Faith in Islam: Theology (kalam) and Faith (iman)
General Remarks About Islamic Faith and Practice
Introduction to Faith and
Schools of Dogmatic Theology (kalam)
Mu'tazili School of Theology
Ash'ari School of Theology
Maturidi School of Theology
Miscellaneous Theology Links
General Introduction to Islamic Faith and Practice The
basis of faith in Islam is simple: There is no god but God and Muhammad is the
Messenger of God (la ilaha ill Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah).
But what is God? Muslims believe that God is both transcendent (beyond
existence and description, an Arabic term indicating such transcendence being
and immanent (present, an Arabic term for which is tashbih). To further
elaborate on this, Muslims
believe that God has many qualities and names, one of the most significant of
Allah, a word in Arabic signifying God for both Muslim and Christian Arabs. For
Muslim thinkers, the name Allah signifies God's comprehensiveness, God's
all-inclusiveness. Another name of God, one that is more particular, is al-Khaliq
(the creator). Thus Muslims believe that God is the
ultimate creator of existence. After creating existence, Muslims believe that God does
leave the creation without guidance. Hence there are signs of God and guidance from God
in existence. In addition to these signs that are embedded in existence,
God periodically revealed wisdom to prophets, wisdom which in some cases was in verbal
form and which has become known as sacred scripture. Muslims believe that the last of
the prophets was Muhammad. The revealed wisdom, or revelation, given to him is the
Qur'an. The purpose of revelation is to enable humans both to devote themselves to God
lead lives and construct societies that will increase their closeness to God in this
world and for all eternity. For Muslims, revelation, God's grace, the human
intellect, and the human
capacity to choose to
follow devotedly God's revelation are sufficient to enable people to become close to God,
eternally. Hence in Islam, like traditional Judaism, Islamic practice in harmony with
God's revelation is emphasized as being the key to salvation. Unlike in Judaism, however,
Muslims believe that the
Qur'an is the form of revelation that can be relied on today, in contrast to the Bible,
which Muslims believe has been subject to human influence. Western scholars of Islam
have noted that Muslims, like Christians, emphasize the significance of correct belief.
unlike Christians, Muslims believe that God's revelation, God's grace, and human
intelligence and effort
is what saves, although Muslims do revere Jesus as a prophet.
See my webpage: Summary of the Similarities and Differences
Christianity Concerning Jesus. Needless to say, to the degree that Muslims do not
use their intelligence, devotion, and will to correctly understand and follow God's
guidance, they believe that their
closeness to God will be endangered.
Introduction to Faith and Doctrine in Islam
The basis of Islamic doctrine is rooted in the Qur'an. See Doctrines
of the Qur'an (scroll down and click, but note that you must either get a
temporary but free subscription or log in from a library that has a
in the Encyclopaedia Britannica by the esteemed Muslim scholar Fazlur
Rahman, formerly a professor of Islamic Studies at the University of
Chicago. This articles covers
Qur'anic statements on God, the universe, man, Satan (along with sin and
repentance), prophecy, and eschatology. (Link fixed, February 11, 2004.)
Just as Muhammad delineated the five main components of Islamic practice,
"the five pillars of Islam," in the well-known hadith
involving Gabriel (link fixed 14 March, 2006), in which Gabriel asked the Prophet (and thereby
indirectly taught the Muslims) about the various dimensions of religion
(din), in the same hadith Muhammad clarifed six primary objects
of faith: God (Allah), angels, sacred scriptures, prophets, the
Day of Judgement, and [the divine origin of] the "measuring out" [which
results in created existence, irrespective of whether or not that which
comes into existence is good or evil]. Each of these is elaborated under
the heading "Articles of Faith" on the web page Introduction
to the Articles [of Faith] and Pillars of Islam.
in Islam is a particularly useful
compilation of excerpts from Professor Sachiko Murata's chapter
"Angels" in the volume Islamic Spirituality, edited by Seyyed
Hossein Nasr (link fixed 14 March, 2006).
Muslim scholars have gone far beyond the rudiments of faith sketched
out above. They developed an entire discipline of study called
(faith, belief), which consists of the study of the orthodox beliefs that
Muslims should have. Prior to (and during) the development of the three
most important Sunni theological schools (the Mu'tazili, Ash'ari, and Maturidi
schools), individual scholars developed various credal statement. Two such
statements of 'aqidah are those of Abu Hanifa and Tahawi.
(link fixed 17 August 2005, Sept. 9, 2009) of
Imam Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767) Although he is usually known as the founder
of one of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Hanafi madh'hab), Abu
Hanifa is the source for this link, which is an early expression of Sunni
theology (especially Murji'ite principles) and emphasizes the following
ideas: 1) the community of the Muslims,
2) the sunna (the path of the majority who avoid extremes) as the
unifying principle of the community, and 3) reliance upon proofs from scripture
instead of reason.
of Imam al-Tahawi (translated into English by Shaykh Dr.
Muhammad bin Yahya
al-Ninowy) containing an extensive introduction, useful
commentary, and Arabic text of the Creed itself; or downloadable
as a msword
document (added October 26, 2004). A translation without
commentary is available as
al-Tahawi's Creed (changed October 26, 2004) consists of the
beliefs that al-Tahawi (d.
933 CE), a follower of the madh'hab (school of jurisprudence) of
Imam Abu Hanifa, considered to be orthodox. Another site with
this text is Islamic
Belief (al-'Aqidah) of al-Tahawi (link fixed 17 August 2005).
Schools of Dogmatic Theology (kalam)
What is meant by "dogmatic theology" (kalam) is discourse concerning what Muslims
The first major school of "dogmatic theology" to crystallize was called
the Mu'tazili school. Arising as a theological school in the early part
of the eighth century CE, the Mu'tazilah stood primarly for three principles:
absolute unity of God (tawhid)(hence anything besides God, including
the Qur'an, could not be co-eternal with God and was therefore considered
to be temporal or created),
God's justice ('adl) (allowing for human
free will), and
Divine reward and punishment (al-w'ad wa-al-wa'id)
(in the Hereafter).
See the article Mu'tazilis
the scholar Joseph van Ess in the
Encyclopedia of Islam; and
by Mir Valiuddin and the articles Mu'tazilah (link fixed 17 August 2005)
Thought: Mu'tazilah (link fixed 17 August 2005) in the Encyclopedia Britannica.
In the tenth century CE, reacting against the Mu'tazilah, the Sunni movement
arose, representing the majority of Muslims. Its major figure was Abu al-Hasan
al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (d. 324 AH/ 935 CE) is the Muslim scholar whose
school of "dogmatic theology" (kalam), the Ash'ari school of 'aqida
(doctrine), came to dominate the orthodox position in the Sunni Muslim
world. This link is to a short biographical notice on al-Ash'ari (link fixed 14 March, 2006).
al-Ash'ari on the Prophet
and his Sunnah (link fixed 17 August 2005) This link consists of a small part of Walter C. Klein's
translation of al-Ash'ari's a al-Ibanah 'an usul al-diyanat which
is a major theological treatise. This particular text consists of a theologically
and scripturally based justification for following the sunna of the Prophet.
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash'ari (link fixed 17 August 2005) This article, by the Muslim scholar, Dr. Gibril
Fouad Haddad, asserts (among other points) that what we now know as the
al-Ibanah of al-Ash'ari is a corruption of the original text, a
corruption that involves a number of significant ideological differences
from the actual perspective of al-Ash'ari.
The Foundations of the Articles
of Faith, a revised translation of al-Ghazali's (d. 505 AH /1111 CE)
Kitab Qawa'id al-'aqa'id, which is a section from his masterpiece,
Ihya 'ulum al-din (The Revival of the Religious Sciences). Al-Ghazali
has traditionally been regarded as one of Islam's most important thinkers.
This work, originally translated by Nabih Amin Faris in 135 pages in 1962,
is a complete on-line version and has been retranslated and somewhat adapted
for the internet by Shaykh Ahmad Darwish of the "Mosque of the Internet."
Deliverance from Error is a complete translation of al-Ghazali's (d.
1111 CE) Munqidh min al-dalal, his spiritual autobiography. In one
of its most important sections, he explains his transition from a scholar
and theologian who merely teaches and writes about religion into someone
who experiences religious truths.
Miscellaneous Theological Links
On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy This is a translation
of a substantial part of Ibn Rushd's (known in the West as Averroes)(1126-1198
CE) Kitab fasl al-maqal. In it the following problems are discussed:
the creation of the universe, the advent of prophets, fate and predestination,
divine justice and injustice, and the Day of Judgment.
names and attributes in the Qur'an were collected in this list by the
important medieval scholar of Islam, Ibn Taymiyah.
The 99 Divine
Names Although Muslims have said that God's Names and Attributes are
infinite, the names of God are usually spoken of as being ninety-nine in
number. This derives from the hadith noted at this link (link fixed 14 March, 2006).
A Muslim Perspective (link fixed 17 August 2005) an article by 'Abd al-Hakim Murad, a
British Muslim who is a lecturer in Islamic Studies at Cambridge.
Method in Mufid's
Kalam and in Christian Theology Written by the Catholic scholar and
specialist in Islamic theology, Martin McDermott, this article compares
the "dogmatic theology" (kalam) of the well-known medieval Shi'i
scholar, Shaykh al-Mufid, to Christian theology.