La ilaha illa Llah, Muhammadun rasool Allah”—”There is no deity except God, Muhammad is the Messenger of God.” This simple statement of a Muslim’s basic beliefs is the starting point for all that follows. From this expression of belief in the Oneness and Uniqueness of God and the messengership of Muhammad stem all of Islam’s concepts, attitudes, moral values and guidelines for human behavior and relationships. How can all this follow from this one simple and seemingly quite obvious statement?
The first part of this declaration, “La ilaha illa Llah,” attests not only to the Oneness and Uniqueness of God, the Deity. It signifies, at the same time, the oneness of the lordship, the sovereignty and the authority in the universe and this world. For when we affirm that there is no deity except the One God, we are actually stating that as there is no other Creator and Sustainer of the universe, this world and all that is in them, there can likewise be no other Ruler, Law Giver and Supreme Authority for mankind God, the Lord of all creation, creates what He pleases, giving each of His creations the nature, function and role which He desires for it; in this He is accountable to no one. All things are under His absolute control. The purpose for which He created human beings is to acknowledge, worship and obey Him alone, and at the same time to manage the affairs of this world and administer it with justice and righteousness according to His allwise laws.
How do we know all this? How can a mere human being, a very limited and finite creature know about God—that is, about Infinity and His purposes for mankind, the answers to the multitude of basic questions which encompass God’s nature and attributes, the human being’s relationship to Him, and why he has been put into this world? We are living in an era in which we have increasingly lost the conviction of the meaning and purpose of existence; indeed, the entire complex of modern civilization seems to proclaim the utter purposelessness and meaninglessness of life. Then how can we know?
Indeed, these are the most vital and basic questions for any human being. Without satisfactory answers to them, life makes no sense. It has neither purpose nor meaning, and one is simply going through the motions of living without any reason other than the fact that he happens to be alive. Hence the essential task facing each individual is to search for the answers to these questions until he finds them and, when he has found them, to acknowledge their truth and to live by them as faithfully as he can. But the question remains: Where are the answers to them to
Assuredly, if (as many people believe) religion were simply a device invented by the human being to explain the world of nature or for ordering human affairs, human beings would have been able to arrive at satisfactory answers to these questions through their own reasoning and observation and to guide their lives by them in a suitable manner: the worship of the forces of nature, spirits and demons, sticks and stones and gods made by human hands and mythological figures connected to the world of men by their semi-human nature represents various efforts on their part to do so throughout the course of history. But to arrive at the objective truth. at a correct knowledge of the meaning and purpose of existence, the nature and attributes of the Creator of all things, and of the human being’s role and ultimate destiny, by the human being’s unaided efforts is an obvious impossibility since it concerns what is totally outside the realm of human observation or deductive faculties; even if some individuals should, by their own efforts succeed at grasping some part of these truths, they would have no certain or positive means of verifying them.
The only possible means by which human beings can have access to an unquestionably correct understanding of such matters is if the Source of everything, the willing, acting, sustaining Power Whom we call God, Himself imparts this knowledge to us by whatever means He may deem fit. And this is precisely the significance of the second part of Islam’s declaration of faith, “Muhammadan rasool Allah” —Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Since the dawn of true human consciousness, Islam asserts, the Creator not only implanted in human beings the awareness of His existence, the innate knowledge that there is a non-corporeal, transcendent Being Who created them and the world around them [Even when, during the course of history, human beings have wandered away from belief in God as the sole Sustainer and Controller of all that exists, they have not as a rule denied the fact of His existence. Rather they have invented associates or partners in His divinity, ascribing some part of His powers to them while simultaneously acknowledging His supremacy over them.], He also provided them with the answers to these vital questions which have occupied their minds since their emergence as thinking questioning, problem solving beings on this planet, conveying His guidance to humankind through various individuals whom He chose as His message-bearers to different groups of people to be the connecting link between Himself and the human being, so to speak. Through the passing of time and changes occasioned by human error, much of the message which they brought was lost. However, enough remains of the earlier scriptures
or the teachings of earlier messengers —of the revelations entrusted by God to such prophets as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and many others (God’s peace and blessings be on them all) —to make it very clear that this Message has been basically one and the same throughout history: that there is a single, unique Being Who is the Lord and Master of all creation; that this Being has made laws to govern the conduct of human beings; and that each individual is accountable to this Being for how he lives his life.
Thus Islam does not claim to be a new religion. Rather it is the original religion, that primordial faith which has had its roots deep in human consciousness since the first true human being walked upon earth because the Creator Himself implanted it there, the faith revealed to and preached by all the prophets: the religion of submission and accountability to the One God. Islam teaches the divine origin of this message, pointing to the similarity and continuity of the teachings brought by the various messengers of God throughout history, but it makes it clear that in the course of time they were changed and grave distortions appeared among them. Hence the divine origin of these messages is to be believed in but not necessarily their present form or contents since their present condition makes it impossible to determine what part of them has been changed, either accidentally or deliberately by the hands of people.
Each one of the prophets was a man like other men, with the same human needs and feelings; Islam most emphatically denies any suggestion of the divinity or super-human nature of God’s messengers. At the same time, they were men of special qualities whom God singled out from the rest of humanity for the task of conveying His guidance. The prophets are characterized by their total submission to God and their nearness to Him, their pure and upright natures, the extraordinary righteousness of their conduct, and their unruling commitment to the mission with which they were entrusted.
The guidance revealed suited the mentality and needs of the particular peoples to whom it was addressed. Consequently many earlier prophets were sent with miracles and signs since the people of their eras, whose belief in God was very weak or altogether lacking, were willing to acknowledge Him only when His existence and power were demonstrated by such proofs. At length, when the mind of the human being had developed to its full potential. God raised His last prophet, Muhammad, an Arab descended from Abraham, with the final and complete statement of His guidance for all time to come. And it is because Muslims follow the guidance which was conveyed through Muhammad (may God’s peace and blessings be on him), the guidance which carries the complete and final proclamation of God’s laws and commands for humankind, that “Muhammadan rasool Allah” — Muhammad is the Messenger of God — is so significant and vital as to form the second part of the Muslims statement of faith.
Far from being a state of degradation and servility, the human individual’s exclusive submission to the Creator alone invests him with greatness and sublimity, for by means of it he is freed from obeying and serving anything less than God, the only Being Who can ever be worthy of his devotion and obedience. “La ilaha illa Llah, Muhammadun Rasool Allah” is therefore that powerful statement of faith which represents the liberation of the one who professes it from servitude and submission to anything or anyone other than God Most High. It is the denial of all other claimants to divinity and supreme authority, the affirmation of God’s Oneness and Sovereignty, and the statement of belief in and acceptance of His guidance as revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him), the last of God’s messengers.
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