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  /  Articles   /  The Speech and Word of Allah (Kalām): In Light of Traditional Discussions

The Speech and Word of Allah (Kalām): In Light of Traditional Discussions

By Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

  • 20, October, 2014

The words ‘Kalām’ and ‘Qur’ān’ are very closely related terms. In their original legal applications they are distinct in meaning. But in another way they are synonymous.

In other words, the word ‘Kalām’ is usually applied to the beginningless attribute of Allah present with His being referred to as His ‘Speech.’ But sometimes when it is used, it means the ‘Qur’ān,’ which is the revelation sent to Muhammad who proclaimed it to humanity.

On other hand, the word ‘Qur’ān’ is usually applied to refer to the Holy Book revealed by Allah to Muhammad. But it is sometimes used to refer to the beginningless attribute of the Creator known as His ‘Speech.’

This is all supported by the comments of Shaykh Ibrāhīm ibn Muhammad Al-Bayjūrī. He says:

“And know that the phrase ‘Kalām Allah’ (Allah’s Word or Speech) is applied to the beginningless unuttered speech (kalām nafsī qadīm), which happens to be a quality (sifah) present with His being (dhat) – High is He; just as it is a phrase applied to the uttered speech (kalām lafzī), which happens to be a reference to His creation (i.e. the physical book) while no one has played a part in the origin of its composition. And according to this (second) application, the statement of Our Lady ‘Āisha is understood when she said:

“All between the two covers of the book (mushaf) is Allah’s word (kalām Allah) – High is He.”

And it (i.e. the expression) is applied to both meanings (i.e. the Book and to the eternal quality of Allah). It has also been stated that the phrase is a homonym (ishtirāk); just as it has been said that it literally applies to the unuttered (uncreated) speech, while it is metaphorically applied to the uttered (created) speech.

(At any rate) All who deny that all that is between the two covers of the book (mushaf) is the word of Allah (kalām Allah) are guilty of unbelief unless one means that it is not the quality present with His divine essence – High is He. And in spite of the fact that the words (lafz) we recite happen to be emergent, it is still only permitted to say “The Qur’ān is emergent (or created)” in a classroom setting, because it sometimes applies to the quality present with His divine essence even though only metaphorically according to the strongest view. And it might be imagined from stating in a general fashion that “The Qur’ān is emergent (or created)” that (one is saying that) the quality present with His divine essence – High is He – is emergent (or created).”[1]

Due to the similarities between these two terms, scholars found difficulty in saying things like, ‘The Qur’ān is created” as well as “The Qur’ān is not created.”

The reason was that the one who heard such a statement might confuse the two entities to which this word was applied – i.e. Allah’s attribute and His revealed scripture, and he might assume that it was being applied to the former. If so, this would mean that an attribute of the Creator is created.

And if one of His attributes can be created, then what prevents us from believing that more of His attributes are created to the point that we even conclude that the Creator Himself has a Creator. And if He has a Creator, how are we to be sure that the one we call our Creator is actually who we believe He is?

Contrarily, the one who hears someone say ‘The Qur’ān is not created,” might be led to believe that the actual book with all of its pages, the ink, etc. are things that have no creator or manufacturer. But we all know such an assumption to be contrary to reality, especially were one to strike a match to the pages of the book.

For these reasons, much controversy has occurred in the past over this issue, especially among the Arabs. As for non-Arabs – viz. speakers of English, this should not be a point of dispute, since ‘Qur’ān’ has only one connotation for us in the English language.

Ibn Hazm reports about the different schools of Islam in his Al-Milal Wa al-Nihal. He says:

The People of Islam have unanimously agreed that Allah – High is He – spoke to Musa, and that the Qur’ān is Allah’s word/speech (kalām). Similar is what is applied to the other revealed books and scriptures… Beyond that they differed. The Mu’tazila said that ‘Allah’s kalām (word/speech) is the attribute of an action that is created, and that He spoke to Musa with speech that He produced in the tree.’ Ahmad and those who followed him said ‘Allah’s kalām is his knowledge. It is beginningless (lam yazal) and it is not created.’ The Ash’aris said ‘Allah’s kalām is an attribute of essence. It is beginningless and it is not created. It is not Allah’s knowledge. And Allah has only one kalām (speech)…

As for the Kullābiyya, he states:

The Kullābiyya said ‘The kalām (word/speech) is one single attribute, beginningless in essence (qadīma al-‘ayn), inseparable from Allah’s being (dhāt), like life, and (they said) that He doesn’t speak by His will and power. And His speaking to the one He spoke to was merely Him creating for him comprehension (idrāk) by which he heard the speech. And His summoning (nidā) of Musa was prior to creation (lam yazal). However, He made him hear that summons when He spoke to him in secret.’ And the like of it (i.e. this statement) has been narrated about Abū Mansūr Al-Māturīdi of the Hanafis. But he said: ‘He created a sound when he summoned him. Then He made him hear His speech…

Then he said:

And Al-Qābisī, Al-Ash’arī, and his followers adopted the view of Ibn Kullāb. They said ‘If the kalām is without beginning (qadīm) by its essence, inseparable from the being of the Lord, and it is established that it isn’t created, then the letters are not beginningless, since they follow one another in sequence (muta’āqiba). And whatever is preceded by something else is not without beginning, while the beginningless speech (al-kalām al-qadīm) is a characteristic (ma’nā) present with the divine essence (qa’im bi al-dhat) that is not multiple in number and is indivisible. Rather, it is a singular characteristic (ma’nā wāhid). If it is expressed in Arabic, it is Qur’ān, or (if expressed) in Hebrew, it is Taurāh for example…

Then Ibn Hazm says about the Hanbalis:

And some of the Hanbalis held the view that the Arabic Qur’ān is Allah’s kalām (speech), and the same goes for the Taurāh, and (they said) that Allah has incessantly without beginning been one who speaks (mutakkalim) whenever He pleases, and (they say) that He spoke with the letters of the Qur’ān, and He made those that He pleased from the angels and the Prophets to hear His voice.’

[T] What this actually means is that they believe that Allah’s speech is two, not one attribute. It is as some of them stated today, “an attribute of the divine essence as well as an attribute of action.” [2] This is because they believe that to state that His actions are created would be tantamount to saying that He is created [3]. But an act is time-specific, which necessarily means that it cannot be without beginning. These same people also believe that by saying that His speech is one and beginningless would mean that He doesn’t have the will and power to speak when He pleases. The Ash’aris, on the other hand, hold that His power and will are two separate attributes by which Allah does whatever He pleases when He pleases. As for His speech, it pertains to all things spoken regardless of if they are possible, impossible, or necessary. And by Allah’s power He can allow anyone He pleases to comprehend His eternal beginningless and endless speech whenever He pleases by His will.

Ibn Hazm continues:

And they (i.e. these Hanbalis) said ‘These letters and sounds are without beginning in essence, inseparable from the divine essence. But they do not follow one another in sequence (muta’āqiba). Rather, they have always been present with His being without following one another in a sequence (muqtarina) without one preceding another. For following in succession to one another (ta’āqub) happens with respect to the created, not the Creator. And most of them held the view that the sounds and letters are those heard from those who recite.

But many of them refuse to accept this, and said ‘They are not those heard from those who recite.’

And some of them held the view that He (Allah) utters the Arabic Qur’ān by His will and power with the letters and sounds that are present with His being, but that it is not created. However, He – prior to creation – didn’t speak due to the impossibility of the existence of a finite matter (hādith) before the existence of time and space (azal). So His kalām [to them] is emergent (hādith) with His being, not uttered anew (muhdath)…

All of this can be found in Ibn Hazm’s ‘Al-Milal wa al-Nihal’ and Ibn Hajar quotes from it in Fath Al-Bārī [Volume 15/p 421 Dar al-Fikr 1415/1995 edition].

Ibn Hajar Al-‘Asqalāni then quotes a scholar by the name of Ibn Al-Tīn [v. 15/p.450] as saying,

The speculative theologians (mutakallimūn) differed about hearing Allah’s speech. Ash’arī said: “Allah’s speech is present with His being. It is heard during the recitation of every reciter and the reading of every reader.” Al-Baqillānī said: “Merely the recitation is heard, not the thing recited. And the reading (is heard), not the thing that is read.”

In other words, when a person recites, he is not actually listening to a sound or voice coming from Allah. Rather, the sound is coming from the person doing the reading or recitation, while the words and meanings expressed in that are Allah’s verbatim. This is like if someone was to write a letter to be announced to an audience written by a third person. The one reading may say, ‘So and So said such and such.’

But no one can claim that the voice or sound of the author of the document has become incarnate in the reader, so that it can be said the author is the actual speaker/reader. Consequently, the recitation is created and the sound and voice are created. But the meanings transmitted through the Arabic language are not created, in spite of the fact that the paper, ink, cover, and Arabic language are all created with all obviousness to all rational human beings.

Then Ibn Hajar said the following on p. 465 about the issue of the ‘lafz’ (the wording),

This issue is well-known as the issue of the ‘lafz’ (wording/utterance). The delvers into it are referred to as the ‘Lafziyya.’ Imam Ahmad’s objection as well those who followed him was severe against those who said ‘My wording/utterance of the Qur’ān is created.’

Here we must understand that ‘lafz’ can be taken to mean both ‘wording’ and ‘utterance’. For this reason Imam Al-Dhahabī stated about the person who makes the statement ‘My lafz of the Qur’ān is created’:

If he meant by saying, “Allah’s speech is uncreated. And my lafz of it is created” (if he means) “My utterance” (talaffuz), this is good. For surely our actions are created. But if he means the thing that is uttered (malfūz) is created, this is the one that Ahmad objected to… And they (the scholars) considered it to be a sign of being a Jahmī. [Al-Mīzān: 1/544]

Ibn Hajar continues,

It is said that the first to make this utterance was Al-Husayn ibn ‘Alī Al-Kurābisī, one of the disciples of Shāfi’ī, one of the transmitters of his book that comprised his former school (qadīm). So once that reached Ahmad, he declared him to be an innovator and he boycotted him. Then Dāwūd ibn ‘Alī Al-Asbahānī, the chief of the Literalists (Zāhiriyya), became known for that next. And he was at that time in Nisapur. So Ishāq (Ibn Rahuwiyah) objected to him. And that reached Ahmad. So when he (Dāwūd) reached Baghdad, he (Ahmad) didn’t allow for him to come into his presence.

And Ibn Abū Hātim collected the names of those who were referred to as ‘The Lafziyya’ who were labeled as Jahmiyya. And they reached a large number of the Imams. He also dedicated a chapter to that in his book entitled ‘Al-Radd ‘alā al-Jahmiyya.’

And what results from the comments of the expert legal critics (muhaqqiqūn) is that they (Ahmad and others) wanted to bring closure to the matter as a protection for the Qur’ān from being described as being created, and that once the truth of the matter was brought to light, no one would express that the movement of his tongue when he recited was without beginning (qadīma).

Al-Baihaqī says in Kitāb al-Asmā wa al-Sifāt:

“The view of the Salaf and the Khalaf from Ahl al-Hadith wa al-Sunnah is that the Qur’ān is the speech of Allah. And it is one of the attributes of His being (dhāt). As for the recitation (tilāwa), they follow two different approaches: Some of them make a difference between the recitation (tilāwa) and the thing recited (matluw). And others preferred to give up speaking about it. As for what has been conveyed about Ahmad ibn Hanbal that he made no distinction between them (the recitation and the thing recited), he merely desired to bring closure to the matter so that none would find a means to say that the Qur’ān is created.”

Then he (Al-Baihaqī) produced two chains going back to Ahmad that (in one) he objected to those who said: “My lafz of the Qur’ān is uncreated.” And (in the other) he objected to those who said: “Mylafz of the Qur’ān is created.” And he (Ahmad) said: “The Qur’ān – however it is dealt with (and referred to) – is uncreated.” So he adopted the apparent meaning of this (statement). “The second [statement ‘My lafz of the Qur’ān is created’] has those who misunderstood the intent while it is clear in the first [declaration that ‘My lafz of the Qur’ān is uncreated’]. Likewise, it has been conveyed from Muhammad ibn Aslam Al-Tūsī that he said:

“The sound coming from the one who produces sound (when reciting the Qur’ān) is Allah’s speech.”

Such is a repugnant expression. He didn’t intend its apparent meaning. He merely intended to negate the thing recited (matluw) as being a created thing [since its meanings are eternal without beginning]. And something similar happened to the Imam of the Imams, Muhammad ibn Khuzayma who then later retracted. And he has a well-known account in that regard with his pupils. The jurist, Abū Bakr Al-Dab’ī, one of the Imams among his pupils, dictated to Ibn Khuzayma his creed. And in it he stated:

“Allah has from before creation been one who speaks (mutakallim). And there is no equal (mithl) to His speech, because He negated the equal from His attributes just as He negated the equal from His being. And He negated depletion from His speech just as He negated ruin from His self. He said: ((…The sea would be depleted before the words of my Lord would be depleted)). And He said: ((Every thing is perishing save His face)).”

So Ibn Khuzaima considered that to be correct and he was pleased with it.”

Then Ibn Hajar speaks about Imam Bukhārī. He says,

“And others say: Some of them thought that Bukhārī had opposed Ahmad. But that isn’t so. Rather, those who deeply reflect on his comments will not find any difference in meaning (between what the two of them said). However, the scholar – part of his norm – when he is tried in refuting a heresy is that most of his comments will relate more to its refutation than its opposite. So when Ahmad was tried by those who said ‘The Qur’ān is created’, most of his comments related to the refutation of them until he went overboard, and then objected to those who maintained neutrality and didn’t say that it is created or uncreated as well as those who said ‘My lafz of the Qur’ān is created.’ (He did this) so that those who say ‘The Qur’ān with my lafz is created’ would not find a means to (saying) that in spite of the fact that the difference between the two of them wasn’t hidden from him, although it might he hidden from others.

As for Bukhārī, he was tried by those who said ‘The voices of the slaves (of Allah) are uncreated’ until some of them went overboard and said,

“The same goes for the ink and the paper after being written (i.e. they are also uncreated).”

So most of his comments related to the refutation of them. But he went too far in advancing proof that the actions of the slaves (of Allah) are created based on the verses and hadiths. And he spoke at length about that until he was accused of being one of the ‘Lafziyya’ in spite of the fact that the statement of those who say ‘Verily what one hears from the reciter is the beginningless voice (of Allah)’ isn’t known from the Salaf. Ahmad didn’t say it. And neither did the Imams among his disciples (make any mention of it). And the only reason that that was ascribed to Ahmad was because of his saying

“Whoever says ‘My lafz of the Qur’ān is created’ is a Jahmi.’”

So they thought that he equated between the lafz (wording) and the sawt (sound). But there isn’t anything conveyed about Ahmad concerning the ‘sawt’ (sound/voice) as has been conveyed about him concerning the ‘lafz’ (wording, utterance). Rather, he expressly declared in a number of places that the sound heard from the reciter is the sound/voice of the reciter. The hadith “Decorate the Qur’ān with your voices” supports it… The difference is that the ‘lafz’ is attached to the one who utters it initially. For instance, it is said about the one who relates a hadith with its wording (lafz), “This is its wording” (hādhā lafzuhu). And (it is said) of one who has related it without its wording (lafz), “This is its meaning. It wording is such and such” (hādhā ma’nāhu wa lafzuhu kadhā). But it isn’t said of any of that, “This is its sound” (hādhā sawtuhu). So the Qur’ān is Allah’s speech, (both) its wording, and its meaning (lafzuhu wa ma’nāhu). It is not the speech of another. As for His saying: ((Verily it is the statement of a noble messenger)) – while there is disagreement about whether the intent is Gabriel or the Messenger – may Allah be pleased with both of them, the intent (from the word ‘statement’ in the verse) is ‘the conveyance’ (tablīgh), since Gabriel is conveying from Allah – High is He – to His messenger (pbuh). And the messenger (pbuh) conveys to mankind. And it hasn’t been conveyed about Ahmad ever that the action of the slave is beginningless and not about his voice. He merely objected to the general application of the word ‘lafz’ (to the Qur’ān). And Bukhārī expressly stated that the voices of the slaves are created, and that Ahmad does not oppose that. He said in Kitāb Khalq af’āl Al-‘Ibād’:

“What they claim about Ahmad, most of it isn’t clear. However, they didn’t understand his intent or his opinion. And what is known from Ahmad and the people of knowledge is that Allah’s speech – High is He – is uncreated while all other than it is created. But they disliked spreading news about obscure matters. And they avoided indulging in them and disputing with one another unless it is something that the Messenger (pbuh) clarified…”

Then Ibn Hajar said,

“And a summary of what has been conveyed about the speculative theologians (ahl al-kalām) in this issue are five different views: The first: is the view of the Mu’tazila that it is created. The second: is the view of the Kullābiyya that it is beginningless present with the being of the Lord. It is not letters and sounds, while what is found in the midst of people is an expression of it, not it itself. The third: is the view of the Sālimiyya that it is letters and sounds that are beginningless in essence. And it is actually these written letters and sounds heard. The fourth: is the view of the Karrāmiyya that it is newly uttered (muhdath), not created (makhlūq)… And the fifth: is that it (the Qur’ān) is the speech of Allah, uncreated, and that He has been – since before creation – speaking whenever He pleases. Ahmad expressed that in Kitāb al-Radd ‘ala Al-Jahmiyya. But his disciples have split into two factions: One of them says: that it is inseparable from His being while the letters and sounds are on an even plain (muqtarina), not following one another in a sequence (muta’āqiba). And he allows whomever He pleases to hear His speech. However, most of them said: ‘Verily He is one who speaks (mutakallim) with what He pleases and when He pleases. And when he summoned Musa (pbuh) when He spoke to him He had not summoned him prior to that time [in pre-eternity].” And what the view of the Ash’aris has become established upon is that:

‘The Qur’ān is the speech of Allah, uncreated, inscribed on pages, guarded in hearts (or minds), and recited on tongues.’ Allah – High is He – said ((…Then grant him asylum so that he may hear Allah’s speech)). And He – High is He – said ((Rather, it is verses made clear [found] in the breasts of those who have been given knowledge)). And in the hadith agreed upon (by Bukhārī and Muslim) on the authority of Ibn ‘Umar as has preceded in (The Book of) Jihad, (the Prophet said): “Do not travel with the Qur’ān to the land of the enemy out of dislike for having the enemy reach it.” And it doesn’t mean ‘what is in the breasts.’ Rather, it means ‘what is in papers.’

And the Salaf have unanimously agreed that all between the two covers (of the book) is Allah’s word (kalām). And some of them said: “The Qur’ān is mentioned and it is a reference to ‘the thing read’ (maqrū), which is the beginningless quality (of Allah). It is also mentioned while being a reference to ‘the reading’ (qirā’a), which are the words that point to (the existence of) that (quality). Due to that, disagreement occurred. As for their statement that ‘Verily it is exonerated from letters and sounds,’ their intent is the unuttered speech (kalām nafsī) present with the divine essence (of Allah). For it is one of the beginningless existing attributes (of Allah).

Then Ibn Hajar makes clear what his position is on the matter. He says,

“As for the letters – if they happen to be the movements of tools, like the tongue and lips, they are non-essential characteristics and accidents [indicative of createdness] (‘arād). And if they (the letters) are in writing, they are composite bodies and objects (ajsām). But the existence of composite bodies and accidents in Allah’s being – High is He – is impossible. And it is a necessary result of those who affirm that [they can be present with His essence] that he adopts the view that the Qur’ān is created while (in the same breath) denying such a thing and fleeing away from it. So that compelled some of them to claim the uncreatedness of the letter as the Sālimiyya adopted. And others adopted the view that they (the letters) are present in His being. And resulting from the extreme confusion that happened in the issue, the Salaf’s prohibition against indulging in it happened much. And they found it sufficient to believe that the Qur’ān is Allah’s word uncreated (al-Qur’ān kalām Allah ghayru makhlūq). And they didn’t add anything to that. And it is the safest of all views. And Allah is the One sought for aid.”

So it becomes clear that the true position of the Salaf was to limit themselves to saying, ‘The Qur’an is Allah’s word uncreated.’ As for stating that they are composed of letters and sounds or not, this was a later development in Islamic history. So it is sufficient for one to limit his/her statements to the same that the Salaf limited themselves to. [Fath Al-Bārī 15/465-467].


[1] Tuhfah Al-Murīd Sharh Jawhara Al-Tawhīd: p. 84.

[2] Salafis likely don’t realize what their view necessitates in that it results from it that Allah has two attributes of speech as opposed to one. One of them is an attribute of His divine essence, which is without beginning as His essence is. And the other is an attribute of action or just an act of creation done by the Creator, which must be created, since it is something that occurs outside of His being. Unfortunately, the Salafis insist that sounds, letters, and words can be without beginning in spite of the fact that one letter precedes another, which clearly indicates that they are time-specific.

Shaykh Muhammad ibn Sālih Al-‘Uthaymīn says after mentioning that Allah has two types of attributes, which are those of the divine essence (dhāt) and those that are actions (f’il):

“Additionally, the attribute may happen to be of the essence and an action [dhātiyya fi’liyya] at the same time from two different regards, like speech (kalām). It is while considering its origin an attribute of the essence, since Allah has everlastingly and continues to be one who speaks (mutakallim). And while considering the individual incidents of speech (āhād al-kalām) it is an attribute of action, since speech pertains to His will. He speaks when and with what He pleases”

[Al-Qawā’id al-Muthla: Idārāt al-Buhūth al-‘Ilmiyya wa al-Iftā wa Al-Da’wa wa al-Irshād p. 25].

Upon close reflection, it is revealed that the opinion of the Salafis is not much different from what the Mu’tazila say in that ‘Allah’s speech is one of His acts, not a quality of His essence.’ The only difference is that the Mu’tazila are shown to be more reasonable by denying that Allah has an eternal attribute found with His being referred to as ‘speech,’ since they deny the possibility of something being without beginning and created at the same time.

All of this must be considered with regard to the similarities between the two sects, since if – as ‘Uthaymīn said – “…speech pertains to His will. He speaks when and with what He pleases,” then the true attribute of Allah is not speech. It is His will, while speech is merely an action that originates from Allah’s will.

Another Salafi shaykh known as Muhammad Khalīl Harrās states after declaring that Allah’s attributes are of two different categories (attributes of the essence and attributes of action); he states about the latter:

“The second (category) is ‘Attributes of Action’ to which His will and power pertain at all times. And the individual incidents of those attributes of actions occur by His will and power, even though He has always been characterized as doing them without beginning; meaning that their general category (naw’) is without beginning (qadīm), while their individual occurrences (afrād) are created and emergent (hāditha). So He – Glory to Him – has everlastingly been a doer of whatever He wants. And He has everlastingly and continues to say, speak, create, and manage all affairs. And His actions occur one by one in accord with His wisdom and His will.”

[Sharh ‘Aqīda al-Wāsitiyya li Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taimiyya: Dār al-Fikr]

So here, Harrās, acknowledges the created and uncreated act of Allah by stating that “…their general category (naw’) is without beginning (qadīm), while their individual occurrences (afrād) are created and emergent (hāditha).”

This conclusion was adopted from Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taimiyya who borrowed the idea from the Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian philosophers who believed that the universe has no origin. They said, “Its general category is without beginning. But its individual occurrences and particulars are emergent (hādith) and created.”

This is like saying, the general category of ‘man’ is uncreated even though each individual person born in history came to being in a later time. So man is without beginning from one regard and with beginning from another.

And it is surprising that both Ibn Taimiyya and Harrās would use this type of argument to justify their belief in the uncreated-created (qadīm-hādith) speech of Allah in spite of the fact that the scholars of Islam have declared the philosophers with this type of thinking to be unbelievers.

[3] The Maturidis also held the view that Allah’s actions are uncreated. But the Ash’arī view is that they are created due to the argument stated above.

Abdullah bin Hamid Ali

This article is reproduced courtesy of Lamppost Productions