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ʿIlm al-Kalām (Arabic: علم الكلام‎, literally the study of "speech" or "words"[1]) is the Islamic philosophical discipline of seeking theological principles through dialectic. Kalām in Islamic practice relates to the discipline of seeking theological knowledge through debate and argument. A scholar of kalām is referred to as a mutakallim (plural mutakallimiin). There are many possible interpretations as to why this discipline was originally called "kalām"; one is that the widest controversy in this discipline has been about whether the Word of God, as revealed in the Qur'an, can be considered part of God's essence and therefore not created, or whether it was made into words in the normal sense of speech, and is therefore created.

Kalām cosmological argument

The Kalām cosmological argument is a variation of the cosmological argument that argues for the existence of a first cause for the universe, and the existence of a god. Its origins can be traced to medieval Jewish, Christian and Muslim thinkers, but most directly to Islamic theologians of the Kalām tradition.[2] Its historic proponents include Al-Kindi,[3] Saadia Gaon,[4] Al-Ghazali,[5] and St. Bonaventure.[6] William Lane Craig revived interest in the Kalām cosmological argument with his 1979 publication of a book of the same name.[7][8]

The classical argument, as formulated by Al-Ghazali, is as follows:

  1. Everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause of its existence;
  2. The universe has a beginning of its existence;
  3. The universe has a cause of its existence.[9]


Throughout history, the place of kalam in Islamic thought has been controversial. The vast majority of the early traditional Sunni Muslim scholars have either criticized or prohibited it. Abu Hanifa prohibited his students from engaging in kalam, stating that those who practice it are of the "retarded ones".[10] Malik ibn Anas referred to kalam in the Islamic religion as being "detested",[11] and that whoever "seeks the religion through kalam will deviate".[12] In addition, Shafi'i said that no knowledge of Islam can be gained from books of kalam, as kalam "is not from knowledge"[13][14] and that "It is better for a man to spend his whole life doing whatever Allah has prohibited - besides shirk with Allah—rather than spending his whole life involved in kalam".[15] Ahmad ibn Hanbal also spoke strongly against kalam, stating his view that no one looks into kalam unless there is "corruption in his heart",[16] and even went so far as to prohibit sitting with people practicing kalam even if they were defending the Sunnah,[17] and instructing his students to warn against any person they saw practicing kalam.[18] Today, criticism of kalam also comes from the Salafi movement.

Modern day proponents of kalam such as Nuh Ha Mim Keller, a Sheikh in the Shadili Sufi Order, hold that the criticism of kalam from early scholars was specific to the Mu'tazila, going on to claim that other historical Muslim scholars such as Al-Ghazali and An-Nawawi saw both good and bad in kalam and cautioned from the speculative excess of unorthodox groups such as the Mu'tazilah and Jahmites.[19] As Nuh Ha Mim Keller states in his article "Kalam and Islam":

"What has been forgotten today however by critics who would use the words of earlier Imams to condemn all kalam, is that these criticisms were directed against its having become 'speculative theology' at the hands of latter-day authors. Whoever believes they were directed against the `aqida or "personal theology" of basic tenets of faith, or the 'discursive theology' of rational kalam arguments against heresy is someone who either does not understand the critics or else is quoting them disingenuously."[19]

Major Kalam schools

  • Ash'ari
  • Imami
  • Maturidi
  • Murji'ah
  • Mu'tazili

See also


  1. Wolfson, Harry Austryn (1976). "The Philosophy of the Kalam". (via Google Books) 1. Harvard University Press. Retrieved on May 1, 2011.
  2. Craig 1994: 80
  3. Al-Kindi, On First Philosophy, with an Introduction and Commentary by Alfred L. Ivry (Albany, N. Y.: State University of New York Press, 1974), pp. 67–75
  4. Saadia Gaon, The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. Samuel Rosenblatt (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1948), pp. 41–44
  5. al Ghazali, Kitab al lqtisad, with a foreword by Î. A. Çubukçu and H. Atay (Ankara: University of Ankara Press, 1962), pp. 15–16.
  6. Francis J. Kovach, 'The Question of the Eternity of the World in St. Bonaventure and St. Thomas – A Critical Analysis', Southwestern Journal of Philosophy 5 (1974), pp. 141–172.
  7. Smith, Quentin (2007). "Kalam Cosmological Arguments for Atheism", The Cambridge companion to atheism. Cambridge University Press, 183. ISBN 978-0-521-84270-9. 
  8. Craig, William Lane; The Kalam Cosmological Argument (Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Publishers, 2000); ISBN 978-1-57910-438-2
  9. Nasr, trans. Seyyed Hossein, An introduction to Islamic cosmological doctrines. Albany : State University of New York Press, 1993
  10. al-Makkee, Manaaqib Abee Haneefah, pg. 183-184
  11. Dhammul-Kalaam (B/194)
  12. Dhammul-Kalaam (Q/173/A)
  13. Dhammul-Kalaam (Q/213)
  14. Dhahabi, as-Siyar (10/30)
  15. Ibn Abi Hatim, Manaaqibush-Shaafi'ee, pg. 182
  16. Jaami' Bayaanul-'Ilm wa Fadlihi (2/95)
  17. Manaaqibul-Imaam Ahmad, pg. 205
  18. Ibn Battah, al-Ibaanah (2/540)
  19. 19.0 19.1

External links