By DR. SEYYED HOSSEIN NASR
Excerpted from- WISE Up- Knowledge ends Extremism 2017
At the heart of Islam stands the reality of God, the One, the Absolute and the Infinite, greater than all we can conceive or imagine, and, as the Qur’an, attests, closer to us than our jugular vein. The One God, known by His Arabic Name, Allah, is the central reality of Islam in all its facets, and attestation to this oneness, called tawhid, is the axis around which all that is Islamic revolves. Allah is beyond all duality and relationality, beyond the differences of gender and all qualities that distinguish beings one from another in this world. He is the source of all existence and all cosmic and human qualities, as well as the End to Whom all things return.
To testify to this oneness lies at the heart of the credo of Islam, and the formula that expresses the truth of this oneness, La ilaha ill’Allah, “There is no god but God.” The second is Muhammadun rasul Allah, “Muhammad is the messenger of God.” For Muslims, the oneness of God is not only the heart of their religion, but also that of every Abrahamic religion. It is a reassertion of the revelation of God to the Hebrew prophets and to Christ, whom Muslims also consider to be their prophet in the first testimony (shahadah) of Islam. Muslims believe in the revelation of the truth “Thy Lord is one,” and in the reconfirmation of that timeless truth that is stated in the Catholic creed, Credo in Unum Deum, “I believe in one God.” As the Qur’an states, “We have never sent a messenger before thee except that We revealed to him, saying, ‘There is no god but I, so worship Me’” (21:25). When countless Muslims read the names of the prophets in the Qur’an, they experience them as living realities in the Islamic universe, while being fully conscious of the fact that they are revered figures in Judaism and Christianity. Muslims also remain fully aware that people of faith are all speaking of the same God Who is One and not of some other deity.
The One God, or Allah, is neither male nor female. The Qualities of God, reflected throughout creation, are of a feminine as well as a masculine nature, and the traditional Islamic understanding of Divinity is not at all confined, as some think, to a purely patriarchal image. Furthermore, the doctrine of God the One, as stated in the Qur’an, does not only emphasize utter transcendence, although there are powerful expressions of this truth such as Allahu akbar, usually translated as “God is great,” but meaning that God is greater than anything we can conceive of Him, which is also attested by the apophatic theology of both the Catholic and Orthodox churches as well as by traditional Judaism. Muslims also emphasize God’s immanence, for as the Qur’an states, “Wherever ye turn there is the Face of God” (2:115).
Striving for the realization of that oneness, tawhid, is the heart of Islamic life; the measure of a successful religious life is the degree to which one is able to realize tawhid, which means not only oneness, but also the integration of multiplicity into Unity. The multiplicity of Divine Qualities reflected in the cosmos and within the being of men and women does not distract Muslims from God’s oneness. The authenticity of one’s faith in Islam has by and large been determined by the testimony of tawhid, while the degree of inward realization of this truth has remained a matter to be decided by God and not by external authorities. This has been the general norm in Islamic history, but there have also been exceptions, and there are historical instances when a particular group or political authority has taken it upon itself to determine the authenticity or lack thereof of the belief in tawhid of a particular person or school.
Though extremist claims that there is an urgent need to “return to tawhid” while encouraging the killing of people who reject their ideology, we need to remind everyone that humanity, according to the Qur’an, was created from a single soul, then diversified into races and tribes, as the Qur’an states, “He created you [humanity] from a single soul” (39:6). The single origin of humanity implies the profound unity within diversity of human nature, and therefore religion based on the message of Divine Oneness could not have been meant for or available to only a segment of humanity. The great number of races, nations, and tribes necessitates the diversity of revelation. Thus, not only is the multiplicity of religions necessary, but it is also a reflection of the richness of the Divine Nature and is willed by God.