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La ilaha illah'Llah:
There is no deity save God
Muhammadun rasulu'Llah: Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
These two phrases which punctuate and transform the Muslim life, sum up fully the theology of the Islamic religion and function as a sort of miniature creed. Every Muslim is required to affirm that "there is no deity save God" and that "Muhammad is the messenger of God." By implication more than by statement, the first testimony declares the unity of the metaphysical, while the second is the gate to what that unity implies.
Full membership of the world community of Islam consists in the uttering of these two statements. Nothing more, nothing less. In Islam there is no rite of initiation, no sacrament of belief. It is the faith of the individual, who by their own spiritual strivings, rather than through any formal liturgical function, climb upwards along the spiritual ladder.
The Shahadah distinguishes between other-than-God and God himself, and it brings
the former - all that appears to be 'other' - back to its origin and true identity.
Perfect incomparability means that nothing can be set beside the Incomparable.
According to the Hadith Qudsi (one of the directly inspired sayings of the Prophet),
"Allah was, and there was nothing beside Him";
to which Ali (the cousin of the Prophet) is said to have added: "And
He is now even as He ever was."
The Shahadah is not only doctrine; it is also practice - or the key to practice. Its truth is something to be assimilated and lived, which is why, when we speak of the Islamic Credo, we are speaking, not of an abstraction, but of the way in which men and women order their whole lives, their waking and their sleeping, their work and their rest, the words they use in speaking to one another and the gestures they make in loving one another, the planting of a seedling and the reaping of a crop, the turning on of a tap from which water flows and its turning off, and the life and death of all creatures.
To understand how decisive this formula is one must observe the place it occupies in the life of the ordinary Muslim, who will pronounce these words in every crisis and at every moment when the world threatens to overwhelm him, as he will when death approaches. A pious man seized by rage, will appear suddenly to have stopped in his tracks as he remembers the Shahadah, and as it were, withdraws, putting a great distance between himself and his turbulent emotions. A woman crying out in childbirth will suddenly fall silent, remembering; and a student bowed anxiously over his desk in an examination hall, will raise his head and speak these words, and a barely audible sigh of relief passes through the whole assembly. This is the ultimate answer to all questions.
"Truly unto Allah we belong and
unto Him we return"
<Quran, The Cow 2:156>
Pure monotheism. No object of worship save God, no conditioner of meaning apart from Him; the most perfect articulation of what lies forever beyond the reach of language. The first testimony negates the existence of each and any false god and condemns false worship as the world "illah" means "god" or whatever is worshipped, and could refer to any being, person, matter, or concept which is taken as an object of adoration or worship, whether this is done out of love or fear. But "illah" as the Quran cautions us could also refer to our whims or desires. To succumb or surrender totally to whims and passions is in effect to worship them and to take them as gods.
The testimony that La ilaha illah'Llah, though given outwardly through revelation as a 'reminder', can be regarded as inherent in the deepest layer of human nature. This is the encounter with Reality in the manner to which we are predisposed by our nature - and destined through our actions - to encounter. Face to face with reality in its most compelling manifestation, the 'denier' is unavoidably a 'believer'. "On the Day when the deniers are exposed to the Fire [they will be asked]: 'Is not this real?' They will say: 'Yea, by our Lord!'" <Quran, Winding Sand-tracts 46:34> Only in dreams can the Lord be denied, only through self-deception can Reality be entirely veiled. "as for the deniers, their actions are like a mirage in a desert. The thirsty one taketh it for water, till he cometh to it and findeth it nothing, and findeth in its place Allah, who payeth him his due..." <Quran, Light 24:39> On every horizon, at the end of every road and in every secret chamber, there is the Face, inescapable in its omnipresence; and we have to be careful that the road we take leads to the Face of Mercy and not to that of Wrath. "Wheresoever thou turnest there is the Face of Allah" <Quran, The Cow 2:115>
It follows that there can be no graver sin for the Muslim than shirk, the 'association' of other 'gods' with God; in other words idolatry or polytheism. Idolatry and polytheism are seen, not as simple errors about the nature of reality, but as the final stage of a process of corruption or dissociation in which the human will plays a major role.
Idolatry is, in essence, the worship of symbols for their own sake, whether these take the form of graven images or subsist only in the human imagination. Shirk can also take more subtle and more universal forms. It is not difficult to see that the modern scientist, not as an observer and recorder but as a theorist, is a mushrik (one guilty of 'association'), since he regards the forces of nature and all causative agencies as independent powers rather than as instruments of a single omnipotent Will. So is the man who sets his heart upon some worldy prize - power or wealth, for example, in forgetfulness of the only prize worth seeking.
Through the second testimony of Islam, the believer confirms what was taught
by every prophet before him. For according to the Quranic worldview, God has
sent prophets to every people, and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was the last
of them. It could be said that the second Shahadah brings the first down to
earth, and to deny the second would be to sever all connection with the first.
The Prophet is by definition close to God being His messenger. He is therefore
the link between Creator and creature. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) indicates
the perfection and splendour of creation when it remains true to its Creator.
He represents the human norm and is therefore the model for every Muslim.
Without this model we would have no idea of how to conform, in our persons
and in our lives, to the truth enunciated by the first Shahadah; and if he
were a superhuman being, or an angel sent to preach to mankind, we could not
attempt to imitate him and would not try to do so. It is because he is flesh
and blood like us that he is able to fulfil his exemplary function, though
it is said of him that he is 'man, yet not as other men but as a jowl among
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