Oneness, whether relative or absolute, is an attribute that defines the uniqueness of the entity that possesses it. While relative oneness can be possessed by anything unique in any respect, absolute oneness is a feature of Divinity alone. Oneness can be, at times, as profound a concept as the enigmatic concepts of Infinity and Zero. The prime number ‘One’ can actually be intriguing enough to put the most competent of human minds to the most formidable of challenges.
The Qur’an introduces us to two special attributive names of God that relate specifically to God’s absolute oneness. These names are Ahad and Waahid. While in general terms, Ahad and Waahid both, could loosely be translated as ‘One’, but more specifically Ahad can be translated as ‘One’ and Waahid as ‘Only’. Hence, when the Qur’an informs us that its Author is Ahad and Waahid, essentially what we are being told is that God, in the absolute sense, is the ‘One and Only’. These two attributive names, in conjunction, describe the Absolute Oneness of God. Both names Ahad and Waahid denote two different aspects of the Oneness of God. The name Ahad suggests that God is ‘One’, thus highlighting the absolute oneness of His Being, implying that, in all respects, there is only one Being Who is God. The name Waahid, on the other hand, suggests that God is ‘Unique’, thereby highlighting His singularity in terms of His attributes, which means to say that, for instance, there is none as merciful as Him, none as forgiving as Him, none as beautiful as Him, and so on. We read in the Qur’an: “Say, He is Allah – The One” (Ch.112:V.2). In this verse, God’s name Ahad has been used. We also read: “And your God is the Only God. There is no god but He.” (Ch.2:V.164). In this verse, God’s name Waahid has been used.
NGC 4414 – a galaxy about 62 million light years away from us. The flawless harmony, symmetry and balance of the Universe is a reflection of the Oneness of its Creator. (Photo: Hubble Space Telescope (HST))
The essence of worship is simply an extreme form of Love. In English, the expression ‘adoration’, otherwise a synonym of ‘worship’ is freely used, to express extreme love. When the intensity of love soars to levels where the beloved also becomes the most sought of all, the most adored of all, and the most loved of all, love assumes the form of worship and that beloved becomes an idol. We read in the Qur’an: “And among mankind there are some who take for themselves objects of worship other than Allah, loving them as they should love Allah. But those who believe, excel in their love for Allah” (Ch.2:V.166). The Arabic term for “the sought” is Maqsood, the Arabic for “the adored” is Ma’bood, and the Arabic for “the loved” is Mahboob. Interestingly, the Promised Messiah(as) has proposed all these three terms as synonyms of the Arabic word ilaah, translated generally as deity. Hence, the statement “laa ilaaha illallah” meaning “there is no god but Allah” could have at least three meanings: there is none Sought but Allah, there is none Worthy of worship but Allah and there is no Beloved but Allah”.
Absoluteness is an inherent and intrinsic feature of being God. Since God is the only Being who is absolutely absolute in all respects, it therefore follows that in the absolute sense, there is none worthy of being sought but Him, there is none worthy of being worshiped but Him and there is none worthy of being loved but Him. At this juncture, one is reminded of the historic testimony given by the bitterest of the enemies of the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw), during his days in Makkah. The Quraish would often say of the Holy Prophet(saw), “Ashiqa Muhammadan rabbahu”, meaning “Muhammad is in love with his God”. Now this happens to be the testimony coming from the enemy and yet a testimony of manifest admiration. The Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) was all love and his love was all-encompassing, yet the love he harboured in his sacred heart for Allah was infinitely greater than the love he had for anyone else. Among the Sahaba or the Companions of the Holy Prophet(saw), Hadhrat Bilal(ra) seems to stand out as an exceptional case. He was a slave to Umayya, a chieftain of Makkah. Upon learning that Bilal(ra) had accepted Islam, Umayya subjected Bilal(ra) to the most severe form of torture. He made Bilal(ra) lie bare-backed on the scorching mid-day desert sand and placed a heavy stone on his chest and then while lashing him would demand that Bilal(ra) accept the idols of the Makkans. Bilal(ra) would respond by cries of “Ahad, Ahad”, meaning “One. One.”
Love is an amazing force. On the one hand, it fills the heart with an urge to seek the beloved, while on the other it instills in the heart a concurrent sense of fear as well. Love generates a very unique sense of fear – the fear of losing the loved one. Hence, when the Qur’an speaks of the ‘fear of Allah’, what is meant is not the fear of harm. The concept of the ‘fear of Allah’ is, in reality, the fear of losing Allah or in other words, of being distanced away from Him due to His displeasure. Thus, when we read in the Qur’an “Me alone should you fear” (Ch. 2:V.41), it is the fear of God’s displeasure that is being mentioned. In the Qur’anic terminology, this unique form of fear – the fear of losing the Beloved – is called “Taqwa”. One who treads the path of Taqwa is called a Muttaqi. When the love for God surpasses the combined love for everything else and when the fear of losing Him exceeds all other fears combined, then it can be assumed that the Muttaqi is on the path of discovering the splendours of God’s Absolute Oneness.
On the philosophical plane, the question of God’s Absolute Oneness, has haunted and mesmerised mystics of all religions, throughout the ages. This perplexing question even led some mystics to the concept of Pantheism, a concept that suggests that since everything that exists is part of God, hence ‘All is God’ and since all that exists is God, there is therefore no duality in Existence. In Arabic, the term for Pantheism is Wahdatul Wajood, meaning Oneness of Existence. The Persian parallel term is “Hama Oost”, meaning Everything is Him. By adopting and endorsing the concept of Pantheism, proponents of this particular school of mysticism were led to conclude that they had, on the intellectual plane, successfully resolved the issue of Duality of Existence.
Secrets of the realm of Spirituality and the deeper and more sublime truths pertaining to the mechanics of the soul have been frequently disclosed from On-High to prophets, saints and mystics. Revealed wisdom thus transferred, has allowed the common man to appreciate such realities as are not conveniently accessible to the curious and inquisitive human mind. The Promised Messiah(as) resolved the philosophical parallax of Duality of Existence through a simple interpretation of the second verse of Surah Fatihah, the opening chapter of the Holy Qur’an – “Al hamdu lillaahi rabbil aalameen” (Ch.1:V.2). These words mean “All Praise is due unto Allah the Lord of the Worlds”. The Promised Messiah(as) expounded that this verse clearly enumerates two entities – Rabb, or The Lord, and Aalameen, or the Worlds. Hence, while indeed there are two classes of existence – the Creator and the Creation – only one deserves to be worshiped – the Creator. A very saintly disciple of the Promised Messiah(as) further elaborated this explanation on the basis of an enchanting spiritual experience he once had. Hadhrat Abdus Sattar Buzurg(ra), a Companion of the Promised Messiah(as), was once shown a vision by God in which God appears before him in the form of a teacher standing before a blackboard. God writes the digit “1” on the board and asks Buzurg Sahib(ra) what it is. Buzurg Sahib(ra) replies, “This is One.” God says, “This is Me.” Then God writes the digit “0” on the blackboard and once again asks Buzurg Sahib(ra) what it is. This time, Buzurg Sahib(ra) replies, “This is Zero.” God says “This is everything else beside Me.” In this Divinely revealed vision, or kashf as it is called in Arabic, God puts this across to Hadhrat Abdus Sattar Buzurg(ra), and very exquisitely, that although Creation does indeed exist as an entity distinct from the Creator, yet the measure of its existence and significance, in comparison to the Existence and Oneness of the Creator is that of a mere Zero. Hence, not only is God ‘One’, He is ‘Absolutely One’. All beside Him, inspite of existing, in comparison to His own Oneness, virtually amount to being Zero.
The Arabic term for idolatry is Shirk. Someone engaged in Shirk or someone in the state of Shirk is known as a Mushrik. The ‘idol’ in question may or may not be visible. Whether the idolater or mushrik worships a physically perceivable idol or one concealed in his heart, he is in either case, dwelling in the state of shirk or idolatry. The state of shirk or idolatry may therefore be not only undeclared, but also intangible. It is very plausible to have a Muslim, even a seemingly practicing one, existing in a perpetual state of shirk, while being completely unaware of this spiritual state of his. In such a case, the idol in question, would obviously not be an apparent one, but would rather be a non-material one. The idol could well be his own ego, his desires, his material lusts, his wealth or his desire to be popular. Any of these entities can absorb the attention of man to a degree that matches worship. That being the case, any of these entities would assume the role of an idol or god. It is with reference to this form of idolatry or shirk that the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) says, “Save yourselves from shirk-us-saraa’ir”. The Arabic term shirk-us-saraa’ir literally means hidden idolatry. What is being implied is that true insight into God’s absolute oneness can not be attained without cleansing one’s heart, mind and soul of all forms of idols – apparent and hidden.
Focused attention at its highest peak and love in its exceedingly intense form is ‘worship’ indeed. Objects that attract such attention and love, thus earn the status of idols, even if they are not in the physical form of idols. The Qur’an speaks of two such inconspicuous idols – idols that remain hidden in the deepest recesses of the human mind. Firstly, we read in the Qur’an: “Hast thou seen him who takes his own desire for his god?” (Ch.25:V.44). Thus the Qur’an categorises man’s intense desire as an idol – a hidden idol that is capable of completely capturing human attention. Our desires can be absorbing enough to be classified as idols, while we may not even be aware of the fact that the attention we are awarding them can be as intense as worship. Secondly, we also read in the Qur’an: “And you love material wealth with an exceeding love” (Ch.89:V.21). Thus does the Qur’an rate material wealth, whether in the form of belongings or in the shape of aspirations, as idols. The rationale behind this categorisation is the simple fact that love, in its extreme and exceeding form, is virtually the same as worship. By the same logic, Heaven and Hell too, can become idols. If the motivation behind good deeds is the desire for Heaven or the deterrence against wrongdoing is the fear of Hell, then Heaven and Hell too, are idols. The Promised Messiah(as) imparts to us true insight in this matter, through his profound words of enlightenment. The Promised Messiah(as) says, “Our God is our Paradise.” (Kishti-e Nuh), p. 30).
Historical map of the world by Abraham Ortelius, generally recognised as the creator of the first modern atlas (1570 CE).
According to the Qur’an, all revealed religions were revealed by the same God – One and Only God. The Qur’an also enlightens us that there is not a single nation on Earth that has not been visited by a Divine Apostle. We read: “Verily We have sent thee with the Truth, as a bearer of glad tidings and as a Warner; and there is no people unto whom a Warner has not been sent.” (Ch.35:V.25). One is naturally intrigued by the question – if all revealed religions were revealed by the same One God, how did polytheism or idolatry happen to become the doctrine in some of these religions? A study of the journey these religions made from monotheism to varying shades of idolatry may be useful.
In the case of Zoroastrianism, we find the concept of “Duality” or what may be perceived as ‘Bitheism’. Zoroaster(as) (Hadhrat Zartusht) was most certainly a Prophet of God, who preached and taught in the name of the One God who revealed Himself to Zoroaster under the name of ‘Ahura Mazda’. With the passage of time, Zoroaster’s monotheistic message failed to retain its original purity. The concept of the ‘Force of Evil’, mentioned in the Qur’an as “Shaitan”, with the passage of time, began to be seen as a god, named “Ahraman” or “Angra Mainyu”. Therefore, in the case of Zoroastrianism, the ultimate force of negativity, due to its immense influence, became a deity itself. This is a classic case of the doctrine of Oneness changing into Duality. However, there are still some groups among the Zoroastrians who profess strict monotheism.
The other case worth examining is of Christianity. Jesus(as) (Hadhrat Isa), a Messenger of the One God, was deified and made into a god. The literalistic interpretation of the expression “son of God” eventually led to a prophet being worshiped. The proverbial “son of God”, meant only to signify the bond of love between Jesus(as) and his Maker, was transformed into a genetic relationship, hence rendering one of the greatest advocates of monotheism an idol himself. Then by including the Holy Ghost too into Divinity, the original monotheistic concept of God’s Oneness in the message of Jesus(as), transformed into Trinity.
The most interesting case perhaps, is that of Hinduism. In Hinduism too, there is a different concept of trinity – the ‘Tridev’ – meaning the three gods. Brahma the god of creation, Vishnu the god of sustenance and Shiva the god of destruction, together make the One God of Hinduism. When viewed in this perspective, we begin to see how belief in One Rabb – Rabb the Creator, Rabb the Sustainer and Rabb the Perfecter, eventually got modified into the doctrine of ‘Tridev’. Interpolations, extrapolations and amendments, spanning a period of three millenniums, thus changed a true Divinely revealed monotheistic religion of India, into an idolatrous one. Briefly speaking, this is how some revealed religions, all of whom were originally monotheistic, regressed into polytheistic ones.
The most fundamental doctrine in the Religion of Islam is the ‘Absolute Oneness’ of God. This doctrine, in the Islamic terminology is known as Tauheed and one who believes in Tauheed is known as a Muwahhid. According to Islamic philosophy, Tauheed is the basis of man’s spiritual prosperity. Man, on the other hand, tends to forget, slacken and even lose sight of things that matter most to his spiritual prosperity. The establishment of Tauheed in our hearts and lives, therefore entails a continuous process of rejuvenation of mental orientation. This in turn requires Zikr or rememberance. In every single rak’at or unit of the Salat or Muslim prayer, one is required to recite the opening chapter of the Qur’an – Sura Fatihah. The fifth verse of this chapter reads, “Thee alone do we worship and Thee alone do we implore for help.” (Ch.1:V.5). It is obvious that God does not need to be reminded of the fact that He alone is worthy of worship or that He alone is worthy of being implored for help. It is the believer who needs this reminder. The Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) has said, “The greatest way to remember God is by means of the words ‘laa ilaaha illallaah’.” Mere incantations and utterances clearly mean nothing. Zikr or Remembrance, needs to be an act of the heart. In compliance with this teaching of the Holy Prophet(saw), the words “laa ilaaha illallah”, meaning “none is worthy of worship except Allah”, would have to be recited from the depths of the heart and with an accompanied rejection of all apparent and hidden idols. A believer can not attain the enviable state of Ikhlaas or purity, until he or she absorbs the essence of the message of Sura Ikhlaas, which is the “Absolute Oneness of God”. This chapter of the Qur’an has been termed “the heart of the Qur’an” by the Holy Prophet(saw). This is how this Sura, or chapter, runs:
In the name of Allah, The Gracious, The Merciful.
Say: He is Allah – The One
Allah – the Independent and Besought of all.
He begets not, nor is He begotten
And there is none like unto Him. (Ch.112:V.1-5)
Sayed Hameedullah Nusrat Pasha is presently serving as a Dental Surgeon at Fazle Omar Hospital Rabwah, Pakistan.