The ʿAqidah of the Salaf and the safe position in ʿIlm al-Kalam

(From the discourses of Hakim al-Ummah Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi,

after Jumu‘ah prayer, 21st Ramadan 1348 AH)

Translated by Mawlana Ibrahim Muhammad Amin


[Hakim al-Ummat Mawlana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanawi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him)] said:

‘Whatever the scholars of kalam have said regarding the Being and Attributes of the Divine is, in reality, only a defence from the errors of the People of Innovation and Atheism.  It should only be restricted to what is known in academic nomenclature as manaʿ (theoretical probability). This would mean that if such and such a condition is found, this result is probable or feasible, and not impossible. It can never mean that in actual reality, it is exactly so in the Knowledge of the Divine.

What transpired, however, is that later scholastic theologians (mutakallimun) became definers of religion, instead of remaining its defenders, and gave their theoretical probabilities the name of Islamic creed.

Let us understand this through an example of an important issue discussed in ʿIlm al-Kalam. The theologians have suggested that a body (jism) is composed of indivisible atomic particles (Atomism) as opposed to the philosophers’ suggestion that it is composed of Hyle (substance – hayula in Arabic) and form (sura).

This was necessary because if a body was assumed to be a composite of Hyle and forms according to the classification of the philosophers, it would necessitate the eternality (qidam) of all bodies. To avoid this, the theologians presented an alternate view that it is equally possible that bodies are composed of indivisible atoms.[1]

Had this probability been kept at that only (i.e. a probability), there would not have been a problem. But, the later theologians began presenting this as though it was a part of Islamic creed. Creedal matters can only be established through incontrovertible proofs, which are substantially lacking in this instance.’

Hadrat (may Allah shower His mercy upon him) further added: ‘That is why I say that ʿIlm al-Kalam should be restricted to defence from erroneous ideologies and the technical manaʿ (theoretical probability). And, ʿAqa’id (creed) should be kept free from such intricacies, following the example of the righteous predecessors.’

Majalis-e-Hakim al-Ummat, p. 178-179 (Karachi: Darul Isha‘at) compiled by Mawlana Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani 

[1]               Of general interest: According to Shah Wali Allah Dehlawi (may Allah shower His mercy upon him), the contention of the philosophers, that a body composed of Hyle and form will be eternal is itself fallacious, and therefore, there is no need to postulate the theory of ajza’ la yatajazza’ (that bodies are composed of indivisible atoms) (translators’ note).