Tawhid as a Social Approach

Tawhid as a Social Approach The principle of Tawhid (Monotheism) reserves the authority to determine and dictate in matters pertaining to the world or to human society solely for God. This right belongs solely to God, because He is the creator of mankind and the universe, and the designer of all that is in it. He is perfectly aware of all their possibilities and requirements. He knows all the physical and spiritual potentialities of man and also the hidden treasures of the earth, their balance, composition, equilibrium and utility. The principle of Tawhid assigns equal rights to all human beings on all the resources of the world, which are Divine bounties. All opportunities and possibilities belong equally to all human beings, so that everyone can derive benefit from these resources according to his needs. No region of this realm of bounties provided by God is an exclusive domain of some denied to all others.

The principle of Tawhid reserves the authority to determine and dictate in
matters pertaining to the world or to human society solely for God. This right
belongs solely to God, because He is the creator of mankind and the universe,
and the designer of all that is in it. He is perfectly aware of all their
possibilities and requirements. He knows all the physical and spiritual
potentialities of man and also the hidden treasures of the earth, their balance,
composition, equilibrium and utility.

Only He can decide about the mode and programme of human life, and determine the
outlines of human relationships and man’s social and legal systems. Thus, this
is the natural right of God, which follows from the fact that He is man’s
creator. Therefore, any intervention on the part of others in determining the
course of human action, is equivalent to infringement on Divine prerogatives,
which in turn amounts to a claim of being equal to God, and hence is tantamount
to shirk or polytheism:

But no, by thy Lord! They will not believe till they make thee the judge
regarding the disagreement between them then find no impediment in their souls
touching thy verdict, and submit with full submission. (4:65)

It is not for any believer, man or woman when God and His Messenger have decreed
a matter, to have the choice in the affair. Whosoever disobeys God and His
Messenger has gone astray into manifest error. (33:36)

The principle of Tawhid negates any right of sovereignty and guardianship of
anyone over human society except God. Sovereignty of men over men, when
considered as an independent right bereft of responsibility, necessarily leads
to repression and tyranny. It is only when the affairs of society are entrusted
by a Power Transcendental to an individual or a council of rulers, with a power
commensurate with responsibilities, can society be expected to be free from all
deviations and excesses. In religious ideology, this Transcendental Power is no
other than God Himself, whose wisdom and knowledge encompass all being:

….not so much as the weight of an atom in the heavens and earth escapes
from Him ….(34:3)

His awesome qualities of glory and power, do not leave room for any pretext for
slightest slip or deviation from His path for those appointed by Him:

Had he invented against Us any saying, We would have seized him by the right
hand, and We would surely have cut his life‑vein. (69:44-46)

The Divinely appointed ruler (or council of rulers), unlike a `majority’ or a
‘nation’, is not susceptible to deception and domination. He is not like a
`party’ which can be turned into a tool of dictatorship and repression. He is
not an aristocrat who can be either bought, or enticed into participation in an

If it is a dictate of reason that orderliness of human life necessitates that
all human systems, organizations, and institutions should be linked to a single
centre ‑ something which is true of the rest of the universe ‑ that centre can
be nothing but the powerful hand of the Almighty God, the Creator of all being.

So sovereignty and authority is solely the right of God, exercised by means of
those appointed by Him those who are the most suitable for this office according
to the criteria laid down by the Divine ideology. It is by their means that the
Divine laws and ideals can be implemented, resulting in realization of a Divine
social order:

Say: "Shall I take to myself as protector other than God, the Originator of
the heavens and of the earth. He who feeds and is not fed?" Say: "I have been
commanded to be the first of them that surrender. "Be not thou of the idolaters.


Your guardian is only God, and His Messenger, and the believers who perform
the prayer and pay the alms while bowing down. (5:55)

And also

Say: `I take refuge with the Lord of mankind, the King of mankind, the God of
mankind.’ (114:1‑3)

The principle of Tawhid specifies that the absolute right of ownership of all
the world’s resources belongs solely to God. Nobody else can claim an
independent right of ownership over anything. All things are given only as a
trust into the custody of man, to be used as means for attaining human
perfection and edification. These natural resources, which are the products of
efforts of myriads of creatures and natural forces, should not be allowed to be
destroyed, misused, or abandoned without use, or to be used for any purpose
other than progress and edification of mankind. Whatever there is in human hands
is for man, but it has been bestowed upon man by God. Accordingly, they should
be utilized for purposes as determined by Him; that is for the purpose and end
which is natural, and for which they have been created. Its use and employment
for a purpose other than that is misuse, deviation from the path of Nature, and
corruption. Man’s role is merely limited to utilization of these resources in
the right way:

Say: "Whose is the earth and whosoever is therein, if you have knowledge?’
They will say, `God’s.’ Say: `Will you not then remember?’ (23:84‑85)

It is He who created for you all that is in the earth ….(2:29)

….Serve God! You have no god other than He. It is He who raised you from the
earth, and has given you to live therein ….(11:61)

And those who break the covenant of God after His compact, and who snap what God
has commanded to be joined, and who work corruption in the earth‑their shall be
curse ….(13:25)

The principle of Tawhid assigns equal rights to all human beings on all the
resources of the world, which are Divine bounties. All opportunities and
possibilities belong equally to all human beings, so that everyone can derive
benefit from these resources according to his needs. No region of this realm of
bounties provided by God is an exclusive domain of some denied to all others.
All are free to exercise their initiative in exploiting the myriads of
opportunities scattered throughout the world. There is no discrimination on the
basis of ethnic, racial, geographical, historical, or even ideological, grounds

It is He who created for you all that is in the earth …. (2:29)

We can find numerous such statements in the Quranic verses:

And the cattle He created them for you; in them is warmth, and uses various,
and of them you eat, and there is beauty in them for you when you bring them
home to rest and when you drive them forth abroad to pasture; and they bear your
loads ….(16:5‑7)

….He it is Who sends down to you out of heavens water ….Therewith He brings
forth for you crop ….And that which He has created for you in the earth
….and He it is who subjected the sea to you that you may eat fresh meat from
thence ….(16:10‑14)

In numerous verses, the Quran addresses itself to mankind in general; no
specific race, group or sect is implied:

If He willed, He would have guided you all ….(16:9)

Your god is One God ….(16:22)

Whatever has been mentioned till now was merely a fraction of the vast and
multifaceted meanings incorporated in this principle. But this brief discussion
is sufficient to show that the principle of Tawhid is not just a philosophical
and abstract notion without practical implications, which does not cover all
dimensions of human existence and is irrelevant to practical life and its
orientation. It is not a doctrine that seeks to replace some existing dogmas and
to substitute one belief for another in the minds of men. Rather it is an
all‑inclusive outlook of the world, man, his situation in the universe, his
direction in history, his possibilities and potentialities, his eternal aims and
ideals, and the direction and destination of his exaltation.

The principle of Tawhid is moreover a sociological doctrine which offers a plan
for the creation of a social atmosphere harmonious with human nature‑an
atmosphere in which man can make rapid, unhindered progress, and attain his
highest perfection. It suggests a certain social pattern and delineates its
essential outlines. Accordingly, it is a manifesto of revolutionary change when
applied to taghuti societies (societies which are based upon ignorance of the
human situation and negation or subversion of man’s righteous values). It brings
about a revival and reawakening in sickly and dead hearts, inducing storms in
stagnant waters of societies. It bulldozes into a level ground their unjust
undulations, and brings about a revolutionary change in its spiritual, social,
ethical, and economic institutions. In short, it is an all‑around assault on the
status quo and the ruling forces which protect it, dissipating the atmosphere
and transforming the environment which nourish and sustain these forces.

So we see that the principle of Tawhid is not merely an old solution to dogmatic
and doctrinal problems of faith with a restricted arena of action, but is a new
path before mankind. Although it rests on an intellectual and theoretical basis,
it is essentially a fresh plan for life and action.

It is on account of such an interpretation of Tawhid that we believe the
principle of Tawhid to be the base and cornerstone upon which the edifice of
religion stands. On the contrary, a principle which merely speculates regarding
abstract metaphysical, ethical, and gnostic ideas is no more than a feeble
apparition which can never provide the great impetus necessary for setting into
motion Islam as a constructive ideology and a sociological doctrine.

In every age there were people who, in spite .of their faith in God and Tawhid,
overlooked its practical and social implications; such believers‑who existed in
every age‑have in practice lived like those who do not believe in Tawhid, in the
sense that their belief did not awaken in them any feeling of disharmony with
the non‑Tawhidi status quo of their times; their belief did not cause them any
suffocation and uneasiness despite the putrid, stultifying atmosphere loaded
with shirk which engulfed their day‑today lives.

In the days of advent of Islam, in Mecca, then the centre of the cult of popular
Arab idols, there did exist a number of followers of the monotheistic faith of
Abraham (A). But since Tawhid was no more than an intellectual doctrine of their
private and personal faith, their presence did not exert any influence on the
social and intellectual atmosphere of the pre‑Islamic pagan society. Their
presence was not felt even to the slightest degree, nothing was disturbed, and
all led a peaceful life. They were undisturbed by the shameful and abominable
customs and practices of their countrymen. With their approach to Tawhid as an
abstract doctrine, their lack of effect and influence was what can be expected.
It was in such conditions that Islamic monotheism emerged as a committed and
comprehensive approach with an entirely new programme and model of social
existence. At the very first stage, it exhibited the revolutionary appeal of its
message as reflected by its followers and opponents. All people at once knew
that this message envisaged a new political, economic, and social order, a
programme adamant in its vision and unwilling to reconcile with the status quo.
It unequivocally negated the status quo and affirmed a new order.

It was this clarity and freedom from ambiguity in its message that inspired such
a great enthusiasm and readiness to self‑sacrifice in its followers, and forced
the opponents to a determined opposition.

This historical truth should be taken as a criterion and standard for estimation
of the sincerity of profession of Tawhid for all phases of history. Whenever
such claims are made by the likes of the monotheists of Mecca before the advent
of Islam, we can only doubt the sincerity of their claims. The kind of
conception of Tawhid which reconciles itself to worship of idols and gods
besides the One God, a conception that does not go beyond an abstract doctrine
in the believer’s mind, is no more than a fake version of the real monotheism as
preached by the prophets of God.

It is in the light of such a vision of Tawhid that we can discover the secret of
influence and expansion of Islam during the early days, and understand the
causes of the retrogression, decline and passivity of later ages.

The Holy Prophet of Islam (S) laid down the principle of Tawhid as a path before
mankind; but, afterwards, it was merely reduced to the status of an abstract
theory and a subject of theoretical discussions and debates. In the days of the
Prophet (S), it was a fresh world outlook and a new programme of life;. later,
the same principle served as no more than a topic of theological dissections and
leisurely scholarly pursuits. In the days of the Prophet (S), it formed the
infrastructure of the whole system, and the axis of all social, political, and
economic relationships; but later it became merely a show‑piece and an
embellishment of scholarly endeavour. What else could be expected from a
decorative and formal auxiliary which had no active and constructive role to

From what we have said, it is obvious that Tawhid is a model for a new social
order and a new life. It is the name of a system regarded as the most
appropriate by Islam for the purpose of comprehensive human development and
progress. And, similarly, from a theoretical point of view, it is an outlook
which is the philosophical foundation and infrastructure of that system.

After this brief introduction, we may return to what we said at the beginning of
our discussion, and examine this problem from a different angle. It has been
said that the initial opposition to the principle of Tawhid came from powerful
chieftains of tribes and leaders of pre-Islamic society. This shows that, more
than anyone else,. the dominant class of the society‑or in the words of the
Quran, the mustakbirun (lit. the haughty)‑formed the primary target of its
blows. Throughout history, whenever the call of Tawhid reached any society, and
pronounced its policy with respect to the dominant class, it was immediately
faced with the conflicting responses of the two opposite poles of society:
opposition and antagonism on the part of the mustakbirun, and support and
acceptance on the part of the mustad`afun (the oppressed section of society).
These types of opposite reactions are, in fact, the characteristic quality of
true Tawhid; that is, at all times whenever the principle of Tawhid was
propounded, or whenever it will be propounded in its real form, such a typical
situation is bound to arise.

Let us see whichever among the diverse dimensions of Tawhid is in direct clash
with the interests of the class of oppressors. In other words, what aspect of
Tawhid and which of its social programmes has this sensitivity of forcing its
opponents to oppose it in a relentless and determined manner?

The various characteristics of the mustakbirun, as enumerated by the Quran, can
be of ample guidance to us in this regard. In more than forty places the Quran
delineates their psychological attributes, their social position, and their
ambitious tendencies. Some of these characteristic features we will now discuss.

They passionately negate God as the sole sovereign and absolute master of
everything as signified in the dictum :

لااِلهَاِلاالله (there is no god except God); although they may be indifferent
to the notion of monotheism as an abstract doctrine with limited or with no
practical implications:

When it was said to them, `There is no god but God’, they were ever waxing
proud. (37:35)

Without any authentic criteria and standards of judging human merit, they
consider themselves superior to others on the basis of pagan criteria such as
wealth and power:

….And they waxed proud in the earth without right, and they said, `Who is
stronger than we in might?’… (41:15)

It is under the influence of the same false notions that they reject the Divine
Revelation, which is a message for establishing new values and a new social

And when our signs are recited to such a man, he turns away, waxing-proud, as
though he heard them not, and in his ears were deafness; so give him tiding of a
painful chastisement. (31:7)

They opposed the Prophet’s call for liberation and change, under the pretext
that "had he been truthful, we would have recognized him before others", and
that "God should have directly addressed us without a mediator or intermediary",
and they waged war against him:

And the unbelievers say as regards the believers, `If there had been aught
good in him, they would not have outstripped us in [accepting] him ….(46:11)


And when a sign came to them, they said, `We will not believe until we are
given the like of what God’s Messengers were given’ …. (6:124)

They charged the Prophet, the carrier of the message of Tawhid, with ambition
and profit‑seeking, and by this means and by hankering to support of their
outdated and degenerate traditions ‑ which preserved the status quo ‑ they tried
to weaken the influence of the call of Tawhid among the people:

[Addressing Moses] They said, `Art thou come to us to turn us from that we
found our fathers practising, and that the domination in the land might belong
to you two? We do not believe you.’ (10:78)

By repressive, coercive, and deceptive means, they tried to hold the people in
the state of exploitation, unconditional submission, and slavery, and to incite
them to resist and oppose any efforts of emancipation from their domination:

And they [the followers of the mustakbirun on the Day of Resurrection] shall
say, `Our Lord, we obeyed our chiefs and great ones, and they led us astray from
the way.’ (33:67)

….Then the weak shall say unto those who waxed proud, `Why, we were your
followers, will you avail us now against any part of the Fire?’ (40:47)

Said the Council of the people of Pharaoh, `Surely this man is a cunning
sorcerer who desires to expel you from your land; [in the light of what we have
said] what do you command?’ (7:109‑10)

And at last when the prophets and their supporters revolted against the
oppressive regimes of the rulers, trying to establish a new order, the
oppressors made them the targets of their attacks with extreme ruthlessness:

Slain were the Men of the Pit, of the fuel‑fed fire, when they sat by it, and
were themselves witnesses of what they did to the believers. (85:4‑7)

And Pharaoh said, `Let me slay Moses, and let him call to his Lord. I fear that
he may change your religion, or that he may cause corruption to appear in the
land. (40:26)

These are few of the various characteristics of the oppressors that the Quran
enumerates in its verses. There are many specimens where the Quran goes beyond
portraiture and describes the mustakbirun as a specific type representing a
particular class character:

Then We sent forth after them Moses and Aaron to Pharaoh and his Council with
Our signs, but they waxed proud …. (10:75)

And Qarun (Korah), and Pharaoh, and Haman; Moses came to them with clear signs,
but they waxed proud in the earth …. (29:39)

We know about the vanity of the Pharaoh; his aides like Haman, who was his prime
minister, and […] other officials and authorities, the pillars of his
establishment ‑ all of them are his guides and advisors devoted to preservation
of the oppressive status quo (see 7:126). We also know that Qarun was one who
accumulated great amounts of wealth. The dominant class in pagan society,
without any deservedness whatsoever, seizes political and economic power; for
perpetuating its exploitive and unjust domination, it also acquires a cultural
and doctrinal monopoly, thus bending the public mind into continued submission
and conformity with the status quo. In order to safeguard its interests and
privileged status, it is willing to enter into an unrelenting struggle against
any enlightening and revolutionary movement‑a struggle which is fateful and
vital for its survival, and a matter of life and death for it.

Now returning to the main two topic of our discussion what was the exact manner
in which the prophets propounded the principle of Tawhid? Evidently, the
prophetic approach to Tawhid‑which is also the most essential ingredient of
their school of thought‑is indicative of the particular aspect of Tawhid which
is unacceptable to the class of mustakbirun, and the reasons for their rejection
of it. The nature of prophetic approach to Tawhid also explains why this class
cannot tolerate this doctrine in its prophetic formulation. We know that the
doctrine of Tawhid was the first and foremost item in the invitation of the
prophets. The following statement of the Prophet (S) is well‑known:

Say, there is no god except God, that you may be delivered.

The following sentence uttered by numerous prophets such as Nuh, Hud, Salih,
Shu’ayb and others is the most fundamental issue in the call to their peoples;
it is mentioned in several places in the Quran:

….O people, serve God, there is no god except Him …. (7:59)

As can be seen in these statements, what is emphasized more than anything else,
is negation of the worship of non‑God s. They represent the prophetic call,
warning the unaware, ignorant masses, engulfed in the darkness of paganism and
taghut‑worship, and calling them to declare war against pretenders to divinity.

Who in a society are pretenders to divinity? What does it mean to wage war
against taghut? What social goals are envisioned to be fulfilled by this

Usually the phrase `claim to divinity’ is taken to mean a pretension to be `god’
or a `deity’ or a supernatural entity‑things in which men have always believed
throughout history. This is, of course, a superficial meaning of this phrase.
This is not to deny existence of superstitious tyrants of antiquity, who,
possessing political and social power, had led the gullible public to believe
that the king possessed supernatural qualities. But a close study of words such
as `worship’ (ibadah) and `divinity’ as they occur in the Quran, leads us to
conclude that the phrase `pretenders to divinity’ has a much wider meaning.

The Quran has used the term worship (‘ibadah) in the sense of unconditional
submission and obedience to any person or thing. Whenever we submit
unconditionally to anyone, act according to his will, obey his command, and
completely resign ourselves to his will, it implies that we `worship’ him by all
means. Reciprocally, if any external or inward force‑either belonging to the
external world or coming from inside our own personality‑‑so succeeds in making
us submissive and docile to it as to acquire a total grip on our body and soul,
and channels all our energies in a preferred direction towards preferred goals,
it is our `god’ and we are its worshippers (`ubbad). The following verses of the
Quran describe this process. Addressing the Pharaoh, Moses (A) says:

That is a blessing thou reproach me with, having enslaved the Children of
Israel! (26:22)

The Pharaoh and his colleagues, while conversing with one another, say:

…. `What, shall we believe two mortals like ourselves, whose people are our
servants?’ (23:47)

Addressing his father, Abraham (A) says:

O Father, serve not Satan: surely Satan is a rebel against the All‑Merciful.

Addressing humanity, God says:

Made I not covenant with you, Children of Adam, that you should not serve
Satan‑surely he is a manifest foe to you? (36:60)

In promise to the `men of understanding’, God says:

And those who eschew the serving of idols and turn penitent to God, for them
is good tidings ….(39:17)

Addressing those who ridicule believers for their faith in God and the
Revelation, God says:

…Whomsoever God has cursed, and with whom He is wrath, and made some of
them apes and swine, and worshippers of taghut‑they are worse situated, and have
gone further astray from the right way. (5:60)

In these verses, service and submission to the Pharaoh and his clique, or
submission to tyrants or to Satan‑all these practices are regarded as `worship’.
These, as well as various other verses, indicate the Quranic conception of
worship as an absolute and total submission to any real or imaginary power,
willingly or under compulsion, accompanied with or without a feeling of
spiritual adoration and reverence. In all these conditions that specific power
or object is the object of worship and deity, and the follower a worshipper and

This explanation makes it clear that the concept of god or divinity is
equivalent to the concept of `the object of worship’.

In a pagan system, where people are divided into the two classes of the
mustakbirun and the mustad’afun i.e. the dominating class of rich exploiters,
and the class of the downtrodden and the deprived ‑ the most conspicuous
manifestation of the relation between the `object of worship’ and the
`worshippers’ is the unjust relationship between the two classes. It is not at
all sufficient for the sake of identification of idols and gods of historical
societies to make a study of the real or imaginary, animate or inanimate
`deities’ of their cults; their true idols and `gods’ are the mustakbirun
themselves, who have subjugated the oppressed mustad’afun to their authority and
turned them into worshipping slaves to satisfy their own greed, ambition for
power, and predatory ends.

Polytheism (shirk) is the real religion of such societies, since there are
multiple poles and powers which exercise their command over the people, and draw
them in their desired direction under total submission. Polytheism and idolatry
mean obeying and following someone instead of God or besides God; that is,
resignation to the will of non-gods in all affairs of life, surrender to other
powers and authorities besides God, and reliance on them as source of guidance
and primary means of fulfilment of most important human needs.

The principle of Tawhid is in direct contradiction with the cult of polytheism,
since it demands the negation of all gods, refusal to submit to their authority,
resistance to their domination and authority, total dissociation from their
help. and sympathy, and, ultimately, their rejection, and total submission to
God’s will.

The first tenet of the religious doctrine of all prophets of God was exactly
this negation of polytheism on the one hand and affirmation of Tawhid on the

And We sent forth among every nation a messenger [saying]: `Serve you God,
and eschew idols’ …. (16:36)

And We sent never a messenger before thee except that We revealed to him,
[saying], `There is no god but I, so serve Me.’ (21:25)

The prophets of God denounced corrupt and decadent systems of the polytheists
through this principle, and encouraged the people to fight against the current
idols (taghut) ‑ those who guarded these systems, and rebelled against true
human values, and who had imposed upon people their absurd value system in order
to maintain their own oppressive status. Negation of polytheism was actually the
negation of all social, economic, and political institutions, which constituted
the basic infrastructure of pagan societies, and which used various forms of
polytheistic cults as a doctrinal shield to protect and maintain the perverse
state of affairs.

The denouncement of gods and idols implies the rejection of all such individuals
who, through coercion and deception, indulge in the acts of repression, and
impose themselves upon the people in order to satiate their inordinate,
unlimited lusts.

Moses, by propounding this principle, and by declaring the supreme authority of
the `Lord of all worlds,’ waged a war against the Pharaoh and denounced him. The
courtiers of the Pharaoh, of course, in return denounced Moses as an unbeliever
in their gods, and accused him of the crime of denying traditional deities:

Then said the Council of the people of Pharaoh, `Wilt thou leave Moses and
his people to work corruption in the land, and abandon thee and thy gods?’…

But the Pharaoh, as well as his corrupt clique, knew very well that those
`gods,’ those lifeless idols, did not serve any purpose except as a shield for
their own pretension to divinity, and as a vital pretext for the living idols
for perpetuation of their own godhood. It was logical that in retaliation to his
invitation to submit to the One God, the Lord of all worlds, the Lord of the
East and the West, of the earth and heavens, Moses should have been threatened
with imprisonment, torture and death.

Said he (the Pharaoh), `If thou takest a god other than me, I shall surely
make thee one of the imprisoned. (26:29)

….Said he (the Pharaoh), `We shall slaughter their sons and spare their women;
surely we are triumphant over them.’ (7:127)

I shall assuredly cut off alternately your hands and feet, then I shall crucify
you all together. (7:124)

This sort of brutal behaviour towards the bearers of the message of Tawhid was
solely on account of the fact that it is a message of liberation and freedom. It
is acceptance of belief in God as the sovereign and the sole authority in one’s
life, and negation of all pretenders to divinity, that is, contravention of all
such claims, by all means. Such is the real spirit of the doctrine of Tawhid,
and the real essence of Islamic monotheism.

Source: Selected Chapter from
Al-Tawhid and Its Social
by Ayatullah Sayyed Ali Khamenei

© 2022 - Ahlulbayt Islamic Mission (AIM)