Faith in Islam: Theology (kalam) and Faith (iman)

General Remarks About Islamic Faith and Practice
Introduction to Faith and Doctine
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 tanzih) 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 which is Allah, a word in Arabic signifying God for both Muslim and Christian Arabs. For many medieval 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 not 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 and to 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, now and eternally. Hence in Islam, like traditional Judaism, Islamic practice in harmony with guidance given by 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. Nevertheless, 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 between Islam and 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 subscription) written 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.

  • Angels 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 al-'Aqidah (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.

  • Fiqh al-Akbar (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. 
  • The Creed 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 Imam al-Tahawi's Creed (changed October 26, 2004) consists of the beliefs that al-Tahawi (d. 321 AH/ 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 should believe.

    Mu'tazili School

    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 written by the scholar Joseph van Ess in the Encyclopedia of Islam; and Mu'tazilism by Mir Valiuddin and the articles Mu'tazilah (link fixed 17 August 2005) and Islamic Thought: Mu'tazilah (link fixed 17 August 2005) in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

    Ash'ari School

    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-Ash'ari.
  • Abu 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.
  • Imam 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." 
  • The 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.
  • The Maturidi School

  • Maturidi School of Theology

    Miscellaneous Theological Links

  • Ibn Rushd's 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.
  • God's 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). 
  • The Trinity: 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.

  • Copyrightę1997-2008 Dr. A. Godlas. Nothing on any of the pages of this website may be reproduced in any fashion except by written permission of the author. Links to these pages and conventionally cited scholarly quotations, however, can of course be made. Unless otherwise stated, none of the images belong to the author.