The science of kalam is defined as the discipline that involves presenting arguments concerning matters of faith using rational evidence and refuting the deviant innovators in beliefs who deviate from the methodologies of the predecessors and Ahl al-Sunnah.
Imam Ahmad explicitly prohibited indulging in it stating, “Whoever becomes involved in kalam will not succeed.” [Sifah al-Mufti, 224]
There is a difference of opinion concerning the use of kalam and authoring books using it among Hanbali scholars.
Ibn al-Mibrad al-Hanbali said:
“Our scholars have differed regarding the science of kalam, using it in debates and authoring books with it, and refuting innovators [using it]: Is it recommended or not:
- The early Hanbali scholars considered it prohibited. This is explicitly stated in a narration by Al-Marwazi, Salih, Abu Imran al-Asbahani, Abu Harith, Abdus ibn Malik, Ishaq ibn Mansoor, and Abdullah ibn Imam Ahmad.
- Ibn Hamid, Abu Ya’la, his son, and Al-Tamimi permitted it, thus, they allowed debating the people of innovation and writing books in refutation of them [using it].”
[Tuhfah al-Wusool, 60]
Those who allowed it leaned on the statement of Imam Ahmad in which he said, “We used to command silence but when we were called to a certain matter, it became necessary for us to defend it and clarify it in a way that negates what they have said.” [al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1:219]
Al-Khallal said that the ruling of prohibition was abrogated by Imam Ahmad [al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1/207].
Ibn Muflih said:
“I found in a book [authored] by the grandson of Al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la where the dispute in the school of thought [over kalam] and the words of Ahmad were mentioned. He said: And what is correct in the school is that the science of kalam is legislated and it is permitted to engage in debate [using it] against the people of innovation, and compiling books in refuting their views [using it]. The scholars of investigation, like Al-Qadhi Abu Ya’la and al-Tamimi, subscribed to this approach. They held on to this view [using] a statement attributed to Ahmad according to a narration from Al-Marwazi, when the latter focused on fasting and prayer while refraining from speaking about the statements of people of innovation. [Imam Ahmad told him that] fasting and prayer were for [the benefit of] himself but if he had spoken, it would have been [beneficial] for himself and others, thus, speaking would have been better.”
[al-Adab al-Shar‘iyyah, 1/206-207]
Ibn Hamdan and others explicitly stated about the science of kalam:
“The condemned knowledge of kalam is when the principles of religion are discussed using pure rationality or [it] opposes the clearly explicit authentic transmitted knowledge [of the religion]. If it is discussed solely based on transmitted teachings or by combining transmitted teachings with rationality that aligns with it, then it constitutes the principles of religion and follows the methodology of the people of the Sunnah.”
[Sifah al-Mufti, 225]
From what has been presented, it becomes clear that the permissibility of studying the science of kalam and authoring books using it has conditions:
- It is permissible to use it to respond to the people of innovation and to compose books in refutation of their doubts but not for establishing the beliefs of Muslims based on the principles of science of kalam.
- It must follow the Qur’an and the Sunnah and not be solely based on kalam as done by some factions.
This is the relied upon position of the Hanbali school and most of the scholars of Islam.
“Know, may Allah have mercy on you, it is established from Imam Ahmad and other scholars from the predecessors (salaf) that they criticized being engaged in the science of kalam. What was meant by them was the type that solely relies on analogy, opinion, and is not taken from the Qur’an or Sunnah.”
[Al-Manhaj al-Ahmad, 146]
Mansur al-Bahuti al-Hanbali said:
“The statement of Ibn Hamdan combines both viewpoints and it is more preferable than [considering it] abrogation. It is supported by the narration of Al-Marwazi: ‘I am not a companion of kalam, so I do not view kalam in anything except what is in [accordance to] the Book of Allah or a narration from the Messenger of Allah ﷺ or from one of his companions, may Allah be pleased with them, or from their students (tabi’een). As for anything else, kalam in it is not praiseworthy.'”
Source: Most of the above was taken from Sh. Faris Falih al-Hanbali’s explanation of Ibn Qudama’s Lum’at ul-I’tiqad.