Wednesday 25th of May 2022
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Islamic Theology (Elmul-Kalam)

Theology literally is driven from the Greek term 'theos' -God- and 'logy' –science, study- . Theology, therefore, is a systematic study of the fundamental beliefs of a religion.; Thus, Jewish theology, Roman Catholic theology and Islamic theology, etc.

Muslim scholars refer to Islamic theology as 'Elmul-Kalam' which literally means 'the science of rational discourse. (Elm=science, al-Kalam= word)

There are two famous opinions as to why Islamic theology is called 'Elmul-Kalam'. The first is because 'al-Kalam' is the translation of ' logos ' which was the rational dialogue and human reasoning about the cosmos in pre-Socratic philosophy. The second suggestion is that it is called 'al-Kalam' as historically the most controversial theological debate in the 2 nd and 3 rd Islamic centuries, during which this science was developed, was whether the Word of God was created or not?


  • Difference Between Islamic Theology & Islamic Philosophy

The main difference between theology and philosophy is that a theologian believes in something and then endeavours to rationalise his belief to reach out to those who do not share the same belief with him. Whereas, a philosopher is searching for the truth based purely on his sound reasoning without any commitment to his religious texts. Thus, a theologian presents his rationality in accordance to his religious beliefs whereas a philosopher interprets his religious texts according to his rational findings.


  • Types of Islamic Theology

Islamic theology is either textual (Naqli) or rational (Aqli). Textual theology proves the fundamental belief in Islam directly based on the text of the Quran and Ahadith. Rational theology, although it is also committed to the religious texts, does not directly base its arguments on the religious texts. On certain topics however, rational theology becomes more textual such as discussions on 'specific Prophets' and the discussion on the successors of Prophet Muhammad (Imamat).


  • Islamic Theology in the Realm of Sunni & Shi'a Islam

The basis of Islamic doctrine is rooted primarily in the Quran and then the authentic Hadith. Like the Shi'a, the Sunni theology was originally based solely on the narration of the Quran and the Hadith. From the second century onward, however, different schools of thought were emerged in the Sunni schools of thought. The Mu'tazila (those who withdraw or separated themselves) was the Sunni school of theology founded by Wasil bin 'Ata' in the second century (A.H) as a revolution against the traditionalists who did not allow human reason in the development of faith. The Mu'tazila believed that it was necessary to give a rational coherent account of Islamic beliefs. The Mu'tazila school was suppressed throughout the history and majority of the Sunni scholars revolted against it. It was until recent time that some Sunni thinkers such as Ahmad Amin in his book 'Dhuhal-Islam rediscovered the Mu'tazila school and asserted that the demise of Mu'tazilism was a great misfortune. In the coming meetings we will be dealing more with the Mu'tazila doctrine. For further study of Mu'tazila visit this page: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ei/mu-tazila.htm

In early fourth century another school rose called 'Ash'ariyya' - named after its founding thinker, Abul-Hasan al-Ash'ari (died in 324AH)- representing the majority of the Sunni Muslims revolting against the Mu'tazila. The Ash'ari insists that reason must be subordinate to revelation . They regarded the Mu'tazilite doctrine heretical. For further study of Ash'aria doctrine you may visit this page: http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ei/ashari.htm .

The third Sunni school of theology is that of Maturidiyyah. The Maturidiyyah is named after after its founder Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (died in 333 AH) The Maturidiyyah is meant to be the reconciliation between the Ash'ariyya and the Mu'tazila, yet it is more of the advanced version of Ash'ariyya. Along with Ash'ariyyah, Maturidiyyah forms the basis of orthodox Sunni theology. Today nearly 53% of Sunni Muslims are Hanafites in their jurisprudence, and the majority of them are Maturidites in their beliefs. For further study of Maturidiyyah see: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9051462


Shi'a theology is based on the teachings of the Imams of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s). Thus, although it stems from the texts of the Quran and Hadith of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) it does not negate the use of rationality. The Shi'a theology is, therefore, both rational and textual without any contradiction in between. The reason for that is the Hadiths of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) have logically analysed the theological issues and the Imams of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s) have been teaching theology to their students. Hisham bin Hakam, Hisham bin Salem and Mo'men al-Taq were amongst the most famous students of Imam Sadiq (a.s) in theology. Many debates of Imam Sadiq and Imam Redha (a.s) in various theological issues are reported. Among the most celebrated Shi'a theologians we can name al-Sheikh al-Mofid (died in 413 AH), Khaje Nasir al-Din Toosi (died in 672 AH) and al-Allama al-Hilli (died in 726 AH). This course will deal with the main issues in Islamic theology according to the Shi'a doctrine.


  • Shi'a textbooks in theology

The most famous theological text books that are being taught in the Shi'a seminaries include:

al-bab al-Hadi-'Ashar (Chapter eleven) written by al-Allama al-Hilli. It is usually studied with the commentary of Fazel Meqdad (died in 826 AH).

• Tajridul-'Eteqad (Abstraction of belief), written by Khaje Nasir al-Din Tousi. It is usually studied with the commentary of al-Allama al-Hilli known as 'Kashful-Morad' (unveiling of what is meant). This book is the most powerful book in Shi'a theology and still is a text book in the Shi'a seminaries.

Apart from the above two mentioned textbooks, the work of Mulla Mohsin Faydh al-Kashani (died in 1091 AH) called ''Elmul-Yaqeen Fi Usulu-Deen' (Certain knowledge in fundamentals of religion) in two volumes is a very useful text in textual theology.


  • Main Topics in Shi'a Theology
  1. Knowing God : His Existence, His Unity, His Attributes, His Beautiful Names, His Actions, etc.
  2. God's Justice : freewill and determination, fate and destiny, justice in legislation, justice in rewards and punishment, good and evil, Shaytan (Devil), etc.
  3. Prophet-hood: The need for Prophets, characteristics of the Prophets, 'Esmat (divine protection), revelation and the Scriptures, angels and their types and nature ., miracles, the seal of Prophet-hood, etc.
  4. Divine Leadership (Imamat): The need of the Imams, Characteristics of the Imams, differences between the Imams and the Prophets, Proofs of the Imamat, The virtues of Ahlul-Bayt (a.s), the Awaiting Imam, the Return, etc.
  5. Resurrection Day (Ma'ad): the reality of Death, Barzakh , The punishment in the grave, resurrection of the dead, the Day of Judgment, intercession, hell and heaven, pain and pleasure, Characteristics of people of hell and heaven, eternity in hell and heaven.


Modern Theology

In the 20 th century a new branch of theology as a result of modernity and post-modernism emerged in the west that is called 'modern theology' . Modern theology divided Christian theology into two camps of liberalism and conservatism. Liberals see theological statements as symbolic expressions of religious experiences that are essential inward and personal. To them, theology is not concerned with factual statements. A scripture must be read not as factual history but as the record of religious experience. Modern theology is more of the philosophy of religion. Issues such as religious language (hermeneutics) and religious pluralism are some of its most important topics.

I have dealt with the main topics of modern theology in another course called 'Ultimate Questions in Philosophy of Religion."

, The term 'theo' is used in its broader meaning, though the concept and the nature of God in different religions may not be the same.

See, al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtejaj. Vol. 2

'Esmat is usually wrongly translated into infallibility.

The Shi'a theologians usually do not mention discussions about the angels and their types and attributes in their theological texts. This is because believing in the angels is not the objective of the Prophets; it is rather part of believing in Prophet-hood.


1. The term 'theo' is used in its broader meaning, though the concept and the nature of God in different religions may not be the same.
2. See, al-Tabarsi, al-Ihtejaj. Vol. 2
3. 'Esmat is usually wrongly translated into infallibility.
4. The Shi'a theologians usually do not mention discussions about the angels and their types and attributes in their theological texts. This is because believing in the angels is not the objective of the Prophets; it is rather part of believing in Prophet-hood.

Knowing God or Believing in God

In this lesson the most famous theological proofs for the existence of God will be discussed. However, one must bear in mind that the promised rewards are not for those who merely 'know' God. What Islam requires is 'belief in God'. Thus, the Quran is promising Paradise for 'those who believe in God –not those who know God- and do righteous good deeds'. Nonetheless, knowing God is the essential prerequisite for believing in God.


Possibility of Knowing God

If man is absolutely ignorant about something, he cannot acquire any knowledge about it. Hence, man cannot perceive the existence of angels, save through the teachings of religion. The fact that there are debates about the existence of God proves that it is possible for man to understand His existence. This is because although God is not physical, He has showed Himself to us through numerous physical and intellectual signs.


Seeking God (the principle motivations for seeking God)

Why has man been searching for God? Why do we need to know God? What are the motivations for making inquiries about God? In general, there are three motivations for seeking God:

1. Rational Motive: From primitive man to the man of our age, man has always wondered about the magnificence of the world around him. Intrinsically he has been interested to find out about the creator of this artistry.

2. Emotional Motive: As a human, I observe the fascinating life and environment around me. I know I haven't made them myself. A power, instinctually, inside me is telling me to be grateful to the One who has created this fantastic life for me. In order for me to thank Him I ought to know Him first, and hence, I search for Him.

3. Instinctual Motive : Instinctual feelings are those feelings that require no reason. A beautiful landscape, a beautiful and fragrant flower is intrinsically admirable and lovely by all human beings. This is called the sense of beauty which is one of the instinctual transcendental human drives. Tendency towards religion is one of the most powerful human drives. From the Islamic point of view, the mission of the prophets was solely to rub off the dirt of polytheism and infidelity. Their mission was not to prove God, for once the dirt is cleansed the existence of God will be apparent.


Proofs of the Existence of God

In the following we learn some of the most famous theological proofs for the existence of God. Some of these proofs will be more scientific- such as the proof of order and design- while others more rational- such as the proof of cause and effect-. In speaking of the scientific proofs we should underline that we are not speaking of experimental proofs to examine the existence of God in a lab or observatory. God is not physically perceivable and hence science must recognise its limits and its inability to observe God. Science can neither affirm nor deny the existence of God. Having said this, however, we must say that scientific studies of the world enable us-as has enabled many scientists- to find valid reasons and signs for admitting the existence of God.


1. Proof of Order:

In general, there is an order and a common law prevailing the universe. The whole universe is functioning very systematically. Science is established based on this existing natural law. If modern science is correct in saying that the universe began with a big bang, then had the rate of expansion been even fractionally slower or faster, life would not have been developed. The same precise order can be observed in every organism. Such a magnificent order leads us to the following theorem:

P.1: There is a precise order ruling the world.

P.2: Every precise order needs a precise and wise regulator.

C \ The world must have a precise and wise regulator; God.


The Relation Between Order & Knowledge

We can prove the relation between Order and Knowledge in three different ways:

1. Common Sense: Anyone who has common sense will acknowledge that order is the immediate consequence of wisdom and knowledge, whereas, chaos and disorder come from ignorance.

•  Logical Reason: We may be able to prove this relation by logical reasoning too. A well-ordered building requires seven logical relations:

2/1: the type of material used 2/2: quantity 2/3: quality 2/4: shape and size

2/5: harmony among the parts 2/6: the ratio between the parts

2/7: the due place of each part


3. Probability: This is a mathematical proof. Suppose a letter is to be written by chance. Let's calculate the probability of a word which consists of only two letters. Given that the English alphabet consists of 26 letters , if the word, IT is to randomly come up, the probability is 1/676, as a result of 1/26 ´ 1/26. Now, for a random writing of a word which consists of three letters the probability goes up to 17576= (1/26) 3 .


2. Proof of Design

The proof of design is similar to the proof of order except that it focuses on the fact that the universe is fit for human habitation. There are many ways that the universe might have been, it may have had different laws of physics, and it may have had a different arrangement of planets and stars, etc. the result of each would have not made our life possible. The Quran refers man to observe and appreciate numerous examples of design in the universe; the design in nature, in the human body, in rain, in the perfect social system of ants and honeybees, in the heavens above us and the splendour in the land and in the sea, etc. They are Signs for men who reflect (2:164), men who understand (6:98), men who know (6:97), men who think (13: 3), men who believe (6:99) and men who guard themselves against evil (10:6). Imam Sadiq (a.s) in proving the existence of God by the argument of design brings the attention of an atheist called 'Abu-Shaker al-Disani' to the magnificent design in the creation of a chicken egg. For studying the marvellous examples of design in nature we recommend the works of Harun Yahya on www.harunyahya.com The logical conclusion of this proof is that any design needs a designer and hence the universe must have a designer; God.


3. Proof of Movement:

No doubt we are living in the world of dynamics. All different types of matter from the smallest unit to the biggest are all in constant movement. In short, each movement requires at least four things:

1. Origin 2.Destination 3.Mover 4.Moveable

From this we conclude the following:

P1. Movement and changing is the property of the world.

P2. Movement needs a Mover.

C \ The world has a Mover; God.


4. Proof of Cause & Effect:

Instinctively, when we witness certain happenings we ask ourselves what caused them. While you are reading these sentences you have no doubt that they are written by someone. This instinct is called the law of cause and effect. How can we not but ask the same question in regard to the total sum of beings and phenomena which we discover in the world? It was by the law of cause and effect that Newton could establish his theory of universal gravity , just from the falling of an apple. The same law is also applied exactly to the huge galaxies. In fact, the law of cause and effect is the basis of all experimental sciences.

The existence of the world of matter can be related to one of the following premises:

•  The world exists without having any cause.

•  The world exists for it is the cause for itself.

•  The world exists because of its effect.

•  The world exists because of indefinite causes.

•  The world exists because it is related to an Eternal Being.


The law of order invalidates the first assumption.

The second assumption is also invalid, because in order for something to be the reason for itself, it has to precede itself, which in other words means ‘to be and not to be'.

The third assumption is even more ridiculous than the second one.

The fourth is also invalid because its impossible to traverse an infinite series of causes and effects, as it is impossible to count down from infinity to zero, starting form 'infinity minus zero'. Also, modern science has told us about the beginning of the universe. Today the limits and the parameters of the universe are measured. Scientists tell us the definite and consistent age for the universe of 16+/- 3 billion years. Thus, if there is a past the universe cannot be infinite. Moreover, modern science has confirmed the fact mentioned in the Quran (51:47) that the universe is expanding. The expanding universe cannot be infinite. Therefore, the last assumption is the only valid one, i.e. the world exists because it is related to an Eternal Being; God.


Who Created God?

Critics of the argument of cause and effect often try to rebut it by asking who created God? Bertrand Russell in his lecture on 'Why I am not a Christian' says if everything must have cause then God must have a cause too?! The answer to his fallacy is that everything that has a beginning of its existence has a cause. The universe has a beginning of its existence, and hence it has a cause.




5. Proof of Innate:

Concepts, ideas, capabilities and knowledge which we have at birth are 'innate' . The previous proofs were rational while this one is more innate and experimental. As a matter of fact, the proofs on the existence of God are numerous.

Based on this proof, man innately believes in a Mighty and Perpetual Being who is able to help him in the hardships and disasters of life. This is an innate conception of God. Although many examples can be cited proving the innate belief in God, the following are the major ones:

1. Historical facts : The history of human beings has always coincided with a religious belief. Although this belief has at times been mixed with superstitions, it has never been without a religious belief. This is the best example that believing in a Transcendental Being is innate in humans.

•  The fourth sense : Modern Psychiatrists have divided man's innate drives into four: the sense of knowing, the sense of beauty, the sense of kindness, and the sense of being religious.

Einstein in his article ‘The World as I See it' which is published in his collection of ‘Ideas & Opinion' has spoken about this sense of religiousness.

3. The failure of anti-religious propaganda : The history of mankind has never presented such a harsh attack on religion as it has recorded in the early 20 th Century. Marxism was one of the results of this campaign. The expression of Nietzsche in his book ‘Thus Spake Zarathustra' is well known that ‘gott ist tot'; ‘god is dead I myself buried him.' With the burial of Marxism in the rubbish bin of history, all their theories also are buried.

4. Personal experience. When catastrophes strike, when man loses all his worldly aid and hope, at the time of absolute desperation, an inner sense of knowing God arises. It is in that moment that man hopes in a supernatural being whose intervention rescues him. The Quran has referred man to this proof in various instances. For example see: 10: 22,23, 29:65, 31:32 The proof of innate is also used by Imam Sadiq (a.s) to prove the existence of God.


Instinct is a fixed pattern of action or emotion which is essentially unlearned, such as reproduction.

In this calculation, I did not count the lower and upper case letters, or the probability will be more.

Al-Sheikh al-Sadooq, al-Touhid, p.292

The above argument is a theological approach; in 'chapter 10 of Philosophy of Religion' I have argued that even if the universe is not finite it still needs a Creator, as the needs for a cause is not only the finite of the universe.

Note that seeking refuge to God when in danger does not mean that fear is the cause for religious belief.

Einstein. A., Ideas & Opinion. p.11.

Al-Majlesi, Beharul-Anwaar, vol.67 p.137

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