What is the Islamic Concept of God?

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This entry will examine several broad and widely held beliefs pertaining to God among Muslims. We do not suggest that all the beliefs stated below are held by all Muslims for the Islamic religion, like other religious traditions, has too evolved and produced a diverse interpretation of deity. Nonetheless, included here are the beliefs that one would expect to find accepted by most Muslims.

God Exists and His Purpose for Humanity

That God exists is taken as a basic affirmation of the sacred scripture of Islam, the Qur’an (10:66, 40:61-62, 112:1-4). It is also articulated in the declaration of faith called the shahada that all Muslims must affirm, which is that “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.” The positive affirmation of God and his Messenger, Muhammad, are the two cardinal tenets of the faith that almost all Muslims will agree on. Those people that reject God’s existence and Muhammad’s prophethood are viewed as ungrateful and as disbelievers (kafirs) who are misguided. One major Muslim view, although it is not the only one, is that unbelievers will be judged on the Day of Judgement and made “companions of Hellfire” (5:10). We read of this coming day in sura 30 of the Qur’an,

“Then turn thy face straight to the right religion before there come from Allah the day which cannot be averted; on that day they shall become separated. Whoever disbelieves, he shall be responsible for his disbelief, and whoever does good, they prepare (good) for their own souls, that He may reward those who believe and do good out of His grace; surely He does not love the unbelievers” (30:43-45).

For almost all Muslims, the Qur’an is considered an obvious proof of God’s existence. It is believed to be the verbatim revelation of God to the Prophet Muhammad. It is the infallible, authoritative, and literal word of God. It is also in the Qur’an that God’s will and purpose for human beings have been communicated. He created human beings for a reason, which is that they submit to his will and worship him. God has sent forth divinely appointed messengers to warn human beings of his will before the Day of Judgment, some of whom have included Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus Christ, and Muhammad. Muhammad is considered the final “seal” of the prophets (33:41).

God’s Love

God’s love is conditional and strictly qualified throughout the Qur’an. Allah loves those who repent and purify themselves (9:108, 2:222), do good (2:195, 3:148, 5:93), act justly (5:42, 49:9, 60:8), follow Muhammad (3;31), fear Allah (3:76, 9:7), are steadfast (3:146), powerful against disbelievers (5:54), and rely upon Allah (3:159). There are also those who Allah does not love. These include the corrupt (5:64), transgressors (2:190), wrongdoers (3:140), sinning disbelievers (2:276), the unjust (3:57), the proud (4:36), and unbelievers (3:31-32, 30:43-45).

God’s Essence is Unknowable

The predominant view of God is that he is unknowable to human beings. Although the Qur’an attributes numerous titles and names to Allah (7:180), ninety-nine to be specific, these do not describe God’s essence (who he actually is in and of himself) but only his activities. Some of these titles given to God include the All-Knowing One (2:158), Bringer of Death (3:156), Mighty One (4:158), Distressor and Harmer (6:17), Giver of Life (7:158), Forgiving and Merciful (39:54), Provider (51:58), and Pure and Perfection (59:23). Although one can know things about God on the basis of his actions in the past, true knowledge will always be beyond finite human grasp. A number of Muslim theologians and philosophers have in fact used a negative theology to conceptualize and describe the Islamic God. This approach essentially defines God in terms of what he is not because it is believed that God cannot be captured in his essence. Given that God is so supremely transcendent, human language, metaphors, and constructs are either inadequate or misleading when trying to describe him. It is also because of God’s total transcendence and otherness that many Muslims view God as distant and personally inaccessible. Even prior to creation, God existed solitarily and alone and is still above and beyond anything within the created order (112:1-4).

God is One

Fundamental to the majority of Muslims is the belief that God is One. This is the doctrine of tawhid, namely the oneness of God that emphasizes his solitary personality that safeguards him from being confused or mixed with anything in the created order. Q2:163 says that “your god is one God. There is no deity [worthy of worship] except Him, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful.” According to Q2:163 “He is but one God, and indeed, I am free of what you associate [with Him].” Allah’s solitary oneness is found in suras (chapters) 37:4-5, 16:22, and 112:1-4. To associate anyone or anything as equal to or rival with God is one of the gravest sins, according to the Qur’an. To do so is to commit the sin of shirk, a serious sin of idolatry that associates anything within creation with the eternal God and offer it worship (7:148-150).

God Must Be Obeyed

For the Muslim, the best he or she can hope for is to be recognized by God as a faithful and obedient servant. Important it then is to follow the Prophet Muhammad who instructed his followers that: “If you love Allah, then follow me; Allah will love you and forgive you your sins. And Allah is oftforgiving, most merciful” (3:31). In the following verse, the Prophet exhorts his followers to “Obey Allah and his apostle” (3:32). We also learn that God only loves those who are obedient and who embrace the faith: “But if they turn back, God loves not those who reject faith” (3:32). Islamic theology affirms that God demands total surrender. The Qur’an says that God has sent to every nation a messenger (10:47) who acts as a warner (33:45-46). This is because obedience to God’s will is crucial and upon which one’s eternal destiny will depend. The Qur’an thus includes commands and guidelines for how one is to live his or her life. Obedience to these laws and rules should always take precedence over the commands of anything else.

Allah’s Will is Supreme

The Qur’an teaches that God’s will is what will determine all events within creation from its beginning to its end. All things have been ordered by God’s will: “to Allah belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them. He creates what he wills. And God has power over all things” (5:17); “Allah does what He wills” (14:27); “all things have been created with pre-ordained decree” (54:49). The Qur’an seems to affirm a fatalism where all things have been predetermined by God’s will and are inevitable. The Qur’an further teaches that “No person can ever die except by Allah’s leave and at the appointed term” (3:145) and that Allah “misleads whom He wills and guides whom He wills” (14:4).

 

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