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Al-Tawqīʿ (Arabic: التوقيع) refers to a letter or script by Imams of the Shia. A tawqi' was handwritten or dictated by an Imam. Such scripts were often issued in response to questions or requests by Shias, and were delivered to the Shia through the network of an Imam's deputies.

The scripts were about jurisprudential and doctrinal issues, appointment or removal of deputies, receipts for Shari'a payments, refutation of false deputies, etc. About one hundred scripts are attributed to Imam al-Mahdi (a), which date back to the period of his Minor Occultation.

Shiite jurists have relied on tawqi's to infer certain jurisprudential rulings. For them, the scripts that are certainly issued from the imams are valid sources of such rulings.

The Notion

In the Shiite culture, a tawqi' refers to scripts, letters, and sometimes oral messages of Imams of the Shia.[1] Originally the term referred to writings on the margins or backs of complaints by a caliph or king or a ruler, which required the handling of the complaint in question.[2]

Development of Tawqi'

According to the Encyclopedia of Imam al-Mahdi (a), the first script issued by a Imams of the Shia, which was called a tawqi', was Imam al-Kazim's script in response to al-Hasan b. 'Ali al-Washsha', who had asked him to pray to God to give him a son.[3] The script is cited in the book Qurb al-isnad.[4] Then, the term tawqi' was used in reference to some of Imam al-Rida's scripts as well.[5] During the imamate of Al-'Askariyyayn (a) when the Shiite community expanded and Imam al-Hadi (a) and Imam al-'Askari (a) were confined to their residences, more tawqi's were issued by the two Imams.[6]

During the presence of Imams of the Shia, tawqi' was used to refer only to written replies by the Imams to questions by Shias. However, in the case of Imam al-Mahdi (a), all of his writings count as tawqi' even if they were not in response to a request or a question. Moreover, non-written hadiths transmitted from Imam al-Mahdi (a) are also called tawqi'.[7]

Handwriting of Tawqi's

Tawqi's were either handwritten or dictated by Imams.[8] In some cases, the Imams wrote under the scripts that they were in their own handwriting.[9] It is speculated that the explicit statement that a tawqi' was written by Imam al-Mahdi (a)[10] himself was meant as a way to identify false tawqi's that were attributed to the Imam or to divulge the false claims made about tawqi's.[11] This is attested by the fact that Ahmad b. Ishaq al-Qummi asked Imam al-'Askari (a) to write something in his own handwriting so that he could use it as a yardstick to evaluate the authenticity of letters attributed to him, and Imam agreed.[12] Companions of Imams of the Shia could identify their handwritings.[13]

Sending the Tawqi's through the Network of Deputies

Tawqi's were sent through deputies of Imams of the Shia, which is called the network of deputies. Shias from different regions sent Shari'a payments, requests, and questions through the deputies to the Imams, and received answers through the same network.[14] During the Minor Occultation, the Four Deputies were charged with the task,[15] who were linked to Shias in different areas through their own representatives.[16] There are narratives to the effect that Shias sometimes sent their requests to the Imams and received answers without the mediation of the deputies as well. For instance, according to al-Qutb al-Rawandi, Muhammad b. Yusuf al-Shashi sent a letter to Imam al-Mahdi (a) and received the answer through a woman who visited the Imam's house.[17]

When issued, the tawqi's were delivered through a special courier with a sign.[18] The couriers are not identified in hadiths, and are just characterized as a woman, a young boy, a black servant, the messenger from al-Husayn b. Ruh al-Nawbakhti, and the messenger of the successor.[19] This was allegedly done for purposes of dissimulation.[20]


Tawqi's were not limited to particular topics. They were often issued in response to jurisprudential and doctrinal questions as well as requests by Shias. For this reason, they involve a variety of issues, including removal and appointment of deputies, statement of the duties of the deputies, receipts of Shari'a payments, refutation of false deputies, and responses to personal requests of Shias.[21]

Validity of Tawqi's

For Shiite jurists, any tawqi' that is surely issued from the Imams is valid,[22] which is why a number of Shiite jurists have appealed to tawqi's to infer jurisprudential rulings.[23] Some jurists have doubted the validity of tawqi's, however.[24] In their view, such scripts are not as valid as oral hadiths.[25] Nevertheless, there are no arguments in books of Shiite jurisprudence against the validity of tawqi's or their lesser value in comparison to oral hadiths.[26]

Moreover, in reply to this skepticism, it is pointed out that written statements were part of the practice of Imams of the Shia and a common practice among different ethnicities.[27]

Imam al-Mahdi's Tawqi's

Imam al-Mahdi's tawqi's are the letters and scripts issued by the Twelfth Imam (a) of the Shia during his Minor Occultation in response to questions asked by Shias. In Shiite sources of hadiths, about one hundred tawqi's are attributed to Imam al-Mahdi (a) concerning jurisprudential, doctrinal, and other issues.[28]


The tawqi's are cited in different sources of Shiite hadiths. Many tawqi's by Imams of the Shia are cited in al-Kashshi's book of Rijal.[29] Imam al-Mahdi's tawqi's are collected in independent sections in al-Shaykh al-Saduq's Kamal al-din and al-Shaykh al-Tusi's al-Ghyaba.[30]

Moreover, independent works were written about tawqi's since the third/ninth century onward. Al-Najashi's Rijal lists a number of such works, including three works by 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far al-Himyari, the third/ninth century[31] Shiite scholar of hadith, under Masa'il Abi Muhammad wa-tawqi'at, Qurb al-isnad ila sahib al-amr (a), and Masa'il al-rijal wa-mukatabatihim Aba al-Hasan al-Thalith (a) and a work by Muhammad b. 'Isa b. 'Ubayd, a companion of Imam al-Jawad (a), under al-Tawqi'at.[32]

Another work is al-Tawaqi' by 'Abd Allah b. Salt, a companion of Imam al-Rida (a).[33]


  1. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 115.
  2. Murtaḍā al-Zabīdī, Tāj al-ʿarūs, vol. 11, p. 525, under word "Waqaʿa".
  3. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 115, 116.
  4. Ḥimyarī, Qurb al-isnād, p. 332.
  5. See Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 3, p. 5.
  6. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 116.
  7. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 577.
  8. See Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 96, 102, 103, 107, 510.
  9. See Kashshī, Rijāl al-Kashshī, p. 513, 551.
  10. See Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 290.
  11. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", 579-580.
  12. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 513.
  13. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 584.
  14. See Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 354.
  15. See Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 356.
  16. Jaʿfarīyān, Ḥayāt-i fikrī wa sīyāsī-yi Imāmān-i Shīʿa, p. 588.
  17. See Rāwandī, al-Kharāʾij wa l-jarāʾiḥ, vol. 2, p. 695.
  18. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 581.
  19. Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 487, 491, 495, 497, 505.
  20. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 581.
  21. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 582.
  22. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 121.
  23. See ʿĀmilī, Miftāḥ al-karāma, vol. 6, p. 212-214; Imām Khomeinī, kitāb al-bayʿ, vol. 2, p. 635; For other examples, see Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 255-320.
  24. See Ḥillī, Mukhtalaf al-Shīʿa, vol. 7, p. 248; Ṭūsī, al-Istibṣār, vol. 1, p. 171.
  25. See Ḥillī, al-Muʿtabar , vol. 2, p. 659.
  26. Shubayrī Zanjānī, "Tawqīʿ", p. 584.
  27. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 121.
  28. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 117.
  29. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 113.
  30. See Ṣadūq, Kamāl al-dīn, vol. 2, p. 482-532; Ṭūsī, al-Ghayba, p. 281 onwards.
  31. Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 220.
  32. Najāshī, Rijāl al-Najāshī, p. 334.
  33. Muḥammadī Reyshahrī, Dānishnāma-yi Imām Mahdī, vol. 4, p. 117.


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