An evaluation of the Absolute Unity of Allah in Islamic Monotheism – Rudolph P.Boshoff

Missionary Samuel M. Zwemer asks a very central question when he wrote: “What is the result of our investigation of the Moslem idea of God; is the statement of the Koran true, “Your God and our God is the same ” In as far as Moslems are monotheists and in as far as Allah has many of the attributes of Jehovah we cannot put Him with the false gods. But neither can there be any doubt that Mohammed’s conception of God is inadequate, incomplete, barren and grievously distorted. It is vastly inferior to the Christian idea of the Godhead and also inferior to the Old Testament idea of God. In the Book of Job alone there are more glorious descriptions of God’s personality, unity, power and holiness than in all the chapters of the Koran. Carlyle in his praise of the Hero-prophet acknowledges this and says “he makes but little of Mohammed’s praises of Allah, borrowed from the Hebrew and far surpassed there.” Even the Fatherhood of God is clearly taught in the Old Testament, but it is wholly absent from the Koran. In the comparative study of religious ideas there must be a standard of judgment, and a Christian can only judge other religions by the standard of the Gospel.”[1]

We find grievous objections from Muslim Scholars towards the inherent idea that God had a “Son” or that the Holy Spirit is a person. The very Christian concept of the Trinity is seen as a man made idea “eisegeted” by those who are merely confused as to the revealed nature of the One God. For Muslims this is the unpardonable Sin of “Shirk” and Christians are classed as “mushrikun” or polytheists. Very rarely Christians get the opportunity to ask Muslims about specific questions pertaining to the very essential concept of Allah as derived from the Holy Quran. Usually these questions are met with sheer disdain and regarded as mere irreverence. It is my hope that this short “evaluation of the absolute unity of Allah” will be received with the same critical assertions used to evaluate Biblical concepts of the Divinity of Christ and the Person of the Holy Spirit. Allow me to show the clear similaritieimages (1)s and differences in our concepts of God:

Here are the similarities:
1) Both are “one”.
2) Both are transcendent,
3) Both are creators of the universe,
4) Both are Sovereign,
5) Both are Omnipotent,
6) Both have communicated through Prophets and Angels,
7) Both will judge mankind.

Here are the cardinal differences:
1. The God of the Quran is a radical unity where the God of the Bible is a Trinity (One God eternally manifest in Three “persons” (Matt.28:19)
2. The God of the Quran cannot have a “Son” but the God of the Bible has a Son named Jesus Christ. (John 3:16)
3. Whereas the God of the Quran is not a Spirit the God of the Bible is Spirit (John 4:24).
4. Whereas the God of the Quran is wholly transcendent, the God of the Bible is both transcendent and immanent (Deut.4:39, Isa.57:15, Jer.23:23-24).
5. Whereas the God of Islam brings about both good and evil, the God of the Bible never engages in evil and is singularly righteous (1 John 1:5).
6. Whereas the God of the Quran is not a “father” (Surah 19:88-92; 112:3) the God of the Bible is (Matt.6:9)
7. Whereas the god of the Quran loves only those who loves him and obey him, the god of the Bible loves all people, include sinners (Luke 15:11-24).
8. Whereas Allah desires to afflict people for their sins (Sura 5:49) the God of the Bible is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet.3:9)
9. Whereas the God of the Quran reveals only his laws and not Himself, the God of the Bible revealed Himself from the beginning.
10. Whereas the God of the Quran has no objective basis for forgiving people, the God of the Bible does have an objective basis- the death of Jesus Christ on the Cross of Calvary.

Islamic concept of Unity:
Christians are often criticized because of their view on the Trinity in that this is deemed as mere “Greek” thinking or an interpolation of a “Hellenistic” idea of God. Muslims usually comment: “Your doctrine is founded on contemporary pagan religions which all had their own trinities of gods long before Christianity came into being. The Egyptians, Hindus, Romans and Greeks all had triads of deities in which they believed”. Now elsewhere I have dealt with these objections: Ruminating on the Divine Trinity.

The irony is that Muhammad was clearly influenced by the very Neoplatonic concept of “Oneness” elucidated by the second century philosopher Plotinus. Plotinus viewed God as the singular “One” which consisted of an absolute unity in which is no multiplicity at all. This “Oneness” was absolutely simple undefined by its displayed attributed, a mere volitional creature with no knowledge of itself. It was not until it emanated one level down in the “nous” [mind] that it could reflect back on itself so it could know itself. For Plotinus the Divine was beyond knowing, consciousness, and being. It was so completely singularly simple that it had no mind, thoughts, personality, or consciousness. It was void of all including being which means it was only knowable by its effects which again did not resemble the One[2].

One cannot escape the fact that Plotinus and The Muslim understanding of absolute unity shared a startling similarity. It preserves a rigid unity in the One at the expense of personality and actual simplicity forfeiting relationship. It leaves us with an unknowable mover and an agnostic concept of a deity. This is simply a reduced Deity bare in unity void of any personality. Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote “The unrelated, unrelatable, absolutely one could not be a person. There is no such thing as a person in the categorical singular. This is already apparent in the words in which the concept of person grew up; the Greek word ‘prosopon’ means literally ‘(a) look towards’; with the prefix ‘pros’ (toward) it includes the notion of relatedness as an integral part of itself. To this extent the overstepping of the singular is implicit in the concept of person.[3]” Here follows a detailed analysis of the problems with absolute unitarianism.download (1)

Problems regarding the concept of an Absolute Unity:

Loving Unity

The problem with an absolute Unity is that “ontologically” pure unity equates essential “nothingness” and renders the concept of Divinity neither picturable nor conceivable and leaves it thereby meaningless. The idea that God was “alone” before creation is inconceivable and foreign to the Scriptures simply because this seems incompatible to the personal revelation of Himself (Gen 1:1, 26-27). This was not a mere statement of the “royal plural” or the plural “we” as I have previously discussed The Plural of Majesty. Another important fact is that love is essentially relational and thereby necessitates relationship. Any Deity eternally existing before time without relations captivated by His own “onliness” cannot existentially deemed to be relational, personal or loving but is simply a Deistic god. This Deity is simply expediently a solitary nomad void of qualities we should see as a person. Reverberating Richard of St Victor’s conception of a personal Deity Robert Letham writes “Only a God who is Triune can be personal. Only the Holy Trinity can be love. Human love cannot possibly reflect the nature of God unless God is a Trinity of persons in union and communion. A Solitary Nomad cannot love and, since it cannot love, neither can it be a person. And if God is not personal, neither can we be-and if we are not persons, we cannot love. This marks a vast, immeasurable divide between those cultures that follow a monotheistic, unitary Deity and those that are permeated by the Christian teaching on the Trinity. Trinitarian theology asserts that love is ultimate because God is love, because he is three persons in undivided loving communion. By contrast, Islam asserts that Allah is powerful and that his will is ultimate, before which submission (islam) is required.[4]”

One Eternal?

Another seemingly arduous idea that Muslims hold onto is that God is absolute one. Even though they would deny this it is surely evident where Muhammad got this idea from. Plotinus (205-170) constructed the idea that “unity” is always prior to “plurality” therefore “unity” necessitates ultimate priority. This was a prevalent idea deduced in the middle ages and Muhammad’s idea of God was solidified into an intractable singularity which allowed no plurality in its unity. Hereby we understand the refrain “there is no God but Allah” also implies “ad infinitum” Allah is absolute one. The problem arises when we see clear inconsistencies with this idea. Muslims that hold to the absolute eternality of Allah find it hard to recognize the Quran itself have negated distinctions within God’s absolute Unity which implies a direct violation of his essential unity. Sura 85:21-22 declares “No indeed, (but) it is an Ever-Glorious Qur’an, in a preserved Tablet” (Ghali). Sura 43:3-4 reads “We have made it a Qur’an in Arabic, that ye may be able to understand (and learn wisdom). And verily, it is in the Mother of the Book, in Our Presence, high (in dignity), full of wisdom (Ali)”. (cf. Sura 13:39). Muslims agree that the Quran in heaven is uncreated perfectly expressing the mind of Allah yet, not in essence Allah. In other words Allah is deemed as the only volitional “eternal” yet the quran is quintessentially also deemed as being “eternal” without violating the idea of the One. Orthodox Muslims attribute speech to Allah as an eternal attribute like his knowledge or might[5] but do not allow Trinitarian Christians the same courtesy when explaining the Unity of God’s being yet being “Three” in His personal revelation without violating His essential unity. Christ is therefore the expression of the “Divine Will” without being the same person as this “Divine Will”.

Problems of Voluntarism:

Traditional Islam looks at Allah as having no “knowable essence”. What this means is that he is pure will. He is therefore not essentially just or loving but rather that which he “imposed” upon Himself (Sura 6:12). Since God is therefore “absolute will” he does not have to act according to any essential nature. “If we regard God merely as the Absolute Being and nothing more, we know Him only as the general irresistible force, or, in other words, as the Lord. Now it is true that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but it is likewise true that it is only its beginning.[6]” There are basically two problems with the idea of radical nominalism nl. Metaphysical and moral.One_God_green

Metaphysically:
Muslims do hold that God is an absolutely necessary being and that he is self-existent and therefore by necessity must have a nature by which he categorically exists. Allah does have an essence [uncreated, eternal, and omniscient] which means he has an essence otherwise these attributes would not be essential. This is simply the pure definition of essence which is the essential character attributes evident within a being. Morally we find that if Allah is not “essentially” a moral being he does not do anything in relationship with his nature [which is mere volition] but rather because of his own impersonal necessity. He does not do things because they are right rather they are right because he does them. He doesn’t have to be loving and could hate if he wills it (Sura 3:32-33). Love and mercy are not essential attributes therefore of Allah but rather functional modes of Allah who is a morally, metaphysically neutral Deity that express what he finds necessary. Zwemer writes “Theologians and philosophers have pantheistic views of Allah, making Him the sole force in the universe; but the popular thought of Him (owing to the iron-weight of the doctrine of fatalism) is deistic. God stands aloof from creation; only His power is felt; men are like the pieces on a chess-board and He is the only player. Creation itself was not intended so much for the manifestation of God’s glory or the outburst of His love, as for a sample of His power”[7]. Otto Pautz affirms therefore “In like manner God’s love to man when it is referred to in the Koran is rather a love for his good qualities than for the man himself.” Dr. Otto Pautz, who has collected all the passages that in any way bear on this subject, comes to the conclusion that in no case is there any reference to an inner personal relation when the Koran even hints at this subject of which the Bible is so full. Umbreit says: “The God of Mohammed is in the wind, and in the earthquake, and in the fire, but not in the still small voice of love.” Otto goes even further:

“The mystic love of the Sufis (widespread and weighty though it be in its influence) is not a characteristic of orthodox Islam, but arose in rebellion to it. The Fatherhood of God and the repeated declarations of Scripture that God loves the world, loves the sinner, loves mankind-that God is love-all this has had its influence on Christian speculation regarding the problem of God’s decrees. In like manner the character of Allah has been the key to the same problem among Moslems. Islam, as we have seen, reduces God to the category of the will. He is at heart a despot, an Oriental despot. He stands at abysmal heights above humanity… He cares nothing for character, but only for submission. The only affair of men is to obey His decrees.”[8] “The justice of God is not strongly insisted on and often presented in a weak or distorted way.” As Hauri says: “Neither in His holiness nor in His love is Allah righteous. As regards the wicked, His love does not receive its due; he is quick to punish, to lead astray and to harden; His wrath is not free from passion. As regards believers, His holiness comes short of its right. Allah allows His prophets things otherwise forbidden and wrong. Even ordinary believers are allowed to do what is really not right because they are believers. For example, the prophet said: ‘It is better not to have slave-concubines, but Allah is merciful and clement.'[9] In Islam, God’s law is not the expression of His moral nature, but of His arbitrary will. His word can be abrogated. His commandments are subject to change and improvement.”[10] To state it a bit differently Allah is not a Deity who is either essentially interpersonal or essentially loving. The problem is that whatever nature belongs to him “essentially” need to belong to him “eternally”. God by His very self-necessity is omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient because that is by its very own self-definition “what” God is and also “who” He is. Yet we find a lack of harmony in Allah’s essential attributed. Raymuud Lull (1315), the first missionary to Moslems, pointed out this weakness in the monotheism of Islam. He puts forward this proposition: “Every wise man must acknowledge that to be the true religion which ascribes the greatest perfection to the Supreme Being, and not only conveys the worthiest conception of all His attributes, but demonstrates the harmony and equality existing between them. Now their religion [i.e., Islam] was defective in acknowledging only two active principles in the Deity, His will and His wisdom, while it left His goodness and greatness inoperative, as though they were indolent qualities and not called forth into active exercise.[11]”

images (11)Which God?
This leads to the unavoidable question of what Allah is. The heart of Islam is to rather submit to God and to obey him than to “know” him. the problem is not being able to identify God because he is always “contrary” or “other” leads to a form of agnosticism. This happens purely because as we have just seen that Muslims believe God caused everything by extrinsic causality with no essential revelation of his essential attributes. Allah is therefore named from his effects but NOT identified by them (Surah 6:12) The revelation of Allah is thereby extrinsic towards his creatures and not intrinsic. Allah is therefore never identified by his actions but rather identified for his actions.

This causes problems on three levels:
Allah is therefore not essentially good but only good because his actions were deemed to be good. This means Allah is simply deduced to the ability and interpretation of man’s idea or perceived reality of his actions. If Allah is therefore only known by his actions [and not essentially known by his essence] if man perceives his actions to be evil he should be by necessity be deemed as evil because he is only known by his actions and not defined by his essential nature.
Thomas Aquinas shows clearly that any effect must resemble its cause and thereby the instrumental cause is that which through it comes to be and the material cause is that out of which it was made. In other words the painting does not resemble the artist paint brush but rather the artists mind. The brush is therefore the instrumental cause but the artist the efficient cause. The mistake is to confuse the material and efficient causality. Allah is not associated with his revealed attributions but seems rather arbitrary in any familiar form.
Any religious experience within a monotheistic context demands relationship between at least two individuals, the worshipper and God. The problem with absolute monotheism is that the worshipper cannot really know anything about the Divinity it attributes any worth towards purely because the divinity is not identifiable with any attribute considered. This leaves the worshiper to an estimation of agnosticism at best and even worse completely ignorant of what to adore.
The problem of extreme determinism.

The Muslim relationship with Allah is one of “Master” and “Slave”. God is the Sovereign Monarch that all humanity needs to submit to. Allah has decreed everything beforehand from eternity and everything is determined by his predetermined will. In fact if Allah really wanted to he could have pre-determined all to be safe from eternal damnation. There are four objections to this extreme determinism: Logical, Moral, Theological and Metaphysical.

1. Logical – Islamic determinism shows Allah to perform contradictory acts. He is the One that “leads astray” (13:27) as well as the “one who guides” (14:4). He is the “bringer-down”, the compeller, the tyrant and the “haughty”. Essentially these are all negative attributes that could be seen as malicious. Muslim scholars however reconcile this idea with the fact that Allah does not have an essential nature and these attributes are mere expressions of his will and not His character.

2. Moral – Allah have determined beforehand even who would be saved and who would be lost:
Sura 9:51 “Say: “Nothing will happen to us except what Allah has decreed for us: He is our protector”: and on Allah let the Believers put their trust.”
Sura 7:177-179 “Evil as an example are people who reject Our signs, and wrong their own souls. Whom Allah doth guide― he is on the right path: whom He rejects from His guidance― such are the persons who perish. Many are the Jinns and men We have made for Hell: they have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle nay more misguided: for they are heedless (of warning).”
Sura 36:6-10 “That you may warn a people; In no way were their fathers warned, so they are heedless. Indeed the Saying has already come true against most of them, so they do not believe. Surely We have made on their necks shackles, so they are up to the chins, so they are stiff-necked. And We have made before them (Literally: between their hands) a barrier and behind them a barrier, then We enveloped them, so they do not behold (the Truth). And it is equal to them whether you have warned them or you have not warned them, they do not believe.”
Sura 32:13 “If We had so willed, We could certainly have brought every soul its true guidance: but the Word from Me will come true, “I will fill Hell with Jinns and men all together.”
The problem is simply that how can one expect to believe in human accountability and responsibility when it gets to man. Secondly no one can be assured of Allah’s moral “goodness” or his reasons for doing so accept for his own predetermined purposes, even if it is good or evil.images

3. Theological – The insistence of Allah’s severe sovereign determination in all events leads directly into the obvious realization that he is the author of evil. Muslim Theologian Al-Ghazzali wrote the following: “He [Allah] willeth also the unbelief of the unbeliever and the irreligion of the wicked and, without that will, there would neither be unbelief nor irreligion. All we do we do by His will: what He willeth not does not come to pass…. In creating unbelievers, in willing that they should remain in that state; in making serpents, scorpions and pigs: in willing, in short, all that is evil, God has wise ends in view which it is not necessary that we should know.” (Haqq 152). According to the Islamic perspective, in one tradition or hadith, Prophet Muhammad slapped Abu Bakr on the shoulder and said, “Oh Abu Bakr, if Allah most high had not willed that there be disobedience he would not have created the devil”.

4. Metaphysical – Severe determinism has led some Muslim scholars to the logical conclusion that there really is only one agent in the universe-god. Muslim scholar Risaleh-i-Barkhavi says: “Not only can He [Allah] do anything, He actually is the only One Who does anything. When a man writes, it is Allah who has created in his mind the will to write. Allah at the same time gives the power to write, then brings about the motion of the hand and the pen and the appearance upon paper. All other things are passive, Allah alone is active.” Another confesses: “God’s one possible quality is His power to create good or evil at any time He wishes, that is His decree…. Both good things and evil things are the result of God’s decree. It is the duty of every Muslim to believe this…. It is He who causes harm and good. Rather the good works of some and the evil of others are signs that God wishes to punish some and to reward others. If God wishes to draw someone close to Himself, then He will give him the grace which will make that person do good works. If He wishes to reject someone and put that person to shame, then He will create sin in him. God creates all things, good and evil. God creates people as well as their actions: He created you as well as what you do (Qur’an 37:94). [Rippin & Knappert, 133; emphasis added]. This leads to mere pantheism where Allah is merely playing with pawns set out on his own predetermined chess set.

Conclusion:

The concept of absolute unity derived from early Neo-Platonism creates quite a dilemma under scrutiny. Allah is not quintessentially identifiable with his revealed attributes and thereby leaves himself to be an arbitrary creature difficult and seemingly impossible to relate to. Allah determines and predestines everything and therefore man is merely a pawn fatalistically left to chance.

Tessera Photos 101Selah.

Rudolph P Boshoff

Sources:
[1] Zwemer: The Muslim Doctrine of God. Pg.107-108.
[2] Plotinus 1.6;3.8-9;5.1-8;6.8,18.
[3] Introduction to Christianity pg128-9.
[4] The Holy Trinity: Robert Letham Pg. 446
[5] I. Golziher: Introduction to Islamic Theology pg.97
[6] Hegel’s Werke, Vol. VI., p. 226
[7] Zwemer: The Muslim Doctrine of God. Pg.69-70.
[8] Qtto Pautz’s Muhammed’s LeMe von der Offenbarwng queZlemnasBig untercucht, Leipzig, 1898. pp. 142, 143.
[9] Der Islam, p. 45. The Koran offers other examples of such clemency! Cf. Surahs 2 : 225; 5 : 91, etc.
[10] Zwemer: The Muslim Doctrine of God. Pg.112-113.
[11] Raymund Lull’s Liber Oontemplationis in DeQ, liv., 25-28.

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