The Moral Obligation to Worship God Alone

Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Analysis in the Tafsīr


  • Hannah C. Erlwein Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin



This article examines how, in his al-Tafsīr al-kabīr, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī (d. 606/1210) addresses the problem of the obligation to thank the benefactor (wujūb shukr al-munʿim) within the context of the Quranic command to worship God alone. The obligation to thank one’s benefactor was a contentious problem among classical Islamic thinkers before Rāzī, and it was frequently discussed in fiqh and kalām works in the context of the ontology and epistemology of moral values and legal norms. Rāzī’s analysis in the Tafsīr, however, sheds light on another way in which the “thanking one’s benefactor”-problem was of relevance for classical Islamic thinkers: it is used to frame the rationale for monotheism in terms of the gratitude God deserves for being humans’ provider. This aspect of the “thanking one’s benefactor”-problem has not been highlighted in the secondary literature. This article discusses how Rāzī’s analysis of God’s sole deservedness of worship has theological, legal, and ethical/moral implications. The theological implications are found in the questions it raises about the notorious problem of causality. The legal implications become apparent in Rāzī’s interest in the ratio legis of the Quranic command and in establishing that the obligation arises with God’s sovereign decree. The ethical or moral implications, finally, are seen in his concern with how humans come to know of the goodness of monotheism and the repugnancy of polytheism. The article contextualises Rāzī’s position in the Tafsīr against the background of the fiqh and kalām debates about the “thanking one’s benefactor”-problem.




How to Cite

Erlwein, H. C. (2021). The Moral Obligation to Worship God Alone: Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī’s Analysis in the Tafsīr. Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies, 21(2), 103–120.