How to Get a Better Understanding of Tawhid?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Assalam aleykum

I have a question regarding the Oneness  of Allāh.

I recently listened to a talk by Shaykh Yahya Rhodus entitled “the meaning of life in a cup of coffee”, he mentioned that the meaning of life, and thus the meaning of being a Muslim is among other things- ultimately to “Know Allāh.”

How to get a better understanding of Tawhid and how it practically plays out in a Muslims everyday life?

Answer: assalamu alaykum

Thank you for this important question.

The concept of tawhid in the Islamic tradition is on one level simple and on another quite profound. Imam al-Ghazali identifies three levels of tawhid as it relates to Muslims:

1. Declaring with one’s tongue and heart that there is no god but God. This is the base level of tawhid that is required of anyone to be deemed a true Muslim. It is the tawhid that we comprehend with our intellects and whose details we study in creedal texts.

2. Witnessing the reality of this tawhid by way of spiritual unveiling (kashf) by means of the light of God. Actualizing this state of tawhid entails a spiritual transformation that effects one’s entire outlook where oneness is recognized in diversity and that all things return to and find their origins in God.

This level is indicated in the words of Dhu’l Nun al-Misri, “It is that you know that the power of God resides in all things without admixture, that He creates all things without any manipulation, that He is the cause of everything He produces, and that His act of creation is not caused by anything. Whatever you may imagine, God is totally different from it.”

3. Witnessing only God and nothing besides Him. This level of tawhid escapes description but the words of Imam al-Junayd indicate its reality: “It is a reality in which all outward traces (rusum) disappear and all knowledge passes away, while God Most High remains as He always has been.” Meanwhile, al-Kharraz said that the knowledge of tawhid is that “any awareness of mundane things vanishes from the heart and one is left alone with God.”

In practical terms, what this teaches us is that tawhid is more than simply a recognition of God in the mind or an intellectual exercise. Though this is the fundamental building block of our faith, the idea of oneness extends well beyond it into something that is more transformative of our inner state. It is through declaring God’s oneness, following His commands, and working on purifying the heart that this higher state of tawhid arises, and through it we can fully actualize positive traits and actions our religion stresses, such as trust in God (tawakkul), sincerity (ikhlas), contentment (rida’), and so forth.

The resultant state involves our entire manner of living, our state with God, our worship of Him, our following the Prophet (blessings upon him), our dealings with creation, and so forth ascending to a higher plane – one that to some degree reflects the states of the prophets who were always connected to, cognizant of, and guided by God in all their actions, inward and outward.

[al-Ghazali, Ihya’ Ulum al-Din; al-Qushayri, Risala]

[Ustadh] Salman Younas

Checked and approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Ustadh Salman Younas  graduated from Stony Brook University with a degree in Political Science and Religious Studies. After studying the Islamic sciences online and with local scholars in New York, Ustadh Salman moved to Amman where he spent five years studying Islamic law, legal methodology, belief, hadith methodology, logic, Arabic, and tafsir. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford and continues his traditional studies with scholars in the United Kingdom.