shīʿī kalām, in particular the disciples and successors of Mullā adrā (d. 1640) in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. These include among others ājī Mullā Hādī Sabziwārī, Ashtiyānī, abābāʾī, Rāfiʿī Qazwīnī, and Muammad Amūlī (see Seyyed Hossein Nasr's articles on the school of Isfahan and Mullā adrā in M. M. Sharif's A History of Muslim Philosophy, vol. 2, Wiesbaden, 1966).

Among contemporary Muslim writers a certain number outside the traditional framework of theology have tried to speak of God and Muslim doctrines in a way adapted to the modern world, including Kāmil usayn, Sayyid Qub, Tawfīq al-akīm, ʿAbbās Mamūd al-ʿAqqād, and Muafā Mamūd. The historian of kalām should not overlook their contributions.

See Also

Ashʿarīyah; Creeds, article on Islamic Creeds; Imān and Islām; Muʿtazilah; Qurʾān.


General Works

The best works on kalām for the general reader are Harry A. Wolfson's overview, The Philosophy of the Kalam (Cambridge, Mass., 1976); D. B. Macdonald's article "Kalām" in the first edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1934); and Louis Gardet's "ʿIlm al-Kalām" and "Kalām" in the new edition of The Encyclopaedia of Islam (Leiden, 1960-). Louis Gardet's and my Introduction à la théologie muūlmane (1948; 2d ed., Paris, 1970) and W. Montgomery Watt's Islamic Philosophy and Theology, 2d rev. ed. (Edinburgh, 1984), are useful surveys. J. Windrow Sweetman's Islam and Christian Theology, 2 vols. (London, 19421947), and A. S. Tritton's Muslim Theology (1947; reprint, Westport, Conn., 1981) should also be consulted.

Sources in Translation

The works of al-Ashʿarī have been translated by several scholars. Al-ibānah ʿan uūl al-diyānah has been translated and edited by Walter C. Klein as The Elucidation of Islam's Foundation (New Haven, Conn., 1940); The Theology of al-Ashʿarī, edited and translated by Richard J. McCarthy (Beirut, 1953), contains translations of two creeds by al-Ashʿarī; and D. B. Macdonald's Development of Muslim Theology, Jurisprudence and Constitutional Theory (1903; reprint, New York, 1965) contains translations of creeds by al-Ashʿarī as well as al-Ghazālī, Abū af al-Nasafī, and al-Faālī. Ibn Qudāmah's Tarim al-naar fī kutub ahl al-kalām has been edited and translated by George Makdisi as Censure of Speculative Theology (London, 1962). Al-Shahrastānī's Kitāb nihāyat iqdām fī ʿilm al-kalām has been edited and translated by Alfred Guillaume as The Summa Philosophiae of al-Shahrastānī (Oxford, 1934). Al-Taftāzāni's Shar al-ʿaqāʾid al-nasafīyah has been edited and translated by E. E. Elder as A Commentary on the Creed of Islam (New York, 1950).

Critical Studies

An excellent study is A. J. Wensinck's The Muslim Creed: Its Genesis and Historical Development (1932; reprint, New York, 1965), which contains translations of three anafī creeds. Michel Allard's Le problème des attributs divins dans la doctrine d'al-Ašʿarī et de ses premiers grands disciples (Beirut, 1965) is a detailed study of the works and teachings of al-Bāqillānī, al-Baghdādī, al-Bayhaqī, and al-Juwaynī. Also useful are Max Horten's Die philosophischen Systeme der spekulativen Theologen im Islam (Bonn, 1912) and my article, with R. Caspar and M. El-Khodeiri, "Une somme inédite de théologie moʿtazilite: le Moghni du qāī ʿAbd al-Jabbār," in Mélanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Études Orientales 4 (1957): 281316.

For modern developments in India and Pakistan, see Aziz Ahmad's Islamic Modernism in India and Pakistan 18571964 (London, 1967); Syed Ameer Ali's The Spirit of Islam, rev. ed. (London, 1922); A. A. Fyzee's A Modern Approach to Islam (Bombay, 1963); Wilfred Cantwell Smith's Modern Islām in India, rev. ed. (London, 1972); and Christian Troll's Sayyid Ahmad Khan: A Reinterpretation of Muslim Theology (New Delhi, 1978).

Georges C. Anawati (1987)

Translated from French by Richard J. Scott