Lesson Two: Scholastic theology, a definition

It suffices to say that scholastic theology is a science that is concerned with studying the fundamentals of Islamic faith. In other words, it aims to clearly segregate the matters that relate to the fundamentals of religion, proving their veracity with demonstrative proofs and responding to scepticism and baseless arguments levelled against them.

In books that deal with logical and philosophical issues, there is a reference to the fact that for each and every science there is a special subject and that what sets any science apart from the other and makes it different is the uniqueness of the subject it discusses.

Of course, this is true. The sciences whose topics have realistic unity fit this description. However, there can be other sciences, whose topics are numerous, yet subjective, provided that there is a common goal to be served, which is the reason for such unity and subjectivity (I’itibar )

Scholastic theology is of the second type, in that the unity of its issues is not intrinsic and qualitative but a subjective one. Thus, it is not essential to look for one subject for the science ofkalaam (scholastic theology).

As for the sciences, whose subject matter can demonstrate a fundamental unity, there will not be a possibility of interlocking of their ingredients, i.e. interdependent co-existence. On the other hand, for sciences whose unities are subjective, there can be no harm if their issues intersect another science the unity of whose subject matter is central. This is the reason for the science ofkalaam having something in common with philosophy, psychology or sociology.

Some scholars tried to come up with a subject and a definition for the science ofkalaam , like those for philosophy. They advanced a number of theories in this regard. This is wrong. Having a unity of subject concerns the sciences that can demonstrate a natural unity of issues. Conversely, any science that lacks this intrinsic unity, in other words, it is subjective, there cannot be a single subject for it.

The name

There had been a debate concerning the name given to this science, i.e. why is it calledkalaam ? When was it given this name? Some attributed this name to the stature it gives the one who is familiar with it, in that he grows in stature the more he is involved in debate, or speech (kalaam ) and in reaching rational conclusions. Others say that the name was derived from the introductory phrase “Debating, or speaking of, this, or that issue..” scholastic theologians (mutakalimeen) used to start their writings or deliberations with. A third party said that it was named the science ofkalaam because it involves “debating, talking about, or discussing”, the issues the traditionists, or scholars of tradition, (ahlul hadith ) prefer to keep “quiet” about. A fourth group are of the opinion that the name can be traced back to the discussion in the context of this science about “God’s speech -kalaam ”, which led to untold conflict and killings; that is why that period was branded “the age of tribulation”, in that people of that time overindulged in argument and polemics about religious fundamentals and on whether God’s speech was eternal or created.

Schools of scholastic theology

As there was disagreement between Muslims on juridical issues and the branches of religion, ending in the setting up of different schools of thought, such as Jafari’ite, Zaidite, Hanafite, Shafi’ite, and Hanbali’ite, there was disagreement between them over doctrinal matters. Each group had adopted special principles. The most important amongkalaam (scholastic theology) schools of thought are Shiite, Mu’atazilite, Ash’arite, and Murji’ite.

At this juncture, a question, tinged with regret, may be posed about the disunity of Muslims over juridical and scholastic theology issues. Their differences inkalaam have given rise to their disunity in Islamic thought. Their differences over juridical matters have deprived them of the ability to show a united front in action.

Although posing the question and expressing regret are legitimate, yet the attention must be drawn to these two points:

  1. The differences between Muslims over these issues are not so acute that they may shake the foundations of their doctrinal unity and joint programmes. The things they have in common are so many that they render the issues they disagree over insignificant.

  2. Ideological and theoretical differences in a society that still demonstrate common ideological fundamentals are inevitable. So long as the differences stem from the same premises and principles and are a result of the different approaches to deduction, without compromising the main objects and aims, such differences are beneficial, in that they enhance research and scholarship. However, should these differences turn into entrenched positions, bigotry, and irrational inclinations, and the individual effort becomes obsessed with degrading others, without a real attempt to reform the approach, it would lead to disastrous results. The Shia (Shi’ite) school of thought makes it obligatory on themukallaf [compos mentis: The person obligated to observe the precepts of religion] to follow a living jurist (mujtahid). For their part, the jurists must exert themselves, through scholarship, to arrive at independent judgements, being vigilant as not to fall under the sway of the legal opinions of bygone generations of jurists and great personas. This ijtihad [lit. exertion: the process of arriving at judgements on points of religious law, using reason and the principles of jurisprudence “usul al-fiqh”] and independent thinking would inevitably cause difference in opinion. However, this particular issue is responsible for giving the Shia jurisprudence the extra edge, survival, and continuity. In its general outlines, difference is not a bad thing. What is condemnable is that difference resulting from ill intentions and evil ulterior motives of those who seek to sow discord among Muslims. Questions such as exploring the history of Islamic thought and the differences that came to the fore as a result of ill intentions and prejudice, the differences of opinion that emanated from rational thinking, and whether or not we should consider all issues ofkalaam as fundamental and juridical issues as peripheral are outside the scope of these lessons. Before starting to discuss the schools ofkalaam , we have to allude to the fact that a group of Muslim scholars were diametrically opposed to embarking onkalaam or rational study in the questions of fundamentals of religion. They branded this type of scholarship

an impermissible deed and a heresy, or innovation (bida’a ). This group is known as “ahlul hadith ”, or the proponents (scholars) ofhadith (tradition). On top of the list of outstanding scholars of this group was Ahmed bin Hanbal [d.245/833], the founder of the Hambalite Sunni juridical school of thought. The Hanbalites are archenemies of any sort ofkalaam , be it Mu’tazilite or Asha’rite, let alone Shiite. They are also known for their contraposition on philosophy and logic. The Hanbalite, Ibn Taymiyyah [d.728/1327], the well-known jurist passed a fatwa (edict) forbidding the involvement in scholastic theology (kalaam ) and logic (mantiq). Jalaluddin as-Suyuti, another member ofahlul hadith wrote a book entitled, “Sawn al-Mantiq wal kalaam an al-Mantiq wal kalaam ”, i.e. the “preservation of logic and speech from the encroachments of the sciences of logic and scholastic theology”. Malik bin Anas [d.179/795], the founder of the Malikite School of Thought, did not license any research into doctrinal issues. As we have already mentioned, the most important schools of scholastic theology are the Shiite, Mu’atazilite, Ash’arite, and Murji’ite. Some scholars considered the Kahrijite, and the Ismaelite among the schools of Islamic scholastic theology. However, we do not consider them as such. The Kahrijites have espoused a special brand of beliefs in the fundamentals of religion. Maybe, they were the first ones to do so. They have talked about some beliefs in the context of imamate, deeming those who reject it asfasiq (godless), whom they have branded unbeliever. Yet, (a) they did not establish an ideological school capable of deducing legal opinion; in other words, they did not set up an ideological system in the world of Islam; and (b) in our opinion, as Shia Muslims, their deviant ideological opinions have reached a proportion that they are considered outside the pale of Islam. However, this has made things palatable, in that the Khrijites have almost died out, except for a tolerant faction of them, i.e. the Abadhi’ites. The survival of the group is attributed to the broad-mindedness of its members. As for the Batinites (secretive), i.e. the Ismaelites, they have introduced so many unsavoury innovations into Islamic thought that it can be said that they left Islam in a state of topsy-turvy. For this reason, Muslims are not prepared to consider them as one of them any more. Some forty years ago, the Group for Rapprochement between Islamic Schools of Thought was established in Cairo, Egypt. The founding fathers were Twelver and Zaidite Shia, Hanafi’ites, Shafi’ites, Malikites, and Hanbalites. The Ismaelites tried very hard to be represented, but all Muslims gave them the cold shoulder. However, despite their apparent deviation from the right path, the Ismaelites, unlike the Kharijites – who did not have a distinct school of thought, have a school of thought, featuring scholastic theology and philosophy. Over the ages, famous intellectuals had emerged from their ranks, leaving behind an ideological heritage. Of late, the orientalists have shown keen interest in their opinions and books. Among the towering figures of the Ismaelites is Nassir Khisro al-Alawi, the Farsi famous poet (d. 841 H.). His known books are, Jami’ul Hukmain (the Compendium of the Two Rules), Wajhuddin (the Face of Religion), and Khawan (sic) Ikhwan (the Brothers). Abu Hatim ar-Razi (d. 332 H.), the author of A’alamun Nubbuwwah (The Beacons of Prophethood), is another great Ismaelite

figure. Another one is Abu Ya’qoub as-Sajistani (d. circa second half of the fourthHijri century), the author of Kashful Mahjoub (Unveiling the Concealed); the Farsi translation of this book was printed some ten years ago. Also, among other famous personalities of the Ismaelites is Hamiduddin al-Kirmani, the student of Abu Ya’qoub as-Sajistani. He was a prolific writer on the tenets of the Ismaelites. Abu Hanifa an-Nu’man bin Tahbit, known as Judge Nu’man and widely known as well by Abu Hanifa ash-Shii, i.e. the Ismaeli Shiite, [to differentiate him from the founder of the Sunni School of Thought, the Hanifi’ite ]. He undertook credible and good research in jurisprudence andhadith . His book, Da’a’imul Islam (the Pillars of Islam) is in circulation.