Tawheed is traditionally divided into three major categories. Here is a brief explanation of them for the purpose of clarification. We will attempt to use clear expression as much as possible although the use of certain “technical” terms is unavoidable.
The division of Tawheed into several components was not done by the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) or his noble companions, radiallahu ‘anhum. There was no necessity to analyse such a basic principle in that manner at that time. That is, the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) and his companions (radiallahu ‘anhum) did not sit in circles of learning and begin teaching Tawheed by saying, “Category one of Tawheed is such and such...”
Nonetheless, each of the foundations and components of the categories of Tawheed is clearly based in the Qur’an and the authentic statements of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) as will become clear in the coming explanations of each category.
Tawheed Ar-Ruboobiyyah (The Unity of Lordship)
This is the fundamental understanding that Allah is Ar-Rabb (commonly translated as the Lord). That is, He is the maintainer and sustainer of all things without Whom nothing would exist. The word Rabb in itself refers to a relationship of dominance and control. He created and sustains all of the creation, without any need of it nor does He need any assistance to maintain or provide for His creatures. Nothing occurs unless He allows it to occur, and it is He who gives any power at all to His creation.
Allah states (which means):
“Allah created all things and He is the Wakeel (Trustee, Disposer of affairs, Guardian)” [Al-Qur’an 2: 62]
And Allah created you all and whatever you do. [Al-Qur’an 37: 96]
It was not you who threw when you threw, but it was Allah Who threw. [Al-Qur’an 8: 17]
And no calamity strikes except by Allah’s permission. [Al-Qur’an 64:11]
The Prophet Muhammad (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) stated: “Be aware that if the whole of mankind gathered together in order to do something to help you, they would not be able to do anything for you unless Allah had already written it for you. Likewise, if the whole of humanity gathered to harm you they would only be able to harm you if Allah had already written that for you.” [Reported by Ibn Abbaas and collected by At-Tirmidhee]
His is verily all creation and commandment, blessed is Allah the Lord of all the worlds. [Surah Al-’Araaf Aayah 54]
The belief in predestination, or Qadr, is incorporated in this aspect of Tawheed. Qadr is the belief that everything that happens is from the knowledge, will and power of Allah. It also incorporates the belief that Allah Alone has the right to legislate and judge (Al-Haakimiyyah). Ar-Ruboobiyyah is found in virtually every chapter of the Qur’an and is a type of foundation for all other aspects of Tawheed. Because of His status as Ar-Rabb, He alone merits worship, reverence, submission, praise, remembrance, supplication, hope and fear. He alone possesses the power to create and command and He is the Creator, Master and Controller who must necessarily possess the perfect qualities and attributes in order to be Ar-Rabb.
The Qur’an mentions Ar-Ruboobiyyah in the context of praising, worshipping, surrendering, submitting and supplicating to Allah. Even the polytheists of old and most people today recognise this aspect of Tawheed although they may have denied the others or have an incorrect understanding of each.
If you ask them (i.e. the disbelievers) ‘Who created the heavens and the earth?’ they will surely say ‘Allah’. [Surah Az-Zukhruf 87]
Tawheed Al-Uloohiyyah or Tawheed Al-’Ibaadah [The Unity of Deity (Godhood) or Worship]
This means to single out Allah as the object of all worship (‘ibaadah) such that a person does not take anything or anyone else besides Allah as an object of worship nor do acts of devotion as he does for Allah. Neither prayer, fasting, pilgrimage, total obedience, complete trust, absolute love or hope is to be given to other than Allah because He alone is the true deity (ilaah).
The pagan polytheists in the time of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) believed that Allah was their Rabb, yet that alone did not make them Muslims. They used to devote various types of worship to Him and even claimed to be followers of the religion of Ibrahim (‘alaihi salaam). Some even believed in the Resurrection and a Final Judgment and others in divine decree (Al-Qadr). Despite all this they were still classified by Allah in the Qur’an as disbelievers (kuffaar) and polytheists (mushrikoon) because of their disbelief in this most important of the categories of Tawheed. They joined other gods with Allah and did not accept the unity of Allah.
The unity of worship – that is, that worship is to and for Allah Alone – must be maintained because He alone deserves to be worshipped and He alone can benefit man as a result. No intercessor or intermediary such as a priest or holy man is needed between any person and Allah. The importance of directing all forms of worship to Allah Alone is emphasised time and again in the Qur’an. It is the purpose and goal of creation and the message that was the central to the mission of all the Prophets (anbiyaa’) and messengers (rusul) of Allah.
Allah states: I did not create the Jinn nor Mankind except for My worship. [Surah Adh-Dhaariyaat 56]
Verily We have sent to every nation a messenger (saying), ‘Worship Allah and stay away from false gods’. [Surah An-Nahl 36]
You alone do we worship and from You alone do we seek help. [Surah Al-Faatihah]
The Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said, If you ask in prayer, ask only Allah, and if you seek help, seek it only from Allah. [Reported by Ibn Abbaas and collected by At-Tirmidhee]
The confirmation and belief in Tawheed Al-Uloohiyyah necessitates the denial of all forms of intercession or association of partners with Allah such as praying or making any supplication to a dead or living person, or to an inanimate object for any reason. The Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said, Duaa (prayer or supplication) is worship.
Asking a righteous living person to supplicate on one’s behalf is permitted because one is not asking them to grant the blessing, favour or help but rather asking them to ask Allah on one’s behalf. As for the dead, they are unable to hear, nor are they able to help themselves! And those whom you invoke or call upon instead of Him, own not even the thin membrane over the date-stone.
If you invoke or call upon them, they hear not your call and if in case they were to hear you they could not grant your request and on the Day of Resurrection they will disown your worshipping them. [Surah Al-Fatir 13-14]
Verily you cannot make the dead to hear, nor can you make the deaf to hear the call when they flee turning their backs. Nor can you lead the blind out of their error. You can only make to hear those who believe in Our Ayaat and who have submitted themselves as Muslims. [Surah An-Naml Aayah 80-81]
The Qur’an mentions the excuse of those who would rationalise their worship of idols. They said, “We only worship them so that they may bring us closer to Allah.” [Surah Az-Zumar 3]
Their idols were used only as intermediaries yet Allah nonetheless condemned them for their practices. Many Christians direct their prayer to Jesus or his mother. The Catholics have numerous saints to whom they direct their prayers for various occasions. Catholics use priests as intercessors. Some deviated Muslim sects devote certain hours of the day for prayer to members of the family of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). Many visit the grave of the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in hopes that he would answer their prayers and he specifically condemned this practice so much so that it was among his last words...Do not make my tomb a worshipped idol. [Muwatta Imam Malik]. The curse of Allah falls upon the Jews and Christians for they have made their prophets’ tombs places of worship. [Al-Bukhari and Muwatta Imam Malik].
A significant part of belief in Tawheed Al-Uloohiyyah involves implementation of Shari’ah (Islamic Law) because to do so is recognition of Allah as the ultimate Law-giver who is to be obeyed absolutely. To do otherwise is an act of disbelief in divine law and an expression of belief in the correctness of systems other than Allah’s system. In this point we can clearly recognise the relationship with Ar-Ruboobiyyah and Allah’s right to judge, legislate and be obeyed.
Tawheed Al-Asmaa wa Sifaat – The Tawheed of Allah’s names and attributes
And Allah has the most excellent and perfect names, so call on Him by them, and abandon the company of those who deviate and commit shirk with regard to them – they will be punished for what they used to do. [Surah Al-A’raaf (7): 180]
His is the highest and most perfect description (none has the right to be worshipped but him, and nothing is like Him) in the heavens and the earth, and He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise. [Surah Ar-Room (30): 27]
There is nothing like Him, and He is the All-Seeing, the All-Hearing. [Surah Ash-Shoorah (42):11]
In general, the unification of Allah’s names and attributes (Tawheed Al-Asmaa wa Sifaat) means the firm conviction that Allah, the Glorious and Mighty, is characterised by all the attributes of perfection, is above all defects and deficiencies, and that He alone is distinguished from His creation by these characteristics. This Tawheed is achieved by:
1. Attesting to all the names and attributes of Allah reported about Himself and those confirmed by His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) in the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is called ithbaat.
2. Not altering their expression or meaning. This alteration is called tahreef
3. Not nullifying them by denying all or some of them. To nullify called ta’teel
4. Not modifying them by attempting to determine their essence and assigning a certain form to them. To modify is called takyeef
5. Not comparing them to any human characteristic such as assigning to Him the qualities that are not suiting His majesty but rather belong to His creation or assigning qualities that befit Allah alone to His creation. Such similitudes are called tamtheel and tashbeeh respectively.
Guidelines For Understanding Allah’s Attributes (Sifaat)
We emphasise that the only way to know Allah’s attributes is by learning what He says about Himself and what His Messenger (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) says about Him. The Qur’an and the authentic Sunnah are sufficient, and must be taken as the only sources for this knowledge. We should restrict ourselves to them, without trying to improve on them by referring to earlier scriptures or books of wisdom, or by relying on our limited power of reason.
Some of the reasons for this are as follows:
1) Allah’s attributes and qualities are part of the knowledge of the ghayb (that which is unseen and beyond human capability to perceive), which cannot be subjected to our human senses. Revelation is the only channel through which we can acquire true knowledge of the ghayb.
2) Allah is the one who knows what we need to learn about Him in order to conduct our lives in a successful way. Had we needed more knowledge, He would definitely have provided us with it.
3) A quality of the pious, for which they are praised in the Qur’an, is that they believe in the ghayb without questioning or doubting it, as long as it comes from the Qur’an or the authentic Sunnah.
4) Allah the Creator cannot be subjected to the limited faculties of His creatures. No matter how intelligent a human being is, he can never be a match for Allah in knowledge, nor can he ever overstep the bounds that his Creator set for him.
The Foundations of Tawheed of Names and Attributes
The Tawheed of Allah’s names and attributes is based upon three foundations. Whoever deviates from them does not attest to the Tawheed of Allah’s names and attributes.
First: Placing Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, above any likeness to human beings, and beyond any imperfections. The attributes of Allah, the Glorious and Exalted, bear no resemblance whatsoever to any human attribute.
This principle is clearly stated in the following verses: There is nothing like unto Him. [Surah Ash-Shoorah (42):11]
And there is none coequal or comparable unto Him. [Surah Al-Ikhlaas (114):4]
So put not forward similitudes for Allah (as there is nothing similar to Him, nor does He resemble anything). In his interpretation of the aayah, “There is nothing like unto Him”, the great Islamic scholar Al-Qurtubi (rahimahullah) said: “It is believed, in this subject, that Allah in His Greatness, Glory, Sovereignty, beauty of names and venerable of attributes, is unlike any of His creation, and nothing could be described through likeness to Him.
The terms the Shari’ah (Islam) employs to describe both the Creator and His creation might be similar in appearance, but they indicate no resemblance between them in reality. The attributes of The Eternal, Exalted and Glorious is He, are incomparable to those of His creation.” Al-Waasiti (rahimahullah) said: “Allah’s self is not like any other self, nor are His names like any other names, nor are His actions like any other actions, nor are His attributes like any other attributes, except in the sense that the same terms are employed to describe Him and His creation. The Eternal is above having the attributes of the newly created, and the newly created cannot possibly have any of His Eternal attributes. This is the creed of the people of Truth, the Sunnah and jama’ah.” (Tafseer Al-Qurtubi, Vol. 16, pg. 8)
Another component of this principle is placing Allah above anything that contradicts His description of Himself; or the descriptions by the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) of Him.
The Tawheed of the attributes of Allah means that the Muslim should believe his Creator to be above having a spouse, partner, child, assistant, intercessor (without Allah’s permission) or protector. In addition, he should also place Allah above all imperfections, such as sleep, exhaustion, fatigue, mortality, ignorance, injustice, absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, prejudice, and so on.
Second: Belief in the names and attributes established in the Qur’an and the Sunnah, without detracting from them, expanding upon them, altering or nullifying them.
This principle stipulates that the only names and attributes to be ascribed to Allah are those mentioned in the Qur’an or in the Sunnah; they are directly communicated to us and are not the products of opinion and interpretation. Allah is to be described only by the attributes with which He had described Himself or with which His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) had described Him. And He is to be named only by the names with which He had named Himself or with which His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) had named Him.
Allah surely knows best about Himself, His names and His attributes. Allah says: Do you know better, or does Allah? [Surah Al-Baqarah (2): 140] As He knows best about Himself, and His Messengers were truthful and believed, only telling their people what Allah had revealed to them, then His names and attributes should be derived solely from the Qur’an and the Sunnah. Ahmad Ibn Hanbal (may Allah have mercy upon his soul), said: “Allah should only be attributed with those characteristics He described Himself with or was described by His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). His names and attributes should not extend beyond the Qur’an and Sunnah.” (Sharh Al-’Aqeedah Al-Waasitiyyah, pg. 21)
Naim ibn Hamood, the teacher of Al-Bukhari, said: “A person who compares Allah to His creation becomes disbeliever (Kaafir), and a person who denies the attributes Allah ascribed to Himself, or that the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) ascribed to Him, has become a disbeliever. None of those attributes bear any likeness or comparison.” (Sharh Al-’Aqeedah Al-Waasitiyyah and Athaaf Al-Kaa’inaat)
This principle requires everyone to believe in the names and attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah of His Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam). The believer should comprehend them by the clear and common meanings they have in the Arabic language, with no amendments (through rejecting them or denying some of them) or alteration of their evident, direct meaning.
Third: Abandoning any desire to ascertain the form of those attributes.
This requires a person to believe in these names and attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and the Sunnah without inquiring after their nature and manner or investigating their essence. As attributes vary according to the self they characterise, finding out how they manifest themselves depends upon knowing that self and how it acts. As we cannot inquire into the nature of Allah, His essence and into how His actions take place, we cannot then ask about the way in which His attributes are manifested.
For this reason, it was reported from many scholars such as Imam Malik the great scholar and founder of the Maliki school who, when asked about the manner in which Allah ascended the throne as mentioned in the Qur’an, said: “The sitting (Istiwaa) is known, the manner is unknown, believing in it is an obligation, inquiring about it is a heresy.” (Ar-Rowdah An-Niddiyyah, pg. 29)
If someone were to ask: ‘How does Allah descend to the lower heavens?’ We would reply by asking: ‘What is His nature?’ If the questioner says: ‘I do not know Allah’s nature.’ We say: ‘And we know not how He descends.’ To determine how an attribute is manifested, we should know the nature of whom the attribute belongs. The attribute is but an aspect of its owner, dependent upon him. How could you expect us to explain the manner in which Allah descends, hears, sees, speaks, or sits upon the Throne, when you do not know what His nature is? If you attest that Allah is a constant, absolute reality, incorporating all the attributes of perfection, dissimilar from any other existing thing or being, you must accept that His hearing, seeing, speaking, descending, sitting and others are perpetual and real, and that He is characterised by the attributes of perfection which are not like the hearing, seeing, speaking, descending and sitting of the created beings.
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