Mu‘tazila and the theology of Tanzih


  • Naman Salman


History, Sociology, Cultural Studies, Humanities


In this chapter I shall attempt to set out the metaphysical
principle lying behind the theological system of Mu‘tazila as a
whole. While agreeing with previous studies that the Five Usul
encompass the whole of Mu‘tazila theology, a position also
held by the scholars of Mu‘tazila itself – “Nobody will deserve to be called Mu‘tazili until he holds all five usul together [and not separately, not holding this or another one while rejecting that or another one]: Tawhid, Adl, the promise and the threat, the intermediate position, and commanding the right and forbidding the wrong”1 this study suggests that besides these Usul there is an overarching metaphysical principle, by defining which we shall have a better understanding of this theology and be able to explain its elements and put them in their proper context. To achieve this we need to go through a number of steps, the first of which is to define Islamic theology, ilm al-kalam. Muslim scholars use this term to define a specific field of Islamic knowledge. The word ilm means science, and kalam means speech; here, science is not used in the strict sense of the word but as a branch of knowledge. In its traditional form, this ilm is a defensive activity. Muslim scholars also agree that the
subject of this branch of knowledge is the divinity, “Its subject
is the Divinity [Allah]: it investigates the attributes of Allah and His actions in this world, such as the creation,and in the next world, such as bringing people
to judgement”;2 like any branch of knowledge,
any field of study, ilm al-kalam has its own
subject. In philosophy, for example, the
subject is existence, so philosophers have to
aim at investigating the nature of existence by
means of reason and the senses. The subject
to which Muslim theologians have to devote
their inquiry is the divinity: to defend their faith
in it against the adversaries of this faith. It is
said that religion is the story of God; this can
be precisely applied to Islam. Ilm Al-kalam,
as we have pointed out earlier, is a defensive


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How to Cite

Salman, N. (2014) “Mu‘tazila and the theology of Tanzih”, Kufa Review (Discontinued), 5(3). Available at: (Accessed: 5 March 2024).

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