“There’s nothing,” as the Qur’an vows, “like the likes of Him” (42:11). This is precisely why Muslims worship Him, but also why we think our relationship to Him so indispensable. For this article, I’ll turn to three sources—the Qur’an’s 112th chapter, the “verse of the throne,” and God’s ninety-nine names (well, a few of them)—to help us better understand Islam’s photophobic and iconoclastic monotheism and what it enables us to do.

Worshippers at a ceramic wall tile from the seventeenth century

A ceramic wall tile from the seventeenth century depicts the Great Mosque in Mecca and instructs Muslims to travel there. Credit: Creative Commons/Walter Arts Museum.

But as any other proper religious primer would do, we had better start with the caveats. First, although many anglophone Muslims prefer the Arabic, I’ll be calling “Allah” God, exactly as the contraction translates into English: Al (“the”) plus ilah (“God”). Second, all translations of the Qur’an offered here are my own. And third, I refer to God as “He” because He chooses to use this pronoun in the Qur’an—not because Islam or I believes He has gender. Much like in Spanish, all Arabic nouns are assigned a grammatical gender—there’s no neutered, neutral “it.” (Plus I think the English “it” comes across as disrespectful.) That out of the way, let’s proceed.

Who God Is

Because Muslims believe the Qur’an is the verbatim word of God, its 112th chapter, only four verses short, might reasonably be described as God’s autobiography. It comes in two parts. The first: Who God Is. The second: Who He’s Not.

The chapter starts: “Say, He is God, the One/Unique” (the word ahad may be translated either way—if you’re one of a kind, after all, you’re necessarily unique). The next verse describes “God”: “the Everlasting/Self-Sufficient.” Self-sufficiency is the ultimate distinction; unlike everything and everyone else, He’s never needed anything or anyone. What better kind of deity to be dependent on? Therefore the third and fourth verses stress difference: “He begat not, nor was He begotten; and there can be none like Him.”

Why is a quarter of God’s autobiography devoted to ruling out the idea of the Trinity and its idea of Christ as God’s “only begotten son”? In the Muslim view, Christianity (like Judaism) descends from Islam, and not any other way around.

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Haroon Moghul is a senior correspondent for Religion Dispatches, and a doctoral candidate at Columbia University. He is the author of The Order of Light (Penguin, 2006).

Source Citation

Moghul, Haroon. 2014. Allah. Tikkun 29(3): 40.

tags: Islam, Rethinking Religion, Spirituality   
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One Response to Allah

  1. Rehmat September 26, 2014 at 5:19 am

    The English words “God” or “G-d” don’t cover the 99 Attributes of Allah. Furthermore, the word “God” has female (Goddess) and idol (god) implications which are against teachings of Holy Qur’an.

    Holy Qur’an describe the followers of Moses Law as ‘Banu Israel’ or ‘Yahud’ but not ‘Jews’. Similarly, followers of prophet Isa (Jesus) are called Nasara, and not ‘Christians’.

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