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Why Religion?

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Humanity always needs God and religion

Although modern technology has blinded us to some fundamental human limitations so that we consider ourselves omnipotent, self-sufficient, and self-existing or possessors of unlimited power, in reality we are weak, frail, needy, and destitute. Although we cannot create a leaf or a gnat, or even a molecule of water, our entrapment by the spell of modern technology makes us loathe to admit this. We are content to ascribe all natural events, from sunrise and sunset to the movements of atoms, to nominal natural laws that function without our intervention. Even our bodies work independently of us, for we cannot prevent ourselves from sleeping, becoming hungry or thirsty, or dying at the hands of a microscopic creature.

We always are accompanied by sorrows arising from past misfortunes and by worries about the future. Fear, love, and expectations are inseparable from our existence, while such things as youth and beauty, of which we are very fond, leave without saying “good-bye.” We greatly fear and are overwhelmed unexpectedly by misfortune, old age, and death. Countless requirements must be maintained if we are to go on living, yet we have total control over none of them. We may be injured, accidents may end our hopes, and disease and unexpected events always threaten and block our way to happiness. We endure earthquakes, storms, floods, fires, and other natural catastrophes. Both the vast variety of phenomena and our awareness of our own frailty make our own weakness and helplessness quite clear.

Despite our claims of dominating nature and conquering space, we have more need of religion than our ancestors ever did. We may not be worshipping fetishes as they did, such as trees, animals, rivers, fire, rain, and heavenly bodies, but, according to Fromm, millions of us have our own fetishes: national heroes, movie stars, politicians, sports figures, musicians, and many, many others.

Furthermore, millions of us practice such modern religions as transcendental meditation, necromancy, Satanism, and spirit worship in the hope of satisfying that which cannot be satisfied with scientific and technological advancements. Others seek fulfillment in stadiums, nightclubs, casinos, jobs, and trade unions. They transform such places into places of devotion because they cannot suppress their need to worship. Inevitably, those who do not believe in and worship the One God become the slaves of numerous deities.

The concept of deity in Islam

God Almighty should be considered from five perspectives. One is His “Essence” as Divine Being (Zat in Islamic terminology), which only He can know. A Prophetic Tradition says: “Do not reflect on God’s ‘Essence’; instead, reflect on His works and acts.” God has no partners, likes or resemblance, as pointed to by the verse: There is nothing like or compared unto Him (42:11). The second perspective is His Essential, “Innate” Qualities as being God, which are the Attributes’ source. The third perspective is His Attributes, which are of three kinds: Essential Attributes (e.g., Existence, Having No Beginning, Eternal Permanence, Being Unlike the Created, Self-Subsistence); Positive Attributes (Life, Knowledge, Power, Speech, Will, Hearing, Seeing, Creating); and innumerable “Negative” Attributes, summed up as “God is absolutely free from any defect and shortcoming.”

The Attributes are the sources of the Names: Life gives rise to the All-Living, Knowledge to the All-Knowing, and Power to the All-Powerful. About 1,000 of God’s many Names are known to us. The Names are the sources of the acts: giving life has its source in the All-Living, and knowing everything down to the smallest originates in the All-Knowing. God is “known” by His acts, Names, and Attributes. Whatever exists in the universe, in the material and immaterial worlds, is the result of the Names’ and Attributes’ manifestations: Universal and individual provision points to His Name the All-Providing, and the All-Healing is the source of remedies and patient recovery. Philosophy has its source in Wisdom, and so on. The acts, Names, and Attributes are the “links” between God and the created, or the “reflectors” with which to have knowledge of God.

Although we try to know or recognize God by His acts, Names, and Attributes, we must not think of Him in terms of associating likeness or comparison unto Him, for nothing resembles Him. He is absolutely One, Single, and totally different from all that exists or has the potential to exist. In this sense, His Oneness is not in terms of number. He also has Unity and relations with the created. To have some knowledge of Him through His acts, Names, and Attributes, some comparisons are permissible. This is pointed to in the verse: For God is the highest comparison (16:60). The writer’s using the Sun as a unit of comparison to understand God’s acts, Names, and Attributes should be considered from this perspective. 

Tawhid and its social implications

All religions revealed to the Prophets have the same essence. Over time, however, the original message was misinterpreted, mixed with superstition, and degenerated into magical practices and meaningless rituals. The conception of God, the very core of religion, was debased by anthropomorphism, deifying angels, associating others with God, considering Prophets or godly people as incarnations of God (Jesus Christ, Buddha, Krishna, and Rama), and personifying His Attributes through separate deities.

The Prophet rejected such theological trends and restored the conception of God as the only Creator, Sustainer, and Master of all creation to its pristine purity. Thus, as John Davenport puts it: 

Among many excellencies of which the Quran may justly boast are two eminently conspicuous: the one being the tone of awe and reverence which it always observes when speaking of, or referring to, the Deity, to Whom it never attributes human frailties and passions; the other the total absence throughout it of all impure, immoral and indecent ideas, expressions, narratives, etc., blemishes, which, it is much to be regretted, of too frequent occurrence in the Jewish scriptures.

Tawhid, Divine Unity and Oneness, is clearly observed throughout the universe. If we look at ourselves and our environment, we easily discern that everything depends upon this principle. For example, our bodily parts cooperate with each other. Each cell is so connected with the whole body that the One Who created it must be He Who created the body. Likewise, each element comprising the universe is interrelated and in harmony with each other element and the universe as a whole.

Given this, the only logical conclusion is that the same Creator Who created the particles created the universe, and that the motion of subatomic particles is the same as that observed in the solar system. Everything originates from “one” and returns to “one”: We originated the first creation, so We shall bring it back (to its former state) again (21:104). A tree, for instance, grows out of a seed or a stone and finally results in a seed or a stone. This strict obedience to the One Who established that order explains why the universe is so orderly and harmonious. As the Creator, One, All-Omnipotent and All-Knowing, operates it directly, how could it be otherwise? As the Qur’an reminds us:

Each god would have taken off what he created, and some of them would have risen up over others. Had there been gods in Earth and heaven other than God, they both would have been in disorder. (21:22)

Tawhid is the highest conception of deity that God revealed to us through His Prophets, among whom were Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad. Over time, people deviated from the pure teachings after their Prophets died. Turning to polytheism or idolatry, they relied upon their own faulty reasoning, false perceptions, and biased interpretations to satisfy their lusts. Such a course is impossible with a tawhid-based system, for this requires that they obey only the One Supreme God’s commandments. 

‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib is reported to have said:

The foremost in religion is God’s knowledge, the perfection of His knowledge is to testify to Him, the perfection of testifying to Him is to believe in His Oneness, the perfection of believing in His Oneness is to regard Him as pure, and the perfection of His purity is to deny all kinds of negative attributes about Him.

He is infinite and eternal, self-existent and self-sufficient. As stated in the Qur’an:

He is God, One, needy of nothing and Everlasting Refuge; He begets not, nor is He begotten; and there is none like unto Him. (112:1-4)
There is nothing like or compared unto Him. (42:11)
Vision perceives Him not, and He perceives all vision; and He (alone) is the All-Hearing and All-Seeing. (6:103)

In the words of ‘Ali:

He is Being but not through the phenomenon of coming into being. He exists but not from non-existence. He is with everything but not by physical nearness. He is different from everything but not by physical separation. He acts but without the accompaniment of movements and instruments. He is the One, only such that there is none with whom He keeps company or whom He misses in his absence.

God’s Attributes cannot be transferred or present in another, since they are infinite. One who cannot keep himself alive cannot give life to others. One who cannot protect his own power cannot govern the vast universe. The more one reflects, the clearer it becomes that all divine powers and attributes must exist in only in that one particular being.

Implications of Tawhid

Monotheists, those who believe in tawhid, cannot be narrow-minded. Their belief in One God, Creator of the heavens and Earth, Master of the east and the west, and Sustainer of the universe, leads them to view everything as belonging to the same Lord, to Whom they belong as well. Thus they consider nothing as alien. Their sympathy, love, and service are not confined to any particular race, color, or group, and they come to understand the Prophetic saying: “O servants of God, be brethren!”

Monotheism produces the highest degree of self-respect and self-esteem in people. Monotheists know that only God has true power, can benefit or harm them, fulfill their needs, cause them to die, or wield authority and influence. This conviction makes them indifferent to and independent and fearless of all powers other than those of God. They never bow in homage to any of God’s creatures.

Monotheists, although humble and mild, never abase themselves by bowing before anyone or anything except God. They never aim at any advantage by their worship, even if that advange is Paradise. They seek only to please God and obtain His approval.

Monotheists, although naturally weak and powerless as human beings, become powerful enough through their Lord’s Power to resist the whole world. They are virtuous and altruistic, for their purpose is to gain God’s approval by working for His good pleasure. Boisterous pride of power and wealth can have no room in their hearts, for they know that whatever they possess is bestowed by God, and that God can take away as easily as He can give.

Monotheists know that the only way to success and salvation is to acquire a pure soul and righteous behavior. They have perfect faith in God, Who is above all need, related to none, absolutely just, and without partner in His exercise of Divine Power. Given this belief, they understand that they can succeed only through right living and just action, for no influence or underhanded activity can save them from ruin. However, some believe that someone has atoned for their sins; and others assert that they are God’s favorites and thus immune to punishment. Still others believe that their idols or saints will intercede with God on their behalf, and so make offerings to their deities in the belief that such bribes give them a license to do whatever they want. Such false beliefs keep them entangled in sin and evil, and their dependence on such deities cause them to neglect their need for spiritual purification and for living pure and good lives.

Monotheists do not become hopeless and disappointed. Their firm faith in God, Master of all treasures of Earth and the heavens, and Possessor of limitless grace and bounty and infinite power, imparts to their hearts extraordinary consolation, fills it with satisfaction, and keeps it filled with hope. In this world they might meet with rejection at all doors, nothing might serve their ends, and all means might desert them. But faith in and dependence on God, which never leave them, give them the strength to go on struggling. Such a profound confidence can come only from belief in the One God. Such a belief produces great determination, patient perseverance, and trust in God. When they decide to devote their resources to fulfilling the Divine Commands to secure God’s good pleasure and approval, they are sure that they have the Lord of the Universe’s support and backing.

Many polytheists and atheists, on the other hand, usually have small hearts and depend on limited powers. Thus their troubles and the resulting despair soon overwhelm them and, frequently, they commit suicide. Professor Joad’s testimony is explicit on this point:

For the first time in history there is coming to maturity a generation of men and women [in the West of the 1950s] who have no religion, and feel no need for one. They are content to ignore it. Also they are very unhappy, the suicide rate is abnormally high. (Phillip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs, 6th ed. (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1956), 129.)

As opposed to this, a non-Muslim historian who is not sympathetic to Islam, writes the following about Tawhid:

In this uncompromising monotheism, with its simple, enthusiastic faith in the supreme rule of a transcendental being, lies the chief strength of Islam. Its adherents enjoy a consciousness of contentment and resignation unknown among followers of most creeds. Suicide is rare in Muslim lands. (The Present and Future of Religion, quoted by Sir Arnold Lunn, And Yet So New (London: Sheed and Ward, 1958), 228).

Monotheism inspires bravery, for it defeats the two factors that make people cowards: fear of death and love of safety, and the belief that someone other than God can somehow be bribed into postponing one’s death. Belief in the Islamic creedal statement that “there is no deity but God” purges the mind of these ideas. The first idea loses its influence when people realize that their lives, property, and everything else really belong to God, for this makes them willing to sacrifice whatever they have for God’s approval. The second idea is defeated when people realize that no weapon, person, or power can kill them, for only God has this power. No one can die before his or her appointed time, even if all of the world’s forces combined to do so. Nothing can bring death forward or push it backward even one instant. This firm belief in One God and dependence upon Him makes monotheists the bravest of people. 

Monotheism creates an attitude of peace and contentment, purges the mind of subtle passions and jealousy, envy and greed, and prevents one from resorting to base and unfair means for achieving success. Monotheists understand that God holds their wealth; that He bestows honor, power, reputation, and authority as He wills and subjects them to His Will; and that their duty is only to endeavor and struggle fairly. They know that success and failure depend upon His Grace, for no power can block His Will to give or not to give. They also know that they must strive to deserve His Grace. But many of those who do not believe in God consider success and failure to be the result of their own efforts or by the help of earthly powers, and do not take God’s Grace and Will into consideration. Therefore they remain slaves to cupidity and envy, and use bribery, flattery, conspiracy, and other base and unfair means to achieve success.

Monotheism makes people obey and observe the Divine Law. Monotheists know that God is aware of everything, whether hidden or open, and is nearer to them than their jugular vein. If they sin in secret even under the cover of night, God knows it. He knows our unformed thoughts and intentions, even those of which we ourselves are unaware. We can hide things from people, but not from God. We can evade everyone, but not God’s grasp. The firmer our belief in this respect, the more observant we will be of His Commands. This is why the first and most important condition for being a Muslim is to have firm and sincere faith in God’s Oneness.

This is also the most important and fundamental principle of the Prophet’s teachings, as well as Islam’s bedrock and the mainspring of its power. All other beliefs, commands, and laws of Islam stand firm on this foundation. Lastly, we quote the remarks of Dr. Laura Veccia Vaglieri, a famous Italian Orientalist, concerning the universal spirit of Islamic monotheism:

The Prophet, with a voice which was inspired by a deep communion with his Maker, preached the purest monotheism to the worshippers of fetish and the followers of a corrupted Christianity and Judaism. He put himself in open conflict with those regressive tendencies of mankind which lead to the association of other beings with the Creator.

In order to lead men to a belief in one God, he did not delude them with happenings which deviate from the normal course of nature. Rather, he simply invited them, without asking them to leave the realm of reality, to consider the Universe and its laws. Being confident of the resultant belief in the one and indispensable God, he simply let men read in the book of life.

Thanks to Islam, paganism in its various forms was defeated. The concept of the Universe, the practices of religion, and the customs of social life were each liberated from all the monstrosities which had degraded them, and human minds were made free of prejudice. Man finally realized his dignity. (Vaglieri, Laura Veccia, Apologia dell Islamismo. Washington: American Fazl Mosque [1957]; trans. Aldo Caselli, An Interpretation of Islam. Beirut: Laila Khalidy Memorial Foundation [1957?], 30-33.)

Bibliography

1. Fromm, Erich. Psikanaliz ve Din (Turkish trans.). Istanbul: 1982.
2. ———. Hurriyetten Kacis (Turkish trans.). Istanbul: 1982.
3. Hussain, M. Jafar. Nahj ul-Balagha. Qom: 1975.
4. Izzeti, Abu’l-Fadl. The Revolutionary Islam. 1980.
5. Al-Mawdudi, Abu’l-A‘la. Towards Understanding Islam. Chicago: Kazi Pubs., c1979.
6. Nursi, Said. Sozler (The Words, 2 vols. Istanbul: Kaynak,) 1958.
7. Poya, M. Mahdi. Fundamentals of Islam. Karachi: n.d.
8. Qutb, Sayyid. Yoldaki Isaretler (Ma‘alim fi al-Tariq). 1974. 
9. ———. Fi Dhilal al-Qur’an (Turkish trans.). Istanbul: 1979.
10. As-Samad, U. Aziz. Islam and Christianity. 1977.
11. Scognamillo, Giovanni. Batinin Inanc Temelleri. n.d.

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Last Updated on April 15, 2002

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