Part 1: THE SAMENESS ILLUSION
Part 3 A: THE ISLAMIC COUNTER NARRATIVE-A
Part 3 B: THE ISLAMIC COUNTER NARRATIVE-B (Noah)
THE DILEMMA WITHIN ISLAM
Having answered the question from the perspective of whether or not Allah is one and the same, or even tangentially similar to the Lord God of the Bible with a resounding “no”, the question remains: then who is he?
So let us explore the central dilemma that has faced Muslim scholars throughout Islamic history—the dilemma of defining the nature of Allah, or more precisely in developing the so-called Doctrine of Allah, while proclaiming that he never reveals his nature, so his nature cannot be known and that any attempt to discover it is considered the highest level of Shirk (i.e. association of any deity or person with Allah).
They would develop the terms, (a) “Tawheed”, meaning absolute oneness or unity to describe Allah and (b) “Tanzeeh”, meaning that Allah is free of all anthropomorphisms and absolutely incomparable to anything or anyone – in other words, being pure and distinct from all associations (see Figure below). They would then state that Tawheed is the “true monotheism” from the foundation of the universe.
They would use Qur’anic verses and Hadith quotations to denounce the Triune God of the Bible as violating both the Tawheed and the Tanzeeh, and would produce as evidence a distorted definition of the “Trinity” calling it “Shirk”. Islam teaches that the “Trinity” is composed of three gods. There is a school of thought that posits that this trinity is composed of Allah, Maryam and Issa, inferring a physical union between Allah and Maryam. Even when explained that this is not the case, but that the Biblical doctrine of the Trinity is rather Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, the Muslim scholars would still regard it as polytheism and associating partners with Allah (Shirk). Despite being unable to tell us anything of substance about Allah, they still object and continue to vehemently refute the Biblical doctrine of the self-revealing Triune God
The history of the development of the doctrine of Allah in Islam contains a wide range of irreconcilable concepts. Scholars such as the Sufi (mystical) Ibn Arabi, came to the conclusion, based on his deduction from the primary sources, that “Allah is all and all is Allah.” He laid down this voluminous landmark teaching in his treatise entitled “Al Futuhat al Makkiya” among other works. Ibn Arabi’s works and especially “Al-Futuhat” remain in great demand and in circulation all over the Islamic world and are studied by Muslim scholars. However, in reality one must face the conclusion that Ibn Arabi actually preached and taught a pantheistic notion of Allah.
Other prominent Muslim scholars took different directions. For example, Wasil Ibn Atta taught that although Allah was indeed everywhere and in everything, neither Allah was all, nor all was Allah. Wasil Ibn Atta belonged to an 8th century (AD) rationalistic school of Islamic thought whose adherents were known as the Mu’tazilites. It was the Mu’tazilites who were instrumental in developing various key Islamic disciplines and systems, many of which continue to influence Islam today. Yet another eminent scholar, Ibn Taymiyyah, declared both of the above two scholars “Kafirs” or “apostates”.
Although Ibn Taymiyyah and many other leading scholars provided alternative derivations of the nature and meaning of Tawheed, all of them without exception used this same non-Qur’anic term, “Tawheed”. This term is not found anywhere in the Qur’an, though it is reported to have been coined and used by Muhammad himself.
In an interesting comparison between various Islamic schools, we make reference to an important opinion by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid. Without getting into the complex Islamic terminologies in that opinion, he makes reference to the works of important Muslim scholars and their schools of thought—all of whom attempted to deal with the Tawheed and its various aspects.
Eventually the consensus of Muslim scholars would converge on three categories of the “Tawheed”: (1) Lordship Tawheed, (2) Worship Tawheed and (3) Names/Attributes Tawheed. These three categories or classifications are and have been accepted to be foundational, interlinked, interdependent and inseparable. Anyone who does not hold to these classifications is termed as “Kafir”, an unbeliever /or a form of apostate.
Before explaining these three categories, it is important to note that Muslim scholars have also emphasized the need to establish a framework of limitations which provides necessary boundary conditions on the three categories, i.e. all of the three categories of Tawheed have to be consistent with, and governed by, these limitations.
These four boundaries of avoidance are termed:
1. Tahreef (no distortion): Total prohibition on changing, or even questioning the “meaning” of any Qur’anic text that refers to Allah’s attributes. The Tahreef (no distortion) aspect implies that the “meaning” of any Qur’anic text cannot be changed or distorted. An example of this distortion is that some scholars would “distort the meaning of the hand of Allah which is mentioned in many (Qur’anic) texts and say that it refers to his blessing or power.” As we shall see later, humans are not in a position to provide meaning to the “hand of Allah”, as Allah is beyond any likeness to any human form. Even the attempt to describe or characterize his “hand” as conveying a blessing or as exhibiting power is suspect, and is considered to be a form of Tahreef, a distortion which is unacceptable.
2. Ta’teel (no omission of Allah’s names): Denial that any of Allah’s attributes can be set aside. The Ta’teel (no omission of Allah’s names) aspect refers to “denying the beautiful names and sublime attributes and saying that Allah does not possess them or some of them.” Thus, although a human meaning cannot be given to Allah’s “names and attributes” (according to the above Tahreef prohibition), any denial of their existence is prohibited, since Allah himself allegedly revealed them in the Qur’an.
3. Tamtheel/Tashbeeh (negation of anthropomorphism): Denial that Allah can be likened or compared to anything.
The Tamtheel/Tashbeeh (negation of anthropomorphism) means that likening the attributes of Allah to the attributes of a human being is prohibited, such as saying that Allah mounted the throne, as per Surah 13:2, “Allah it is who raised up the heavens without visible supports, then mounted the throne….” Muslim scholars, and in particular the Mu’tazilites, asked:
a. “How” did he mount the throne?
b. Did he mount the throne as a man would mount?
c. Does this mean that positionally, the “timeless” Allah entered the time zone?
d. If Allah mounted the throne, where was he before mounting the throne?
e. Was Allah standing, and if he was standing, did he stand like a man?
f. If Allah sat upon or mounted the throne, is the throne greater?
g. Who is greater, the throne or Allah?
h. Does this mean that Allah has a body of some form? Etc.
These deliberations led to various schisms which were finally settled by Al-Ghazali in his famous poem on the issue whereby he wrote, “Bila Kaif wala tashbeeh” (Without “how?” and without “likeness”). Al-Ghazali argued his position quoting many Qur’anic passages, with particular emphasis on Surah 42:11, “There is nothing like Him…”
Ibn Arabi commenting on Surah 55:27, “But will abide (for ever) the face of thy Lord…”, or 2:115, “…there is the face of Allah…”, expounded on the anthropomorphism concept and posited that the “face of Allah” is literal. For that opinion he was severely criticised by other Muslim scholars.
This would extend to any form of likeness (called Tashbeeh), such as creating man in Allah’s image, walking with Adam in the Garden, or, most especially, the Incarnation and Indwelling of the Holy Spirit according to the Bible. Hence the overall and all-encompassing aspect of the doctrine of Allah called Tanzeeh, as described above.
4. Takyeef (negation of “how”): Denal of man’s ability to describe “how” Allah achieves his purposes. The Takyeef (negation of “how”) means discussing, questioning or speculating as to what the attributes of Allah are and how they are attained, whereby a person tries to give them verbal or pictorial image or description. This course of inquiry is strictly forbidden, as such understanding is said to be well beyond the capacity of human beings, according to Surah 20:110, “but they will never encompass anything of his knowledge”.
These aspects of the doctrine of Allah have come to be the standard measure by which the authoritative community of scholars have put an end to any attempt to give any meaning to the nature of Allah, as they consider doing that to be apostasy—although expressed outwardly in seemingly positive terms. These doctrines emanate from the principle of “who Allah is not” rather than “who he is”, as he/Allah is ultra-transcendent, relationless and utterly unknowable. In essence, they would establish Allah’s limitations as will be discussed below.
In short, the four boundaries of Tahreef (no distorting), Ta’teel (no omission of Allah’s names), Tamtheel/Tashbeeh (negation of anthropomorphism), and Takyeef (negation of “how”) work together to prohibit any discussion of self-revelation or the knowability of Allah.
As a result and after centuries of deliberation, Muslim scholars would converge on the “three categories of Tawheed” whereby they would employ these negative avoidance boundaries while providing an apparent positive description of the Tawheed. So what are the categories of Tawheed?
THE THREE CATEGORIES OF TAWHEED
We now consider the three categories of Tawheed, i.e. the oneness and unity of Allah (See Figure above). These are:
1. Tawheed Arrububiyya (Lordship Tawheed) meaning: maintaining the oneness of Allah.
2. Tawheed al Uluhiyya, better known as Tawheed Al-Ibada (Worship Tawheed) meaning: maintaining unity of worship.
3. Tawheed al Asmaa’ wa-Assifaat (Names/Attributes Tawheed) meaning: maintaining the unity of Allah’s names and attributes.
Before delving into the details of these categories, it is important to note that the above-mentioned classifications of Tawheed are accepted and upheld by all Sunni schools within the house of Islam.
However, the inseparability of Muhammad and Allah, and the indispensability of Muhammad’s role, are crucial factors in understanding and upholding these three categories. In reality, no Islamic doctrine or concept can be understood without Muhammad’s central role in the Tawheed doctrine. This emerges only when the details of each category are explained.
In what follows, we provide explanations of these three categories based on what the Muslim scholars have established.
Tawheed Arrububiyya (Lordship Tawheed)
Tawheed Arrububiyya (Lordship Tawheed) means upholding or maintaining the unity of Allah as master or sovereign, i.e. Lord (Rab, in Arabic). He is solely the one and only and has no partners. This means that Allah is the sole creator of everything, master of the universe and all that inhabits it. He is the sustainer of all, imparting death and life (Surah 67:2, “He who created death and life…”), disposer of affairs of humankind, judge, rewarder and punisher of them at the Judgment day.
The following are some Qur’anic references in this regard:
Surah 39:62, “Allah is the creator of all things, and he is the guardian and disposer of all affairs.”
Surah 37:96, “But Allah has created you and your handiwork.”
Many believe that Muhammad’s contemporary pagan Arabs did not know that the supreme being had created all the universe and that he is the sustainer of life, and that Muhammad was the first to preach this oneness of Allah as the god of Islam. In truth, that was not the case at all. The Qur’an states that the pagan Arabs knew and believed in a supreme being called “Allah”:
Surah 43:87, “If you ask them (pagan Arabs), who created them, they will certainly say, ‘Allah’: How then are they deluded?”
Surah 29:63, “And if indeed you ask them who is it that sends down rain from the sky, and gives life therewith to the earth after its death, they will certainly reply, ‘Allah’...”
So the pagan Arabs of Muhammad’s time knew about Allah as the Lord and the master creator of the universe, the sustainer of life and giver of all good things:
Surah 10:31, “Say: ‘Who is it that sustains you (in life) from the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that has power over hearing and sight? And who is it that brings out the living from the dead and the dead from the living? And who is it that rules and regulates all affairs?’ They (pagan Arabs) will soon say, ‘Allah’. Say, ‘Will you not then show piety?’”
And in times of trouble they cried out to Allah:
Surah 31:31-32, “Don’t you see that the ships sail through the ocean by the grace of Allah? That he may show you of his signs? In this are signs for all who constantly persevere and give thanks. When a wave covers them like the canopy, they (pagan Arabs) call to Allah, offering him sincere devotion. But when he has delivered them safely to land, there are among them those that would waver. But none reject our signs except only one who is treacherous and ungrateful”.
According to the foregoing Qur’anic references, it has been clearly demonstrated that many of the pagan Arabs knew and believed in the supreme creator Allah, that he is the sustainer and the disposer of their affairs. He is the one who sends them rain, and he controls the seasons, and when in trouble they will call upon him to be delivered. And when asked, “Who created you?” they would say, “Allah”. But despite that, Allah of the Qur’an declares them to be unbelievers as they rejected Muhammad and his claims.
Muslim scholars’ presentations and explanations of the Lordship Tawheed (Rububiyyah) are shrouded to present the uniqueness of Allah, acknowledging yet minimising the intrinsic role of Muhammad. However, many of them have openly expounded this with its corollary concepts embedded in the doctrines of Al-Walaa’ wal-Baraa’ and the doctrines associated with the rights of Muhammad.
In reality Lordship Tawheed (Rububiyyah) demands that people believe in the finality of Muhammad alongside the utter unity of Allah, and whosoever of the pagans did not pronounce allegiance audibly by confessing the Shahadah (which links Allah and Muhammad), was put to death. Muhammad said:
“I have been sent with a sword and no man will escape my sword until he recites the Shahadah.”
In other words, despite the pagans’ beliefs in Allah as the creator and sustainer of the universe and their calling upon him at times of trouble, yet without confessing the Shahadah, Allah would regard them as Kafirs, for they would not have believed and publicly acknowledged Muhammad as the final messenger.
Tawheed Al-Ibada (Worship Tawheed)
According to the Qur’an, the sole purpose of Allah in the creation of Jinn and humankind is for them to serve and worship Allah, as per Surah 51:56, “I (Allah) have only created Jinns and men, that they may worship (serve) me …” This Ayah establishes the basis for Tawheed Al-Ibada (Worship Tawheed). Not only is Allah “Lord” according to “Lordship Tawheed”, but he is to be worshipped or, more accurately, to be served.
Now this worship, service or “Ibada” (in Arabic) cannot be performed in any way one chooses. It has to be practised exactly as laid down by Muhammad, individually or corporately, be it in Salat (the ritual prayers), in Sawm (Ramadan fasting), in Zakat (religious tax for Muslims), in the Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca), in Jihad, in Nikah (contracted marriage partnership), as well as in the upholding of all the “Halal” (whatever is allowed) and the “Haram” (whatever is prohibited).
According to Islamic understanding, no amount of serving and worshipping of Allah alone would be acceptable, for a person must believe in Allah and Muhammad equally, according to Surahs 24:62 and 49:15:
24:62, “The true believers are only those who sincerely believe in Allah and in his messenger…”
49:15, “Only those are believers who have believed in Allah and his messenger, and have never since doubted, but have striven with their belongings and their persons in the cause of Allah: Such are the sincere ones.”
48:13, “And whosoever does not believe in Allah and his messenger, then we have prepared for the disbelievers a blazing fire.”
So to recite or believe only the first part of the Shahadah, “No deity but Allah …”, is insufficient, and neither makes a person a Muslim, nor makes him acceptable to Allah and he/she remains in the fold of Kufr (i.e. unbelief or apostasy).
Instead, a person must believe and uphold the second part of the Shahadah, “… and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah”, thus establishing that Muhammad is the final messenger of Allah and is superior over all other messengers. Only then is one regarded as upholding Tawheed.
However, if one were to regard the two parts of the creed as separate categories one would be declared as a Mushrik (an unbeliever/apostate).
Only when one upholds and believes that the entire Shahadah (composed of two statements merged as one), then and only then, one is regarded as having upheld the Tawheed.
Further, not only has Allah commanded belief in both himself and in Muhammad, but obedience to Muhammad is obedience to Allah, according to:
Surah 4:80, “He who obeys the messenger has already obeyed Allah …”
Because of the Shahadah, one cannot become a Muslim without believing in both Allah and Muhammad. They are inseparable. The denial of Allah (or associating partners with him) is “Kufr”, and is the unforgivable sin. Denial of Muhammad is also “Kufr” (blasphemy).
To conclude, Worship Tawheed (upholding or maintaining the unity of worship) is unachievable without Muhammad, the messenger of Allah. This extends to every aspect of a Muslim’s life individually, corporately and as part of the Islamic community. For the pinnacle of Worship Tawheed is only achieved by obeying both Allah and Muhammad.
Tawheed Al-Asmaa’ Wa al-Sifat (Names/Attributes)
Muslims worldwide take great pride in the so-called 99 names of Allah. They are usually framed and displayed prominently in their homes and businesses.
First, let’s look at some Qur’anic references about the 99 names:
Surah 17:110-111, “110. Say (O Muhammad): ‘Invoke Allah the most beneficent; by whatever name you invoke him, it is the same, for to him belong the best names….’ 111. And say: ‘All the praises and thanks be to Allah, who has not begotten a son, and who has no partner in his dominion, nor would he need anyone to protect him from humiliation, and magnify him with all the magnificence.’”
Surah 59:22-24, “22. He is Allah, none has the right to be worshipped but he, the all-knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the most beneficent, the most merciful. 23. He is the king, the holy, the one free from all defects, the giver of security, the watcher over his creatures, the all-mighty, the compeller, the supreme. Glory be to Allah above all that they associate as partners with him. 24. He is Allah, the creator, the inventor of all things, the bestower of forms. To him belong the best Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify him. And he is the all-mighty, the all-wise.”
Surah 20:8, “Allah. No god but he. To him belongs the most beautiful name.”
The main issue that faced Muslim scholars was to establish meanings or understandings of these names. What does it mean that Allah is called “Al-Rahim” (The Merciful), or “Al-Wahhab” (The Bestower)? What does it mean that he is “Al-Lateef” (The Gentle One), “Al-Jabbar” (The Compeller), or even “Al-‘Aleem” (The All Knowing)?
After centuries of debates, and in order to avoid the various blind alleys of Qur’anic logic, Muslim scholars arrived at the four prohibition boundaries, as explained earlier.
For example, prohibition boundary (1) is called: Tahreef (no distortion of Allah’s names ), that is, total prohibition on changing the “meaning” of any Qur’anic text. Hence, no human can come up with any meaningful definition of these names/attributes. Yet, according to boundary (2): Ta’teel (no omission of Allah’s names), no one is allowed to deny the existence of these. Even more limiting is boundary (3): (Tamtheel/Tashbeeh [negation of anthropomorphism]) whereby although these names/attributes are human-like, the Qur’an asserts in Surah 42:11, “There is nothing like Him….” And to make it impenetrable, boundary (4): Takyeef (negation of “how”), i.e. discussing how the attributes are attained, or even speculating about them, is considered to be far beyond human understanding according to Surah 20:110, “but they will never encompass anything of his knowledge”.
These four boundaries have been accepted and imposed by notable Islamic institutions. Thus, Muslim scholars have generally accepted:
1. That all negations of Allah must be seen as emphasising his uniqueness rather than implying non-existence, in accordance with Surah 42:11, in accordance with Surah 42:11: “… there is nothing whatever like unto him…”
2. Although many of the names and attributes may be obviously human or anthropomorphic, Allah’s character and being must not be humanised, as required by the four boundaries.
3. Conversely, when similar attributes are given to men they cannot be “divinised”.
Based on this, one has to accept Allah’s names/attributes at face value without the ability to understand or even come close to comprehending their meaning, especially as one considers the “four boundaries” and the Doctrine of Tanzeeh.
But Islam has a clean way out of this impasse. If one cannot comprehend Allah’s names and attributes, one can easily understand Muhammad’s. Although Allah officially has 99 names/attributes, Muhammad has a lot more, ranging from 99 even up to 1000 names.
Generations of Muslims have compiled lists of names of Muhammad. Upon taking a thorough look at these names and their variations, from diverse Islamic sources, there is one glaring result: many of those names are indistinguishable from Allah’s names. But here is the reality of the matter: since Allah is limited within his boundaries and one cannot understand or question the meaning of his names/attributes, Muhammad is just a “man” and one can fully understand the meaning of his names.