The Muslim doctrine of Allah

December 2020

Among all the religions in the world there is none that has a shorter creed than Islam; none whose creed is so well known and so often repeated. The whole system of Muslim theology, philosophy and religious life is summed up in seven words: La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasul Allah – “There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is Allah’s Apostle” – on these two phrases hang all the laws and teachings and morals of Islam.

It is the motto-text of the Muslim’s home life, the baptismal formula to welcome the infant as a believer, the final message to whisper in the ears of the dying. The words La ilaha illa Allah are chanted when carrying a burden or a bier; they are inscribed on their banners and their door-posts; they appear on all the early coins of the caliphs and have been the great battle-cry of Islam for centuries. By repeating these words, the infidel becomes a Muslim and the renegade is welcomed back to a spiritual brotherhood. By this creed the faithful are called to prayer five times a day and this is the platform on which all the warring sects of Islam can unite, for it is the foundation and criterion of their religion.

According to a traditional saying of Muhammad, “God said to Moses, if you were to put the whole of the universe on one side of the scale-pans and the words La ilaha illa Allah on the other side this would outweigh that” (Mishkat al-Masibih). Orthodox tradition as found in the Mishkat also relates that the prophet was one day passing by a dry and withered tree and as soon as he struck it with his staff the leaves fell off; then the prophet said, Verily, the words La ilaha illa Allah shake off the believer’s sins as my staff shook of the leaves from this tree.

With this formula the Quran expresses God’s unity. It never wearies reiterating these words and Sura 112, which is especially devoted to this subject, is, so Muslims say, equal in value to one third of the whole book. With the glory and boast of this creed, which expresses the unity of God, many take it for granted that the God of the Quran is the same being and has the same attributes as Jehovah or as the God-head of the New Testament. Indeed, the word Allah is used for God not only by all Muslims, but by all Arabic speaking Jews and Christians in the East. But this does not necessarily mean that the idea expressed by the word is the same in each case.

Muhammad’s ideas regarding Allah

The ideas of Muhammad regarding God’s existence, character and attributes came to him from three sources:
1. He undoubtedly had a knowledge of God from Nature, and the passages of the Quran which set forth this natural theology are some of the most beautiful and poetic in the whole book.
2. His heredity and environment were pagan and he was never able to free himself from the pagan ideas of deity current among the Arabs.
3. He learned something of the God of Abraham and the teachings of the New Testament from the Jews and Christians of Arabia and Abyssinia.

From these three sources Muhammad obtained his theology, and to each source we can trace some of his ideas as set forth in the Quran. What was his result?

The crowning benefit bestowed by Islam is its belief structure goes beyond the fetishes and idolatry of pagan Arabia to the belief in the one true God. What Muhammad tells us of God’s omnipotence, omniscience, justice, goodness and mercy sounds, for the most part, very well indeed, and might easily awaken the idea that there is no real difference between his God and the God of Christianity. But Muhammad’s monotheism is out and out deistic. God and the world are in exclusive, external and eternal opposition. Of an entrance of God into the world or any sort of human fellowship with God he knows nothing.

Abridged from the ‘Muslim Doctrine of God’ by S.M Zwemer.