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Lesson 4: The Three Categories
Previously, we mentioned the verse where Allah (the Most High) had promised the believers, those who have imān and work righteous deeds, i.e. those whose ‘Aqeedah is sound, who perform acts of piety in accordance with the Sunnah of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam)―that Allah will establish them in the earth, just as He established those who came before them. Allah will establish for them their religion, the religion that Allah is pleased with, which is Islam―and He will change their condition of fear, in which they are living and replace it with peace and security, “So long as they worship me alone and they do not associate partners with me in worship.” In this verse, Allah (the Most High) did not just say, “they should worship Me” ―He did not stop at that, rather, He followed on immediately after by saying, “and they do not associate partners with me in worship.”
This is because worship (‘ibādah) does not help an individual whilst shirk (polytheism) is present. So, whilst a person is committing shirk, even if he worships Allah, then that worship of Allah does not benefit him because he has associated partners with Allah (the Most High) in worship. It is a must that a person abandons the worship of everything besides Allah (the Mighty and Majestic), all superstitious practices in all of their forms and categories and in all of its given and known names.
The definition of shirk (polytheism) is, ‘to direct any aspect of worship to other than Allah.’ So these are the conditions that will bring about salvation, peace, security, aid and establishment upon the earth. And it begins with the rectification of the ‘Aqeedah (the belief and creed) and the rectification of one’s deeds. Without these two affairs, then the Ummah will remain in humiliated and it will be in a state of constant torment and affliction. This is something that we can see before us, daily. We can see how catastrophes and afflictions have already befallen those who violated these conditions stated by Allah ―and that causes distress to the whole Ummah.
Allah has made clear that those who believe, work righteous deeds, worship Allah alone and do not commit shirk, He will give them victory, authority, security and peace. Allah (the Most High) has said,
وَعَدَ اللَّهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا مِنكُمْ وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ لَيَسْتَخْلِفَنَّهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ كَمَا اسْتَخْلَفَ الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِهِمْ وَلَيُمَكِّنَنَّ لَهُمْ دِينَهُمُ الَّذِي ارْتَضَىٰ لَهُمْ وَلَيُبَدِّلَنَّهُم مِّن بَعْدِ خَوْفِهِمْ أَمْنًا ۚ يَعْبُدُونَنِي لَا يُشْرِكُونَ بِي شَيْئًا ۚ وَمَن كَفَرَ بَعْدَ ذَٰلِكَ فَأُولَٰئِكَ هُمُ الْفَاسِقُونَ – 24:55
“Allah has promised those among you who believe, and do righteous deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession in the earth, as He granted it to those before them―and that He will grant them the authority to practise their religion, which He has chosen for them (Islam). And He will surely give them security after their fear, provided they worship Me and do not associate anything in worship with Me. But whoever disbelieved after this, they are the rebellious, the disobedient to Allah.” (Surah Al-Noor 24:55)
Likewise, He will aid those who aid His religion, and when Allah establishes them in the earth, they will perform the Prayer, pay the Zakat, enjoin the good, and forbid the evil. Allah (the Most High) stated:
الَّذِينَ إِن مَّكَّنَّاهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ أَقَامُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَآتَوُا الزَّكَاةَ وَأَمَرُوا بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَنَهَوْا عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ ۗ وَلِلَّهِ عَاقِبَةُ الْأُمُورِ – 22:41
“Those whom, when we establish them in the earth, they will perform the prayer and pay the Zakāt, they will enjoin what is good and forbid that which is evil, and with Allah is the end result.” (Surah al-Hajj: 41).
So, if the people desire the aid of Allah and want Allah (the Mighty and Majestic) to give them happiness, salvation, peace, security, an abundance of crops and fruit and establishment in the earth, then look towards these core elements and conditions. By acting upon them, Allah’s aid and support will surely come.
So after discussing this, then we must ask the question, “What is this Tawheed that we give so much concern to? What is the importance of this Tawheed and what is its station?”
Tawheed is taken from the verb wahhada, which is to make something one or singular, i.e. to make something one without a second or a third. Wāhid is something that is one and singular, it is the opposite of two, the opposite of three and opposite of more than that. One is independent, something single not shared by anyone else or anything else. As it relates to the Sharī’ah (i.e. Islam) then Tawheed is, ‘To single out Allah alone with worship’ (ifrādullāhi bil-ibādati). So, to single out Allah alone with worship is to make Him the sole One to whom all worship and devotion are directed. Allah (the Most High) has stated in Surat Al-Anfal (8:39):
وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ كُلُّهُ لِلَّهِ ۚ فَإِنِ انتَهَوْا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ بِمَا يَعْمَلُونَ بَصِيرٌ – 8:39
“..so that the religion, all of it, is for Allah” The religion means all of one’s worship, all of one’s deeds and all of one’s devotion must be directed towards Allah (the Most High) alone. Elsewhere in the Qur’an Allah stated:
وَمَا خَلَقْتُ الْجِنَّ وَالْإِنسَ إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُونِ – 51:56
“I did not create the jinn nor mankind except that they should worship me alone.” (Surah Adh-Dhāriyāt: 56) Likewise, the statement of Allah in Surat An-Nisā (36),
وَاعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَلَا تُشْرِكُوا بِهِ شَيْئًا ۖ وَبِالْوَالِدَيْنِ إِحْسَانًا 4:36
“Worship Allah alone and do not associate any partners with Him.” And the statement of Allah (the Most High), in Surah Al-Ghāfir wherein He stated,
فَادْعُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ وَلَوْ كَرِهَ الْكَافِرُونَ – 40:14
“So call upon Allah, making the religion purely and solely for Him, even though the unbelievers may hate that.”
So this is the meaning of Tawheed in the Shari’ah, ‘to single out Allah with all worship and to abandon the worship of everything besides Him.’ The worship of everything besides Allah, devotion to them, servitude of them, prostrating to them, supplicating to them, seeking aid from them, seeking refuge with them, the use amulets, seeking the future and claiming knowledge of the unseen (through astrology, fortune-telling, etc) ―all of it is prohibited and is polytheism because all of these affairs are the sole right of Allah (the Most High).
The Three Categories of Tawheed
Let us now move on to the categories of Tawheed (Monotheism). Tawheed is of three categories that are established clearly in the Book of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic. This division of Tawheed into three categories was not derived from anyone’s thought or opinion―and it is not considered to be mere terminology. Rather, this categorisation is taken from the Book and Allah and it is established in the Book of Allah (the Most High). So one should not consider these categories of Tawheed to be something superfluous, or frivolous of no real importance. Indeed, the Qur’an mentions these three categories over and over again ―and there is no fourth, fifth or sixth category after the three. Some scholars who categorise Tawheed into two categories include in their terminology the third category.
1. Tawheed Ar-Rubbūbiyyah (Lordship)
Whenever Allah (the Most High) speaks in the Qur’an of Tawheed, it falls into one of these three categories and no more. The first of these categories is Tawheed Ar-Rubbūbiyyah, which is the Tawheed of Allah’s Lordship. Its definition is, ‘to single out Allah alone with His actions and ownership.’ This is the Tawheed of Allah’s Lordship, to single Him out with actions that are unique and particular to Allah, such as creation, provision, giving of life, causing death, and controlling the affairs of the creation. All of these are from the actions of Allah that are specific to Allah. A person must believe that Allah is the creator and that He creates from nothing as He wills, He is the one who sends down the rain, the one who brings out the crops from the earth, gives life, causes death and so on. That is the first category of Tawheed.
So, Tawheed Ar-Rubbūbiyyah is to single out Allah (the Mighty and Majestic) with creating, sovereignty and control. So, there is no Creator besides Allah, no Owner except Allah and no Controller of affairs except Allah. None establishes these affairs in an absolute, overall and comprehensive manner except Allah, the Lord of all creation. Allah, the Most High, stated:
أَلَا لَهُ الْخَلْقُ وَالْأَمْرُ ۗ تَبَارَكَ اللَّهُ رَبُّ الْعَالَمِينَ
“Surely, His is the Creation and Commandment.” (Al-A’rāf: 54) We see in this verse that the creation of everything and the command over everything is restricted to Allah alone. And He (the Most High) said:
وَالَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِهِ مَا يَمْلِكُونَ مِن قِطْمِيرٍ – 35:13
إِن تَدْعُوهُمْ لَا يَسْمَعُوا دُعَاءَكُمْ وَلَوْ سَمِعُوا مَا اسْتَجَابُوا لَكُمْ ۖ وَيَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ يَكْفُرُونَ بِشِرْكِكُمْ ۚ وَلَا يُنَبِّئُكَ مِثْلُ خَبِيرٍ – 35:14
“And those whom you invoke other than Him do not possess as much as the membrane of a date seed. If you invoke or call on them, they hear not your call, and if in case they were to hear, they could not grant your request to you. And on the Day of Resurrection, they will disown your worshipping them. And none can inform you like the All-Knower.” (Fātir: 13-14) And Allah stated:
قُلِ ادْعُوا الَّذِينَ زَعَمْتُم مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ ۖ لَا يَمْلِكُونَ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَلَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَمَا لَهُمْ فِيهِمَا مِن شِرْكٍ وَمَا لَهُ مِنْهُم مِّن ظَهِيرٍ – 34:22
وَلَا تَنفَعُ الشَّفَاعَةُ عِندَهُ إِلَّا لِمَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ ۚ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا فُزِّعَ عَن قُلُوبِهِمْ قَالُوا مَاذَا قَالَ رَبُّكُمْ ۖ قَالُوا الْحَقَّ ۖ وَهُوَ الْعَلِيُّ الْكَبِيرُ – 34:23
Say to those polytheists and pagans, “Call upon those whom you assert to be gods besides Allah, they possess not even the weight of an atom, neither in the heavens or on the earth, nor have they any share in either, nor is there for Him any supporter from among them. No intercession benefits anyone in Allah’s presence except for him whom He permits. Until when fear is banished from the angels’ hearts, then the angels say: “What is it that your Lord has said?” They say: “The truth. And He is the Most High, the Most Great.” (Saba’: 22-23)
So, Allah makes clear that the ignorant and foolish ones who have taken partners alongside Allah in worship do not possess even an atoms-weight in the heavens and earth independently from Allah. They possess no share alongside Allah, the Mighty and Majestic. The creation has no independent possession of anything, nor even a share alongside Allah, “nor have they any share in either.” Allah has no one from the creation who aids Him, “nor is there for Him any supporter from among them.” No one helps Him, rather He is self-sufficient and free from any need of His creation. “No intercession benefits anyone in Allah’s presence except for him whom He permits” ―and this is from the completeness of His authority and the greatness of His ownership, the Mighty and Majestic. There is no one who can intercede in His presence to help another or protect another or ward off evil and harm except with His permission. So, this cuts all the paths of the polytheists (mushriks) that they rely upon ―those who claim that they are taking the idols or the dead in their graves as intercessors between themselves and Allah. And it is clear that Allah will not allow these idols to intercede or the idol-worshippers to intercede―and He will not allow anyone to intercede for the mushriks who worship and pray to other than Allah alongside Him. Allah, the Most High, stated:
وَكَم مِّن مَّلَكٍ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ لَا تُغْنِي شَفَاعَتُهُمْ شَيْئًا إِلَّا مِن بَعْدِ أَن يَأْذَنَ اللَّهُ لِمَن يَشَاءُ وَيَرْضَىٰ – 53:26
“And there are many angels in the heavens, whose intercession will avail nothing except after Allah has given leave for whom He wills and pleases.” (An-Najm: 26) And He said:
يَعْلَمُ مَا بَيْنَ أَيْدِيهِمْ وَمَا خَلْفَهُمْ وَلَا يَشْفَعُونَ إِلَّا لِمَنِ ارْتَضَىٰ وَهُم مِّنْ خَشْيَتِهِ مُشْفِقُونَ – 21:28
“He knows what is before them, and what is behind them, and they cannot intercede except for him with whom He is pleased. And they stand in awe for fear of Him.” (Al-Anbiyā: 28) Therefore, every approach and intercession that is relied upon by the mushriks (polytheists and grave-worshippers) who call upon others alongside Allah seeking through them some benefit or repelling of harm, then none of this will benefit them at all. Allah, the Most High, said:
وَمَنْ أَضَلُّ مِمَّن يَدْعُو مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ مَن لَّا يَسْتَجِيبُ لَهُ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ وَهُمْ عَن دُعَائِهِمْ غَافِلُونَ – 46:5
وَإِذَا حُشِرَ النَّاسُ كَانُوا لَهُمْ أَعْدَاءً وَكَانُوا بِعِبَادَتِهِمْ كَافِرِينَ – 46:6
“And who is more astray than one who calls (invokes) besides Allah, such as will not answer him till the Day of Resurrection, and who are unaware of their calls to them? And when mankind are gathered (on the Day of Resurrection), those who they called upon will become enemies for them and will deny their worship.” (Al-Ahqāf: 5-6)
So Tawheed Ar-Rubbūbiyyah is to single out Allah alone with three matters: with creation, ownership and control. There is no Creator besides Allah, there is no Owner besides Allah and there is no Controller of the affairs of the creation besides Allah. Any control asserted by the creation is deficient and not complete or perfect, and it is not independent ―whatever they have is due to Allah granting it. So, people can make things and build things but it is not like the creation of Allah because Allah brings things into existence from nothing. People (and other beings) cannot create from nothing, they can only put things together and build with matter that Allah has already created like the carpenter who carves a door out of a block of wood. These craftsmen do no create from nothing, they have raw materials that Allah created. Allah, the Most High, said:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّاسُ ضُرِبَ مَثَلٌ فَاسْتَمِعُوا لَهُ ۚ إِنَّ الَّذِينَ تَدْعُونَ مِن دُونِ اللَّهِ لَن يَخْلُقُوا ذُبَابًا وَلَوِ اجْتَمَعُوا لَهُ ۖ وَإِن يَسْلُبْهُمُ الذُّبَابُ شَيْئًا لَّا يَسْتَنقِذُوهُ مِنْهُ ۚ ضَعُفَ الطَّالِبُ وَالْمَطْلُوبُ – 22:73
مَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَقَوِيٌّ عَزِيزٌ – 22:74
“O mankind! A similitude has been coined, so listen to it carefully: Verily! Those on whom you call besides Allah, cannot create even a fly, even if they gather together for the purpose. And if the fly snatched away a thing from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. So weak are both the seeker and the sought. They have not estimated Allah His rightful estimation. Verily, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty.” (Al-Hajj: 73-74)
Likewise, a person may own something as Allah stated:
إِلَّا عَلَىٰ أَزْوَاجِهِمْ أَوْ مَا مَلَكَتْ أَيْمَانُهُمْ فَإِنَّهُمْ غَيْرُ مَلُومِينَ – 23:6
“They guard their chastity except from their wives or those their right hands possess, for indeed, they will not be blamed for that.” (Al-Mu’minoon: 6) And, He, the Most High, said:
أَوْ مَا مَلَكْتُم مَّفَاتِحَهُ أَوْ صَدِيقِكُمْ ۚ
“Or the houses where you have possession of the keys…” (An-Noor: 61) So these types of ownership are restricted and not complete. A human being does not have absolute authority ―it is limited and temporary. And you are can only do with these possessions what is within your limited capability ―and as a Muslim, you can only use your possessions in accordance to the laws of the Shari’ah.
Likewise, a human may have control, he controls what he owns, he exerts control over his family or workers. However, his control is limited, incomplete and deficient, not comprehensive. He does not have a complete capability, power or freedom to do as he pleases. As for Allah, then He has complete control and ownership and He does as He wills.
So this explains the category of the Lordship (Rubbūbiyyah) of Allah. This category was not denied by the mushriks of Makkah. Without hesitation or reservation, they affirmed Allah’s Lordship. This is proven by Allah’s saying:
وَلَئِن سَأَلْتَهُم مَّنْ خَلَقَهُمْ لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّهُ ۖ فَأَنَّىٰ يُؤْفَكُونَ – 43:87
“And if you ask them (the idol-worshippers) who created them, they will surely say: ‘It is Allah’. How then have they turned away from the worship of Allah?” (Az-Zukhruf: 87) And His saying:
وَلَئِن سَأَلْتَهُم مَّنْ خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ لَيَقُولُنَّ اللَّهُ ۚ قُلِ الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ ۚ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ – 31:25
“And if you (O Muhammad) ask the polytheists: ‘Who created the heavens and the earth,’ they will certainly say: ‘It is Allah.’ Say to them: ‘All the praises and thanks be to Allah.’ But most of them know not.” (Luqmān: 25) There are many verses like this that prove that the mushriks (polytheists) whom the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) fought against and they fought him, would affirm the Lordship of Allah. However, its affirmation did not benefit them due to the fact that they worshipped others besides Allah. Therefore, to single out Allah alone with worship must accompany the affirmation of His Lordship (Ar-Rubbūbiyyah). Many people who ascribe themselves to Islam affirm Allah’s Lordship but then divide their worship between Allah and the righteous inhabitants of the graves. So they call upon the dead in the graves and they call upon Allah ―this is associating partners in worship with Allah. When they are asked why, they respond by saying, “We are taking the righteous man who has passed away as an intercessor between us and Allah, so we invoke him.” This is polytheism.
2. Tawheed Al-Ulūhiyyah (Worship)
As for the second category, then it is to single out Allah as the sole Deity (God) worthy of worship (Tawheed Al-Ulūhiyyah), to single out Allah alone in His worship (referred to as Tawheed Al-Ibādah) and these two terms refer to the same category. It is to single out Allah alone with the actions of the servant. Meaning that the servant himself directs all of his actions of worship and prayer to Allah. This is different from the first category because the first category was to single out Allah alone with His actions. The second category is that the servant singles out his own deeds making them sincerely for Allah’s sake. So these are deeds with which one comes closer to Allah (the Most High) such as du’ā (supplication), khawf (fear), rajā (hope), rahbah (dread), raghbah (desire), tawakkul (trust and reliance), al-istiqāmah (to be upright), istighāthah (to seek deliverance and rescue), adh-dhadh (to slaughter or sacrifice), al-nadhr (to take vows), salāh (prayer), sujūd (bowing in prostration), rukū’ (bowing) and other acts of worship. Who is the one who does these deeds? The servant of Allah does them. All of these acts must be directed to Allah ―otherwise, he has violated Tawheed. These are the actions of the servant that he (or she) does for none other than Allah. So, it is obligatory that worship, in all of its forms, is done solely for Allah the Most Perfect ―and that no aspect of that is to be directed to other than Allah. So, this is Tawheed Al-‘Ibādah, sometimes referred to as Tawheed Al-Ulūhiyyah. Tawheed Al-‘Ibādah, meaning singling out Allah alone with worship. Tawheed al-Ulūhiyyah is to make Allah (the Most High) the sole Deity of your worship, the only God that is to be worshipped. Allah, the Most High, stated:
وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَا مِن قَبْلِكَ مِن رَّسُولٍ إِلَّا نُوحِي إِلَيْهِ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا أَنَا فَاعْبُدُونِ – 21:25
“And We did not send any Messenger before you (O Muhammad) except that We inspired him to say: ‘None has the right to be worshipped except Me (Allah), so worship Me alone.'” (Al-Anbiyā: 25)
Allah is sole God (Ilāh) worthy of worship, and His worship is built on two pillars: Love and veneration. With love, there is hope and expectation, and fulfilment of the commands of Allah, seeking through that to reach the love of Allah (the Mighty and Majestic) and His reward. The second pillar is veneration and honour of Allah ― and with it, one abandons the prohibitions ―he is in awe of Allah, and that causes him to stay away from whatever He has forbidden fearing His displeasure and punishment.
We should also know that every act of worship has two conditions that must be fulfilled for them to be accepted by Allah.
Firstly: That it is done purely and sincerely for Allah alone.
Secondly: That the act of worship is performed just as the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) performed it without any deviation from his example.
Worship, therefore, has two pillars and two conditions. The two pillars are love and veneration ―and the two conditions are sincerity in the worship of Allah alone, and following the example of the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam).
Worship is sincerely for Allah:
وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ – 98:5
“And they were commanded not, except that they should worship Allah, and worship none but Him without any partners, and perform the Salāh and give the Zakāh ―and that is the right religion.” (Al-Bayyinah: 5) And there is saying of Allah (the Most High) in the hadeeth Qudsi: “I am not in need of any associates to be worshipped along with Me ―and whoever does a deed in which he associates others in My worship, I abandon him and his polytheism (shirk).” (Muslim, no. 2985)
The proof that the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) alone is to be followed is the saying of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “Whoever performs a deed that does not conform to our religion, then it is rejected.” (Bukhāri no. 2697, Muslim no. 1718). Meaning that his worship is rejected because it did not fulfil the condition of agreeing with the example of the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and following him.
And when we look at the state of many Muslims today, we find that they are not upon the true and pure Tawheed of Allah. There are those who worship and make du’ā to the dead in their graves believing they will either answer their calls or carry their calls to the Lord ―so they make tawāf of the graves, prostrate at them hoping for benefit and seeking to ward off evil. There are those who deify their leaders (tribal or religious) and give them the status of gods obeying them in whatever Allah has prohibited making it permissible ―or obeying them in prohibiting that which Allah has permitted. This is taking their leaders as lords. Allah, the Most High, stated:
اتَّخَذُوا أَحْبَارَهُمْ وَرُهْبَانَهُمْ أَرْبَابًا مِّن دُونِ اللَّهِ وَالْمَسِيحَ ابْنَ مَرْيَمَ وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا إِلَٰهًا وَاحِدًا ۖ لَّا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا هُوَ ۚ سُبْحَانَهُ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ – 9:31
“They (Jews and Christians) took their rabbis and their monks as lords besides Allah and the Messiah son of Maryam, even though they (Jews and Christians) were commanded to worship none but One God (Allah)―none has the right to be worshipped but He. Praise and glory be to Him, far above is He from having the partners they associate with Him.” (At-Tawbah: 31) The Companion, ‘Adiyy Ibn Hātim (radiyallāhu ‘anhu) said to the Prophet (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam): “It is not that they worshipped them but if the rabbis and monks made something permissible (halāl), they would take it as halāl ―and if they made something harām (forbidden) they would take it as harām.” (Tirmidhi no. 3095)
It was in this category of Tawheed that the polytheists vehemently and violently opposed the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam). It was about the Tawheed of worship (‘Ibādah) that they said:
أَجَعَلَ الْآلِهَةَ إِلَٰهًا وَاحِدًا ۖ إِنَّ هَٰذَا لَشَيْءٌ عُجَابٌ – 38:5
“Has he made all the gods obsolete and there is only One God?! Verily, this is an astonishing thing!” (Sād: 5) Glorified is Allah! Look at how they found Tawheed astonishing whilst polytheism was normal. And what is most astonishing is that the polytheists (those who commit shirk) call on others besides Allah and perform acts of worship for those who cannot benefit them nor harm them nor ward off evil from them ―and nor will these objects and beings they worship benefit them till the Hour is established. This Tawheed of worship (al-Ulūhiyyah or al-‘Ibādah) was the purpose behind the sending of the Messengers ―whoever believed in them and obeyed them will enter Paradise, and whoever disbelieved them will enter the Hellfire forever.
Note: This is what is referred to also in some of the terminologies of the scholars as Tawheed Al-‘Amali (to single out one’s acts of devotion and worship for Allah alone), or Tawheed Al–Qasd (intending one’s deeds of worship for Allah alone), and it is sometimes referred to as Tawheed At-Tā’ah (to single out Allah in obedient worship).
3. Tawheed Al-Asmā was-Sifāt (Names and Attributes)
As for the third category, it is the oneness of Allah in His Names and Attributes ―to single Him out with His Names and Attributes. This is to affirm that which Allah has affirmed in the Qur’an of His own Names and Attributes and that which the Messenger of Allah (salallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) affirmed for Him upon their apparent meaning, without denying them, distorting them, falsely explaining them away, saying ‘how’, or resembling them to the creation. And it is obligatory upon the servant to withhold and remain silent about that which Allah and the Messenger (salallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) withheld from mentioning ―and to restrict himself to the speech of Allah and to the speech of His Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) and to have certain-belief in everything that is affirmed in the Revealed texts regarding the Names and Attributes of Allah. And likewise one must negate from Allah whatever Allah has negated from Himself or what the Messenger (sallallāhu ‘alaihi wasallam) negated from Him of deficiencies and inadequacies.
It was over this category of Tawheed that the Muslim Ummah divided into many sects early on. The one sect that remained on the truth was the Salaf (the Sahābah and those followed them), and they alone are Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah. They affirmed for Allah what He affirmed for Himself of Names and Attributes, whether it be in the Qur’ān or upon the tongue of Allah’s Messenger (salallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) ―and this affirmation is without resemblance to the creation. And it is Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah, the followers of the early Salaf, who negate from Allah what He negated from Himself and they do not negate His Attributes, His Names and their actual meanings, and without applying metaphors or invented alternative meanings. Likewise, Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah remain silent concerning that which Allah and His Messenger (salallāhu ‘alayhi wasallam) remained silent concerning ―they do not speak about Allah without knowledge. This is the formula that keeps the people of truth upon right-guidance ―they speak with knowledge and not speculation and innovation.
Therefore, Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah affirmed for Allah every Attribute that He affirmed for Himself such as:
And Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah affirmed for him:
Two Hands (Al-Yadayn)
Two Eyes (Al-‘Aynain)
…and the rest of the Attributes of Allah, the Mighty and Majestic, without any resemblance to His creation just as He (the Most High) said:
لَيْسَ كَمِثْلِهِ شَيْءٌ ۖ وَهُوَ السَّمِيعُ الْبَصِيرُ – 42:11
“There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” (Ash-Shūrā: 11) So we say that Allah has Two Hands but not like our hands, He has Two Eyes but not like our eyes ―and the same principle applies to the rest of the Attributes of Allah such as his Ascension (Al-Istiwā) over the Throne, He ascended above the Throne in a manner that befits His Majesty and not like the ascending of a human upon a ladder, or onto a riding beast, or a creature such as a bird that ascends over a building etc. All of these are false analogies and not permissible with Allah, the Majestic. It is just as He (the Mighty and Majestic) stated: “There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seer.” So, He hears and sees but it is not like our hearing and seeing. This was the understanding of the Salaf (the Sahābah and those who followed them).
After the era of the Salaf, the people of disputation and rhetoric fell into long-winded disputes concerning Allah’s Names and Attributes ―many fell into misguidance, deviating away from Revelation and sound reasoning. A sect appeared that affirmed the Names of Allah, yet rejected their meanings and rejected the Attributes. Then there was a sect that affirmed the Names, distorted their meanings and rejected all the Attributes except seven such as Life, Knowledge and Ability. Then there was a sect that negated all the Names and all the Attributes, and yet another sect that rejected both affirmation and negation of the Attributes. They all strayed from the path of the Sahābah and their followers and therefore fell into confusion, deviation and misguidance from the Straight Path. Some of them fell into disbelief through their innovated ideas that caused them to exit the Religion while others remained within Islam but upon terrible misguidance.
The truth is that which the Salaf were upon and they are Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah. And there are many texts in the Qur’an and Sunnah that affirm the lofty and perfect Attributes of Allah in detail, so we are obligated to affirm them in a manner that befits His Majesty. Also, regarding the attributes of deficiency ―then they are negated from being attributed to Allah, the Most High, and it is obligatory upon us to negate them and to affirm the perfect opposite of the deficiency for Allah, the Most Perfect and Most High ―and this is the obligatory right regarding the Names and Attributes of Allah.
The scholars of Sunnah have authored many works that discuss the understanding of the Salaf regarding the Tawheed of the Names and Attributes of Allah such as Ahmad bin Hanbal, Al-Ājurri, Ibn Battah, Abu Dawūd, At-Tirmidhi, Al-Bukhāri, Ad-Dārimi, Ibn Qudāmah, Ibn Khuzaymah, Ibn Mandah, Ibn Taymiyyah and Ibn Al-Qayyim to name a few. The latter two scholar of the middle-ages wrote some immensely beneficial books in this subject while refuting the misguidance that had arisen in the intervening centuries since the time of the early Salaf.
Many other people who wrote in this subject matter over the years tended to blindly follow the prevalent innovated creed of the Ash’ariyyah, Mu’tazilah, Māturīdiyyah and Jahmiyyah ―and the staunch followers of these sects would not alter their positions even after the proofs were laid bare before them. Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah hold that it is obligatory upon the Muslim to follow whatever is found in the Qur’an and Sunnah upon the understanding of the Sahabah and their followers. A Muslim is not excused if he deliberately opposes that due to the sayings of the later people. That is because a person (even a scholar) may make a mistake for which he is excused and pardoned because the truth was not clear to him ―but as for his readers and followers to whom the truth is made clear and the error of their understanding clarified, then they are not excused for these calamitous errors.
In the arena of Tawheed Al-Asmā was-Sifāt, the knowledge of the Salaf, Ahlus-Sunnah wal-Jamā’ah who are the People of Hadeeth is established upon the uncorrupted texts. The intellects have no place in this affair except in the general manner of sound affirmation and sound understanding of the Texts. The intellect guides one in general to the fact that Allah is described with the Attributes of perfection, and that He (the Most High) is free from every deficiency and defect. However, the intellect cannot comprehend these matters in detail so the details are found in the Book and Sunnah. So, if it is the case that the details of the Names and Attributes of Allah are found in the Qur’an and Sunnah then it is a must that we do not deviate from that even to the width of the breadth of a hair! It is forbidden for us to speak about the Self of Allah (Dhāt), His Names and Attributes from our whims or desires or intellects. Rather, upon the Muslim is to accept what has come in the Book and Sunnah without interpreting (distorting) the Names and Attributes of Allah, and without negating what He (the Most High) has affirmed, and without discussing “how” His Attributes are, and without likening them to the creation.
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This series of articles are generally based on Al-Imām Ibn Al-Uthaimeen’s (rahimahullāh) works, “Duroos min al-Qur’ān Al-Kareem” of Al-‘Allāmah Sālih bin Fawzān bin ‘Abdillāh al-Fawzān (hafidhahullāh) and a handful of other scholarly writings.