What is the meaning of God's unity (Tawhid) and its implications
in human life?
Of all the religions existing today, Islam is the one that places the greatest
stress on Divine Unity (tawhid) and is purely monotheistic. All others,
whether God-revealed or essentially polytheistic, unfortunately have been darkened
to a certain extent.
The universe and God’s Existence
The existence of God is too evident to need any arguments. Some saintly scholars
have even stated that God is more manifest than any other being, but that those
who lack insight cannot see Him. Others have said that He is concealed from
direct perception because of the intensity of His Self-manifestation.
However, the great influence of positivist and materialist schools of thought
on science and on all people of recent centuries makes it necessary to discuss
this most manifest truth. As this now-prevalent “scientific” worldview reduces
existence to what can be perceived directly, it blinds itself to those invisible
dimensions of existence that are far vaster than the visible.
Let us reflect on one simple historical fact: Since the beginning of human
life, the overwhelming majority of humanity has believed that God exists. This
belief alone is enough to establish God’s Existence. Those who do not believe
cannot claim to be smarter than those who do. Among past and present-day believers
are innovative scientists, scholars, researchers and, most importantly, saints
and Prophets, who are the experts in the field. In addition, people usually
confuse the non-acceptance of something’s existence with the acceptance of its
non-existence. While the former is only a negation or a rejection, the latter
is a judgment that requires proof. No one has ever proven God’s non-existence,
for to do so is impossible, whereas countless arguments prove His existence.
This point may be clarified through the following comparison.
Suppose there is a large palace with 1,000 entrances, 999 of which are open
and one which appears to be closed. No one could reasonably claim that the palace
cannot be entered. Unbelievers are like those who, in order to assert that the
palace cannot be entered, confine their (and others’) attention only to the
door that is seemingly closed. The doors to God’s existence are open to everybody,
provided that they sincerely intend to enter through them.
The most important factor leading many, especially those under the spell
of materialistic science and its worldview, to fix their eyes on the apparently
closed door is causality. Causality leads to the vicious chain of cause and
effect, for each cause is also an effect. Moreover, the effect is totally different
from the cause. All things and effects are usually so full of art and beneficial
purposes that even if all causes gathered they would be unable to produce one
single thing, let alone their simple immediate causes.
In order for a cause to produce an effect, it has to be able to produce the
whole universe in which that effect takes place, for that effect cannot exist
without the whole universe. Nor can they exist separately. Materialist scientists
imagine powerless, dependent, and ignorant causes to be responsible for the
existence of beings and things, and thus fancy them to possess absolute qualities.
In this way they are implying (tacitly believing) that each of those causes
possesses qualities that only can be attributed to God.
However, the latest discoveries of modern science, like the universe’s unity
and its parts’ inseparability, exclude the possibility of all the explanations
put forward by materialistic science. They demonstrate that all entities, whether
in nature or in the laws and causes attributed to them, are devoid of power
and knowledge. They are contingent, transient, and dependent beings. But the
properties attributed to any of these entities need infinite qualities like
absolute power and knowledge.
This shows that causality is by no means necessarily linked with “objective”
study or “neutral” scientific investigation. It is no more than a personal opinion.
Moreover, it is an opinion that is irrational and devoid of sense.
When we study the universe, we see that all beings utterly refute the false
claims of materialist and atheistic reasoning through their order, mutual relationship,
and duties. They affirm that they are nothing but the property and creatures
of a Single Creator. Each rejects the false notions of chance and causality,
ascribes all other beings to its own Creator, and proves that the Creator has
no partners. Indeed, when the Creator’s Unity is known and understood correctly,
it becomes clear that nothing requires that causes should possess any power.
Thus they cannot be partners to the Creator, for it is impossible for them to
The universe is a document for believers to use. The Qur’an informs us that
believing in God is to assent with one’s heart to the Creator with all His Attributes
supported by the universe’s testimony. The true affirmation of God’s Unity is
a judgment, a confirmation, an assent, and an acceptance that can find its Owner
present with all things. It sees in all things a path leading to its Owner,
and regards nothing as an obstacle to His Presence. If this were not the case,
it would be necessary to tear and cast aside the universe in order to find Him,
which is impossible for us.
The universe has been made in the form of an intelligible book so as to make
known its Author. The book, which addresses humanity, seeks to make humanity
read the book and its parts, and respond with worship and thanks to its Author’s
will. Humanity attains to that worship by uncovering the order in the Book of
the Universe through scientific study and displaying the functioning of the
universe’s beings and workings.
The universe is not passive or neutral. We cannot interpret it as we wish,
for there is only one correct way of looking at the world, one universal worldview
common to all humanity. This view is taught to us in the Qur’an as well as in
the Book of the Universe by our Creator. This means that the Qur’anic worldview
recognizes that the perception of the world differs relatively from one person
to another. It allows for plurality within unity so that a universal dialogue
is possible. This worldview contains no fragmentation or conflict, only harmony,
assistance, peace, and compassion.
The materialist scientific worldview is based on radical fragmentation, for
it views nature as a mechanism with no inherent value and meaning. It isolates
an object by cutting off its connections with the rest of the world, and studies
it within its immediate environment.
But our perception of ourselves tells us that we are meaningful and part
of the whole universe, and that everything must have a meaning and be part of
the universe. Materialist science has left the subject—humanity—out of the universe
and, insofar as this science is taking over, people feel that they have no place
in this world. Thus they are isolated and live lives without meaning, except
in a very limited, egoistic sense. People are alienated from their environment
and from themselves.
The universe is an inseparable whole. Indeed, the unity observed in its totality,
including humanity, is so clear that no one can deny it. Thus the materialistic
approach to the scientific method has to be reconsidered. This method is reductionist,
for it reduces every thing to fragments and then attributes each fragment to
causes. But in reality, all things are interconnected and interdependent, for
it is impossible to attribute anything, however small, to causes that are themselves
transient and contingent. Since whatever is responsible for one thing must be
responsible for everything, we cannot have one thing without the whole.
Why can we ascribe a thing to its antecedents in time but not to its neighbors
in space? Why should a thing be able to produce another thing just because it
happened before? All modern scientists know that space and time are fully equivalent
and unified into a four-dimensional continuum in which both “here” and “there”
and “before” and “after” are relative. In this four-dimensional space, the temporal
sequence is converted into a simultaneous co-existence, the side-by-side existence
of all things. Thus causality appears to be an idea limited to a prejudiced
experience of the world.
Causality does have some meaning. Opposites are mingled in this world: truth
with falsehood, light with darkness, good with evil, white with black, and so
on. Since people have ingrained inclinations toward both good and evil, they
are tested in this world to determine whether they will use their free will
and other faculties in the way of truth and good or otherwise.
Divine Wisdom requires that the veil of causes and laws be drawn before Divine
Power’s operations. If God had willed, He could train the planets with His “Hands”
in a way observable by us or let visible angels administer them. Then we would
not be speaking of the laws of causes involved, such as gravitation. Or, in
order to communicate His Commandments, God could speak to each person directly
without sending any Prophets, or could write His Name with stars in the sky
in order to compel us to believe in His Existence and Oneness. But in this case,
humanity’s earthly existence would not be an arena of trial that pushes us to
new developments and discoveries in science and technology, thereby enabling
us to remove one veil more from the meaning of existence.
Like a mirror’s two sides, existence has two aspects or dimensions: one visible
and material, known as the Realm of Opposites and (in most cases) Imperfections,
and the transparent, pure, and perfect spiritual realm. The material dimension
must—and does—contain events and phenomena that appear disagreeable to us. Those
who cannot perceive the Divine Wisdom behind all things may even criticize the
Almighty for those disagreeable events and phenomena. To prevent that, God uses
natural laws and causes to veil His acts. For example, so that we do not criticize
God or His Angel of Death for the loss of our beloved ones or our own death,
God places diseases and natural disasters (among other “agents” or “causes”)
between Himself and death.
On account of this world of testing and trial’s essential imperfection, we
encounter and suffer from many deficiencies and shortcomings. In absolute terms,
every event and phenomenon is good and beautiful in itself or in its consequences.
Whatever God does or decrees is good, beautiful, and just. Injustice, ugliness,
and evil are only apparent or superficial and arise from humanity’s errors and
abuses. For example, although a court may pass an unjust sentence on you, you
should know that Destiny permits that judgment because of a crime that you are
hiding. Whatever befalls us is usually the result of self-wronging, an evil
that we ourselves have done. However, those who lack the necessary sound reasoning
and judgment to understand the Divine Wisdom behind events and phenomena may
impute directly to God the apparent ugliness or evil, imperfections and shortcomings,
experienced in worldly life, even though God is absolutely free of any defect
Therefore, so that people do not ascribe any ugliness or evil to God, His
Glory and Grandeur require that natural causes and laws be a veil before His
acts, while belief in His Unity demands that those causes and laws should not
be ascribed to any kind of creative power.
If God Almighty acted in the world directly, and not through causes
and laws, we would be unable to develop scientific knowledge or live even an
instant of a happy life free of fear and anxiety. We can observe and study patterns
in phenomena thanks to God’s acting from behind natural causes and laws. Otherwise,
each event would be a miracle. The regularity within the flux and mutability
of events and phenomena makes them comprehensible to us, and so awakens within
us the desire to wonder and reflect, which is a principal factor in establishing
science. For the same reason, we are able to plan and arrange our future affairs
to some degree. Just consider how life would be if we did not know whether the
sun would rise tomorrow!
Whoever owns such attributes as beauty and perfection desires to know them
and make them known. God owns absolute beauty and perfection and is independent
of all things. He also owns a holy, transcendent love and thus a sacred desire
to display His Beauty and Perfection. If He showed His Names and Attributes
directly, without the “medium” of causes and laws, we could not endure them.
He manifests them as he does and by degrees within the confines of time and
space so that we can connect with them, reflect on them, and perceive them.
The gradual manifestation of Divine Names and Attributes is also a reason for
our curiosity and wonder about them.
We need God and religion more than ever before
Although modern technology has blinded us to some fundamental human limitations
so that we consider ourselves omnipotent, self-sufficient, and self-existing
or possessors of unlimited power, in reality we are weak, frail, needy, and
destitute. Although we cannot create a leaf or a gnat, or even a molecule of
water, our entrapment by the spell of modern technology makes us loath to admit
this. We are content to ascribe all natural events, from sunrise and sunset
to the movements of atoms, to nominal natural laws that function without our
intervention. Even our bodies work independently of us, for we cannot prevent
ourselves from sleeping, becoming hungry or thirsty, or dying at the hands of
a microscopic creature.
We always are accompanied by sorrows arising from past misfortunes and by
worries about the future. Fear, love, and expectations are inseparable from
our existence, while such things as youth and beauty, of which we are very fond,
leave without saying “good-bye.” We greatly fear and are overwhelmed unexpectedly
by misfortune, old age, and death. Countless requirements must be maintained
if we are to go on living, yet we have total control over none of them. We may
be injured, accidents may end our hopes, and disease and unexpected events always
threaten and block our way to happiness. We endure earthquakes, storms, floods,
fires, and other natural catastrophes. Both the vast variety of phenomena and
our awareness of our own frailty make our own weakness and helplessness quite
Despite our claims of dominating nature and conquering space, we have more
need of religion than our ancestors ever did. We may not be worshipping fetishes
as they did, such as trees, animals, rivers, fire, rain, and heavenly bodies,
but, according to Fromm, millions of us have our own fetishes: national heroes,
movie stars, politicians, sports figures, musicians, and many, many others.
Furthermore, millions of us practice such modern religions as transcendental
meditation, necromancy, Satanism, and spirit worship in the hope of satisfying
that which cannot be satisfied with scientific and technological advancements.
Others seek fulfilment in stadiums, nightclubs, casinos, jobs, and trade unions.
They transform such places into places of devotion because they cannot suppress
their need to worship. Inevitably, those who do not believe in and worship the
One God become the slaves of numerous deities.
What is the concept of Deity of Islam and
what is Tawhid?
The concept of deity
God Almighty should be considered from five perspectives. One is His “Essence”
as Divine Being (Zat in Islamic terminology), which only He can know. A Prophetic
Tradition says: “Do not reflect on God’s ‘Essence’; instead, reflect on His
works and acts.” God has no partners, likes or resemblance, as pointed to by
the verse: There is nothing like or compared unto Him (42:11). The second perspective
is His Essential, “Innate” Qualities as being God, which are the Attributes’
source. The third perspective is His Attributes, which are of three kinds: Essential
Attributes (e.g., Existence, Having No Beginning, Eternal Permanence, Being
Unlike the Created, Self-Subsistence); Positive Attributes (Life, Knowledge,
Power, Speech, Will, Hearing, Seeing, Creating); and innumerable “Negative”
Attributes, summed up as “God is absolutely free from any defect and shortcoming.”
The Attributes are the sources of the Names: Life gives rise to the All-Living,
Knowledge to the All-Knowing, and Power to the All-Powerful. About 1,000 of
God’s many Names are known to us. The Names are the sources of the acts: giving
life has its source in the All-Living, and knowing everything down to the smallest
originates in the All-Knowing. God is “known” by His acts, Names, and Attributes.
Whatever exists in the universe, in the material and immaterial worlds, is the
result of the Names’ and Attributes’ manifestations: Universal and individual
provision points to His Name the All-Providing, and the All-Healing is the source
of remedies and recovery. Philosophy has its source in Wisdom, and so
on. The acts, Names, and Attributes are the “links” between God and the created,
or the “reflectors” with which to have knowledge of God.
Although we try to know or recognize God by His acts, Names, and Attributes,
we must not think of Him in terms of associating likeness or comparison unto
Him, for nothing resembles Him. He is absolutely One, Single, and totally different
from all that exists or has the potential to exist. In this sense, His Oneness
is not in terms of number. He also has Unity and relations with the created.
To have some knowledge of Him through His acts, Names, and Attributes, some
comparisons are permissible. This is pointed to in the verse: For God is the
highest comparison (16:60). The writer’s using the Sun as a unit of comparison
to understand God’s acts, Names, and Attributes should be considered from this
All religions revealed to the Prophets have the same essence. Over time,
however, the original message was misinterpreted, mixed with superstition, and
degenerated into magical practices and meaningless rituals. The conception of
God, the very core of religion, was debased by anthropomorphism, deifying angels,
associating others with God, considering Prophets or godly people as incarnations
of God (Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, and Rama), and personifying His Attributes
through separate deities.
The Prophet rejected such theological trends and restored the conception
of God as the only Creator, Sustainer, and Master of all creation to its pristine
purity. Thus, as John Davenport puts it:
Among many excellencies of which the Qur'an may justly boast are two eminently
conspicuous: the one being the tone of awe and reverence which it always observes
when speaking of, or referring to, the Deity, to Whom it never attributes
human frailties and passions; the other the total absence throughout it of
all impure, immoral and indecent ideas, expressions, narratives, etc., blemishes,
which, it is much to be regretted, of too frequent occurrence in the Jewish
Tawhid, Divine Unity and Oneness, is clearly observed throughout the universe.
If we look at ourselves and our environment, we easily discern that everything
depends upon this principle. For example, our bodily parts cooperate with each
other. Each cell is so connected with the whole body that the One Who created
it must be He Who created the body. Likewise, each element comprising the universe
is interrelated and in harmony with each other element and the universe as a
Given this, the only logical conclusion is that the same Creator Who created
the particles created the universe, and that the motion of subatomic particles
is the same as that observed in the solar system. Everything originates from
“one” and returns to “one”: We originated the first creation, so We shall bring
it back (to its former state) again (21:104). A tree, for instance, grows out
of a seed or a stone and finally results in a seed or a stone. This strict obedience
to the One Who established that order explains why the universe is so orderly
and harmonious. As the Creator, One, All-Omnipotent and All-Knowing, operates
it directly, how could it be otherwise? As the Qur’an reminds us:
Each god would have taken off what he created, and some of them would have
risen up over others. Had there been gods in Earth and heaven other than God,
they both would have been in disorder. (21:22)
Tawhid is the highest conception of deity that God revealed to us through
His Prophets, among whom were Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Over time, people
deviated from the pure teachings after their Prophets died. Turning to polytheism
or idolatry, they relied upon their own faulty reasoning, false perceptions,
and biased interpretations to satisfy their lusts. Such a course is impossible
with a tawhid-based system, for this requires that they obey only the One Supreme
‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib is reported to have said:
The foremost in religion is God’s knowledge, the perfection of His knowledge
is to testify to Him, the perfection of testifying to Him is to believe in
His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him as
pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny all kinds of negative attributes
He is infinite and eternal, self-existent and self-sufficient. As stated
in the Qur’an:
He is God, One, needy of nothing and Everlasting Refuge; He begets not,
nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him. (112:1-4)
There is nothing like or compared unto Him. (42:11)
Vision perceives Him not, and He perceives all vision; and He (alone) is
the All-Hearing and All-Seeing. (6:103)
In the words of ‘Ali:
He is Being but not through the phenomenon of coming into being. He exists
but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not by physical nearness.
He is different from everything but not by physical separation. He acts but
without the accompaniment of movements and instruments. He is the One, only
such that there is none with whom He keeps company or whom He misses in his
God’s Attributes cannot be transferred or present in another, since they
are infinite. One who cannot keep himself alive cannot give life to others.
One who cannot protect his own power cannot govern the vast universe. The more
one reflects, the clearer it becomes that all divine powers and attributes must
exist in only that one particular being.
Implications of Tawhid
Monotheists, those who believe in tawhid, cannot be narrow-minded. Their
belief in One God, Creator of the heavens and Earth, Master of the east and
the west, and Sustainer of the universe, leads them to view everything as belonging
to the same Lord, to Whom they belong as well. Thus they consider nothing as
alien. Their sympathy, love, and service are not confined to any particular
race, color, or group, and they come to understand the Prophetic saying: “O
servants of God, be brethren!”
Monotheism produces the highest degree of self-respect and self-esteem in
people. Monotheists know that only God has true power, can benefit or harm them,
fulfill their needs, cause them to die, or wield authority and influence. This
conviction makes them indifferent to and independent and fearless of all powers
other than those of God. They never bow in homage to any of God’s creatures.
Monotheists, although humble and mild, never abase themselves by bowing before
anyone or anything except God. They never aim at any advantage by their worship,
even if that advantage is Paradise. They seek only to please God and obtain
Monotheists, although naturally weak and powerless as human beings, become
powerful enough through their Lord’s Power to resist the whole world. They are
virtuous and altruistic, for their purpose is to gain God’s approval by working
for His good pleasure. Vainglorious pride of power and wealth can have no room
in their hearts, for they know that whatever they possess is bestowed by God,
and that God can take away as easily as He can give.
Monotheists know that the only way to success and salvation is to acquire
a pure soul and righteous behavior. They have perfect faith in God, Who is above
all need, related to none, absolutely just, and without partner in His exercise
of Divine Power. Given this belief, they understand that they can succeed only
through right living and just action, for no influence or underhanded activity
can save them from ruin. However, some believe that someone has atoned for their
sins; and others assert that they are God’s favorites and thus immune to punishment.
Still others believe that their idols or saints will intercede with God on their
behalf, and so make offerings to their deities in the belief that such bribes
give them a license to do whatever they want. Such false beliefs keep them entangled
in sin and evil, and their dependence on such deities cause them to neglect
their need for spiritual purification and for living pure and good lives.
Monotheists do not become hopeless and disappointed. Their firm faith in
God, Master of all treasures of Earth and the heavens, and Possessor of limitless
grace and bounty and infinite power, imparts to their hearts extraordinary consolation,
fills it with satisfaction, and keeps it filled with hope. In this world they
might meet with rejection at all doors, nothing might serve their ends, and
all means might desert them. But faith in and dependence on God, which never
leave them, give them the strength to go on struggling. Such a profound confidence
can come only from belief in the One God. Such a belief produces great determination,
patient perseverance, and trust in God. When they decide to devote their resources
to fulfilling the Divine Commands to secure God’s good pleasure and approval,
they are sure that they have the Lord of the Universe’s support and backing.
Many polytheists and atheists, on the other hand, usually have small hearts
and depend on limited powers. Thus their troubles and the resulting despair
soon overwhelm them and, frequently, they commit suicide. Professor Joad’s testimony
is explicit on this point:
For the first time in history there is coming to maturity a generation
of men and women [in the West of the 1950s] who have no religion, and feel
no need for one. They are content to ignore it. Also they are very unhappy,
the suicide rate is abnormally high.1
As opposed to this, a non-Muslim historian who is not sympathetic to Islam,
writes the following about Tawhid:
In this uncompromising monotheism, with its simple, enthusiastic faith
in the supreme rule of a transcendental being, lies the chief strength of
Islam. Its adherents enjoy a consciousness of contentment and resignation
unknown among followers of most creeds. Suicide is rare in Muslim lands.2
Monotheism inspires bravery, for it defeats the two factors that make people
cowards: fear of death and love of safety, and the belief that someone other
than God can somehow be bribed into postponing one’s death. Belief in the Islamic
credal statement that “there is no deity but God” purges the mind of these
ideas. The first idea loses its influence when people realize that their lives,
property, and everything else really belong to God, for this makes them willing
to sacrifice whatever they have for God’s approval. The second idea is defeated
when people realize that no weapon, person, or power can kill them, for only
God has this power. No one can die before his or her appointed time, even if
all of the world’s forces combined to do so. Nothing can bring death forward
or push it backward even one instant. This firm belief in One God and dependence
upon Him makes monotheists the bravest of people.
Monotheism creates an attitude of peace and contentment, purges the mind
of subtle passions and jealousy, envy and greed, and prevents one from resorting
to base and unfair means for achieving success. Monotheists understand that
God holds their wealth; that He bestows honor, power, reputation, and authority
as He wills and subjects them to His Will; and that their duty is only to endeavor
and struggle fairly. They know that success and failure depend upon His Grace,
for no power can block His Will to give or not to give. They also know that
they must strive to deserve His Grace. But many of those who do not believe
in God consider success and failure to be the result of their own efforts or
by the help of earthly powers, and do not take God’s Grace and Will into consideration.
Therefore they remain slaves to cupidity and envy, and use bribery, flattery,
conspiracy, and other base and unfair means to achieve success.
Monotheism makes people obey and observe the Divine Law. Monotheists know
that God is aware of everything, whether hidden or open, and is nearer to them
than their jugular vein. If they sin in secret even under the cover of night,
God knows it. He knows our unformed thoughts and intentions, even those of which
we ourselves are unaware. We can hide things from people, but not from God.
We can evade everyone, but not God’s grasp. The firmer our belief in this respect,
the more observant we will be of His Commands. This is why the first and most
important condition for being a Muslim is to have firm and sincere faith in
This is also the most important and fundamental principle of the Prophet’s
teachings, as well as Islam’s bedrock and the mainspring of its power. All other
beliefs, commands, and laws of Islam stand firm on this foundation. Lastly,
we quote the remarks of Dr. Laura Veccia Vaglieri, a famous Italian Orientalist,
concerning the universal spirit of Islamic monotheism:
The Prophet, with a voice which was inspired by a deep communion with his
Maker, preached the purest monotheism to the worshippers of fetish and the
followers of a corrupted Christianity and Judaism. He put himself in open
conflict with those regressive tendencies of mankind which lead to the association
of other beings with the Creator.
In order to lead men to a belief in one God, he did not delude them with
happenings which deviate from the normal course of nature. Rather, he simply
invited them, without asking them to leave the realm of reality, to consider
the Universe and its laws. Being confident of the resultant belief in the
one and indispensable God, he simply let men read in the book of life.
Thanks to Islam, paganism in its various forms was defeated. The concept
of the Universe, the practices of religion, and the customs of social life
were each liberated from all the monstrosities which had degraded them, and
human minds were made free of prejudice. Man finally realized his dignity.3
1. (The Present and Future of Religion, quoted by Sir
Arnold Lunn, And Yet So New (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958), 228).
2. Phillip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 6th ed. (New
York: St. Martin’s Press, 1956), 129.
3. Vaglieri, Laura Veccia, Apologia dell Islamismo. Washington:
American Fazl Mosque ; trans. Aldo Caselli, An Interpretation of Islam.
Beirut: Laila Khalidy Memorial Foundation [1957?], 30-33.
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Izzeti, Abu’l-Fadl. The Revolutionary Islam. 1980.
Al-Mawdudi, Abu’l-A‘la. Towards Understanding Islam.
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