Kalam Used in Theological Refutation

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The view that the early Muslims, as-Salaf, refrained from engaging theological questions and opposed it is an innovation, bid’ah, of unsound basis.  We can provide examples to support this, including the narration of Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) from Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal (r.a.), who, in his work ar-Radd ‘ala az-Zanadiqah wa al-Jahmiyyah, engaged in certain interpretations against what the Zanadiqah and Jahmiyyah doubted regarding the ambiguous elements of the Qur’an; and he then addressed their meaning, as is further narrated by Imam al-Bayhaqi (r.a.).  This is similar to what we regard as the right position, that is, kalam as the attempt to posit solutions or repudiations to theological problems posed.  Of course, these attempts are delimited by authentically-narrated articles of creed indicating what Allah (s.w.t.) has Offered human knowledge in its limits of understanding.

This true position is confirmed by Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.): “Engaging the discipline of kalam is permissible when verifying truth and invalidating falsehood, and otherwise when not engaged in the aim of arguing with empty proofs or expounding false positions.”  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) also said, “The early as-Salaf and the a’immah did not find kalam objectionable in itself for the terminology it employs such as the terms essence, accident, body,” referring to jawhar, ‘arad and jism respectively, “or otherwise, but because the meanings that they express in their formulation open themselves to false, reprehensible aspects in the proofs and determinations offered.  They are not forbidden, because these words combine together meanings both of denial and affirmation.”

He continued, “So if you have familiarised yourself with the meanings they intend, for instance in these expressions, and assess them with the Qur’an and sunnah such that their truth is affirmed, and that falsehood denied which the Qur’an and sunnah deny, then engage them freely.”

Imam al-Ghazali (r.a.) relied on a similar method in considering the unveiling of the Sufis, and thereby established all of that which is true.  Shaykh ibn Taymiyyah (r.a.) proceeded from this assessment in many topics of kalam.  For instance, the relation between existence and the existent, or the conjunction of Divine Power and Determination with human free will in the third part of his Majmu‘ al-Fatawa.


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