God: the Ultimate Concern
At the heart of Islam stands the reality of God: Allah, the One, the Absolutely Perfect, Unique, Eternal, Beautiful, Loving, Infinitely Kind and Compassionate, All-Knowing, All-Hearing, All-Seeing, beyond what man can ever conceive, yet nearer to him than his jugular vein. [50:16]
Islam does not demand blind faith in God. The Qur’an tells us a great deal about Him. There it depicts God by certain “names” and “attributes” to help us understand something about His nature. In fact, in Islam, the most precious type of knowledge is that which lends itself to comprehending God’s names and attributes. This is the key to truly knowing God and becoming devoted to Him. The received wisdom here is: sharaf al-‘ilm bi sharaf al-ma‘lum – “The excellence of [any] knowledge depends upon what it is concerned with.”
‘The best knowledge is knowing God’s Names (asma), Attributes (sifat) and Acts (af‘al). This leads a servant to experiential knowledge (ma‘rifah) of Him; love of Him; awe and reverence of Him; devotion, trust and intimacy with Him; and to being occupied with Him to the exclusion of all else.’1
The Qur’an describes God as al-Haqq – “the Truth (the Real)”, and so to deny Him is to be far removed from truth at every level of reality. Living amidst delusions, the denier of truth is estranged from reality till the Day when, with his illusions stripped away, he comes face to face with al-Haqq; his hand empty, his past life meaningless.2
God is also al-Nur – “the Light”. For God is the light of the heavens and the earth. [24:80] Islam insists that the entire universe is a tajalli; a manifestation, of the divine names, attributes and acts by which God reveals Himself and makes Himself known. If He weren’t light, there would be no light anywhere; neither physical nor spiritual. When we look at the creation and take in its awe, beauty, enchantment and magnificence, it is but a reflection of God’s divine light and names.
He is al-Khaliq – “the Creator”, al-Bari – “the Producer”, al-Fatir – “the Maker” and al-Badi‘ – “the Originator” who, without resemblance, or anything external to Himself, creates and gives to every creature the light of existence by His command: “Be!”
He is also al-Musawwir – “the Fashioner” who shapes each creature according to the nature He wills it to have. Each creature has its purpose and is moulded to serve that purpose.
When we have been brought into existence, and fashioned as per that divine purpose, we aren’t forsaken, left to fend for ourselves. For God is al-Razzaq – “the Sustainer” who nourishes and nurtures us: mind, body and soul.
He is al-Rahman – “the Most-Merciful” and al-Rahim – “the Mercy-Giving”. The one describes God as He is in His eternal Essence and nature; while the other describes the outpourings of His mercy upon the entire creation.
Despite such outpourings we still sin and stray, for man was created weak. [4:28] But for God being al-Ghafur – “the Forgiving”, al-Tawwab – the Relenting” and al-‘Afuw – “the Effacer of Sins”, our situation might seem hopeless.
Sinning, however, has no clear meaning if God had not shown us “the Straight Path”. One of God’s Names is al-Hadi – “the Guider”, and we have been assured that He has never left any nation or people without sending to them a Messenger with a message of hope and guidance.
Ultimately He is al-Ahad – “the One”; Absolute Oneness. The One cannot be divided, nor diminished and nor can it be “humanised” via incarnation into any created form. God does not become His own creation. In fact, God does not become anything: He simply is (as He was and always will be). Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between. So worship Him and be constant in worship. Do you know of anyone similar to Him? [19:65]
He is God besides whom there is no other god; Knower of the seen and unseen; He is the
All-Merciful, Mercy-Giving. He is God besides whom there is no other god. The
Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Security, the Guardian, the August,
the Compeller, the Proud! Transcendent is He above what they
ascribe to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Producer, the
Fashioner. To Him belong the most beautiful names.
All that is in the heavens and the earth
glorifies Him. He is the
August, the Wise.
1. Ibn Rajab, ‘Warathat al-Anbiya’, in Majmu‘ Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Khadathiyyah, 2002), 1:41.
2. This entire section is adapted from Gai Eaton, The Concept of God in Islam (Great Britain: The Islamic Foundation, 2004), 9-11.