The Oneness of God
Unlike the God of the New Testament, the image of God in Islam is very clear, and it can be described in a number of simple statements:
(1) There is only one god: “There is no god save Allah” (47.19).
(2) He is the “creator of everything” (6.102).
(3) Before starting the creation, God was alone; eternity is strictly God’s: “He is the first and the last” (57.3).
(4) He is the supreme ruler of the universe: “Allah is able to do all things” (5.17); “Allah does what He wishes” (2.253).
(5) God is unique and dissimilar to anything: “There is nothing like Him” (42.11).
(6) He is subtle and out of the reach of anyone’s senses: “Vision cannot grasp Him, but He grasps all vision; and He is the Subtle One, the Aware One” (6.103).
(7) Everything and everyone is in submission to Him, whether by choice or by force: “To Him submits whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly” (3.83).
Almost all these statements are found in one form or another in the Bible. But the New Testament has other affirmations that blur the meanings of those fundamental statements, or even contradict them. One distinguishing feature of the Qur’an is the absence of such contradictory statements. For instance, while emphasizing that only God is eternal, the Qur’an does not go on elsewhere to qualify this statement by describing someone else as eternal. Similarly, there is a clear-cut ontological separation between God and His creation. No earthly or heavenly being is a god, part of God, or related to God in any form. There is one God, and everyone and everything else is created by Him.
The Qur’an considers any alleged god other than God to be false. It condemns polytheism, i.e. associating gods with Allah, in the strongest terms. It states more than once that assigning partners to God is the gravest sin and the one sin that may not be forgiven (also 4.116):
Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, but He forgives anything other than this to whomsoever He pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises indeed a great sin. (4.48)
One important difference between the presentations of God in the Qur’an and the New Testament, at least according to the most popular understanding of the latter, is that the God of the Qur’an is one whereas the God of the New Testament is a unity. Allah is not a number of persons in one, one person in multiple manifestations, one being in different aspects, one in more than one mode, or any such designations that Christianity developed. All that can be said about Him is that He is one. His oneness cannot be broken down into any smaller units or different aspects or forms.
In his effort to show that the Qur’an does not contravene Christian theology, the Methodist minister and professor of comparative religion Geoffrey Parrinder (1995: 137) claims that the Qur’an affirms the unity of God. This suggestion is completely untrue. Under pressure to reconcile contradictory statements in the New Testament, Christian theologians work hard to stress that the concepts of divine oneness and unity are one and the same. The Qur’an rejects this equation, as logic does. The God of the Qur’an is one, not united.
According to the Qur’an, God’s divinity cannot be shared or divided. Everything and everyone other than God are merely His creation and servants. Spiritual development brings the servant closer to God, but it can never bring him close to divinity. It rather confirms his servanthood. Being nearer to God means getting closer to becoming the perfect Muslim, and the latter is one who has attained complete surrender and submission to God. This is the state in which the individual is no more a servant by compulsion only, but also by will. This means, for instance, that as Jesus was developing spiritually, he was getting closer and closer to attaining the state of perfect servanthood, not divinity.
The Qur’an ascribes to God what it calls al-Asmā’ al-Ḥusnā (the Beautiful Names) (7.180, 17.110, 59.24): “Allah, there is no god but Him; His are the Beautiful Names” (20.8). These are different attributes that reflect God’s different modes of action, including names such as “The Merciful One,” “The Majestic One,” and “The Creator.” Verses 59.22-24 list about 15 of these divine names, with many more found in other parts of the Qur’an. Many verses, such as verse 6.103 above, end with a pair of Beautiful Names. Most scholars count 99 Beautiful Names. In some polytheistic religions, the different actions associated with these names may be assigned to or shared by different gods.
Copyright © 2015 Louay Fatoohi
All Rights Reserved