Answered by Shaykh Yusuf Weltch
What is the true meaning of “La ilaha ill Allah?” I ask this because I used to think it meant “there is none worthy of worship except Allah,” but I heard and read that other knowledgeable and reliable scholars have different translations. I am very confused, and can you also explain the negation and affirmation part too?
In the Name of Allah, the Most Merciful and Compassionate.
The statement “La ilaha ill Allah” is the most comprehensive statement in Islam; in fact, it is the most comprehensive statement period.
Imam Abdur Rahman BalFaqih explained that the statement “La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad Rasulullah” encompasses the entirety of the religion of Islam. The Quran itself is merely a commentary of this comprehensive statement. [BalFaqih, Fath Basa’ir al-Ikhwan]
For this reason, the statement “La ilaha ill Allah Muhammad Rasulullah” is written on all corners of the Divine throne.
The direct translation of “La ilaha ill Allah” is “There is no god except Allah.”
However, this is a very surface-level translation because the grammatical structure of this statement, the various sub-meanings of “ilah(a),” and the ultimate intent of Allah Most High are missing from such a translation.
Grammatically, the word “La” (meaning No) is a complete negation of an entire genus. This gives a meaning closer to “No” _____ at all in existence.
The word “ilah(a),” furthermore, has deeper meanings. Plainly put, “ilah(a)” applies to anything that is worshipped, whether rightfully or not. If we take the general meaning, it would mean, “There is none worshipped at all in existence except Allah.”
However, this statement is not true. There are many deities being worshipped in the world. At the time of the Prophet (may Allah bless him and give him peace), there were over 300 idols being worshipped in the Holy Sanctuary. For this reason, the meaning is understood to be “None is rightfully worshipped at all in existence except Allah.” [‘Amiri, Bahjat al-Mahafil]
In reality, this complete negation can be made across the board with regard to every attribute and action of Allah Most High. This is based on our belief as Muslims that Allah Most High is absolutely dissimilar to His creation.
Allah Most High says, “There is nothing like Him, for He (alone) is the All-Hearing, All-Seeing.” [Quran; 42:11]
- There is no Creator at all in existence except Allah
- There is no Sustainer at all in existence except Allah
- There is no Provider at all in existence except Allah
- There is no Giver of Benefit at all in existence except Allah
- There is no Giver of Harm at all in existence except Allah
All of the attributes of Allah Most High, especially, but not limited to, the 13 necessary attributes, are Allah’s alone, and we as created beings have no share in them except contingently and metaphorically.
- Absolute dissimilarity to creation;
- Speech. [Aqidat al-Awwam; Marzuqi]
Knowledge of this has let those with full certitude in “La ilaha ill Allah” to taste of the Divine realities of this statement. Imam Abdullah bin Abi Bakr al-Aydarus among others, has broken down “La ilaha ill Allah” into 4 central meanings:
- There is no one rightfully worshipped (ma‘bud) at all in existence except Allah;
- There is no one rightfully sought (matlub) after at all in existence except Allah;
- There is no one who truly exists (mawjud) absolutely at all in existence except Allah;
- There is no one who is truly witnessed (Mashhad) at all in existence except Allah.
Remembrance and Reflection
The Messenger of Allah (may Allah bless him and give him peace) commanded the Companions – and by extension, us – to renew their faith.
He (may Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Renew your faith!” They responded, “How do we renew our faith, O Messenger of Allah?” He said, “Say abundantly ‘La ilaha ill Allah.’” [Ahmad]
Repeating the statement “La ilaha ill Allah” – and even more so reflecting on its meanings – is the path of the righteous in achieving higher levels of certainty in the Greatness and Beauty of Allah Most High.
May Allah Most High make us of those whose tongues are ever moist in the remembrance of Allah.
Hope this helps
Allah knows best
[Shaykh] Yusuf Weltch
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Yusuf Weltch teaches Arabic, Islamic law, and spirituality. After accepting Islam in 2008, he completed four years at the Darul Uloom Seminary in New York, where he studied Arabic and the traditional sciences.
He then traveled to Tarim, Yemen, where he studied for three years in Dar al-Mustafa under some of the most outstanding scholars of our time, including Habib Umar Bin Hafiz, Habib Kadhim al-Saqqaf, and Shaykh Umar al-Khatib.
In Tarim, Shaykh Yusuf completed the memorization of the Quran and studied beliefs, legal methodology, hadith methodology, Quranic exegesis, Islamic history, and several texts on spirituality. He joined the SeekersGuidance faculty in the summer of 2019.