Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Categories of Tawhid #1

Dr. Billal Philips

Literally Tawhid means "unification" (making something one) or "asserting oneness", and it comes from the Arabic verb (wahhada) which itself means to unite, unify or consolidate.[1] However, when the term Tawhid is used in reference to Allah (i.e. Tawhidullah[2]), it means the realizing and maintaining of Allah's unity in all of man's actions which directly or indirectly relate to Him.

It is the belief that Allah is One, without partner in His dominion and His actions (Rabbubiyah), One without similitude in His essence and attributes (Asma-wa-Sifat), and One without rival in His divinity and in worship (Uluhiyah or 'Ibadah).

These three aspects form the basis for the categories into which the science of Tawhid has been traditionally divided.The three overlap and are inseparable to such a degree that whoever omits any one aspect has failed to complete the requirements of Tawhid.

The omission of any of the above mentioned aspects of Tawhid is referred to as "Syirik" (lit. sharing, associating); the association of partners with Allah, which, in Islamic terms, is in fact idolatry.

The three Categories of Tawhid are commonly referred to by the following titles.

1. Tawhid ar-Rabbubiyah (lit. "Maintaining the Unity of Lordship")

2. Tawhid al-Asma-was-Sifat (lit. "Maintaining the Unity of Allah's Names and Attributes")

3. Tawhid al-'Ibadah (lit. "Maintaining the Unity of Allah's Worship") [3]

The division of Tawhid into its components was not done by the Prophet SAW nor by his companions, as there was no necessity to analyze such a basic principle of faith in this fashion. However, the foundations of the components are all implied in the verses of the Qur'an and in the explanatory statements of the Prophet SAW and his companions, as will became evident to the reader when each category is dealt with in more detail later in this chapter.

The necessity for this analytical approach to the principle of Tawhid arose after Islam spread into Egypt, Byzantium, Persia and India and absorbed the cultures of these regions. It is only natural to expect that when the peoples of these lands entered the fold of Islam, they would carry with them some of the remnants of their former beliefs. When some of these new converts began to express in writings and discussions, their various philosophical concepts of God, confusion arose in which the pure and simple Unitarian belief of Islam became threatened.

There were also others who had outwardly accepted Islam but secretly worked to destroy the religion from within, due to their inability to oppose it militarily. This group began to actively propagate distorted ideas about Allah among the masses in order to tear down the first pillar of Iman (faith) and with it Islam itself.

According to Muslim historians, the first Muslim to express the position of man's free-will and the absence of destiny (Qadar) was an Iraqi convert from Christianity by the name of Sausan. Sausan later reverted to Christianity but not before infecting his student, Ma'bad ibn Khalid al-Juhanee from Basrah. Ma'bad spread the teachings of his master until he was caught and executed by the Umayyad Caliph, 'Abdul-Malik ibn Marwaan (685-705), in the year 700 CE. [4]

The younger Sahabah (companions of the Prophet SAW) who were alive during this period, like 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar (d. 694 CE) and 'Abdullah in Abee Awfaa (d. 705CE), advised the people not to greet those who denied destiny nor make funeral prayers for those of them who died. That is, they considered them to be disbelievers. [5]

However, Christian philosophical arguments for free-will continued to find new supporters. Ghailan ibn Muslim from Damascus studied under Ma'bad and championed the cause of free-will until he was brought before Caliph 'Umar ibn 'Abdul-'Aziz (717-720CE). He recanted his beliefs publicly, however, [and] on the caliph's death, he resumed teaching free-will. The following caliph, Hisham ibn 'Abdul-Malik (724-743CE), had him arrested, tried and executed.[6]

Another prominent figure in this controversy was al-Ja'd ibn Dirham, who not only supported the philosophy of free-will, but also attempted to re-interpret the Qur'anic verses containing descriptions of Allaah's qualities according to neo-platonic philosophy. Al-Ja'd was at one point a tutor for the Umayyad prince, Marwaan ibn Muhammad, who later became the fourteenth caliph (744-750CE). During his lectures in Damascus, he openly denied some of Allah's attributes, like seeing, hearing etc., until the Umayyad governor expelled him. [7] He then fled to Kufah, where he continued to propound his ideas and gather followers until his heretical opinions became widely publicized and the Umaiyad governor, Khalid ibn Abdillah, had him publicly executed in 736 CE. However, his main disciple, Jahm ibn Safwaan, continued to defend his master's doctrines in philosophical circles in Tirmiz and Balakh, when his heresies became widespread, he was executed by the Umaiyad governor, Nasir ibn Saiyar, in 743CE. [8]

The early caliphs and their governors were closer to Islamic principles and the consciousness of the masses was higher due to the presence of the Prophet's companions and their students. Hence, the demand for the elimination of open heretics received immediate response from the rulers. In contrast, the later Umaiyad caliphs were more corrupt and as such cared little about such religious issues. The masses were also less Islamically conscious and thus were more susceptible to deviant ideas.

As greater numbers of people entered Islam, and the learning of an increasing number of conquered nations was absorbed, the execution of apostates was no longer used to stem the rising tide of heresy. The task of opposing the tide of heresy fell on the shoulders of the Muslim scholars of this period who rose to meet the challenge intellectually. They systematically opposed the various alien philosophies and creeds by categorizing them and countering them with principles deduced from the Qur'an and the Sunnah. It was out of this defense that the science of Tawhid emerged with its precisely defined categories and components.

This process of specialization occurred simultaneously in all of the other areas of Islamic knowledge as it has done in the various secular sciences of today. Therefore, as the categories of Tawhid are studied separately and in more depth, it must not be forgotten that they are all a part of an organic whole which is itself the foundation of a greater whole, Islam itself.

Tawhid ar-Rabbubiyah (Maintaining the Unity of Lordship)

This category is based on the fundamental concept that Allah alone caused all things to exist when there was nothing; He sustains and maintains creation without any need from it or for it; and He is the sole Lord of the universe and its inhabitants without any real challenge to His sovereignty. In Arabic the word used to describe this creator-sustainer quality is Rabbubiyah which is derived from the root "Rabb" (Lord).

According to this category, since God is the only real power in existence, it is He who gave all things the power to move and to change. Nothing happens in creation except what He allows to happen. In recognition of this reality, Prophet Muhammad SAW used to often repeat the exclamatory phrase "La hawla wa laa quwwata illaa billah" (There is no movement nor power except by Allah's will).

The basis for the Rabbubiyah concept can be found in many Qur'anic verses. For example, Allah says:

"Allah created all things and He Is the agent on which all things depend." [9]

"And Allah created you all and whatever you do." [10]

"It was not you who threw, when you threw, but it was Allah who threw." [11]

"And no calamity strikes except by Allah's permission." [12]

The Prophet SAw further elaborated on this concept saying:

"Be aware that if the whole of mankind gathered together in order to do something to help you, they would only be able to do something for you whom Allah had already written for you. Likewise, if the whole of mankind gathered together to harm you, they would only be able to do something to harm you which Allah had already written to happen to you" [13]

Thus, what man conceives as good fortune and misfortune are merely events predestined by Allah as part of the tests of this life. The incidents follow patterns set only by Allah.

Allah has said in the Qur'an:

"O Believers! Surely there is in your wives and children an enemy for you, so beware of them." [14] terrible events of life there lies test as is mentioned in the verse, "Surely We will test you with fear, hunger, loss of wealth and life and the fruits of your work, so give glad tidings to those who are patient." [15]

Sometimes the patterns are recognizable, as in the case of cause and effect relationships, and sometimes they are not, as in the case when apparently good results come from evil means or bad results from good means. God has explained that the wisdom behind these apparent irregularities is often beyond man's immediate comprehension due to his limited scope of knowledge.

"Perhaps you may dislike something which is really good for you or like something bad for you, but Allah knows (what is best for you), and you do not." [16]

Apparently evil events in human lives sometimes turn out to be for the best and apparently good things which people desire turn out to be harmful. Consequently, man's realm of influence in the course of events which make up his life is limited to the mental choice between options presented to him and not the actual results of his choice. In other words "man proposes and God disposes". Apparent "good fortune" and "misfortune" are both from Allah and can not be caused by good-luck charms such as rabbit's feet, four-leaf clovers, wishbones, lucky numbers, zodiacal signs, etc., or by omens of bad luck like Friday the thirteenth, breaking mirrors, black cats, etc.

In fact, the belief in charms and omens is a manifestation of the grave sin of Syirik (association) in this form of Tawhid. 'Uqbah, one of the companions of the Prophet SAW, reported that once a group of men approached Allah's messenger to give their allegiance to him, and he accepted the oath from nine of them but refused to accept it from one. When they asked him why he refused their companion's oath, he replied, "Verily, he is wearing an amulet" [17] The man who was wearing the amulet put his hand in his cloak, pulled the amulet off and broke it then made the oath. The Prophet SAW then said, "Whoever wears an amulet has committed Syirik." [18]

As for using the Qur'an like a charm or amulet by wearing or carrying Qur'anic verses on chains or in pouches to ward off evil or to bring good fortune, there is little difference between such practices and those of the pagans. Neither the Prophet SAW nor his Companions used the Qur'an in this fashion, and the Prophet SAW said, "Whoever innovates in Islam something which does not belong to it will have it rejected."19 It is true that the Qur'anic chapters, an-Naas and al-Falaq, were revealed specifically for exorcism (that is, for removing evil spells), but the Prophet SAW demonstrated the proper method by which they should be used. On an occasion when a spell had been cast on him, he told 'Ali ibn Abu Talib to recite the two chapters verse by verse and when he became ill he used to recite them on himself.20 He did not write them down and hang them around his neck, tie them on his arm or around his waist, nor did he tell others to do so.


1. J.M. Cowan, The Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic, (Spoken Language Services Inc., New York, 3rd. ed., 1976), p.1055.
2. The word Tawheed does not actually occur in either the Qur'aan or in the statements (Hadeeths) of the Prophet (~). However, when the Prophet (~) sent Mu'aadh ibn Jabal as governor of Yemen in 9AH, he told him, "You will be going to Christians and Jews (ahl al-Kitaab), so the first thing you should invite them to is the assertion of the oneness of Allah (Yuwahhidu Allah)." (Narrated by Ibn 'Abbas and collected by al-Bukhari (Muhammad Muhsin Khan, Sahih Al-Bukhari, (Arabic-English), (Riyadh: Maktabah ar-Riyaad al-Hadeethah, 1981), vol.9, pp. 348-9, no.469) and Muslim (Abdul Hamid Siddiq, Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, 1987), vol.1, pp.14-5, no.27). In this Hadeeth the present tense of the verb from which the verbal noun Tawheed is derived was used by the Prophet (~).
3. Ibn Abil-'Ezz al-Hanafee, Sharh al-'Aqeedah at-Tahawiyah, p.78.
4 Ibn Hajar, Tahdheb at-Tahdheb, (Hydrabad, 1325-7) vol. 10, p.225.
5. 'Abdul-Qahir ibn Tahir aI-Baghdade, Al-Farq bain al-Firaq, (Beirut: Daar al-Ma'rifah), pp.19-20.
6. Muhammad ibn 'Abdul-Kareem ash-Shahrastaanee, Al-Milal wan-Nihal, (Beirut: Daar al-Ma'rifah, 2nd ed., 1975), vol.1, p.30.
7. Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ar-Radd 'alaa al-Jahmeeyah, (Riyadh: Daar al-Liwaa, 1st ed., 1977), pp.41-43.
8. Muhammad ibn 'Abdul-Kareem ash-Sharastaanee, Al-Milal wan-Nihal, vol.1, p.46.
9. Surah az-Zumar 39:62.
10. Surah as-Safaat 37:96.
11. Surah al-Anfaal 8:17. This was in reference to a miraculous incident which took place when the Prophet (~) gathered some dust in his hand and threw it at the enemy (at the beginning of the Battle of Badr). Allaah caused the dust to reach the faces of the enemy in spite of their great distance.
12. Surah at-Taghabun 64:11.
13. Reported by Ibn 'Abbas and collected by at-Tirmidhee. See Ezzeddin Ibrahim and Denys Johnson - Davies, An-Nawawi's Forty Hadith, (English Trans.), (Damascus, Syria: The Holy Koran Publishing House, 1976), p.68, no.19.
14. Surah at-Taghabun 64:14.
15. Surah al-Baqarah 2:155.
16. Surah al-Baqarah, 2:216.
17. A charm worn to bring good fortune or avert evil.
18. Collected by Ahmad.
19. Reported by 'Aishah and collected by al-Bukhari (Sahih Al-Bukhari, (Arabic - English) vol.3, p.535, no.861), Muslim (Sahih Muslim, (English Trans.) vol.3, i, 931, no.4266 and no.4267) and Abu Dawud (Ahmad Hasan, Sunan Abu Dawud (English Trans.), (Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf Publishers, 1st. ed., 1984), vol.3, p. 1294).
20. Reported by 'Aishah and collected by al-Bukhari (Sahih Al-Bukhari, (Arabic-English), vol.6, p.495, no.535) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim, (English Trans.), vol.3, p.1195, no.5439 and 5440).


See: The Categories of Tawhid #2

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