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The Islamic belief in God revolves around a pure, unadulterated monotheism, commonly referred to in Arabic as tauheed. In order to clarify matters, the scholars divided the discussion of tauheed into different branches, each branch covering or explaining one aspect of the complete and correct belief in Allah. These branches are clearly and directly indicated by the Quran and Sunnah.
A popular way of discussing tauheed is to divide it into three categories. These three categories are tauheed al-ruboobiyah, tauheed al-uloohiyah and tauheed al-asma wa al-sifaat.
(1) Tauheed al-Ruboobiyah: In essence, this is belief in the uniqueness of Allah with respect to His actions. This is the belief in the Oneness of Allah with respect to His Lordship. He alone is the Lord (al-Rabb). He is One without Partner in His Dominion and His Actions. He is the Only Creator, Owner, Nourisher, Maintainer and Sustainer of this creation. All creation has been created by Him and Him alone.
According to ibn Uthaimeen, all of mankind except the most arrogant and haughty accepts and recognizes this aspect of tauheed, namely, that there is no Lord and Creator but the One Lord and Creator. This is so because this belief is ingrained in the nature of mankind. Mankind recognizes and realizes that this creation must have had a Creator. Mankind also realizes that this Creator must only be One. It is clear from numerous verses of the Quran that even the polytheistic Arabs knew and recognized that the true and only Creator was above and beyond the idols that they used to worship. For example,
Allah says in the Quran
Say: ‘Whose is the earth and whosoever is therein? If you know!’ They will say: ‘It is Allah’s!’ Say: ‘Will you not then remember?’Say: ‘Who is (the) Lord of the seven heavens, and (the) Lord of the Great Throne?’ They will say: ‘Allah.’ Say: ‘Will you not then fear Allah (believe in His oneness, obey Him, believe in the Resurrection and Recompense for every good or bad deed)?’ Say: ‘In Whose Hand is the sovereignty of everything (i.e. treasures of each and everything)? And He protects (all), while against Whom there is no protector, if you know?’ They will say: ‘(All that belongs) to Allah.’ Say: ‘How then are you deceived and turn away from the truth?
However, this belief concerning Allah also necessitates or implies the following aspects: Everything that occurs in this creation is by the Decree, Permission and Will of Allah. Sustenance and provisions are from Allah and Allah alone. Life and death are in the Hand of Allah alone. All blessings come from Allah. Guidance and misguidance are by the Will and Permission of Allah. Legislation or prescribing a way of life is the right of Allah alone. Allah alone has knowledge of the unseen. No one has any rights over Allah unless Allah Himself has laid down such upon Himself.
(2) Tauheed al-Uloohiyah: This is the oneness of Allah with respect to Him being the only one who is an ilaah (God, object of adoration and worship). This is the actualization of tauheed as found in the actions of the humans or servants of Allah. This is the meaning of the testimony of faith, “There is none worthy of worship except Allah.” This is the reason for which the messengers were sent and the books were revealed. This is the “trial” or test that mankind is facing in this world.
Allah has said
I have not created jinn and mankind except that they should worship and serve Me
Allah also says
And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him
This branch of tauheed is the real goal or essence of the teachings of all of the messengers and prophets. The first type of tauheed, tauheed al-ruboobiyah, is necessary and essential. In reality, there has been very little dispute or controversy over that first type of tauheed. Many people would accept the basic concept that the Lord and Creator is One Lord and Creator only. However, this belief must lead to this second form of tauheed wherein one directs all of his acts of worship towards Allah and Allah alone. This is why so many Messengers are quoted in the Quran as telling their people,
O my people, worship Allah as you have no other God besides Him
(7:59, 65, 85; 11:50, 61, 84; 23:23 and 32)
Many authors have given definitions for this type of tauheed .Al-Qaisi, for example, defined it in the following manner,
This is the knowledge, belief and recognition that Allah has the position of God over all of His creation. This category of tauheed— which is called tauheed al-uloohiyah or tauheed al-’ibaada— requires that one single out Allah alone for all acts of worship. It is the singling out of Allah and the specifying of Him as the object of all acts of worship, external and internal, statements and actions. It is the denial of the worship of anything other than Allah, whatever that other thing or being might be. It is the negation of any partner with Allah in any form whatsoever and refusal to turn any act of worship to anyone other than Him.
The concept of worship which must be devoted solely to Allah covers everything that is beloved and pleasing to Allah, whether it be acts or statements, both inward or outward, including purity of intention, love, fear, hope, awe, turning to [Him alone], putting one’s trust [only in Allah], seeking aid and assistance, seeking a means of approach...
He goes on to mention many acts of worship, including the obvious ones, such as prayer, prostration, fasting, animal sacrifice, pilgrimage and so forth. All of these must be done solely for the sake of Allah. They must also be done in the manner that is prescribed by Allah and that is pleasing to Him. To perform any of these acts for anyone other than Allah negates and destroys one’s fulfillment and implementation of tauheed.
Al-Saadi’s definition sheds some further light on this concept. He wrote that tauheed al-uloohiya
Is to know and recognize with knowledge and certainty that Allah is the only God and the only one truly deserving of worship. [It is also to verify that] the attributes of Godhood and its meaning are not found in any of [Allah’s] creatures. No one is then deserving of worship except Allah. If the person recognizes that and recognizes it correctly, he will reserve all of his external and internal acts of servitude and worship for Allah alone. He will fulfill the external acts of Islam, such as prayer,… Jihad, ordering good and eradicating evil, being dutiful to parents, keeping the ties of kinship, fulfilling the rights of Allah and the rights of His creatures… He will not have any goal in life other than pleasing His Lord and attaining His rewards. In his affairs, he will be following the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him). His beliefs will be whatever is proven in the Quran and Sunnah. His deeds and actions will be what Allah and His Messenger legislated. His character and manners will be in imitation of His prophet, in his guidance, behavior and all of his affairs.
This aspect of tauheed comprises both the actions of the heart as well as the deeds of the physical body. There are two aspects in particular that must be combined in the worship of Allah. Al-Saadi stated,
The spirit and actuality of worship is by the realization of love and submission to Allah. Complete love and full submission to Allah is the reality of worship. If the act of worship is missing both or one of those components, it is not truly an act of worship. For the reality of worship is found in submission and yielding to Allah. And that will only occur if there is complete and full love [for Allah] which dominates all other expressions of love.
Jaafar Shaikh Idris has aptly described the process that should come about through the correct belief in Allah and how that should lead to the acts of the heart which are essential aspects of tauheed. Idris wrote,
When faith enters a person’s heart, it causes therein certain mental states, which result in certain apparent actions, both of which are the proof of true faith. Foremost among those mental states is the feeling of gratitude towards God, which could be said to be the essence of Ibadah (worshipping or serving God).
This feeling of gratitude is so important that a nonbeliever is called kaafir which means, “one who denies a truth” and also
one who is ungrateful”. One can understand why this is so when one reads in the Quran that the main motive for denying the existence of God is that of unjustified pride. Such a proud person feels that it does not become him to be created or governed by a being whom he must thus acknowledge to be greater than himself and to whom he must be grateful. “Those who dispute concerning the signs of God without any authority come to them, in their hearts is only pride that they shall never attain
With the feeling of gratitude goes that of love:
There are some people who take to themselves [for worship] others apart from God loving them as they should love God; But those who believe love God more ardently than they love anything else
(al-Baqara : 165)
A believer loves and is grateful to God for His bounties, but being aware of the fact that his good deeds, whether mental or physical, are far from being commensurate with Divine favors, he is always anxious lest because of his sins God should withhold from him some of these favors or punish him in the Hereafter. He therefore fears Him, surrenders himself to Him, and serves Him with great humility.
There is thus no real worship unless the heart is filled with the feeling of love and glorification for Allah. Along with this flows the other necessity components of having hope in Allah and fear of Allah in the heart. Fear of Allah comes about when one truly glorifies and exalts Allah. Hope in Allah flows from a complete and true love of Allah. All of these components must be present and in a proper balance. If they are not present at all or if they are not properly balanced, one’s worship becomes distorted and incorrect.
Allah says about some of His true and pious servants,
Verily, they used to hasten to do good deeds. They used to call upon Us with hope and fear. They also would humble themselves before us
In reference to the pious and devoted servants Jesus, Uzair and the angels, Allah has said,
They hope for His mercy and fear His torment
This category of tauheed is the key to a “real life”, a life that is sound and proper. Ibn Taimiyyah wrote,
You must know that a human’s need for Allah that he worship Him and not associate any partner with Him is a need concerning which there is no comparison that one can make an analogy to. In some matters, it resembles the need of the body for food and drink. However, there are many differences between the two.
The reality of a human being is in his heart and soul. These cannot be prosperous except through [their relation] with Allah, concerning whom there is no other god. There is [, for example,] no tranquility in this world except in His remembrance. Verily, man is heading toward his Lord and he shall meet Him. He must definitely meet Him. There is no true goodness for him except in meeting Him. If the human experiences any pleasure or happiness other than in Allah, that joy and happiness will not endure. It will move from one nature to another or from one person to another. The person will enjoy it at one time or only some of the time. In fact, sometimes the thing he enjoys and gets pleasure from does not bring him pleasure or enjoyment. Sometimes it even hurts him when it comes to him. And he is even more harmed by that. But his God is definitely always with him under every circumstance and at all times. Wherever he is, He is with him [by His knowledge and aid]…
If someone worships anything other than Allah even if he loves it and attains some love in this world and some form of pleasure from that [that false worship] will destroy the person in a way greater than the harmful displeasure that comes to a person who ate poison…
You must know that if anyone loves something other than for the sake of Allah, then that beloved thing will definitely be a cause of harm and punishment… If somebody loves something other than for the sake of Allah, that thing will harm him whether it is with him or he is without it…
In order for any deed to be accepted by Allah, it must be done in accordance with this aspect of tauheed. In other words, if a person is fulfilling and understanding this form of tauheed properly, this, by necessity, implies that he is accepting and applying the other forms of tauheed. Therefore, his deeds may then be accepted by Allah.
Allah says, So whoever hopes for the meeting with his Lord, let him work righteousness and not associate anyone [with Allah] in the worship of his Lord
One of the acts that must be done solely towards Allah is prayer or supplication. The Prophet (peace be upon him) has said, “Supplication is the [essence of] worship.” When a person prays or supplicates to another, he is showing his trust and reliance in that other. He is demonstrating his need for the one he is praying to. He is demonstrating his trust in that person or being’s ability to know, understand and fulfill his need. This kind of feeling in the heart that is reflected in supplication must be directed towards Allah only. That is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) called supplication the essence of worship. Hence, anyone who prays or supplicates to anyone other than Allah is associating partners with Allah or, in other words, committing shirk. This is the antithesis of Imaan and tauheed.
This type of tauheed is actually a necessary consequence or result of the correct belief in tauheed al-ruboobiyah. If one realizes that there is no rabb (Lord) except Allah, then one will realize that none is worthy or deserving of worship except Allah. If none other than Allah is worthy of worship, then why would anyone worship somebody or something other than Allah?
On this aspect of tauheed, ibn Abu al-Izz al-Hanafi wrote,
The Quran abounds with statements and parables concerning this type of tawhid. It first affirms the tawhid al-ruboobiyah, that there is no Creator other than Allah. This conviction necessitates that no one should be worshipped except Allah. It takes the first proposition [that Allah is lord] as evidence for the second proposition [that Allah is the only one worthy of worship]. The Arabs believed in the first proposition and disputed the second. Allah then made it clear to them: Since you know that there is no Creator except Allah, and that He is the One who can give a person what benefits him or keep away from him what harms him, and He has no partner in those acts, then how can you worship others besides Him and associate partners with Him in His Godhead? For example, Allah says in the Quran, “Say: Praise be to Allah and peace on His servants whom He has chosen [for His message]. Who is better: God or the false gods they associate with Him? Or who has created the heavens and the earth, and who sends you down rain from the sky with which He brings forth beautiful gardens? It is not in your power to cause the growth of the trees in them. Can there be another god besides Allah? Yet they are a people who assign equals [to Him]” (al-Naml 59-60). At the end of other similar verses, Allah states, “Can there be another god besides Allah?” (al-Naml 61, 62, 63 and 64). This is a question with a clearly implied negative answer. They accepted the notion that no one but Allah does such things. Allah used that as a proof against them. It does not mean to ask if there is another god besides Allah, as some have claimed. Such a meaning is inconsistent with the context of the verses and the fact that the people actually used to take other gods alongside Allah. As Allah says, “Can you possibly bear witness that besides Allah there is another god? Say: I witness it not” (al-Anaam 19). And they used to say [about the Prophet], “Does he make all the gods one? That it is truly a strange thing” (Saad: 5). But they would never say that there was another god [with Allah] that would “make the earth a fixed abode, place rivers in its fold, and place firm hills therein” (al-Naml 61). They accepted the fact that only Allah did all of those things. Therefore Allah says, “O people, adore your Guardian-Lord who created you and those who went before you that you may learn to be righteous” (al-Baqara 21) and “Say: Think, if Allah took away your hearing and your sight and sealed up your hearts, who, a god other than Allah, could restore them to you” (al-Anaam 46). And there are other similar verses.
(3) Tauheed al-Asma wa al-Sifaat: The third aspect of tauheed, in this way of viewing tauheed, is recognizing and affirming the Oneness of Allah with respect to His names and attributes. One must affirm that these attributes are perfect and complete in Allah alone. These attributes are unique to Allah. No one else can attain any of these attributes.
Throughout the history of Islam, this is another aspect of tauheed concerning which many sects deviated. Shuaib al-Arnaut describes the different views that developed in the following passage,
There is no doubt that the topic of Allah’s attributes must be considered as one of the greatest and most important topics of the foundations of faith. The views of the Islamicists have differed on this issue. Some of them followed the approach of complete denial of the attributes. Others accepted Allah’s names in general but denied the attributes. Some of them accepted both the names and attributes but, at the same time, rejected or gave interpretations for some of them, turning away from their apparent meanings [of the texts found in the Quran and Sunnah]. Some of them took the approach that it is obligatory to believe in all of the names and attributes that are mentioned in the Book of Allah and the authentic Sunnah. They took them and passed them on according to their plain, apparent meaning. They deny any understanding of their modality (kaifiyah) and deny any kind of similarity [of those attributes to any other than Allah]. The people of this last opinion are those who are called the salaf [pious predecessors] and ahl al-Sunnah.
The correct belief concerning this topic that has been passed on from the time of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions was aptly summarized by al-Saadi when he wrote,
As for belief in Allah, it includes: belief in whatever attributes Allah has described Himself with in His book and whatever attributes His Messenger (peace be upon him) has attributed to Him. [The belief in those attributes are] without any distortion or negation, and without stating how or what manner the attributes are. In fact, the belief is that there is nothing similar to Allah and, at the same time, He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing. Therefore, what He has attributed to Himself is not denied nor are such descriptions distorted from their proper meanings. In addition, the names of Allah are neither denied, nor is their manner described, nor are they depicted in a way that makes His attributes similar to the attributes of any of His creation. This is because there is no one and nothing similar or comparable to Him. He has no associate or partner. One cannot make an analogy between Him and His creation, glorified and most High be He.
With respect to belief in what Allah has been attributed with of attributes and names, there must be a combination of affirmation and negation. The ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Jamaah do not allow any straying from what the Messengers preached, as that is the Straight Path. Included in this very important principle are all the statements from the Quran and the Sunnah detailing Allah’s names, attributes, actions and what should be negated of Him. Included among this is the belief in Allah’s settling Himself over the Throne , His descending to the lowest heaven, the believers seeing Him in the Hereafter— as the confirmed, continuous reports have stated. Also included under this principle is that Allah is close and responds to the supplications. What is mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah concerning His closeness and “being with” the believers does not contradict what is stated concerning His transcendence and His being above the Creation. For, Glory be to Him, there is nothing at all similar to Him with respect to any of His characteristics.
In one verse, Allah has pointed out that both nothing is similar to Him whatsoever and, at the same time, He has attributes, such as hearing and seeing.
Allah has stated
There is nothing similar to Him and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing
Hence, there is a complete denial of anthropomorphism while affirming Allah’s attributes of hearing and seeing.
This aspect of tauheed is very important and should not be underestimated. As Ahmad Salaam points out, the people before the coming of the Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted the idea of Allah alone being the only Creator of the Universe. However, they associated partners with Allah in different forms of worship. Therefore, Islam came to purify this concept of Allah being the Lord or Rabb and gave it its proper understanding. By doing so, then they would worship Allah alone properly. But the way to achieve that, or the beginning point, is to have the knowledge and correct understanding of Allah’s names and attributes. If one has knowledge of and a correct understanding of Allah’s names and attributes, then one would never turn to anyone else or direct any form of worship to anyone other than Allah.
Hence, a correct and detailed understanding of Allah’s names and attributes is truly the foundation for the correct fulfillment of the other types of tauheed. He further states that tauheed al-ruboobiyah is like a tree. Its root, then, is tauheed al-asma wa al-sifaat. In other words, tauheed al-ruboobiyah stands on a foundation, which is tauheed al-asma wa al-sifaat. If that root or foundation is not found, the tree itself may be diseased and weak.
However, given that parable, the real fruit of tauheed al-asma wa al-sifaat, once again, is tauheed al-uloohiyah. The more that one knows about Allah and His attributes, the more one will love Allah, fear Allah and have hope in Allah. Definitely, the more one knows about Allah, the more one will love Allah and desire to please Allah and have Allah pleased with him. Hence, the correct understanding of the names and attributes of Allah is very important and very beneficial. Those people who stray on this issue have harmed themselves greatly and lost a great fortune.