The main characteristic that distinguishes a human being from other things is the degree of consciousness. It is not that other creatures do not possess consciousness (the Quran makes no absolute distinction between man and animals - 6:38), but that there are different levels of consciousness and human beings have the highest on this planet though it differs even among them. It is only consciousness that makes us aware of existence, of ourselves and the world and the relationship between these, and wonder about causes and purposes. The characteristic of consciousness is that it accepts constancy, uniformity and homogeneity as normal, but as soon as something departs from this and a change occurs, then this constitutes a stimulus, a problem, which activates it. It does not rest until it finds an explanation, a reconciling factor that restores the original constancy. The fundamental idea of "cause and effect" is connected with this. The constant requires no explanation. It is self-existing and all other things must be explained in relation to it. In science, a change is explained by the notion of "force" and different forces explain different kinds of changes. But the fundamental mystery is awakening - there was no consciousness and now there is; there was no world and now there is; we did not exist and now we do. "Allah" is the ultimate, fundamental and irreducible explanation for all things.
When man becomes conscious he finds himself a small part of a greater, much more powerful world than himself with which he interacts and on which he is dependent. He sees that things arise in it and disappear, changes take place, sometimes in a regular manner. He sees that changes are relative to something constant. He soon comes to know that the world has a visible and an invisible part and the former is only a small part of the whole. He finds that things have causes and effects, that he has motives and purposes, and that he has an origin and will die. Therefore, in order to live an intelligent conscious life, he not only needs to know this world, but also to adjust to it and act appropriately. This gives rise to religion.
Islam is an objective, deliberately constructed, conscious (as opposed to an accidental or automatic) all-inclusive, fully unified and self-consistent way of life. It is centred around Allah, an Arabic term, which is usually translated as God. This is why God is described in much greater and comprehensive detail in the Quran than in any other scripture. Islam is defined as the direct surrender to Allah, where the word "Allah" means "that which alone is worthy of worship." The term "Allah" should not be confused with any notions of god. Allah is not an object. It refers to that which is described in the Quran.
The first thing we must do is to distinguish between (1) the Reality of Allah, (2) the experience of Allah which is only partial to various degrees, and (3) the concept or idea of Allah. This tends to create three levels of Islam between which misunderstandings are almost inevitable. However, each level exists to provide the conditions that will lead to the previous level or rung in the ladder.
(1) Allah is the fundamental self-existing reality that bestows reality on things, from which all things derive, and to which they return, and with respect to which everything else can be explained.
The Reality of God can be understood from the following verses :-
"Allah, He is Reality, and that which they invoke besides Him is the False." 31:30
"There is no God save Him, the One, the Absolute." 38:66
"Say: He, Allah, the One. Allah, the Eternally besought of all. He begets not nor was begotten. And there is non comparable unto Him." 112:1-4
"To Allah belongs the East and the West, and wherever ye turn there is Allah's countenance (presence); for verily, Allah is All-pervading and All-Knowing." 2:115
From these definitions it becomes clear that it is impossible for a Muslim to doubt the existence of God or to be agnostic. It should also be obvious from these and the following descriptions that the Islamic concept of God cannot apply to anything else, particularly a man. The Ultimate Self-existing Reality is God. It is that from which all matter, energy, order as well as law, life and consciousness derive. It must be the most fundamental assumption underlying any system of thought or of life. It requires no proof. The second assumption is that consciousness exists. It is itself part of reality and we recognise Reality by means of it. The third assumption is that the contents of consciousness, which are the only things available to us, correspond to real things. Those who are most intimately conscious of Reality are known as the Messengers of Allah. They tell us about Allah and provide us with a discipline by which we can develop our own awareness of Allah. We accept these teachings according to our own level of awareness.
Other ideas about Allah are contained in the following verses:-
"The originator of the Heavens and the earth. When He decrees a thing, He saith unto it only: Be! And it is." 2:117 and 6:73
"Say: The Spirit is by Command of my Lord, and of knowledge ye have been vouchsafed but little." 17:85
"He is the First and the Last, and the Outer and the Inner, and He is the Knower of all things." 57:3
"Allah is independent of all creatures." 3:97
"Allah, He is the manifest Truth." 24:25
"Thy Lord is the Absolute, the Lord of Mercy." 6:134
"Thy Lord, He is the goal." 53:42
"Unto Allah belongs whatsoever is in the heavens and the earth. Allah ever surrounds all things." 4:126 and 41:54
"Naught is as His likeness." 42:11
"Vision comprehends Him not, but He comprehends all vision. He is the Subtle, the Aware." 6:104
"Unto Allah belongs the East and the West, and wheresoever ye turn, there is Allah's countenance. Lo, Allah is all-embracing, all knowing." 2:115
"And they worship besides Allah that which owns no provision whatsoever for them from heaven or the earth, nor have they any power. So coin not similitudes for Allah..." 16:73-74
"He is Allah, apart from whom there is no other god, the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One, Peace, the Keeper of Faith, the Guardian, the Majestic, the Compeller, the Superb, Glorified be Allah from all that they ascribe as partners unto Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Shaper out of naught, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifies Him, and He is the Mighty, the Wise." 59:23-24
"We have created everything by measure, and Our commandment is but one, as a twinkling of an eye." 54:49-50
"Allah it is who has created seven heavens, and of the earth similarly. The commandment comes down among them slowly, that you may know that Allah is Able to do all things, and that Allah surrounds all things in knowledge." 65:12
"There is no altering the Laws of Allah's creation." 30:30
"He produces creation, then reproduces it, that He may reward those who believe and do good works with equity." 10:5 and
"And all things We have created by pairs, that haply you may reflect. Therefore, flee unto Allah.." 51:49
"Allah, He is the Truth. Lo, He quickens the dead." 22:6
"And unto Allah falls prostrate whosoever is in the heavens or the earth, willingly or unwillingly, as do their shadows in the morning and evening hours."
"There is no strength save in Allah".
"He casts the Spirit of His command upon whom He will of his servants, that He may warn of the Day of Meeting." 40:15
"There is no changing the Words of Allah." 10:65
The relationship between Allah and man is given by the following :-
"Who made good everything that He has created, and He began the creation of man from dust. Then He made his progeny of an extract, of a fluid held in low esteem. Then He fashioned him (man), and breathed into him of His own Spirit: and appointed for you hearing and sight and hearts. Small thanks give ye." 32:7-9 See also
"And Allah, all unseen, surrounds them." 85:20
"We verily created man and We know what his soul whispers unto him, and We are nearer unto him than his jugular vein." 50:16 and 56:85
We could say, therefore, that Allah is within man and is, in fact, his higher self, from which he has become cut off :-
"And be not ye as those who forgot Allah, therefore He caused them to forget their own souls. Such are the rebellious transgressors. 59:19
Surrender (Islam) is, therefore, the means of regaining this contact, and of identification with Allah, with that which is self-existing and permanent within oneself. To Surrender is to become one with Allah, to become His instrument or agent. It does not mean that he becomes God as Christians suppose that Jesus was because he said "My father and I are one". The idea that a man is God, as some sects believe, must be rejected on the grounds that people are separated from Allah to various degrees and that their physical nature severely restricts and particularises them. This applies even to the whole of humanity collectively and the universe itself. The combination of Spirit with physical body creates a Unity. The soul may be regarded as organised and particularised spirit, which may grow when more of the spirit enters it through a faculty higher than the intellect, known as the heart.
Thus Allah is transcendental, imminent as well as personal. He is Omni-present, Omniscient and Omnipotent. He is Absolute, Infinite and Eternal. He is continually creating and recreating. This is not an anthropomorphic God. The pronoun "He" is used only to indicate that he is active in relation to the Universe which is passive, receptive or feminine.
(2) The concept of God, as will be made clearer below, can probably be only understood in relation to the rest of Islam. It has the function of providing a unitary framework within which a Muslim can interpret all his experiences and with respect to which all his motives and actions must be made to conform. This should create (a) inner (psychological or spiritual) integration - an inner centre of stability and control, (b) interactive (social) unity and (c) external harmony (with the environment and the rest of the cosmos). This brings the end of conflict, Peace, another meaning of Islam. It follows that if the concept of God is rejected then the individual and the society become prone to disintegration and that this will reflect in his relationship with, and in, the social and natural environment as well. External imposed coercion will then be the only method of maintaining unity, peace and order.
It follows quite naturally that Idolatry is the worst of sins. This term is understood as meaning the self-submission of a person to any thing less than the all-comprehensive Allah, consciously or unconsciously. Surrender means that the ego should be replaced by, or at least subordinated to, Allah.
The main significance of the concept lies in the realm of thought. It is the Principle of Unity called Tawhid. Allah is unique, one without parts. But as the Universe and all things in it are reflections of the attributes of Allah, then this unity is to be found in objects and systems. The implication is that all things are inter-dependent, and belong as parts to a greater whole. The Whole is more than the sum of the parts owing to its organisation or order and controls the parts. All things derive from Allah, the ultimate Unity and return to Unity. Reality is one, the Universe is one, the world, life, man, humanity, religion, all are unities. No separation between the mental and physical, between the religious and the secular, between the political, the moral, the scientific and the economic and the aesthetic is to be made. They are all inter-dependent.
Allah is not a created object with limitations, but unlike all things, self-existent and unlimited. We are instructed to make no images of Him in materials or thought. We are also required to worship Him, surrender and subordinate ourselves to Him exclusively, to reject all idols. Therefore, the concept is wholly liberating. It should, when fully realised, remove all psychological limitations - attachments, addictions, phobias, prejudices, habits, conditioning, superstition etc., and provide a person with a stable inner self, a centre of perception and control. It ought to uplift thought, motivation and action away from the relatively trivial and superficial to that which is transcendental, essential and universal.
Another significance of the concept of Allah, besides integration and liberation, is absolute objectivity in thought, motivation and action since Allah is reality. This is achieved by increasing awareness (con=together sciousness=awareness), conscience (self-consistent feelings and motivation) and will (co-ordinated action). In particular, it implies that we recognise the existence of people and things other than ourselves who have equal significance, and that the whole has priority over the parts that have no meaning except with respect to the whole.
In so far as the Universe and its contents represent facts, they are controlled by law and possess order. But Allah, who transcends the Universe, represents something beyond these, the mysterious, the miraculous, the creative, the unrestricted. As the creation of the Universe has a purpose, values are prior to facts. Values create facts. In so far as human beings contain a spark of the divine, it is also implied that human beings have the potentialities for creativity and that they can transcend the restrictions of materiality and law - the same spirit which created the universe exists in man also. The Universe is not static but is becoming, and human beings are part of this process. Faith is more powerful than facts and creates them, even if it is only by a process of interpreting sense data.
An important aspect of the concept of Allah is responsibility. Human beings are called "Vicegerents" because they contain the Spirit of God, and this gives them the responsibility to serve Allah in furthering His purposes. They are instruments and their fate depends on how they fulfil their function.
A distinction is made between the Essence of Allah, the Attributes of Allah and the Commands, Word or Actions of Allah. This gives rise to three aspects to Unity - of essence, Tawhid al-Dhar, of Attributes, Tawhid al-Sifat, and of Action, Tawhid al-af'al
In Essence Allah is absolute and cannot be normally known (since all knowledge is relative depending as it does on comparisons, interactions and relationships.) However, for the same reason, the Relative cannot be known except in relation to the Absolute. In so far as the Universe is made out of Nothing, its essence is Allah. Therefore, for people who can discern the unity underlying the multiplicity:-
"And call not upon any other God along with Allah; there is no God but He. Everything is perishable (or will perish), except His countenance. His is the command, and unto Him shall ye return!" 28:88
"All that is therein (on earth) must pass away. And there remains naught but the Countenance of thy Lord of Might and Glory (or of Majesty and Nobility (Bounty and Honour))." 55:26-27
Allah creates the Universe and all things in it by His Command which also manifests as the Spirit. As the Universe is created from nothing, Spirit refers to some force probably underlying the electromagnetic. It carries the Command or Word of God ( which could refer to vibrations). It also informs the Prophets and Messengers who have been sent throughout the world at different times to guide mankind.
"They will ask thee about the Spirit. Say: The Spirit is by the command (or Word) of my Lord, and ye are given but a little knowledge thereof." 17:85
We see that this verse mentions the members of what Christians call the Trinity. But as the include Jesus, a man in it, this idea is rejected in Islam. Jesus is a man in whom God placed His Word and Spirit. The Word and Spirit are not separately gods but manifestations or powers of God. There is a logical sequence as follows:-
Allah > Word > Spirit > Messenger > Man
We could also see the fundamental Reality as follows:- Allah in Essence is Absolute and cannot be known. But with respect to Creation He has three relative aspects:- Attributes, Spirit and Word or Command. These derive from Allah and combine to form Creation. So we have
Allah > Attributes, Spirit, Word > Creation
This could also be regarded as a Trinity but not in the Christian sense of three persons.
The Spirit also exists in man where it creates consciousness, conscience and will. But the spirit in man has become dormant, being trapped by attachments (greed, lust, addictions, fixations, sensuality etc.) and the rationalisations based on this distort his perceptions, motives and actions - a condition known as spiritual death. It is the task of these Prophets in whom the Spirit is active, to re-awaken man - a condition known as spiritual resurrection. The Messenger is, therefore, a resurrected man or one who has not undergone spiritual death, one who brings salvation to the rest of mankind.
A distinction is also made between the Commands, Ordinances and Permission of Allah. This distinction can probably best be understood as follows:- Commands refer to Laws which everything must obey. E.g. gravity exists everywhere. However, this does not make it necessary that there should be so many planets and their orbits must be such and such. This is what Allah ordains. Conditions or situations contain a number of potentialities or possibilities. The occurrence of an event, then, is not necessary but happens by permission. E.g. it is not necessary that a particular apple should fall off the tree and hit you on the head. And yet it takes place by the Law of Gravity. Thus Islam does not require determinism in the classical sense, and yet denies the notion of randomness and chance which are considered to be names given to the results of human ignorance, limitations or inability to calculate and control. The implication is that anything is possible but that there are different probabilities for the occurrence of different phenomena.
Allah manifests in the created world through His Attributes. These can be regarded as categories of thought by which we see and understand things, as well as general qualities to which created things conform. They can also be regarded as Ideals for man, which he must cultivate within himself. Thus a relationship and interaction between ourselves, created things and Allah can be established. There are said to be 100 Attributes, but they are not separate things but rather aspects or points of view about the same thing. This can be explained as follows:-
We can classify the Attributes into four main categories - Truth, Goodness, Power and Beauty. It is not difficult to see that all these notions derive from Unity - e.g. consistency, harmony, co-operation, co-ordination etc. There are four main value systems derive from these. We may loosely call them the Scientific, the Ethical, the Economic and the Aesthetic. The three levels of goodness, i.e. Justice, Compassion (or Love) and Unity have their equivalence in Truth where they refer to the Natural Laws and the Balance between opposite forces, the processes by which things are maintained (Beneficence) and the tolerance and adaptability built into the world (Mercy) and the organisation or Order which make things into an inter-dependent wholeness.
Human beings do not live by facts alone, but also have an input (materials, energy and information) which they must process and produce an output, thereby changing the world. Though this applies to all things at the unconscious level, human beings are required to do it consciously also. This gives them the title vicegerent. The World not only is, but is becoming. Therefore they need facts, meanings and values. It is evident that facts are connected with the notion of Truth, values with Goodness and meaning with Power - the ability to process and connect facts with values. The notion of Beauty refers to the overall harmony between these three factors.
(3) The universe has a purpose or direction of development. This follows from the fact that if the original totality is God, then it can have no external cause. The internal cause is defined as a purpose or intention. The purpose of the Universe was defined by the Prophet (S.A.W) in the formula:-
"Allah said :- I was a hidden treasure. I wished to be known, therefore I created the Universe."
The purpose is, therefore, increasing consciousness. Evolution is regarded as a spiritual journey back to the source, Allah from whence all things came. The Universe was created in seven stages and levels (the 7 Heavens 65:12). It is also to be wound up. (21:104, 55:26-27). It emanates, as it were, from God from maximum Unity through 7 stages to maximum diversity, density and inertia, and then returns to God. There may be many such cycles, perhaps an infinite number, each having a time limit. But these cycles would be meaningless unless they had some goal. They are, perhaps spirals. The Causal force descends through these levels. Causation is, therefore, seen not as something that is prior in time, but prior in level.
Human beings can ascend through the 7 levels ( 84:19). The world they see depends on the level of consciousness. We do not see the world as it is, but the world we see is a result of the action of the external object on the mind and this depends partly on the nature of that mind. Heaven can be regarded as the real world while earth represents the restricted view of reality which human beings have owing to the limits of their consciousness, motives and activities. Or to the result of the forces coming from the lowest heaven. To see the real world they must purify their faculties. In particular, they must get rid of what we might in modernistic jargon call "satons", i.e. ideas, behaviour patterns and motives which come from fixations, idolatry, the attachment to things (greed, lust, addictions, prejudices, fantasies and the rationalisations which these produce and by which perception and motivation is corrupted.) To free ourselves from these we have been given the teachings, the moral law and the religious techniques. These, when correctly understood and practised, liberate us from our limitations. One cannot, of course, undergo this discipline by means of mere intellectual understanding, though this is also a pre-requisite, but through correct faith which forms correct motives, and correct actions.
Life is a problem-solving device, where a problem can be defined as an opposition whether it is purely in the external environment or within the mind or between an inner desire and outer supply. The solution always consists of a third reconciling factor which tries to restores the original Unity and harmony existing before the Universe began. Life can, therefore, be regarded as the isolation of that principle which originally kept the pair together. Consciousness itself requires a stimulus, which is an opposition or contrast, the problem, and arouses a person to that activity which will restore homogeneity or solve the problem. The solution creates harmony, unity, satisfaction and peace. The persistence of the problem causes conflict, frustration and pain. These conditions are called Paradise and Hell. It is not difficult to see that there will always be problems and hence, conflicts and suffering, until there is the final Unity that comes by Surrender to Allah.
The concept of Allah has the following purposes:-
1. To give meaning to existence and life as required and sought by all intelligence.
2. To provide a set of values and a goal so that an intelligent, conscious, purposive and constructive way of life can be set up as opposed to an accidental drifting existence or one that is harmful and destructive. To channel psychological energy and give a direction of development.
3. To provide a Framework of Reference, with Allah as the centre and origin, in which all experiences can be interpreted in a comprehensive and self-consistent manner.
4. To create a focus, a centre of integration in the psyche; to make the person whole rather than disintegrated with inner conflicts and confusion.
5. To expand the horizon of the mind beyond the immediate and the mundane and allow thinking in more Universal terms. To become more deeply aware of existence and to respect the creations of Allah as having interconnected functions and purpose.
6. To achieve liberation from all attachments that limit man in thought, motive and action and tap into the potentialities within.
7. To uncover conscience and reinforce the enabling impulses of hope, love and faith and remove all fear, anxiety and superstition that disable man.
8. To create an objective self-image for man as an agent of Allah, the fundamental reality and origin of all things, in order to replace the illusory ego, the source of illusions and delusions. Human beings are vicegerents with the Spirit of Allah within them.
9. To facilitate co-operation, communal unity and social integration - All human beings have the same spirit of Allah in them.
10. To provide a set of activities that encourages and stimulates the expansion of conscious experience into the more subtle and fundamental realms, ultimately to enable the experience of God and of the reality of oneself and of existence. To attain self-realisation, enlightenment, illumination, awakening. To come into eternal existence and achieve Paradise.
Islam is strictly Monotheistic. The notion of Tauheed (Oneness or Unity) is fundamental to Islam and affects all parts of the religion.
Allah is One in three senses:- (1) Unique (2) Indivisible (3) Independent - Self-existing and self-sufficient, the single origin of all other things.
Unity, not being relative, cannot be known by the limited mind. But as all knowledge is relative (i.e. it is about different things and relationship between them) then Relativity itself is known relative to the Absolute. Allah by Himself is the Absolute and unknown except to Himself. In the Created or Relative world, where Religion, which is the awareness of Creation, also exists, we have three related factors, namely Allah,the Creature and the relation between them. Thus three forms of Tauheed have been described:-
(1) According to His Nature - Tawhid al-Asma wa as-Sifat Sifat refers to Allahs Names and Attributes. Though 99 have been described, they are not separate things, but different aspects of the same thing.
(2) According to his Action or function - Tawhid ar-Rububiyya It is connected with the word Rabb, a title of Allah, meaning creating, sustaining, cultivating, and cherishing.
(3) According to the attitude of the created thing, the creature - Tawhid al-ibada Ibada refers to worship, service, adoration.
Tauheed refers to:-(1) A fact about existence. (2) Something that gives meaning to experience (3) It is a Value, an Ideal or goal towards which to strive.
The manifestation of the One in the created world of relativity causes a relationship to arise between (1) Knower, (2) Knowing and (3) Known. There is, therefore, a Tauheed of these three types.
(1) The Tauheed of the Knower is when he is in complete surrender to Allah. He is at one with Allah i.e. he is in full Islam and truly Muslim. But there is a distinction between those who are Muslim:- (a) By verbal acceptance (b) In outer behaviour (c) In thought and motive (d) In the state of being.
(2) The Tauheed of Knowing refers to experiences that arise from striving. Four levels are described:- (a) Oneness due to Faith (b) Oneness due to Knowledge (c) Oneness due to Propensity. (d) Oneness due to Divinity
(3) The Tauheed of the Known refers to what has been created. The following can be described:- (i) Truth is One. (ii) The Universe is One. (iii) Mankind is and should be One. (iv) Religion is and should be One. (v) The Human individual who contains the Spirit of Allah is or should be One, inwardly an integrated whole, not mentally compartmentalised. There should be co-ordination between thought, feeling and action. (vi) Life is and should be One it should not be divided into separate parts that do not affect each other e.g. Politics, Economics, Culture and Religion or the secular and the spiritual. (vii) The community that surrenders to Allah is or should also be One.
The notion of Tauheed also has several other consequences in the way the Universe is viewed:-
(1) If there is originally only the One, the Self-existing, the Self-sufficient, then we have fundamentally a Law or Principle of Conservation. This implies that if there is any action then there must also be an opposite and equal reaction. Everything that is gained must be paid for by something else. When something is constructed something else is destroyed. Underlying every change something is preserved.
(2) The Principle of Relativity. Knowledge requires a contrast between something A and something B which though separate are, nevertheless interdependent. An unchanging Uniformity cannot be recognised because there is no knower in contrast to the thing known. The arsing of this contrast, the coming of knowledge is the same thing as creation. It also implies that there is some third factor B which kept A and C together and now operates to recombine them. This is the act of creation or the act of knowing. That is, Relativity is itself relative to the Absolute Unity by means of a relating factor which is known as the Word or Command of God. It refers to Truth, which is the same as Order.
(3) The Law of Reciprocity. If we can divide a whole into parts, then the parts must interact and be dependent on each other and on the whole. The whole is always more than the sum of the parts owing to the organisation. Any entity that can be distinguished from another must be a part of some greater whole, which is itself a part of a greater whole and so on until we come to the ultimate whole. The parts have no meaning apart from each other and have no value apart from the whole. They have a function with respect to the whole and that gives them purpose.
(4) The Process of Evolution. Creation is a movement of disintegration from Unity to multiplicity, from wholes to parts. The Principle of Conservation requires that there should be an equal opposite process. This is evolution. It is a process of progressive unification. These are inter-dependent. But this does not necessarily mean that the processes are the exact reverse of each other or that they take place in the same medium. These processes refer to Order or Information.