GOD IN ISLAM
AN ENQUIRY INTO THE MOSLEM CONCEPTION OF GOD
اللّهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الْحَيُّ الْقَيُّومُ1
“God, there is no God but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting.”
Qur'anic references were edited to reflect the verse numbers used in modern translations of the Qur'an.
Also, some footnotes were edited to give additional support for the text.
National Flag of Saudi Flag
"There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is his Prophet."
REV. WILLIAM GOLDSACK
THE CHRISTIAN LITERATURE SOCIETY
LONDON, MADRAS AND COLOMBO
|I.||THE UNITY OF GOD|
|II.||THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD|
|III.||ANTHROPOMORPHIC CONCEPTIONS OF GOD|
|IV.||GOD IN HIS RELATION TO MAN|
|V.||GOD IN HIS RELATION TO SIN AND SALVATION|
IN the final analysis, the worth of any religion will be decided, not by the magnitude of its conquests in the world or the number of its professors, but by its teaching concerning the person and character of God. This latter is fundamental, for upon it will depend the whole nature and value of its moral precepts, no less than of its social legislation. The question is not merely whether a certain religion is monotheistic or polytheistic, but it is one involving a definition of the character and attributes of God; for the abstract doctrine of one God can never, of itself, suffice to elevate humanity or inspire reverence; the character attributed to that God must ever be of fundamental importance.
The student who seeks to know what is the Muhammadan idea of God is shut up, broadly speaking, to four sources of information. First of all he has the Qur'an with its brief and pregnant watchword, “La ilaha illa’llahu.” “There is no God but God”; then secondly he has the Traditions which represent much of the oral teaching of Muhammad, and, perhaps, some ideas also of a later age; thirdly there is the Ijma or unanimous doctrinal opinions of the leading theologians of Islam, and, finally, there is Qiyas which represents the results of the analogical reasoning of Moslem divines with regard to the teaching of Islam. It is evident then, that, in order to a complete view of the Islamic conception of God, each of these witnesses must be examined and drawn upon for its quota of testimony, and it will be our endeavour in the following pages to let these speak for themselves, so that the reader may be in a position to judge whether the Islamic idea of God is a sufficient and worthy one.
Muhammad's conception of God must have been derived from many sources. Nature was, perhaps, his greatest teacher, and some of the finest passages of the Qur'an are those which describe the creative majesty of the Supreme. Even as a youth, Muhammad must often, as he tended the flocks of Mecca, have been struck with the evidences of a supreme Creator, and his attention must often have been drawn to the signs of an unseen power spread all around him. Thus in the silent passing of the stars and the orderly succession of day and night, no less than in the roll of the thunder as it pealed around the hills of Mecca, Muhammad must have beheld those “signs” of a divine wisdom and power which he afterwards rehearsed with such beauty to his idolatrous countrymen. Later on, those months of quiet retirement in the cave of Mount Hira' must have furnished many a golden opportunity for the contemplation of the great Architect. To Mohammad, with his nervous and highly-wrought temperament, the great truth must often have impressed itself upon him that,
“The Almighty King
Not always in the splendid scene of pomp,
Tremendous, on the sounding trumpet rides,
Or sweeping whirlwind; nor in the awful peal
Of echoing thunder is He always heard,
Or seen in lightning's vivid flames; but oft,
When every turbid clement is hushed,
In the still voice of nature stands confest
The Lord omnipotent!”
Thus Muhammad's earliest ideas of God were gained from the sublime wonders of nature round about him, and again and again in the earlier passages of the Qur'an, in eloquent and impassioned verse, he calls his Arab countrymen to the contemplation and worship of the great Cause of all causes; and the one dominant note in these earlier Suras is the matchless power and transcendent wisdom of the Almighty. A good sample of the “revelations” of this period is furnished in the early portion of Qur'an Ar-Ra'd 13 where we read:—
«هُوَ الَّذِي يُرِيكُمُ الْبَرْقَ خَوْفاً وَطَمَعاً وَيُنْشِىءُ السَّحَابَ الثِّقَالَ. وَيُسَبِّحُ الرَّعْدُ بِحَمْدِهِ وَالْمَلاَئِكَةُ مِنْ خِيفَتِهِ وَيُرْسِلُ الصَّوَاعِقَ فَيُصِيبُ بِهَا مَن يَشَاءُ وَهُمْ يُجَادِلُونَ فِي اللّهِ وَهُوَ شَدِيدُ الْمِحَالِ».
“He it is who shows you the lightning for fear and hope; and He brings up the heavy clouds. And the thunder celebrates His praise, and the angels too, for fear of Him. And He sends the thunder-clap and overtakes therewith whom He will;—Yet they wrangle about God! But He is strong in might.” (verses 12, 13)
Another fine passage in Qur’an Al-Baqarah (2) runs thus:—
«وَإِلَهُكُمْ إِلَهٌ وَاحِدٌ لاَّ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ هُوَ الرَّحْمَنُ الرَّحِيمُ. إِنَّ فِي خَلْقِ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ وَاخْتِلاَفِ اللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ وَالْفُلْكِ الَّتِي تَجْرِي فِي الْبَحْرِ بِمَا يَنفَعُ النَّاسَ وَمَا أَنزَلَ اللّهُ مِنَ السَّمَاء مِن مَّاء فَأَحْيَا بِهِ الأرْضَ بَعْدَ مَوْتِهَا وَبَثَّ فِيهَا مِن كُلِّ دَآبَّةٍ وَتَصْرِيفِ الرِّيَاحِ وَالسَّحَابِ الْمُسَخِّرِ بَيْنَ السَّمَاء وَالأَرْضِ لآيَاتٍ لِّقَوْمٍ يَعْقِلُونَ».
“Your God is one God: there is no God but He, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Verily in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and in the ship that runneth in the sea with that which profits man, and in what water God sends down from heaven and quickens therewith the earth after its death, and spreads abroad therein all kinds of cattle, and in the shifting of the winds, and in the clouds that are pressed into service betwixt heaven and earth, are signs to people who can understand.” (Qur’an Al-Baqarah 2:163-164)
A second source of Muhammad's beliefs concerning God was undoubtedly the Hanifs, 2 a contemporary Theistic sect, who rejected the popular idols of the Arabians, and stood for the worship of one God alone. With these men Muhammad must often have come into contact, and any comparison of his teaching concerning God with the tenets of the Hanifs will make it clear that Muhammad was indebted to them not a little for his conception of the Supreme.
In the third place, Muhammad's ideas concerning God must have been largely shaped and modified by his contact with the numerous Jews and Christians who lived in Arabia at that time. One has only to read the many repetitions of Jewish tales, scriptural and legendary, which cover the pages of the Qur'an, and are pressed into service in order to enforce the teaching and claims of the Prophet, in order to realize to what a large extent Muhammad was indebted to the Jews for his views of God and His government of the world. Add to all this a fervid imagination combined with a true poetic genius, and one is in a position to understand some of the complex influences which were at work in combining to produce the Moslem conception of God.
All students of Islam are agreed that its strength lies in its doctrine of the unity of God. The polytheist who forsakes his idols and learns to say, “There is no God but Allah” attains at once a self-respect—rather a fanatical pride—which gives him conscious power, and carries him triumphant over many difficulties; and yet, as we have already remarked. the abstract doctrine of one God cannot regenerate humanity or provide an adequate motive for holiness; everything will depend upon the character and attributes of that God. Let the Moslem reader, then, divesting himself of all prejudice, accompany us in our analysis of the Muhammadan conception of God as it stands recorded in the writings of Islam; and let him remember that, if at times the language used seems harsh, it is directed, not against him, but against those dishonouring conceptions of God which every true worshipper must necessarily repudiate with righteous indignation.
As we proceed to take up and analyse this Moslem conception of God, both in its origin and development, we shall frequently find occasion to compare it with the Christian idea as based upon the revelation of God contained in the Torah and Injil; and may He, the One without a second, lead us in the right path.
1. Qur’an al-Baqarah 2:255.
2. See further in W. Goldsack's “The Origins of the Qur'an,” pp. 3-5.