Belief in One God
The basis tenet of Islam is the belief in One Almighty God. Muslims believe there is only One Supreme God who creates and controls everything in the universe. In Islam, God is believed to be the Creator, the Sustainer, the Ruler, and the Judge. Muslims further recognize that a person who believes in the Creator comes to love Him, trust in Him, hope from Him, and fear disappointing Him. Strict monotheism in faith and worship is the cornerstone of the faith.
“Allah” derives from an Arabic word that means “the God.” Arabic-speaking Christians and Jews often use the same name to refer to the Almighty. Muslims see it as the proper name of the One God, as it is the name used in the Qur'an. For the purposes of this book, the words “God” and “Allah” will be used interchangeably.
Among Muslims, Allah is the personal name used for this One Almighty God, a name that is not subject to plurality (“gods”) or gender (“goddess”). Therefore, even English-speaking Muslims prefer to use this personal name when referring to the Creator. Sometimes Allah is referred to as “He,” or may be quoted in the royal sense, “We.” These words do nothing more than expose the limits of human language. In Islam, Allah is beyond all human perception, and is not male, female, dual, or plural. Allah is simply One.
The biggest sin in Islam, which is called shirk, is to associate other deities or beings with God. In fact, the Qur'an describes this as the one and only sin that God will not forgive.
All idols and attempts to reach God through others are strictly forbidden. Muslims do not believe that God came to earth in the form of any man or creature, and they reject all attempts to personalize the Almighty or place intermediaries between humans and God.
The Islamic belief in the pure Oneness of God is called tawhid, a word that derives from the Arabic word for the number one. The Qur'an instructs believers to “worship Allah, and join none with Him in worship” (Qur'an 4:36). Islamic scholars further refine this belief to include the following categories of tawhid:
Tawhid Al-Rububiyah: The belief that Allah Alone is the Lord of all things.
Tawhid Al-Uluhiyah: The belief that Allah Alone is to be worshiped.
Tawhid Al-Asma' was-Sifat: The belief that Allah Alone has certain attributes or names that can be used to describe His perfection.
The most obvious example of shirk is the belief that the sun, moon, or stars have God-like powers. Even other monotheistic believers, however, have sometimes clouded their worship of One God. The belief that God has partners, or the practice of receiving “blessings” from pious human beings, are also considered forms of shirk in Islam.
The Attributes of Allah
As God is an unseen being, beyond our limited human perception, it is sometimes difficult for us to imagine His characteristics. The Qur'an offers a description of God by using many different attributes or “names,” which help human beings understand the nature of God. The Qur'an says, for example, that He is the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious, the Beneficent, the All-Knowing, the Loving, the All-Wise, and so on.
One chapter of the Qur'an offers this description:
Allah is He, other than Whom there is no other god, Who knows all things both open and secret, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Allah is He, other than Whom there is no other god. The Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace, the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Justly Proud. Glory to Allah! High is He above the partners they ascribe to Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Originator, the Fashioner. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. Whatever is in the heavens and on earth declares His Praises and Glory. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Qur'an 59:22–24)
Allah's Relationship with People
While Allah is fully transcendent and remains beyond all human attempts at understanding, Islam also teaches that Allah is near to us. Allah fully sustains each and every thing and creature on earth, and He reaches out to us in mercy and compassion. The Qur'an describes God as saying, “When My people ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close to them. I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me. Let them also, with a will, listen to My call, and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way” (Qur'an 2:186). Allah knows everything about every grain of sand, every leaf, and the secret whisperings of each person's heart. One does not need any special devices or intermediaries to reach out directly to Allah.
How many attributes or names of Allah are there?
The precise number is unknown, but traditionally there are ninety-nine different names that are used to describe God in the Qur'an and Sunnah. Muslims often try to recite the names, reflect upon them, and to understand God better through them.
Muslims believe that since Allah reaches out to us in compassion and mercy, it is our responsibility to respond to His call. Muslims believe that Allah is the One “Who created me, and it is Allah who guides me, and it is Allah who feeds me and gives me to drink. And when I am ill, it is Allah who cures me. And it is Allah Who will cause me to die, and then will bring me back to life” (Qur'an 26:78–81).
Although Muslims consider God to be transcendent and beyond our full understanding, they also believe he is close to human beings. In the Qur'an, it says that God created each human being and knows “the dark suggestions his soul makes to him, for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein” (Qur'an 50:16).