“Mankind was [of] one religion [before their deviation]; then Allah sent the prophets as bringers of good tidings and warners and sent down with them the Scripture in truth to judge between the people concerning that in which they differed. And none differed over the Scripture except those who were given it – after the clear proofs came to them – out of jealous animosity among themselves.” C:2,V:213, [In Sahih International, ‘one religion’ and in other commentaries this has been translated to ‘a single community’]
Have you ever wondered after reading verses from the Holy Quran, like the previous one the ways in which primitive man were united? What is your theory of history; your view of the origins of religious belief? Do you think that Monotheism preceded Polytheism or was it the other way around?
“Man was of one Ummah…” have been rendered in the following ways: “One religion; a single community; but it a quite obvious that the verse is telling us about a time before the sending of revelation, so if this is a reference to religion could it be a form of natural “religion” – not in the modern context of the word. The verse is also drawing to our attention that it is referring to a pre-law period. “A single community?” What does that mean: a shared humanity; a single species, a type? Whatever that means, one thing is for certain is that the word ‘Ummah’ allows for differences, even those which include one’s view of the creative force of the universe, the supernatural being. Did not the Prophet (pbuh) in the writing of the first constitution of Medina, include all Muslims and non-Muslims under the ambit of a ‘single Ummah?’
My rendering on “Man was of one Ummah” is that at one time in early history, primitive humans recognised their common origins, ancestry and destiny borne out of their reality of the cycles of birth, life, death and moreover, the traditions and customs of their forefathers who were the bearers of the earliest stories of creation.
In hadith Ibn Abbaas (ra) he is reported to have said that, “between Prophet Noah and Adam (pbuh) were ten generations (1000years), and between Noah and Ibrahim there were 10 generations and between Ibrahim and Moses there were 700 years and between Moses and Isa there were 1,500 years and between Isa and Prophet Muhammad 600 years.”
In another strand of the same report, he (ra) adds “… all of them were on (some form) a Shari`ah of truth (consensus) then they differed amongst themselves and so Allah sent Prophets to bring good news and warn their people.” Authentic
Without going into any lexicology of the meaning of Shai’ah, literally, a path, the use of the word in the hadith implies that they were regulating themselves with ‘some form of consensus’ – a type of customary law based in the wisdom of their forefather, Adam.
Due the homogenous nature of early the early human species, one can imagine that at the point before their degeneration into conflict, disputes and differences that the belief in a single point of origin, a Creator-god was prominent. This was the birth of Historical Monotheism.
Defining Historical Monotheism
Monotheism or ‘Tawheed’ is derived from the Arabic root word ا ح د (meaning; one, unique, alone). When conjugated from the quadrilateral intensive verb: وحّد to the infinitive form it produces the term: توحىد.
This term in this form does not actually appear in any Quranic or Hadith statements, however, the concept of a single or unique God, who alone must be worshipped, is both implicit and explicit – depending upon how one perceives the strength of evidence – in a range of Quran and Hadith statements which:
- Establishes the belief in a Monotheist deity and an ethical and value system based upon prophetic guidance (al-Risaalah) as God’s will for all of mankind;
- Focuses humanity’s attention upon their common ancestry from Adam and Eve;
- Confirms a single divine purpose for creation: the pursuit of ‘the good life’ through servitude to One Unifying Godhead (‘ibaadah: C:51,V:56) and service to His creation (Khalifah: C:2,V:30/C:38,V:26) utilising the earth’s bounties for the benefit of all people (C:2,V:29);
- Promotes a homogenous response to the divine will (C:3,V:64) whist recognising communal differences (Ummah and Millah: C:49,V:13);
- Unifies human destiny through accountability and recompense on a Day of Judgement in which ‘Heaven’ will be a reward for the good and ‘Hell’, a retribution for the wicked;
- and therefore the need for a system of deterrence and recourse to justice that extrapolates from timeless universal norms of retribution and principles of natural law (al-Qassas) to safeguard the life, property, dignity, intellectual progress and Islamic values (Shari’ah) aforementioned.
Hence, to the extent that human beings from time memorial endeavoured to promote and uphold the essence of the above-mentioned ideals and values, albeit expressed in different semantics and overtures, one can argue that the notion of Monotheism, at least in the context of an the existence of a supreme being responsible for creation, existed. Secondly, the Quran itself indicates that the word ‘Tawheed’ itself did not have any such ideological connotation for which it later had become known. In pre-Islamic times the Arabs would refer to people with ‘monotheistic’ tendencies as ‘Hunafaa’ (the singular is ‘Hanif’) of or simply as persons of ‘Fitra’ known for their reputable conduct and character. For a greater deconstruction of these concepts, use the following resource containing five well known online Arabic dictionaries. (http://www.baheth.info/ )
“Abraham was neither a Jew nor a Christian; but he was one inclining towards truth (Hanif); a Muslim (submitting to Allah) and he was not of the polytheists.” C:3,V:67
In the verse of the ‘Fitrah’ further light is shed deepening our understanding of the concept of ‘Tawheed’ before the advent of Prophet Muhammad.
“So direct your face (O Muhammad) toward the religion inclining to truth. (Adhere) to the fitrah of Allah upon, which He has created (all) people. No change should there be in the creation of Allah. That is the correct religion, but most of the people do not know.” C:30,V:30
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)’s conduct before receiving revelation is also a vital source for further defining the essence of being a Hanif or ‘monotheist’. It is also significant from the following saying of the Holy Prophet how a distinction has to be made between the claims of many established religious traditions to Monotheism and the true monotheism of a praiseworthy human disposition (al-Fitrah).
“All of the children of Adam were born upon al-Fitrah (monotheists), but their parents are responsible for making them Jewish, Christian or polytheists (Mushrikeen).” Authentic Hadith
Having closely followed this trend of thought the huge emphasis upon moral and ethical conduct in Islam becomes clearer. The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
“I was sent to complete (the tradition) of exemplary conduct.” Authentic.
Hence, Monotheism as a way of life (Tawheedul ‘Ibaadah and As-Sifaat) are more pertinent than the belief in One creator (Tawheedul ‘Uloohiyyah). Though the latter is an essential part of being a monotheist, without complete submission of one’s will to the laws set out by God for humans to follow, one is only partially a monotheist, if that at all.
For example, the followers of many religions acknowledge the existence of a single supreme creator God; but associate others in their worship of that Creator. So though Christians acknowledge the existence of God, they do not worship Him, because they have breached the foremost commandments – not to serve anyone or anything, but One God. Note how in the Biblical commandants below are holistic in its approach, pertaining both to life and worship and covering all the various categories of Monotheism aforementioned:
And God spoke all these words, saying,
2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.
3 “You shall have no other gods beforeme.
4 “You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousandsof those who love me and keep my commandments.
7 “You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.
8 “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. 9 Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. 11 For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
13 “You shall not murder.
14 “You shall not commit adultery.
15 “You shall not steal.
16 “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.
17 “You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.” [Source: http://biblia.com/books/esv/Ex20.1]
The same applies to Muslims as well, especially in the context of understanding that Islamic Monotheism and Secular liberalism are incompatible. Hence, when we seek to identify which nations are closer on the scale of true and complete monotheism as opposed to relative or subtle monotheism; moral example, the demonstration of the best of human traits, equity, social justice, fairness and good governance provides us with a better tool for judging past and present civilisations to be Monotheistic ones.
This understanding resonates with the notion that the general aim of Tawheed was ‘Justice’ a claim once promoted by the 6th century Mu’tazilah scholarship. However, as a complete discourse articulated in the 6-7th century the social, political and economical challenges of our age demand an expansion of thought and reformation of these timeless concepts.
Understanding the historicity of Tawheed’ to mean: the social, political, economical, intellectual forces of justice, by juxtaposing this discourse the ontological flavour of ‘Shirk’ then stands for all forms of ‘Injustice’ and wrong doing.
“… And [mention O Muhammad] when Luqman, said to his son, O my son, do not enjoin partners with Allah. For verily, Shirk is the greatest form of injustice.” C:31,V:13
The notion of Shirk as a metaphor for injustice and by extension the raison-d’être behind the historical forces of elitism, classism, social injustice and prejudice is supported by a host of Quranic verses that establishes the claim for such a discourse. For reasons of brevity I will hint at some of these Quranic sources leaving you the reader to research them further. See: C:7,Vs:59-137
A brief look at some of the Prophets and Messengers mentioned in the previously mentioned verses and the types of problems faced will give a clearer idea of what the call to Tawheedul ‘Ibaadah:
|Verses||Prophet||Nature of Problems faced|
|59-64||Noah||Denial of call to serve God’s will|
|65-72||Hud||Elitism, prejudice and ridicule “claims of stupidity”|
|73-79||Salih||Transgression against the environment|
|85-95||Shu’ayb||Cheating, corrupt business practices and media misinformation|
|103-137||Moses||Arrogance and Oppression|
Moreover, Allah states that it is both faith (al-Imaan) and the avoidance of injustice (Zulm) are requirements for obtaining His complete guidance and safety from retribution on the Day of Reckoning. This is profound, given that there are many who have claimed ascendancy to faith and having acquired the correct belief, but are devoid of the moral conduct, which ratifies their claims.
“They who believe and do not mix their belief with injustice, those will have security and they are [rightly] guided…” C:6,V:82-90
In fact there are over seventy places in the Holy Quran in which Faith (al-Imaan) and Action (al-‘Aml) are mentioned and conjoined together. This is the clearest indication that Faith in Allah (Pure Monotheism) and Promoting Goodness through action are but one and the same.
Also, in all the verses of ‘Faith and Action,’ faith is put first before action except the following one, which seeks to emphasise that through actions (enjoining good and forbidding wrong) Islamic nations will be models for all other nations. And perhaps in this too is the suggestion that nations that promote principles of good governance and justice will share in the title of ‘civilisations of goodness’ (Ummah Khayriyah).
“You are the best nation produced as an example for mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and believe in Allah. If only the people of the previous scriptures had believed [in Tawheedul ‘Ibaadah] in would have been better for them. Among them are believers but most of them are defiantly disobedient.” (C:3,V:110)
It cannot be clearer from the texts we have cited so far that the real reasons for the bankruptcy of Muslim nations are primarily due to wide spread social injustice, corruption and dehumanisation of their peoples and societies. Law and order is enforced upon the weak and the powerful (al-Mala`a) goes unchallenged.
The tradition below confirms the primacy of good human relationships and fairness as defining features of complete faith.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, asked, “Do you know who the (truly) bankrupt [Muflis] are?” They replied, “The one without money or goods is bankrupt.” So the Prophet said, “The bankrupt are those from my nation (Ummah) who come on the Day of Resurrection having prayed, fasted, and gave charity, but had insulted others, slandered others, consumed the wealth of others, shed the blood of others, and bullied others. Those who were unjustly dealt with by such a person will each be given from that person good deeds; if their good deeds run out before scores have been settled, the bad deeds of their victims will be cast upon the violator, then that person will be thrown into the Hellfire.” Authentic (Sahih Muslim 4678)
The above-proposed definition allows the Muslim reader of history to bring into scope the social, political and economical forces of change within a wider Quranic discourse on Monotheism and Polytheism. Secondly, it goes some distance towards shaping a historicity for Tawheed and Shirk by placing Monotheism as the forerunner to Polytheism. Thirdly, it de-secularizes monotheism, thereby re-establishing doctrinal links between transcendence and immanence, and or faith (al-Imaan) and social justice (al-‘Adaalatul `Ijtimaa’eyah) concerns. Fourthly, it forces us to view the struggle between historical forces in the context of Oppressors (Taawaageet) against the Oppressed (Mus’tad’efeen). Lastly, it gives us a tool with which to deconstruct the plethora of claims to monotheistic religions and belief systems and the ability to analyze and evaluate the veracity of those claims both in their religious and social-justice constructs.