Tawhīd: The Muslim God according to the Prophet Muhammad and the Ahl al-Bayt (as)
God according to Islam is a being that transcends all of space, time, and matter. He does not exist like a galaxy or black hole would exist but is instead the source of all of existence and the grounds which gives the possibility of anything to exist in the first place. The evidence for the Muslim God’s existence is primarily logic and the consciousness of being, which science itself presupposes before it can do any kind of “science”. The reality of God, to the dismay of atheists, as understood by the Prophet Muhammad and his Holy Household, can be established independent of scientific truths and discoveries.
Bismillāhir Rahmānir Rahīm, As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh. Peace be upon you brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to the Muslim Converts Channel! In our last lecture, we examined some of the incorrect conceptions of God which are unfortunately ripe among many theists, including many Muslims. We also saw how atheists have taken advantage of this mistaken view of God and have used it for their advantage to deny His existence.
Put shortly, this incorrect understanding of theism holds that God is a being and object like any other being and object in the world of existence with the exception that he is longer in duration, more powerful and more knowledgeable.
One of the primary reasons as to why this happens is because people often rely too much on their physical senses to learn. In other words, in order for something to be worth learning, it has to be tangible and objectifiable. Too many people refuse to consciously and intentionally acknowledge the existence of phenomena that go beyond the limits of tangibility. This is despite the fact that people regularly but unconsciously accept the existence of such phenomena like the reality of human consciousness, love, or even logical and mathematical truths which are abstract and non-tangible, but fully real.
This understanding of the Abrahamic God makes him no more different than the gods of Greek or Hindu mythology. This erroneous understanding of God presents us with many problems. First, it fuels many of the doubts that people have towards God. If God is just another being in the realm of existence, why can’t we see Him? Why can’t He be detected? Why aren’t scientists across universities proving his existence?
There are, unfortunately, many poor defenses of God. For example, calling him an “invisible spirit” only makes it more unlikely, if not impossible, to ever prove His existence. Atheists are more than happy to conclude that it is non-sensical for people to believe in such an immense and incredible being without evidence. Faith, they conclude, is belief in the absence of evidence. Only “uneducated people,” or people who “lack the ability to think critically” can accept the existence of God.
In this lecture, we will examine in more detail what the Islamic conception of God is as understood by the Prophet Muhammad and his Holy Household (the Ahl al-Bayt). We will demonstrate how the correct theistic notion of God is diametrically opposed to the kind of simplistic understanding of God which many atheists and theists unfortunately share.
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[He is] the Creator of the heavens and the earth. He has made for you from your own selves, mates, and among the cattle, mates [as well]; He is the one [who] multiplies you. There is [absolutely] nothing like unto Him yet He is the all-Hearing, the all-Seeing. (Chapter 42 of the Qur’an, verse 11)
The understanding of the Muslim God centers around the idea of Tawhīd. This notion holds that God is absolutely one and unique. It also holds that there is nothing we can imagine that even comes close to being Him. Perhaps one of the best explanations of Tawhīd in Islam comes from the first Shia Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (as). As the divinely guided infallible successor of the Prophet Muhammad and inheritor of his knowledge, the words of Imam Ali (as) are essentially the words of the Prophet Muhammad.
In this sense, we must be aware that anything that is uttered by Imam Ali is, in reality, directly taken from the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad. In sermon 186 of Nahj al-Balaghah which is famously known as the “Sermon of Tawhīd,” Imam Ali (as) states the following:
He who assigns to Him (different) conditions does not believe in His oneness, nor does he who likens Him grasp His reality. He who illustrates Him does not signify Him. He who points at Him and imagines Him does not mean Him. Everything that is known through itself has been created, and everything that exists by virtue of other things is the effect (of a cause)…
Times do not keep company with Him, and implements do not help Him. His Being precedes times. His Existence precedes non-existence and His eternity precedes beginning…It cannot be said that He has a limit or extremity, or end or termination; nor do things control Him so as to raise Him or lower Him, nor does anything carry Him so as to bend Him or keep Him erect. He is not inside things nor outside them. He conveys news, but not with the tongue or voice.
He listens, but not with the holes of the ears or the organs of hearing. He says, but does not utter words. He remembers, but does not memorize. He determines, but not by exercising His mind. He loves and approves without any sentimentality (of heart). He hates and feels angry without any pain. When He intends to create someone He says "Be" and there he is, but not through a voice that strikes the ears.
His speech is an act of His creation. His like never existed before. If it had been eternal it would have been the second god. It cannot be said that He came into being after He had not been in existence because in that case the attributes of the created things would be assigned to Him and there would remain no difference between them and Him, and He would have no distinction over them.1
No amount of explanation could possibly exhaust the brief but powerful words of Imam Ali (as). What we will offer instead is a brief reflection on the implications of Imam Ali’s understanding of the Islamic God. Imam Ali’s understanding of God is diametrically opposed to the incorrect conception of God that many atheists and some theists unfortunately hold.
The Muslim God is the transcendent fountain and grounds of all of existence. When Imam Ali says everything that is known through itself has been created, and everything that exists by virtue of other things is the effect (of a cause)… His Existence precedes non-existence and His eternity precedes beginning, God is the unconditional cause of everything that exists.
As the Necessary Existent or Being*, He is the source through which all of contingent reality is made possible. Something which exists “necessarily” is something which does not depend on anything other than itself to exist. Every contingent thing that exists does so by virtue of the effect of something else, be it space, time, or matter or something else. In other words, a contingent being does not exist in and of itself. Without God, the universe, the Big Bang, the multiverse, or any
1 See p. 20 of Nahj al-Balagha available in the following link: http://islamiclibrary.com/Scripts/BookReaderDemo/ViewPdf.aspx?cd=EN1524#page/24/mode/2up
actuality and reality could not be. Remember that we are not exclusively speaking of physical reality, but of existence itself.
The distinction between physical reality and existence is a very important one to keep in mind. Physical reality is discerned through empirical observation and may be subject to the scientific method, whereas existence is presupposed by science without which it cannot function.
Knowing about the “whatness” or make-up of a thing is what science deals with, but the fact that the object exists, regardless of how it’s made, where it came from, or what it really is, is a totally different question. A person must acknowledge that something exists before doing any further “science” about the object in question.
For example, science can tell me what a piece of chicken is made out of, how many grams of protein it holds or how warm it is. However, the fact that there is a piece of chicken in front of me is a question of existence. Without acknowledging that the chicken first exists, we can’t even begin to know about it scientifically! This means that existence is not predicated on what we scientifically know about the universe, but is predicated upon our consciousness of being.
Insha’Allah, we will go into more detail concerning this question in our next lecture titled “Arguments for God’s existence: The Argument from Being”
Some may argue that matter is an illusion, but even an illusion is a form of reality that is contingent upon perception. For an illusion to exist, a being must be able to perceive it and is thus part of the grand chain of existence. To be able to doubt existence, one must first exist. The fact that a person is conscious of existence as a whole is proof that existence is an objective reality.
We know that an infinite chain of contingent beings is logically impossible for it implies infinite regress. Without a starting point, nothing can exist. In other words, if A’s existence depends on B’s existence, and B’s existence depends on C’s existence, and C’s existence depends on D’s existence, and the chain of existential dependence would go on in an infinite regress, nothing would ever exist as one would never reach a beginning point from which all of existence logically starts from. But the fact that A already exists means that somewhere, there is a starting point, that is, a source for all of existence.
Every contingent being is conditioned by a being and reality external to it. A contingent being by definition does not exist necessarily (i.e. it does not exist in and of itself) but depends on something else. We already demonstrated that there must be a starting point for existence. Let us call this starting point of existence “S” (s as in the term starting point).
By virtue of being the starting point of all being and existence, S must exist in and of itself, meaning that it must exist unconditionally and necessarily. S must therefore be the source and grounds of all of reality, being and existence. Without S, there would be no existence let alone physical reality.
According to Islam, God is point S in the “symphony” of existence. When we say God exists, we don’t mean that He exists in the same way as a planet or universe would exists. He is what grounds
the existence of every conditioned and contingent being. He is the condition of possibility for anything to exist at all.
When atheists, adopting an incorrect understanding of theism, argue that there is no evidence for God’s existence, they mean that there is no physical, scientific and empirical evidence for His existence. Imam Ali (as) explains that God’s existence precedes non-existence and His eternity precedes beginning…It cannot be said that He has a limit or extremity, or end or termination… meaning that He is infinite and eternal in being for any form of physical or temporal limitation would make him contingent upon space (makān) and time (zamān). Science is the study of finites, but God is infinite.
More importantly, however, is our following response to the atheist claim: If God is just another being and object existing alongside other objects and beings, then their claim may have some kind of merit. We give them this little “merit” because demonstrating the reality of such a being would require empirical and scientific evidence akin to the existence of galaxies or black holes.
But this is not how the God of Islam exists! According to the God of Tawhīd, as understood by the Prophet Muhammad and his Ahl al-Bayt (as), the unconditioned reality of all of existence and grounds through which the existence of any contingent being is made possible is called Allah which in English, translates as “The God.”
The basis through which we come to know the existence of the Islamic God is not through empirical evidence, but through the objective fact of existence itself which science and empiricism presupposes. Among other things, the evidence for God can therefore be found in
- Our own consciousness of reality which proves that there is such a thing as existence. To even doubt existence, we would have to exist in the first place. As such, existence is an objective fact and as there is “existence,” there must be a starting point in the chain of existence. The only other alternative is infinite regress, which, as we showed earlier, is impossible.
- Logic… which science also presupposes. In other words, science does not prove logic, it depends on logical truths without which it cannot function. For example, the law of cause and effect is not discovered by science, it is presupposed by it! You must first accept that there is such a thing as causality before you can do any kind of science! Through logic, we know that there must be a starting point and that an infinite regress is impossible thus leading us to the starting point of existence.
None of these two points depend on the discoveries of science. It does not matter what science says now or what it will say in the future, the discussion of existence is an entirely separate matter from the discussion of physical reality.
Our understanding of physical reality is largely subjective which is why science is always in a state of self-revision, whereas existence is an objective fact and a self-evident truth. By experiencing existence, one directly experiences God but it is only when the spiritual heart is pure that one becomes fully aware of this fact.
Until Next Time, Thank you for watching. As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh
A being that exists dependently, does not exist in and of itself
A being that exists independently, exists in and of itself
Pure fact, does not depend on human opinion.
Depends on human senses, perceptions and opinion. Difficult to know for certain if it is 100% true.
why can’t I see God
evidence for God
David Bentley Hart, The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss. Yale: Yale University Press, 2014.
Shaheed Murtaza Mutahhari. Theology and Metaphysics in Nahjal Balaghah
Sharif al-Radi. Nahjul Balagha Arabic & English (Part 1 and Part 2): Sermons
Ayatullah ʿAbdullah Jawādī Āmulī. A Commentary on Theistic Arguments.
Karim Aghili. God in Islamic Traditions: A Glance at al-Tawhid by Shaykh al-Saduq.
Sayyed Mohammad Beheshti. God in the Quran.