II ALLAH, THE DIVINE ESSENCE
"The interpretation of God consists of two distinct yet complementary parts - a doctrine of God and of the Godhead. God is deity conceived in relation, over against the universe, its cause or ground, its law and end; but the Godhead is deity conceived according to His own nature as He is from within and for Himself." - Principal Fairbairn.
CONCERNING the real significance of the Arabic word Allah there has been much speculation and endless discussion among Moslem exegetes and lexicographers. The author of the Muheet-el-Muheet dictionary, a Christian, says: "Allah is the name of necessary Being. There are twenty different views as to the derivation of this name of the Supreme; the most probable is that its root is il�h, the past participle form, on the measure fi'�l, from the verb ilaho = to worship, to which the article was prefixed to indicate the supreme object of worship." When we open the pages of Ferozabadi, Beidhawi or Zamakhshari and read some of these twenty other derivations we find ourselves at the outset before an
unknown God. The intellectual difficulty was a real one to the Moslem exegete, as he must discover some root and some theory of derivation that is not in conflict with his accepted idea of God. Beidhawi, for example, suggests that Allah is derived "from an [invented] root ilaha to be in perplexity, because the mind is perplexed when it tries to form the idea of the Infinite!" Yet more fanciful are the other derivations given and the Arabic student can satisfy his curiosity in Beidhawi, Vol. I., pp. 5 and 6.
According to the opinion of some Moslem theologians, it is infidelity (kufr) to hold that the word has any derivation whatever! This is the opinion of the learned in Eastern Arabia. They say "God is not begotten," and so his name cannot be derived. He is the first, and had an Arabic name before the creation of the words. Allah is an eternal combination of letters written on the throne in Arabic and each stroke and curve has mystical meaning. Mohammed, they teach, received the revelation of this name and was the first to preach the divine unity among the Arabs by declaring it. This kind of argument is of one piece with all that Moslems tell us of "the days of ignorance" before the prophet. But history establishes beyond the shadow of a doubt that even the pagan Arabs, before Mohammed's time, knew their chief god by the name of Allah and even, in a sense, proclaimed His unity. In pre-Islamic literature, Christian or pagan, ilah is used for any god
and Al-ilah (contracted to Allah), i.e., , the god, was the name of the Supreme. Among the pagan Arabs this term denoted the chief god of their pantheon, the Kaaba, with its three hundred and sixty idols. Herodotus informs us (Lib. III, cap. viii.) that in his day the Arabs had two principal deities, Orotal and Alilat. The former is doubtless a corruption of Allah Taal, God most high, a term very common in the Moslem vocabulary; the latter is Al Lat, mentioned as a pagan goddess in the Koran. Two of the pagan poets of Arabia, Nabiga and Labid,1 use the word Allah repeatedly in the sense of a supreme deity. Nabiga says (Diwan, poem I., verses 23, 24): "Allah has given them a kindness and grace which others have not. Their abode is the God (Al-ilah) himself and their religion is strong," etc.
Labid says: "Neither those who divine by striking stones or watching birds, know what Allah has just created."2
Ash-Shabristani says of the pagan Arabs that some
1 Brockelman in his Geschichte der Arab. Literatur remarks, Vol. 1., p. 30, "Auch bei an-Nabiga und Lebid finden sich manche specifisch christliche Gedanken die uns beweisen dass das Christentum an der durch die Poesie repr�sentierten geistigen Bildung seinen stillen Anteil hatte." Cheikho claims that Lebid was a Christian poet. Nabiga died before the Hegira.
2 Quoted by Dr. St. Clair Tisdall, in the Journal of the Victorian Institute, Vol. XXV., p. 149. He gives the Arabic text of both Nabiga and Lebid's stanzas.
of them "believed in a Creator and a creation, but denied Allah's prophets and worshipped false gods, concerning whom they believed that in the next world they would become mediators between themselves and Allah." And Ibn Hisham, the earliest biographer of Mohammed whose work is extant, admits that the tribes of Kinanah and Koreish used the following words when performing the pre-Islamic ceremony of ihlal. 1 "We are present in thy service, O God. Thou hast no partner except the partner of thy dread. Thou ownest him and whatsoever he owneth."
As final proof, we have the fact that centuries before Mohammed the Arabian Kaaba, or temple at Mecca, was called Beit-Allah, the house of God and not Beit-el-Alihet, the house of idols or gods. Now if even the pagan Arabs acknowledged Allah as Supreme, surely the Hanifs (that band of religious reformers at Mecca which rejected all polytheism and sought freedom from sin by resignation to God's will) were not far from the idea of the Unity of God. It was henotheism2 in the days of paganism and the Hanifs led the way for Mohammed to preach absolute monotheism. The Koran often calls Abraham a Hanif and stoutly affirms that he was not a Jew or a Christian (Surahs 2:129; 3: 60, 89; 6: 162; 16:121, etc.). Among the Hanifs of Mohammed's
1 Sirat, Part II., p. 27.
2 The adoration of one god above others as the specific tribal god."-C. P. Tiele.
time were Waraka, the prophet's cousin, and Zaid bin 'Amr, surnamed the Inquirer. Both exerted decided influence on Islam and its teaching.
N�ldeke thinks Mohammed was in doubt as to which name he would select for the supreme being and that he thought of adopting Er-Rahman, the merciful, as the proper name of God in place of Allah, because that was already used by the heathen. Rahmana was a favorite Hebrew name for God in the Talmudic period and in use among the Jews of Arabia.1 On the Christian monuments found by Dr. Edward Glaser in Yemen, Allah is also mentioned. The Sirwah inscription (A.D. 542) opens with the words: "In the power of the All-merciful and His Messiah and the Holy Ghost,"2 which shows that, at least in Yemen, Arabian Christians were not in error regarding the persons of the Trinity. One other term often used for Allah we will have occasion to study later. It is the word Es-Samad [the Eternal], and seems to come from the same root as Samood, the name of an idol of the tribe of 'Ad and mentioned in the poem of Yezid bin Sa'ad.3 Hobal, the Chief god of the Kaaba (and whom Dozy identifies with
1 Encyclop. Brit., Ninth edition, Vol. XVI., p. 549
2 Recent Research in Bible Lands, by Hilprecht, p. 149. Does not this Christian introductory formula show whence Mohammed borrowed his Bismillahi-er Rahman-er-Rehim?
3 Taj-el-Aroos Dictionery, Vol. II., p. 402. See note at the end of the chapter.
Baal),1 is, strange to say, not mentioned in the Koran. Perhaps he was at this period already identified by the Meccans with Allah. This would explain Mohammed's silence on the subject.
We thus are led back to the Sources from which the Arabian prophet drew his ideas of Allah; namely (as for all his other teaching), from Arabian paganism, Talmudic Judaism and Oriental Christianity. Islam is not original, not a ripe fruit, but rather a wild offshoot of foreign soil grafted on Judaism. It will not surprise us, therefore, if its ideas of God are immature and incomplete.
The passages of the Koran that teach the existence and unity of God (Allah) are either those that refer for proof of His unity to creation (Surahs 6:96-100; 16:3-22; 21:31-36; 27:60-65, etc.), or state that polytheism and atheism are contrary to reason (Surah 23:119), or that dualism is self-destructive (Surah 21:22), or bring in the witness of former prophets (Surahs 30:29; 21:25; 39:65; 51:50-52). The dogma of absolute monotheism is held forth first against the pagan Arabs as, e.g., in Surah 71:23, where Noah and Mohammed agree in condemning the idols of antediluvian polytheists. "Said Noah, My Lord verily they have rebelled against me and followed him whose wealth and children have but
1 See his book, De Israeliten te Mekka van David's tijd tot op de vijfde eeuw, etc., Haarlem, 1864, pp. 83-85, and also Pocock's Spec. Hist. Arab., p. 98, ed. White.
added to his loss and they have plotted a great plot and said, Ye shall surely not leave your gods; ye shall surely neither leave Wadd nor Suwah nor Yaghuth nor Ya'ook nor Nasr,1 and they led them astray," etc. But this dogma is no less aimed at the Jews whom the Koran accuses of deifying Ezra (Surah 9:30) and Christians who believe in the Trinity. This Trinity Mohammed misunderstood or misrepresented as consisting of Allah, Jesus and the Virgin Mary.2 The deity of Christ is utterly rejected (Surahs 19:35, 36; 3:51, 52; 43:57-65; 5:19, etc.), and His incarnation and crucifixion denied, although not His miraculous birth (Surahs 19:22-24; 3:37-43, 47-50; 4:155, 156).
The word Allah is called by Moslem theologians Ism-ul-That, the name of the essence, or of the Being of God. All other titles, even that of Rabb (Lord) being considered Isma-ul-Sifat, i.e., names of the attributes. In this first name, therefore, we have (barren though it be) the Moslem idea of the nature of God apart from His attributes and creation (in accordance with the motto at the head of this chapter), although at the same time in sharp contrast with Christian ideas of the Godhead.
As is evident from the very form of the Moslem creed their fundamental conception of Allah is negative.
1 Of course these were Arabian idols, but the Koran is full of such strange anachronisms.
2 See Chapter VI.
God is unique, as well as a unit, and has no relations to any creature that partake of resemblance. The statement in Genesis that man was created in the divine image is to the Moslem blasphemy. Allah is defined by a series of negations. As popular song has it �
"Whatsoever your mind can conceive,
That Allah is not you may well believe."
Mohammed, outside of the Koran, was silent regarding the nature of God's being. "For while traditions have been handed down in abundance which give the responses of the Prophet to inquiries concerning prayer, almsgiving, fasting and pilgrimage there is not one having reference to the being [and attributes] of God. This is a fact acknowledged by all those most profoundly versed in Traditional lore."1 The great Imams are agreed regarding the danger and impiety of studying or discussing the nature of the being of God. They, therefore, when speaking of Allah's being fall back on negations.
The idea of absolute sovereignty and ruthless omnipotence (borrowed, as we shall see, from the nature of Allah's attributes) are at the basis. For the rest his character is impersonal - that of an infinite eternal vast Monad. God is not a body. God is not a
1 The Khalifs of Bagdad, p. 136. I have put his words "and attributes" in brackets Osborne's statement is too strong. There are traditions, although not many, on Allah's attributes.
spirit. Neither has God a body nor has he a spirit. The Imam El-Ghazzali says: "Allah is not a body endued with form nor a substance circumscribed with limits or determined by measure. Neither does He resemble bodies, as they are capable of being measured or divided. Neither is He a substance, nor do substances exist in Him; neither is He an accident, nor do accidents exist in him. Neither is He like anything that exists; neither is anything like Him. His nearness is not like the nearness of bodies nor is His essence like the essence of bodies. Neither, does He exist in anything nor does anything exist in Him."1
The words "There is no God but Allah" occur in Surah Mohammed, verse 21, but the Surah which Moslems call the Surah of the Unity of God is the 112th. According to Tradition, this chapter is Mohammed's definition of Allah. Beidhawi says: "Mohammed (on him be prayers and peace) was asked concerning his Lord and then this Surah came down." Zamakhshari says "Ibn Abbas related that the Koreish said, O Mohammed, describe to us your Lord whom you invite us to worship; then this Surah was revealed." As a specimen of Moslem exegesis here is the Surah with the comments first of Beidhawi and then of Zamakhshari; the words of
1 See El Maksadu-l-asma by this famous Moslem scholastic. An extract is found in Oakley's History of the Saracens and quoted in Hughes' Dict. of Islam.
the Koran are put in italics and the translation is literal.1
"Say, He is God, One. God is the predicate of He is, and One is in apposition to it or is a second predicate. God is 'eternal' (Samad), that is, God is He to whom men betake themselves for their needs. He does not beget, because of the impossibility of his homogeneousness. And is not begotten, because of the impossibility of anything happening concerning Him. And there is not to Him a single equal, i.e., equivalent or similar one. The expression 'to him' is joined to the word 'equal' and precedes it because the chief purpose of the pronouns is to express the denial. And the reason for putting the word 'single' last, although it is the subject of the verb, is that it may stand separate from 'to him.'" The idea of Beidhawi seems to be that even in the grammatical order of the words there must be entire and absolute separation between Allah and creation!
Zamakhshari interprets likewise as follows: "God is one, unified (unique?) in His divinity, in which no one shares, and He is the one whom all seek since they need Him and He needs nobody. He does not beget, because He has none of His own genus - and so possesses no female companion of His own kind, and
1 Beidhawi, the most celebrated of all Sunni exegetes, died at Tabriz in 685 A.H. Zamakhshari died 538 A.H., and spent most of his life at Mecca. He was for a time a free-thinker, but his commentary is held equal to that of Beidhawi.
consequently the two of them propagate. This is indicated by God's saying, 'How can there be offspring to Him and He has no female companion.1 And He is not beggotten. Because everything born is an occurrence and a (material) body. God, however, is ancient, there is no beginning to his existence and He is not a body. And He has no equal, i.e. no likeness or resemblance. It is allowed to explain this of companionship in marriage and to deny a female consort."2
This, then, is the definition of the Essence of God, according to the Koran and the best commentaries. How far such negations come short of the sublime statements of revelation: God is a Spirit; God is light; God is love.
1 I have purposely used the word God for Allah in my translation and capitalized He to show how shocking such ideas seem to the Christian consciousness.
2 On the word Samad (Eternal) there is a curious note in the biography of Mohammed known as Insan-el Ayoon (Vol I., p. 372), margin: "Samad means that which has no insides or inside organs and was the name given by Mohammed to God in reply to the Nejran Christians who affirmed that Jesus ate food; for God needs no food and has no organs of digestion!" The same explanation of the word is given by Ibn Abbas, Mujahid, and Ibn Zobeir. According to Al Shobi, it means one who neither eats nor drinks. Others say it means one who has no successor. Al Suddi explains it to be one who is sought after for favors and presents. (See further Dr. Hartwig Hirschfeld's New Researches into the Composition and Exegeses of the Quran, p. 42, note. London, 1902; Royal Asiatic Society.)
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