The position of the Salaf on Speculative Theology – ’ilm al-kalam

Posted on January 6, 2007. Filed under: 202 - Advanced Asma wa Sifaat |

24. We, then, are the authors of excellent exhortations; to us belongs the glory of this world and the next. He who looks into the books which learned men have devoted to the praise of God’s friends, will find mention there only of our kind. When relations of miracles are transmitted, they are transmitted only as proceeding from us; and when a preacher, or any other learned person, wishes to render his exhortation pleasing and embellish it, he does so by relating the lives of some of our ascetics, or the miracles of our devotees, or the portraits of our learned men. And at the mention of our pious, the mercy of God settles upon men, hearts become calm, prayers are answered, and afflictions are removed. What a gifted poet was he who said:

Gone is the predominance of heretical innovators;
Their bond first weakened then failed altogether.
Leagued in rending their union asunder
Was the faction of Iblis who’d first brought them together.
Pray tell, in God’s name, have you, in your innovation,
Some jurisprudent or some Imam worthy of being followed?
Such as Sufyan, the Thawri, it was he
Who first taught men the secrets of piety.
Or Sulayman, the Taymi, it was he
Who, for the fears of the Day of Judgment, shunned sleep.
Have you such as Malik, Imam of the Two Cities?
That Sea of religious knowledge free from contamination.
Or such as Syria’s jurisprudent, its own Awza’i?
Who would succeed against the best of Quranic reciters.
Or such as Islam’s Brave, I mean Ahmad?
There’s religion’s bastion! verily a bastion is impregnable!
He did not fear their whip as they threatened him;
Nay, nor did he fear the gleaming swish of their sword![16]

As for Ibn ’Aqil his faction consists of the partisans of speculative theology (kalam). To speak of them is but to censure them, to caution against them, to inspire with aversion against associating with them, to order abandoning and shunning them, and to abstain from studying their works. Not a single one among them can gain a firm foothold in friendship with God;[17] nor will arty banner of theirs establish itself among the pious; nor will any among them be blessed with a miracle; nor will they see, in the life to come, either their Lord or His highly esteemed friends. They declare the miracles of the pious to be false, and they deny the favours bestowed by God upon His believing servants. They are therefore intensely hated in this world, and they will be tortured in the next. None among them will prosper, nor will he succeed in following the right direction.

26. Imam Ahmad has said: “The partisan of speculative theology (kalam) will never prosper. No one is ever seen who has studied speculative theology, but that there is a corrupt quality to his mind.”[18] And the Imam al-Shafi’i has said: “No one has borne upon his shoulders the mantel of speculative theology and prospered.” He also said: “My judgment with respect to the partisans of speculative theology is that they be smitten with fresh leafless palm branches, that they be paraded among the communities and tribes, and that it be proclaimed: “this is the punishment of him who has deserted the Book and the Sunna, and taken up speculative theology.” “[19] And Abu Yusuf[20] has said: “He who seeks religious knowledge through speculative theology, becomes a zindiq.” And ’Umar b. ’Abd al-Barr has said: “Jurisprudents and traditionists among the inhabitants of all the great camp-cities are agreed that the partisans of speculative theology (kalam) are partisans of heretical innovations and of deviation. They are not generally considered to belong in the ranks of the scholars. The latter consist only of the people of tradition and those engaged in its study.” [21] And Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Maliki[22] has said: “In the opinion of our [Maliki] colleagues, the partisans of erroneous opinions and heretical innovations are the partisans of speculative theology (kalam). Therefore, every speculative theologian belongs to the partisans of erroneous opinions and heretical innovations, be he Ash’arite or not. No testimony of his should be accepted; he should be ostracized, and punished for his heretical innovation; and if he sticks to it, he should be made to retract it.”[23]

27. The censure of the partisans of speculative theology is abundant.[24] Now Ibn ’Aqil is one of the partisans of speculative theology and, as such, defends their system of thought. It is for this reason that we speak against him and mention his faults, on account of his having become one of their members, and urged others to follow their path.

[16] The poem is attributed to Abu Ja’far al-Khawwas
[17] A statement along these lines is also transmitted from one of the legendary Sufis in history, namely Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaylani who was once asked: ‘Can there be a friend of God (wali) on a creed other than that of Ahmad b.Hanbal?’ He replied: ‘There never was, and there never will be!’
[18] Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami’ Bayan al-‘Ilm 2/942, ed. Abu al-Ashbal, Dar Ibn al-Jawzi 1998.
[19] Ibid. 2/941
[20] Ya’qub b. Ibrahim al-Ansari al-Qadhi Abu Yusuf, the closest disciple of Imam Abu Hanifa, from whom he narrated traditions and learned jurisprudence. In spite of being a leading proponent of Ahl al-Ra’i, he was described by Ibn Ma’in as an orthodox traditionist (sahib hadith, sahib sunnah). He is also reported to have said: ‘I belong to both of the groups (jurists and traditionists), and I do not prefer one over the other’. Amongst his other declaration with respect to speculative theology: ‘Do not pray behind the one who says: The Quran is created. None who allows anything of speculative theology shall prosper’, and: ‘The knowledge of disputation and speculative theology is ignorance, and the ignorance of disputation and speculative theology is knowledge’. He died in the year 182 AH. He said on his dying bed: ‘All the verdicts I issued I retract, except that which concurs with the Book and the Sunna’ (al-Dhahabi, Siyar al-A’lam al-Nubula 7/707, Dar al-Fikr 1997)
[21] Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami’ Bayan al-‘Ilm 2/942, ed. Abu al-Ashbal, Dar Ibn al-Jawzi 1998.
[22] Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Ishaq b. Khuayz Mindad, one of the famous Maliki jurists, described as an ardent dictator of the Ash’arite rationalists. He died in approximately 390 AH.
[23] Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, Jami’ Bayan al-‘Ilm 2/943, ed. Abu al-Ashbal, Dar Ibn al-Jawzi 1998.
[24] The traditionalists have compiled many works in censure of speculative theologians (mutakallimun). Amongst them, Abu Abd al-Rahman al-Sulami (d. 412) who wrote Radd ‘ala Ahl al-Kalam; Abu’l-Fadl al-Muqri’ who wrote an epitome of the aforementioned work called Ahadith fi Damm al-Kalam; and perhaps the most famous and voluminous work on the subject by Abu Isma’il ‘Abdullah al-Ansari al-Harawi al-Hanbali (d. 481) known as Dham al-Kalam wa Ahlihi, which has been published several times.

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