The Jahmites and the Mu’tazilites, who were among the first deviant sects to emerge, denied the attributes of Allāh claiming that this was the essence of tawḥīd. Therefore, they had to deny that the Qur’ān is the actual speech of Allāh. They claimed that confirming any attribute to Allāh other than His eternal essence entails an approval of multiple eternals and hence confirming that the speech of Allāh is one of His attributes which is different from his essence, means the same thing; the presence of multiple eternals.
The misguided sects adopted a philosophical mindset of critical examination of the grounds for fundamental beliefs. They used this principle in every aspect of the religion including theology, until they came to the conclusion that Allāh Himself cannot be believed in, until one first doubts His existence and then intellectually proves it.
To prove the existence of Allāh, or the Prime Mover as the philosophers say, they devised the well-known Kalam Cosmological Proof for the Existence of God. This was their version of the cosmological theory of atomism as proposed by some the ancient Greek philosophers. This proof for the existence of God became widely accepted by not only the Jahmites, but also the Mu’tazilites, and later on the Ash’arites and Māturīdiyyah. It was upon this fundamental understanding and premise that all these groups interpreted the rest of the religion; including the beautiful names and attributes of Allāh. This became a crucial point at which they left the universally held beliefs of the Early Muslims (salaf) and adopted a completely different approach to understanding Islām. As it was rooted in Greek philosophy, they were termed as “mutakallimūn”, the scholars of speculative theology.
By adopting such an approach they were faced with the following problem: if this was the most sound way God’s existence could be proved, it must hold that the argument is correct at every level. If the premises of the argument were true, then affirming attributes such as speech to God would be problematic as it would imply rendering the Creator a locus (maḥal) for originations (ḥawādith), which are considered finite occurrences, and according to the premise of argument it follows that a locus for infinite occurrences be also originated (ḥadīth). This would therefore mean that created things, in this case speech, subsists within His Divine Essence or that He Himself is created! Thus, they concluded, speech when attributed to god must be understood differently. It is not true speech but something else. At this point the various groups came up with their own interpretations until there were nine different understandings of what “kalāmullāh” meant, and subsequently what the status of the Qur’ān was. Some denied the attribute outright, others explained it figuratively, and others still neither affirmed nor denied it. As a result none of them, save Ahl al-Sunnah, believe that the Qur’ān is the Word of Allāh, in both meaning and wording. These different views can be summarised into three:
The Jahmites would say that the Qur’ān is a book created by Allāh and He called it “kalāmullah”. They outright denied that Allāh Speaks.
The Mu’tazilites view was similar except that they said that Allāh created the Qur’ān within Jibrīl who then expressed it in words. They therefore maintained the notion of revelation but nevertheless negated that Allāh spoke it.
The Ash’arites, taking their stance from the Kullābiyyah , said that the Qur’ān is the Kalām of Allāh in terms of its meaning. It is when this “meaning” is expressed into Arabic (al-natham al-‘arabi) that it becomes the Qur’ān. Before that it was expressed in Syriac and became the Injīl, and before that it was expressed in Hebrew and became the Torah. They meant by this that the Kalām of Allāh is in fact inaudible as it is an internal speech (kalām nafsī), similar to thoughts in one’s mind, except that it is eternal. Therefore, the Qur’ān in their view is merely an expression of Allāh’s Speech (kalāmullah).
First came the view of the Mu’tazilites and Jahmites. When the Ash‘arites and those that followed them (the Māturīdiyyah), observed the contention between the Mu’tazilites with their claim that Allāh does not speak and Ahl al-Sunnah, they strove to reconcile between the two views. They essentially attempted to find the middle-ground as they too perceived a conflict was present between logic (‘aql) and the orthodox belief in Allāh Speaking. However, as noted by Ibn Taymiyyah, they based their novel understanding on the Kalām of Allāh on same logical premise as the Mu’tazilites, even though they were attempting to rebut them. Although they vehemently denied that the Qur’ān was a created entity, as the Mu’tazilites claimed, they also maintained that the Qur’ān was not the spoken word of Allāh, Exalted is He. Instead they said that kalām linguistically refers to meaning (ma’nā) and not letters and words; speech is merely the idea of the spoken before it is uttered. This was something explicitly said by Ibn Kullāb during the era of Imām Aḥmad, and he was subsequently refuted by both Ahl al-Sunnah and the Mu’tazilites.
Kalām of Allāh, therefore, is an internal attribute of Allāh, eternally subsisting within Himself and not spoken or heard by any; and thus the Qur’ān, as they claimed, is not the words of Allāh but rather the words of either Jibrīl (‘alay hisalām) or the Prophet (Ṣallāhu ‘alayhi wa salam) who understood the internal Kalām of Allāh. It is internal and part of Allāh’s Divine Essence (dhāt) as one singular eternal entity and therefore the Qur’ān which is an expression of that attribute is not created- this is how the Ash‘arites affirmed Kalām of Allāh and disassociated themselves from the Mu’tazilites. It is internal and was never uttered as speech and therefore the Qur’ān cannot be the words of Allāh- and so this is how they departed from the understanding of Ahl Sunnah.
At the heart of the debate amongst the Ash‘arites was a reconciliation between their fundamental understanding of tawḥīd of Allāh and what human beings understand by the concept of speech. They believed that tawḥīd relates to the Divine Essence of Allāh being one as an entity, and not two, three, four or five; and that as one independent entity He was also indivisible, without parts or limbs. If they affirmed what is commonly understood by speech as the ability to express one’s will by articulate sound it would imply likening Allāh to the creation as speech is only ever realised with a tongue, lips, vocal cords and lungs. Moreover, it would imply that Allāh has parts, as speech is not eternal (qadīm) but only exists at the moment when spoken and ends with the last utterance. Their conclusion was ultimately an attempt to redefine the word kalām as relating not to sound, letters and words but only the idea, will, or thought behind them. Ibn Fawrak (d. 406H), a prominent early Ash‘ari, says: ‘If someone says that Allāh says or Allāh speaks, then what is meant by that is not the origination of a word or speech but rather origination of something heard and understood from a statement that is eternal’. 
When comparing the views of the two camps: the Mu’tazilites and Jahmites with the Ash‘arites, it may seem as though the two are divergent and distinct. However, upon closer analysis, there is a shared understanding on one particular fundamental. Both factions believe in the impossibility of temporally generated or originated events (ḥulūl al-ḥawādith) subsisting within the Divine Essence as such events, according to them, necessitate that the Divine Essence itself is generated or originated.
Attributing speech to Allāh in its true sense of the word would therefore imply that Allāh, Exalted is He, speaks, and decides when to speak and when not to speak. Such temporal attributes that are exercised upon will are an impossibility for God, as only created matter is temporal. If God really did speak it would mean their infamous Kalām Cosmological Argument for the existence of God would be compromised. This shared understanding was highlighted by Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728AH) when he said: ‘And they [the Ash‘arites] concurred with the Jahmites and Mu’tazilites fundamentally in their view that the Kalām of Allāh is not linked to His Will or Power or subsisting within Him as a temporal matter (ikhtiyāriyyah). Therefore He did not rise above His Throne after creating the Heavens and the Earth, nor will He approach the plane of resurrection on the Day of Judgment; He did not call out to Mūsā when He called out, nor does He become angry with the sinner or pleased with the worshipper, and He does not become elated by the repentance of the guilty’.
An appreciation of the root cause and underlying premise clarifies why the Ash‘arites opted to redefine the word kalām in order to maintain and validate their view on Tawḥīd and God’s existence.
The view of the Ash’arites concerning the Kalām of Allāh, which is still held until today within the broad spectrum of Sunni Islām, can be understood through the example of a mute person who wishes to convey or express a meaning but is unable to do so through the use of words. Anyone who knows this person well can understand through the context what the mute person is trying to communicate and therefore may tell you: ‘So-and-so is saying this’ –however it is not the direct speech of the mute person but what the communicator has understood from it and has conveyed to you. If the communicator speaks English then the speech will be in English and if he speaks Arabic the speech is in Arabic. It is just the representation of the actual meaning.
Similarly they say that Allāh did not directly speak the Qur’ān, however He inspired its meaning to Jibrīl who conveyed it using his own words. Such a belief is utterly reprehensible as it implies a great deal of imperfection to Allāh, Exalted is He. Denying that Allāh Speaks impacts directly on who we view the Qur’ān. If Allāh does not speak with real speech it can only mean that the Qur’ān is created. See Majmū’ al-Fatāwā by Ibn Taymiyyah p. 296-7 vol. 6. They took their name from their founder Ibn Kullāb who died 245 AH.  Iḥyā ‘Ulūm al-Dīn, by al-Ghazālī (d. 505 AH)  See Mushkil al- Ḥadīth by Ibn Fawrak, p. 235 & 233.  See Majmū’ al-Fatāwā by Ibn Taymiyyah, vol- 6: p. 294-5.
Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-‘Aqeedah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, edited by Asim Khan, will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-‘Aqeedah al-Ṭaḥāwiyyah, is a short text outlining the ‘aqeedah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements.
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