ʿIlm al-Kalām is a branch of study on Islamic beliefs.  Like any other branch of Islamic knowledge, ʿIlm al-Kalām did not develop into a separate branch of knowledge during the time of the Prophets and their Companions.  Later,  socio-political circumstances forced Muslim scholars to develop this into  an independent branch of knowledge.

ʿIlm al-Kalām, based on the Qur’an and the ways of prophets, remained intact even after confronting widespread philosophies. ʿIlm al-Kalām was able to give a clear sense of direction to Islamic philosophy and paved the way for moving forward without deviating from propriety.  Let us briefly get acquainted with the vast history of ʿIlm al-Kalām. 

The history of ʿIlm al-Kalām to date can be divided into five periods. 

1. Origin (AH first and second centuries)

2. Accumulation phase (AH second to fifth century) 

3. Philosophical fusion (AH Sixth to ninth)

4. Stagnation (AH tenth to twelth century ) 

5. Modern Times (Dr. Hasan Shafi, Al Madqal Ila Ilmil Kalam) 


The first is the period of origin of Ilmul Kalam.  There have been discussions and debates on matters of faith since the time of the Prophet’s companions.  The Kharijites and their arguments and the Companions’ defense of it are all examples of this.  Even though apart from the Kharijites, other sects, including the Shiites, entered the scene in the first two centuries itself, they were not systematic. These sects were separated by differences of opinion on certain matters, such as the fate of the polytheists, the belief in predestination, and the Imamah.

2- Consolidation 

After the AH second century, such groups evolved into sects with their own existence, basic principles, and systematic leadership.  Many groups that did not exist in the early days emerged.  They began gain influence in the socio-cultural spheres of the Muslim world.  Thoughts such as Hanbali, Hashaviyyat, Ash’ariyyah, Mathuridiyyah and Mu’tazilah are some sects emerged during this period. 

Penmanship was active in this field because of its systematic fundamental principles and leaders.  From books that discuss only matters of faith to books that read and explain the Qur’an and Hadith from their own perspectives were written. 

3- Integration with  philosophies 

  The period from AH six is ​​of special importance in the history of ʿIlm al-Kalām.  It was a time of significant change occurrence from topics of discussion to methodology.  That is why the works of the scholars of this period are specially distinguished as Kalamul Mutaakhirin (ʿIlm al-Kalām of the later scholars).

This was a time of great change not only in ʿIlm al-Kalām but also in the Islamic world in general. The philosophical invasion that pervaded society as a whole led the public to look at matters of faith with suspicion.  Realizing this, Ilmulkalam scholars separated the rice and wheat of philosophy and started a philosophical tradition within the Islamic framework.  

Thus, the ʿIlm al-Kalām texts of the time became works that discussed philosophical issues beyond the discussions of faith.  Scholars of the time were able to critically confront many of the issues raised by Greek philosophers and to explain them from the perspective of Islam.  Due to the great services of Ash’ari scholars, including Imam Razi and Ghazali, the seeds of unbelief that were sprouting in the Islamic world were nipped in the bud.

4- Stagnation 

The era from AH ten to twelve were mainly focused on giving explanations and notes to existing texts rather than bringing in new writings and discussions. It must be said that the political invasion and cultural invasion of the Islamic world by the European powers destroyed the Islamic world politically and intellectually.  The social conditions of the time affected Ilmul Kalam as well as other branches of knowledge.  

It is during this time that the connection between Tasawwuf and Ilmul Kalam became even stronger.  Ilmul Kalam, Philosophy and Tasawwuf could be seen intertwined in the works of personalities like Mulla Sadra and Damad.

5 – Modern Times 

Modernity generally dates back to the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.  However, it was not until the eighteenth century that the waves of modernity reached the Islamic world.  The secular rational thoughts espoused by European thinkers gave way to new intellectual discussions in the Islamic world.  

Some scholars from the Muslims went back to the old Mu’tazilite way of enlightenment and placed too much emphasis on intellectual trade.  As a result, various movements like the Qur’an-Only Movement emerged in the Muslim world. 

Muslim scholars have viewed and written about various debates that are by-products of modernity from an Islamic viewpoint.  Scholars have sought to explain Islam’s position on secularism, women’s emancipation, democracy, liberation theology, human rights, free thought and its boundaries 

In short, ʿIlm al-Kalām is the methodological formulation of Islamic thought. ʿIlm al-Kalām, which has evolved over time to its challenges, still shines in its original form.

By Isam Abdul Azeez*