Islam — The Religion of Humanity
The Divine Being
4. The Divine Being
Conception of God in Islam
Of the three fundamental principles of belief, the first is a belief in God. The belief in a power higher than man can be traced back to the remotest antiquity, to the earliest times to which history can take us, but different peoples in different ages and different countries have had different conceptions of the Divine Being. Islam, in the first place, preaches a God Who is above all tribal deities and national gods. The God of Islam is not the God of a particular nation, so that He should confine His blessings to it alone, but He is described in the opening words of the Holy Quran to be the “Lord of all the worlds” (1:1), and thus, while giving the highest conception of the Divine Being, it also enlarges the circle of the brotherhood of man so as to include all nations of the earth, thereby widening the outlook and sympathies of man.
Among the numerous sublime attributes of the Divine Being to which the Holy Quran gives expression, the attribute of mercy occupies the highest place. It is with the names al-Rahman and al-Rahim that every chapter of the Holy Book opens. The words Beneficent and Merciful convey to the English reader of the Holy Quran only a very imperfect idea of the deep and all-encompassing love and mercy of God as indicated by the words al-Rahman and al-Rahim. “My Mercy encompasses all things,” says the Holy Quran (7:156). Hence the Messenger who preached this conception of the Divine Being is rightly called in the Holy Quran “a mercy to all the nations” (21:107). Again, God is the Author of all that exists. A denial of His power of creation would have given a death-blow to the very loftiness and sublimity of the conception of the Divine Being. Here is but one description of His attributes:
“He is Allah besides Whom there is no God, the Knower of the unseen and the seen. He is the Beneficent, the Merciful. He is Allah besides Whom there is no God, the King, the Holy, the Author of peace, the Granter of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of greatness. Glory be to Allah from that which they set up (as false gods) ! He is Allah, the Creator, the Maker, the Fashioner: His are the most beautiful names. Whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise” (59:22–24).
God is above all limitations, and He cannot be likened to anything known to man (42:11). While God comprehends all vision, man’s vision cannot comprehend Him (6:104). He is One; duality or trinity in Divine nature, or multiplicity of gods, being unthinkable (2:163; 16:51; 4:171); nor does He hold the relation of fatherhood or sonship to anyone (112:3; 19:90–93). He is Omniscient (20:7), Omnipotent (16:48–50), and Omnipresent (58:7), being nearer to man than his own self (50:16; 56:85). There is a very large number of other attributes of the Divine Being which give a loftiness to the conception of God in the Quran not met with in any other revealed book.
The Existence of God
Faith in God being the foundation of Islam, three kinds of arguments are advanced relating to the existence of God:
1. Evidence is drawn from the material universe that there must be a Creator and Controller of the universe. In the Holy Quran, this evidence centres around the word Rabb, the first attribute of the Divine Being to which Revelation draws attention:
“Read in the name of thy Rabb” (96:1)
and with which the Holy Quran begins (1:1), being also the oftest repeated attribute in the Holy Book. Rabb, usually translated as Lord for the sake of brevity, means the Fosterer of a thing in such a manner as to make it attain one condition after another until it reaches its goal of perfection. Everything created thus bears the impress of Divine creation in the characteristic of moving on from lower to higher stages until it reaches completion. Evolution, which has proved a stumbling block to other religions, is thus made in Islam the very basis of belief in God, and serves as an argument of purpose and wisdom in creation. The oneness of law prevailing in the universe, notwithstanding the immensity of its diversity (67:3,4), existence of the strictest control throughout Nature from the tiniest particle to the mightiest sphere (36:38; 55:5,6), and similar other arguments run through every page of the Holy Book.
2. The second group of arguments for the existence of God relates to the human soul in which is implanted, according to the Holy Quran, the consciousness of Divine existence. An appeal is again and again made to man’s inner self:
“Were they created for nothing?” “Are they creators of their own souls?” “Did they create the heavens and the earth?” (52:35,36).
“Am I not your Rabb?” (7:172).
God-consciousness is thus shown to be part and parcel of human nature. Sometimes this consciousness is mentioned in terms of the unimaginable nearness of the human spirit to the Divine Spirit:
“We are nearer to man than his life-vein” (50:16);
“We are nearer to your soul than you” (56:85).
This is to show that the consciousness of the existence of God in the human soul is even clearer than the consciousness of its own existence. This consciousness undoubtedly differs in different natures according as the inner light of man is bright or dim.
This argument is further strengthened by showing that there is something more than mere consciousness of the existence of God. The spirit of God has been breathed into man (15:29), and hence it is that the soul of man yearns after God; there is in it the instinct to serve God and to turn to Him for help (1:4). Every man, even the polytheist, turns to God in affliction and distress, when the full strength of human nature asserts itself (10:12,22; 39:8). There is, further, implanted in man faith in God, by which he is guided through darkness and difficulty (10:9); love of God, out of which selfless service is rendered to humanity (2:177; 76:8); trust in God, which is an unfailing source of strength to man in times of failure (14:12).
3. The surest and clearest evidence of the existence of God is, however, afforded by the spiritual — the higher — experience of humanity, by God revealing Himself to man. The evidence of wisdom and purpose in the universe only shows that there must be a God, and does not lead to the certain conviction that God is; the evidence of the inner self of man is also insufficient to lead to this certain conviction and give man access to the Divine Being; it is Divine revelation that not only establishes the greatest reality of this life that God is, but also casts a flood of light on the Divine attributes and sets man on the way by walking in which he feels His existence as a reality in his own life and which enables him to hold communion with Him. It is this realization of the Divine Being that works a change in man’s life and gives him an irresistible spiritual force through which he can bring about a change even in others’ lives. God’s revealing Himself to man is, according to Islam, the universal experience of humanity, the experience of men in all nations, all countries and all ages. It is this universal spiritual experience of mankind that has proved a force of the first magnitude in lifting up humanity from the depths of degradation to the greatest heights of moral and even material advancement.
Example of the Holy Quran
The Holy Quran provides the greatest example of the existence and working of God being shown through Divine revelation. It discloses sublime truths and principles which could not have been the human knowledge of an unlettered Arab living in the seventh century, as was the Holy Prophet Muhammad. It brought about a transformation unparalleled in the history of the world. In no more than twenty-three years (609–632 C.E.) a complete change was wrought in the lives of the whole nation inhabiting the Arabian peninsula, a land where centuries of previous reformation work had proved fruitless. Deep-rooted idol-worship was replaced by the worship of one God; all superstitions were swept away and in their place came the most rational religion the world could imagine; the people who prided themselves on ignorance became the greatest lovers of knowledge, drinking deep at every fountain of learning to which they could get access; oppression of the weak, the poor, the slaves and women, gave place to justice and equality; and a nation steeped in the deepest vices was thoroughly purified and became charged with a burning desire for the noblest deeds in the service of humanity. The Quran accomplished a transformation not just of the individual, but equally of the family, of society, of an entire nation, and, through that nation, of humanity itself. There is no other book which has brought about a change so miraculous in the lives of men, raising them from the depths of degradation to the highest pinnacle of civilization.
The Holy Quran not only produced this grand transformation, but from the very start of the Holy Prophet’s career it announced prophecy after prophecy, in the surest and most certain terms, to the effect that the implacable opposition would perish and Islam would be triumphant. These prophecies were declared at a time when the Holy Prophet was quite alone and helpless, beset on all sides by fierce opposition, and there was not the remotest prospect of Islam ever making any headway. Yet they were fulfilled only a few years afterwards in an astounding manner. No man could possibly have foreseen what was so clearly foretold as certain to come about, and no human power could have brought to utter failure a whole nation ranged against a solitary man. Divine revelation thus affords the clearest and surest proof of the existence of God, Whose infinite knowledge comprehends the future as well as the past and present, and Who controls both the forces of nature and the destiny of man.
The Unity of God
Unity of God is the one great theme of the Holy Quran. Its best-known expression is that contained in the declaration of la ilaha ill-Allah (“there is no god but Allah”), which conveys the significance that there is nothing which deserves to be worshipped except Allah. The Unity of God means, firstly, that there is neither plurality of gods nor plurality of persons in the Godhead, secondly that no other being possesses any Divine attribute in perfection, and thirdly that none can do that which God has done, or which God may do.
The opposite of Unity is shirk (the associating of ‘gods’ with God, or ascribing Divine qualities to others than God), which is said to be the gravest of all sins (31:13) due to the fact that it demoralizes man, while Divine Unity brings about his moral elevation. The various forms of shirk mentioned in the Quran include: worship of things such as idols, animals, forces of nature, etc., supposing other things and beings to possess the same attributes as God, as in the doctrine of trinity or of the co-eternity of matter and soul, blindly following the behests of great men, and blind submission to one’s own desires. These show that, in the doctrine of Unity, the Quran gives to the world an ennobling message of advancement all round, physical as well as moral and spiritual. Man is freed not only from slavery to animate and inanimate objects, but also from subservience to the wonderous forces of nature which, he is told, he can subdue for his own benefit (45:12,13). It goes further and delivers man from that greatest of slaveries — slavery to man. It does not allow to any mortal the dignity of Godhead, or of being more than a mortal; for the greatest of mortals (the Holy Prophet) is commanded to say:
“I am only a mortal like you; it is revealed to me that your God is One God” (18:110).
Thus all the bonds which fettered the mind of man were broken, and he was set on the road to progress.