The World View of Tauhid

Developing Just Leadership

Ali Shariati

Rajab 25, 1398 1978-07-01

Occasional Paper

by Ali Shariati

(Translated from Islamshinasi, Vol. pp.46 56.)

MY WORLD‑VIEW CONSISTS OF tauhid. Tauhid in the sense of oneness of God is of course accepted by all monotheists. But tauhid as a world‑view in the sense I intend in my theory means regarding the whole universe as a unity, instead of dividing it into this world and the hereafter, the natural and the supernatural, substance and meaning, spirit and body. It means regarding the whole of existence as a single form, a single living and conscious organism, possessing will, intelligence, feeling and purpose. There are many people who believe in tauhid, but only as a religious‑philosophical theory, meaning nothing but "God is one, not more than one." But I take tauhid in the sense of a world‑view, and I am convinced that Islam also intends it in this sense. I regard shirk in a similar fashion; it is a world‑view that regards the universe as a discordant assemblage full of disunity, contradiction, and heterogeneity, possessing a variety of independent and clashing poles, conflicting tendencies, var­iegated and unconnected desires, reckonings, customs, purposes and wills. Tauhid sees the world as an empire; shirk as a feudal system.

The difference between my world‑view and that of material­ism or naturalism lies in this, that I regard the world as a living being, endowed with will and self‑awareness, percipient, and having an ideal and a purpose. Existence is therefore a living being, possessing a single and harmonious order that is endowed with life, will, sensation and purpose, just like a vast and absolute man (man likewise resembles the world, but a small, relative and defective world). To put it differently, if we take a man endowed with awareness, creativity and purpose, exemplary to the utmost degree in all of his aspects, and then enlarge him to the utmost degree, we will have before us the world.

The relationship of man with God, of nature with metanature, of nature with God (all of these are terms I use reluctantly), is the same as that of light with the lamp that emits it. It is also the same as the relationship between an individual's awareness of his limb and the limb itself: his perception is not separate from his limb, nor is it alien to it; but neither is it part of the limb, and still less, the limb itself. At the same time, the limb itself, without his consciousness of it, is a meaningless corpse.1 So it is that I do not believe in pantheism, polytheism, trinitar­ianism, or dualism, but only in tauhid ‑monotheism. Tauhid represents a particular view of the world that demonstrates a universal unity in existence, a unity between three separate hypostases‑God, nature, and man‑because the origin of all three is the same.2 All have the same direction, the same will, the same spirit, the same motion, and the same life.

In this world‑view of tauhid, being is divided into two rela­tive aspects: the unseen and the manifest. These two terms correspond in current usage to the sensible and the suprasensi­ble, or, more exactly, to that which lies beyond the scope of examination, observation and experiment (and hence knowl­edge) and is hidden from our sense‑perception, and that which is manifest and observable. This does not represent a form of dualism or bisection of being; it is a relative classification-­relative to man and his means of cognition. The division into Unseen and manifest is, in reality, an epistemological one, not an ontological one. It is also a logical division, not only accepted but also applied by science.

The materialists believe in the primacy of mallet as the original arid primordial Substance of the physical world, and regard energy as the product arid the changing form of matter. The energists claim that on the contrary, energy is the primary and eternal substance of the physical world, and that matter is the changed and compressed form of energy. In opposition to both groups, Einstein proclaimed that an experiment in a darkened room proves that neither matter nor energy is the primary and true source of the world of being. The two inter­change with each other in such a way as to prove that they are the alternating manifestations of all invisible and unknowable essence that sometimes shows itself in the form of matter and sometimes in the form of energy. The only task of physics is to examine these twin manifestations of the one suprasensible being.

In the world‑view of tauhid, nature, the manifest World, is composed of a series of signs (ayat) and norms (sunan).

The use of the word "sign" (aya) to designate a natural phenomenon bears profound meaning. The oceans arid trees, night and day, earth arid sun, earthquake and death, illness, vicissitude, law, and even mail himself‑all these are "signs." At the same time, "sign" arid "God" do not represent two separate and discordant hypostases, essences, realms, or poles. "Sign" has the sense of indication or manifestation, and this in turn is synonymous with a term Current today, not only ill physics but all the sciences concerned with the tangible world­ - phenomenon," translated in Persian as padida or padidar, and in Arabic as zahlra. Phenoni etiology, in its most general sense, is based oil the recognition that absolute truth, the ground and essence of the world, of nature and of matter, lies beyond our grasp. What is knowable and accessible to our experience, knowledge and sense‑perception, is "appearance," not "be­ing"; it consists of the outer and sensible manifestations and traces of a primary, unseen and suprasensory reality. Physics, chemistry and psychology can examine, analyze and render knowable these outer manifestations and sensible indications of the true essence of the world and the soul. In short, science deals with the signs, indications and manifestations of being, because sensible nature is the amalgam of these signs and manifestations.

Among all the books of religion, science and philosophy, it is only the Qur'an that designates all the objects, accidents and processes of nature as "signs." Of course, in Islamic mysticism as well as oriental pantheism, the material world has been depicted as a series of waves or bubbles on the face of the vast, colorless and formless ocean that is God or the true essence of being. Idealism and various religious and ethical philosophies have also regarded material nature as a collection of lowly and worthless objects opposed to both God and man. But the Qur'an assigns positive scientific worth to the "signs"; it does not consider them illusions, or veils over the face of the truth. On the contrary, they are indications pointing to the truth, and it is only by means of contemplating them in a serious and scientific fashion that one can attain the truth, not by ignoring them and thrusting them aside.

This manner of regarding the "signs" or phenomena of the world is closer to the approach of modern science than to that of ancient mysticism. It is not a question of the wahdat al‑wujud of the Sufis, but a tauhid‑i wujud, scientific and analytical. According to tauhid, multiplicity, plurality and contradiction are unacceptable, whether in history, society or even in man.

Tauhid, then, is to be interpreted in the sense of the unity of nature with metanature, of man with nature, of man with man, of God with the world and with man. It depicts all of these as constituting a total, harmonious, living and self‑aware system.3

I have said that the very structure of tauhid cannot accept contradiction or disharmony in the world. According to the world‑view of tauhid, therefore, there is no contradiction in all of existence: no contradiction between man and nature, spirit and body, this world and the hereafter, matter and meaning. Nor can tauhid accept legal, class, social, political, racial, national, territorial, genetic or even economic contradictions, for it implies a mode of looking upon all being as a unity.

Contradiction between nature and metanature, matter and meaning, this world and the hereafter, the sensible and the suprasensible, spirit and body, intellect and illumination, science and religion, metaphysics and nature, working for men and working for God, politics and religion, logic and love, bread and worship, piety and commitment, life and eternity, landlord and peasant, ruler and ruled, black and white, noble and vile, clergy and laity, eastern and western, blessed and wretched, light and darkness, inherent virtue and inherent evil, Greek and barbarian, Arab and non‑Arab, Persian and non­-Persian, capitalist and proletarian, elite and mass, learned and illiterate‑all these forms of contradiction are reconcilable only with the world‑view of shirk‑dualism, trinitarianism or polytheism‑but not with tauhid‑monotheism. It is for this reason that the world‑view of shirk has always formed the basis for shirk in society, with its discrimination among classes and races. Belief in a plurality of creators justifies and sanctifies a plurality of creatures, presenting it as something eternal and everlasting.4 Similarly, a belief in contradiction among the gods presents as natural and divine the contradictions existing among men. Tauhid, by contrast, which negates all forms of shirk, regards all the particles, processes and phenomena of existence as being engaged in harmonious movement toward a single goal. Whatever is not oriented to that goal is by defini­tion nonexistent.

One further consequence of the world‑view of tauhid is the negation of the dependence of man on any social force, and the linking of him, in exclusivity and in all his dimensions, to the consciousness and will that rule over being. The source of support, orientation, belief, and succor of every individual is a single central point, a pivot around which revolve all the motions of the cosmos. All beings move in a circle described by luminous radii equidistant from the center, which is the power­ful source of all being, the only will, the only consciousness, the only power that exists and rules over the universe. The position of man in this world is an objective embodiment of this truth, as is, more obviously, his circumambulation of the Ka'ba.

In the world‑view of tauhid, man fears only one power, and is answerable before only one judge. He turns to only one qibla, and directs his hopes and desires to only one source. And the corollary is that all else is false and pointless‑all the diverse and variegated tendencies, strivings, fears, desires and hopes of man are vain and fruitless.

Tauhid bestows upon man independence and dignity. Sub­mission to Him alone‑the supreme norm of all being‑impels man to revolt against all lying powers, all the humiliating fetters of fear and of greed.


1. How profound, beautiful and clear are the words of Hazrat Ali: "God is outside of things, but not in the sense of being alien to them; and He is inside things, but not in the sense of being identical with them."

2. It hardly needs stating that I do not intend here a substantial unity in essence and quiddity. Do not permit these philosophical and theological terms to tire your brain; simply expel them from your mind. For I am convinced that this is the only thing to do with this kind of apparently insoluble philosophical­literary problem. My meaning in saying that God, nature and man have the same origin is that they are not remote from each other, not alien to each other, not opposed to each other, and that no boundary exists among them. They do not have each a separate and independent direction. Other religions believe that God exists in a special, metaphysical world of the gods, a higher world contrast­ing with the lower world of nature and matter. They also teach that the God of man is separate and distinct from the God of nature. Thus God, the world and man are all separate from each other! We do not accept this separation.

3. The Light VCISC (Qu’ran, 24:35) illustrates this concept of being, since it demonstrates the special relationship between God and the world according to the world‑view of tauhid. The whole of existence is like a burning lamp; this is neither “unity of being" (wahdat al‑wujud) nor multiplicity of being, but tauhid of being.

4. The term ''Creator" in polytheistic religions implies something different from the term "Lord" or "God.‑ Sometimes the gods themselves are created by a great Creator, while being at the same time entrusted with power and authority over a certain species or a certain sector of the world and human life. They have thus been worshipped by a certain class or race, and through then very multi­plicity, have justified shirk among men.

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