So far, I think we’re mostly in agreement: God exists. He created all. He is the Lord of all and He is alone in His Lordship. As far as I understand it, the Abrahamic faiths—the religions that share Abraham, peace be upon him, as a prophet—agree that God exists and that He is the Lord of all. There might be some disagreement on His Oneness in His Lordship, but this next part—His Oneness in His right to be worshipped, alone, without any partners—here’s where the real disagreement starts…
If we agree that God created everything, ordered everything, set all this up for us to enjoy and marvel at; if it’s He Who sustains and provides for us, He that grants provision to us while we’re here; if it’s He Who ordains life and death for who and what He wills, whenever He wills; then it makes sense that we give thanks to Him, yes?
And if God did all that by Himself, without any need for help from any of His creation, should we ask, say, a rock or a bowl of spaghetti for help when we’re hurting or in need?
Before you answer, think carefully. And remember that there are only two things in this world: the Creator, and the creation… Rocks and bowls of spaghetti are parts of the creation, right? I know my darling, adorable wife makes a pretty mean spaghetti, and I know that I can break a rock, that rocks can be worn away by wind or water, so it’s probably better to ask God for His help, right?
This is Tawheed al Uloohiyyah: Oneness as regards our worship of Him.
That sounds easy enough, right? Believe me, it is, and (to me) it’s obvious. But so many people worship something else. Some people in the past worshiped idols made out of stone or clay; some people today worship money or their intellects. Some people in the past worshiped angels; some people today worship dead people. In all these cases, there seem to be two reasons why people worship something other than God:
- Fear of Him: I’m so bad, He’ll never listen to me… let me ask some pious person to ask Him for me.
- Tradition: this is how my parents worshiped, how their parents worshiped, how their parents worshiped… why would I go against that?
These are both completely understandable, and I’m sympathetic. God is The Most Powerful, The Most Just, The Most Severe In Punishment, and it’s right and proper to fear Him. Back in 1997 or so, my mom and step-dad were living in Pennsylvania and I went to visit them. They both worked during the day, and so left me to hang around their place and amuse myself. One day, I found a quill pen and some india ink in the desk, and so I grabbed some paper and a lap desk, put the television on, and sat down to do a bit of writing or drawing or something. It took about 12 seconds for me to spill ink all over this really beautiful club chair and matching hassock, Hank’s favorite chair, where he sat to read the paper every evening after work.
Now, my step dad was rather quick tempered and shouted with some regularity, so I was understandably afraid of his response, so I called up Mom, looking for some advice on how to clean the ink and in hopes that she might intercede for me… No such luck on either count: nothing cleans India ink from fabric, and at 18 or 19 I was too old to have Mommy step in for me. I spent the afternoon smearing color safe bleach on the chair and worrying fearing Hank’s wrath.
The color safe bleach did nothing but brighten the color in the fancy brocade, and my fear was entirely unwarranted: Hank came home from work, I told him about the accident, he had a look, and said something like “oh well, no use crying over spilt ink” or some such, and a year or so later, when he and Mom moved to Dallas, one day he showed up at my apartment with that chair wedged into the backseat and trunk of his car. Despite the ink, it looked (and sat) great in my apartment for the next 6 or so years until I moved away.
That was Hank showing me some mercy. Now, if I had run, or if Mommy had stepped in for me, I can only imagine what his response might have been. I sincerely doubt mercy would’ve much figured into it, and he probably would’ve talked some smack about me to Mom for some weeks or months after. Only God knows, though: He is the only all-knowing.
Now, when we do something wrong and nobody is around, when we commit sins, it might seem scary to turn to God and ask for His Forgiveness, but if my step dad, with all his humanity, can show me that little bit of mercy, I know that God, who is the Most Merciful, will forgive a little bit of spilt ink, as long as 1) I’m sincere and 2) He Wills.
So why would I worship anything other than Him? Does that make sense? I hope so, because this is Tawheed al Uloohiyyah: the Oneness of God in His right to be worshipped,* alone, without any partners, and it’s a big part of the first pillar of Iman: the belief in God. Next up, Tawheed al-Asma was-Sifaat: the Oneness of God in His Names and Attributes.
*Worship, here, means all sorts of things: fear, hope, love, vow taking, supplication, repentance, and all sorts of other emotions and actions fall under the umbrella of worship in Islam. It’s sorta too much to go into here, but the principle is easy: worship is anything that pleases God or that He told us to do. Some of that isn’t entirely obvious, but much of it is as clear as a bell: the 10 Commandments are a good start, and the next time you’re fearing or trusting or loving or hating or begging or giving or anything, really, ask yourself “am I doing this for the Creator, or for the creation?” And if you’re doing it for other than God, then stop and go do something else.