“A glance at Iljaam al-‘Awwaam ‘an ‘Ilm al-Kalaam will prove to us that he had indeed changed in many ways: In this book he advocated the belief of the salaf… denounced ta’weel… and denounced the scholars of ‘ilm al-kalaam…“
First, of course Al-Ghazaaliyy advocated the belief of the Salaf, no one would say otherwise. Deviants and Sunnis alike claim to be following the Salaf, who else would they claim to follow? The question is: what did he mean by the “way of the Salaf”?
Al-Ghazaaliyy explains the way of the Salaf as making 7 consecutive tasks incumbent on Muslim commoners when it comes to aayahs and hadiith narrations that may make someone think of Aļļaah in bodily or anthropomorphic terms. These are the tasks in sequence:
- The first is to deny thinking of Allaah in bodily terms, like limbs, sitting, moving, being in a direction or location, etc.
- The second is to believe that whatever is actually meant is true, even if one is capable of knowing the exact meaning.
- The third is to admit to oneself that one is incapable of knowing the exact meaning.
- The fourth is silence, i.e. not trying to explain the exact meaning (beyond what is NOT meant, as is done in the first task or principle.)
- The fifth is to refrain from translating such statements to another language or from adding or removing anything from them; they should be narrated exactly as is by the letter.
- The sixth is self-restraint by not thinking of the meaning and trying to figure it out.
- The seventh is to leave the detailed understanding of such aayahs and hadiiths to the expert scholars
Of course, the 7th task implies quite explicitly that there are scholars of Kalaam, and that the 7 tasks are for commoners, not for all Muslims. This is because Kalaam is needed to heal situations where deviants have managed to confuse people. Hence the way of the Salaf is to impose these 7 tasks upon commoners, not upon scholars that specialize in refuting deviants.
Hence, the wahabis have nothing to support them here, because Al-Ghazaaliyy’s proposed first task for commoners is to deny that Aļļaah resembles His creation (e.g. by being a body). This denying of bodily attributes is what wahabis are referring to when they accuse people of “denying Aļļaah’s attributes”. In contrast, Al-Ghazaaliyy says above that denying bodily characteristics for Aļļaah is a primary duty of all Muslims, scholars and commoners alike. He also says the following in the very same book:
I mean by “body” something with length, width and depth that prevents something else to exist where it exists…. So if it came to someone’s mind that Aļļaah is a body composed of limbs, then this person is an idol worshiper. The reason is that all bodies are created, and to worship something created is kufr. After all, idol worship is kufr because the idol is created, and the idol is created because it is a body. Hence, the one who worships a body is a kaafir by the consensus of the Muslim Nation, both the salaf and those later.
Here is something more explicit to what I said above. Al-Ghazaaliyy says in the very last subsection of “Iljaam” that if someone has deviance that needs advanced and detailed proofs of Kalaam in order to be treated, then this is done for him alone, and the issues raised are not raised in public. This is because he considers such proofs as medicine, and one does not give medicine to healthy people. He says that this is the way of the Salaf. I.e. not to get into advanced Kalaam issues with commoners, but only use it as needed.
In sum, Kalaam science is not forbidden in absolute terms according to Al-Ghazaaliyy. What he is against is getting into details of Kalaam that people don’t need to remain steadfast in their faith, because it may harm them by confusing them. However, he also insists that every Muslim must know that Aļļaah is not something with bodily attributes like sitting, being in a direction or location, having limbs or size, etc. It is the denial of such attributes that the wahabis call Kalaam and are against. This is because they are non-Muslim idol worshipers, as Al-Ghazaaliyy stated above.
Their spiritual leader, Ibn Taymiyyah, was actually a devious demagogue taking advantage of people’s lack of thinking skills. He himself wrote huge volumes in Kalaam, so how can he claim to be against it and keep a straight face? He was a philosopher with many statements of opinion on philosophical matters, such as those outlined here. He was not against Kalaam, he was against anyone that did not accept his idea that Allaah is a body that moves around and is shrinkable in size, is compelled to act to remain perfect, (i.e. that Aļļaah could not have chosen not to create anything, i.e. according to him, Aļļaah has a need to create) and other terrible blasphemies he endorsed in devious ways.