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Exploring Tawhid: Islam as a Universal Civilization

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks reflects on the profound meanings and realities of the concept of tawhid, beginning with the words: La ilaha illa Allah.

The defining statement of Islam “La ilaha illa Allah” (there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah), captures the inherent civilization of oneness and unicity upon which Islam is built. This unicity is accompanied with a sense of the sacred ontology of spirituality; that is, the very nature of our reality and our being – when viewed through the lens of tawhid – is that our essence is sacred. It mirrors tawhid. One of our shortcomings is that we have externalized spirituality and abandoned its internalization. There is therefore a dire need to re-inject Islam with this awareness of inner spirituality – a need that demands the re-exploration of the very notion of tawhid.

Allah says:

The one who has indeed succeeded is the one who purifies himself, remembers his Lord and prays. But you prefer the worldly life, while the Hereafter is better and more enduring. Indeed, this is in the former scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses. (Sura al-A‘la 87:14-19)

The Qur’an promotes purification and tazkiya (cleansing) of the self through dhikr (spiritual remembrance) and du’a (invocation), and states categorically that the Akhira (the afterlife) is better for us than the Dunya (material existence). Yet we as human beings have come to prefer and prioritize the Dunya – some to the point of abandoning the Akhira altogether. The Qur’an then reinforces the universality of this message by stating that it is one that has been confirmed in the earlier scriptures.

However, the “self-image” of the Qur’an is highly pragmatic in that it deals with realities, emotions, people and communities. It recognizes the palpable context of the Dunya – whilst the message is clear that the Akhira is better, it does not condemn the Dunya. On the contrary, it views our earthly existence as a “Dar al-Balah” – as an abode of trials in which we will be tested.

Furthermore, Allah declares:

He who created Death and Life, that He may try which of you is best in deeds: and He is the Exalted in Might, Oft-Forgiving. (Sura al Mulk 67:2)

The sequence of this verse (ayat) places “death” before “life”, reminding us firstly that death is both a creation of Allah and a transition to the next life, and not merely a lifeless condition of absolute nothingness. But in its pragmatism, the Qur’an also reminds us of our earthly responsibilities:

Do not forget your portion in the Dunya. (Sura al-Qasas 28:77)

And thus we recognize the profoundness of one of our most oft-repeated supplications:

Our Lord, grant us the best of this Dunya [world] and the best of the Akhira [the hereafter]. (Sura al-Baqara 2:201)

It is in this reflective state of the believers, who ask and seek for the best of both “worlds”, that we find ourselves as an “ummatan wasatan”, a balanced community … a community dynamically located in this world but with a supremacy of focus on the world to come. In this regard, all of us, as men and as women, have two roles to play: that of Ubudiyyah (being the bondsmen of Allah) and that of Khilafa (being representatives/vicegerents of Allah) in this world.

Wasatiyyah thus becomes a balancing act between these two functions, because if we prioritize our Khilafa and forget that we are the servants of Allah, we may become tyrannical. On the other hand, if we immerse ourselves only in Ubudiyyah, then we forget our social responsibilities towards our communities; or even collapse into form of servility unbecoming of our dignity as human beings. To embody these two roles and become communities of equilibrium and justice, we must locate ourselves within a spirituo-moral locus of Islam as a “Way of Being” before our conception of it as “a Way of Life” – which is a somewhat externalised way of viewing and practising the Deen (Religion as a “way of being” and “becoming” in consonance with the Divine Principle of tawhid). As a ‘Way of Being’, it presents us with the potential to change and to transform internally. This perspective finds a powerful resonance within the Qur’an where it states:

Allah will not change the external conditions of a people until they change that which is within themselves. (Sura al-Ra‘ad 13:11)

We often focus excessively on changing the conditions outside of ourselves – and those of others. Immersed in our dunyawi (worldly) delusions, we have externalized and exteriorized change and transformation to our detriment. This attitude constitutes the “heart” of self-righteousness. And so it is that we fail to realize that it is only when we change that which resides within ourselves – within the very core of our hearts and minds and souls – that Allah will change our external conditions and allow us to be the vessels of that social change.

Further emphasizing the importance of our internal realities, Allah says:

Soon will We show them our Signs in the (furthest) regions (of the earth), and in their own souls, until it becomes manifest to them that this is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)

We will only be able to read these ayaat ­- these symbols and signs of Allah – through the process of tazkiyatu n–nafs (purification of the Self). Attempting to recognize and understand the signs and symbols of Allah is what forms the foundation of interacting with the Divine – it is what links us with spirituality. Herein lays our “identity” as Muslims. Ours is an internal, spiritually focussed and centred identity. “Identity” in Islamic Spirituality encompasses an ontology of being. It is an existential condition. To fully realise this demands a number of things: that we interrogate ourselves both spiritually and ethically; that we reflect upon and modify our conduct and comportment where necessary; and that we ask ourselves to what degree we are prepared to undergo the requisite transformation. From this point of departure, we may trace the trajectory of our Islamic “identity” along the oft-mentioned triad of the Nafs: from the Nafs al–Ammarah Bi s-Su’ (the Inciting Self) through the Nafs al-Lawwama (the Reproachful Self) to the Nafs al-Mutma’inna (Tranquil self/self at rest). It is only after we have cultivated the ability to objectively criticize ourselves (the Lawwama of the Self) that we are able to attain that serenity and inner peace – that Itmi’nan. Without this tranquillity there can be no peace between ourselves and Allah, ourselves and creation, or that sublime condition of inner peace.

It is therefore necessary that we ask ourselves important questions about the state of our Islamic education – referenced in Arabic as Tarbiyyah (to nurture, enrich, refine and cultivate). It is imperative, too, that we identify the points of reference for such a process. How – in more specific terms – and in a holistic manner, we are able to connect the idea of tawhid with Islam as a universal Din. Allah says,

The Religion before Allah is Islam (submission to His Will). (Sura Aal Imran 3:19)

How do we translate this into our educational models. What are the principles that underlie our educational processes?

There are three important aspects to consider:

The individual – how, for example, are individuals and individuality constituted?
Society – how do we understand the histories, the values and the norms of societies?
The content of reality – namely, its relation to both the material and spiritual contexts?

Moreover, and on the one hand, the tensions that may arise between “individuality” and “individualism” (particularly as they are often-times embraced in the contemporary world as ruthless and necessary forms of competitiveness – the corporate world providing just one of the spaces for some of its worst manifestations), and our notions of “collectivity” on the other, need to be urgently addressed. These tensions are fraught with the potential to lead to unrest and wars.

With a view to more fully grasping these complexities we need to understand that the aims and purposes (maqasid) of education are both intrinsically and intimately linked to our ultimate convictions.

We, as Muslims, need to ask ourselves and critically examine what our ultimate convictions are about human nature and society. What Quranic or Sunnic template do we need to foreground in order to express and actualize those ultimate convictions? Again it needs to be re-emphasized that as Muslims we are governed by spirituo-ethical values. These values form the foundation of the concept of adab (right and fair conduct – or virtuosity) and is far more important than ilm (knowledge), without diminishing the exalted station of knowledge in Islam in any way. As the Arabic proverb goes, “al–adab fawq al-ilm”, (adab is above knowledge), because without good conduct and virtuosity, knowledge reduces to mere information. One can be a tyrant and yet be the most learned and informed of people.

We come to realize that Islam is thus based on unity of knowledge and servitude to Allah through service to the creation, as well as the centrality of revelation, because we view the cosmos itself as reflective and symbolic of higher realities.

Islam and tawhid as our aqidah (belief and theological system), are thus synthetic in nature. It is an approach that builds towards a dynamic and regenerative concept of unity (as opposed to being merely deconstructive or reductionist). It continuously strives to inform us of the interconnectedness and wholeness of all things, of the intimacy and meaningfulness of the created order, so that we can transform both ourselves and the world within which we live. This we cannot do without the characteristics of justice, fairness and equality (for example, between males and females). In addition, if we cannot do justice to ourselves how can we do justice to others? If we cannot forgive, how can we expect to be forgiven; if we show no mercy, how can we expect mercy to be shown to us; if we cannot love, how can we expect to be loved? Even more so, the blameworthy attribute “malicious envy” (hasad), for example, is not condemned so much for the pain it causes others, but for its horrific potential to bring spiritual ruin and destruction upon the soul guilty of such envy. Allah cares for all His creation! Said the Prophet, blessings and peace be upon him:

Malicious envy (hasad) destroys the goodness (hasanaat) in us in as much as fire devours wood. (Abu Dawud: Hadith 2653).

There ought to be, therefore, several natural consequences for societies who embrace and build themselves on tawhid:

1. Tawhid forces us to embrace and look to the essence of being human rather than the happenstances of our creation in which we played no part. It relegates race, ethnicity, nationality, gender and language – those things for which we are not responsible and have not come by way of acquisition. If we really internalize tawhid, it marginalizes secondary qualities and forces us to recognize the essentials of our existence and obliterate the contingencies.

2. Tawhid engenders love and mutual respect; it urges us to respect all human beings, to argue in the best of ways, and to invite to the way of Allah in the most excellent manner and with wisdom. The Quran is emphatic about this.

3. Tawhid demands from us that we both verify and establish truth. Whenever we view tawhid as an Ultimate Truth, everyday truthfulness becomes symbolic of this higher truth.) This matter of faithfulness to the truth plagues us as an ummah (community of believers). Allah says,

O you who believe! if an evil-doer comes to you with information, then first verify it, lest you harm a people in ignorance. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:6)

This is a Divine imperative, and so if we embrace tawhid we will not be easy victims of falsehood and malicious speculation; and herein lies the safeguards and protection for societies and communities that have the potential to be both wholesome and fructifying.

4. Maintaining purity and clemency in our societies – without clemency we can never establish truth and justice. Only when we internalize kindness, compassion and generosity, will we naturally strive to free ourselves from fitnah, scandals, divisiveness and arrogance. Also included here is the elimination of poverty, as poverty militates against the stability and unicity of our societies, so we should strive to empower the incapacitated and disadvantaged.

5. Respecting the freedom and the dignity of all human beings, including both personal and intellectual freedoms.

6. Implementing consultation (shura), co-operation and mutual assistance.

7. Striving for justice that is vitally alive in valuing both the rights of Allah and the rights of people and the rights owing to ourselves.

Without understanding the inherent diversity that goes along with tawhid, our aqidah becomes another form of totalitarianism and tyranny. Even those people who call themselves “muwahidun” (proponents of the Oneness of Allah) have failed to embrace the importance of diversity.

Allah says,

O humakind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may come to know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah are those of you with taqwa. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted. (Sura al-Hujarat 49:13)

We need to realize that in this context Allah speaks to “humankind” and not just “believers”. That which are ultimately important are not the properties with which we are born and in which we have had no hand, but what we acquire (as mentioned earlier). The best of us and most honored of us therefore – and according to the Quran – are those who have taqwa. Taqwa is that form of higher consciousness of Allah that enables us to become both “personifications” of the highest values enunciated by the Qur’an and representatives of the most endearing qualities of Prophethood.

The most worthy qualities are those which we can acquire, not those which are the accidents of our creation (like the colors of our skins, languages, gender or nationalities). Taqwa is eminently attainable and open to all, from the poorest to the richest – it a kind of spiritual democracy, which, when we align ourselves with tawhid – we may discover and realise within ourselves that spiritual station of becoming muttaqin.

However, we cannot achieve this if we cannot embrace and live with diversity. Taqwa is available to those who are able to both live with and be enriched by diversity. Only in this way can we become the vehicles of tawhid, and hopefully align ourselves with the Will of Allah, the Most High. Unrealized (including crass modes of literalism) and superficial understandings avail nought, no matter how stringently we enact the externals of our ‘ibadah. If we cannot embrace diversity, we cannot fulfil our roles as khulafa and be true practitioners of tawhid. Says Allah, the Most High,

Do you not see that Allah sends down rain from the sky? With it We then bring forth produce of various colors. And among the mountains are tracts white and red, of various hues, and (others) raven-black. And so amongst people, and crawling creatures and cattle, are they of various colors. Those truly fear Allah among His servants who have knowledge, for Allah is exalted in Might, oft forgiving. (Sura al-Fajr 35:27-8)

And yet again,

And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the variations in your languages and your colours. Indeed herein are signs for those who have knowledge. (Sura al-Rum 30:22)

Islam is the last of the Revealed Faiths. If we cannot see beyond the walls of our ghettoized cultures; if we cannot see beyond our dress codes (which in essence form a part of the beauty within a ubiquitous diversity). If we cannot see beyond our stubborn social codes (particularly the gendered ones). If we cannot see beyond the many fossilized features of our increasingly regressive religious mindscapes, then we call a lie upon our claim to have embraced the liberating beauty of Islamic universality. We would have called a lie upon our much-professed tawhid that constitutes that axis of Divine unicity around which the many-hued and kaleidoscopic beauty of Allah’s Creation rotates. And we would have called a lie upon ourselves in the face of the verse in the Quran,

And we shall reveal to them our Signs along the horizons and within their own souls until it becomes manifest to them that He is the Truth. (Sura al-Fussilat 41:53)

From the distant edges of our visual perceptions to the very core of our souls, we are called upon to bear witness to the wondrous nature of tawhid encapsulated within the equally wondrous nature of multiplicity. Islam is a universal civilization of Oneness within a universe of diversity. To those who reject or scorn this we say, as the Quran does:

To you your Way and Religion and to me mine. (Sura al-Kafirun 109: 6)

What more need be said?

Shaykh Seraj Hendricks

September 2014.


What Is Aqida and Why Study It? – Shaykh Hassan al Hindi

Shaykh Hassan al Hindi gives an overview of the science of ʿaqida, clarifies points of contention and agreement, and explains why it is a necessary science.

Though each of the Islamic sciences has its specific topics of inquiry and detailed investigations, a student may find himself losing sight of the purpose, importance, and distinctive features of a science when engaged in studying its details and minutiae.

For example, a student may study legal theory (usul al fiqh) under a teacher, covering such topics as linguistic signification, analogy, and consensus, but this student may still not know what legal theory actually is, the benefits that are gained through its study, its ultimate aim, the manner it is to be studied, and the way it distinguishes itself from other sciences.

For the science of ʿaqida, such a comprehensive and universal understanding is necessary before diving into its detailed investigations. He proceeds to provide such an overview by answering a series of questions.

What Is ʿAqida?

The term ʿaqida has two meanings. The first refers to aspects of belief that are obligatory upon a person to establish in his heart and have faith in. These are the concepts and ideas that a person adopts regarding the Creator, this universe, the purpose of creation, this world, the next world, and so forth. This is the ʿaqida that is obligatory upon all Muslims to know.

The second meaning refers to the subject matter that is taught in seminaries, namely the actual science of ʿaqida, which incorporates the first definition mentioned above but extends beyond it. In this context, the term ʿaqida is defined as the knowledge through which religious beliefs are established by means of evidence that is decisive and certain.

I would like to draw attention to the use of the word yuqtadar in classical definitions of the science of ʿaqida. It signifies a strong ability or disposition. Consequently, ʿaqida as a science is a natural disposition or aptitude of the self that is characterized by strength in knowledge, expertise in evidence, and the ability to engage in a dialectic where truth can be distinguished from falsehood. This ability is something that God grants to some of His servants.

The evidence used to establish points of ʿaqida are both rational and textual, and there is no contradiction between these two sources. There are some points of ʿaqida that are evidenced mainly on the basis of rational proofs, others on the basis of textual proof, and yet some others that are based on both these sources.

The Relationship between ʿAqida and Knowledge in General

The relationship between ʿaqida and knowledge in general is one of a general-specific distinction, i.e. all ʿaqida is knowledge but not all knowledge is ʿaqida. A matter is considered a point of knowledge if it is established on the basis of evidence that is knowledge-based and scholarly.

A specific point of knowledge is then termed ʿaqida if in addition to this God attaches a particular significance to it that necessitates belief in it. The ʿaqida of Islam can be divided into two types.

Firstly, those aspects known in their details, such as God being omnipotent, omniscient, all-hearing, and all-seeing, or the specific names of prophets sent to mankind mentioned in the Qur’an, or the names of angels, etc.

Secondly, a general belief in everything that has been authentically conveyed from God and His Prophet, blessings upon him. Thus, there are issues that a Muslim is required to affirm on a general basis and others that he is required to affirm and be taught on a more specific and detailed basis.

Sometimes we are required to express general points of belief in a more detailed fashion. For example, the books of ʿaqida do not detail the creation of Adam, peace be upon him. Muslims suffice with the Qur’an and other texts to affirm as a general point of belief that he was created from clay and was the first human being.

Today, however, it is necessary to discuss this matter in more detail due to the various doubts that have arisen regarding the Islamic creation narrative.

An Intellectual Science vs. Experiential Reality

Another manner in which ʿaqida is divided is between its being a scholarly and intellectual activity and between its being an experiential reality. The former refers to ʿaqida as an engagement with texts, detailing and interpreting various points of creed, expounding their proofs, defending the faith, and so forth. On the other hand, ʿaqida as an experiential reality entails transforming and transferring these points of creed into one’s consciousness and being.

Both of these dimensions are separate but intimately connected. Separate because they engage the subject-matter from two distinct perspectives – one intellectual and the other practical. And intimately connected because they complete one another.

ʿAqida as a Living Science

In order for anything to maintain its state of living, it requires two things: nourishment that allows it to grow and sustain its existence and a medicine/protection that prevents it from being harmed.

The nourishment for faith is found in acts of worship, such as supplication, remembrance of God, prayer, the company of the righteous, and so forth. This type of nourishment is required for everyone.

As for medicine, this is only required by those who suffer from a disease or someone who is prone/exposed to it. What is this medicine? It is of two types:

  1. It may be a cure to treat an actual disease that is present, or
  2. It may be a cure to treat a disease that may occur, i.e. preventive medicine.

In the case of the second of the aforementioned points, it is necessary for anyone who feels they are prone to the disease of doubt to learn the general proofs and evidences of ʿaqida. However, if someone is afflicted with doubt regarding a specific issue, it is obligatory upon that person to learn the appropriate evidences for that ʿaqida issue in specific and seek an answer for their doubt.

The Subject-Matter of ʿAqida

There are three primary subjects that ʿaqida deals with:

  1. Godhead (ilahiyat): what is necessary, possible, and impossible for God.
  2. Prophethood (nabuwwat): what is necessary, possible, and impossible for prophets.
  3. Unseen matters (sam’iyat): topics relating to such issues as the Day of Judgment, heaven, hell, angels, devils, the signs of the last day, and so forth. Each of these issues is subsumed under one core principle: things that the intellect deems possible that the revelatory texts affirm and attest to.

Scholars mention other topics that are included in texts of ʿaqida. Some of these topics are introductory discussions, such as moral responsibility (taklif) or the faith of a blind-adherent (muqallid). Other topics are viewed as accessory discussions, such as detailed expositions of the proofs for the existence of God.

Opinions on Why It Is Called Kalam

The science of ʿaqida is also termed the science of kalam. There are different opinions regarding why the latter term was utilized to describe this science. Some opined that it returned to questions concerning the nature of the Qur’an and God’s speech (i.e. kalam) being among the earliest and most oft-debated theological topics. Another opinion stated that the science of ʿaqida involved a sustained engagement between different parties, which often involved verbal debates (i.e. kalam).

Here is an important piece of advice for teachers. Someone who is instructing others in ʿaqida should be completely open to his students and their questions. This is because the teacher is tasked with teaching them knowledge upon which faith and disbelief rests, and he should instruct students in a way that ensures that they have fully understood the material and are convinced by it. Therefore, it is necessary for a teacher to engage the questions of students, their doubts, and endure with them patiently. This is not to be viewed as a flaw in the student nor disrespect towards a teacher.

The Ruling on Studying the Science of ʿAqida or Kalam

In regard to ruling of studying this science, there is no disagreement that it is necessary to know God, His angels, messengers, books, the Last Day, and so forth. The disagreement arises regarding the formal science of kalam, which some have deemed an innovation. This latter opinion is incorrect due to the fact that the emergence of the science of kalam mirrors the development of all other sciences, such as grammar or hadith.

The particular terminology utilized in kalam, such as “privative attributes” or “entailed attributes” is not ʿaqida in itself and nor of a specifically religious character, but labels and categories that explain certain discussion in ʿaqida and present it as a codified and systematic science. This is simply an organic development that all sciences experience.

Another point linked to this is the manner in which Islam spread and interacted with other systems of thought, such as Greek philosophy. Scholars undertook the task of evaluating and critiquing these systems, such as Imam al Ghazali in three of his famous works: Maqasid al Falasifa, Mahak al Nazar, Tahafut al Falasifa.

The scholars of kalam formulated principles, detailed proofs and arguments, etc. in order to eradicate erroneous and misguided ideas and return creed to its pristine state. Therefore, this science not only explained ʿaqida, but acted a barrier preventing corrupt ideas from infiltrating it.

How Does Islamic ʿAqida Distinguish Itself from other Creeds?

The ways in which the ʿaqida of Islam sets itself apart from other creeds and belief systems are as follows:

  1. The ʿaqida of Islam is from God and His messenger.
  2. The ʿaqida of Islam is tawfiqi, i.e. it does not accept abrogation, change, alteration, and so forth. Rather, the ʿaqida taught by the Prophet, blessings upon him, is the same one that the Salaf believed in and the one that Muslims continue to accept up until today.
  3. The ʿaqida of Islam accords with the primordial nature (fitra) of people. For this reason, when a Muslim speaks about the ʿaqida of Islam, it is done with two sources of influence and authority: one external and one internal. The external relates to strength of proof and rational/textual evidence, while the internal relates to the primordial nature of human beings.
  4. The ʿaqida of Islam does not contradict sound reason or intellect. The oft-repeated statement that the Muʿtazila were misguided because they arbitrated on the basis of reason and the intellect is not correct. Rather, if they had utilized these sources in a sound manner, they would not have been misguided.
  5. The ʿaqida of Islam is simple and clear.
  6. The ʿaqida of Islam connects a person to His creator without intermediary.
  7. The ʿaqida of Islam contains no contradictions. Perceived contradictions are the result of a lack of understanding. Sometimes, a point of ʿaqida may bewilder the mind, but it is never something the intellect deems rationally impossible. Thus, the intellect deems the throne of God and angels as rationally possible even though it is not able to fully comprehend their reality.
  8. The ʿaqida of Islam is a comprehensive creed for all times, peoples, and places.
  9. The ʿaqida of Islam is suitable for all times, peoples, and places.
  10. The ʿaqida of Islam is a moderate creed occupying a middle ground between extremes. It is neither a dry rational creed nor one grounded in emotional sentimentality. Rather, it appeals to both the heart and mind.
  11. The ʿaqida of Islam is the foundation of personal and communal well-being, righteous action, and rectification. This is why many prophetic traditions begin with, “Whosoever believes in God and the Last Day…” These good deeds and traits are the fruit of sound belief.

Why Study the Science of ʿAqida?

Not understanding the reasons underpinning the need to study a particular science often entails devaluing that science and not engaging it properly. There are a number of reasons why we should engage in the study of the science of ʿaqida.

  1. To present ʿaqida in a clear, scholarly, and systematic manner. This safeguards people from erroneous beliefs that may be unknowingly adopted in a context where ʿaqida is learnt organically in a general fashion. Such a presentation of ʿaqida also establishes it as a science with defined beginning, middle, and end stages that students can gradually progress through.
  2. To support points of ʿaqida with proofs and arguments that helps prevent doubts from affecting our faith.
  3. To strengthen and make firm our ʿaqida against refutations that are mounted against it. This is especially true in an age where even the most fundamental axioms that ʿaqida is premised upon are subjected to doubt, such as the impossibility of infinite regress. Here, it is a communal obligation to produce scholars who possess the knowledge and ability to fend off such doubts from the community at large and safeguard the faith of people.
  4. The science of ʿaqida allows us to possess belief that is sound, which is a prerequisite for felicity in the next-life. Through sound belief, one is able to properly conceptualize the world and the purpose of existence.
  5. The science of ʿaqida places an individual in a state of tranquility and peace with the condition that one possess a real connection to God.

How Does One Study ʿAqida?

The default is that every individual is responsible for studying ʿaqida. However, ʿaqida is presented to people based on their respective abilities and preparedness. Therefore, there is no one way of teaching ʿaqida to people. In terms of teaching people ʿaqida, learners fall into the following categories:

Young Children. ʿAqida is taught to them by constantly repeating basic creedal points, such as God is one, God is powerful, God gives us everything, etc., so that these ideas become embedded in their minds. When a child asks a question, he or she should be provided with a clear, simple, and sound answer. Children may not fully comprehend a particular idea, but they do retain it, and many of the ideas they retain at a young age are treated as axiomatic by them when they grow older.

The general laity. They are taught ʿaqida as a general expression of creedal doctrine without detailed and technical discussions. This should be taught to them not on the basis of creedal texts or the terminology of kalam, which the laity are not obliged to know, but rather through tafsir, sira, Qur’anic verses, and hadith using clear but non-technical language.

Well-educated people who are not ʿaqida specialists. They are taught ʿaqida in a general sense and also gradually exposed to some of the more detailed discussions relating to creed. However, these discussions are not presented to them in the manner that it would be to a person seeking specialization. Further, such people are provided answers to doubts – actual and potential – raised against Islamic ʿaqida. In this context, they are taught what is relevant to them in their own time and place, i.e. discussions on atheism, for example, as opposed to the Muʿtazila.

Students who are specialists. Those who are specializing in ʿaqida are required to study everything related to the science. This includes a comprehensive syllabus of classical texts – both early and later –, as well as past and modern ideologies and sects.

A Note to Students of ‘Aqida

Students who are specializing in this science must raise the bar. They should not suffice with intermediary works but eventually dive into the more advanced and principal works of the science after mastering the tools needed to access and understand them.

We must strengthen our aptitude and grasp of the evidence underpinning ʿaqida so that it may be furnished to people appropriately on the basis of their respective abilities and preparedness.

We must understand the period we are living in to present a more contemporary ʿaqida discourse that is suitable and appropriate to today’s culture and environment.

We must be aware of modern ideologies and sects, as well as the doubts raised against Islam, and formulate sound responses to them.

And God knows best.

Hassan al Hindi


This post is based on notes from a lecture in Arabic by Shaykh Hassan al Hindi. The notes were made and translated into English by Ustadh Salman Younas.


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.

Ascribing to the Prophet the Fulfillment of Needs and the Removal of Harm

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Im having doubts about a durood known as “Durood Narriyah.”

The Arabic wording is like this:

للَّهُمَّ صَلِّ صَلاةً كَامِلَةً وَسَلِّمْ سَلَاماً تَامّاً
عَلَى سَيِّدِنَا مُحَمَّدٍ الَّذِي تَنْحَلُّ بِهِ الْعُقَدُ
وَتَنْفَرِجُ بِهِ الْكُرَبُ وَتُقْضَى بِهِ الْحَوَائِجُ
وَتُنَالُ بِهِ الرَّغَائِبُ وَحُسْنُ الْخَوَاتِمِ
وَيُسْتَسْقَى الْغَمَامُ بِوَجْهِهِ الْكَرِيمِ
وَعَلَى آلِهِ وَصَحْبِهِ فِي كُلِّ لَمْحَةٍ وَنَفَسٍ
بِعَدَدِ كُلِّ مَعْلُومٍ لَكَ

The English translation is like this:

“O Allah! Bestow complete blessings and perfect peace on our master Muhammad by whom all our difficulties are removed, all calamities and agonies prevented; all needs fulfilled; all our cherished desires obtained; and a good end to life; and send us rain-showering clouds by means of his noble countenance, and on his family and companions in every moment and every breath, as many times as is in Your Knowledge.” 

Does the durood contain shirk, as its saying that Rasulullah (saw) removes difficulties etc..? Or is the translation just bad?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

The translation of this supplication is accurate, and its content is unobjectionable.

What Muslims Believe

It is the belief of all Muslims that Allah is the creator and sustainer of all things. From the perspective of pure divine oneness (tawhid), efficacy belongs only to Allah and never to creation. This is the reality indicated in the Qur’anic verse, “You did not slay them, but God slew them; and when you threw, it was not you that threw, but God threw,” (8:17) for it ascribes actions to creation but negates such an ascription at the same time. This is because while humans possess agency and acquire their actions, they do not create them. Allah does.

From this understanding, there is absolutely nothing wrong with the cited supplication. While we affirm that in reality Allah is the one who removes hardships, calamities, agonies, and fulfills our needs, it is unsound from an Islamic perspective to deem the ascription of these aspects to others as being “shirk”. Does medicine not remove the hardship of sickness? Or water the agony of thirst? Or food the need for satiation?

Undoubtedly, and we are more than aware as Muslims that it is not in reality the medicine, water, or food that intrinsically gives rise to these effects, but Allah who does. However, Allah has in his infinite wisdom created normative relationships between things and the effects they seemingly produce. Thus, no matter how many times you touch fire, you will get burnt because Allah has willed and created a relationship between fire and burning. This is His sunna in the world.

The Prophet: A Means by Which All Good is Sought

Likewise, Allah has made certain people a means for the lifting of the hardships and agonies of others, and the fulfillers of their needs. The Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is at the forefront of such people as established in countless traditions, such as:

1. The narration regarding the supreme intercession (shafa`ah al-udhma) that describes people on the Day of Judgment as being in a state of ”gloom and agony” until they ”approach Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and say, ‘O Muhammad! You are the Messenger of Allah, the seal of the messengers… intercede for us to your Lord. Do you not see what we are experiencing?” [Bukhari]

Here, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is sought by people as a means for the lifting of perhaps one of the greatest agonies they are facing.

2. The narration where `Ali (Allah be well pleased with him) was suffering from ophthalmia, an inflammation of the eyes, and the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) ”spat into his eyes and he was cured.” [Bukhari, Muslim] Here, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) removed a physical hardship that `Ali was facing.

3. The narration where Ibn `Umar (Allah be well pleased with him) recites the verses describing the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as ”A fair-skinned one by whose face rainclouds are sought.” [Bukhari] The Companions of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) would seek him out to attain rainfall and overcome famine.

4. The narration where the people “rushed in the direction of the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace)” after he had performed ablution because they did not have any water to satiate their thirst with.

Upon informing the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) of their need, he “placed his hand in the container, and water began to flow from his fingers like a spring.” Here, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) fulfilled the need people had of requiring water to drink and make ablution from.

5. The narration of the young man who came to the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) to offer his pledge of loyalty and “grasped the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) by the two sides of his waist and said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, I seek from you protection from the fire.'” When he was told by others around him to let go, he responded, “By the One Who has sent him, I shall not let go of him until he grants me protection from the fire!” [Bayhaqi, Shu`ab al-Iman]

There are countless other such narrations that establish the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as a means by which Allah lifts the hardships of people, fulfills their needs, and grants them good. This is why the Companions and the righteous Muslims who followed them set their gaze on the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) as their means to worldly and next-worldly success.

It is completely within Allah’s power to accomplish His will in any manner He wills. In the same manner that food fulfills our hunger, the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace) has been made the means for the fulfillment of many of our needs. There is no shirk in this, because ultimately we know it is Allah who is in reality running the show and no one else.

Having a Good Opinion of Scholars

Finally, it should be noted that often times such supplications have been transmitted to us by righteous scholars in the past. In this case, it is the Abdul Wahhab al-Tazi, a great scholar from Morocco who is counted amongst the spiritual masters of his time. It would be wise for us not to consider the words of such scholars whose knowledge and righteousness was attested to by numerous people as lacking even basic understanding of our religion: tawhid.

It is one thing to not understand certain statements; it is another thing to consider it shirk. The former is understandable while the latter is unacceptable. It would be from having a good opinion (husn al-dhann) of a fellow Muslim to simply consider the intent behind his utterance as sincere and sound even if one cannot fully grasp such an intent.

If you continue to have doubts, I would advise you to simply not read the mentioned supplication whilst maintaining a positive opinion of its author. Rather, suffice with what your heart connects to and feels at ease with. There are many ways to send blessings on the Prophet (Allah bless him and grant him peace). May Allah increase you and us in love for him.

Salman

What Is Our Stance Regarding the Statement of Some That Allah “Sits” on the Throne?

Answered by Ustadh Salman Younas

Question: Assalamu Alaikum. I have learned in depth about the correct aqida of Muslims, the Attributes of Allah and that He exists without a place. My belief is fine, but I want to ask about the belief of a person who says “Allah sits on the Throne.” I am guessing this is kufr? Is it permissible to seek knowledge from the books of people who state this?

Answer: assalamu `alaykum

Allah does not resemble creation. This is decisively demonstrated in the Qur’anic statement, “there is nothing whatsoever like Him.” (42:11) Thus, Allah is not confined within time or space, nor is He described with limits, organs, and other such characteristics belonging to created things.

As for the statement that Allah “sits” on the throne, this is unsound. Imam Bayhaqi, the great hadith scholar and theologian, stated:

“The Begininglessly Eternal (al-qadim) is elevated over his throne but neither sitting, nor standing, not in contact with, not separate from the throne… For ‘contact’ and its opposite ‘separation’, ‘standing’ and its opposite ‘sitting’, are characteristics of created bodies.” [Kitab al-Asma’ wa’l Sifat]

Ibn Hajar `Asqalani similary cites Ibn Battal stating that the belief that Allah sits on the throne is a position held by the anthropomorphists. [Fath al-Bari] This is because “sitting” entails contact between two objects and “contact” only arises between objects that possess limits and extents, which in turn is indicative of these objects being created. Thus, we find Imam Tahawi stating clearly, “He is beyond having limits placed on Him.” [`Aqida al-Tahawiyya]

From this, we can understand that the position of Ahl al-Sunna is to preclude such characteristics for Allah. As for those who hold and promote these heterodox positions, their books detailing creedal aspects should be avoided and when read should be done by qualified individuals who possess the knowledge and insight to detect such problematic positions.

Please see:

A Reader on Understanding the Attributes of Allah

Wassalam
Salman

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani

A Reader on Understanding the Attributes of Allah

Allah Breathing His Spirit Into Jesus? The Possible Meanings of this Verse & The Approach of Sunni Islam Towards Ambiguous Texts

What Is Our Stance Regarding the Statement of Some That Allah “Sits” on the Throne?

The Meaning of the Angels “Ascent” to Allah

The Ash`aris & Maturidis: Standards of Mainstream Sunni Beliefs

The Necessary Attributes of God and the Logical Absurdity of Infinite Regression

What Does The Narration “Allah created Adam In His/his Image” Mean?

Can Allah Feel Emotions Like Happiness and Sadness? Emotions Influences Choices and Decisions – Would That Not be Wrong

Is There a Way to Physically Describe Allah?

The Beatific Vision

Understanding Allah’s Attributes: Love & Mercy

Allah’s Oneness (Tawhid)

Alhamdulillah: A Statement of the Oneness of God

The Virtues of Declaring Allah’s Oneness in the Marketplace (audio)

Is the Claim That There is “Blatant Shirk” in the Qasida Burda of Imam Busiri True?

Calling People of Other Beliefs to Islam

The Power of Monotheism – Abdal Hakim Murad (lecture)

Did Jesus Claim to Be God?

Tawassul: Supplicating Allah through an Intermediary

Is It Permissible to Make Tawassul Through Awliya (Saints)?

Alhamdulillah: A Statement of the Oneness of God

“The Surah [Fatihah] begins with the words Al-hamdulillah, signifying that all praise essentially belongs to Allah. Whosoever praises anything anywhere in the world is ultimately praising Allah.

[Everything Indicates Towards Allah]

The sensible world contains millions of things which compel man’s attention and admiration for their beauty and usefulness, but if one tries to look behind the veil of appearances, one would find in each and every thing the manifestation of the same creative power. Admiring anything that exists in the created world is no more than showing one’s admiration for a work of art or craft, which in fact is a praise of the artist or the craftsman.

[Only Allah is Worthy of Praise]

This small statement of the Holy Qur’an opens a new perspective for man lost in the labyrinth of multiplicity, and shows him how the many are knit together in the same unity, and how all praise in reality belongs to One whose power is absolute, and that it is only in our ignorance or indifference that we regard this praise to be due to anyone else.

[Only Allah is Worthy of Worship]

If there is only one Being in the whole universe who inherently deserves all praise, it necessarily follows from it that this Being alone should be Worthy of adoration and worship.

Thus we can see that although the phrase, Al-hamdulillah, has been used to signify praise, yet, by implication, it cuts the very root of polytheism or the worship of created beings, and at the same time brings out in a self-evident manner the first and the basic principle of the Islamic creed – Oneness of God.”

(p 63-64 of Volume I of “Ma’ariful Qur’an” by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)

The Virtues of Declaring Allah’s Oneness in the Marketplace

Understanding Virtue through the Prophetic Teachings (Lesson Thirty-Three):

In this lesson, Shaykh Faraz discusses the immense spiritual benefits of pronouncing the oneness of Allah (The Most Exalted) upon entering the market place. `Umar ibn al-Khattab (Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever enters the market and says: La ilaha illa’l Llahu wahdahu la sharika lahu. Lahu’l mulku wa lahu’l Hamdu. Yuhyi wa yumeet. Wa huwa hayyun la yamut. Bi-yadihi’l khayr. Wa huwa `ala kulli shay’in qadeer (‘There is no god but God, One without partner. His is the dominion and His is all praise. He gives life and death. And He is living, undying. In His Hand is all good, and He has Power over all things’) shall have a million good deeds written for them by Allah; Allah will wipe a million bad deeds from them; and He will raise them a million ranks.” [Tirmidhi (3425)]

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