An Isma'ili discussion on the meaning of tawḥīd (the Unicity of God)
From Ḥamīd al-Dīn al-Kirmānī's al-Risāla al-durriyya (the Brilliant Epistle) Trans. by F.M. Hunzai in An Anthology of Isma'ili Literature: A Shi'i Vision of Islam Ed. Hermann Landolt, Samira Sheikh & Kutub Kassam (I.B Tauris, London: 2008), pp. 89-97.
A questioner asked and said, ‘What is tawḥīd?’ It is known in our saying that it means ‘making muwaḥḥad (unified, one) (fiʿl al-muwaḥḥad)’ and the muwaḥḥad is the object of the muwaḥḥids. But it is not permissible for us to say that God is the object of the muwaḥḥids. Further, he said that tawḥīd is not possible without the imagination of a multiplicity; it is applicable only to what is made wāḥid (one) of the entire multiplicity. But in the divinity there is no multiplicity to make wāḥid out of it. Explain this for us.
First we say that the Mubdiʿ (Originator) … having no similitude, does not depend on the unification of the unifiers (tawḥīd al-muwaḥḥidīn), nor on the purification of the purifiers (tajrīd al-mujarridīn), so that He would leave His having no similitude if the unifiers do not unify Him, or that He would leave His transcendence (min ʿuluwwihi) from the characteristics of His originated things if the purifiers do not purify Him. But He … has no similitude whether the unifiers unify Him or not, whether the purifiers purify Him or not.
And it is the element (ʿunṣur) and nature of speech that, when someone intends to inform about the traces and essences that transcend the comprehension of the senses, its meanings become too narrow and too subtle (to convey them), let alone that which (even) the propositions of the intelligence and the soul cannot comprehend. Thus, speech is unable to denote that which is not like it. Thus, there is nothing in that which is composed of letters, such as a word or speech, which can denote the reality sought in tawḥīd. For what is intended to be comprehended about the Mubdiʿ … through a description, is far beyond the noblest meanings that the composed letters can convey.
Since this is the case and it is inevitable to speak and affirm what the rudiments of the intellect necessitate, namely, an agent from whom the existing actions came forth, nor is it possible to dispense with the expression of the subtleties of the imaginary thoughts that flash in the mind, and (since) the simple letters to which recourse is taken in expression and whence the speech and demonstration come forth, due to their limitation in bearing the subtle meanings, are unable to convey what is not from their element and incapable of informing about what is not from their substance, the speaker is compelled to speak with the most noble, most sublime and most subtle meanings that the letters can convey from their cognation (sunkh) and origin. When there is compulsion (to speak), then there is no more noble and more subtle meaning in the speech than wāḥidiyya (being one) and no more exalted than the meaning of our saying ‘fard’ (single), owing to the fact that, to that which has no similitude, fard may be applied more appropriately, from among that which is composed of letters, to Him than Mubdiʿ even if it does not befit Him. Since the name referring to His being Mubdiʿ is due to Him (only) by virtue of His ibdāʿ (origination) and He was there while there was no ibdāʿ¸ and He is not He without being fard. But He is fard forever. And He, as such, is fard due to the impossibility of the existence of His similitude.
Again, when the field of thinking is extended in attaining the most appropriate of the meanings which the composite letters convey to be said about the Mubdiʿ in bewilderment and compulsion, it is the fard which can be applied to Him – even though the meaning (of fard) is applicable to some of His originated things (mukhtaraʿāt), the field of thinking remaining confined to what the intellect comprehends through its light and to that which its propositions may comprehend of what is beyond it [i.e., the field of the intellect], namely, the meaning conveyed by our saying ‘fard.’ For the meaning of fardiyya (being single) in wāḥidiyya (being one) exceeds the meaning of wāḥid (one), aḥad (unique) and waḥīd (alone) in wāḥidiyya by virtue of its being ṣamad [one to whom people resort in their needs, that which has no emptiness, i.e., is self-sufficient]. And the meaning of fard in wāḥidiyya is not, upon careful examination, to be distinguished from the meaning of wāḥid by virtue of its having an additional meaning in wāḥidiyya, except by virtue of its being the cause of wāḥid. And that which is the cause always precedes the effect, about which we have spoken in our book known as Rāḥat al-ʿaql (Repose of the Intellect), with which the darkness of ignorance disappears and through which the light of justice speaks. We have written it as a preface and have extended the field of definition so that it may be helpful for what we want to speak about.
Tawḥīd does not mean – as we have said about the meaning of fard, the careful examination of the meaning in communicating about God – that He is fard, so that the one who carefully examines (the meaning) may be a muwaḥḥid. Nor is it the case that God is restricted to one particular meaning so that by virtue of that meaning, it may be established that He is fard. For the glory of His grandeur is in a veil making it impossible for the letters to render it by any means. And how can it be possible for the letters to render it while they barely erect in their composition a lighthouse to guide, whereas the water of His power overflows and they barely announce any information to speak with a meaning, small or great, but the incapability (of that) establishes itself and spreads? God, the Existentiator, the Worthy of worship, thus, transcends the rational propositions and the physical qualifications.
Tawḥīd, indeed, is an infinitive on the (grammatical) measure of tafʿīl. The philologists do not use this kind of quadrilateral verb-forms except for the one whose action is abundant. For instance, if someone massacres, it is said: ‘qattala fulānun yuqattilu taqtīlan fa-huwa muqattil.’ The one who kills only once is called qātil, but the one who massacres many times, qattāl. Tawḥīd, with respect to its meaning, has two aspects: One is related to the ibdāʿ of the Mubdiʿ… and the other to the act of the muʾmin (believer) who is a muwaḥḥid (unifier). With respect to the aspect related to the ibdāʿ of the Mubdiʿ, tawḥīd necessitates a muwaḥḥid who is the agent of wāḥid (al-fāʿil li’l-wāḥid) and a muwaḥḥad (unified), which is the object (of the muwaḥḥid) in the sense of wāḥid (one). And wāḥid is used in many ways, such as:
(i) A wāḥid is wāḥid by virtue of the finiteness of its essence (dhāt) toward the
sides by which it separates itself from others, such as the bodies of sensible
things. In this respect, it deserves to be called wāḥid. And its limitation
toward the sides and the comprehension of its limits, all this shows that this
wāḥid is contingent.
(ii) A wāḥid is wāḥid in the sense that it is given a specific meaning that is not
found in others, such as the property of the magnet in attracting iron. In
this respect, it deserves to be called wāḥid. And its specification with this
meaning, with the exclusion of the others, necessitates it to be contingent.
(iii) A wāḥid is wāḥid in the sense of essence (ʿayn), such as the essence of
whiteness, the essence of blackness, the essence of a substance and the essence of
a thing. In this respect, all of them deserve to be called wāḥid. And the fact
that this wāḥid, in its existence, depends on the existence of someone other
than who precedes it, and that its existence does not detach itself from its
essence, being always with it, as long as it has an essence within existence,
necessitates its being contingent.
(iv) And the wāḥid is wāḥid in an absolute sense. The absolute wāḥid betrays its
essential ‘pairedness (izdiwāj),’ which consists of the waḥdah (oneness, unity)
and its receptacle.
All these aspects (of wāḥid) necessitate that wāḥid be absolutely contingent. When it is established that wāḥid is absolutely necessarily contingent, then it necessitates that tawḥīd, which means ‘making one (fiʿl al-wāḥid),’ which latter pronounces the contingency of its (own) essence, does not befit the glory of the Mubdiʿ … Thus the Mubdiʿ, may He be sanctified, is muwaḥḥid in the sense that He is the Mubdiʿ of wāḥid and aḥad. As to (the aspect of) tawḥīd related to the muʾmin who is a muwaḥḥid, it does not mean that he ‘makes one (yafʿalu al-wāḥid);’ rather, it changes from its previous meaning that is ‘making one (fiʿl al-wāḥid)’ to another one. As when the particle ‘ʿan’ is used with the verb ‘raghiba,’ its meaning changes (from the previous one). For instance, when it is said, ‘raghiba fulānun ʿan al-shayʾ,’ it means ‘so-and-so disliked the thing,’ but the ‘raghiba’ alone means contrary to it [i.e., to like]. Thus, the meaning of tawḥīd of the muwaḥḥid (in the case of the muʾmin) is to divest the muwaḥḥad from a certain meaning. As in the sense of isolating (tajrīd) or separating (ifrād) a thing from another thing, it is said, ‘waḥḥadtu al-shayʾa ʿan al-shay’ (I isolated a thing from another thing).’
When tawḥīd (in this case) means divesting the muwaḥḥad from a certain meaning, as we mentioned, and divinity is a necessity whose existence cannot be repudiated, and the fact of the agency (fāʿiliyya) is a power that cannot be negated; and from among the things falling under existentiation, from the Originated Intellect (al-ʿaql al-ibdāʿī) to the Emanated Intellect (al-ʿaql al-inbiʿāthī), there is that which possesses the highest degree of knowledge, beauty, power, light, might, grandeur, nobility and sublimity, such as the Intellect, the Precursor (sābiq) in existence; and there is that which is below it in rank, such as the Successor (tālī) in existence, and so on till what is below them from the world of nature, and what it contains till the human intellect at the end – it is not impossible for an ignorant to think that the divinity lies in some of them. Each of these things (under existentiation) because of the subsistence of the traces (of creaturehood) in it, bears witness against itself that it is not God; then from that proposition it follows that the tawḥīd, which means to divest the muwaḥḥad (unified) – which because of the subsistence of the traces in it bears witness against itself that it is not God – from divinity, and to negate it from it and to isolate it from it and sustainership (rubūbiyya) and what is related to it, is the act of the muʾmin who is a muwaḥḥid, so that by that tawḥīd it may be established that the divinity belongs to someone else. As it is known from the things that fall under existence, there are things that have no intermediaries opposite to those that have intermediaries, such as blackness and whiteness that have intermediaries, such as redness, yellowness and so on. The things that have no intermediaries, they as such, have two sides, two states and two aspects. That is to say, when one of the two sides is negated by that negation, the other side is established, such as eternal and contingent. They do not have intermediaries between them; when eternity is negated from a thing, contingency becomes inseparable from it. And like substance and accident that have no intermediaries between them; when the characteristic of substance (jawhariyya) is negated from a thing, the characteristic of accident (simat al-ʿaraḍ) becomes inseparable from it. Then it is not imaginable that there is an intermediary between the Lord (rabb) and the vassal (marbūb), or between the Mubdiʿ (Originator) and the mubdaʿ (originated), as we have explained the meaning of our sayings, ‘the mubdaʿ is the essence of the ibdāʿ,’ in the book Rāḥat al-ʿaql. Then the muʾmin is a muwaḥḥid (unifier) in the sense that he divests the muwaḥḥad (unified), who is the mubdaʿ, from divinity, as he finds the trace of ibdāʿ and the subjects and predicates in itself. Thus, the Prophet … said: ‘Al-muʾmin muwaḥḥid wa-Allāh muwaḥḥid (The believer is a muwaḥḥid and God also is a muwaḥḥid).’
Again, the meaning of the multiplicity that is necessitated by our saying that ‘tawḥīd stands in two aspects’ is: either with respect to the fard (Single), may He be exalted … that is the ibdāʿ of multiplicity, that is multiple singles (afrād) and units (āḥād), or with respect to the muʾmin, who is divesting all these numbers and singles from the divinity, one by one.
And then, first we will tersely show the truth contained in our saying that ‘the fard is the cause of wāḥid,’ according to the capacity of the epistle, even though we have explained it in our books. We say that the existence of all those things that are the essence of the first effect (al-maʿlūl al-awwal) is from the essence of the cause, which is the effect, and the effect is the cause (hiya huwa wa-huwa hiya) by virtue of the effect in its existence being from the element of the cause. And it is the nature of the effect that nothing is granted to and nothing exists in it except what its cause itself has poured forth over it, for what exists in the effect exists in the cause out of which the effect came into existence. For if the existence of what exists in the effect were not in the cause, it would have been impossible to grant the effect that did not exist in its cause. For instance, fire that is the cause of heating in what adjoins it: had the heat not been existing and subsisting in the essence of the fire, it would not have been found in what adjoins it. And how can a thing grant a thing from itself while the field of its element is empty of it? Or how can it bestow a thing while the bones of its existence are worn out?
When this is the case, we thought to investigate whether the fard, which is the cause of numbers, can from its essence indicate the ranks of countable things or not. We found it by virtue of what is hidden in it, such as the letters, their conjunction, their disjunction, their signs, their kinds, their multiplication, their calculation, that it comprises and indicates the entire ranks which God has originated. And the ranks in arithmetic are twelve, even though in form they are nine, vis-à-vis existents. This is the form of twelve ranks hidden in the fard….And corresponding to those kinds are the letters of ‘lā ilāha illa’Llāh (There is no deity but God),’ which show the ḥudūd (ranks), over whom the light of Oneness pours forth, and upon whom are based the heavens and the earth and what they contain….The brilliant proof of what we have said in this regard is the existence of the seven letters vis-a-vis the lords of the cycles, through whom and through what is poured forth over the souls from them, the purpose of the spiritual form that is created in their cycles becomes complete. If you calculate the numerical values (of
the letters) according to the calculation of the jummal, they stand vis-a-vis the days of the sun in one revolution, which are three hundred sixty-five days; the result of the multiplication of the rank four into rank seven stands vis-a-vis the mansions of the moon in one revolution, which are twenty-eight mansions; the result of the values of the letters of the fourth rank according to the calculation of the jummal stands vis-a-vis the numbers of the lords of taʾyīd (divine help) from the ḥudūd (ranks) of every cycle, except the supreme of them which is one, stands vis-à-vis the Names of God … which he who counts them enters paradise, and which are ninety-nine names.
Had we not chosen brevity and decided that prolixity does not befit the epistles, we would have similarly expounded these ranks and numbers with which the abundance of the oceans of the friends of God, may peace be upon them, in sciences and the subtlety of the deduction of their followers from them, specifically and generally, would have been conceived. But this we have left so that the one who thinks about it may have happiness in every moment, and the one who reflects on it may renew for him a good deed in every instant from what shines to him from the wonders of wisdom.
Thus, it is evident that in the fard, by virtue of its being the cause of the wāḥid, are contained the ranks of all the countable [lit., that which fall under the number] existents, and that tawḥīd with respect to God is the ibdāʿ of the wāḥid and units (āḥād), and with respect to the muʾmin is to divest the divinity from the units. We say that the community, due to its deviation from the lords of guidance [i.e., the imams] and due to relinquishing the injunctions of obedience, does not reach (even) the remotest end of the ways of tawḥīd, except a few who follow the friends of God, the Exalted, on His earth, may peace be upon them. Therefore, the One Whom they worship with their descriptions of and belief in Him, is not searched for except (in) the one who exists and falls under origination (ikhtirāʿ), and His Essence is comprehended by the power of ibdāʿ. When the One Whom they worship is originated and over-powered, then their tawḥīd is short of that by which they would deserve the garden of paradise and its felicity, and falls short of that by which they can enter the garden of eternity and dwell in it.
And how can they reach the eternal blessings while the prerequisite of attaining them is to reach their source? It is unimaginable that a traveller may reach peace, pleasures, bounty and blessings in a desired abode while he is miles away from it. Nay, ‘Verily, the wicked will be in hell’ [Qurʾan, 82:14]. And indeed the negligent are in excruciating punishment. ‘Say, shall We inform you who will be the greatest losers by their works? Those whose effort goes astray in the life of the world, and yet they reckon that they do good work. Those are they who disbelieve in the signs of their Lord and in the meeting with Him. Therefore their works are vain, and on the Day of Resurrection We assign no weight to them’ [18:103–105]. God has refused to pour forth His light except over one who surrenders to His friends, and enters the house of His worship through its gate; one who made his tawḥīd to divest His originated things from (divinity) and his worship is surrendering to His friends; Whose obedience is his purpose and Whose disobedience his object of fear. And he knows that this world is the abode of tribulation whose star never falls and it is a dwelling of humiliation whose screw never turns. Its delights have to come to an end and what is loved from it is going to perish; its children are bound to extinction and mankind among them to resurrection [lit., gathering and dispersing]. We ask God … for help to attain peace from its ruses and to take a share from its benefits. May God make us and the community of the believers among the righteous and sincere servants and unite us with our pure lords in paradise (ḥaẓīrat al-quds) and in the vicinity of the Lord of the worlds.