The belief in God is of the highest importance in Islam. God exists, and He is One in His Lordship and His right to be worshipped alone, without any partners: Tawheed ar-Rubbubiyyah and Tawheed al-Uloohiyyah. It took me a bit, as I expected, but if God wills, today I’ll get through the last aspect of God’s Oneness quickly… At last we come to Tawheed al-Asma was-Sifaat, the Oneness of God’s Names and Attributes.
If we agree that God is unlike anything else—He is the Creator, after all, everything else is the creation—then any and all of his attributes, anything that we know about Him, will also be unlike anything else. He might have created life, the universe and everything with some resemblance to Himself, but He never would’ve given us everything about Himself, nor would He make us look too much like Him… When Moses, peace be upon him, went up on Mount Sinai to receive the commandments, God warned him “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”
So He has a face, but one that He keeps hidden from us, and for good reason: His visage is too much for us mere mortals to look upon. What does God look like? I don’t even want to know. He has a Face, sure, and we all know what a face is, but God’s Face is quite obviously completely different from your face, my face, my darling, adorable wife’s darling, adorable face, Olive’s face, or any other face that God gave to any other member of the creation. His Face might look more like mammalian faces than, say, clock faces, but we won’t know or have any idea in this life. It’s enough to know that He has a Face, and we give Him thanks for blessing us with the knowledge that His Face is too much for us. Let’s leave it at that.
God has a Face and He gave us faces. He has Hands and He gave us hands. God gave us some parts of himself, some physical attributes that resemble Him in some unknown ways, and he also gave us some intellectual and emotional attributes that resemble His, like the ability to make new things out of things He created and gifted to us. He Created us with the capacity for creative thought, but He most certainly kept the ability to Create life, the universe and everything to Himself: He wouldn’t want me running around creating universes, for sure… But He did give us some little piece of creativity, as is evidenced by all the amazing things He’s allowed and/or guided us to make.God gave us trace minerals and corporations mine those minerals and use them to make smartphones. God created maple trees and chickens and wheat and all the stuff necessary to make waffle irons, and we use all that stuff to make chicken and waffles, and He gave us the senses to appreciate the crunch and the saltiness and the sweetness and to understand that chicken and waffles with syrup is yum. God granted us the ability to communicate with one another, He gave us language, the ability to speak and understand, the ability to read and write, and I use those abilities to scribble out these posts and hope that He accepts this aspect of my worship.
God also created us with some emotional faculties that resemble His, in some unknown ways. For example, if we say “God loves” we understand and affirm that He Loves, much like we understand and affirm that He has a face. But we also understand that His Love is something different than our love. Perhaps our love reflects something of His Love, but that His Love is of a completely different and wholly unimaginable order than what I have for my darling, adorable wife, for example, or for Olive, or for film photography…
This is Tawheed as-Sifaat: the Oneness of His Attributes, the understanding that His Attributes belong to Him, alone. We also understand and affirm His Names. I talked at some length about the 99 names of God in Islam before, so if you need a refresher, check that post out, or use the search engine of your choice. God has loads of names. There are, for example, the 99 that the Muslims picked out of the Quran and hadith sources and there are 16 in the Old Testament. But in our Islamic tradition, there are many many more, and we affirm first that all the names we know (the 99, plus some others found in the Quran, plus some from the Bible and some from other sources) belong to Him, and we also affirm that He has many other names that have not been revealed to us.
Muslims refer to God almost exclusively as “Allah.” As a word, ‘Allah’ is made up of two parts: Al and ilah. Al is the definite article ‘The’ and ilah means “something that is worthy of worship.” “Allah,” therefore, means The One that is worthy of worship. I’ve used ‘God’ almost exclusively for the past several weeks, and may He forgive me: Muslims use ‘Allah’ almost exclusively because that’s the name He gave to Himself in the Quran. I made this willful error, and I’m going to continue to make it, in an attempt to remove some confusion and in hope that a few hearts might soften, that a few people might actually read a little bit longer, think a little bit deeper.
Let me be clear: there is only one God.
The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the same God of Muhammad is the same God of you and me. YHWH, Elohim, Allah, Adonai, God, whatever you call Him, He knows your intention. Among my Christian friends and relatives, though, there seems to be confusion and I think this confusion exists throughout much of the American society. Some months ago, for example, I left a comment on a friend’s facebook rant in which I asked God to bless us and guide us. This friend—and she is someone that I respect and admire deeply—replied with something to the effect of “may the YAHWEH GOD and HIS SON JESUS bless and guide us,” which implies that there is some difference in her mind between YHWH and God and Allah.
I’ll repeat, there is only one God. You can call Him whatever you like (as long as it’s respectful and reverent), as long as you call Him. He has no need of your worship, but you and I (and especially I) are in need deep of His grace, forgiveness, mercy, provision, guidance, and so much more. We need Him for pretty much everything, and we owe Him gratitude, at minimum, for our eyes, tongues, limbs, families, the lives we enjoy, and everything.
May God bless and guide us all, amen.
I think that probably covers God’s Names and Attributes, and wraps up the first Pillar of Iman: the belief in God. I’ll avoid recapping it here, since I’ll likely give a recap in every post in this series going forward. God willing, this series helps someone out there get a deeper understanding of what Muslims believe.
Up next: the second pillar of Iman: belief in the Mercy of God… the Messengers and Prophets he gave to us, to teach us about belief and worship. (Here’s a hint: we believe in all of them.)