Explaining Kalam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

In the linguistic sense, “kalam”. “speech”, denotes a word indicating a certain meaning.  In its technical sense, “kalam” denotes the theoretical consideration of matters of religious creed, or theology.  Imam ibn Khaldun (r.a.) said, “It is the discipline comprised of disputation over creedal beliefs with rational proofs.”

Imam al-‘Ayhi (r.a.) said, “Kalam is the discipline that enables one to affirm creedal beliefs by amassing arguments and repelling doubt.”  Imam al-‘Ayhi (r.a.) recorded four types of etymologies for the name of the discipline, respectively claiming it is so called because of its linguistic sense of speech, kalam, yielding dialectical debate, al-jadal, which is the primary tool of the discipline, much like logic is the primary instrument or bulk of philosophy; its chapter-headings, which were first titled, “al-Kalam on such-and-such;” its paradigmatic topic of the Speech, Kalam, of Allah (s.w.t.), meaning the Qur’an, which raised ancillary questions to such profusion that the discipline itself came to be named after the topic; and the fact that it enabled adversarial discourse, al-kalam, in religious matters.

Kalam gained different names corresponding to the theoretical perspective taken.  As Imam at-Tahanawi (r.a.) and Imam ath-Thahawi (r.a.) variously noted, it is also known as the science of the foundations of religion, uswul ad-din, and the science of theoretical consideration and deduction, ‘ilm an-nadzr wa al-istidlal; Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) famously called it the greatest jurisprudence, al-fiqh al-akbar.  The preferred name is the discipline of unity, ‘ilm at-tawhid, in that it explained, on a Qur’anic basis, the relation between the axis of existence, Allah (s.w.t.), humanity and the cosmos with reference to the two concepts of Divinely-Appointed Successorship, istikhlaf, and subservience, taskhir.  Imam at-Taftazani (r.a.) said the discipline related to derivative or inferential matters is called the science of rulings, ‘ilm al-ahkam; and the discipline related to first principles or creedal matters is called the science of Divine Unity and Attributism ‘ilm at-tawhid wa asw-swifat.


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