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Based on the teachings of the Quran, God is both hidden and manifest. Though, the Holy Book sets forth a theocentric approach to religion and is replete with examples of God’s actions and manifestations in the world, nowhere does it directly offer what may be termed as a “proof of God’s existence”. Thus, in the Quran, God’s existence is evident and there can be no doubt about it (Abrahim 10: 14). His signs are so ubiquitous in all aspects of the world that a little reflection on the simplest of creatures can lead man to the source of creation (Baqarah 2: 164; Ghashiyah 88: 17 – 22). Knowledge of God has its roots in man’s innermost being, where God has left it as part of his innate nature (Hud 11: 51; Rum 30). Humans are incapable of gaining knowledge of the Almighty God. Indeed, God is the subject of knowledge of all beings, sentient and otherwise, for the self-manifestation of every being for itself is tantamount to being the locus of divine manifestation. In addition, all creatures praise God’s glory and praise is only possible when its subject is known (Nur 24: 35, 41; Asra’ 17: 44).
It is an established fact that the Arabs of the pre-Islamic period believed in a creator god whom they called Allah, the object of their worship on whose name they made their oaths (An’am 6: 109; Nahl 16: 38). Allah was believed to be the bestower of rain and, in a more general context, the source of all life on earth. Arabs sought refuge in him during the times of hardship and had no doubt as to his creative powers (Yunus 10: 22; Nahl 16: 53; `Ankabut 29: 61, 63). Thus, they believed in the “unity of the essence”, i.e. that the world is the product of a single creator, but they did not believe in the “unity of the actions and attributes” and, therefore, were polytheists. In other words, they believed in other gods, which at times appeared in the form of idols, alongside Allah. Ibn Kalbi provides a long list of the pre-Islamic gods of Arabia in his book of al-Asnam. Habl, Asaf, and Na’ilah were among the most widely worshiped. The names of eight of such idols mentioned in the Quran are Lat, `Uzza, Manat, Wad, Sawa`, Yaghuth, Ya`uq and Nasr. It appears that Yaghuth and Ya`uq were placed adjacent to the Ka`bah, Habl on its roof, and Asaf and Na’ilah at Safa and Marwah. There was another group of polytheists who considered Allah as having a daughter or son. For instance, that Jesus was the son of God, or even God himself. That angels or a group of jinns or saints were God’s children (Ma’idah 5: 72 – 73; Baqarah 2: 116; Yunus 10: 68).
The Quran employs various arguments against polytheistic beliefs in conflict with the idea of divine unity. The Quran’s objection to polytheists does not pertain to the unity or multiplicity of the source of creation, for they believed in a single creator god. The fundamental issue revolved around the notion of ilah (deity) or the object of worship. It was the polytheists’ belief that the workings of the world are relegated to noble beings who are closer to the divine world and who are to be worshiped as mediators between men and God. These ilahs were as gods over their subordinates and Allah was the supreme God and the creator of all (Zukhruf 43: 9, 87; Zumar 39: 3, 38). The Quran is punctuated throughout with arguments against polytheism (shirk) and its underlying message in all its accounts of the lives of prophets is that they were the propagators of the notion of divine unity. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) also through his wise sayings and exhortations called the polytheists to belief in tawhid. However, their reaction remained one of disdain and relentless persecution and machination against the Holy Prophet (PBUH). At the outset, the polytheists made life so intolerable for Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his followers that some were forced into leaving Mecca for Ethiopia. Over time, they engaged the Holy Prophet (PBUH) in bloody conflicts.
Islam is single-minded in its attempt at uprooting the false creed of polytheism. The Quran sets forth a wide array of arguments against the polytheist view. One such line of reasoning goes as follows: if other gods were to be postulated to exist alongside Allah they all must be distinct in terms of their essence as well as in terms of their reality. Thus, they would necessary decide on divergent courses for the conduct of affairs. This would result in a chaotic universe. However, the existing world is one of order and teleological harmony. This implies a single underlying decree and, therefore, a single God (Anbiya’ 21: 22).
The Quran exhorts men to trust in Allah, to believe in Him, to the acceptance of his wilayah (guardianship), to love and enmity for His sake, to devotion to Him and turning back to all else, and to mistrusting all superficial instruments. Thus, according a modicum of independence and autonomy to anyone or anything but Him would constitute shirk (polytheism). Based on this view, shirk becomes of several degrees, some of which are evident and some of which are covert. One instance of hidden shirk is to become oblivious of God and focus on other than Him, which inflicts all but the devout (Yusuf 12: 106). Practical shirk, which is one of several levels of shirk, is when an action is intended as a means of self-fulfillment, material gain, or soliciting the praise of others rather than being an attempt to secure a heavenly reward. Chasing lustful impulses is another example of this type of shirk (Jathiyah 45: 23). Since every level of shirk corresponds to a level of tawhid, the peak of tawhid is achieved when one is constantly mindful of the divine presence. Practical tawhid is attained when all of one’s actions are aimed at pleasing God and gaining salvation in the hereafter.
Another discussion relating to tawhid is that of the divine names and attributes, about which there have raged long and varied controversies. All names have the characteristic of having been coined by humans who have chosen then as substitutes for what they have seen in themselves, and thus these names refer to subjects that are not free from defects. The essential deficiencies of such words as body, color, and quantity are impossible to remove. However, there are others such as knowledge, life, and power that may be assumed apart from their contingent aspects. Knowledge in men is the encompassing of the form of a thing through material means. Power in man is the performance of actions through the material means in his muscles. Life in man implies the ability to utilize the instruments of knowledge and power. It would be improper to employ the same terms with the same connotations in describing God. The same terms may be used in referring to God only if they are abstracted from their corporeal senses, i.e. knowledge as the encompassing of the phenomena, power as being the source of their creation, and life as being possessed of knowledge and power. On the other hand, both reason and religion underscore the fact that all attributes of perfection are exclusive to God and He is the bestower of these attributes to others. Thus, God is knowledgeable, powerful, live, hearing, seeing, etc.; not in their human sense but in the way worthy of His divine essence. Therefore, some divine attributes, such as those just discussed, are positive attributes denoting perfection. While others are negative attributes and imply His transcendence, such as subbuh and quddus. Thus, the divine attributes are divided into the two categories of positive and negative. The divine names and attributes are also divided into those that belong to God’s essence and those that belong to His actions. The first include life, power, and knowledge; that are one with His essence. The second include creation and effusion, whose realization presumes a preexisting essence. These names and attributes are accidental to the divine essence, i.e. they issue from the divine actions.
* source: Gorji , Abolghasem "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 ,pp.402 _ 404
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