Introduction to 'Ilm-al-Kalam
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
1. The Beginnings of Kalam
Though nothing definite can be said about the beginnings of ‘ilm al-kalam among Muslims, what is certain is that discussion of some of the problems of kalam, such as the issue of predestination (jabr) and free will (ikhtiyar), and that of Divine Justice, became current among Muslims during the first half of the second century of Hijrah. Perhaps the first formal centre of such discussions was the circle of al-Hasan al-Basri (d. 110/728-29). Among the Muslim personalities of the latter half of the first century, the names of Ma’bad al-Juhani (d. 80/ 699) and Ghaylan ibn Muslim al-Dimashqi (d. 105/723) have been mentioned, who adamantly defended the ideas of free will (ikhtiyar) and man’s freedom. There were others who opposed them and supported predestination (jabr). The believers in free will were called “qadariyyah” and their opponents were known as “jabriyyah”.
Gradually the points of difference between the two groups extended to a series of other issues in theology, physics, sociology and other problems relating to man and the Resurrection, of which the problem of jabr and ikhtiyar was only one. During this period, the “qadariyyah” came to be called “Mu’tazilah” and the “jabriyyah” became known as “Asha’irah “. The Orientalists and their followers insist on considering the beginnings of discursive discussions in the Islamic world from this point or it’s like.
However, the truth is that rational argumentation about Islamic doctrines starts with the Holy Qur’an itself, and has been followed up in the utterances of the Holy Prophet (S) and especially in the sermons of Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (A). This despite is the fact that their style and approach are different from those of the Muslim mutakallimun. 1
Inquiry or Imitation?
The Holy Qur’an has laid the foundation of faith and belief on thought and reasoning. Throughout, the Qur’an insists that men should attain faith through the agency of thought. In the view of the Qur’an, intellectual servitude is not sufficient for believing and understanding its basic doctrines. Accordingly, one should take up a rational inquiry of the basic principles and doctrines of the faith. For example, the belief that God is One, should be arrived at rationally. The same is true of the prophethood of Muhammad (S). This requirement resulted in the establishment of ‘ilm al-‘usul during the first century.
There were many reasons which led to the unprecedented realization of the necessity for the study of the fundamentals of the Islamic faith amongst Muslims and the task of defending them, a realization which led to the emergence of prominent mutakallimun during the second, third, and fourth centuries. These were: embracing of Islam by various nations who brought with them a series of (alien) ideas and notions; mixing and coexistence of the Muslims with people of various religions, such as, the Jews, the Christians, the Magians, and the Sabaeans, and the ensuing religious debates and disputes between the Muslims and those peoples; the emergence of the Zanadiqah 2 in the Islamic world – who were totally against religion – as a result of the general freedom during the rule of the ‘Abbasid Caliphs (as long as it did not interfere in the matters of state politics); the birth of philosophy in the Muslim world – which by itself gave birth to doubts and skeptical attitudes.