Tawḥīd Divided: The Esoteric Orthodoxy of Sayyid Ḥaydar Āmulī

Aaron S. Viengkhou


In the history of Islamic thought, Sayyid Bahāʾ al-Dīn Ḥaydar al-Āmulī (d. after 787/1385) is primarily remembered as one of the earliest figures to fully integrate Ṣūfism, especially the controversial Ṣūfī intellectual tradition associated with Muḥyī al-Dīn Ibn ʿArabī (d. 638/1240) and his followers, within a Twelver Shīʿī framework. Through a reading of relevant passages from the introduction to his commentary on Ibn ʿArabī’s Fuṣūṣ al-ḥikam, as well as through an analysis of a series of diagrams contained therein, this article argues that tawḥīd is the axial conceptual category around which Āmulī articulates and defends his vision of “esoteric orthodoxy.” This article further explores how Āmulī’s esoteric doctrine of tawḥīd informs his universal hermeneutics and his approach to religious difference.
More specifically, this article examines Āmulī’s twofold division of tawḥīd into what he terms “theological tawḥīd” (tawḥīd ulūhī) and “ontological tawḥīd” (tawḥīḍ wujūdī). The first of these, theological tawḥīd, encompasses the exoteric aspect (ẓāhir) of religious belief and is associated with the prophets; it is the tawḥīd professed by all believers and is expressed in the shahāda, the most basic ritual formula of Islamic monotheism, “there is no god but God” (lā ilāha illā Allāh). Ontological tawḥīd, meanwhile, encompasses the esoteric dimension (bāṭin) of religious belief and is associated with the “sanctified authorities” (awliyāʾ; i.e. the Shīʿī imāms and Ṣūfī masters); as an esoteric doctrine, ontological tawḥīd is reserved for the elite and consists in the denial of ontological multiplicity and the affirmation of a singular absolute existence (wujūd muṭlaq).
By Āmulī’s time, this kind of ontological monism was widely discussed in terms of the highly controversial doctrine of “the oneness of existence” (waḥdat al-wujūd). I argue that his transition to the novel nomenclature of tawḥīd wujūdī represents a deliberate attempt to rescue waḥdat al-wujūd from ignominy and present it as, in fact, the apotheosis of correct (if occluded) Islamic belief – an esoteric orthodoxy. I then move on to consider how Āmulī applies his theory of tawḥīd to construct a universal hermeneutics according to which all domains of reality are systemically linked through a principle of correspondences (taṭbīqāt) such that everything in existence participates in the economy of tawḥīd. His universal hermeneutics is particularly concerned with elucidating the correspondences between the three great “books” – the Qurʾān, the cosmos, and humanity. Finally, I conclude with an analysis of Āmulī’s account of religious difference. He begins by classifying confessional groups according to the type of tawḥīd they profess. As such, even those who harbor unacceptable religious beliefs are nevertheless encompassed within the fold of Islam so long as they profess tawḥīd in some form. Yet Āmulī’s classification of religious difference is hierarchical, and, unsurprisingly, he concludes that only those who profess ontological tawḥīd are true monotheists (muwaḥḥidūn). These “people of tawḥīd” constitute an esoteric community of elite Ṣūfīs and Shīʿīs at the apex of the Islamic ecumene.

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