Introduction to 'Ilm-al-Kalam
Martyr Murtada Mutahhari
8. The Doctrine of al-Tawhid
Beginning with tawhid it has various kinds and levels:
al-tawhid al-dhati (Unity of the Essence);
al-tawhid al-sifati (Unity of the Attributes, i.e., with the Essence);
al-tawhid al-‘af’ali (Unity of the Acts);
al-tawhid al-‘ibadi (monotheism in worship).
It means that the Divine Essence is one and unique; it does not have a like or match. All other beings are God’s creations and inferior to Him in station and in degree of perfection. In fact, they cannot be compared with Him. The idea of al-tawhid al-dhati is made clear by the following two [Qur’anic] verses:
“Nothing is like Him.” (42:11)
“He does not have a match [whatsoever].” (112:4)
It means that the Divine Attributes such as Knowledge, Power, Life, Will, Perception, Hearing, Vision, etc. are not realities separate from God’s Essence. They are identical with the Essence, in the sense that the Divine Essence is such that the Attributes are true of It, or is such that It manifests these Attributes.
It means that all beings or rather all acts [even human acts] exist by the Will of God, and are in some way willed by His sacred Essence.
It means that except God no other being deserves worship and devotion. Worship of anything besides God is shirk and puts the worshipper outside the limits of Islamic tawhid or monotheism.
In a sense al-tawhid al-‘ibadi (tawhid in worship) is different from other kinds of tawhidi, because the first three relate to God and this kind relates to the creatures. In other words, the Unity of Divine Essence, His Uniqueness and the identity of the Essence and Attributes, the unity of the origin of everything – all of them are matters which relate to God. But tawhid in worship, i.e. the necessity of worshipping the One God, relates to the behavior of the creatures. But in reality, tawhid in worship is also related to God, because it means Uniqueness of God as the only deserving object of worship, and that He is in truth the One Deity Worthy of Worship. The statement “la ilaha illallah” encompasses all aspects of tawhid, although its first signification is monotheism in worship.
Al-tawhid al-dhati and al-tawhid al-‘ibadi are part of the basic doctrines of Islam. It means that if there is a shortcoming in one’s belief in these two principles, it would put one outside the pale of Islam. No Muslim has opposed these two basic beliefs.
Lately, the Wahhabis, who are the followers of Muhammad ibn ‘Abd al-Wahhab, who was a follower of Ibn Taymiyyah, a Hanbali from Syria, have claimed that some common beliefs of the Muslims such as one in intercession (shafa’ah) and some of their practices such as invoking the assistance of the prophets (A) and holy saints (R) are opposed to the doctrine of al-tawhid al-‘ibadi. But these are not considered by other Muslims to conflict with al-tawhid al-‘ibadi. The point of difference between the Wahhabis and other Muslims is not whether any one besides God – such as the prophets or saints – is worthy of worship. There is no debate that anyone except God cannot be worshipped. The debate is about whether invoking of intercession and assistance can be considered a form of worship or not. Therefore, the difference is only secondary, not a primary one. Islamic scholars have rejected the viewpoint of the Wahhabis in elaborate, well-reasoned answers.
Al-tawhid al-sifati (the Unity of Divine Essence and Attributes) is a point of debate between the Mu’tazilah and the Asha’irah. The latter deny it while the former affirm it. Al-tawhid al-‘af’ali is also another point of difference between them, with the difference, however, that the matter is reverse; i.e. the Asha’irah affirm it and the Mu’tazilah deny it.
When the Mu’tazilah call themselves “ahl al-tawhid”, and count it among their doctrines, thereby they mean by it al-tawhid al-sifati, not al-tawhid al-dhati, nor al-tawhid al-‘ibadi (which are not disputed), nor al-tawhid al-‘af’ali. Because, firstly, al-tawhid al-‘af’ali is negated by them, and, secondly, they expound their own viewpoint about it under the doctrine of justice, their second article.
The Asha’irah and the Mu’tazilah formed two radically opposed camps on the issues of al-tawhid al-sifati and al-tawhidal-‘af’ali. To repeat, the Mu’tazilah affirms al-tawhid al-sifati and rejects al-tawhid al-‘af’ali, while the Ash’arite position is the reverse. Each of them have advanced arguments in support of their positions. We shall discuss the Shi’ite position regarding these two aspects of tawhid in the related chapter.