Version: v1, Published online: 1998
Retrieved March 22, 2023, from https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/islamic-theology/v-1
‘Ilm al-kalam (literally ‘the science of debate’) denotes a discipline of Islamic thought generally referred to as ‘theology’ or (even less accurately) as ‘scholastic theology’. The discipline, which evolved from the political and religious controversies that engulfed the Muslim community in its formative years, deals with interpretations of religious doctrine and the defence of these interpretations by means of discursive arguments.
The rise of kalam came to be closely associated with the Mu‘tazila, a rationalist school that emerged at the beginning of the second century AH (seventh century ad) and rose to prominence in the following century. The failure of the Mu‘tazila to follow up their initial intellectual and political ascendancy by imposing their views as official state doctrine seriously discredited rationalism, leading to a resurgence of traditionalism and later to the emergence of the Ash‘ariyya school, which attempted to present itself as a compromise between the two opposing extremes. The Ash‘arite school gained acceptability within mainstream (Sunni) Islam. However, kalam continued to be condemned, even in this ‘orthodox’ garb, by the dominant traditionally-inclined schools.
In its later stages, kalam attempted to assimilate philosophical themes and questions, but the subtle shift in this direction was not completely successful. The decline of kalam appeared to be irreversible, shunned as it was by traditionalists and rationalists alike. Although kalam texts continued to be discussed and even taught in some form, kalam ceased to be a living science as early as the ninth century AH (fifteenth century ad). Attempts by reformers to revive it, beginning in the nineteenth century, have yet to bear fruit.
El-Affendi, Abdelwahab. Islamic theology, 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-H009-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis, https://www.rep.routledge.com/articles/thematic/islamic-theology/v-1.
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