The most important topic for the believers to focus on is Tawheed, for that is the very basis of their Islam. All else, in fact, is a commentary on this topic. If one possesses an incorrect understanding of this topic then their overall understanding of Islam will be defective. Furthermore, if one’s knowledge of Allah is incorrect, this will lead to incorrect actions, such as worshipping Allah in a wrong way or introducing innovations into the religion of Islam. Sadly, many Muslims are focusing on peripheral, non-foundational issues instead of this foundational topic, and this had lead to a lot of error and confusion. When the foundation is weak, the entire edifice is also weak.
It is essential that one believe what Allah has said about Himself in the Quran or has been narrated in the authentic ahadeeth of the Prophet (pbuh). Knowing Allah entails knowing what He says about Himself in the Quran, as well as what His Messenger (pbuh) has informed us about Him in the authentic hadeeth all of which have been properly classified as to their reliability by the scholars of the past. What we know about Allah — His names and attributes — are restricted to proof furnished from the Quran and the Sunnah and no one from his own mind and thinking assign names to Allah. When we say, such and such is a name of Allah, then it must be from the Quran or the Sunnah. No one can invent a name or think of a name outside of these two sources. And Allah says in the Quran:
“Say (O Muhammad): “(But) the things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are Al-Fawahish (great evil sins, every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse, etc.) whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allah for which He has given no authority, and saying things about Allah of which you have no knowledge.”” [7:33]
It is essential to possess knowledge of Allah’s names, attributes and actions, all of which are mentioned in the Quran and the authentic ahadeeth and avoid doing or saying anything that would negate those teachings. If one believes or understands these matters in a wrong way, there is a real danger of falling into error and even shirk — the greatest sin in Islam. One may not fully understand everything that Allah says about Himself but it remains incumbent to believe regardless of that lack of understanding.
In the past, many individuals and groups were led astray because they did not submit to the texts of the Quran and the authentic sunnah in the proper way and tried to add their own erroneous understanding to these two divine sources of Islamic knowledge. It is essential that the believers not deny (ta’teel) what Allah has said about Himself or to seek to change and distort the meanings (tahreef) of the Quranic verses referring to Allah without evidence or justification for doing so. The Mu’tazilah of the past, whose ideas are still floating around, used to do this. Sadly, many people who call themselves Muslim fall into their errors of thinking and develop wrong ideas about Allah without substantiation. They value their own intellectual prowess over what Allah has revealed and relish speaking about Allah without knowledge.
Seeking to give meanings to those descriptions (Ta’weel) that Allah has given about Himself based upon one’s own intellect and understanding is an error that must be avoided. When Allah says something about Himself and one does not understand it, the correct course of action is to affirm what Allah has said about Himself and not say, “what Allah really means or intends is thus and so.” Many people of the past were guilty of uttering such things. Such people must present their evidence or remain silent for it is tantamount to speaking about Allah without knowledge — another very grave sin in Isam.
It is also important to avoid likening Allah unto His creation (tashbeeh / tamtheel) for there is nothing like unto Allah, as the Quran clearly affirms. [See Quran 42:11; 19:65; 112:4] It must be never held that the Attributes of Allah are like the attributes of the creation. May Allah protect us from falling into such an error in thinking and believing. Yes, Allah has described Himself with having a Hand, Face, Eyes, Shin etc and that He indeed does have these Attributes, but they are in no way similar to those of the creation because as Allah has already told us (in the above three verses) there is nothing equal to Him or like Him. One either believes this or they don’t, but failure to believe this leads to a grave error in our understanding of Allah. Since Allah has informed us that nothing is like Him, then how can anything which Allah has described Himself be similar to the creation?
And as the scholar / Imam Qaadee Abu Ya’laa (d. 458H) stated, “the Attributes of Allah do not resemble any one of His creation, nor do we have an aqeedah (belief) that there is any tashbeeh (resemblance) to them.”
In addition, there should be no effort to change the meaning of Quranic verse (tabdeel) which only leads to distortions in understanding.
Allow me to furnish you with three quotes, although I could furnish many others, the first one from Imaam at-Tirmidhee (d. 279H) who said:
“It has been stated by more than one person from the People of Knowledge about such ahaadeeth, that there is no tashbeeh (resemblance) to the Attributes of Allaah, and our Lord – the Blessed and Most High – descends to the lowest heaven every night. So they say: “Affirm these narrations, have eemaan (faith) in them, do not deny them, nor ask how.” The likes of this has been related from Maalik ibn Anas, Sufyaan ath-Thawree, Ibn Uyainah and Abdullaah ibn al-Mubaarak, who all said about such ahaadeeth: “Leave them as they are, without asking how.” Such is the saying of the People of Knowledge from the Ahl us-Sunnah wal-Jamaa’ah. However, the Jahmiyyah oppose these narrations and say: This is tashbeeh! However, Allah the Most High, has mentioned in various places in His Book, the Attribute of al-Yad (Hand), as-Sama’ (Hearing), and al-Basr (Seeing) – but the Jahmiyyah make ta’weel of these aayaat, explaining them in a way, other than how they are explained by the People of Knowledge. They say: Indeed, Allah did not create Aadam with His own Hand – they say that Hand means the Power of Allah.”
And Abu Hasan al-Ash’aree (d. 324H) said: “If it is said: Why do you deny that His saying: Do they not see that We have created for them what Our Own Hands have created.” [Soorah Yaa Seen 36:71] And His saying: Whom I have created with My Own (Two) Hands [Soorah Sa’d 38:75] are majaaz (metaphorical)? To him it is said: The ruling concerning the speech of Allah – the Mighty and Majestic – is that it is taken upon its dhaahir (apparent) and haqeeqah (real) meaning. Nothing is removed from its dhaahir (apparent) meaning to majaaz (metaphorical) one, except with a proof … [Al-Ibaanah an Usool id-Diyaanah (p.133)]
In addition, Nu’aym bin Hammaad (d. 228H) (one of the teachers of Imaam Bukhari) said: “Indeed, all that Allah has described Himself with, or what His Messenger has described Him with, then there is no tashbeeh (resemblance) in it at all.”
The believers should also avoid asking about the “How” concerning Allah’s attributes (Takyeef). A very famous narration which illustrates this is from Imam Malik regarding Istiwaa (that is Allah’s ascending His Throne). A person came to him and asked: “We know that Allah ascends His Throne, but How does He do that?” Imam Malik replied with these words after which he had the man thrown out for daring to even ask this question. He said: “Al-Istiwaa is known, and how is unknown, to have Iman in it is obligatory and to question it is an innovation.”
I am a huge believer in continually going back to the foundational principles of our faith over and over again. When we do this we become both stronger and more stable. There are many ideas, philosophies, movements, groups, etc., which seek to oppose the Islamic aqeeda and if we fail to have a firm grasp of this aqeeda there is a high likelihood that we will fall into error for we will not possess the wherewithal to counter the many attacks on our faith. Many people will come to us reciting the Quran, possessing impressive degrees and have Muslim sounding names. But none of this should impress us in the least, for many such people have been negatively affected to such an extent that they take their knowledge from sources that are actually hostile to our faith and look down on the authentic sources of knowledge from pious and knowledgeable scholars.
So what are some of the foundational things that we must know? First and foremost, we must possess a sound knowledge of Allah based upon the Quran and authentic narrations from the prophet (pbuh). And these two sources inform us that Allaah alone is the Rabb of all that exists. All of creation is under His control and domain, and He is responsible for everything that happens. [See Quran: 31:25; 23:86-87; 10:31; 43:9]
We should also possess a sound knowledge of Allah’s names and attributes as found within the Quran and authentic sunnah. We should study them and seek to understand them in the correct manner.
And we should also know the necessity of worshipping Allah alone in one’s inward state, as well as outward actions, and that no one or no object is worthy of our worship other than Allah. [See Quran: 16:36; 21:25; 11:25-6; 11:50; 11:61; 11:84]
We should beware of the necessity of possessing the correct intentions and be cognizant of the condition of our hearts with a view to correction and purification. And our actions should be in conformity with what Allah has revealed, and we should seek to avoid that which He has prohibited. Ideally, our outward acts of worship should reflect the inward state of submission to Allah. Merely acting out these acts of worship with no life on the inside is a hallmark of a heart that is either dead or filled with hypocrisy.
We should be satisfied with what Allah has informed us about Himself and not seek to go beyond that. We should not try to add or subtract from the religion of Islam as it is perfect in every way. Islam is not in need of reform, but our hearts and actions do need to be corrected on a regular basis. This is why we seek knowledge so that our hearts become pure and our actions are carried out in such a way so as to please Allah. And we please Allah by adhering to what He has revealed about Himself. When we start talking about Islamic reform, know that this is an attempt to make Islam conform to our desires. Most of these reform movements of the past lead to even further error and taking people away from the true path of Islam. I am personally sick of such talk, along with these misguided and deviant “progressives” who possess almost no knowledge of Islam yet seek to reform it.
Allah says in the Quran: “It is those who believe (in the Oneness of Allâh and worship none but Him Alone) and confuse not their belief with Zulm (wrong i.e. by worshipping others besides Allâh), for them (only) there is security and they are the guided.” [6:82]
And the prophet (pbuh) said: “”Allah will not permit to be consigned to Hell anyone who witnesses ‘There is no god but Allah,’ seeking thereby nothing but Allah’s face.” [Bukharee/Muslim]
The above Quranic verse tells us that only those are saved and guided who keep their Tawheed pure and free from Shirk. This is why we need to learn about Tawheed otherwise we will fall into error and harbour wrong ideas about Allah that are based on mere conjecture instead of divine revelation. And the above narration from the prophet informs us that possessing this Tawheed and testifying to its truth is a salvation from the hellfire. This point alone should be enough to spurn us on to learn as much about Tawheed as possible and avoid shirk.
And always, my dear readers, keep this verse in mind for it contains a sound outline of what we need to know:
رَّبُّ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَمَا بَيۡنَہُمَا فَٱعۡبُدۡهُ وَٱصۡطَبِرۡ لِعِبَـٰدَتِهِۦۚ هَلۡ تَعۡلَمُ لَهُ ۥ سَمِيًّ۬ا
“Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them, (i.e Ruboobiyyah) So worship Him alone and be constant and patient in His worship (i.e Uloohiyyah) Do you know of any who is similar to Him? (i.e. Asmaa was-Sifaat) ” [19:65]”