Introduction to 'Ilm-al-Kalam
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
We shall begin our discussion – and we shall explain later why – with the Mu’tazilah. The emergence of this sect took place during the latter part of the first century or at the beginning of the second. Obviously ‘ilm al-kalam, like any other field of study, developed gradually and slowly attained maturity.
First we shall enumerate the principal Mu’tazilite beliefs, or what is better to say, the basic and salient points of their school of thought. Second, we shall point out the well-known Mu’tazilite figures and speak of their fate in history. Then we shall give an account of the main outlines of the transitions and changes in their thought and beliefs.
The opinions held by the Mu’tazilah are many, and are not confined to the religious matters, or which according to them form an essential part of the faith. They cover a number of physical, social, anthropological and philosophical issues, which are not directly related with the faith. However, there is a certain relevance of these problems to religion, and, in the belief of the Mu’tazilah, any inquiry about the matters of religion is not possible without studying them.
There are five principal doctrines which, according to the Mu’tazilah themselves, constitute their basic tenets:
Tawhid, i.e. absence of plurality and attributes;
Justice (‘adl), i.e. God is just and that He does not oppress His creatures;
Divine retribution (at-wa’d wa al-wa’id), i.e. God has determined a reward for the obedient and a punishment for the disobedient, and there can be no uncertainty about it. Therefore, Divine pardon is only possible if the sinner repents, for forgiveness without repentance (tawbah) is not possible;
Manzilah bayna al-manzilatayn (a position between the two positions). This means that a fasiq (i.e. one who commits one of the “greater sins,” such as a wine imbiber, adulterer, or a liar etc.) is neither a believer (mu’min) nor an infidel (kafir); fisq is an intermediary state between belief and infidelity;
al-‘amr bil ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar [bidding to do what is right and lawful, and forbidding what is wrong and unlawful]. The opinion of the Mu’tazilah about this Islamic duty is, firstly, that the Shari’ah is not the exclusive means of identifying the ma’ruf and the munkar; human reason can, at least partially, independently identify the various kinds of ma’ruf and munkar.
Secondly, the implementation of this duty does not necessitate the presence of the Imam, and is a universal obligation of all Muslims, whether the Imam or leader is present or not. Only some categories of it are the obligation of the Imam or ruler of Muslims, such as, implementation of the punishments (hudud) prescribed by the Shari’ah, guarding of the frontiers of Islamic countries, and other such matters relating to the Islamic government.
Occasionally, the Mu’tazilite mutakallmun have devoted independent volumes to discussion of their five doctrines, such as the famous al-‘Usul al-khamsah of al-Qadi ‘Abd al-Jabbar al-‘Astarabadi (d. 415/ 1025), a Mu’tazilite contemporary of al-Sayyid al-Murtada ‘Alam al-Huda and al-Sahib ibn ‘Abbad (d. 385/995).
As can be noticed, only the principles of tawhid and Justice can be considered as parts of the essential doctrine. The other three principles are only significant because they characterize the Mu’tazilah. Even Divine Justice – although its notion is definitely supported by the Qur’an, and belief in it is a necessary part of the Islamic faith and doctrine – has been made one of the five major doctrines because it characterizes the Mu’tazilah. Or otherwise belief in Divine Knowledge and Power is as much an essential part of the Islamic faith and principal doctrine.
Also in the Shi’ite faith the principle of Divine Justice is considered one of the five essential doctrines. It is natural that the question should arise: what is particular about Divine Justice that it should be counted among the essential doctrines, though justice is only one of the Divine Attributes? Is not God Just in the same manner as He is the Omniscient, the Mighty, the Living, the Perceiver, the Hearer and the Seer? All those Divine Attributes are essential to the faith. Then why justice is given so much prominence among the Divine Attributes?
The answer is that Justice has no advantage over other Attributes. The Shi’ite mutakallimun have specially mentioned justice among the principal Shi’ite doctrines because the Ash’arites – who form the majority of the Ahl al-Sunnah – implicitly deny that it is an Attribute, whereas they do not reject the Attributes of Knowledge, Life, Will, etc. Accordingly, justice is counted among the specific doctrines of the Shi’ah, as also of the Mu’tazilah. The above-mentioned five doctrines constitute the basic position of the Mu’tazilah from the viewpoint of kalam, otherwise, as said before, the Mu’tazilite beliefs are not confined to these five and cover a broad scope ranging from theology, physics and sociology to anthropology, in all of which they hold specific beliefs, a discussion of which lies outside the scope of these lectures.