Al-Tawhid (book)

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Bibliographical Information
Bibliographical Information
AuthorAl-Shaykh al-Saduq
Original titleالتوحید
SubjectMonotheism, Theology
PublisherVarious publications
English translation
En. titleKitab al-tawhid: the book of divine unity
En. publisherAMI Press

Kitāb al-Tawḥīd (Arabic: کتاب التوحید ) (lit. The Book of Divine Unity) is one of the earliest and the most significant theological sources which is compiled by the reputable Muhaddith (hadith scholar) of fourth/tenth century, Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Babiwayh, known as al-Shaykh al-Saduq. This book is about monotheism in its general sense (knowing about Allah) and comprises narrations about the unity of the Divine essence, affirmation and negation attitudes in understanding Divine attributes, attributes of essence and attributes of action and their relation to the Divine essence, eternity and temporality, predestination and divine providence, determinism and absolute freewill and the related topics.

This book is a hadith collection wherein al-Shaykh al-Saduq, with the slightest degree of interference in the texts of narrations, presents theological discussions. His motive for compiling such a book was to respond to the accusations which were made against Shi'a beliefs by the enemies of Shi'a. This book has always been at the center of Shi'a scholar's attention as one of the most authentic hadith sources whose content would be cited for various theological discussions.


Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. 'Ali b. Al-Ḥusayn b. Musa al- Qummi (after 305/917-8 — 381/991-2), commonly known as al-Shaykh al-Saduq, or Ibn Babawayh, was one of the greatest Shi'a Muhaddiths (hadith scholar) and the compiler of Man la yahduruh al-faqih, one of the four major books of Shi'a.

Al-Shaykh al-Saduq was the most prominent Muhaddith and scholar of the hadith school of Qom. Al-Saduq began teaching and narrating hadiths from a young age, and continued to do so during his travels. He had many students, and many scholars narrated hadith on his authority. His epithet, al-Saduq (the Truthful), indicates his reliability as a hadith transmitter in the eyes of Shi'a scholars.

Attribution to al-Shaykh al-Saduq

There's no doubt that this book was compiled by al-Shaykh al-Saduq and he himself mentions this book in his other works. According to al-Majlisi, the reliability of attribution of all available works of al-Saduq to him, except for few, is not less than the reliability of attribution of the four books to their authors.


Ibn Babiwayh says that he had written this book to respond to the enemies or critics of Shi'a who accused Shi'a of believing in divine corporeality or predestination, because of their propaganda, and caused many not to join this sect. To understand the root of such a problem one needs to look into some of the Ghulats who fabricated many narrations about divine corporeality and predestination. Such accusations were mainly made by Mu'tazilas of the time, like Khayyat who repeatedly mentions these allegations in his book Intisar. Sometimes even some Shi'a theologians criticized the theological school of Qom, which was largely founded on narrative basis in matters of theology, with the fact that these bases would lead to the aforementioned problems. In early fourth century, Abu al-Hasan Ash'ari attributed to Shi'a the belief in Tajsim (divine corporeality) and Tashbih (divine anthropomorphism) even the traditionalist and narrative-inclined body of Sunnis that was remarkably involved in more excessive forms of belief in corporeality and predestination, accused Shi'a of exaggerations in affirming divine attributes and corporeality.



The title "al-Tawhid" in early centuries of Islam, had been an indication of theological outlines and directions of different sects and schools; for the same reason, many theorists in different Islamic sects used such manifestos with the title al-Tawhid, to introduce the teachings of their sect. Some of such theorists are as follows:

Likewise, Hadith promoters from among Sunnis and Shi'a, set forth particular books with the title al-Tawhid to present their opinions based on verses of the Qur'an and narrations. Aside from al-Tawhid lil-Mufaddal -that is believed to have been stated under the authority of Imam al-Sadiq (a) - some individuals like: Ibn Abi al-Khattab (d.262/875-6) and 'Ali b. Husayn Babiwayh (d.329/940-1), the father of al-Shaykh al-Saduq, have authored books about al-Tawhid too. Furthermore, within Hadith collections like al-Kafi, a specific chapter titled: al-Tawhid, is dedicated to this topic. Similar situation existed among Sunnis in the late third to fourth centuries; in addition to Ibn Khuzayma, some individuals like: Ibn Minda (310/922-3 -395/969-70) in al-Tawhid wa ma'rifat asma' Allah ta'ala, and Hafiz Darqutni (306/918-9 -385/995-6) in al-Tawhid wa al-sifat and each of Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and Ibn Maja within their Hadith collections and under titles like: Kitab al-Iman (the chapter on Faith) or al-rad ala al-jahmiyya (refuting Jahmiyya) have dealt with the issues of Tawhid and divine attributes. Historically speaking, in the fourth/tenth century, with the emergence of a gradual weakness in Mu'tazila school and the start of consolidation of Ash'ari school, the field of narrations started to play major roles in theological matters and among the theological works within this narrative-inclined movement, probably the book al-Tawhid written by Ibn Khuzayma and the chapter al-Tawhid of al-Kafi were noteworthy to al-Saduq.

Reception by Shi'a Scholars

Considering the background discussions about divine essence and attributes, and taking into account the narrative and theological Shi'a heritage and observing the effects of Sunni hadith movement, al-Shaykh al-Saduq started to compile al-Tawhid to deny the accusations of the belief in divine corporeality and predestination and to set forth foundations of Shi'a belief based on verses of the Qur'an and narrations.

About the historical position and the significance of this book, in addition to what has already been said, one must take into account the status of the author as one of the three great jurists and Muhaddiths of Shi'a Imamiyya who compiled the four major books of Shi'a hadith collections. Al-Tawhid has been at the center of Shi'a scholars' attention and is deemed as one of the most authentic Hadith sources whose content would be cited. For example, in volumes dedicated to al-Tawhid and Divine Justice from Bihar al-anwar, al-'Allama al-Majlisi in numerous occasions has used the narrations of this book from its old manuscripts which were at his disposal.

Book's Content

The book al-Tawhid in which al-Saduq has used narrations as substantive bases for proving or explaining theological concepts is in fact a well-established theological discipline founded on the bases of the texts of hadith with the least interference possible. However, in this work al-Saduq has put greater emphasis on the issue of Divine attributes from among various topics related to Tawhid and the Divine Being; this in turn shows the polemic attitude of the book towards other opposing movements or its defensive nature amid accusations against Shi'a theological structure. The main opponents in such polemic discussions are Mushabbiha (those who believe in analogous anthropomorphism of the Divine essence) and Mujassima (those who believe in divine corporeality) although this does not necessarily reflect that Shi'a and Mu'tazilas are in the same theological stances.

The topic of this book is Tawhid in its general sense, therefore in addition to discussing the Unity of Divine Being and its attributes, it comprises issues like:

  • Eternity and temporality (of the creation)
  • Predestination and divine providence
  • Determinism and absolute freewill and the related topics with divine justice and human freewill

Latter topics in later periods of theological discussions, turned to be a subdivision of Divine actions. In later periods to this day, these issues are addressed under an independent title for Divine Justice in theological works. It seems that in the use and application of such great notion of Tawhid which comprises all related aspects to the Divine Being, al-Saduq follows the footsteps of al-Kulayni in al-Kafi. This is when Ibn Khuzayma (d.311/923-4) the author of al-Tawhid who is contemporary with al-Kulayni, discussed such topics as divine providence and predestination, determinism and freewill in his al-Qadar.

Approving and Disapproving Mu'tazilas

Although some of al-Tawhid stances are similar to that of Mu'tazilas. Some accepted areas are:

  • The objective same-ness of divine essence and divine attributes
  • Denying the concept of objective addition of divine attributes to the divine essence
  • Denying divine anthropomorphism
  • Rejecting negative reductionism in understanding essential attributes like diminishing the state of Omnipotence as merely "not being incapable"
  • The corporeal nature of the divine word and the corporeality of the Qur'an (along with avoiding the use of adjective "created" for Qur'an).

There are disagreements with them in certain areas. Some disputed areas with Mu'tazilas are:

  • Rejection the notion and implications of Tafwid (the belief that God has no role in worldly affairs)
  • Recognition of the shortcomings of intellect in comprehending the true reason of things or the ultimate objective distinction between right and wrong
  • The belief that the fulfillment of commination by God is not necessary
  • The belief that Major Sins are forgivable.

In addition to these, the great emphasis on the limitations of human intellect in understanding Divine essence and the knowledge of Asma' (divine attributes) and reserving the intellectual discourse to the Divine Greatness and whatever is beneath 'Arsh (the Throne) and generally, the insufficiency of intellectual capacity in understanding divine realities is a clear contrast to the excessive reliance of Mu'tazilite on the reason.

The Application of Kalam

In this work, al-Saduq criticizes theology and theologians. Historically speaking, however, opposition to theology and equating it with polytheism and Bid'a (heresy in religion) by creating a chapter on the prohibition of theology and warning of its perishing nature and absolute rejection against theology are coexisting and correlated with certain movements such as Mu'tazilite and Jahmiyya; that's because no other theological movement existed within the period of those narrations, that is from Imam al-Baqir (a) to Imam al –Rida (a). Nevertheless, the author's own opinions and inferences in different occasions to explain the meanings of certain narrations are presented in a complete theological design while theological concepts and methods are applied in them. In addition to this, the book al-Tawhid is a precious source for understanding early differences and schisms within Shi'a community. Like:

  • The Analogous (Tashbihi) theory attributed to Hisham b. Salim Jawaliqi and Maythami and Abu Ja'far al-Taq
  • The Corporeal Theories of the Divine essence which is attributed to some other individuals
  • The belief in the objective distinction between the Divine essence and its attributes
  • The disagreement among some companions of Imam al-Baqir (a) about the Divine pre-creation knowledge
  • The discussion about whether or not the Holy Qur’an was created (correspondent to the discussion of its eternal -uncreated in time- or temporal –created in time- essence)
  • Disagreement in predestination and absolute freewill


Methodologically speaking, al-Saduq has adopted a particularly unique attitude in this book. He has documented certain narrations of some companions of the holy Prophet (s), that is, narrations transmitted through:

His concern over the accuracy of the selected narrations and their coherence between titles and contents is so considerable that even a single repeated, unrelated narration is not found in his book. However, in certain occasions, he immediately reconciles the seeming contradiction by a proper explanation. A quick comparison between this book and its equivalent in Sunni hadith circles reveals al-tawhid's incomparable level of rationality and coherence of logical structure. Distinction between the Attributes of Essence (Hearing, Seeing, Knowledge, Power etc.) and the Attributes of Action (Speech, Will, Creation etc.) is discussed in this book too. There is an objective unity between the Divine Essence and its attributes, otherwise the problem of multiplicity of the Divine Essence or that of multiple eternals would rise. Instead, the attributes of action are objectively distinct from the Divine Essence. According to the author, the Attributes of Essence are the sign of negation-originated concepts (Divine Knowledge originally means: not being ignorant) and they are the only eternal attributes. However, the attributes of action have positive denotations but they are not eternal.

Moreover, al-Saduq relies on the narrations to explain certain verses that apparently suggest the corporeality of the Divine Essence. Verses that apply certain types of limbs like: hand, face, leg, eyes and ears) or present some anthropomorphic conditions and descriptions for God like:

  • Being beside
  • Being on the throne
  • Deception
  • Derision
  • Coming
  • Pleasure
  • Wrath

In addition to reconciling the seeming contradiction between these verses and the accepted beliefs of Shi'a, al-Saduq makes use of other Qur'anic verses and expressions like: Subhan Allah (exalted be Allah) and Allahu Akbar (God is [the] greatest) to reinforce his points. He also proves the accordance of Tawhid to the innate human nature based on the verse:

In these chapters –which occupy a large proportionate of the book- plus presenting Tafsir narrations and the author's explanations, his viewpoints in Tafsir and even Ta'wil can be found. In terms of the Divine Justice and the great foundation of rational distinction between good and evil ( al-Husn wa al-Qubh al-'aqliyyan) al-Saduq firstly excludes them from the scope of emotions and natural desires and attributes them to the faculty of reason and then, describes rationality of a given action as having a rational reason according to which human intellect adjudicates on its goodness.

Available Manuscripts

There are many manuscripts of al-Tawhid in the libraries of Iran. Some researchers have mentioned about 92 copies to be available. This book was printed for several times in Tehran, Mumby, Najaf, Beirut and Qom.


Considering its great theological position, many commentaries have been written on al-Tawhid. In 1083/1672-3, Sayyid Muhammad Khalil b. Rukn al-Din Husayni Kashani, a student of Mulla Muhsin Fayd Kashani, finished his concise philosophical-theological commentary on the book. In 11th/17th century, Shah Muhammad b. Shams al-Din Muhammad Istahbanati Shirazi wrote a translation along with a short explanation on al-tawhid titled Hal al-'aqa'id. Mulla Muhammad Baqir, famous as Muhaqqiq Sabziwari (d.1090/1679-80) wrote a Persian commentary on it. Qadi Sa'id Qummi paid special attention to the philosophical, theological and mystical bases within the book and wrote an extensive commentary on al-Tawhid. Sayyid Ni'mat Allah Jaza'iri wrote a couple of commentaries on al-Tawhid titled:

  • Nur al-barahin fi bayan akhbar al-sadat al-tahirin
  • Anis al-wahid fi sharh al-Tawhid

Also Amir 'Ali Na'ib al-Sidara wrote a commentary on al-Tawhid. Four concordances have been made to the narrations of al-Tawhid.


This book has been translated in english as Kitab al-tawhid: the book of divine unity by Ali Adam and published in Birmingham by AMI Press affiliated with al-Mahdi Institute (Birmingham).[1]


  1. KITAB AL-TAWHID: The Book of Divine Unity, website of Amazon. Retrieved 2 March 2021.]