Bismillahi Al-Rahmani Al-Rahim

Blameworthy Kalam

Q as-salaam alaykum,

Can you give me some brief info about Imam ath-Thahabi and tell me where I can find biographical information about him?
Someone sent me a (translated) statement of Imam Ath-Thahabi's that I suspect is used of context. This is the statement:

Imam ath-Thahabi said: "It is authentically related from ad-Daraqutni (a scholar from approximately 1,000 years ago) that he said: There is nothing more despised by me than 'ilmul-kalaam (innovated speech and rhetoric). Then he said: No person should ever enter into 'ilmul-kalaam, nor argumentation (i.e. philosophy)... Rather, he should be Salafi (a follower of the Salaf)."

A wa `alaykum al-salam wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

GF Haddad has written a biography on Imam al-Dhahabi. It begins with the basics:

Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn `Uthman ibn Qaymaz ibn `Abd Allah, Shams al-Din Abu `Abd Allah al-Turkmani al-Diyarbakri al-Fariqi al-Dimashqi al-Dhahabi al-Shafi`i (673-748), the imam, Shaykh al-Islam, head of hadith masters, perspicuous critic and expert examiner of the hadith, encyclopedic historian and biographer, and foremost authority in the canonical readings of the Qur'an. Born in Damascus where his family lived from the time of his grandfather `Uthman, he sometimes identified himself as Ibn al-Dhahabi - son of the goldsmith - in reference to his father's profession. He began his study of hadith at age eighteen, travelling from Damascus to Ba`labak, Hims, Hama, Aleppo, Tripoli, Nabulus, al-Ramla, Cairo, Iskandariyya, al-Qudus, Hijaz, and elsewhere to thirty different locations, after which he returned to Damascus where he taught and authored many works and achieved world renown. He lost his sight two years before he died, leaving three children: his eldest daughter Amat al-`Aziz and his two sons `Abd Allah and Abu Hurayra `Abd al-Rahman. The latter taught the hadith masters Ibn Nasir al-Din al-Dimashqi1 and Ibn Hajar, to whom he transmitted several works authored or narrated by his father. [Continue...]

As for the quote you sent:

When the Pious Forebears (Allah grant them mercy) speak ill of kalam, what they tend to mean is the type where the intellect is given precedence over Revelation, and not all forms of kalam imaginable.

Something that we should keep in mind is that what we considered “kalam” today is much narrower than what they considered kalam. Today folks tend to use “kalam” as a synonym to “`aqidah” - particularly `aqidah that includes rational proofs. But what we should think of is Iji, Taftazani, and the Muwafaqat.
I have several booklets on my shelf full of quotes similar the one you sent, quotes from Imams al-Shafui`i, Ahmad, al-Juwayni, al-Ghazali, and others. While the folks who spread these books may think that they have assembled damning evidence against the vast majority of scholars since the third century AH with whom they so vociferously disagree, these booklets are only convincing to those who need no convincing.

It is not without a bit of irony that the people who spread these things themselves today engage in the very thing they speak againt. This is what they do when they do not restrain themselves to the way of the Pious Forebears.

What the Pious Forebears did was remain silent concening everything not known from the Quran, Sunna, the Companions (Allah be pleased with them), and their students (may Allah grant them mercy). When they couldn't find anything in the Quran and Sunna they did not affirm, and they did not deny: they simply remained silent. In his Al-Radd `Ala Man Ittaba` Ghayr al-Madhahhib al-Arba`, Ibn Rajab wrote:

It is the same with occupying oneself to rebut the speech of the innovators using the same type of talk, using analogies and rational proofs. Im m Ahmad and the Im ms of Ahl Al-Had th(such as Yahy Al-Qatt n, Ibn Mahdi, and others) disliked this. They only considered rebutting them with texts from the Qur’ n, the sunna, and the words of the previous Im ms if available. Otherwise they considered it safer to remain silent.
Ibn Al-Mub rak and other Im ms would say, “To us, Ahl Al-Sunna are not the ones who rebut the people of whim, rather they are the ones who concerning them remain silent.” He mentioned this out of dislike when they turned away from the knowledge that the Prophet r brought, and from the action it leads to. Indeed, it suffices. And whoever is not sufficed by it, may All h never suffice him!

This is was the way of the vast majority of Pious Forebears, especially the Imams of law and hadith.

In Al-Adab al-Shar`iya, Ibn Muflih mentions that while Imam Ahmad did remain silent on these issues in the beginning, he later changed his opinion. The evidence for this is that he wrote a book rebutting atheists and the Qadariyah, and that his rebuattals included rational arguments. This book was related by his own son `Abd Allah, and preserved by Abu Bakr al-Khallal. Ibn Muflih even mentions that this is evidence that Imam Ahmad's previous opinion that some Hanbalis held themselves to had been abrotaged. (See Al-Adab al-Shar`iya, 1:274)

Ibn Mufih also quotes the great Hanbali and sufi, `Abd Allah al-Ansari al-Harawi. He said that five times he was threatened with execuation; he was not told to change his views, but to quit talking about them. His response was that he would not remain silent. (ibid, 1:275)

Later he quotes Ibn Hamdan from his Al-Mufti wa al-Mustafti:

The blameworthy [type of] `ilm al-kalam is speaking about basic principles of belief [usul al-din] using pure reason or what contradicts a plain, authentic transmissions [from Allah or His Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace)]. If it is spoken about using just transmissions or transmissions and reason that conforms to them – this the basic principles of belief [usul al-din] and the way of Ahl al-Sunna. (ibid, 2:276)

While the vast majority of what Ibn Muflih quotes is against kalam, he nonetheless shows that some forms are acceptable – though there still are risks involved for those who are not prepared.

And finally, I very much doubt that al-Darqutni said that someone should be “a salafi”. The translation sounds just a weeb bit sectarian to me.

Years back when I used to ski, I remember seeing signs around the perimeter of really difficult slopes. Most of us read these warning, realized our limits, and did not even venture. Some fools saw these signs as a challenge and a dare; many of and broke their bones for their arrogance and stupidty. Some experts read the warnings, knew that they could handle it, and went through unscathed. Kalam should be approached in the same way.

And Allah knows best.

wa al-salamu `alaykum
--musa