chapter  2
Al-Tawh. ı-dı-’s historical and ethical background: The continuity of religion, philosophy, and politics
Pages 60

The long period of scholarly neglect that al-Tawh. ı-dı-has undergone makes it hard to determine the details of his life. There is a lack of biographical sources during the two centuries following his death, and medieval historians and biographers offer contradicting reports about his date of birth, death, place of birth, and creed. Ya-qu-t b. ‘Abd Alla-h al-Ru-mı-al-H. amawı-(d. 626/1229) is the first biographer to show an extensive interest in al-Tawh. ı-dı-, expressing his astonishment that al-Tawh. ı-dı-was not mentioned “in any book and was not part of any dialogue”.2 He wrote an eloquent biographical sketch of al-Tawh. ı-dı-, describing him as faylasu-f al-udaba-’ wa adı-b al-fala-sifa (the philosopher of litterateurs and the litterateur of philosophers), “a Sheikh among the Sufis”, “the investigator (muh.aqqiq) of the kala-m and the mutakallim (theologian) of the investigators”, and “the leader of the eloquent”,3 statements which indicate the difficulty of applying a single label to al-Tawh. ı-dı-. Neither Ya-qu-t nor any other medieval biographer gives a date of birth for

al-Tawh. ı-dı-.4 The only mention of al-Tawh. ı-dı-’s age is in a letter, quoted by Ya-qu-t, which was written in Ramad.a-n (400/1011) and addressed to a certain judge named Abu-Sahl and in which al-Tawh. ı-dı-apologised for the burning of his books.5 In this letter, al-Tawh. ı-dı-mentions that he was in his ninth decade.6

From this, most modern scholars agree that he must have been born between 310/921 and 320/932, and died between 400/1011 and 414/1023.7 This assumption is further supported by an indication given by al-Tawh. ı-dı-about his age in his book al-Muqa-basa-t. He said, “What then would one hope for

after looking back over five decades, most of which were wasted while the remainder was short on achievements?”8 Thus, al-Tawh. ı-dı-must have been well over fifty while he was in the process of producing the manuscript of al-Muqa-basa-t, which he finished in 382/993. In addition to uncertainty about al-Tawh. ı-dı-’s date of birth, there is uncertainty about the date of his death. Except for Mu‘ı-n al-Dı-n Abu-al-Qa-sim Junayd al-Shı-ra-zı-, who reports that al-Tawh. ı-dı-died and was buried in the city of Shı-ra-z in Iran and gives the date as 414/1023, other medieval sources agree that it must have been around 400/1011.9