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West London Islamic Centre & Jamia Masjid

Islamic Guide

The Islamic Concept of God

The first part of the Muslim confession of faith (the shahada) is the basis for the concept of God in Islam. The Muslim bears witness that: "There is no god but God", or "no divinity, but the (one) Divinity".

The revealed Scripture of Islam, the Qur'an, is like a vast commentary on this simple statement, drawing from it all its implications for human life and thought.

This conception of the Deity is strictly monotheistic and Unitarian. God alone has absolute being, totally independent and totally self-sufficient. Whatever exists or ever could exist does so by His will. He has no "partner" either in creating the universe or in maintaining it in existence. He is not only the "First Cause" but also ultimately, the only cause, and He is Himself uncaused. The Qur'an tells us:

"Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." [Al-Qur'an 112:1-4] It tells us also that: "When He wills a thing to be, He but says unto it - Be!; and it is." [Al-Qur'an 16:40]

A further implication of the first part of the shahada is that there can be no power, force or agency in the heavens or on earth which is independent of God. Everything that exists - and everything that happens - is subject to His control; there is nothing that can compete with Him or that escapes His grasp, nothing that does not bear witness to His creative power and majesty.

"The seven heavens and the earth, and all beings in it, declare His glory,": says the Qur'an, "there is not a thing but celebrates His praise; and yet you understand not how they declare His glory!" [Al-Qur 'an 17:44]

The Creature Cannot Comprehend the Creator

In the Islamic view, it is impossible for the human mind to form an adequate conception of God as He is in His eternal and absolute being. The creature cannot comprehend the Creator. According to the Qur'an, "No vision can grasp Him. But His grasp is over all vision," [AI-Qur'an 6:103]

But Islam does not demand blind belief. The Qur'an tells us a great deal about the nature of the Divine, and it describes God by a number of terms - called "the most beautiful names" - which help us to understand Him. The Qur'an tell us:

"Allah! There is no god but He - the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize Him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth. Who is there that can intercede in His presence except as He permits? He knows what (appears to His creatures as) before or after or behind them. Nor shall they compass anything of His knowledge except as He wills. His Throne does extend over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. For He is the Most High, the Supreme (in glory)." [Al-Qur'an 2:255]

He is al-Ahad, "the One", absolute unity. This is in sharp contrast to the Christian conception of the Trinity. The One cannot be divided nor can it be diminished or "humanised" by incarnation in any created form. God does not become His own creature, in fact He does not "become" anything; He is.

Denying the Truth is to Shut out the Light

The Qur'an describes Him also as al-Ala "the Most High", totally transcendent in relation to His own creations and therefore infinitely beyond all that we might attempt to associate with Him. He is a al-Afu , "the Almighty", and al-Jabbar,"the Irresistible"  or there is no one and nothing that could possibly resist His power, which governs and regulates all existence in accordance with a predetermined measure. It follows that there is no earthly power that is not derived from Him, no strength nor any virtue that is not loaned to us by Him: and no one can help us except by His will, nor can anyone harm us unless He permits them to do so (in which case this harm is a trial to be borne with patience).

He is called al-Haqq, "the Truth" (or "the Reality"), and to deny Him is to be far distant from truth at every level of experience. The Arabic word for such "deniers" (or "unbelievers") is al-kafirun, and this word suggests a deliberate act of "covering", in other words, those who deny Him whose name is "the Truth" have "covered" their own understanding with an opaque covering so 'as not to see what is ultimately self-evident. In so doing they have shut out the light, for another of His names is al-Nur, "Light". These are they whom the Qur'an describes as the "blind", for "Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth." [Al-Qur'an 24:35].

In Islam everything is derived from the divine nature and therefore from the "names" by which God has made Himself known, and if He were not "Light" there could be no light anywhere, whether intellectual or physical.

Everything in the World has its Purpose

Nothing escapes His knowledge not even our most secret thoughts, for He is al-A lim, "the Omniscient" who knows everything in the heavens and the earth and al-Khabir, "the All-Aware" from whom nothing is hidden. He is alShahid, "the Witness" and, as such, He is described also as al-Basir, "the Seer", and al-Sami, "the Hearer". "Who is the Owner of hearing and of sight?" asks the Qur' an, and it answers: "Allah!" We see only what is before our eyes, with their very limited range, but no limit is set to His vision; we hear only sounds that are either very loud or very close to us, but He hears everything. "With Him are the keys of the unseen," says the Qur'an.

"The treasures that none knows but He. He knows whatever there is on the earth and in the sea. Not a leaf does fall but with His knowledge; there is not a grain in the darkness (or depths) of the earth," [Al-Qur'an 6:59]

He is al-Awal, "the First", before whom there is nothing, and al-Akhir, "the Last", after whom there is nothing: but He is not only at the beginning and at the end of time, for He is also al-Zahir, "the Outward", present behind all the shifting scenes we perceive in the world around us, and al-Batin,"the Inward", for it is His power that moves and motivates all that exists.

He is not only al-Khaliq, "the Creator", who gives each separate thing the light of existence by His command "Be!", but He is also al-Musawir who "shapes" it in accordance with the nature He wishes it to have, for everything in the world has its purpose moulded to serve that purpose.

His Mercy takes Precedence over His Wrath

When creatures have been brought into existence and fashioned in accordance with the divine purpose, they are not abandoned and left to fend for themselves. Two very particular names stand at very centre of the Islamic concept of God. These are al-Rahman and al-Rahim. Both are derived from the Arabic word for Mercy, which is closely related to the word for womb and therefore carries with it implications of creativeness and fecundity. In one of the inspired sayings in which God spoke to mankind through the Prophet Muhammad we are told that His Mercy takes precedence over His Wrath.

There are different opinions as to the exact distinction between names al-Rahman and al-Rahim (which are placed at the beginning of all but one of the chapters of the Qur'an). The former is usually translated as the Merciful and the latter as the Compassionate. It is said that the former describes God as He is in His eternal nature and that everything is brought into existence through the overflowing of this innate Mercy, while the latter - al-Rahman - refers to the blessings He pours out upon His creatures.

In whatever way we translate these words, the essential concept is not in doubt. God is infinitely merciful, first in giving us life and means to enjoy life, secondly in caring for us and satisfying legitimate needs. This concept is amplified by other divine names contained in the Qur'an. God is described as al-Karim, Generous, and as al-Wadud, the Loving-Kind; He is also al-Razzaq, the Provider who nourishes us both spiritually and physically.

Following the Straight Path

Despite this outpouring of mercy, we still go astray, for man - as Qur'an tells us - was created weak, and our situation might seem hopeless if God were not al-Tawwab, the Relenting, who never tires of turning back to His creatures when they tum to Him in repentance. He is al-Ghaffar, the Ever-Forgiving, and al-Afu, the Effacer (of sins). Whatever people may do in the course of their lives they have the opportunity to seek this forgiveness so long they have breath, but the opportunity is lost when death comes after that, they are judged for what they are or for what they have made of themselves.

So the Qur'an says: Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. Turn you to your Lord (in repentance) and bow to His (Will), before the penalty comes on you: after that you shall not be helped." [Al-Qu'an 39:53-54]

But sinning and going astray would have no clear meaning if God had not shown His creatures the right way, the straight path as it is called in the Qur'an. One of His names is al-Hadi, the Guide. We are assured that He has never left any nation or any group of people without guidance; to each He has sent a Messenger to deliver them amessage of hope and guidance and to instruct them as to how to follow the straight way which leads to Paradise and, ultimately, to al-Ridwan, the Good Pleasure or Satisfaction of God Himself. These divine messages have been clothed in the language and thought-patterns of the people to whom they were addressed so as to be clear and unambiguous, and the messengers who have been the instruments of this guidance have been men like other men, though in every way better than others.

In spite of their clarity, these messages have again and again been rejected by many of those to whom they were addressed, and it is precisely this freedom to reject the truth that distinguishes man from the other creatures who share the earth with us - the animals, the birds and the fishes. They follow by instinct the way set before them, the law of their species. But mankind has the unique freedom either to follow the straight pathconsciously and deliberately or to turn away from it and follow the dictates of self-will. Man alone has been given a mind capable of understanding the truth, a will capable of choosing the path of truth, and a heart inclined by its very nature to love the truth.

Prophet Muhammad's Message Completes the Revelation

"To each among you have We prescribed a law and an Open way". says the Qur'an: "If Allah had so willed, He would have made you a single People, but (His plan is) to test you in what He has given you; so strive as in a race in all virtues. The goal of you all is to Allah; it is He that will show you the truth of the matters in which you dispute;." [Al-Qur 'an 5:48]

In terms of this and other similar verses, it is entirely possible for Muslims to accept the idea that the preIslamic religions were at least partial statements of the One Truth, adapted to time and place and to the spiritual needs of different peoples.

The Muslim however believes that the message brought by the Prophet Muhammad completes the vast structure of revelation and provides a final synthesis, after which there is nothing more to be said. Judaism and Christianity are both monotheistic religions, but Muslims consider that the Jews falsely appropriated the universal Truth, claiming it as the property of one single people, while the Christians distorted it through the doctrines of the Trinity and the Incarnation. In the Islamic view, the message transmitted through the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) represented, not a completely new religion, but a corrective to the falsifications and distortions which had taken place and, at the same time, an uncompromising reassertion of the pure doctrine of the One God.

Remembering God and Obeying His commands

According to the Islamic concept, God demands of us three things. The first is a constant awareness of Him, even in the midst of our worldly activities. This awareness is expressed in two words which constantly recur in the Qur'an. Taqwa is commonly translated either as fear of God or God-consciousness; both translations are acceptable, since we cannot be truly conscious of Him without experiencing a profound sense of awe which results in a healthy fear of displeasing Him or offending against His laws.

The Arabic word dhikr meaning both mention and remembrance, has a more devotional connotation, and we are assured that God is present with us when we remember Him ormention His name. Although Islam lays a great emphasis on the divine transcendence, the Qur'an speaks on many occasions of the closeness of God to His believing, servants: "He is with you wheresoever you may be", and "We are closer to him than his jugular vein". We read also in the Qur'an that "it is in the remembrance (dhikr,) of Allah that hearts find rest".

Secondly He demands of us that we should obey His commandments, which are in no way arbitrary; whether we know it or not they are for our own good and are, therefore, an aspect of the divine Mercy. Their purpose is to maintain a healthy balance both within the human personality and in society and, at the same time, to provide a stable framework for human living. In Islam God is the only Legislator or Lawgiver.

We cannot legislate effectively for ourselves since our laws would inevitably be designed in accordance with our short-term desires. From the commands and prohibitions contained in the Qur' an and from the teachings and example of the Prophet Muhammad is derived the Shari'ah, the Law which governs every aspect of the Muslim's life on earth.

Finally, since we are by nature weak and inclined to self-indulgence, God demands of us sincere repentance when we have failed to live up to what He requires of us. Muslims recognise that our weakness, however much we may deplore it has a positive aspect, for if we were strong we would be tempted to see ourselves as self-reliant little gods quite independent of our Creator. Being weak by nature we soon find that we cannot rely either upon ourselves or upon other people, and this obliges us to turn to Him whom the Qur\'an describes as al-Wakil,the Utterly Reliable. "There is no power and no strength except with Allah," according to one of (Prophet) Muhammad's favourite sayings.

The Universe is Filled with Proofs of God's Existence

The unfolding of human destinies, obedient or disobedient, as the case may be, takes place against a meaningful background. In the Islamic view, God creates nothing without a purpose. "Do you not see", says the Qur'an, "that Allah has created the heavens and the earth with (and by) the truth?" [Al-Qur'an 64:3].

The whole universe is filled - like a great picture-book - with signs which bear witness to its Creator and which remind us, if we have pure hearts and seeing eyes, of His power, His majesty and His beauty. The Qur'an tells us;

"Verily in the heavens and the earth, are signs for those who believe. And in the creation of yourselves and the fact that animals are scattered (through the earth), are signs for those of assured faith. And in the alternation of night and day, and the fact that Allah sends down sustenance from the sky, and revives with it the earth after its death, and the change of the winds - are signs for those that are wise." [Al-Qur'an 45:3-5]

This serves to emphasise an essential element in the Islamic conception of God. Our existence and the existence of the whole universe around us are proofs of God, and this is cogently expressed in another passage from the Qur'an:

"Soon will We show them Our signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the truth. Is it not enough that your Lord does witness all things? Ah indeed! Are they in doubt concerning the meeting with their Lord? Ah indeed! It is He that does encompass all things!" [Al-Qur'an 41:53-54]

In summation, the God of Islam is transcendent, the all-powerful all-knowing Creator and Lawgiver, though at the same time infinitely merciful, generous and forgiving. Man, His creature and servant into whom He has breathed something of His spirit, stands before Him without intermediary or intercessor, meeting Him through prayer during this brief life on earth and meeting Him face-toface when life is over. In Islam, God does not embody Him in any human being or make Himself accessible through idols or images. He is what He is, absolute and eternal, and it is as such that the Muslim worships Him.

Narrated by Anas (RA) I served the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) for ten years, and he never said to me even a 'Uf' [a minor harsh word denoting impatience] and never blamed me by saying, 'Why did you do so or why didn't you do so?'[Related in Bukhari]