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ʿIlm al-Kalām ("Arabic: عِلْم الكَلام, literally "science of discourse"), usually foreshortened to kalam and sometimes called "Islamic scholastic theology", is an Islamic undertaking born out of the need to establish and defend the tenets of Islamic faith against doubters and detractors. A scholar of kalam is referred to as a mutakallim (plural mutakallimūn) as distinguished from philosophers, jurists, and scientists.
The "Arabic term kalam means "speech, word, utterance" among other things, and its use regarding Islamic theology is derived where the Quran mentions (kalām Allāh) "Word of God". There are many possible interpretations as to why this discipline was originally so called; one is that the widest controversy in this discipline has been about whether the "Word of God", as revealed in the "Qur'an, can be considered part of God's essence and therefore not created, or whether it was made into words in the normal sense of speech, and is therefore created.
As early as in the times of the "Abbasid Caliphate (750-1258 CE), the discipline of Kalam arose in an "attempt to grapple" with several "complex problems" early in the history of Islam, according to historian Majid Fakhry. One was how to rebut arguments "leveled at Islam by pagans, Christians and Jews". Another was how to deal with (what some saw as the conflict between) the "predestination of sinners to "hell on the one hand and "divine justice" on the other, (some asserting that to be punished for what is beyond someone's control is unjust). Also Kalam sought to make "a systematic attempt to bring the conflict in data of revelation (in the Qur'an and the "Traditions) into some internal harmony".
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Even though seeking knowledge in Islam is considered a religious obligation, the study of 'Ilm al-Kalam is considered by Muslim scholars to fall beyond the category of necessity and is usually the preserve of qualified scholars, eliciting limited interest from the masses or common people.
The early Muslim scholar "Imam al-Shafi‘i held that there should be a certain number of men trained in kalam to defend and purify the faith, but that it would be a great evil if their arguments should become known to the mass of the people.
Similarly, the Islamic scholar "Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, held the view that the science of 'Ilm al-Kalam is not a personal duty on Muslims but a collective duty. Like al-Shafi'i, he discouraged the masses from studying it.
The contemporary Islamic scholar "Nuh Ha Mim Keller holds the view that the criticism of kalam from scholars was specific to the "Mu'tazila, going on to claim that other historical Muslim scholars such as "Al-Ghazali and "An-Nawawi saw both good and bad in kalam and cautioned from the speculative excess of unorthodox groups such as the Mu'tazilah and "Jahmites. As "Nuh Ha Mim Keller states in his article "Kalam and Islam":
"What has been forgotten today however by critics who would use the words of earlier Imams to condemn all kalam, is that these criticisms were directed against its having become 'speculative theology' at the hands of latter-day authors. Whoever believes they were directed against the `aqida or "personal theology" of basic tenets of faith, or the 'discursive theology' of rational kalam arguments against heresy is someone who either does not understand the critics or else is quoting them disingenuously."
kalam meanings a) the reed-pen used for writing in Arabic script; b) Ottoman usage, used figuratively to designate the secretariat of an official department or service; c) in the sense of kalām Allāh (the "Word of God), must here be distinguished from 1) kalām meaning ʿilm al-kalām, “defensive apologetics”, or “the science of discourse”, 2) kalima, expressed kalimat Allāh, means “a” (single) divine utterance; d) theology.