Tawhid - Unity of Allah

December 2020

Muslims believe they are serving God far more efficiently and lovingly than Christians. They have a kind of ‘jealousy for God’ as they understand Him, that provokes them to denounce as blasphemy any honour paid to Christ which, in effect, makes Him to be more than a man, more than a prophet, and so to encroach on the province of God. This jealousy is deeply rooted in the cardinal doctrine of Islam, tawhid, the Unity. In the repeated and constant reiteration of this doctrine, along with the dreaded sin of shirk, we come upon the two main factors which so strongly prejudice the minds of Muslims that they are not prepared to entertain any exposition of the deity of Christ. The Muslim feeds on the Quran and what he feeds on he becomes. He reads constantly about the unity of Allah and is reminded regularly that Allah has no son. It is not surprising that in time there grows up a strong resentment to our use of the terms ‘Son’ and ‘Son of God.’ Muslims positively abhor the doctrine of the Sonship of Christ.

The origin of the doctrine of tawhid

The concept developed in order to differentiate Allah from the pre-Islamic deities. When the pagan Meccans asked Muhammad what were the distinguishing attributes of Allah he replied in the words recorded in Surah 112 Ikhlas: “Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him.” This chapter is highly venerated by Muslim people and declared by tradition to be equal in value to a third of the whole Quran (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 471; Muslim Book 4, Number 1769). The Meccans themselves refused to accept this answer and continued by not giving pre-eminent worship to Allah and believing He physically begat angels through whom they were able to seek intercession.

This concept was extended to cover the belief of Christians for Muhammad rejected and misunderstood the Sonship of Jesus and the Trinity. The Quran asserts: “They do blaspheme who say: Allah is one of three in a Trinity: for there is no god except One Allah” (Al-Maidah 5:73); “Say not “Trinity” desist it will be better for you: for Allah is one Allah” (An-Nisa 4:171). Muslims believe that their concept of tawhid is directly contrary to Christian belief however, the Divine Unity is the very foundation of the Christian belief of the Trinity – all Christians believe in on God, not in three gods. Those who read the comments of Jalaluddin, Baizawi and Yahya on sura 5 Al-Maidah and sura 6 Al-An’am will see that they agreed that the belief of the Trinity held by Christians consisted of Father, Mother and Son, imagining that the Virgin Mary was a goddess, and was one of three separate deities. They may have got this impression from the way in which the Christian religion was practised in the region.

The science of tawhid

To know God is to know his oneness. Knowledge of this unity may be reached by the methods of systematic theology or by religous experience; with the latter it may arise from pure contemplation of philosophical speculation. Allah is w-h-d which means literally ‘making one’ or ‘asserting oneness‘.

The term tawhid does not occur in the Quran but theologically the concept is found through out e.g “And your Allah is One Allah: There is no god but He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” (Al- Baqarrah 2:163) The Quran portrays a unique and indivisible being, who is independent of the entire creation; to attribute divinity to a created entity by associating a partner with Allah is the only unpardonable sin mentioned in the Quran (An-Nisa 4:48, 116). It rejects any ideas as to the duality of God and argues that both good and evil generate from God’s creative act. Muslims believe that the entirety of Islamic teaching rests on the principle of tawhid and therefore the Islamic creed, the kalimah, begins with the declaration of belief in the oneness of Allah.

Many years ago Palgrave, the Arabian traveller, considered that the ultimate conclusion of such a deity and the doctrine of tawhid should be expressed in the following way: “God is one in the totality of omnipotent and omnipresent action which acknowledges no rule, standard, or limits save one soul and absolute will. He himself, sterile in His inaccessible height, neither loving nor enjoying ought save His own and self-measured decree, without son, companion or councillor, is no less barren for Himself than for His creatures; and His own barrenness and lone egoism in Himself is the cause and rule of His indifferent and un-regarding despotism around.”

Contradictions in the nature of Allah

This absolute, distant, unique and unapproachable deity is expressed in the Quran as one who is incomparable “there is nothing whatever like unto Him” (Ash-Shura 42:11) yet, surprisingly, the Quran illustrates many points of comparison.

In the language of anthropomorphism Allah has a face, eyes and hands and there are references to his speaking and sitting. The commentators follow diverse interpretations varying from the crude literal interpretation to its explanation as allegorical; these opposing views are extended into the hadiths. In the traditions Allah becomes more picturesque and his relations to the angels and devils more detailed as the working of Allah becomes more obscure. Rather than Allah being defined as a detached personality with a clear separateness from the world we find an intense personality who has a pervading immanence. His qualities become still more flatly contradictory. On the one-hand we find “My mercy overcomes or precedes my wrath” while on the other hand there is the monstrous tradition “These to heaven and I care not; those to hell and I care not” (Ihya ed with commentary of Sayyid Murtada vol 7 p. 308).

While Allah is said to be inaccessible one can seek his face (Al-Ana’am 6:52, Al-Kahf 18:28, Ar-Rum 30:38 c/f Al-Rad 13:22, Al-Lail 92:20); in the end everything else will fail except his face (Al-Qasas 28:88, Al Rahman 55:26,27). Believers will see his face in Paradise, although perhaps it will be covered Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 530, 531 c/f number 503. Allah has hands (Al-Maidah 5:64, Sa’d 38:75, Az-Zumar 39:67) but they are not tied up as the Jews inferred, for he is the Creator who holds the balance of justice (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 508, 509 c/f 525). In the day of Resurection he will grasp the whole earth by his hand and declare “I am the King.” (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 515)

As king he is the owner of a throne (Al-Buruj 85:15). At the time of creation he established himself above it (Al-A’raf 7:54, Ta-Ha 20:5) and was enthroned in majesty above the water (Yunus 10:3; Hud 11:7; Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 514). Some commentators state that the famous Throne Verse (Al-Baqarrah 2:255) actually refers to a footstool or chair (kursi) and should be distinguished from ‘arsh (throne). According to ibnTaimiyah (Fatawa Volume 5 pages 54,55) the kursi is in front of the throne at the level of the feet. The Throne Verse is so highly thought of in Islam that when retiring to bed its recitation will ensure the protection of Allah throughout the night and Satan will not be able to come near until dawn (Bukhari Volume 6 Hadith number 530). From the hadith we learn that he seats himself on a throne, which was supported by angels and surrounded by certain beings; on the Resurrection Day it will be supported by eight angels and Moses will be seen holding the throne (Volume 9, Book 93, Number 524). He has a book which is placed before him on the throne Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 501 writing over it “My mercy preceeded My anger” ( Volume 9, Book 93, Number 518, 643).

As the sovereign all-Seer (An-Nisa 4:134), he views his creation and can see ‘a black ant under a black stone in a pitch black night’. His eyes (Al Qamar 54:14) are contrasted with the one-eyed Al-Dajal (BukhariVolume 9, Book 93, Number 504, 505) while as the sovereign all-Hearer (An-Nisa 4:134) he can hear the tying of a shoelace leaving no place for the sinner to hide. In Allah’s hearing the sweetest sound is the recitation of the Quran by a Prophet who recites it in attractive audible sounding voice (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 634) The traditions advance the personality of Allah to include his foot with which he will eventually cover over hell satisfied that it is full (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 541). Even in the areas of feelings he is hurt by how the son of Adam abuses time Bukhari (Volume 9, Book 93, Number 583).

While the Meccans evidently had no fear of him he was terribly near to Muhammad at every moment ‘nearer to him than (his) jugular vein.” (Qaf 50:16). While some modern commentators find in this verse assurance of the closeness of Allah this view is not universal amongst Muslims others hold it as a warning; that Allah is watching each movement of mankind. Others suggest that those who are nearer than his jugular vein are in fact the angels, in saying this they dismiss completely the idea that Allah is everywhere. Still others link the verse to creation indicating that the jugular vein is a vital organ that keeps the individual alive; Allah is therefore the source of creation and existence depends upon Him. The hadiths develop the more intimate relationship approach between the believer and Allah. If he is remembered by individual Muslims or by a corporate group he draws near as expressed in the action of running to them (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 586) and to those slaves who love the meeting with him he loves the meeting with them (Bukhari Volume 9, Book 93, Number 603).

Such passages may be allegorical as in their literal meaning they represent the deity as similar in many respect to a human monarch, only on a colossal scale yet, orthodoxy affirms he is immortal and neither slumbers nor sleeps and has no consort. In comparing the acts and attributes of Allah with those of humans one enters the area of blasphemy. Later Islamic theology disapproved of anthropomorphisms, but this involved explaining away a great many texts which speak of the physical features of Allah. There is no assertion in the Quran so decidedly anthropomorphic as Allah writes. In allegorical language the divine being is thought of as a king, issuing orders, communicating His will through messengers, reacting to obedience and disobedience, loving and hating, hearing and seeing, planning and plotting, it is difficult, if not impossible, to dissociate Him from the human form which in our experience invariably accompanies the greater number of these activities.

The problem that these metaphors caused was that it had to reconcile the separateness of Allah from the world with that of Allah’s immanence. The scholastic theologians separated Allah from his creation to a point where it was hard to explain how he could affect the world while on the other hand the history of Sufism gradually merged the world in Allah, until it could be asserted that Allah is all in all almost leading to a Pantheistic view.

Knowing Allah

In the Quran Muhammad naively developed two separate views of Allah’s governing; one was a rigid predestination while the other left scope for free-will. The first centuries of the Traditions record this dogmatic strife as the contradictory traditions reflect the views of opposing schools who freely forged them in support, each of their own views.

Tradition insists that reason must not be applied to criticise or expand on the statement from the Quran, the sunna, and the agreement of the Muslim people (ijma‘) it must be taken as it stands. When the Quran makes anthromorphic statements about Allah such as references to him sitting on a throne questions should not be raised as to how he sits or is established on His throne, nor should his sitting be compared with man’s sitting. Although Ahmad b. Hanbal, the great orthodox authority, recognised the references to the hands, the face and the sitting down of Allah he desired no further explanation apart from bi’-la-kaif – without knowing how. His followers accepted this view but Ibn Hazm thought that this brought him to ‘the entrance of the doctrine of the anthropomorphists.’

From this developed the doctrine of mukhalafa ‘difference’ everything in Allah is different from the similitude of men. This was followed with the thought that from Allah must be removed (tanzih) any confusion or association with his creatures. It resulted in one view that Allah was different but still thinkable while others argued that one could get no conception of Allah’s real nature. Allah’s mercy cannot be compared to human mercy it is absolutely unlike any human mercy. He has given himself the name ‘the Most Merciful’ what that means should not be asked or enquired. In the fourth century A.H. Al-Ash’ari’s view was finally accepted by orthodox Islam in the phrase “without enquiring how and without making comparison.”

If there is no way in which an intellectual understanding of Allah can be found then a supernatural basis for understanding was considered. It was proposed that in the individual human soul there resided a power of reaching and knowing (irfan knowing or awareness) directly. This was to be considered a supplementation of what was taught by the prophets and messengers. In its form it was partly ascetic and partly speculative; it sought Allah by exercises of devotion or flights of fancy. Al-Ghazzali (d.505/1111) constructed a mystical system in which the pantheistic element was restrained, if not destroyed and it was weaved into the fabric of Sufi Islam. Tradition could be used to guide, discipline and restrain the Sufi mystic. According to mysticism Allah has breathed into man of His spirit therefore the soul of man is different from everything else in the world. It is a spiritual substance, unshaped, and not subject to dimension. From its exile here it seeks the divine so the soul yearns after Allah.