God is One
Monotheism in Islam
Muslims worship the One True God whom they call Allah. Allah is simply the Arabic word for God, My God, Your God, Our God, the One True God. Whatever name men may call him, if they believe in a Single Divinity as the Sole Divinity that Creates and Governs all that exists, He is that God -the One True God. Whether you call Him God in English, Gott in German, Dieu in French or Allah in Arabic, He is One and the Same. Some wrongfully believe that Allah is the name of the Muslim god, an ancient Arabian divinity, just as Baal was to the Canaanites and Phoenecians of old and distinct from the God of the Jews or Christians, but this is totally false. He is the same God as that of Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David, Solomon, John and Jesus and of all the good prophets found in the Bible, both the Old and New Testaments. To suppose that Muslims worship a different god based just on the name they call him is absurd to say the least when we know that even in Europe to this day Christians call him by different names. Such faulty reasoning denies even the universality of the Divinity.
God, after all, is not the exclusive deity of a particular people or tribe. He is the God of all humanity. And not just of man, He is the God of the Angels, winged messengers created from light; He is the God of the Jinn who are creatures made from fire; He is the God of the Houris, the heavenly nymphs of paradise, and indeed of all the worlds seen and unseen. The Arabic word Allah which we use for God is not a personal name of God. It simply means The God, formed from the definite article Al preceding the term for God which is Ilah, hence Allah – The God. Thus this word Allah ‘The God’ strongly stresses His Unity and what’s more it cannot be made into a plural just as the English god can be made into gods. This is why Muslims use the word Allah for God. In the Qur’an which is in Arabic you will even find the Biblical Prophets using the word Allah for God because this is exactly what Allah means – God!
God speaks to Moses in the valley of Mount Toor:
“O Moses, I am Allah, Lord of the Worlds
Jesus, the son of Mary, says to his people:
“O Children of Israel, worship Allah, my Lord and your Lord’”
And the Queen of Sheba reads out a letter from Solomon to her court:
“In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Be ye not arrogant against me, but come to me in submission (to true faith)”
Even Christian Arabs in the Middle East, in Palestine, Lebanon and Syria-who by the way are the oldest Christians in the world – refer to God as Allah. The word Allah for God occurs in their Bible, in their hymns and even in their day to day lives. In Aramaic, the language which Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) spoke, God was addressed as Alaha. In the Beautitudes of the Syriac Bible Jesus says: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see Alaha” (Matthew 5:8) and goes on to call the Kingdom of God Malkutha D’Alaha. In the Hebrew Bible God is called Eloha or El as in Genesis where we read of Jacob invoking El-the God of Israel (33:20) and naming the site where God had spoken to him Beth-El meaning ‘House of God’ (35:15). These Aramaic and Hebrew words for the Divinity are related to the Arabic word Ilah since all three are Semitic languages. In later times, Hebrew in order to stress the Majesty of God went further, and I would say a bit off track to call him by the plural form Elohim which though used as a grammatical singular nevertheless literally means The Gods.
This problem does not arise in the Arabic form. It is simply Allah – The God. See the beauty of it. Its uniqueness, its inimitability, its exclusivity, so fitting for the uncompromising monotheistic ideal that is Islam. It cannot be formed into a plural like gods or turned into a feminine like goddess. It gives absolutely no scope to play around with or conjure up any mental picture. In short, there is absolutely no room for tampering or manipulating with this hallowed name! This is why Muslims all over the world prefer to use this Arabic word for the one and only God whatever language they speak. Why, because there cannot be more than one Allah!
Having said this, let us try to know God, to understand Him and what He expects from us, His Creation. God speaks of Himself in His Word, the Qur’an in this way:
He is God; there is no god but He. He is the Knower of the unseen and the seen; He is the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. He is God; there is no god but He.He is the Sovereign, the All-Holy, the All-Peace, the Guardian of the Faith, the All-Preserver, the All-Mighty, the Irresistable, the Supreme. Glory be to God, above that they associate! He is God, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth magnifies Him; He is the Almighty, the All-Wise
(The Gathering: 22-24)
God! There is no god but He, the Living, the Self-subsisting, Eternal. No slumber can seize him nor sleep. His are all things in the heavens and on earth
There is no god but He. It is He who gives life and death– The Lord and Cherisher to you and your fathers of yore
What we learn from all this is that God is One, That He is Eternal and Self-Subsisting. He is the Creator and we His creation. Just as He began Creation, He can also end it and bring it back if He Wishes. But since He Himself was not caused and had no maker, He is different from the creation. Unlike His creation, He is Self-Existent, and since He does not depend on any other for the continuance of that existence, He must be eternal.
All that dwells in the earth will perish, yet still abides the Face of Your Lord
(The Most Merciful:26)
We also believe that God is Omnipotent, that He is All Powerful and that when He has decreed something, he says Be ! and it is:
To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and earth. When He decrees a matter,He says to it ‘Be’ and it is!
(The Heifer: 117)
From the Qur’an we learn the prayer:
In Your Hand is the Good. Verily, over all things You have Power. You cause the night to gain on the day and You cause the day to gain on the night. You bring the living out of the dead, and You bring the dead out of the living. And You give sustenance to whom You will without measure
His Power encompasses all things throughout all time and all space over which He rules Supreme. In the Qur’an we read of Moses in his sermon to Pharaoh describing God as the Lord of all time:
“Your Lord and the Lord of your fathers from the beginning!”
And the Lord of all Space:
“Lord of the East and the West, and all between!”
(The Poets: 26-28)
God is also omniscient, for as He says:
It is We who created man and we know what his soul whispers to him, for we are nearer to him than his jugular vein
To God belongs the East and the West; wherever you turn, there is God’s Face. For God is All-Embracing, All-Knowing
We also hold that everything takes place according to the Will of God. God condemns in no uncertain terms those vain fools who say:
There is nothing but our life of this world, we die and we live and nothing destroys us except Ad-Dahr (time)
(The Kneeling Down:24)
The Almighty speaking through His Prophet tells us:
The son of Adam annoys Me for he abuses Ad-Dahr (Time), though I am Ad-Dahr (The Time); In My Hands are all things, and I cause the revolution of day and night
Sovereignty of God
Nothing takes place in the heavens or the earth without God’s Leave and it is best that we put our trust in Him rather than follow our own fancies. Take the fate of the Titanic. The men behind it hailed the ship as unsinkable and put it to sea against the face of God, only to be sunk by an innocent looking iceberg. What this drives home is that nothing is possible without God. Yes, man or for that matter all creation is utterly dependent on God. This dependence is so complete that even modern scientists who are professed atheists are known to instinctively cry out O God! in times of great distress, despair or desperation. Why because the innermost stirrings of their soul tell them that it is only God who can save them. This is why we have God telling us in His Word, the Qur’an:
Of Him seeks every creature in the heavens and on earth Every day in Spendour doth He (shine)!
(The Most Merciful:29)
No creature is there crawling on the earth, but its provision rests on God. He knows its lodging place and its repository
Say: Who is it that delivereth you from the darknesses of land and sea, when ye call upon him in humility and silently (from the depth of your inner heart): “If He only delivers us from these (dangers) we shall truly be grateful”? Say: “It is God that delivereth you from these and other distresses, and yet ye worship false gods!”
In everything we see the Hand of God from our vast universe and very existence to everything in nature from the leaves in a tree to the clouds in the sky and the birds flying high above with wings outstretched:
Glorify the Name of your Guardian Lord Most High, who has Created, and further given order and proportion; who has ordained laws and granted guidance, and who brings out the pasture, and then makes it swarthy stubble
(The Most High:1-5)
With power and skill did We construct the heaven. Verily We are expanding it. And We have spread out the earth. How excellently We spread out! And of everything We have created pairs”
(The Scattering Winds:47-49)
It is God who created you in a state of weakness; then gave you strength after weakness. Then, after strength, gave weakness and a hoary head
It is God who sends the winds, and they raise the clouds. Then does He spread them in the sky as He wills, and break them into fragments, until you see raindrops issue from their midst
(The Romans: 48)
Do they not observe the birds above them, spreading their wings and folding them in? None can uphold them but the Most Gracious. Truly it is He who watches over all things
(The Dominion: 19)
At the same time, God is Just and Oft-forgiving. As He Himself says:
The Word changes not before Me, and I do not the least injustice to My servants
He also declares in His own words spoken through the lips of His Prophet:
O My slaves, I have forbidden oppression for Myself and have made it forbidden amongst you, so do not oppress one another. O My slaves, all of you are astray except for those I have guided, so seek guidance of Me and I shall guide you. O My slaves, all of you are hungry except for those I have fed, so seek food of Me and I shall feed you. O My slaves, all of you are naked except for those I have clothed, so seek clothing of Me and I shall clothe you. O My slaves, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive You
The Oneness of God
But there is one thing that God is so very particular about, and that is His Unity, His Oneness; His right of being worshipped alone with none other sharing in His Adoration. As He Himself says:
God forgives not (the sin of) joining other gods with Him; but He forgives whom He pleases other sins than this. One who joins other gods with God, has strayed far, far away
This radical and uncompromising monotheism is the bedrock of Islam, the very cornerstone on which Islam itself has been founded. Some wise men who have delved deep into the truth of God’s unity have even felt that God’s creation of everything in pairs from atoms with its electrons and neutrons to biological cells with its pairs of chromosomes to animal species including humans with their males and females all point to God’s desire to preserve Unity for Himself, in other words His Unique Oneness. As the Qur’an says:
Glory to Him Who created in pairs all things that the earth produces as well as their own (human) kind and (other) things of which they have no knowledge
(Ya Sin: 36)
Despite all this, God shows us that it is Unity or Oneness that is the ideal. There is always in the human psyche a deep-rooted tendency towards unity, which we may suppose stems from the very unity that exists at the source of all existence itself. Take for instance marriage where two become one in love and affection, the union of one with the other engendering life and leading to the perpetuation and propagation of our kind. Such a tendency we see also in our social life with unifying slogans calling for unity like One Nation Under God and even within ourselves, for is it not true that although many thoughts run through our minds, it is finally one that we choose to act upon and make sense of our world. Thus despite creation in pairs, there is a natural proclivity towards oneness which we may suppose emanates from the One True One.
There is much evidence to show that it can be only One God who rules the universe. As God Himself tells us:
If there were in the heavens and the earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both ! But glory to God, the Lord of the Throne. (High is He) above what they attribute to Him !
(The Prophets: 22)
He also tells us:
No son did God beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created, and some would have lorded it over others! Glory to God! (He is free) from the (sort of) things they attribute to Him
Such verses tell us that the very order of the universe with its unity of design and purpose is in itself testimony to the existence of One Supreme Being as against a multiplicity of divinities. If there were more than one god, they would contend with one another, battle one another, each one trying to outdo or impose his will on the other as we often see in some ancient mythologies like the Greek, Roman and Hindu traditions. This would only lead to chaos and disorder while on the contrary we see that the universe is in complete harmony.
You have only to consider some ancient Indo-European mythologies that have nature deities like the Sky, Dawn, Sun etc to realize the futility of their beliefs. The Sky Father was Dyaus Pitr to the Vedic Indians, Zeus Pater to the Greeks and Jupiter to the Romans. The Sun God was Suryas to the Indians, Helios to the Greeks and Tsar Solnitse to the Slavs. The Dawn Goddess was Ushas to the Indians, Eos to the Greeks and Eastre to the Anglo-Saxons. Now, I ask you, how could the Dawn goddess be separated from the Sun god when it is the interaction of the Sun with the Sky that gives us the dawn. They all work in perfect harmony. So how can they be separate divinities with their own wills and attributes which their ancient scriptures assign them? By the way what would the Sun worshippers have had to say had they known their deity was a mere star out of millions in the galaxy?
We also know that every creature is linked to one another in a chain of dependency, one living off the other to form a cycle of life. How then could they have emerged from different creators? Defies logic doesn’t it? Isn’t it much more logical to assume that these are all the creation of a Single Divinity working in perfect harmony with one another?
Why, because the creative style is one. It is uniform from the infinitesimally tiniest atoms to the mightiest galaxies. Our universe is bound by certain fundamental laws that operate in perfect harmony with one another, one complementing the other as if it were all one entity.Take the heavenly bodies, the planets and stars. They do not collide with one another. Stars have their stations and planets their orbits, each knowing its place in the grand scheme of things. The same holds true of everything else in this universe, all working in harmony like a vast symphony in the cosmic orchestra that is our universe, each knowing its part, each knowing its role, each fitting the other like a jigsaw puzzle.
Now, imagine different singers singing at the same time, or different artists painting on the same canvas? Would not it be a chaotic scene? This is exactly what it would have been like had there been many gods. Thus Islamic monotheism helps man make sense of his world, pointing to the ultimate unity behind the seeming diversity of the universe. It helps us rationalize our universe and creates order out of the chaos of polytheism.
God tells us again and again not to slip into the folly of polytheism: “Your God is One God. There is no god but He. Most Gracious, Most Merciful” (The Heifer:153). He is relentless to those who do not testify to His Unity, so much so that taking other deities besides Him or associating partners with Him is the gravest sin in Islam and one which would lead to a most painful torment in the hellfire. We as Muslims hold that humanity entered into a covenant with God to recognize Him as their Lord even before our coming into this world. God reminds us of it:
And (remember) when your Lord brought forth from the children of Adam, from their loins, their seed and made them testify (saying): “Am I not your Lord ?”. They said: “Yes ! We testify
It was referring to this primeval covenant that Prophet Muhammad told us:
God will say to that person of the (hell) fire who will receive the least punishment:“If you had everything in the earth, would you give it as a ransom to free yourself (from the fire).He will say “yes”. Then God will say: “While you were in the backbone of Adam,I asked you much less than this, but you insisted on worshipping others besides me”
Thus Islam is nothing but being faithful to the primal covenant. The material life of this world is however subjected to the diabolical influences of God’s arch foe Satan so that men tend to forget their primeval covenant with Him. Hence the need to follow His Messengers who throughout history have called upon their respective nations to testify to His Unity and Worship Him and Him alone. After all isn’t it said in the Bible: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad (Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is One) (Deuteronomy 6:4). And did not Jesus say: The first of all the commandments is, ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord’ And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ (Mark 12:29-30), These words of Jesus known as the Great Commandment are considered by most Churches as the very core of the Christian Creed. This long line of messengers ended with Muhammad, whose mission was not confined to any particular people but was to embrace all humanity.
Monotheism in Other Faiths
Of course when you study the religions of the ancient cultures, be it that of the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, the Celts, the Romans or the Hindus, you may wonder why they were polytheistic, worshipping many divinities instead of a Single Deity. You may wonder why if indeed the idea of monotheism had been imbued in men before they came into existence into this world, why then have so many nations in the past and even of today worshipped so many gods. The facts however are much more complex than that.
It is very likely that the ancient Indo-Europeans, the tribe that gave rise to nations as diverse as the Germans, Romans, Persians and Indians, despite worshipping natural phenomena such as the sky and the dawn even more than 5000 years ago, had preserved remnants of monotheism. That they at one time had some sort of primeval monotheism is suggested by their generic term for god, reconstructed by linguists as deiwos and attested in Sanskrit as devas, in Lithuanian as dievas and in Latin as deus. Now, it is not possible for such a term to come into existence in a primitive vocabulary where people worshipped many divinities. They would have simply addressed them by their names just as primitive people have words for specific things and not generic terms. For instance they may call an animal by such and such a name, but do not have a general term for animal or for a kind of animal such as bird, fish or mammal.
It is possible that this primitive monotheism, however vague it may have been, degenerated into nature-worship when these folk began seeking intermediaries between the Supreme Being and themselves. What should have been considered the Signs of God comprehended in the workings of nature; in the heavenly bodies and natural laws and phenomena, they came to look upon as intermediaries between themselves and the Almighty and later as deities in their own right, which is probably why they ultimately came to look upon the Sky, the Dawn and the Sun as divinities. It is also possible that since the abode of the Supreme Being was thought to be the sky, the term sky would have been used to address Him, which may be why we find the name of a deity meaning ‘Sky-Father’ occurring in ancient Indo-European civilizations as far apart as the Greek in the West and the Indo-Aryan in the East, Zeus Pater in the case of the Greeks and Dyaus Pitr in the case of the Indo-Aryans.
The monotheistic ideal, though obscured was not altogether lost and may account for the traces of monotheism, or rather latent monotheism, found amongst later Indo-European-speaking folk such as the Persians and Hindus, as seen for instance in the Iranian Supreme Deity Ahura Mazda ‘The Wise Lord’ and the Indo-Aryan Varuna, also known as Asura ‘Supreme Ruler of the Universe’. Both the Iranian Ahura and the Indian Asura derive from an Old-Indo-European term Heshos ‘lord’, literally ‘He That Is’ derived in turn from the root hes ‘to be’, ‘existent’, which is reflected in forms like Hittite Eshas, Latin Erus and Norse As, all of which mean ‘lord’ or ‘god’.
Although the Old Indo-European term Deiwos may have at one time meant ‘God’, with time, the term was extended to a plethora of nature deities as seen for instance in the Sanskrit deva ‘god’ of which there were many in the Indo-Aryan pantheon. The Slavs and Iranians then went through a monotheistic revolution where they converted the Indo-European term for ‘gods’ into hostile demoniacal beings, which is why in Slavic div came to mean ‘demon’ while in Iranian daeva came to mean the same thing. That the ancient Iranian faith was monotheistic there can be no doubt. The Gathas of the Iranian Prophet Zarathustra makes it very clear that Ahura Mazda ‘The Wise Lord’ is the One True God and Creator:
I also realized, Wise Lord, that serenity is Yours,
O Creator of the Living World, that wisdom of mind is Yours
O Wise One, at the beginning, You, through Your mind,
fashioned for us the living world, conceptions and intellects, put life in the physical frame, and gave deeds and words,
so that one makes his choice through free will
The First and the Last and the Giver of Life:
Wise One, I realized You as the first and the last,
and the patron of good mind, when I grasped You in my vision as the true creator of righteousness and the Lord of life’s actions
And the Knower of all actions performed in the past and indeed of those which will be performed in the future:
The Wise God knows best what the divines and their people have been doing in the past and shall do in the future. God alone is the judge. Let it be so as He wishes us to be
Further correspondences between Islam and Zoroastrianism can be seen in the belief that creation was realised in six days or stages, the weighing of the good and evil deeds on scales on the Day of Judgement, the notion of the pre-existence of human souls, the existence of angels who record men’s deeds, or question the souls of the deceased, the crossing of the bridge over the hellfire and the belief in jinns who closely resemble the daevas of the Avesta.
Hinduism at its earliest stages was also monotheistic. The One True Deity was given the name of Asura which has the same root as Ahura, the Supreme Deity of the Iranians. He was more generally called Varuna. He was looked upon as the All-powerful Universal Monarch and Guardian of the Cosmic Order. Although compassionate to those obeying his commands and giving security to those maintaining order, his wrath is aroused by disobedience and only he is capable of forgiving such sinners. The penitent would beseech Varuna to release him from the Divine wrath like a charioteer unyoking a yoked horse.
The Rg Veda, the earliest scripture of the Hindus says of Him:
The All-knowing Asura established the heavens, and fixed the limits of the earth. He rules all the worlds. These are the achievements of Varuna
The Atharva Veda says:
If one were to flee far beyond the sky, King Varuna would still be around about him. From heaven his envoys issue forth to this (world) and with their thousand eyes survey the earth. King Varuna sees all that happens between heaven and earth and beyond them. The very twinklings of the eyes of men are numbered by him
But that’s not all about Varuna that agree with Islamic teachings about God. This Veda declares in the same hymn (Hymn 16): “When two persons whisper, the third, King Varuna, knows it”. Is it any surprise that the Qur’an should mention likewise of Allah as if continuing the lines: “There is not a secret consultation between three, but He is the fourth among them, nor between five, but He is the sixth, nor between less or more, but He is with them wherever they be” (The pleading Woman:7).
Although a multiplicity of divinities were known to Hinduism, even during the Vedic period, there was still great stress on the monotheistic ideal. The Rg Veda declared of Him:
Do not worship anybody but Him, the Divine One. Praise Him alone
He is One alone that bears the divine names, to whom others look for wonder (10:83)
Only Lord of all created beings. He fixed and holds up this earth and heaven
Indeed some of the most sublime verses of the Veda are those addressed to this Unknown God:
He alone was the Lord of all that is. He established the earth and this heaven – Who is the God to whom we shall offer sacrifice?
He who gives breath, He who gives strength, whose command all the bright ones revere, who shadow is immortality, whose shadow is death – Who is the God to whom we shall offer sacrifice?
He who through His Might became the Sole King of the breathing and twinkling world, who governs all this, man and beast – Who is the God to whom we shall offer sacrifice?
He through whom the heaven and the earth were made fast, He through whom the ether was established, and the firmament; He who measured the air in the sky – Who is the God to whom we shall offer sacrifice?
Reminiscences of monotheism are also found in later Hindu scripture, such as in the Bhagavad Gita:
He who knows Me as the Unborn, as the Beginningless, as the Supreme Lord of all the Worlds
And in the Brahma Sutra of the Vedanta:
There is only One God, not a second, not at all, not at all, not in the least bit!
Thus it is very clear that there is a monotheism that precedes the polytheism that corrupted the ancient faith of the Hindus. And yet we still find the reminiscences of that One Infinite God breaking through the chaos of polytheism like the sun shining through dark rain clouds. Take the passages of the Upanishads which I compare with that succinct chapter of the Qur’an known as Surah Ikhlas verse for verse:
Ekam ekadvitiyam Qul Hu Allahu Ahad, Allahus Samad
(He is One only without a second) (Say He is God, One, God Eternal)
(Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1) (Surah Ikhlas 1-2)
Nachasya kaschij janita na chadipah Lam yalid walam yoolad
(Of Him there are no parents nor Lord) (He begets not nor was he begotten)
(Svetasvatara Upanishad 6:9:2) (Surah Ikhlas:3)
Ta tasya pratima asti Walam lakun lahu kufuwan ahad
(There is no likeness of Him) (And there is none like unto Him)
(Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19:3) (Surah Ikhlas:4)
Indeed even in the days of the Buddha about five centuries before Christ, belief in an all powerful deity was widespread in India. In the life story of the Buddha we come across similes such as “Like the Divine Sakra around whom all the devas assemble” suggesting that the people of his time conceived of the deity just as He was described in the Abrahamic faiths of Islam, Christianity and Judaism, as a Magnificent Being surrounded by angels. Did you know that at one time, the Sinhalese, a Buddhist people of Sri Lanka who are atheistic in principle but idolatrous in practice once did believe in a Supreme Being. Robert Knox, a shipwrecked Englishman whose story very likely served as the inspiration for Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe wrote in his book Historical Relation of Ceylon in 1681: “They do acknowledge one to be the Supreme, whom they call: Ossa Polla Maupt Dio which signifieth the Creator of Heaven and Earth; and it is He also, who still ruleth and governeth the same. This Supreme God, they hold, sends forth other deities to see His Will and Pleasure executed in the World”.
Then take ancient Egyptian religion. Although it has a plurality of deities, we come across a singular deity Ra who is regarded as the All-father of creation, watching over his creatures from the heavens. His character is seen in an ancient invocation to him in an old Egyptian hymn:
You are the lord of heaven; You are the lord of earth; You are the creator of those who swell in the heights and of those who dwell in the depths.You are the One God who came into being in the beginning of time,You created earth, fashioned man, You made the watery abyss of the sky
The most common symbol associated with this ancient Egyptian deity is the sun, so that with time He would have come to be associated with the sun and eventually be regarded as the Sun god which was exactly how the ancient Egyptians regarded Him. Ra – His name is however thought to mean simply ‘Creator’ or ‘Creative Power’. In later times when Isis and Osiris overtook him in popularity, he still remained Re retjer-aa neb-pet (Re, the great God, Lord of Heaven). That the Egyptians knew of One Supreme God whom the likes of tyrants like Pharaoh sought to do away with to arrogate divinity to themselves is seen from Moses’ reminder to Pharaoh that finds mention in the Qur’an:
Your Lord and the Lord of your fathers from the beginning
The ancient Babylonians also knew of a Supreme Creator God, though like in many other cultures, they eventually came to have a pantheon of false divinities. Hamurabi the famous Babylonian lawgiver invokes the Great God as ilu rabu-um ‘God the Lord’. But he also calls him father of the gods and refers to other divinities such as Bel, the Decider of Destiny and Adad, the Lord of Abundance. However there can be little doubt that they were originally monotheists. This becomes clear when we look at early Babylonian personal names which are compounded with –il ‘God’. That the name of God was used here shows that a single supreme deity was recognized. Had they worshipped other deities as supreme, they would have had their names compounded with the personal names of these divinities, but no, they formed the names by invoking the Most High God Il or Ilu in the manner Abraham’s family called one of her sons Ishmael ‘Whom God Hears’. Such monotheistic presuppositions we will find in many cultures of the world.
Belief in One God a Widespread Fact
To show how widespread this belief in a Supreme Creator God is, let us just look at the names of this Supreme Being as He is known by various peoples scattered all over the earth beginning only with A as the Arabic Allah. Thus we have Ahone of the Red Indians who lived in the Virginia region and Ababinili of the Chikasaw people of North America, Alakaluf of the Tierra del Fuego of South America, Akongo of the Nagombe people of Africa, Abora of the Canary Islanders, Armaz of the Pre-Christian Georgians of the Caucasus, Anu of the ancient Sumerians who lived in Mesopotamia and whose name means ‘Above’ or ‘Heaven’, not to forget Amenominakanushi the Supreme Transcendent Divinity of the Shinto Buddhists of Japan whose name means ‘Lord of the Bright Centre of Heaven’.
Indeed, even primitive African peoples believed in a creator god whom they called by various names. The Masai of Kenya worshiped the creator god Ngai while the Zulus of South Africa believed in a Supreme Transcendent Creator God they called Unkulunkulu ‘The Great One’. Then there was Leza, the Supreme God of the Central African people, Mulungu of East Africa and Dendid of the Dinkas of the Upper Nile. The Dogon people of Mali also believed in a creator god called Amma who created the sun, moon and earth and moulded people out of clay. Interestingly, many such African peoples believed that the Supreme Being withdrew into the heavens after creating humans. They did not have temples to this distant being and instead feared and worshipped lesser divinities whom He is said to have created. Only in times of severe crisis, in direst need when the sky seemed to fall and the universe topsy turvy would they appeal to the supreme being.
Even in the New World, we find reminiscences of a great creator god. The Incas, for instance had Viracocha who is said to have existed at the very beginning, before the world was created. He created the sun, moon, stars, civilization and men in his likeness. He sculptured and designed on a great piece of stone, all the nations that he intended to create. He ordered people to know and serve him and was entreated in prayer by the penitent. Among his epithets were Powerful and All Knowing. He was known to be Kind and Compassionate though hard on the wrongdoers who disobeyed him. Likewise, the Red Indians of New Plymouth believed in Kiehtan, the Creator God who made man and a woman and who dwelt above the heavens, the word for their deity originally being Kittantowit ‘Great living Spirit’.
In Polynesia, which was untouched by the rest of the world for thousands of years, people believed in the creator god Tangaroa who lived in a dark emptiness called Po and then created the world by throwing rocks into the watery wastes, after which he created humans. Likewise the ancient Japanese people known as the Ainu believed in the creator god Kamui who created men and animals. Nay, even ancient China had its Supreme Being, Shang Ti, the All-Powerful Creator above the heavens. And in an Altaic story from Siberia we find the creator God being called Ulgen. Yes, monotheistic ideas are widespread not just in the major faiths, but also in minor folk religions all over the world. What can explain this unique belief of men scattered all over the world, but the existence indeed of such a God!
Reasons for Polytheism
If we reflect on how this primordial monotheism could have relapsed into polytheism we can find many causes for it. One such is confusion. Suppose two different tribes each have a Supreme Creator God. They eventually come into contact and interact with one another, But they have different names for Him, like say the Australian tribes did. Although the Supreme God would have been originally deemed the one and only God of the World, tribal ideas might affect this view with each tribe clinging on to its high God instead of looking at it more rationally and unifying the idea. Thus two gods might emerge instead of one and with time more gods added to the religious sphere as more and more interaction takes place with other peoples. Thus tribalism could well be the root cause for much of this degeneration from monotheism to polytheism.
Another such is differentiation, which may take place when one of the attributes of the Supreme Being are split off and personified, so as to eventually overshadow the importance of the Supreme Being Himself. This was usually the work of petty-minded people who felt that all things could not emanate from the same source, that the one who gave life could not be the one who caused death, the one who gave the warmth could not be the one who gave the cold, the one who bestowed riches could not be the one who caused poverty. So they saw two divinities, one Good and one Evil as the Iranians of old did, or saw three as the Indians did with their trinity known as Trimurti with Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver and Siva as the Destroyer.
Well before all this took place in Hinduism, the earliest Hindu scripture, the Rg Veda declared in its first and last books: Ekam sad vipra bahudha vadanti (The Learned call One God by Many Names) (1:164.46) and Yo devanam namadha eka eva (He is One alone that bears the Divine Names) (10:83.3). By names what it means is attributes. The Qur’an in like manner declares: Allah La Ilaha Illa Huwa Lahul Asma Ul Husna (God! There is no god but He! To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names) (TaHa:8). In other words God is One, but His Attributes are countless. However the crude mind would not look at it this way, and hence Nomina developed into Numina, Names into Gods themselves.
Another is anthropomorphism where men who had no clear idea of a transcendent God came to believe that he must have looked like them and had a spouse and offspring just as they did. This may explain why the Greeks ascribed to Zeus human qualities and a family with wives and children, leading to the emergence of a pantheon of deities.
Yet another is excessive love for somebody or something, such as one’s ancestors whom one loves dearly, or even something regarded as having a fruitful vitality such as the sun or cow. Take for instance the sun. Many ancient cultures had their solar deities. The ancient Babylonians had Shamash, the Hindus Surya and the Greeks Helios. Then take the holy cow in India where the love and respect for this creature who provides milk and other dairy products has degenerated into veneration and even worship. The same holds true of one’s ancestors who men believed were responsible for creating them. They came to view the departed spirits of their ancestors as watching over them and sought to appease them by placating them with prayers and sacrifices which is what the aborigines of Sri Lanka known as the Veddas did, seeking their help with the wild game which they hunted.
Another trait that can lead to polytheism is fear, fear of disease and evil creatures noxious to men. This is why you will find Indian Hindus worshiping the serpent and the ancient Egyptians worshipping the crocodile. In India, somebody came up with the ludicrous idea that smallpox was caused by a goddess and so people began worshipping this false goddess, not only addressing their prayers to her to safeguard themselves from the dreaded disease but also sacrificing to her.
Finally there is hero-worship, perhaps the most despicable of all, a result of misplaced affections that bestowed divine honours upon someone whom one venerated beyond measure. This resulted in thinking of men one deemed to be ‘great’ as gods. But there’s a spin off from this as well, for others would come to look upon such ‘great’ men as god incarnate. This is what happened in ancient India where on the one hand we find men being deified as gods, as for instance Indra, and on the other men being considered avatars or incarnations of divinities such as Krishna. Thus it is that Indra, the tawny-bearded hero of the fair-complexioned Indo-Aryans in their struggle against the dark-skinned natives of India came to be deified as their war-god. The ancient Indians thought that by praying to their departed hero, he would grant them victory in war and so it was that Indra came to be regarded as god, even ousting Varuna, the Supreme God of the ancient Aryans, in the process. Such developments did not bode well for the spirit of monotheism. While in the early Vedas, Varuna was regarded as the Supreme God of the heavens and the earth, he was later dethroned to become god of just of the Dark Sky, ending up as a demigod in charge of water. Though Varuna was referred to in the Vedas as “Our father, the Asura who sprinkles down the waters” – as the one who dispensed rain or water from heaven – in later times he came to be regarded as a mere ‘god of the water’, eventually to be eclipsed by lesser divinities.
This is not surprising when we consider the fate that befell his Iranian counterpart Ahura Mazda among certain Iranian-speaking tribes who came to look upon him as the sun or a solar deity. Both the Khotanese Saka term Urmaysda as well as the Khwarezmian Remazd used for the sun have their origins in the Avestan Ahura Mazda ‘The Wise Lord’, the name by which the ancient Iranians called their Supreme Deity. Man-deities like Krishna, the wise man who counseled the Pandavas during the great Mahabharata War, underwent a different fate. They were transformed into avatars (gods incarnated as humans) by the sages who found it difficult to justify their divinity. They claimed that the Almighty, being transcendent, was so pure and holy that He could simply not be aware of the trials, travails and tribulations of human beings and that he had to descend in the form of a human to taste the weal and woe of this earthly life; something like saying that you have to become like a bee to understand how a bee feels about things. This is the very argument that modern Trinitarian Christians use to justify why God had to descend to earth in the form of the man Christ- to understand their suffering. It’s that easy for people to fall prey to such faulty logic, in spite of the fact that it goes against the very grain of intelligent reasoning, for if God indeed created man, would He be ignorant of His Creation?
That even the true messengers of God could be deified and regarded as the very things they preached against, namely as partners with God, could be seen from how Jesus was venerated in the years after his death so as to become in some Christian sects, not only a son of God and partner in the Godhead, but God Himself as some Eastern Orthodox Churches hold. This is why our Prophet Muhammad advised us:
Do not praise me as the Christians praise the son of Mary, for I am but the servant of God and His Messenger
It was not only Jesus, but the Prophet Jonah – of whom both the Bible and Qur’an speak of as a great prophet – who seems to have been so deified. In the Qur’an he is called Yoonus and in the original Biblical Yonas. The name of this great prophet who lived in Nineveh in Iraq bears a great resemblance to the Babylonian deity known as Oannes. According to Mesopotamian legend Oannes came to Babylon from the Red Sea. He dwelt in the Persian Gulf and rose out of the waters in the daytime to teach mankind to write and instruct them in the sciences before returning to the sea. He is said to have had the body of a fish and the head of a man though his voice was human. This may well be a misinterpretation of the story of Jonah emerging from the great fish. That he taught men is also in keeping with the mission of a Prophet which is to teach men the Truth and save them from Destruction.
Thus it is quite possible that even holy men, Men of God themselves, could be deified due to excessive admiration. Such is human nature which Satan finds easy to manipulate. You will be surprised to learn that even in the birthplace of the Prophet, Mecca which housed that holiest of the holy temples, the cube-shaped Ka’aba dedicated to the Worship of the One True God by Abraham and Ishmael, their Arabian descendants had so much come under the influence of Satan that they actually engaged in idolatry, so much so that prior to the coming of our Prophet, on whom be peace, the Ka’aba housed the images of 360 gods, each one for a day of a year. It was not until the Prophet, who victoriously entered the city after his many years of exile in Medina, smashed the idols and dedicated the ancient house to the One True God once again.
This is not to say that the pagan Arabs had totally forgotten the One True God Allah. They certainly knew Him and termed Him as such, even going to the extent of giving their children names compounded with it such as Abdullah which means “Slave or Servant of Allah”. In fact this was the name given to the father of our Prophet who lived in those days of ignorance. The problem was that although they still recognized God as the Creator Lord, they had come to associate other divinities with him, making them polytheists. This High God whom they called Allah was believed to have created the heavens and the earth, only to conveniently retire as though tired by the effort, his place being taken by other deities thought to be more attractive or accessible, like the fertility goddesses the Arabs of old worshipped. These Arabs adored goddesses like Lat, Uzza and Manat when times were easy, but in times of crises, or of utter helplessness, instinctively turned to Allah, who alone had the power to help them in such times. This we see in the Qur’an itself where it is said of the Pagan Arabs:
If you asked them who created them, they would surely say “Allah”
(Ornaments of Gold: 87)
If you were to ask them “Who created the heavens and the earth and subjected the sun and the moon?” they will surely reply “Allah”
(The Spider: 61)
“If you were to ask them “Who sends down water from the sky and with it brings the earth to life after its death?” They will surely reply “Allah”
( The Spider: 63)
As to what made them unbelievers, God Himself answers:
Most of them believe not in God except while joining partners to Him
So pervasive has the influence of Satan been throughout the ages. How easy it is for monotheism to degenerate into polytheism is seen from the fate of Christianity which came with a powerful monotheistic message, but degenerated into the worship of Jesus as the Son of God just like the Pagans of pre-Islamic Arabia discarded their original monotheistic worship by adoring whom they called the ‘Daughters of Allah’, the goddesses Lat, Uzza and Manat. Indeed, Christianity went one worse in promulgating the ridiculous doctrine of Trinity or Three in One, God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Ghost that flies in the face of the Oneness of God taught by Jesus, Upon Whom Be Peace. Just because Jesus did not have a human father does not make him a son of God. If we were to argue on this logic, we might as well call Adam a son of God as he had neither father nor mother when God created him from clay and blew something of His Spirit into him. What’s more to attribute to God the base animal function of sex is debasing to His Dignity and Grandeur.
This ridiculous idea of Jesus’ sonship of God, quite naturally led to a most unsavoury development that would have shocked the early Christians, the anthopomorphisation of God Himself, with the Almighty being pictured as an old man with a flowing white beard as seen in the paintings of the artists of the renaissance. In fact, one major reason that the modern West has by and large shied away from religion is due to the Christian picture of God as an anthropomorphized divinity much like a father figure in the pattern of Zeus, which it quite naturally regarded as primitive and backward.
The Jews, despite being quick to condemn Christianity as diluting the monotheistic teachings of the Hebrew Prophets by calling Jesus the Son of God were themselves not altogether free of polytheistic ideas. The Old Testament of the Bible as we know it sometimes seems to understand the pagan gods to be lesser divine beings who have been assigned by Israel’s God to rule foreign nations. You will read in Deuteronomy:
For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the Great God, Mighty and Awesome. who has no favourites, accepts no bribes
And in the Psalm of Asaph:
God rises in the divine council, gives judgement in the midst of gods: “How long will you judge unjustly and favour the cause of the wicked?”
I declare “Gods you be, offspring of the Most High all of you, yet like any mortal you shall die; like any prince you shall fall”
Interestingly, you will find many primitive peoples who believed, and still believe, in a Supreme God, perhaps because the simplicity of their societies did not make it that susceptible to the degeneration more complex societies would have been subject to. Such diffused monotheism is widespread and found even in the remote regions of Africa, Australia and the Americas. In Africa alone there was Wuni of the Dagamba, Katonda of the Baganda, Waka of the Gallas, Kwoth of the Nuers, Ngai of the Masais, Omukuru of the Herero of Namibia, Arebati of the Bambuti people and Nzambi of the Bakongo people of the Congo and Tiko of the Hottentots of South Africa. Many Australian aborigines also believe in the Supreme Being though they had different names for him. The Kulins called Him Bunjil, the Kurnais Mungan-Ngaua, the Kamilaroi Baiame and the Yuins Daramulun. In India’s tribal areas of Bengal, the Kookies of Chittagong called this Supreme Being, the Omnipotent Creator of the World by the name of Khogein Pootteeang while in the Bay of Bengal, the Andaman islanders called Him Puluga regarding Him as the Supreme Being by whom all things were created, who was invisible, never born and immortal, omniscient knowing even the thoughts of hearts and the judge from whom every soul received sentence after death.
The modern Western mind is thankfully returning to this primitive simplicity of belief. In the Marvel movie Thor. The Dark World, the Norse Thunder god and his race are shown not as gods, but as a superhuman race who even taste of death. Odin point blank tells his haughty son Loki: “We are not gods. We are born and we die just as humans do”.
To believe in God is to believe in the Truth and nothing but the Truth. Just as the frost cannot dwell with the fire, so the truth cannot share with the lie. Since God is the Truth, the never-changing Unity, all that contests this fact, the manifold deities man has taken in his place or to share in his divinity is a lie. A lie cannot thrive, it must perish sooner or later, which is why God tells the true believers to say:
Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished: for Falsehood is (by its nature) bound to perish
(The Night Journey: 81)