Tenets of Islamic Belief
Islam proposes the following six propositions of belief from its adherents.
- Existence and unity of God
- Existence of Angels
- God’s revelation to humans in holy books
- God appointing Prophets to all people
- Resurrection and life after death
- God’s Will and human freedom of choice
Existence and unity of God
“Say, He is God, the one and only.” (Qur’an, 112:1)
We know and reasonably accept that a needle cannot exist without a maker; a town cannot function without a mayor and a book cannot exist without an author; how then is it possible that this majestic universe could be without a Designer, Maker and a Governor… The number one tenet of Islam is that God exists and God alone has designed, created and hence governs the universe.
Islam is very precise about the absolute unity of God. It teaches that God is One and Only. As with all propositions that the Qur’an makes, it directs its readers to examine the universe in order to find evidence for God’s unity.
One of the laws observed in the universe is the Law of Inter-dependence. The universe is an integral entity. Nothing within it exists independently in an absolute manner. For instance, for an apple to grow, a tree is needed. For the tree to sustain its life, it needs the Earth and the Sun. For the sun and the earth to exist we need the existence of the whole universe. Therefore, the One who created a single apple must have also created the whole universe. We also observe a stunningly perfect order and harmony in the Universe. If there were more than one God, there would be conflict and chaos, or at the very least, we would find a non-uniform system.
In Islam, God is both a personal God and a transcendent reality. Whenever God is mentioned in the Qur’an, God is described as Who He is and what He isn’t at the same time. For instance, “Say: He is God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him.” (Qur’an, 112:1-4). We have a potential to get to know God through His works observable in the Universe and by knowing and understanding His Divine names and attributes. On the other hand, we cannot know his transcendent essence and self as this is beyond human comprehension, “No vision can grasp Him, but His grasp is over all vision. He is above all comprehension, yet, is acquainted with all things.” (Qur’an, 6:103). Qur’an lists 99 names or titles for God that include – The Most Gracious (Rahman), The Most Merciful (Raheem), The All-Forgiving (Ghafur) and so on.
God has personal attributes not because people have conceived God and attributed to God human characteristics. On the contrary, God has given humanity His attributes in a very limited fashion so that we can get to know God. This is highlighted in the verse “…I have made him (Adam) complete and breathed into him of My spirit…” (Qur’an, 15:59). Humans can only comprehend things and concepts by relating them to their opposites. Given that God does not have an opposite, we, ourselves, become the means by which we may come to know God. Our limited abilities as well as physical and spiritual senses become the units of measurement that enable us to get an idea about the infinite qualities of God. For example, we can only see the seven-colour spectrum and only to a limited distance. Using this understanding, we can comprehend the infinite vision of God. We have a very limited creative ability. Using this understanding, we comprehend the absolute creativity of God.
According to Islam God has six Attributes of Perfection and seven Personal Attributes. God’s attributes of Perfection are…
- Existent – This attribute expresses the existence of God. God’s existence is not based on any cause or any other being.
- Self-Existent – God does not depend on any other being. His existence is self-sustaining.
- Unity – God is one in His self, attributes and acts.
- [not necessary here and doesn’t sound natural to me] Eternal – God has always been existent. He is not bound by time. He has created time.
- Perpetual – There is no end to God’s existence.
- Unlike Creation – God is nothing like the creation observable in the universe.
God’s personal attributes are…
1. Life – God is alive. He has perpetual true life that is the source of all lives.
2. Knowledge – God is all-knowing. His knowledge surrounds and bounds everything.
3. Will – God’s will is all-encompassing. He has absolute freedom to decide anything He wills.
4. Power – God is all-powerful. He has the power to do and create whatever He wills.
5. Creation – God has the attribute of creation. There are two types of creation, creation from non-existence and creation by the production of a new thing from elements.
6. Seeing and Hearing – God sees and hears everything. Size, distance, volume, light and sound waves do not limit his vision and hearing.
7. Speech – God speaks without being dependent on letters and sound waves.
Existence of Angels
“…Righteous is he who believeth in Allah and the Last Day and the angels and the Scripture and the Prophets…” (Qur’an 2:177)
Belief in the existence of angels is also important in Islam. When one observes nature as encouraged by the Qur’an, one sees an abundance of life living in all environmental conditions. There are about 2-3 million plant and animal species living in conditions ranging from the depths of oceans to the gruelling climate of the deserts. Recently, microscopic life has been discovered in water temperatures approaching boiling point. If such abundance of life is concentrated on this relatively tiny planet, then, in proportion to the vastness of the universe, there must be spiritual beings suitable for residence in stars and other stellar objects. Just as God can create beings from matter, which is a condensed form of energy, He can also create conscious beings from light and other forms of energy.
According to Islam, angels are conscious beings who are created from noor (light). Because of this fact, they can travel in very high speeds. There are countless angels spread throughout the heavens and earth. Angels are neither male nor female. Consequently, they do not reproduce (43:19). They do not eat or drink as we do. However, just as we are nourished by air, water, food and derive pleasure from them, so are the angels nourished by the lights of remembrance, glorification, worship, knowledge and love of God and receive pleasure from them (2:30).
Angels study both the material and immaterial dimensions of God’s Dominion in adoration and get satisfaction from observing the manifestations of His Grace and Majesty. Angels undertake all commands of God and do not have the capacity to sin (66:6). Angels are created in classes. Some are pure worshippers while the worship of other classes may consist of being involved in some kind of work. However, essentially all angels obey the commands of God Almighty and worship and praise Him.
I want to stress one very important difference between angels and human beings in Islam. Angels do not gain promotion by individual endeavour or through worship. Each one of them has a fixed, determined rank (37:164). On the other hand, humans have no pre-determined rank. Each one of us has the potential to go beyond the highest ranks of angels and also to drop below the bottom line (95:4-6). It is this distinction that makes us human and the capacity to be the most comprehensive and valuable being in whole creation.
Resurrection and life after death
“Do they not look to the skies above them; how We have made them and adorned them and how there is no flaw in them. And the earth We have spread out, and have flung firm hills therein, and have caused every lively kind to grow therein, a sight and a reminder for every pertinent servant. And We have sent down from the sky blessed water whereby We give growth to gardens and the grain of crops, and lofty date-palms with ranged clusters, provision for men; and therein we revive a dead land and thus will be the Resurrection.” (Qur’an, 50:6-11).
There are many signs of resurrection in nature. The Qur’an says, “So consider the signs of God’s mercy; how He gives life to the earth after its death. Indeed, it is He Who gives life to the dead, for He is powerful over all things.” (Qur’an, 30:50).
Sometimes arid landscapes and their environment appear to be dead with no sign of plant and animal life. After a good rainfall the dead landscape comes back to life with many species of plants and animals. For example, Lake Eyre, which is totally dry most of the time, recently rejuvenated after a rare rainfall. Within a week many bird, fish, animal and plant species have returned seemingly from nowhere. In winter, the whole environment seems dead, but in spring everything comes back to life. Although a tree appears to be reduced to its skeleton in winter, it blossoms and flowers in spring. In a way, it is being resurrected.
God has given man the need for sleep and dreams every day. During sleep the body does not move and it is in a state of unconsciousness. Yet, we might dream to be in wonderful places or have nightmares. Among other purposes for sleep, it is designed to show us that resurrection is a reality and we are shown a glimpse of it every night.
We also observe a perfect balance and equilibrium in nature and universe indicating that God is Just, whereas, in human domain, justice is not fulfilled. Hitler died without receiving his due punishment and many good people passed away without being rewarded. God’s justice requires that there must be another realm where absolute justice will be fulfilled.
Thus, Muslims believe that there will be an eternal life after death. It is inconceivable for a compassionate God not to create the hereafter for without the hereafter, in the minds of people, favour would turn into a source of punishment if it was to end after a finite time. Moreover, it is not at all possible for God to meticulously meet every need of a single ant, but not answer the most important need of humanity – eternal life.
When its time is due, the whole system of the universe and the earth as our testing ground will be wound up and a new system will be designed appropriate for eternal life. In the current universe, God’s wisdom is dominant. There are causes veiling God’s acts. In the new universe, His direct Power will be dominant. The time for the end of the universe is not known but the Prophet Muhammad(*) has informed Muslims of its signs fourteen centuries ago. Some of the following reported signs have already come true.
1. Buildings as tall as mountains and racing in height,
2. Children becoming rebellious to their parents,
3. People being ridiculed for practising religion,
4. Second coming of Jesus and the anti-Christ,
5. Sun rising from the West.
Resurrection in the hereafter, according to Islam, will be in body and spirit (Qur’an, 75:3-4). A Supreme Tribunal will be held where the Mercy and Justice of God will manifest, “That Day mankind will proceed in scattered groups that they may be shown their deeds. So, whosoever does good equal to the weight of an atom shall see it. And whosoever does evil equal to the weight of an atom shall see it” (Qur’an, 100:6-8).
Islam makes a clear distinction between the rights of God and human rights. While God may forgive transgressions and sins committed against Himself, (if He wills as He is Oft-Forgiving) the wrongdoings and transgressions done to others will be settled by God between the parties in the Day of Judgement. Everyone will give an account of their lives and how they have exercised their freedom of choice in their lifetime. The outcome of the tribunal will decide one’s final destination.
The Prophet Muhammad urged Muslims to repent directly before God for matters between individuals and God and reconcile all unsettled matters between individuals concerned before death so that they can journey to the hereafter without difficulty. In cases of unresolved matters of human rights violations, there is even the possibility of transferring positive merit points for good deeds to the other party whose right was unjustly violated. For example, the Prophet Muhammad describes a person who continuously gossips behind other people as ‘bankrupt’ in the Day of Judgement as such a person would find that the rewards of his good deeds are transferred to people who were the subject of gossip. Human rights violations can be settled by asking forgiveness from other party. Clearly, a Muslim with a strong belief in the hereafter with a sense of such acute justice would be extremely careful in his treatment of other human beings and even animals in this lifetime.
Islam is arguably the first religion that even talked about animal rights, which were implemented by the Prophet himself. During the Ottoman reign (1299 – 1923) for example, there were laws that regulated how much a donkey could be loaded and number of days worked in a week. It is also believed in Islam that humans will be judged on their treatment of animals in the Day of Judgement.
Divine determination and freedom of choice
“And with Him are the keys of the unseen, none knows them but He. And He knows whatever there is in the earth and in the sea; not a leaf falls but he knows it. There is not a grain in the darkness of the earth nor anything fresh or dry, but is written in a Clear Record.” (Qur’an, 6:59)
The universe is orchestrated powerfully and precisely at the same time. Something precise requires measure, intention and exercise of will. There is a grand plan and sequence of events observed in the Universe that are beyond our control. The total amount of rainfall on earth is exactly the same every year. The dimensions of human face and their symmetry show measure. All these examples show that there is an all encompassing Will that dominates the universe.
Islam accepts Divine Determination as a necessary aspect of faith. It is defined as God’s measurement and approval of everything that will happen in the universe, including those in human life, prior to they actually happen. However, this is far from being a fatalistic perspective. In the human domain, Divine Determination is a title of God’s knowledge. God’s knowledge of and recording of acts in advance does not force a person to commit those acts. Meteorologists, for example, can predict and put on record if it’s going to rain in two days’ time using their knowledge and science. It does not rain because they have simply said so. It was going to rain anyway. Similarly, God through his infinite knowledge knows what we will do and records them. However, this does not force us to do those acts. Islam recognises that humans have freedom of choice. We are in charge of our intentions and actions.
Everything about Divine works is good and beautiful in itself or by the results they produce. This principle is fundamental to God’s works in the Qur’an, which states “… But it is possible that you dislike a thing, which is good for you, and that you love a thing, which is bad for you. But God knows, and you do not know.” (Qur’an 2:216) In nature, natural disasters and death seem evil on the face of it, but in reality natural disasters relieve built up pressure in the earth’s atmosphere and crust. Islam sees death as a gift and liberation from the limitations of the earth, relief from the perils of old age, a transition to a better life and an opportunity to meet and see God and other loved ones, who have travelled to the hereafter. It would be great evil not to have rain at all for the sake of preventing a few occasional floods.
In Islam, God creates both good and evil; however, evil is created, as a consequence of man’s misuse of his independent will. Man choses to respond in a particular way. God Almighty creates the act and the resultant consequences. Creation of evil or allowing evil to happen is not evil but choosing evil is. God does not chose evil, we do. He allows it because he has granted us freedom of choice. Evil is produced by the lack of fulfilment of an essential ingredient or condition for good to be created. Man through misuse of his independent will causes this and hence the evil consequence. In fact, evil has no real existence. It is merely the ‘absence of good’.
Some people say, “why does God allow so much suffering!” At the same time they say, “I am free to do whatever I want.” These two statements are diametrically opposed to each other. One cannot say both statements at the same time. It is not possible to ask God to interfere in our affairs when we chose evil and not to interfere when we don’t like it. We can either have full freedom of choice (including the freedom to chose evil) or not at all. Responsibility and accountability comes with the freedom of choice.
As stated in the Qur’an (2:30), God has created the human as a vicegerent on earth meaning that it is humanity’s responsibility to establish justice on earth within the human domain.
(*) Out of reverence for his role as the Messenger of God, Muslims are required to say “peace be upon him” whenever the name of the Prophet Muhammad or, in fact, any prophet is mentioned. This is usually reminded in books with the abbreviation ‘pbuh’ after the name to remind readers to utter the phrase. Since Muslims already know this practice and that non-Muslim readers are not required to say the phrase I have not included the abbreviation ‘pbuh’ after the name of Prophet Muhammad.