The Belief that Allah Must Be the Only Object of Worship
It is of extreme importance to realize that recognizing the facts about the existence of only one Creator and Sustainer is not all there is when it comes to the Islamic concept of “belief in God.” Actually, recognizing that fact is something that should be beyond question and should be clear to all as, again, it is something innate in human souls. The far more important and subtle issue is what one then does concerning one’s belief in only one Creator and Sustainer. Actually, once one understands and accepts the attributes and qualities of Allah as discussed in the previous section, the relationship that one should have with the Creator and Sustainer becomes clear. In other words, the conclusion should flow from the unquestionable premise.
Perhaps a couple of examples will make this point clearer. As noted above, in reality, Allah is the only perfect and great being in existence. He is the source of all goodness and help, as He alone has power over all things. He is active in His creation and He has not left it to run its own course without His ever-existing acts of creating and re-creating.
Furthermore, Allah is perfect and great, far above all human comprehension and imagination. In general, what is a person’s attitude toward that which they find to be perfect, great and marvelous? It is usually one of awe, respect and honor. Furthermore, can one treat any other being as equal to or even be held in comparison with the Creator? On this point, God says, “Do they attribute as partners to Allah those who created nothing but they themselves are created?” (7:191). God also says, “Can the One who creates and the one who cannot create be equal? Don’t you learn the lesson?” (16:17).
In addition, though, Allah is the source of all of one’s bounties and blessings. Indeed, He is the source of one’s life and everything that has been prepared in this creation for him. Thus, Allah says in the Quran, “If you count the Blessings of Allah, never will you be able to count them” (14:34). Can humans actually bring about these bounties for themselves without the aid and help of Allah? Allah gives another example when He says, “Say (to the disbelievers), ‘Tell me, if Allah took away your hearing and your sight, and sealed up your hearts, who is there -a god other than Allah—who could restore them to you?’ See how variously We explain the lessons, yet they turn aside” (6:46).1 Even the most precious of life’s commodities, rainwater, still cannot be produced unless Allah creates the clouds with the appropriate characteristics to produce rain. In a beautiful passage in the Quran, Allah reminds humans of this important bounty as well as many others when He says,
“Say (O Muhammad), ‘Praise and thanks be to Allah, and peace be on His slaves whom He has
chosen (for His Message)! Is Allah better, or (all) that you ascribe as partners (to Him)?” Is not He (better than your gods, He) Who created the heavens and the earth, and sends down for you water (rain) from the sky, whereby We cause to grow wonderful gardens full of beauty and delight? It is not in your ability to cause the growth of their trees. Is there any god with Allah? Nay, but they are a people who ascribe equals (to Him)! Is not He (better than your gods, He) Who has made the earth as a fixed abode, and has placed rivers in its midst, and has placed firm mountains therein, and has set a barrier between the two seas (of salt and sweet water). Is there any god with Allah? Nay, but most of them know not. Is not He (better than your gods) Who responds to the distressed one, when he calls Him, and Who removes the evil, and makes you inheritors of the earth, generations after generations. Is there any god with Allah? Little is that you remember! Is not He (better than your false gods, He) Who guides you in the darkness of the land and the sea, and Who sends the winds as heralds of glad tidings, going before His Mercy? Is there any god with Allah? High Exalted be Allah above all that they associate as partners (to Him)! Is not He (better than your so-called gods, He) Who originates creation, and shall thereafter repeat it, and Who provides for you from heaven and earth? Is there any god with Allah?’ Say, ‘Bring forth your proofs, if you are truthful’” (27:59-64).
Is it logically admissible for one then to hold an attitude of disrespect, neglect and arrogance towards the One and Only God? Indeed, can the attitude toward that One great and marvelous being who bestowed such bounties be anything but humility, humbleness, gratefulness, love and devotion?
These two examples, of Allah’s solitary power and ability and of Allah’s solitarily bestowing of bounties, should be sufficient to demonstrate the point that Allah alone has the right to be loved, honored and worshipped. This is a point that Allah makes numerous times in the Quran in various ways, speaking to those who recognize that there could be only one creator and yet at the same time they ignore Him and worship false gods and false objects of worship. Thus, for example, Allah says, “Say [to the polytheists, O Muhammad], ‘Whose is the earth and whosoever is therein? If you know!’ They will say, ‘It is Allah’s!’ Say [then to them], ‘Will you not then receive admonition?’” (23:84-85). Again, Allah says, “Say [to the polytheists, O Muhammad], ‘In Whose Hand is the sovereignty of everything? And He protects (all), while against Whom there is no protector, if you know.’ They will say, ‘(All that is) Allah’s.’ Say [then to them], ‘How then are you deceived and turn away from the truth?’” (23:88-89).
In fact, it is Allah alone who can offer guidance. The false objects of worship cannot do this in the least. Thus, Allah says, “Say, ‘Is there of your (so-called) partners one that guides to the truth?’ Say, ‘It is Allah Who guides to the truth. Is then He, Who gives guidance to the truth, more worthy to be followed, or he who finds not guidance (himself) unless he is guided? Then, what is the matter with you? How judge you?’ And most of them follow nothing but conjecture. Certainly, conjecture can be of no avail against the truth. Surely, Allah is All-Aware of what they do” (10:35-36).
From the above—and from numerous other arguments and proofs scattered throughout the Quran—one should conclude that there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah. Consequently, if there is nothing worthy of worship except Allah, it is rational for the individual to insist upon himself that he worships no one other than Allah. This is actually the key message of all of Islam and the message that all of the prophets preached. This is what is captured in the first part of the Islamic testimony of faith, “I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah.”
At this point, though, it is important to clarify the meaning of this term “worship” from an Islamic perspective. The word translated as “worship” here is the Quranic and Arabic term ibaadah. This term has very different connotations from the English word “worship.”
The Oxford English Dictionary defines worship as, “To honor or revere as a supernatural being or power, or as a holy thing; to regard or approach with veneration; to adore with appropriate acts, rites, or ceremonies.” The lexical root of the word in English means “to honor” and, thus, it can be further defined in English as, “the performance of devotional acts in honor of a deity.” But, as Bilal Philips notes in his The Purpose of Creation, “However, in the language of the final revelation, Arabic, worship is called ‘ibaadah which is derived from the noun ‘abd meaning ‘a slave.’ A slave is one who is expected to do whatever his master wills. Consequently, worship according to the final revelation means “obedient submission to the will of God.” This was the essence of the message of all the prophets sent by God to humankind. For example, this understanding of worship was emphatically expressed by Prophet Jesus in the Gospel according to Matthew, 7:21, ‘None of those who call me ‘Lord’ will enter the kingdom of God, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.’”
Thus, this aspect of monotheism—the belief in Allah as the only object of worship—goes well beyond the concept of worship as understood by many in the West, in particular. This aspect of monotheism has been defined by al-Saadi, in his collection of Fatwah, in the following terms,
“Is to know and recognize with knowledge and certainty that Allah is the only God and the only one truly deserving of worship. [It is also to verify The spirit and actuality of worship is by the realization of love and submission to Allah. Complete love and full submission to Allah is the reality of worship. If the act of worship is missing both or one of those components, it is not truly an act of worship. For the reality of worship is found in submission and yielding to Allah. And that will only occur if there is complete and full love [for Allah] which dominates all other expressions of love.”