Introduction to Islam
by Dr. Zahid Aziz
“Allah — there is no god but He. His are the most beautiful names.” (The Holy Quran, 20:8)
“Say: He, Allah, is One. Allah is He on Whom all depend. He begets not, nor is He begotten, and none is like Him.” (The Holy Quran, Chapter 112)
What is the basic teaching of Islam about God?
Islam teaches that there is one, and only one, God Who is the Creator and Controller of the entire universe. He is unique in every respect, and there is nothing which bears any likeness to Him. He is the Knower of all things, and has full power over the whole of creation. He does not stand in need of anything at all, while everything is totally dependent on Him. He possesses all the perfect qualities, and man should worship Him, and Him alone.
Is there any name for God that Muslims use specially?
Yes. According to Islam, the personal name of God is the Arabic word Allah. Personal name means that it is the name which refers only to Him, and to Him rather than to any particular quality that He possesses. It is pronounced as follows:
AL — as in the English word al-arm.
LAH — la as in the word la-rge.
The word Allah denotes that God is the One Who possesses all the perfect attributes. The Quran itself gives this meaning when it says:
“Allah has the most excellent names (or qualities).” (The Holy Quran, 7:180)
The names of God in other languages, such as God in English, or Khuda in Urdu, only convey some particular attribute of the Divine Being, and they are also used for those other than God (as in god, gods, goddess, etc.). Allah, however, has only ever been applied to God Himself.
Does Islam give any arguments to prove the existence of God?
Yes, the Holy Quran gives three kinds of arguments on this point.
Firstly, it refers us to the physical world which shows great order and arrangement, works according to laws, and where everything has a set purpose in the whole scheme of things. There is also immense beauty in nature which attracts man’s heart. Science is discovering more and more of these characteristics of the world all the time. So behind this highly purposeful and beautiful working of nature must be One, single Intelligence of great beauty and attraction.
Secondly, the Quran tells us about the close and deep connection between God and the inner nature of every person. There is an in-built desire in each and every person to search for something higher than oneself, and when in difficulties a person instinctively wants to call upon a Hidden Power to help him.
Thirdly, and most convincingly, Prophets and men of God appeared in every nation in the world and showed their people the reality of God through their teachings and works. Just as most of us learn about science not by making all the discoveries ourselves, but by accepting the work and evidence of those who devote themselves to the study of science, similarly the proof of the existence of God is provided by the lives of the great luminaries whom God sent all over the world for this very purpose.
Other religions also teach the existence of God. Is there any difference between their teaching and the Islamic concept of God?
Yes, there are some important differences.
The first major difference is that Islam teaches the absolute one-ness of God, with Whom no one can share in Divinity. No idol or heavenly object, nor any religious or spiritual teacher, can possess some Divine power or attribute.
Secondly, Islam teaches the highest conception of God, and does not accept any limitation to His power and knowledge, while other religions set limits to Him. For instance, Islam rejects the Hindu belief that God is not the Creator of matter and souls but exists alongside them. It also rejects the Christian doctrine that God is unable to forgive sins unless He punishes someone, and so He sent His ‘son’ to suffer the punishment for the sins of all humanity. Moreover, a son is needed to take the place of the father when the father dies, and clearly this cannot apply if God is perfect.
Thirdly, Islam refutes the idea that any human being, however great, was a ‘manifestation’ of God on earth, or a Divine incarnate.
What are the practical consequences of these three differences?
These differences dignify and elevate the position of man. Belief in the one-ness of God means that man should not worship or be a slave to anything in the world, such as idols, forces of nature, heavenly bodies, religious leaders, kings, dictatorial systems, etc. So man is meant to conquer the world around him, not be afraid of it; and each person is meant to use his or her own intelligence and reason, not blindly obey someone else.
Belief in the highest conception of God means that man’s own progress is unlimited. His knowledge and power, though insignificant as compared to God’s, can go on increasing. Rejecting the belief that a person could be a ‘manifestation’ of God, means that one should look upon the great Founders of religions, not as ‘gods’ shrouded in mystery and possessing supernatural powers, but as mortal human beings who by their own lives and example showed others how to live.
Is there any other important distinctive feature of the Islamic concept of God?
Yes. Islam teaches that Allah is “the Lord (Rabb) of all the worlds”. (Rabb is pronounced like the word rub.) Allah is, therefore, not just the ‘god’ of the Muslims, nor the god of a particular race, religion or nation, but the only One God for the whole of mankind. As the Lord of all the nations, He has not only provided means of physical sustenance for all the countries on earth, but also sent His guidance to every nation for its moral progress. He is equally just and loving towards every section of humanity, and has no favourite or chosen people, or rejected ones.
How does man stand in relation to God, according to Islam?
God has given man not only a body, but also a soul through which he can come into contact with his Creator. But whereas the body, like the rest of nature, is bound to obey the laws of God, the soul is free to follow God’s guidance or to reject it. The soul’s development lies in willingly following the guidance God has revealed through His prophets.
According to the Quran, each person’s soul is
which has been breathed into him or her (The Holy Quran, 32:9). This means that man’s soul has a special relationship with God, and man is capable of emulating the Divine attributes on his own small scale (see the heading, ‘What is the purpose of believing that God possesses these attributes?’ below). God is unimaginably near to man’s soul, nearer to it than even man himself. He knows a person’s innermost thoughts, even those which the person himself does not consciously realize. In man’s soul there is implanted love for God and yearning after God, and it cannot find complete contentment without God. (See, for example, the following verses of the Holy Quran for these ideas: 50:16; 56:85; 20:7; 2:165; 5:119; 89:27–30.)
What are the other things the Holy Quran tells us about God?
It tells us a great deal. Most frequently it calls God Rahman (Beneficent) and Raheem (Merciful). Rahman really means that God is so loving and generous that He has granted man innumerable blessings as free gifts without any effort on man’s part. God is Raheem means that He is merciful so that when man makes the effort to use his God-given bounties for good purposes, God helps him to succeed. For instance, God has given man all sorts of physical resources in this world, without any effort on his part. When man tries to exploit these resources for the good, God makes him successful. The Holy Quran also tells us that God is Forgiving, Compassionate, Just, Answerer of prayers, Creator of everything, All-powerful, All-knowing, etc.
A passage of the Holy Quran which mentions several attributes of God is as follows:
“He is Allah besides Whom there is no God. The Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is Allah besides Whom there is no God; the King, the Holy, the Author of peace, the Grantor of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of greatness … He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (The Holy Quran, 59:22–24)
What is the purpose of believing that God possesses these attributes?
So that man can try to acquire and display the same kind of qualities in his life. The Quran says:
“(Take) Allah’s colouring — and who is better than Allah at colouring.” (The Holy Quran, 2:138)
God is the Rabb (the Provider and Fosterer of the whole world), so man should try to provide for others. God is Rahman, and so man too should take the initiative in doing good to other people, whether they have done anything to deserve it or not. God is Raheem, and so man should join with, help and encourage those who are doing good. God is All-Knowing and Wise, so man too should try to perfect his knowledge and acquire wisdom.
Believing in the Divine attributes also stops one from harming others for personal gain. A person who truly believes God to be his Rabb (Provider) knows that He will always look after him, and so such a person would never try to take someone else’s due. A person who truly believes that God is All-Seeing and All-Knowing would know that he could never hide any bad deed, however secret, from God.