The Meaning of Tawheed Revisited in the light of Compatibilist Epistemologies

by Malick Elias

In my last article I had put forward a dialectic which shows that at a deeper level revelation and reason are but from one and the same source albeit they manifest differently in the minds of their recipients. At the base of the revelation-reason dialectic a Compatibilist position was implied.

Compatibilism, in philosophy disputes that there is any incompatibility between determinism (Jibr) and free will (Qadr). These conclusions also imply a Monistic way of looking at the world, where only one concrete object and by extension ‘one reality’ exists. These conclusions ultimately evokes questions surrounding how I define Islamic Monotheism or Tawheed and to the extent that both Monism broadly speaking  and Monotheism are the same. Why are these questions important? Firstly, because the history of the philosophy of science can be defined as a search for the meaning of God, the nature of His being and reality of His existence in the world.  Secondly, if my first assumption is correct then, Monotheists which have largely focused upon deconstructing the metaphysics surrounding God and Monist which as a movement has largely been preoccupied with philosophical and scientific explanations of ontological or object reality can both compliment each other and provide for Muslim intellectual scholarship the tools to redefine or sharpen their ontological argument. Lastly, ‘religious monism’ because of it emphasis upon progressing the ontological argument has given rise to other emerging faith-ways such as pantheism and panentheism. These new-age faith-ways are inheriting the consciousness of a generation of children of Monotheists by offering alternative perspectives on ‘reality’ often masked in liberal political and scientific discourses and or appeals to spiritualism and naturism and Muslim intellectual scholarship have to rise to the challenge of understanding these forces and the threats they pose to Islamic Monotheism.

So apart from forms of Monism there are other epistemologies which are growing trends in the Muslim consciousness. There are forms of Pantheism, with its reliance upon ‘free will and immanence’ and phasing out of determinism and transcendence. Also, Panentheism, with its attempt to rationalise a balance between ‘free will and determinism’ and the transcendent and the immanent.  They both, especially the latter needs explanation.

What the aforementioned epistemologies have in common is the belief or acknowledgement of the existence of One God or Singularity over and in the world. The belief in the existence of a transcendent God was prominent in most strands of the aforementioned positions and in few cases like that of pantheism a greater emphasis was being placed upon an imminent God in the world or offered interpretation of God being equal to the world itself.

Because, there seem to be a greater consensus on the transcendental positioning and power of God with a tendency from some subscribers to Monotheism to limit God to above the universe and others from among them as well as some Monist and Pantheist approaches to place Him everywhere and in everything within His creation and creatures, this foretold of a ontological crisis much greater than that which the old dualism of Revelation and Reason (Traditionalism and Mu’tazalism) could ever produce.

The deeper I delved into the rationalisation of these approaches, at first compatibilist which then naturally led to imcompatibilist epistemologies the paths of philosophy and theology began to merge and a historical dialectic for the philosophy of being was unfolding. Central to that historical dialectic and towards understanding it, I concluded, was the ancient philosophical concept of the ‘unity of opposites’, which I saw as the essence of Tawheed itself. The premise being that if, the history of human thought can be defined as a range of polemics united at the core in the search for the meaning of ‘reality’. That when viewed individually opposition was apparent and when viewed holistically concert or cohesion was possible. That ‘Tawheed’ which consisted of a unification of both God Transcendent, above His creation and as God within His creation, immanent was the best epistemological as well as ontological explanation of ‘Reality or Being’.

At this point it was clear to me that if a historical dialectic of Monotheism had to be told it would foretell the story of the complete intellectual history of man’s search to either clarify God as supreme being over and in the universe; or in the afterlife but not in the world; or to offer a redefinition of the Godhead into forms of secular semantics and ideology; or to attempt to vanquish God all together, thereby refashioning man as demigod in charge of his destiny or, last but not the least, to allocate God to a position into every aspect of His creation.

This was nothing more than a perpetual battle for domination over ontology and human perception over the meaning of reality. In fact, I would go as far as to claim that there have been consistently deliberate attempts to cause confusions over the meaning of Islamic Monotheism by comparing faith-ways such as Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and the like to monotheistic faiths. Thus, suggesting to the Muslim consciousness that the perceptions of reality created by the cultures of these established faith-ways are somehow compatible with the meaning of Islamic Monotheism. In which ways were they Monotheistic in the true sense of the word? Were they monotheistic because they confess to the belief in a God? Or was it because, as in the case of Christianity for instance, that the same Transcendental God above His creation was the same God, which became immanent in subjects from His creation as it is was believed to be the case with Christ? This has caused huge confusion in the minds of Muslims as well as non-Muslims’ understanding of the meaning of God.  I leave you to prove or disprove that such a historical dialectic and or a crisis exists.

The dialectic of the ‘Unity of Opposites’, a philosophical tool first attributed to Heraclitus, a pre-Socratic Greek Philosopher, (535–475 BC) could go some distance towards offering a narrative of the ontological and epistemological unity in the same way that revelation and reason was explained to be one. (Bertrand Russell)

For those reading closely the earlier conclusions my dialectic of revelation and reason – not yet borne into a synthesis – everything seem to be pointing towards a pantheist God where Creator and created were fused by ‘will’ (Qadaa wal Qadr) in a world where man lives out his life in a predetermined world fashioned partially by his free choices (Iktiyar) or yet wholly determined (Jibr) by His Creator – panentheism. For those being able to follow the ascension of this line of thinking would be asking whether ‘Absorption’ (الحلول) was my next  implied step – the preferred doctrine of many pantheist in one form or the other and to varying extents that of Ibn al-Arabi’s concept of ‘Unity of Being or Existence’.

In modern philosophy ‘the Unity of Opposites’, has always been central to dialectics when defining the dependency of two opposing situations or concepts. Here in this article the broad concept is being again applied to plicate that Monotheism which in this context we are referring to the Muslim theological doctrine that there is a single deity responsible for all of creation who is above it – as on the Throne of His creation – is at the same time within (immanent) every aspect of it.

There are numerous Quranic texts that establish the dualism of transcendence and immanence as necessary composites of the meaning of Tawheed:

’’هُوَ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَىٰ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ ۚ يَعْلَمُ مَا يَلِجُ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا يَخْرُجُ مِنْهَا وَمَا يَنزِلُ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ وَمَا يَعْرُجُ فِيهَا ۖ وَهُوَ مَعَكُمْ أَيْنَ مَا كُنتُمْ ۚ وَاللَّـهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ “

“It is He who created the heavens and earth in six days and then established Himself above the Throne. He knows what penetrates into the earth and what emerges from it and what descends from the heaven and what ascends therein; and He is with you wherever you are. And Allah, of what you do, is Seeing.” [57:4]

Further the Holy Quran states:” ” وَهُوَ الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاءِ إِلَـٰهٌ وَفِي الْأَرْضِ إِلَـٰهٌ ۚ وَهُوَ الْحَكِيمُ الْعَلِيمُ which translates as: … He is in the Heavens God and in the earth God and He is the Wise, the Knower of all things…” [43:84]

And even much closer:

”وَلَقَدْ خَلَقْنَا الْإِنسَانَ وَنَعْلَمُ مَا تُوَسْوِسُ بِهِ نَفْسُهُ ۖ وَنَحْنُ أَقْرَبُ إِلَيْهِ مِنْ حَبْلِ الْوَرِيدِ “

“And We have already created man and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein.” [50:16]

Yet in His proximity He maintains distance:

”إِلَّا تَنصُرُوهُ فَقَدْ نَصَرَهُ اللَّـهُ إِذْ أَخْرَجَهُ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا ثَانِيَ اثْنَيْنِ إِذْ هُمَا فِي الْغَارِ إِذْ يَقُولُ لِصَاحِبِهِ لَا تَحْزَنْ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ مَعَنَا ۖ فَأَنزَلَ اللَّـهُ سَكِينَتَهُ عَلَيْهِ وَأَيَّدَهُ بِجُنُودٍ لَّمْ تَرَوْهَا وَجَعَلَ كَلِمَةَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُوا السُّفْلَىٰ ۗ وَكَلِمَةُ اللَّـهِ هِيَ الْعُلْيَا ۗ وَاللَّـهُ عَزِيزٌ حَكِيمٌ “

If you do not aid the Prophet – Allah has already aided him when those who disbelieved had driven him out [of Makkah] as one of two, when they were in the cave and he said to his companion, “Do not grieve; indeed Allah is with us.” And Allah sent down his tranquillity upon him and supported him with angels you did not see and made the word of those who disbelieved the lowest, while the word of Allah – that is the highest. And Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. [9:40]

The question here is whether Tawheed in the Islamic tradition combines between the two or perhaps even more locations; the above, within and the absorbed. Monotheism is the English language is generally understood as the belief that there is but one God. Mono meaning a singularity and ‘Theism’ God as separate from His creation thus Mono-Theism defines: One God separate from and above His creation. Hence, implicit in this definition is location and distance. While, the opposite notion of One God existing within His creation, but of being creation itself is that of Pantheism. The idea of a Pantheistic God is often understood to be the metaphysical (philosophical) doctrine of God as defined by some Sufi mystics taken from the doctrine of the Unity of Being attributed to Ibn al-Arabi (d.1240). Ibn al-Arabi’s brand of Pantheism states that God’s presence is absolute, which to him means that His presence does not entail a particular shape, definition nor limitation. He is manifest and apparent in variety (names and essences) and shapes yet remains unchanged in his truest being without variance and shape… (see: Ghasem Kakaie, 2007, for a fuller explanation of this definition, pages 453-454)

اعلموا اخواني اسعدكم الله تعالى و ايّانا –

ان الحقّ سبحانه و تعالى هو الموجود المطلق –

و ان ذلك الوجود ليس له شكل و لا حد و لا حصر

و مع هذا اظهر و تجلى بالعدّ و الشكل –

و لم يتغير عما كان من عدم الشكل و عدم العدّ

بل الآن كما كان …

This is not quite so Ghasem Kakaie argues. Ibn al-Arabi’s God is grounded in the idea of a ‘Panentheistic’ rather than a ‘Pantheistic’ being. Ghasem postulates further that despite Ibn al-Arabi speaks about ‘variety and shape’ he maintains that God is not absorbed (al-hulool) in His creation, but that – in my own words – He is the God that His servants want Him to be as they call upon His particular names and attributes. This definitely puts him at odds with pure Monotheist. Which in this instance places him in the Pantheist camp and further away from Panentheism. Ibn al-Arabi walks a tight-rope at the precipice of Tashbeeh (morphinism) as he endeavours to forge a concept of Tawheed with the dialectics of the ‘Unity of Opposites’. I empathise with the dilemma he faces.

Here’s why. To begin with the Holy Quran states that Allah, is the God for all of human and non-human kind. “Say, [O Muhammad], “O mankind, indeed I am the Messenger of Allah to you all, [from Him] to whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth. There is no deity except Him; He gives life and causes death.” So believe in Allah and His Messenger, the unlettered prophet, who believes in Allah and His words, and follow him that you may be guided.” [7:158] In this way, the single entity, God, is not seen as being personal to Muslims alone, but is the same God which Christians, Hindus, Jews and all others revere, beseech and with whom they seek protection. Hence, in the Muslim psychic there is no difference between the ideal of a personal and culturally bonded God, but rejects any attempts at the anthropomorphization of God, made to resemble anything or anyone from His creation. This is referred to as the principle of  enoneration or At-tanzeeh from assimilation with His creation or Tashbeeh. “Say [O Muhammad!] His is Allah, the One and Unique. Allah the eternal. He begets none, nor was He begotten and there is nothing like unto Him.” [C:112] Therefore, this verse taken alone suggests a transcendent as opposed to an immanent God, which in the first instance appears to refute notions of a pantheistic being within creation or in some strands of this thought absorbed or equal to creation. Pantheism then, in any such sense is the antithesis of Tawheed, however the idea of God being both immanent and transcendent at the same time, in His creation is not objectionable to Islamic theological thought, but defines the essence of God itself.

To begin with, in the first part of the Muslim Kalimat of Tawheed: ‘There is “No God” (negation), but God (Confirmation) establishes the attribute of a Perfect Being not limited by time nor space. It also espouses a being which is both omnipresent as well as omniscient; Zaahir (apparent to the created) as well as Baatin (hidden from created). Hence, Pantheism cannot stand alone as an explanation for God or His presence. Without its opposite, it remains imperfect in the dialectic, just as much as notions of Monotheism which espouses a limitation of God to His Throne – however that may be understood.

Secondly, what is meant by the first phrase of negation “No God” literally in Arabic “لا إله “ (No God)? If we were to count the possibility of anything or anyone in God’s creation being taken as a form of adoration and worship, then it makes sense to conclude that “لا إله “ (No God) is best understood as ‘No existence’ but ‘Allah’ which then produces a panacea of problems for hermeneutical notions of the nature of God. Is He His creation or His creation Him? The very question which has been a source of confusion for many and would have led to Al-‘Arabi’s notions of the ‘Unity of Existence or Wahdat-ul-Wujood – the essence of Pantheism. However, that is only one way of looking at the issue, because the aspect of confirmation “إلا الله” (But God) equally establishes the basis for pure monotheism, that that God is far removed from anything or anyone attributed to Him.

Hence, it is arguably true to claim from a literal pantheistic viewpoint that the Holy Quran suggests that the prayers of polytheists (Mushrikeen) in all of their forms are for for the same Monotheistic God albeit with different epistemological notions for defining Him and with competing ontological claims.“ … And were it not that Allah checks the people, some by means of others, there would have been demolished monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of Allah is much mentioned. And Allah will surely support those who support Him. Indeed, Allah is Powerful and Exalted in Might.” [22:40] Does it not make sense that when humans beseech the Almighty that they are doing much more than expecting an anthropomorphism of a deity or deities to magically manifest for their deliverance? Is it not truer to think that they are instead seeking a form of intimacy with God, pinning their hopes upon the supernatural being, more able than they are at that moment of urgency, to come to their assistance?

In the religious context, that being is the God or Living Spirit beyond the material world or statutes of sticks, stones and images. However, such an argument which seeks to highlight the innate Goodliness in human beings or the intricate beauty within creation as a manifestation of a God’s ‘Unique Beauty and Perfection’ is flawed if it seeks to limit the presence of God to a place within or above His creation and resembling anything or anyone within it.

Transcendence and Immanence are both dipolar attributes of God which represents His true and complete essence as the God of Monotheism. In a sense they both define our complexed and often confused relationship with God.

In our estimation of Him, He is unique, and yet we choose to personalise Him. As if to lay claims of ownership over Him.

We acknowledge that He transcends His creation and we strive to understand what that means, yet we prefer to see His footprints manifest within the beauty and goodness of His creation or personify Him in the patronage of saints.

It is true to say that these two broad ideas, seemingly at odds with each other, when combined produces a greater’ potential for moulding human consciousness of our shared moral and social responsibility as well as well as our sense that one’s suffering, and seemingly bad fate is under the judgement of no immortal but a God who is above His creation and dominion.

If I were to choose a term to describe this ‘Unity of Being’ in philosophical, social, political and economic scientific discourse it would be ‘Dialectical Monism.’ However, this term and many more have already been usurped by those pantheists and monists who debunk the notion of God both transcendent and immanent.

Ownership over definitions and categories constitutes some of the hallmarks of the battle to deter the return of human consciousness to the path of the monotheist God over creation as previously described.

I see the potential of a form of ‘Dialectical Monism’ defined is an intellectual movement that combines notions of an intimate Merciful God expressing itself through the best of human actions and intentions while directing humanity towards a common faith in a Just and Benevolent God.

How is faith in a Just and Benevolent God supposed to solve injustice and suffering? The answer is twofold: firstly, through obedience which can only come about through an intent of submission (Shahadah) to follow the guidance of the last Prophet and Messenger to mankind, Muhammad (pbuh). Not just by acknowledging that there is One God, but by accepting Muhammad as the guide towards Him (swt).

This is where Monists, Pantheists and Panentheists who acknowledge a unitary force behind creation as the strongest solution to the problems of theosophy come in. They represent those who have accepted the first part of the intent of submission (there is no God [existence] but God) but not that Muhammad is His last and final Messenger to humanity. They have choosen the long path towards God, the path of intellectual submission but not that of emotional congurence to the path of mercy brought by Muhammad (pbuh). (We have not sent you except as a Mercy to the worlds) [21:107]

Thus, they conclude that all paths lead to God or that all religions are cultural imaginations of a God or His singularity over the world. I say yes, for the acknowledgement of a supernatural presence, and no, because the acknowledgement of the possibility of a God is not conclusiveness of the meaning of God in thought and in practice, and so one either has to rely upon revelation (scriptural faith) or pursue a path of reason.

In the dialectic of Tawheed God is both a loving as well as a jealous God and to set up intermediaries between Him and His love towards His subjects, is not a true acknowledgement of His Oneness nor of His unique position in the universe. Hence, pantheists who make the above claim are but making a plea for sympathy with faith-ways that hinder man’s direct access to the Lord of the Worlds. Moreover, just as pantheists would proclaim that their beliefs offer to others the liberation of their souls from the servitude, whims and fancies of Priests, Rabbis and Imams who barter in established religion, they too will soon replace their antagonists to become the new lords of a plethora of explanations for God’s manifestation within His creation or creatures.

The appeal towards pantheistic and or panentheistic ontologies should not be taken lightly or brushed aside. Their potential to have huge appeal among those who have been brought up in cultures shaped by Monotheism in a globally shrinking world is immense. As the identities of nations increasingly dissolves, people realise their shared humanity and suffering and what unites and divides them in God. But both pan and panentheistic faith-ways can only flourish if those who claim to be Monotheists, view God as limited to His throne and are unable to offer solutions for society’s ills.

There is a crisis in the world of Monotheism which reserves the heavens for the reign of God and have left the world exposed to the reign of the Devil (May Allah’s curse be upon him).

These ’secular monotheists’ I prefer to call them, have not developed their view of reality. Firstly, because of either deliberately fearing falling into polytheism (Shirk) and so have evolved for themselves culture of anti-enquiry into questions about God thus leading the Muslim world in a de-facto secularist position in which development can only be vouchsafed to heretics and non-Muslims who are driven by profits and not ethics; or unwittingly, because of decades long domination of Islamic thought by schools of law which have focused upon rules and legalism and not upon building ethical political, economical and social institutions which reflect the beauty and justice of God in the world.

Throughout history, Muslim political institutions has suffered from a lack of the ethics of justification and accountability. Few have written on the ethics (Akhlaaq) of political leadership and those works which have been written like that of Abu ah-Hasan alMaawardi’s (b.364-d.450AH) ‘al-Ahkaam alSultaaniyah and Qawaaneen alWezaarah have been assigned to Muslim literary history.

Monotheists by limiting matters of God’s domain to what takes place in the heavens, the Hereafter and the unseen (ghaybiyaat), have unwittingly ushered into the contemporary Muslim history an era of ontological imaginations borrowed from Secular Capitalist and Marxist Socialist  Democratic interpretations of political, social and economical relations. These competing discourses on reality have at times been either adapted to popular Arab and Islamic rhetoric such as we have seen with the Secular Pan Arab Nationalist Movements of the 1930 and 40s later evolving into Ba’athism and in the post Iranian Revolution1980s such as we witness in Lebanon’s Hizbullah’s pseudo Marxist dialectic of ‘Oppressed against the Oppressor’ shrouded in Qur’anic references to the Mustad’afeen [C4:75].

Other Muslim nations who have been less ideological and more practical have invested heavily into developing their nation’s infrastructures and human capital. The results of this approach, however, has been at the expense of creating divisive lifestyles – anti tawhedic – dismantling family and communal bonds and shaping perceptions of reality which are incoherent the mono-identity of ‘Muslim Ummah’ and the Prophetic message of ‘Mercy to Mankind.’

Where mosques, libraries and community centres which were once central to espousing a monotheistic culture facilitating the expansion in human knowledge, social exchange and spiritual growth. These institutions have been sidelined by venues of consumerism and entertainment which are tied to  pathologies of immanence – in other words – tied to the earthly domain.

Rectifying the mistakes of the past will take a lot of rethinking of the best way of reinstating the ‘God factor’ back into society, politics, law, economics and human relations. A new and genuine call for ‘People First’ politics is needed. One which is based within the principles of ‘Mercy for the World’. This is what matters to people, this is why people are drawn towards their common and shared identity and are beginning to yearn for the God that is common to them all. Not just a God that is sitting in judgement over them, but the God of love, mercy, hope and all of the dipolar names and attributes which signify the Unity of His being and essence.

Restructuring and redefining education is also of great importance here. Education is still based upon responding to the needs of the market economy. This is of value and will not change, but it must not ignore the value of promoting the awe and beauty of God brought to our attention by human intellectual endeavour and scientific discovery.  Nor should educators ignore the need for simply educating the human consciousness towards contributing to the wider concerns for the creation of a just and balanced society.

It is high time that schools, universities and policy makers give greater value to core qualifications which promote philosophical and critical thinking and that which invokes a love and passion for caring for environment, ageing populations and programs that encourage building better living spaces and lifestyles for future generations. Educators have to find ways to take education out of the classrooms and connect children with the efforts of the range of voluntary organisations that are working towards having a positive impact upon the quality people’s lives. The study of ethics and human values must lead the way towards re-engineering the human consciousness and mending man’s relationship with the divine. For it is through the belief in a transcendent God that humans  themselves would transcend the narrowness of their personal worlds  – experiences and notions thereof – and ascend to the beauty of God’s attributes which permeates all of His creation. One writer on the Culture of Transcendence commented:

 “The transcendental stands for the human’s being capacity to reach out beyond itself, to give meaning to the world, to understand the cosmos as well as to construct his own, ontic world, and thereby adapt himself to the ever changing circumstances of his environment and secure his survival.” (Segesvary 2004)

I found Segesvary’s observation to be meaningful because it led me to recall the Quranic imagery for the dialectic of transcendence and immanence.

Here is God’s description of both forms of being and existence. One is described as a life of short term gains captivated in the imagery of the term ‘adDunya’ conjugated from the verb ‘Dana’ to draw near to. The noun indicative of a life of immediate gains. The hereafter ‘alAakhirah’ on the other hand suggests the meaning of distance and of another life.

” وَمَا هَـٰذِهِ الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا لَهْوٌ وَلَعِبٌ ۚ وَإِنَّ الدَّارَ الْآخِرَةَ لَهِيَ الْحَيَوَانُ ۚ لَوْ كَانُوا يَعْلَمُونَ “

“And this worldly life is not but diversion and amusement. And indeed, the home of the Hereafter – that is the [eternal] life, if only they knew.” [29:64]

Here God speaks about those limiting their understanding of Him to the world and moreover their analysis of everything to it.

 “يَعْلَمُونَ ظَاهِرًا مِّنَ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا وَهُمْ عَنِ الْآخِرَةِ هُمْ غَافِلُونَ “

“They know what is apparent of the worldly life, but they, of the Hereafter, are unaware.” [30:7]

God is not asking His subjects to deny the importance of living in the world, but that we should not cling to it while failing to rise towards Him.

 ” يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مَا لَكُمْ إِذَا قِيلَ لَكُمُ انفِرُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ اثَّاقَلْتُمْ إِلَى الْأَرْضِ ۚ أَرَضِيتُم بِالْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا مِنَ الْآخِرَةِ ۚ فَمَا مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا فِي الْآخِرَةِ إِلَّا قَلِيلٌ “

“O you who have believed, what is [the matter] with you that, when you are told to go forth in the cause of Allah, you adhere heavily to the earth? Are you satisfied with the life of this world rather than the Hereafter? But what is the enjoyment of worldly life compared to the Hereafter except a [very] little.” [9:38]

Failure to ascend towards God, leads to the death of the heart, which is the centre of communication with Him as well as the core of intellection. A dead heart results in the numbness of the senses towards human concerns and renders such a person deaf, dumb and blind to the manifestation of God in his creation.

 ” يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلَّـهِ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ ۖ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّـهَ يَحُولُ بَيْنَ الْمَرْءِ وَقَلْبِهِ وَأَنَّهُ إِلَيْهِ تُحْشَرُونَ “

“O you who have believed, respond to Allah and to the Messenger when he calls you to that which gives you life. And know that Allah intervenes between a man and his heart and that to Him you will be gathered.” [8:24]

Some may argue that both the Unity of Opposites and the Unity of Being to which I have referred are flawed. That the Unity of Opposites is not applicable to all of Allah’s names and attributes. Because there are names and attributes of Allah to which opposites cannot be applied.

For instance, ‘Abdul-Wahid Ibn ‘Ashir in his kitaabul-I’tiqaad states that the doctrine of Allah’s names and attributes are divided into the following categories:

(1) Sifaat Waajibah

(2) Sifaat Mustaheelah and

(3) Sifaat Jaaizah.

[See: Abdullah bin Hamid Ali’s The Helpful Guide of Sidi Ibn Asir’s Introduction to The Islamic Creed, ps16-18]

The first category, names and attributes of Allah which are established by (logical) necessity entails the following: ‘Permanence without beginning, Endurance without end, and absolute independence from His creation.’ He must also be ‘Dissimilar to His creation’ and Unique in His Essence, Characteristics and Actions.’

The second, are those names and attributes for which opposites are impossible and they are the previously mentioned and others such as incapacitated (as the opposite of the Capable or al-Qadeer), coerced (the opposite of the free of will and action or alIraadah), ignorant (opposite of al’Aleem or the Knower of all things), dead (opposite of the Alive or alHayy), deaf (opposite of the Hearer or asSamee’), mute (the opposite of being able to communicate with His subjects or alMutakallim) and blindness (the opposite of having full sight or alBaseer).

The third category of God’s names and attributes are those which may not have been mentioned, but signify His beauty and perfection and those are limitless.

Of the names and attributes which is of interest here  are those for which opposites is said to not apply. In order to deal with two issues at the same time, the ‘Unity of Opposites’ as well as the ‘Unity of Being’, the supposition that Allah cannot be deaf or mute is in the first instance erroneous, because God can be anything He wants to be and moreover wherever He wanted to be. But since, we are the ones who are attempting to rationalise God and deafness and muteness are thought of as human abnormalities and therefore goes against the notion of divine perfection or alKamaal, God cannot be thought of as bearing any human frailties. Who is in need of a God that cannot hear their pleas or answer their prayers? The point that I am making here is that when we apply our human rational towards understanding the divine, we are left with interpretation or reference to divine revelation. If we choose interpret who God is without reference to divine text then He will be the God we choose Him to be. But will that interpretation ever be truly God?

Furthermore, as I have indicated in my previous article: ‘A Dialectic for the Harmony between Revelation and Reason’ that man lives out a life preordained by God and within this he exercises his freedom of choice. Implicit in that belief was the notion that God is in constant communication with His creation beckoning him towards goodness through inspiration from within and from his immediate natural and social worlds. This is how I perceive of God and of the nature of the relationship I would want with Him. I could be wrong in my estimation of Him, but all I have are my good intentions.

God said of Himself, “I am as My servant expects Me to be…” [Hadith Qudsi, mentioned in Bukhari’s collection], which means that if someone wanted to think of his God as incapacitated, coerced by other forces, ignorant of aspects of His subjects’ lives or even dead to the world then that is what God will be for them. Not that their thoughts will either shape or change the true nature of God as He has revealed of Himself. Nor does the hadith confirms that they are indeed worshiping God, for what they are worshipping are images of God that they have fashioned for themselves.

” وَلِلَّـهِ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَىٰ فَادْعُوهُ بِهَا ۖ وَذَرُوا الَّذِينَ يُلْحِدُونَ فِي أَسْمَائِهِ ۚ سَيُجْزَوْنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ “

“And to Allah belong the best names, so invoke Him by them. And leave [the company of] those who practice deviation concerning His names. They will be recompensed for what they have been doing.” [C7:V180]

This is the second error which humans make about God. To think of Him and His attributes in an anthropomorphic sense. For He is utterly transcendent and above all similarities to His creation.“…There is nothing or no one like Him.” [C:112]

The notion of immanence or of God’s manifestation in His creation adds significance to a range of ontological issues. Such as the rationalisation of the objectives of the law (Shari’ah). The meaning of the scantily of human life, dignity, honour, identity and rights as derived from the diverse range of localised cultures.

However, the notion of transcendence provides humanity with universal principles of justice and fair play without which nations will be perpetually at war with each other.

Tawheed, which surpasses the notion of One God above and in creation, but not as a anthropomorphism of some form or matter is indeed the essence of the Muslim doctrine. The abandonment of one polemic is the dialectic of Unity leads either to the degeneration of societies into superstition and pantheistic animism in the name of naturalism. Just as in the same manner, transcendence without immanence will lead to a society devoid of human conscience and the death of the heart through failure to empathise with the suffering of others.

The cultural essence of immanence has been best captured in the imagery of the following traditions:

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Allah (mighty and sublime be He) will say on the Day of Resurrection:

‘O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink.’ He will say: ‘O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds?’ He will say: ‘My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me.’”  (It was related by Muslim.)

On the authority of Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him), who said that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“Allah (mighty and sublime be He) said:

‘Whosoever shows enmity to someone devoted to Me, I shall be at war with him. My servant draws not near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have enjoined upon him, and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him, and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. I do not hesitate about anything as much as I hesitate about [seizing] the soul of My faithful servant: he hates death and I hate hurting him.’”  (It was related by al-Bukhari.)


Hadiths taken from source:



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Malick Elias

The vision of 'Vivaislam' is to provide a space for Muslim and non-Muslim activists to air their voices on how best to organise and manage their world. The aim is to focus upon recommending solutions to issues of social injustices, freedoms and citizenship facing predominantly Muslim and non-Muslim societies, rather than offering descriptions of problems. It is our hope that these voices will reach the echelons of power and influence.