Method in Mufid's Kalam and in Christian Theology



I do not think I can tell you anything new about al-Shaykh. Most of you are scholars in his tradition and you study his works and know his sources to a degree and with a facility that I shall never attain. I have, though, and do, make an effort to understand his kalD.m as best I can, and to understand what he was doing, and what he meant to do and tried to do.

In a book I wrote about al-Shaykh al-Mufid, I provisionally translated 'ilm al-kalD.m by the word "theology", as its closest equivalent in the languages of the West. It is not a very satisfactory translation, for 'ilm al-kalD.m is not quite the same as what Christians call "theology." Now my purpose is to come back to these two terms and consider a few differences between what al-Mufid, the mutakallim was doing in his discipline and what Christians mean by theology. To be quite plain, I am thinking inside my own tradition, which is that of a Catholic Christian whose model and ideal in theology is Thomas Aquinas.

I admit that my aim here is personal, simply to answer a question I have long ago asked myself but have not investigated before. I am trying today to see the two methods in comparison: that of 'ilm al-kalD.m and of theology. Noting the differences helps me to understand al-Mufid better, what he is aiming to do and what he is not aiming to do. Perhaps also it may help you to understand Christian theology more, what it does and does not try to do.

My guide in all this has been the monumental study by Louis Gardet and Georges Anawati, Introduction D. la Théologie Musulmane, which however suffers from the defect, recognized by its authors, of not considering the Shi'ite mutakallimR.n.[1]

It is commonly said of 'ilm al-kalD.m in general that it is a defensive apologetic, good in the opinion of some Muslims, but not all. Al-GazzD.li thought 'ilm al-kalD.m to be a dangerous remedy, useful only for protecting the faith of the people and silencing heretics.[2]
Ibn KhaldR.n's definition of 'ilm al-kalD.m is well known: "It is a science that involves arguing with rational proofs in defence of articles of faith and refuting innovators who deviate in their dogmas from the doctrines of the early generations and the people of tradition. The core of these dogmas is the oneness of God."[3]

And yet surely the mutakallim, in elaborating his defence of the propositions to be believed, is at the same time making an effort to understand and to illuminate what it is that he believes.

This is what interests me in al-Mufid.

Here is the fundamental difference between kalD.m and theology. KalD.m aims primarily to defend and secondarily to illuminate; theology aims primarily to illuminate: to come to some understanding of a mystery which the human mind cannot fully grasp, and only secondarily to defend. Both hold that God is one. And we both, I presume, also hold that God is a mystery that cannot be fully understood by the finite human mind. We both hold that nothing in true revelation can contradict reason, for God is the author of both reason and revelation. Yet God can also reveal things about Himself which are beyond our power to understand fully.

My own interest is in the effort at understanding and explaining the datum of revelation which al-Mufid makes in his kalD.m. One of the important things al-Mufid did was to provide a rational substratum for the Imamite faith during the absence of the Imam. He had to meet not only the objections of outsiders but also the demands of believing Shi'ites for explanation of how what is proposed for belief does not contradict what they already know.

I will try, then, (1) to say something about al-Mufid's own notion of kalD.m, and (2) then see how he carried it out, and after that (3) compare it with the theological method.



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