The concept of monotheism (known as ‘tawheed’ in Arabic) is the single most important concept in Islam. Monotheism points to the first of the Ten Commandments, and in Islam everything is built upon the oneness of God. Islam calls humanity away from the worship of any part of creation to the worship of The One and Only True God. No act of worship or devotion has any meaning or value if the concept of monotheism is in any way compromised.
Due to its importance, the concept of monotheism (divine unity and singularity) must be properly and fully understood. For ease of discussion, monotheism can be looked at from the following three perspectives:
- The Oneness of God in His Lordship (Omnipotence)
- The Devotion of all worship to The One God Alone
- The Uniqueness and Oneness of God in His Names and Attributes
This breakdown is by no means the only way to approach the subject that God is one and unique, but it allows the topic to be easily analyzed and discussed. (Monotheism is the key to understanding Islam, and revisiting this concept is recommended.)
The Oneness of God in His Lordship
The oneness of God in His Lordship means that God, The Originating Creator of the Heavens and the Earth, has absolute and perfect mastery over the universe. He alone is The Creator of all things. He alone causes everything to happen. He is The One who provides all sustenance and who determines all life and death. He is The Powerful, The Omnipotent, absolutely perfect and free from any defect. No one shares in His dominion. None can resist His decree. He is The One who created each of us from a Single cell and made us Into what we are. He is The One who created over a hundred billion galaxies and every electron, neutron, and quark contained within them, keeping all that exists and all the laws of nature in perfect measure. Not a leaf falls from a tree without His permission. Everything is kept in a precise record.
He is far greater than our imagination. He is so powerful that for anything to be created He simply says, “Be!” and it is. He created time, space, and all the known and unknown worlds, yet He is not part of any of them. Most faiths recognize that The Creator of the universe is one, without partner. Islam includes the knowledge that God is not a part of His creation and none of His creation shares in His power.
In Islam, to believe that any of God’s creation shares in His power or attributes is considered polytheism and disbelief. Examples of such false beliefs would be to consider that fortune-tellers or astrologers can predict the future; God, The All-Aware, says that only He possesses the knowledge of the future. Only the Divine can give divine help. No being except God has the ability to give divine help or divine guidance. Belief that good luck charms and talismans have any power is a form of polytheism. These concepts are renounced in Islam.
The Devotion of All Worship to the One God Alone
Only God, The Appreciative, is to be worshiped. This was proclaimed by all the Prophets and Messengers of Islam who were sent by God throughout the ages, and is the core belief of Islam. God tells us that the purpose of the creation of humanity is to worshipped Him alone. The purpose of Islam is to call people away from the worship of creation and to direct them toward the worship of The Creator alone.
This is where Islam differs from other religions. Although most religions teach that there is a creator who created all that exists, they are rarely free of some form of polytheism (idolatry) with respect to worship. These religions either call on their adherents to worship other beings besides God (though usually placing these other gods on a lower level than the God who is The Creator), or they demand that their adherents call on other beings as intercessors between themselves and God.
All the Prophets and Messengers of God, from Adam to Muhammad called people to worship God alone, without partner or intermediary. This is the purest, simplest, most natural faith. Islam rejects the notion held by cultural anthropologists that the early religion of human beings was polytheism – which gradually evolved into monotheism. In fact, Muslims believe just the opposite, human cultures descended into idolatry during the intervals of time between the many Messengers of God. Even while the Messengers were among them, many people resisted their call and practiced idolatry despite their warnings. Subsequent Messengers were commissioned by God to bring people back to monotheism.
God created humans with an innate, natural inclination toward the worship of Him alone. Satan, on the other hand, does his utmost to get people to turn away from monotheism, enticing mankind to the worship of creation (Idolatry). Most people have a tendency to focus their devotion on something they can visualize, something imaginable, even though they have an instinctive knowledge that The Creator of the universe is far greater than their imaginations. Throughout human history, God sent a succession of Prophets and Messengers to call the people back to the worship of The One and Only True God. Due to the allure of Satan, people repeatedly deviated to the worship of created beings (idolatry and polytheism).
God created human beings to worship Him alone. In Islam, the greatest possible sin is to worship anything or anyone other than God, even if the worshipper intends to draw nearer to God by offering devotions to another being. God, The Sufficient, does not need intercessors or intermediaries. He hears all of our prayers and has complete knowledge of everything that happens.
At the same time, God does not need our worship, but He says that it is pleasing to Him. He is completely independent of all things. All creation is dependent upon Him. If every person in the world were to come together to worship only God, it would not benefit God in the least. It would not add an atom’s weight to His majestic dominion. Conversely, if all creation abandoned the worship of God, it would not decrease His dominion in the least. By worshipping God, we benefit our own souls and fulfill the noble purpose for which we were created. God has no needs; He is The Eternal, The Absolute.
Worship is not just traditional religious ceremonies or practices. The concept of worship is inclusive. Changing a diaper, honoring and caring for one’s parents, as well as picking up a piece of broken glass from the sidewalk – all can be forms of worship if they are done with the primary intent to please God. If any sort of gain, be it wealth, job, power, or recognition, becomes more important than pleasing God, even that is a form of polytheism.
The Uniqueness and Oneness of God in His Names and attributes
God! None is worthy of worship but He, The Ever Living, The One who sustains
and protects all that exists. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except with His permission? He knows what happens to them [His creatures] in this world, and what will happen to them in the Hereafter. And they will never encompass anything of His knowledge except that which He wills. The pedestal of His throne extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is The Most High, The Supreme. (Qur’an (2):255)
In Islam it is forbidden to attribute to God characteristics of His creation. The only attributes that may be ascribed to God are the ones He revealed Himself in the Qur’an or those used by the Prophet to describe Him. Many of God’s names and attributes seem to have equivalents on the human level, but this is only a reflection of human language. God’s attributes, like God Him-self, are unlike anything In our experience. For instance, God has divine knowledge. Man has knowledge. God’s knowledge however, is nothing at all like the knowledge of human beings. God’s knowledge is unlimited (omniscient, The All Knowing). It is neither learned nor acquired. God’s knowledge encompasses all things without experiencing increase or decrease. Human knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired and limited. It is constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, and subject to forgetfulness and error.
God, The Irresistible, has divine will. The human being also has a will. God’s will always comes to pass. Like His divine knowledge, His will encompasses all things that God wants to come to pass in creation — past, present, and future. Human will, on the other hand, is merely an intention, a desire. It can only come to pass if God wills it to happen.
Human attributes cannot be ascribed to God. All human attributes are limited. God has no gender, weakness, or deficiency. God is beyond the human and creation attribute of gender. Here we have used the pronoun “He” only because there is no gender-neutral pronoun in English/Semitic languages, and it follows the conventions of English usage. When the royal “We” is used in the Qur’an to refer to God, it is for respect and in no way implies plurality. To ascribe to God attributes of created things is a form of polytheism. It is likewise a form of polytheism to ascribe to created things attributes that belong to God alone. For instance, anyone who believes that any other than God is The All-Wise All Powerful has committed the sin of polytheism.
Blessed be the name of your Lord, full of majesty, bounty, and honor. (Qur’an 55:78)