THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH
"A power that at his pleasure doth create
To save or to destroy,
And to eternal pain predestinate
As to eternal joy."
- Lord Houghton.
AMONG all the religions of the world there is none that has a shorter creed than Islam; none whose creed is so well known and so often repeated. The whole system of Mohammedan theology and philosophy and religious life is summed up in seven words: La ilaha illa Allah, Mohammed rasul Allah. "There is no god but Allah and Mohammed is Allah's apostle" - on these two phrases hang all the laws and teaching and morals of Islam. The logical development of Islam took place after the death of Mohammed in two ways: by the interpretation of the Koran and by the collection (or invention)
of a mass of so-called tradition. The former is what Allah revealed by means of a book; the latter is what Allah revealed by means of a man, Mohammed. Both revelations have well-nigh equal authority and both rest their authority on the kalimet or creed of seven words. The accompanying analysis shows this relation.1
Gibbon characterizes the first part of the Moslem's creed as "an eternal truth" and the second part as a "necessary fiction."2 Concerning the latter statement there is no dispute, but whether we can admit the former depends altogether on the character of the Being of whom it is affirmed that He displaces all other gods. If Allah's nature and attributes are in any way distorted or are unworthy of Deity, then even the first clause of the briefest of all creeds is false. "Because Mohammed taught the unity of God it has been too hastily concluded that he was a great social and moral reformer as well. But there is no charm in the abstract doctrine of the unity of God to elevate humanity. The essential point is the character attributed to this one God."3 It is, therefore, not superfluous to inquire both from the Koran and from orthodox Tradition what Moslems mean by asserting God's unity and what character they ascribe to their only, true God. For there is no doubt
1 Revised and reprinted from
Arabia, the Cradle of Islam. 2 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
Vol. III., pp. 488. 3 Osborne's Islam under the Khalifs of Bagdad, p. vii.
1 Revised and reprinted from
Arabia, the Cradle of Islam.
2 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,
Vol. III., pp. 488.
3 Osborne's Islam under the Khalifs of Bagdad, p. vii.
that they themselves emphasize nothing so much as this part of their system. It is the motto-text of the Moslem's home-life, the baptismal formula to welcome the infant as a believer, the final message to whisper in the ears of the dying, La ilaha illa Allah. These words they chant when carrying a burden or a bier; these words they inscribe on their banners and their door-posts; they appear on all the early coins of the caliphs and have been the great battle-cry of Islam for thirteen centuries. By repeating these words, the infidel turns Moslem and the renegade is welcomed back to a spiritual brotherhood. By this creed the faithful are called to prayer five times daily, from Morocco to the Philippines, and this is the platform on which all the warring sects of Islam can unite, for it is the foundation and criterion of their religion. According to a traditional saying of Mohammed, "God said to Moses, if you were to put the whole universe on one side of the scale-pans and the words La ilaha illa Allah on the other, this would outweigh that."1 Orthodox tradition also relates that the prophet one day was passing by a dry and withered tree and as soon as he struck it with his staff the leaves fell off; then the prophet said, Verily, the words La ilaha illa Allah shake off the believer's sins as my staff shook off the leaves from this tree.2
1 Mishkat el Misabih,
Delhi edition, Book X., p. 201. 2 Ibid., p. 202.
1 Mishkat el Misabih,
Delhi edition, Book X., p. 201.
2 Ibid., p. 202.
The Koran is never weary of reiterating the formula which expresses God's unity, and the one hundred and twelfth Surah, specially devoted to this subject, is, so Moslems say, equal in value to one-third of the whole book. It is related by Zamakhshari in his commentary that Mohammed said, "The seven heavens and the seven earths are built on this Surah and whoever reads it enters paradise."
Now in spite of the emphasis thus put on the doctrine of God's unity by Moslems, and in spite of the fact that it is this part of their creed which is their glory and boast, there has been a strange neglect on the part of most writers who have described the religion of Mohammed to study Mohammed's idea of God. It is so easy to be misled by a name or by etymologies. Nearly all writers take for granted that the God of the Koran is the same being and has like attributes as Jehovah or as the Godhead of the New Testament. Especially is this true of the rationalistic students of Islam in Germany and England. Is this view correct? The answer, whether affirmative or negative, has important bearing not only on missions to Moslems but on a true philosophical attitude toward this greatest of all false faiths. If we have to deal with "an eternal truth" linked to "a necessary fiction" our simple task is to sever the link and let the eternal truth stand to make men free. On the other hand, if the necessary fiction is put as the foundation of a distorted truth, there can
be no compromise; both clauses of the creed fall together.
To the etymologist, Zeus-Pater, Jupiter and Heavenly Father mean the same thing; but these words express widely different ideas to the student of comparative religions. Many people have a better knowledge of Jupiter, Brahma or Thor as deities than of Allah; and it is so because in the former case they go to mythology and in the latter case to etymology for the sum of their ideas. The word Allah is used for God not only by all Moslems, but by all Arabic-speaking Jews and Christians in the Orient. But this does not necessarily mean that the idea expressed by the word is the same in each case. The ideas of Mohammed regarding God's existence, character and attributes came to him from three sources. First he undoubtedly had a knowledge of God from nature, and the passages of the Koran which set forth this natural theology are some of the most beautiful and poetic in the whole book. Then, by his heredity and environment he could not free himself from the pagan ideas of Deity current among the Arabs. Lastly, he learned something of the God of Abraham and of the teachings of the New Testament from the Jews and Christians of Arabia and Abyssinia. From these three sources Mohammed obtained his theology, and to each source we can trace some of the ideas he sets forth in the Koran and in his table-talk concerning Allah. What was the result?
This question we will try to answer in what follows. It remains to quote a few authoritative testimonies to show at the outset that the verdict is not unanimous regarding the ethical value and the philosophic truth of Mohammedan Monotheism.
Frederick Perry Noble, an authority on Islam in Africa, writes:1 "The crowning benefit bestowed upon the benighted negro by Islam, its advocate exclaims, is the belief in the one true God. Is not this an advance, an immense advance, upon fetishism and idolatry? This depends on the content and effect of the idea of God in Islam and in African paganism. If the two members of the religious equation prove of equal value, the answer must be: x = y and the gain is zero." This is very strong language. In the following paragraphs of that chapter of his book the author puts Allah in the balances against an African fetich and the scales hang nearly even! How different is this testimony from that of Canon Taylor, and Dr. Blyden and Bosworth Smith regarding Islam's blessing to dark Africa.2 Major Osborne, in sketching the history of religion under the Khalifs of Bagdad, concludes: "The God of the Moslem is not a righteous God, but an arbitrary sovereign. I know that passages in the Koran can be produced wherein
1 The Redemption of Africa, Vol. I., p. 73. 2 See, for example, Blyden's Christianity, Islam
and the Negro Race, pp. 7, 25, 199-215, 277-299. London, 1888.
1 The Redemption of Africa, Vol. I., p. 73.
2 See, for example, Blyden's Christianity, Islam and the Negro Race, pp. 7, 25, 199-215, 277-299. London, 1888.
the righteousness of God is strongly insisted upon. But such passages have failed to mould to any great extent the practical religion of Islam, because (as I have already observed) the Koran is a book without moral gradations. Every institution and every precept stands upon the same ground - the will of God. A chain is no stronger than its weakest link; and it is the veneration paid to a black stone, not to the one God, which denotes the high-water mark of the moral and intellectual life of the Moslem world."1 Johannes Hauri, in his classical study of Islam, voices a similar sentiment and gives the clue to the favorable judgment of so many other writers. He says:2 "What Mohammed tells us of God's omnipotence, omniscience, justice, goodness and mercy sounds, for the most part, very well indeed, and might easily awaken the idea that there is no real difference between his God and the God of Christianity. But Mohammed's monotheism was just as much a departure from true monotheism as the polytheistic ideas prevalent in the corrupt Oriental churches. Mohammed's idea of God is out and out deistic. God and the world are in exclusive, external and eternal opposition. Of an entrance of God into the world or of any sort of human fellowship with God he knows nothing. This is the reason Islam
1 Islam under the Khalifs,
pp. viii. and 138. 2 Der Islam in seinem Einfluss auf das Leben
seiner Bekenner. Leiden, 1882, pp. 44, 45.
1 Islam under the Khalifs,
pp. viii. and 138.
2 Der Islam in seinem Einfluss auf das Leben seiner Bekenner. Leiden, 1882, pp. 44, 45.
received the warm sympathies of English deists and German rationalists; they found in its idea of God flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone." The following chapters will show whether this statement is overdrawn and whether Noble's indictment of Allah will stand.
The Moslem Doctrine of God
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