Note; Sheikh Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, is a short text outlining the aqeedah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements. Edited by Asim Khan
‘…There is no God save He’ ولا إلهَ غيرُه.
The words of the author: ‘There is no god save He’ are taken from the statement of Allāh: ‘Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him’ and this was the age-old call of all the Messengers of Allāh- Nūh, Hūd, Sālih, and so on.
The statement in Arabic is “lā ilāha illa Allāh” and is known as the testimony of faith (shahādah). It is built upon two fundamental pillars; the first encompasses an absolute rejection and negation (nafī) of the presence of other gods which are worthy of being worshipped and is represented by the statement, “lā ilāha…” The second pillar encompasses the concept of confirmation (ithbāt), that the only one worthy of being worshipped is Allāh alone, and is represented by the statement, “… illa Allāh”. The negation comes first followed by the exception of affirmation. This is considered the strongest form of all-inclusiveness in the Arabic language. The shahādah, therefore, means: There is absolutely none worthy of worship and there is no true god except Allāh and only Allāh.
A person can only be a true believer if he has both aspects of negation and confirmation present at the same time in their faith (aqīdah), speech and actions. The pure belief of the great Prophet and Friend (khalīl) of Allāh, Ibrāhīm AS, was mentioned numerous times in the Qur’ān: ‘Behold! Abraham said to his father and his people: ‘I indeed free myself of what you worship. (I worship) only Him Who made me, and He will certainly guide me.’ In this verse Allāh, Exalted is He, applauded his Prophet for openly disassociating himself from idol-worship and at the same time devoting himself to the One True Lord of the Universe exclusively. It illustrates that even though people take other beings, creatures, and deities as gods beneath Allāh, in reality they are not true gods and not therefore not worthy of worship. This meaning is implied in the statement of faith (shahādah): There is no true (haqqun) god except Allāh. However, the real essence of the statement is to testify the belief in Allāh’s Oneness (tawhīd), as discussed in the first point.
Analysing the meaning of: La ilaha illa Allah
Some later groups in Islam tried to restrict the meaning of the word “ilāh” in the statement to mean creator; this is not an interpretation found in the first centuries of Islam. The learned Companion Ibn Abbas RA said that “ilāh” refers to the one whom everything turns to and worships. As for the classical linguists, then we find that they all defined “ilāh” as: “ma’lūh” or “ma’būd”, an object of worship. For instance, al-Raghib al-Asbahanee (d.425) wrote a dictionary of the Qur’ān and said “ilāh” is a name given to every object that is worshiped. Ibn Mandhoor (d. 711) in Lisaan al-‘Arab defined it as any object that is taken as an object of worship.
The word “lā” is used for the negation of an entire species. The words ‘lā ilāha’ thus mean: there is not any deity. When negating, there must be an entity mentioned alongside it and then the concept being negated from that entity. It is like saying “There is no person inside the house.” You cannot have “There is no person” or “inside the house” by itself, there must be two entities after the negatory “lā”. In arabic this is an ism (noun) and a khabar (predicate). The noun here is: ilāh, but there is no predicate mentioned after it. This is because the predicate is obvious and understood by the context. For this reason it’s grammatically sound to leave it out. This implied predicate is either “worthy of” (bi-haqqin) or “truly” (haqqun). So the complete phrase “Lā ilāh” is thus: “There is no deity that is worthy of worship.” When the statement is completed, it is: “There is no deity that is worthy of worship except Allāh” or “There is no true deity except Allāh”. The first half of it is negation, and then there is an affirmation.
The affirmation and negation together gives us a) exclusivity, and b) perfect praise. Negation on its own would be to say, “there is no one who is intelligent.” which has no connotation of exclusivity or praise of anyone. Conversely, to say so and so is intelligent, is to give praise, but without exclusivity. But if the two are combined and one says, “there is no one who is intelligent except so and so”, it results in exclusivity and perfect praise. In fact, it is the height of praise, and this is how the statement should be understood: there is nothing whatsoever that is worthy of any worship at all, except Allāh; or that there is nothing whatsoever that is truly a deity, except Allāh.
The coming together of negation with affirmation has an inner dimension that impacts on the heart increasing ones faith (imān) and conviction (yaqīn) in Allāh’s Oneness (Tawhīd). The negation seeks to empty the heart of all worldly attachments. Once the heart is empty, the pure Oneness of Allāh can enter and settle inside with ease; which is the affirmation. As He said: ‘Whoever disbelieves in false gods and believes in Allāh, then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that will never give way…’
Imām al-Tabarī (d. 310AH), whose tafsīr contains the greatest known collection of interpretations of the Qur’ān from Islam’s noblest generations explains lā ilāha illa Allāh: ‘(Through this phrase) Allāh informs us that al-ulūhiyyah (the right to be worshipped) is His alone and is not permitted for any other gods and rivals (that men have created), that only He is deserving of worship since He is alone in Rubūbiyyah (creation and dominion of the world) and He is alone in Ulūhiyyah (the right to be worshipped), and all things besides Him are His creation and He has no partner in His dominion…”
The above interpretation of the testimony of faith comes from an undisputed Imām of tafsīr. It is the interpretation that fully utilizes the richness and power of the Arabic language and it refuses any artificial intellectual constraint. The āyāt that support it are truly countless, and can be found in the words of Allāh and His Messenger, as well as the wonder of Allāh’s creation; for they all point to the unseen Creator as the only being worthy of our deepest affection, devotion, and worship.
La ilaha illa Allah according to Ahl Al-Kalam
For the scholars of speculative theology (ahl al-kalām), the word ilāh does not mean ma’lūh or ma’būd, an object of worship; but rather it only means rabb, the Lord, and the omitted predicate from the testimony of faith: lā ilāha illa Allāh, is “existent” (mawjūd); thus rendering the meaning to be: There is no Creator/Maker existent (out there) except Allāh.
The Lord is the one who creates, sustains, and has mastery over all matters. For the scholars of speculative theology (ahl al-kalām) this is the extent of their belief in Allāh. As for their belief in the Oneness of Allāh in terms of His right to be worshipped (ulūhiyyah) and Oneness in terms of His Names and Attributes, they diverged from the understanding of the Muslim nation (ummah) on this matter.
The reality behind this misinterpretation by the scholars of speculative theology (ahl al-kalām) is that they were influenced by a theological discourse external to the Qur’ān and Sunnah, and came instead from ancient Greek philosophy. They interpreted ilāh as “a being capable of creation”. Thus, the testimony of faith will be interpreted as: “There is no being capable of creation other than Allāh”.
Any believer of God not afflicted with spiritual apathy will recognize that the difference between these two interpretations is vast. The first is a mandate that all devotion, love, and worship must be directed singularly to the One, unique God and the latter simply requires that one not recognize any other being as sharing in the creation or control of the world around us.
The Prophets and the Messengers found their people as believers in Allāh as their Lord, but still insisting on venerating others beneath Him; for they took: ‘to worshipping deities other than Allāh’. Had the call of Prophets been that there is no Lord save Allāh, they would not have faced such opposition. The Quraysh of Makkah would not have gone to war with the Prophet SAW and his followers had they not denounced the worship of any save Allāh. When they heard the call of the Prophet: “Laa ilāha illa Allāh”, they would remark in disgust: ‘Does he claim that all the deities (aalihah) are [but] one God (ilāh)?’, meaning, has he just made all our idols that we worship into one deity for worship. The pagan Arabs recognized that Allāh exists and is the Lord and Creator of the universe, yet that conviction did nothing to lift the charge of polytheism (shirk) from them. It was only through rejecting the worship and adulation of all beings except Allāh that they were able to escape this colossal sin and be accepted into the fold of Islam.
The Quraysh of Makkah did not attribute the creation and control of the world to their idols, but rather that they worshipped these things in the belief that they would intercede for them: ‘And those who take protectors besides Allāh say: We worship them only that they may bring us nearer to Allāh. Indeed, Allāh will judge between them in that wherein they differ. Indeed, Allāh does not guide those who are false and ungrateful’. Mujāhid, one of the most accomplished and renowned students of Ibn Abbās, said in regards to this verse: “This is how Quraysh feel about their idols, and others feel the same about the angels, or Īsā the son of Mary, or Uzayr”.
Thus the nature of the relationship between the pagan Arabs and their gods was that they worshipped them in the name of intercession. Yet, these were understood to be their taken gods (as the Qur’ān itself attests) despite the fact that they did not assign the status of Creator or Sustainer to these idols.
Dr Haitham al-Haddad’s explanation of al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah will soon be published as a hardback book. Islam21c have exclusive rights to share extracts from the book for its readers, and will be posting certain sections of the book on a weekly basis. The book: al-Aqeedah al-Tahawiyyah, is a short text outlining the aqeedah of Ahl al-Sunnah in short statements. Each extract posted is a complete explanation of any one of those statements.
 Q. Al-A’raaf: 7, 85.
 Q. Al-Zukhruf, 43: 26.
 Q. Al-Baqara: 2, 256.
 See Jāmi’ al-Bayān fī tafsir al-Quran by al-Tabari, Surah Āl-‘Imrān: 1.
 See point 33 for an explanation of this term
 See Sharh al-Usul al-Khamsah by Abdul Jabbar for the Mu’tazilite opinion & Kitāb al-Irshād by al-Juwayni and Qawā’id al-Aqā’id by al-Ghazali for the Ash’arite position.
 Q. Maryam: 19, 81.
 Q. Sād: 38, 5.
 Q. Al-Zumar, 39: 3.
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