Prohibition of Studying Works on Speculative Theology

Posted on December 7, 2006. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |


Indeed, all praise is due to Allah who continues to bestow His endless favours upon His creation, religious guidance being the most precious of them. May Allah’s peace and blessings be upon the noblest of Messengers, Muhammad, and all those adhered to his path, until the Day of Resurrection.

This small treatise is amongst the many works of the renowned Hanbali jurist, Muwaffaq al-Din Ibn Qudama al-Maqdisi (d. 620/1223), in defence of the traditional Islamic doctrines, and censure of speculative theology known as ’ilm al-kalam.[1] This particular treatise comes as a violent attack on one of the prominent members of his own school, Abu al-Wafa ’Ali b. ’Aqil (d. 513/1119), who was heavily influenced by the rationalist movement in his formulative years.

[1]‘Ilm al-Kalam refers to the speculative theological approach to God, where God’s existence is affirmed by reason alone. ‘Ilm refers to ‘science’, whereas Kalam refers to ‘Speech’. There is a great dispute over the reason for naming this science, ‘ilm al-kalam, lit. the ‘science of speech’. According to some, it was due to the fact that the science revolved around dogmatic discourse and speech. Yet, others believed that since the most controversial theological issue it resulted in was Allah’s Speech (kalam), the science was thus named; ‘ilm al-kalam. The science of kalam primarily focuses on proving God’s existence using Aristotelian categories. That is by proving that all that exists in the world is either categorised as a substance, or an accident subsisting in a substance. This being the first premise, the second premise states that accidents are not eternal for they come into being from non-existence. The third premise states that anything subject to accident itself is emergent, and therefore not eternal. Based on these premises they ruled that the world in its entirety, since it consists of substances and accidents, is emergent. Having established the temporal nature of the world, they further argued for two more premises to establish the existence of God; i) A temporal existence cannot be tipped into existence or non-existence without a determinant (or a cause), and ii) infinite regress of determinants is rationally absurd, and therefore, the ‘chain-of-command’ must end at the Eternal who brought everything into existence.

The aforementioned thought process resulted in the first rationalist movement, namely Mu’tazilism, clashing with numerous Quranic texts and traditions which, as they viewed, explicitly affirmed ‘accidents’ for God, such as Hearing, Seeing, Speaking, Knowing, Loving and Hating. To the Mu’tazilites, affirming such Attributes for God was rationally absurd, for it necessitated that God Himself is emergent, based on their premise that anything subject to an accident is emergent. To the traditionalist and the orthodox community, rationalism was therefore a heretical movement seeking to discredit the authority of the Quran and the Prophetic traditions, which together, formed the bedrock of Islamic thought and civilisation.

After the Mu’tazili defeat at the hands of the traditionalist movement, headed by Imam Ahmad b. Hanbal, the rationalist cause was championed by the Ash’arites, under the guise of defending traditionalism by utilising the rationalist weaponry – ‘ilm al-kalam. However, despite their intense campaigns to win approval from the wider Sunni community, they largely remained rejected, and by the passage of time, they drifted closer to the Mu’tazila.

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