“Say (O Muhammad): ‘He is God. the One, the Self-Sufficient. He begets not nor is He begotten, and there is none like Him.”‘ (112:1-4)
“Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies God, for He is the Mighty, the Wise. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. It is He Who gives life and death, and He has power over all things. He is the First and the Last, the Evident and the Immanent, and He has full knowledge of all things. It is He Who created the heavens and the earth in six days (stages or eons), and is moreover firmly established on the throne (of authority). He knows what enters into the earth and what comes forth from it, and what descends from the heavens and what mounts up to it: and He is with you wherever you may be. And God sees all that you do. To Him belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all affairs are referred back to God. He merges night into day and He merges day into night. And He has full knowledge of what is in the hearts (of people).” (57:1-6)
Let us now look further at the Islamic conception of God, the first of Islam’s fundamental articles of faith. To what extent does it resemble the conceptions of God taught by other religions and in what way is it unique and different?
In the Islamic view, His attributes are those of one Who is above any sort of limitations, such as having a beginning or an end, begetting or being begotten, or requiring food, rest or procreating; for He is the One Who gives such dimensions and attributes to His creatures, while He Himself does not share them in the slightest degree. The Quran says:
“God is He than Whom there is no other deity. He knows the Unseen (al-ghaib) and the Evident (ash-shahadah). He is the Merciful, the Compassionate. God is He than Whom there is no other deity—the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Mighty, the Irresistible, the Supreme. Glory be to God! (high is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms. To Him belong the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and on earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise.” (59:22.24)
One who ponders over the nature of God with an open mind in relation to the observed facts of the universe has no choice but to realize that He cannot, by definition, be simply a sort of superman Who sits above the clouds and directs affairs while sharing in creaturely needs and attributes. For God is nothing less than the Originator and Fashioner of the universe with all its vast and perfect systems, the One Who sustains and keeps it functioning according to His infinitely wise plans and laws. And thus it is clear and certain as Islam emphatically proclaims that He is infinitely beyond anything which the mind or senses of the human being can grasp or comprehend or imagine or explain, and that He is far, far above having any similarity to any of His creation.
For He alone is the Creator and everything else is the created: He alone is divine, and no human being or any other creature can ever share His divinity or His unique attributes as Creator and Sustainer in the slightest degree. In short, God Most High has not the least resemblance to the limited, petty gods with their semihuman nature which the minds of men, due to their imperfect knowledge and understanding, have invented to supply the deficiencies in their comprehension but who, at the same time, fall so short of being God-like. His divine nature is entirely unique and can be grasped only through the contemplation of His attributes and His creation. The Quran says:
“God! There is no deity except Him, the Living, the Eternal. No slumber can overpower Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there who can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what is before them and what is hidden from them, and they cannot comprehend anything of His knowledge except what He wills His kingdom spreads over the heavens and the earth, and the guarding of them does not weary Him, and He is the Exalted, the Almighty.” (2:255)
Yet God’s existence does not have the least relevance for mankind if He is not actively concerned with His creation, or if (as some people imagine) He created the universe and the human being and then went off and forgot about them, leaving them on their own to sink or swim. But Islam proclaims that God is the Reality, and thus His existence has absolute relevance and meaning for every single human being since it is solely in relation to God that we exist and move through the journey of this life on our way back to Him. Islam, then, asserts that God is always active and is concerned and creatively involved with every single part of His creation, from the vastest of stars down to the very atoms which comprise them, with every part of its macro – and micro – systems, and that it exists, continues and fulfills its functions by His command and will. For His concern is not merely in creating but also in sustaining, directing and guiding: in providing for His creations — maintaining , ordering and regulating them, and, in respect to human beings, in giving them the direction necessary for living their lives in this world in such a manner as will ensure their everlasting good in the life-to-come.
God is not concerned with the human being, however, as the sole or necessarily the most important of His creations, but as the one creature on earth (which is only one part of His unimaginable vast and complex creation) whom He has endowed with a thinking mind, a feeling heart, the ability to store and transmit knowledge, and to whom He has given freedom of choice. At the same time, God asks the human being to use this freedom of choice to voluntarily and deliberately choose what God wants for him rather than to follow his own random and often chaotic desires: that is, to submit his will to God’s higher will and by this means to carry out the responsibilities, both personal and collective, which God has entrusted to him. For not only does the Creator have the absolute right to make whatever rules or laws He sees fit for His creatures, but He also has the absolute right to their obedience. At the same time, He alone possesses the all-embracing, absolute knowledge and wisdom to provide His creatures with such guidance as will lead to their assured well-being both in this world and in the Hereafter.
Such a belief in God and the human being’s relationship to Him, however, is for the conscientious Muslim no mere intellectual exercise. For as he believes that God alone is the Master of the universe, the Lord of men, the sole Authority and Legislator, and that the human being is nothing but a humble slave before Him, it follows that there must be no other lords and authorities in his life besides God. Islam proclaims that all other elements which claim the human being’s obedience and devotion, and which attempt to rule or dominate his life, are false and are in competition with God for lordship over him It insists that one who truly and wholeheartedly believes that God alone is the sole and rightful Sovereign and Law Giver must not and will not obey or give his devotion or allegiance to other claimants to authority and sovereignty. Rather he must reject them all, submit himself to God alone, and strive with all his energies against the domination of deities other than God.
A little thought will make it clear that no matter how free an individual may consider himself to be, nevertheless he submits to some authority, his life is oriented around some goal, and his loyalty and devotion are given to someone or something. Every single one of us submits to and worships some deity which holds sway over our hearts. Either this deity is God Himself or it is, in every case without exception. something lesser than God since everything is lesser than He. Such a deity may be a human being such as a ruler, religious figure, philosopher or a member of one’s family: it may be some man made ideology, philosophy or -ism.
Such worship may be taking “productivity,” “progress,” “work,” or “the state” as one’s idol: it may be love of self, pride in family, descent, race, education, occupation, health, status or intelligence: it may be catering to one’s own desires and becoming enslaved by them. Or it may be deifying science or the arts, or becoming the slave of fads and fashions, pleasures and lusts and passions, personal habits or the demands of society, or any of the thousand-and-one deities of the human being’s own invention which are known to all of us, which effectively replace the lordship of God Most High over our hearts and lives.
We have spoken of the human being’s attribute of freedom of choice. But this does not apply simply to the various single decisions which one makes every day of his life in matters big and small Such choices depend, in fact, upon the basic, central choice which one makes to direct the whole of his existence. The greatest and most fundamental choice which every human being is called upon to make is to decide who is his Lord, for whom he lives his life, to whom is his goal, and who he worships, serves and obeys. Indeed, Islam emphatically proclaims, the choice is between only two possible ways: to be in bondage to human ideas and notions and desires, or to consciously and voluntarily commit oneself to be bound by the standards, criteria and laws of God alone; to be the slave of human masters, living by manmade values philosophies and doctrines, or to be the slave of the true Master of men, God the Praised and Exalted; to be satisfied to live and work for something lesser, or to dedicate oneself to living and striving for the only One Who can be worthy of such devotion from a human being, the only One Who can truly guide and give meaning to the human being’s life, Almighty God alone.
In Western society today we hear a great deal of talk about “freedom.” Such freedom, Islam asserts, is in reality enslavement: enslavement to one’s own ego or to other human beings or their ideas and values. And all enslavement to anything or anyone other than God Most High is enslavement to something which is not worthy to be the master of a human being, for only the Exalted Creator and Sustainer of the universe can be worthy of occupying this place in the life of one who has been made (as the Quran states) superior even to the angels. True freedom does not consist of license to do whatever one wants while being the slave of one’s own particular deity; rather freedom consists of being free from enslavement to anything or anyone other than one’s real Master. Islam’s unique task is thus to liberate the human being from enslavement and servitude to anything other than God, and to free him to worship and serve Him alone.
“Say (O Muhammad), ‘Verily, my prayer and my worship, my life and death, are for God, the Lord of the worlds. He has no associate (in His divinity). This I am commanded, and I am the first of those who submit.’ Say: ‘Shall I seek for a lord other than God when He is the Lord of all things?’ Every soul draws the earning (of its acts) on none but itself. No bearer of burdens can hear the burden of another. In the end you will all return to God: then He will tell you about that concerning which you differed. It is He Who has made you vicegerents of the earth and has raised some of you above others in rank so that He may test you in what He has given you. Indeed, your Lord is swift in punishment, yet He is indeed the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (6:162-165)
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