Understanding Islam

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Basic Articles of Islamic Faith - Tawheed


Allah is the Light of the Heavens and the Earth (Al-Noor)

The first and the most important Islamic belief is the belief in the oneness of God. It is important to note here that Islam does not merely require us to believe in a god, on the contrary, it requires us to hold the belief that there is ONLY ONE God. It may be mentioned here that the basic stress of the Qur'an, with regard to belief in God, is to provide arguments for the oneness of the Deity and to correct the attributive concepts about Him. As far as belief in a deity is concerned, the Qur'an has not presented any detailed arguments for it. It has, on the contrary, regarded such belief as an obvious requirement of the existence of all that surrounds us - and even our own selves. The reason for the Qur'anic stress on the belief on the oneness of God is that it considers ascribing partners to God as synonymous to effectively refuting the very belief in God.

An Overview of The Concept of God in the Qur'an

The salient features of the concept of God, as given in the Qur'an entail:

  1. Man, due to some of his inherent weaknesses, cannot be introduced to the physical characteristics of God;

  2. For the development of a sound relationship with God, man should be aware of the qualitative attributes or characteristics of God; and

  3. There is ONLY ONE God. He has absolutely no partners or associates. No being is His equal. He is the creator and the originator of all that exists;

In the following sections, we shall consider the above three points in a relatively more detailed manner:

Physical Characteristics of God

The Limitation in Human Languages and Human Comprehension

Man can understand and develop physical concepts about things in primarily two ways. Firstly, if something comes within the scope of man's sense of touch or his sense of sight; and secondly, by comparison to things that come within the scope of man's senses.

Take the example of the words 'light bulb'. As soon as I speak the words 'light bulb', I get a picture of a round or a pear-shaped glass container for the filament of an electric light. The reason for such spontaneous physical imaging of the words 'light bulb' is that whatever we call a 'light bulb' in the English language is something that is within the scope of our sense of touch and our sense of sight. In other words, because we have already developed a physical image of a 'light bulb' through our sight or our touch, we can easily recall the already developed image as soon as the words 'light bulb' are uttered in front of us. The same is the case with most of the words of our languages that connote physical entities. The words man, woman, child, horse, donkey, cat etc. all belong to the same category.

Closely related to this category of words entailing physical concepts is another category, which connotes imaginary physical entities. For instance, the word 'unicorn' connotes an animal, which although does not exist in reality, yet its image can be developed by explaining it. However, to develop effective images of such imaginary physical entities, it is extremely important that they be explained with reference to those physical entities that we are already exposed to. The Oxford Advanced Learner's Encyclopedic Dictionary describes the word 'unicorn' as:

A mythical animal resembling a horse, with a single straight horn projecting from its forehead.

This explanation, if correctly understood, would help in developing a physical image of a non-existent entity. However, it is important to note that to be comprehendible the explanation had to resort to words, which already had their respective physical images in our minds. Note the words 'animal', 'horse', 'single', 'straight', 'horn' and 'forehead'. All these words have their respective physical or abstract images in our minds. It is only on the basis of these already existing images, that we can now form a new physical image of a non-existent physical entity.

From the above explanation, it should also be clear that human languages, normally, are a collection of words connoting such physical or abstract entities, which the particular group of human beings has either been exposed to or has a clear concept of. Thus, it is obvious, that centuries ago, none of the human languages could have contained the word 'airplane' or 'computer'. These words came in vogue only after the entities that they connote became clear in the minds of the speakers of that language - even if such entities were only conceptual and not physical in the beginning. Now suppose, someone living about fifteen hundred years ago, somehow, had a visualization of an airplane and wanted to explain to the people living around him that hundreds of years down the road, people would use high speed airplanes for traveling long distances. How would he do that? Simple!! He would say: 'People would start using airplanes for traveling'. Well, not so simple after all. We forgot that the word 'airplane' would be non-existent. What then would he say? Keeping in mind the limitations of human languages mentioned above, it is obvious that whatever the person says, would likely be within the frame of reference of his own times. He may say: soon there will be a time when people start using 'flying horses' or 'huge birds' or 'big mechanical birds' etc. for traveling from one place to another. This explanation, however, unclear it may seem, is probably the closest that a person living fifteen hundred years ago is likely to able to give and his listeners able to comprehend (even if such comprehension is not likely to be very accurate).

In the above example of communicating the 'visualization', we see, once again, that a relatively unknown concept (whether physical or abstract) can only be communicated in human languages by using references from what those human beings are already exposed to.

Thus, to summarize the preceding discussion, a person can comprehend a physical or an abstract concept if:

  1. Such physical or abstract concept enters the scope of his senses; or

  2. Such physical or abstract concept is explained to him with reference to what has already entered the scope of his senses. However, this is only possible if the concept is explainable by referring to any existing concepts or if the listener is exposed to the concepts to which reference is being made. Thus, a 'unicorn' is only explainable if the listener is aware of what the words 'animal', 'horse', 'single', 'straight', 'horn' and 'forehead' imply.

Why Does the Qur'an not introduce us to the Physical Attributes of God?

As has been stated earlier, the Qur'an does not introduce man to the physical attributes of God. The reason for the absence of any physical introduction of God in the Qur'an is:

1- Because of the limitations of human languages and comprehension explained above, man is not in a position to understand and comprehend the physical attributes of God. It is obvious that the physical personality of God is not something that comes within the scope of our senses. Thus, the only possibility was to introduce the physical personality of God through comparison with or reference to something that the human being was exposed to. The Qur'an has categorically refuted this possibility by stating that nothing that has existence is even remotely similar to the physical attributes of God and therefore, the physical person of God cannot even be explained through analogy or comparison. According to the Qur'an, God is -- Al-Ahad -- i.e. absolutely unique, while at another instance (Al-Shooraa 42: 11), it declares:

There is nothing that resembles Him.

2- For the development of a sound relationship with his Creator, man does not need to be familiar with His physical characteristics. A sound relationship - one that is based on the correct appreciation of the rights and duties of man with reference to his Creator - can be fully developed even without information of His physical appearance and personality. The important thing that needs to be understood and acknowledged for the purpose of developing a sound relationship with God is a good knowledge of the qualitative attributes of God, rather than His physical attributes. It is for this reason that the Qur'an has concentrated on an attributive introduction of God.

The Qualitative Attributes of God

In contrast to the lack of explanation of the physical attributes of God, the Qur'an has given an exhaustive explanation of the qualitative attributes of the Creator. It would thus be correct to say that the Qur'anic introduction of God is a qualitative or a characteristic based introduction.

Because the nature of our relationship with God is not physical, therefore, this relationship is not dependent on our understanding of God's physical attributes. However, a good understanding of the qualitative attributes of God is imperative to understand as well as develop the correct interactive relationship with our Creator. It is the understanding of these qualitative attributes of God, which can subsequently guide us in establishing a relationship with Him, based on the right footing.

To understand the importance of the appreciation of the qualitative attributes of a personality in the development and the maintenance of interactive relationship with that personality, let us consider a few situations that we face in our every day life. We see that when we meet a person for the first time, there is a certain air of formality in the interactive environment. We refrain from playing pranks with the individual and even refrain from becoming overly personal with that individual. As we become aware of the qualitative attributes of the individual, we start developing an interactive relationship with that individual. As we find (and subsequently confirm through our initial interaction with that individual) that the individual is trustworthy or honest or loving or rude, we consciously (and sometimes even unconsciously) start defining our relationship with that individual. As our initial findings about the qualities and characteristics of that individual are confirmed, our relationship becomes stronger - as the response of the individual becomes more and more predictable and confirmed. However, on the contrary, if our initial findings are proven incorrect, we consciously (or unconsciously) revise our relationship with that individual. This is precisely the reason why out of the so many individuals that surround us, there are only a few whom we consider our true friends. These 'true friends' are individuals whose actual attributes correspond with those that we value in our own minds. Difference in qualitative attributes is the reason for our separate relations with our different neighbors. We deal with a 'rude' neighbor in a manner, which is quite different from our dealing with a 'polite' neighbor. In short, our relationships with others are actually governed by our understanding and perception of the qualities and characteristics of the individuals concerned. In most of these cases, our relationship is not influenced as much by the physical attributes of the individuals concerned, as by their qualitative characteristics.

Our relationship with God is no exception.

The kind of relationship that we have or should have with our Creator is dependent upon our understanding of the qualitative attributes or characteristics of God. We would have a different relationship with a tyrant god as compared to a merciful god. An ignorant god would deserve a separate response from us as compared to a God that is omniscient[1]. It is primarily due to this reason that the Qur'an has not only given a detailed account of the qualitative attributes of God, but has, at various places, also explained the requirements that these various attributes impose upon man.

The primary attributes of God, as given in the Qur'an are as follows:

1- Qualitative Attributes Inherent In the Concept of 'god'

There are certain characteristics that are inherent in the very concept of god. God is a being that is not dependent on anything outside itself for its life, that is the creator of all that has existence, that has absolute power over nature and human affairs and that has the power to act beyond the scope of the cause and effect relationships operative in the universe.

The qualitative attributes inherently entailed in this concept of god are:

  • Alive in a self-sustaining manner - ;

  • Creator - ; and

  • Absolute, ultimate and active ruler over all that exists - .

2- Mercy

Besides the characteristics inherent in the concept of god, the most stressed qualitative attribute in the Qur'an is that of abounding and everlasting mercy (). The Qur'an introduces God to be an embodiment of everlasting mercy. The word Al-Rahmaan () connotes the abounding strength of God's mercy. While the word Al-Raheem () signifies the continuity of this abounding mercy forever.

3- Providence

God, according to the Qur'an, is not just the creator of life, but also the sustainer of all that enjoys existence. God has abundantly provided whatever was essential to sustain the life of all that was bestowed with life. If closely observed, we further see that this provision - especially in the case of human life - is not merely for the sustenance of life but also for its furtherance and development. In other words, it is not merely the sustenance needs of man that have been taken care of by the Merciful Provider , but also his esthetics in sight, sound, taste, smell, feeling and emotions. It is primarily this aspect of provision that has resulted in the tremendous speed of development of the human kind since the time of its inception. Another, generally ignored, aspect of providence is the provision of divine guidance for the furtherance of the spiritual well being of the human race. Thus, in short, providence covers all aspects of the sustenance and maintenance as well as the development of life - especially with reference to the human race.

4- Wisdom

One of the most stressed attributes of God, given in the Qur'an is that He is an embodiment of wisdom (). All of God's actions, directives and decisions are based on His absolute wisdom. We, due to our limited knowledge and imperfect vision, may or may not be able to appreciate the reason or the wisdom governing any of His decisions, directives or actions, yet, for a correct relationship with God, we must truly believe that all His decisions, directives and actions are based on His perfect knowledge and His absolute wisdom.

5- Omniscience

God is All-Knowing. Nothing, whether apparent or hidden, is beyond God's knowledge. According to the Qur'an, God is not only aware of what man does and says but is also fully aware of the thoughts that spark in his mind and also his intentions in doing a certain act ([2]).

6- Omnipotence

God has power to do whatever He decides to do ([3]). Although omnipotence is also inherent in the very concept of god, yet due to the stress and the importance given to this attribute in the Qur'an, it has been placed in a separate category. One of the reasons why the Qur'an has stressed this attribute is that a mistake in the appreciation of this particular attribute has always been one of the major causes for the rejection of the Day of Judgment.

7- Justice

One of the most important attributes of God, given in the Qur'an is that of justice. Although, justice, in a way, is closely related to, as well as, a practical requirement of mercy, yet this attribute has been so immensely stressed in the Qur'an that it should be considered separately from mercy in the study of God's attributes according to the Qur'an.

Keeping in view the absence, to a great extent, of the principle of justice in our lives, man has sometimes been prone to believe that even if there is a creator and a controller of our lives, he is indifferent toward our moral behavior. Abiding by moral principles generally entails costs and losses and vice versa. Honesty is hardly, if ever, rewarded, dishonesty rarely punished. This absence of justice in the moral sphere of our lives, has generally led to the refutation of the attribute of justice in god. Nevertheless, the Qur'an tells us that for the purpose of carrying out the test of man, during the life of this world, God has generally kept this attribute dormant. If individuals were to be immediately punished for doing wrong or immediately rewarded for doing good, this effectively would have negated all moral authority for the individual, which subsequently would have negated the test during the life of this world.

However, if one desired to see God's attribute of justice in action, the Qur'an points out toward a) the delicate physical balance of the universe, which is a sign to the effect that even in moral spheres, God wants us to maintain this delicate balance; b) God's law governing the rise and fall of nations, which is primarily based on the collective morality of the nations; and c) God's dealing with the rejecters of His messengers[4].

8- Two General Attributes

Besides the basic attributes of the deity given above, the Qur'an has also mentioned two additional qualities, which are more general in nature. Firstly, the Qur'an says that He is clear of all weaknesses and all such qualities that obviously are not suitable to be ascribed to Him[5] and positively possesses all the good qualities that He should obviously possess[6]. The word Al-Subbooh (), as it appears in some of the supplications of the Prophet (pbuh) means that God is clear of all shortcomings or weaknesses that are not suitable to be ascribed to Him. While Al-Quddoos () refers to the fact that God possesses all revered and venerated qualities. The latter quality is also mentioned in the Qur'an in the words: (i.e. He has the best of attributes).

The Complete Concept of 'Allah' and 'Tawheed'

The Arabic word 'Allah' () is a proper noun with the prefix of the definite article 'alif' and 'laam'() before the word 'ilaah' (), literally meaning 'god', thus making 'Al-Ilaah' (). It is believed that the word 'Al-Ilaah', according to the general Arabic linguistic tradition was made lighter to pronounce and converted to 'Allah', over time. Thus, the word 'Allah' may literally be translated as 'the God'. The proper noun referring to the complete concept of God as introduced and explained by the Qur'an. In other words, the word 'Allah' implies 'the god', who is an embodiment of the qualitative attributes explained in the Qur'an. Thus, the word 'Allah' refers to: "the Living Creator, Who has absolute control and authority over nature as well as the lives and the events occurring in the lives of all living things. This Creator is an embodiment of Mercy, Providence, Wisdom, Omnipotence, Omniscience and Justice. He possesses all such qualities that are revered and venerated and is absolutely clear of all such things that are known to be imperfections and weaknesses". A god, who is according to the above concept of a deity, is called 'Allah' in the Qur'an. Furthermore, when the mentioned qualities ascribed to god are considered to be possessed, at the absolute level, only by one god and no one else this, then, translates into the concept of 'Tawheed'.

'Tawheed' - belief in the oneness of God - as given in the Qur'an, means that there is no other being that deserves to be worshipped, as no other being possesses all the required qualities at the same time and at the level of perfection that makes it deserving of worship, except one - and only one - being, i.e. the one true God - Allah. The Qur'an emphatically declares that associating partners with the one true God is not only an infringement on the rights of the Creator but also, in its practical and spiritual effects, nullifies and refutes true belief in 'the God'.

Effects of the Attributes of God on Our Relationship with Him

The attributes of God are not just a philosophical or a theoretical reality that Islam wants us to accept. On the contrary, Islam not only wants us to accept that God - and only God - possesses all these attributes at the same time and at the absolute level, but also wants us to live a life that is philosophically as well as practically in conformity with the this acceptance. In other words, Islam wants us to maintain a relationship with the physically unseen yet qualitatively understood God, which is in accordance with the requirements of His attributes.

What should be our relationship with a being that we have understood to be our living creator, who actively controls our lives and all that surrounds us, who, at the same time is extremely merciful as well as wise, an embodiment of providence as well as justice and one whose knowledge as well as powers are all encompassing? This, precisely, is the question that the Qur'an helps and guides us to answer.

The first and the most basic ingredient of our relationship with the one God possessing the mentioned attributes is what the Qur'an has called '`ibaadah' (). The Qur'an says:

I created the Jinn and the men only for my `ibaadah.

The Arabic word `ibaadah, closely translated in the English language as 'worship', is basically the expression, at the ultimate level, of humility and humbleness on the part of the worshipper, on the one hand and that of extreme respect, reverence fear and love, toward the worshiped, on the other.

This expression, when it originates from the correct appreciation of the qualitative attributes of God, translates into the ultimate level of submission and obeisance based on extreme love and extreme fear toward the worshiped.

`ibaadah, in its essence, therefore, is primarily a condition internal to the human soul. Remembrance[7], gratitude[8], fear[9], sincerity[10], dependence[11], trust[12], submission[13] and seeking the pleasure[14] of the worshiped are the basic and the active internal emotions of the human soul, which are translated into bowing down and prostration, glorification and praise, supplication and prayer and spending one's physical and material resources in the way of the Creator to win His pleasures. This, in its essence, is the complete concept of `ibaadah. However, because man, in the life of this world is not just a mental and spiritual existence but also a practical or physical existence, the concept of `ibaadah expands to include 'obedience[15]' to the decisions and the directives of the Creator in all spheres of man's practical and physical life as well.

Importance of Belief in 'The God' According to the Qur'an

The Qur'an (Al-Noor 24: 35), in its magnificent literary style has pointed out the importance of the belief in 'the God' in the following words:

God is the light of the heavens and the earth.

That is, belief in 'the God' is the only thing that makes our own existence as well as that of all that surrounds us a meaningful reality and thereby enlightens it. This belief is the ultimate clue in solving the jig-saw puzzle of the universe and the happenings in this universe. The Qur'an (Al-Noor 24: 39 - 40) further states that those who are averse to this belief are like people who are wandering in the dark without any clue to the path of light. All explanations that they try to give are like a mirage in the desert, which may seem to be a reality, but in reality is quite far from it.

Indeed those who reject, their deeds are like a mirage in the desert. The thirsty takes it to be water till he comes near it and finds nothing. He finds God there, Who pays him back in full. Indeed, God is swift in reckoning. Or like darkness in a deep ocean spread with clashing billows and overcast with dark clouds. Darkness upon darkness. Even if he stretches out his hand he can scarcely see it. Indeed to whom God refuses light, there shall be no light.

© Copyright May 2000. All Rights Reserved with the Author


[1] All knowing - someone who knows everything.

[2] That is, 'He knows all things', 'He is aware of what lies in the hearts (of thoughts, intentions etc.)'.

[3] He has power over all things.

[4] This aspect shall be explained in more detail under the section relating to the belief in Risalah (prophethood).

[5] As injustice, death, ignorance, prejudice etc.

[6] As justice, perfection, knowledge, permanence etc.

[7] dhikr (), i.e. man finds respite and spiritual elation in the remembrance of God. It may be mentioned here that dhikr (i.e. remembrance of God) is primarily the remembrance of His attributes, as introduced in the Qur'an.

[8] shukr (), i.e. man, as soon as he becomes conscious of the fact that whatever of value he possesses in the life of this world, is bestowed upon him by his most gracious Creator, he should be filled with an all encompassing feeling of gratitude toward his Creator.

[9] taqwaa (), i.e. man, is afraid of behaving in any such way that would disqualify him from the abounding mercy of God. Fear of God is not a fear of an unpredictable power. It is a fear, which is based purely on the attributes of justice, quddoosiah and subboohiah of God.

[10] ikhlaas (), i.e. all his deeds are for the sole object of winning God's pleasures. He saves himself from bad deeds and tries to do all the good that he can for no other reason but to win the goodwill of his Creator.

[11] tawakkul (), i.e. his life becomes a living example of dependence on God. It should be clarified that 'tawakkul' does not imply indifference toward planning and effort in achieving the desirable objectives. 'Tawakkul' relates not to planning and effort, but to the outcomes and the results of our planning and efforts. 'Tawakkul', as should be obvious, is a corollary of our belief in a living and active controller of the universe as well as our lives, who is controlling the universe on perfect and all encompassing knowledge, wisdom and mercy.

[12] tafweedh (), i.e. to trust God to bestow us with all that we desire and to save us from all that we consider undesirable. Closely related to tawakkul, tafweedh is also a combined result of all the attributes stated earlier.

[13] tasleem (), i.e. to wholeheartedly accept the directives and decisions of God. If God is truly believed to be merciful, wise, omniscient and just, then it should logically follow that all that God decides about our lives and all that He directs us to do is best for us. It may be worth mentioning here that Islam - the name of our religion - is primarily a reference to this particular quality. Islam refers to the unconditional submission to God's decisions and directives.

[14] ridhaa (), i.e. man, in all spheres of his life, is eager to do all that shall make God happy with him. God's pleasures are won by living a life, which is practical example of the acceptance of the attributes of God.

[15] itaa`ah ()