Abdur Rab Divine Unity

[Adapted from chapter 3 of Toward A Quranic Understanding of the Divine: Perspectives from Three Thinkers]

Divine Unity

The Quran’s central message – the most important and powerful that sets Islam apart from some of the existing major religions – is that God is One (2:163; see also 13:16, 14:48, 38:65, 39:4, 40:16, 112:4).

2:163 Your Ilah (God) is One. There is no Ilah but He, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.

This Divine unity (Tawhid) idea is reinforced by other expressions in the Quran: None is the like of Him (42:11, 112:4), He neither begets nor is He begotten (112:3), and He has no partners or associates (6:163, 7:190-198, 9:31). The Quran confirms that this form of pure monotheism has been the principal hallmark of divinely inspired religion throughout human history:

21:25 We did not send any messenger before you except with Our inspiration to him: “There is no God but Me, so serve Me (alone)

Still another passage reads as follows: “He (God) established for you the same deen as that which He established for Noah, that which We have sent as inspiration through Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, namely that you should remain steadfast in deen and make no divisions within it” (42:13).

The Quran particularly emphasizes Islam’s Abrahamic roots. Abraham preached the message of One God. The Quran declares that our deen or millat is that of Abraham, who has named us Muslims (22:78). Muhammad was, and by implication we are, directed by God to follow him (3:95).

The message of One God came again at a point in history when humankind became largely steeped in pagan and polytheistic beliefs. The Arab world was gripped by idolatry, and the Christian world by the adoption of Trinity. The Quran strongly denounces idolatry, saying that it represents in essence an act of being bogged down with something powerless to do any good or harm (10:18, 17:56). The Quran also warns us against taking religious doctors of law as our lords (9:31), and cautions us that many of the religious leaders rip off people (9:34).

The Lessons We Learn

This message of Tawhid (God’s unity) speaks to God’s undiluted individuality, indivisibility, and independence. The idea that He is independent is also explicitly affirmed in other Quran verses (2:263, 267, 3:97, 29:6, 31:12). This generates a First Lesson for us as follows:

35:15 We are in need of God, but He does not need anything from us.
This in turn implies that whatever we do is to our own benefit or hurt; it matters in no way to God.
29:6   And whoever strives, strives only for his own soul (nafs), for God is fully independent of anything in the universe. (See also 3:97, 31:12)

We need to translate this principle into doing things spontaneously and conscionably rather than for seeking to please God. God is, of course, not unmindful of what we do (Quran, 2:74), and pleased with us automatically when we do things conscionably (Quran 3:15, 9:21, 72).

Ironically, however, Muslims generally consider the Quran-prescribed actions and rituals as ends in themselves to please God rather than as a means to an end. This attitudinal characteristic regrettably explains why there is often disconnect between what Muslims do with their religious rituals and what they actually do in real life. This disconnect largely explains why they often engage in acts of deceit, bigotry, intolerance, and sometimes even violent extremism, not only against other communities, but even against fellow Muslims.

God’s unity also means that He is the most powerful being. “If there were other gods besides God, certainly they would have sought a way to the Most Powerful Lord”, says the Quran (17:42).

A Second Lesson that follows then is that as the most powerful being, only God commands our submission and service. A corollary of this is that we, as servants of the same God, are all equal in His eyes. All children of Adam – all men and women – deserve the same dignity (Quran, 17:70). We can excel one another only in terms of merit or righteousness and not in any other criteria such as color, sex, race, religion, wealth, national, social or geographic origin, political or other opinion, birth or similar status. There cannot be any masters and slaves amongst us. Only virtuousness determines who is nearer to God (Quran, 3:195; 4:124; 16:97; 33:35; 49:13).

As the Supreme Being, God also epitomizes in Himself the perfection of all conceivable qualities that are worthy of emulation. This is because less than perfect beings have no legitimate basis to command our worship and emulation. It thus makes a lot of sense for us to take Him as our best ideal to follow. The Quran itself declares that God is always on the right path – sirat im-mustaqeem (11:56). This leads to a Third Lesson: To be righteous, we need to serve and emulate only One God, Our Supreme Lord.

A Fourth Lesson we learn is that serving God essentially involves serving humanity with justice and compassion. God forbids us to deceive and hurt others. He considers human life sacred and forbids the taking of any life except by way of justice (Quran, 6:151). The Quran characterizes the killing of one person without any valid reason as akin to killing a whole human race (5:32). In numerous passages, it urges us to feed and help the poor and the needy. The Quran emphatically declares, “Never shall you attain piety until you give out of what you love” (3:92). All such passages underscore the need for service to humanity. The Quran characterizes such service as the gateway to ascent:

90:12-16 What will convey unto thee what the Ascent is!

(It is) to set a slave free,
And to feed the hungry in a day of hunger,
An orphan near of kin,
Or a poor person in misery.

A Fifth Lesson is that we need to accord due respect to fellow human beings, and be appreciative of, and grateful to, them for whatever good we receive from them. This is because not respecting those who are more respectable and knowledgeable than us really amounts to arrogance. That is precisely the reason why God urges us to follow the prophets and those who have authority or justification to be followed (4:59).

However, respecting others does not warrant us to idolize and blindly follow them. As the Quran mentions, even our Prophet has made mistakes (9:43; 80:1-10; 33:37; 66:1). In several places, the Quran urges us to follow God and His Messenger, and urges us to follow him as our excellent example (33:21). Following the Messenger essentially means following the Divine message that Muhammad has brought us, which is contained in the Quran.

Ironically, this Quran’s directive to follow the Messenger of Islam has been widely understood within the Muslim community as a directive to follow the reports of his alleged deeds and sayings embodied in the so-called Hadith literature that surfaced more than two centuries after his death. This understanding, however, is in direct conflict with the Quran’s emphatic directive to us that we follow nothing except what has been revealed to Muhammad (6:50, 155, 46:9, 45:6, 50:45).[1] In fact, the Quran’s directive to follow Muhammad as God’s Messenger should be understood in the same light as its advice for us to follow other prophets, specifically Abraham, as good examples (60:4-6, 16:120, 123). This essentially means that we should follow the Divine message of monotheism brought by all prophets.

A question that may arise in this context is the following: As the Most Powerful Reality, how does God then will and act? What we can briefly note here[2] is that God never wills or acts willy-nilly or irrationally. He is not arbitrary or capricious. God wills and acts within the bounds of His own-defined ways or laws, and He proclaims that His ways of dealing with things never change (35:43, 17:77, 30:30, 46:19). In fact, what scientists do is precisely translate such ways or laws into natural laws and their equations. All scientific research would have come to a standstill, and humanity would have suffered enormously, if such laws did not exist and if they did not remain immutable.

A Sixth Lesson we learn then is that even as the most powerful being, God does not behave erratically – He is not irrational or capricious. His ways of dealing with things never change (35:43, 17:77, 30:30, 46:19). This translates into a corollary conclusion that God’s ways or laws are always the same.

How should we then interpret the Quran’s message that God is Merciful, Compassionate, and Forgiving – that He loves His servants who are just (5:42; 49:9; 60:8), righteous (2:195; 3:76, 134, 148; 5:13, 93; 9:4, 7), and grateful (39:7, 14:7) – that He answers the prayer (dua) of every suppliant who cries to Him (2:186) – that He forgives those who turn to Him truly repentant, and who do not persist in their sins (3:135; 16:119; 66:8) – that His rule of mercy (rahmat) is spread throughout the universe (6:12) – and that none despairs of His spirit (ruh) or mercy except the disbelievers (12:87)?

Our response to this question is that since nothing works beyond the God-given laws, we need to view God’s mercy and reevaluate our work and our prayer and rituals in a whole new light. Since we cannot expect God to deviate from His laws, our prayers can work only in conformity with His laws. God does not forgive a person just on the asking. He forgives sinners only when they seek such forgiveness with adequate repentance, which is a punishment, and when they do not knowingly repeat their sins (3:135).

This suggests that we should make constant efforts precisely to explore God’s laws or the laws of nature as part of our life’s mission or salat.

A Seventh and final Lesson we learn then is that God’s mercy and our prayers cannot violate God’s laws and that we should explore, and work in conformity with, such laws as essential part and parcel of our salat (prayer and work together). We need to see our work, our conduct with others, and our prayers and rituals in a whole new light. None can bypass God’s laws, which are nothing but the laws of nature that form the essential foundation of all scientific and human progress.

Abdur Rab is a retired economic policy analyst and author, Rediscovering Genuine Islam: The Case for A Quran-Only Understanding and co-author, Toward A Quranic Understanding of the Divine: Perspectives from Three Thinkers.

  • 1 Literature that raises serious questions about the authority, authenticity, or veracity of the Prophetic traditions abounds. In fact the Quran itself uses the term “Hadith” in a number of places and warns believers not to believe in any Hadith other than the Quran (45:6, 31:6, 39:23, 6:114). The Quran calls itself the best Hadith (ahsanul Hadith – 39:23). For some critiques of the Hadith, see Abdur Rab and Farouk A. Peru, “How Did the Recent Facebook Hadith Debate Go?”, available on http://quranonly.com/how-did-the-recent-facebook-hadith-debate-go/, Abdur Rab, Chapters 10 and 11 of his book Rediscovering Genuine Islam…, op. cit, and “Does the Hadith Have a Solid Historical Basis?” on https://www.academia.edu/3173249/Does_the_Hadith_Have_a_Solid_Historical_Basis, Edip Yuksel, Manifesto for Islamic Reform, Brainbow Press, 2008, 2009, available on http://19.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/05/9780979671562-Text.pdf, Daniel Brown, Rethinking Tradition in Modern Islamic Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1996, Paperback 1999), and Aisha Y. Musa, Hadith as Scripture: Discussions on the Authority of Prophetic Traditions in Islam, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
  • 2 This question has been elaborately dealt with in Chapter 4 of “Toward A Quranic Understanding of the Divine: Perspectives from Three Thinkers.” Also discussed in the authors articles on “Divine Will and Human Freedom” (#32 and #33 on the list here): http://quranonly.com/my-articles/.