If it were to be asked what convicted Muhammad more than anything else that he was called to be the last of God’s prophets it could be said that his initial visions on Mount Hira were sufficient to persuade him that everything that “came” to him thereafter, whether by exoteric experience or inner inspiration, had a supernatural and therefore divine origin. It could also be said, however, that his conscience became satisfied as to one great overriding truth, namely the absolute unity of Allah the Supreme Being of the universe. He obviously felt assured that, as long as he had this truth as the focal point and core of his message, he was divinely commissioned to guide his erring countrymen.

It can safely be said that this proclamation, La ilaha illullah – “There is no god but Allah”, is the pivotal text of the Qur’an around which everything else rotates. The expression occurs in various forms no less than twenty-seven times (Surah 73:9, etc) and it forms the first part of the fundamental Islamic creed “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah”. The greater part of the Qur’an emphasises this fact in opposition to pagan Arab idolatry and the errors of the People of the Scripture who were inclined to associate partners with him. The name Allah itself occurs nearly three thousand times in the book.
The name itself has no gender but Allah is always spoken of in the masculine form. Huwallahullathii laa ilaaha illa huwa – “He is Allah and there is no god except him” (Surah 59:22) both begins and ends with the masculine pronoun huwa. Just as the man is head over the woman, so God is head over the human race and, being a personal being and not a neutral spirit, he is described in the male gender in both the Bible and the Qur’an. Allah often speaks in the plural “We” (the pronoun in the Qur’an is nahnu and is commonly used as in Surah 56:73) and this appears to be a means of asserting his sovereign control over the universe, what is commonly called the “royal we” used by English monarchs when expressing their authority (as in Queen Victoria’s famous cliche “We are not amused”).
Many scholars have commented, however, on the extent to which Allah is spoken of in the third person in the Qur’an. Some have argued that it is strange, if Allah is the sole author of the Qur’an, to find him so regularly speaking independently of himself. On the other hand, as the book comes as a message for the world through the medium of an angelic messenger, it would be somewhat surprising if the text took on the form of a private, intimate communication between the Prophet and his Lord.

Nonetheless the Qur’an constantly urges Muhammad to hold fast to Allah as the sole source of his life and expectation for the future. He is told exactly what to declare to pagan unbelievers around him in verses that symbolise the overwhelming sense of Allah’s being and lordship throughout the Qur’an:

Say: “I call only on my Lord and I do not associate anyone with Him”. Say: “I have no power over you either for harm or for well-being”. Say: “No one can protect me from Allah nor shall I find any refuge apart from Him. (I have no alternative) but to declare what comes from Allah and His Messages”. Surah 72:20-23

“Lord of East and West! There is no god but He!” is the emphatic declaration and central theme of the Qur’an. It is very interesting to see that his existence is taken for granted and in no need of proof. The summons is to recognition of his lordship and to the worship of his glory. At the time, of course, atheism was generally unknown. Unbelievers are not reproached for disbelieving in Allah completely but for turning away from him to worship other gods or for associating other beings with him. Hence the declaration that there is no other god but He. The Qur’an does not consider the charge that there is no God at all. The issue is solely with possible rivals and the implications of polytheism:

If there were in the heavens and earth other gods beside Allah there would have been chaos! Glory be to Allah, Lord of the Throne, above what they attribute (to Him)! Surah 21:23

As Allah is invisible proof of his existence cannot be an issue. No one can obtain sight of his being or personal knowledge of his reality. The response has to be one of faith in what he has revealed. The important thing is to get into a right relationship with him by obeying his laws and living as a true Muslim should. The confession of Allah is seen, in the Qur’an, to be central to being human at all. The destiny of those who refuse to acknowledge him is too horrific to contemplate.
A very significant and recurring phrase in the Qur’an which puts the folly of ignoring Allah into sharp focus is min dunillahi – “apart from Allah” or “to the exclusion of Allah”. The thought is abhorrent! Yet it can occur so easily in the hearts of men not only from deliberate rejection of his authority but even casual neglect of his ways. Simply acting or thinking with a lack of awareness of Allah will take a man away from Him, hence the constant warning in the Qur’an to maintain the Remembrance (Dhikr) of Allah at all times (Surah 57:16).

The words most commonly used in the Qur’an to stress the need to always acknowledge Allah are wali and nasir. These two words have similar meanings and they emphasise the fact that he is the only protector and patron in the universe. They can also be translated as guardian, sponsor, helper and guarantor. They occur alongside the expression min dunillahi in the following verse:

Nor will you find, apart from Allah, any protector or helper. Surah 4:123

Although life may appear to carry on as normal it is absolute foolishness for anyone to think he can prosper or gain Paradise if he should live “apart from Allah”. The pagan idolater endangers himself by losing his favour with Allah in a confusion of other deities, the casual unbeliever by trusting in his own pride and self-sufficiency.

While the Qur’an unrelentingly emphasises the oneness and all-sufficiency of Allah, it surprisingly has very little to say about his personality or character. Unlike the Bible, where the very heart of God shines forth again and again in his dealings with his people, Allah appears to have no heart as such. Empathy or feeling are never even remotely attributed to him. The accent invariably falls on his supreme control of all things, his sovereign authority over mankind, his power to bless or curse, to judge or forgive, to benefit or impoverish as he pleases. He is seen to be the Lord of all the worlds in need of no sustenance, assistance or protection from anyone. He is not accountable to anyone for any of his actions. The obligation is squarely on the shoulders of those he has created to seek his favour – they cannot appeal to anything in his own nature in argument against him (as many Biblical prophets successfully did such as Moses in reminding him of his promises to Abraham and turning his wrath away from the People of Israel when he sought to destroy them).

As a result many scholars of Islam in past centuries, when seeking to define the character of Allah, invariably concentrated on what he is not. Abu`l Hasan `Ali Al-Ash`ari, the famous theologian born in Basra in the third century after Muhammad’s death, gave a very negative description of Allah in his Makalat al-Islamiyin. He said he had no body, nor object, nor volume. No place could encompass him, no time could pass by him. Nothing that could be said of any of his creatures could be used to describe him. Nothing, either, that could be imagined in the mind or be conceived by fantasy resembles him. Eyes cannot see him, harm cannot touch him, nor can joy or pleasure reach him. Nothing moves him. Another early Muslim scholar perhaps summed up the Muslim position in saying that, whatever you might conceive Allah to be, he is not that!

What, then, can be said positively about Allah? The Qur’an speaks of a number of facets of his being, said by Muslims to number ninety-nine in all, which define his character and what men can expect from him. Thirteen of these are mentioned in the following passage and, in the list and catalogue of Allah’s ninety-nine names, these occur first in the order in which they here appear:

He is Allah and there is no god besides Him. Knower of all things whether concealed or apparent. He is the Compassionate (ar-Rahman), the Merciful (ar-Rahim). He is Allah and there is no god besides Him: the Sovereign (al-Malik), the Holy (al-Quddus), the Peaceful (as-Salaam), the Faithful (al-Mu`min), the Protector (al-Muhaymin), the Mighty (al-`Aziz), the Proud (al-Jabbar), the Supreme (al-Mutakabbir). Glory be to Allah above what is associated (with him)! He is Allah, the Creator (al-Khaliq), the Maker (al-Bari`), the Designer (al-Musawwir). To Him belong the most beautiful names (al-asmaa` al-husnaa). Surah 59:22-24

All these names, however, are not regarded as facets of Allah’s own personal being. In fact some Muslim scholars have believed and taught that they are purely attributes and that Allah could, if he wished, simply revoke them. They are said to be traits which govern his relationship and dealings with his creation and do not indicate any particular virtue in his own being or character.

The famous theologian Abu Hamid at-Tusi al-Ghazzali, who lived in the fifth century after Muhammad, wrote a book on the ninety-nine names of Allah which he titled al-Maqsad al-Asna. Speaking of the Qur’anic title al-Wadud (“the Loving One”) which appears twice in the book (Surah 11:90, 85:14), he states that while it is Allah’s intention to do good towards mankind and be compassionate, he himself remains above the feeling of love. His “love” must be determined solely as his purpose to approve of and show favour towards those who seek him. He is above the empathy associated with human compassion, thus his love and mercy are desired in respect of their objects only for their own prosperity and benefit and not because of any sympathy or emotion.

In conclusion, one is left with a somewhat static concept of God in Islam. It would be an honour to him to say that, even though he might be moved deep within his spirit with feeling and heartfelt emotion at any time, he could be relied on always to act consistently with his own perfect character. The Allah of the Qur’an, however, is unchanging simply because he has no character as such. He is what he is. The correctness of the human attitude to him comes purely in acknowledging him rather than in knowing him personally. His absolute unity and distinctness from all that he has created keep him aloof from the universe – an almost lonely God in need of no one’s company. From this concept comes the Muslim’s response to Allah and his attitude towards himself – born to be a servant under obligation to conform to codes of conduct and patterns of religious worship prescribed by his Creator who has the right to do as he pleases, whose actions he may not question, and to whom he will give account of his life.


The dominion of Allah over all things leads, perforce, to the dogma that the universe and everything in it was created solely for his service. Unlike the Christian faith, where God’s love for mankind led him in the person of Jesus Christ to taking the role of a servant to redeem a vast number of men and women with the assurance that they in time would become the children of God and fellow-heirs with Christ, Islam sees their role solely as the servants of God who can never hope to share his glory. Allah’s prerogative to do as he chooses at all times forbids any personal association with men and women with whom he might otherwise be bound to fulfil his own obligations pursuant to any covenant he might have made with them. Allah’s self-sufficiency and mankind’s dependence on him and its commitment to his service is summed up in these words:

I have not created jinn and mankind except to serve me. I require no sustenance from them nor do I desire that they should feed me. For Allah is He who is the Provider, All-Powerful, the Steadfast. Surah 51:56

Even the angels are called `ibaadun-Rahmaan, “servants of the Compassionate”, in the Qur’an (Surah 43:19). There is an unbridgeable gap between Allah and all that he has created. No personal or intimate relationship between them is possible. The function of every creature in the universe is summed up in this emphatic declaration:

For every (creature) that is in the heavens and the earth cannot come to the Compassionate except as a servant. Surah 19:93

Hence the very title of the Muslim faith, Islam – “Submission”, whereby all true believers bow in service to their Master above the heavens. Not that Allah has no real interest in what happens to men and women, nor can he be said to be indifferent towards them. In the Qur’an as much attention is given to mankind as to Allah himself. Man’s nature, behaviour, psychology, his duties and ultimate destiny are as much the concern of the book as the sovereignty of Allah himself. The salvation of human beings is one of the most important themes in the book and, as the Qur’an emphasises again and again, it would not have been sent down had Allah’s intention been otherwise. The fate of mankind is set out in the Qur’an not as something to be determined by Allah’s whims or fancies but as the supreme purpose of Allah’s decrees which he will not change.

Nonetheless, as Allah is seen to be the Lord of his servants rather than as, in the Christian Bible, the Father of his children, his role in the relationship between God and man is to assert his majesty and power. The true `abd (servant) of Allah is therefore to be concerned primarily with virtues pertaining to submissive service. Humility, modesty, unquestioning obedience and conformity to prescribed forms of worship are therefore seen to be the most prominent characteristics of a man of God rather than, as in Christianity, love, joy, selflessness, longsuffering and a forgiving disposition. A true Muslim pays careful attention to the revealed will of Allah, seeking to obey his commands without so much as a murmur. The lordship of Allah and the call to service is again emphasised here:

Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between them! So serve Him (fa`abudh`) and be patient in His service (`ibada) – do you know of any (who can be) named with him? Surah 19:65

In the Qur’an it is not surprising, therefore, to find so much importance being attached to terms like ta`ah, “obedience”; qunut, “humbleness”; khushu`, “submissiveness” and tadarru`, “self-abasement”. These all stand in contrast to a stubborn refusal to obey Allah’s revelations which is logically seen to be the evidence of a hardened heart and the spirit of a man who will not be a servant of Allah. The Qur’an particularly deals with this as the pervading mood of the times of Jahiliyyah, the “Times of Ignorance” before Islam, and as the reason for the rejection of the Qur’anic revelation by the unbelievers of Muhammad’s day.
Confidence in human power, ability or inventiveness are seen as typical of the spirit that prevents a man becoming an `abd of Allah, so likewise the determination not to acknowledge authority or to assert self-independence. Indeed these were the very traits of the pre-Islamic Arabian character. The Qur’an speaks of an occasion where the unbelievers fiercely opposed Muhammad and became hot-tempered. The word used in the text to describe this is hamiyyah which means a burning determination to defend one’s position. The Qur’an specifically calls it the hamiyyatal-jahiliyyah, the fiery opposition typical of that characterising the times of ignorance before Islam. In contrast, however, Allah sent down his peace and tranquillity to his Apostle and to the believers. The word used to contrast the two spirits is sakinah, similar in meaning to the Hebrew shechinah (Surah 48:26). The glory of Allah is his own sense of being at peace with himself and it is this spirit which should characterise those who are truly his servants.

Pre-Islamic Arabs were proudly attached to their tribes and would avenge anyone offended or injured by the member of another tribe no matter what the cause (whether justified or not). They would also refuse to accept anything that undermined their sense of self-dignity and would fiercely react to anyone who humiliated them in any way. This was the core of Arab haughtiness prior to Islam. `Abid ibn al-Abras, a poet from those times, wrote in his Diwan (Vol.40, v.20): “We refuse resolutely to submit to another’s direction, whoever he may be! On the contrary we make all men obey our directions and that without bit and bridle”. It was this arrogant spirit that Muhammad saw as the cause of opposition to his message, the unwillingness to humbly submit and to become the servant of another, in this case Allah himself.

Jews and Christians are not charged generally with the same pride of unbelief but they are reproached for believing themselves to be the sons of Allah and his beloved children. If so, why does Allah punish them for their sins? No indeed, they are only men, men among the whole of mankind whom Allah created to be his servants. For to Allah alone belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth (Surah 5:20). This constant theme is applied to Jesus Christ himself in the Qur’an:

The Messiah does not disdain to be a servant of Allah, nor the angels who are nearest (to him). Surah 4:172

In another verse the Qur’an, speaking of Jesus, bluntly declares in huwa illa `abd – “he was no more than a servant” (Surah 43:59). It is very interesting to find a narrative in the Qur’an where Jesus himself is said to have proclaimed inni `abdullah – “I am a servant of Allah” (Surah 19:30). The passage states that, when he was born, Mary’s kinsfolk charged her with having a child out of wedlock and, after she had pointed to the baby Jesus in the cradle, he made an oration beginning with this declaration. The incident has no parralel in the Bible but does have one in an old apocryphal Gospel known, significantly, only from an Arabic text. It is known as The Arabic Gospel of the Infancy and its author is unknown. The story of Jesus speaking from the cradle is repeated at the beginning of the book, except that here he is recorded as saying to his mother Mary `inni huwa Yasu` ibnullah, “I am Jesus the Son of God”, going on to declare that he is that Word, which he sent, which the Angel Gabriel had announced to her, and that his Father had sent him as a blessing to the nations. The whole story appears to be an apocryphal adaptation of a similar story in Buddhism where Buddha himself is said to have spoken to his mother while an infant, but significantly the Qur’an, maintaining consistency with its own teaching that the Messiah was only a servant of Allah, has changed the original statement attributed to Jesus that he is the Son of God.


Muhammad, likewise, is no more than a servant of Allah, but this designation is one of honour (“Our servant” – Surah 2:23) signifying one who is in harmony with Allah’s purposes and obedient to his will. All true believers are likewise regarded as honourable servants. In a chapter given to repeating the major incidents in some of the lives of the former prophets, they are called `ibaadallahil-mukhlasiin, “the devoted servants of Allah” on five occasions (Surah 37:160, 169 etc) and `ibaadinal-mu`miniin, “Our believing servants” on four occasions. There is no sense of being in bondage to servitude in the Qur’an, rather the concept is one of a harmonious and peaceful relationship where Allah and the believers are on the same wavelength as they humbly bow to his commands.

Allah is accordingly constantly said to be gentle with his servants (Surah 2:207), that he always looks upon them and sees their actions and trials at all times (Surah 3:15), that he is never unjust towards them (Surah 3:182), but that he remains at all times omnipotent over them (Surah 6:18). It is this last facet of the relationship, however, that brings back into focus the fact that Allah ultimately has no responsibility towards anyone and cannot be held accountable by anyone, even if he be a believer or one of his prophets. They remain, simply, his servants and no more.

Therefore, even among the believers, Allah nonetheless distributes his gifts and favours as he chooses and no one can question why one should be preferred above another. No one can ask why, for example, he should have chosen to show his favours to the Children of Israel in times past when he sent them the Prophethood and the Scripture, but does so no longer. It is all according to his own power and command alone.

Exalted above the ranks is the Possessor of the Throne. He sends the Spirit from His Command (`amr) upon those of his servants whom he pleases that he may warn them of the Day of Reckoning. Surah 40:15

Allah’s dominion over his servants gives him the right to benefit whomever he wills (Surah 7:128) and bestow special guidance likewise on anyone of his own choice as he pleases (Surah 6:88). No one can question his acts – whether it is pain or pleasure, it is as he wills (Surah 10:107). He enlarges or restricts according to his own discretion (Surah 28:82). This total supremacy over all his own people has led at times to a somewhat fatalistic attitude among Muslims. Whatever happens, whether for good or evil, is according to his will. If no one can resist it, why strive for one’s own advancement at all? Simply take what comes for it will surely come just as he purposes. This attitude pervades the mentality of many Muslims.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find traditions in the Hadith literature describing incidents at the beginning of creation where Allah is seen to be predetermining all human actions and the destiny of all men according to his purposes before they even come into existence. One such narrative reads:

`Umar b. al-Khattab reported: I heard that the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) was questioned and he replied: The Lord created Adam, then moved His right hand on his back and brought out issues and said: We have created them for Heaven: these will do actions befitting heavenly persons. Then He moved His left hand on his back and brought out issues and said: We have created then for Hell and these will do actions befitting Hell. (Muwatta Imam Malik, p.374).

The Qur’an itself supports the concept that those who are guided on the right path are only on it because of Allah’s predetermined decree that they should be, and that those who go astray do so because Allah has expressly left them to do so. Yet for such there will be no Protector besides Allah and they will be thrown into the fierceness of hellfire because they rejected his signs and disbelieved in the resurrection as they were destined to do (Surah 17:97-98). It is hardly surprising, therefore, to find Muslims expressing a fatalistic view of life and their destiny. Another tradition has a very interesting story about the beginning of creation in that it appears to exonerate Adam from his transgression according to the principle that he was only doing what he was predestined to do:

Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: There was an argument between Adam and Moses. Moses said: Are you that Adam whose lapse caused you to get out of Paradise? Adam said to him: Are you that Moses whom Allah selected for his Messengership, for His conversation, and you blame me for an affair which had been ordained for me before I was created? This is how Adam came the better of Moses. (Sahih Muslim, Vol.4, p.1396).

The Qur’an declares that it is indeed a message to all the worlds and to whoever wishes to go straight, but no one shall unless Allah, the Lord of the worlds, so wills (Surah 81:27-29). Therefore, although there may be a felicitous relationship between Allah and his servants, they are only so because he has chosen to draw them into his path and he therefore is entitled to remain in total control over them, dealing with them as he wishes. This is the heart of the mind and spirit of a Muslim, very different from the Christian knowledge of God the Father who, in his love for those whom he has called to be his own children, will never deal capriciously with them but will bring them safely into his kingdom and glory.


The Qur’an does not teach a doctrine of original sin as the Bible does but it does nevertheless teach that the majority of mankind lives in enmity towards God. It gives a forthright indictment of the human race generally in the following passage:

Verily we have created mankind for trouble. Does he think that no one has power over him? When he says “I have consumed an abundance of wealth” does he think no one sees him? Have We not given him two eyes, a tongue and two lips and shown him the two highways? But he has not hastened to the steep (path). Surah 90:4-11

At the same time the Qur’an teaches that Allah has been gracious towards the nations, revealing to them his ayat (“signs”) and sending to them his prophets and messengers. He would find a people depressed in suffering and adversity but would lift them up so that they might learn humility. Their suffering would be changed into prosperity and, if only they had believed in him and feared him, all kinds of blessings in heaven and earth would have been showered upon them. Nonetheless they continued to reject his truths so that he had to call them to account for their misdeeds (Surah 7:94-96).

The only correct response to Allah’s grace is declared to be a spirit of shukr, an attitude of “thankfulness” or gratitude towards him. In the Qur’an iman (faith) and shukr are often almost synonymous terms.  The opposite is kufr, “unbelief” or “ingratitude”. Yet it is this very spirit of ungratefulness that pervades human thinking and so the Qur’an says:

Verily man is ungrateful to his Lord. And to that he bears witness and passionate is his love of indulgence. Surah 100:6-8

The only hope for rebellious men is to repent and to ask forgiveness of Allah. Even though they be the nearest relatives of those who are believers, if they persist in ingratitude and unbelief forgiveness will be forbidden to them (Surah 9:113). Were Muhammad himself to ask forgiveness for them up to seventy times, Allah will not forgive them because they have rejected him – and Allah does not guide those who are perversely rebellious (Surah 9:80). Worst of all is the attitude of all unbelievers that they possess an istaghna, a “self-sufficiency” apart from Allah. Such a stance is the ultimate in perversity (Surah 96:6-7).

Much attention is given in the Qur’an to this spirit of general unbelief and hard-heartedness in the hearts of most men towards Allah. Only those who have faith and do righteous deeds, holding patiently to the truth, are excepted from the blunt declaration that “Indeed man is in ruin” (Surah 103:3). Although the Qur’an does not teach, as the Bible does, that men by nature are in bondage to sin and wickedness and cannot save their own souls without the grace of God, it does confirm a universal tendency in the human race towards ungodliness and wrongdoing. It comes very close to the Biblical theme in the following verse:

I do not claim that my soul is innocent for man is prone to evil. Surah 12:53

In another passage the Qur’an exposes the human inclination towards fretfulness when dependence on Allah is overlooked and men are left entirely to their own devices:

Verily man was created anxious, fretful when evil touches him but mean-spirited when good reaches him. Surah 70:19-21

One of the commonest words in the Qur’an describing the essence of all transgression towards Allah is dhulm meaning “wrong”. False-worship is said to be the greatest wrongdoing of all (Surah 31:14). The word is used mainly in the context of wrongs done by men towards their fellow human beings such as injustice, deceit, fraud and the like. On numerous occasions it is said that in so behaving men commit dhulm al-nafs, that is, they harm their own souls (Surah 2:57). On the other hand no one can ever accuse Allah of dhulm in his dealings with mankind. Only strict justice tempers every decree of Allah towards his creatures. The wrongdoing that men do brings its own misfortunes upon them and when they suffer because of their folly it is because of the deeds their own hands have brought forth. For indeed Allah does no wrong (dhulm) towards his servants (Surah 22:10). The Qur’an, at times, attributes this spirit of wrongdoing not only to men individually but also to nations and even to social ideologies and structures. Nonetheless such wrongdoing is not seen as an affront to the glory of Allah but rather as a false course likely to cause those who follow it severe damage and injury. The theme here remains the same, however, namely that the tendency towards wrongdoing is prevalent among men and is the course most of them will pursue.


Apart from the perversity of unbelievers generally the Qur’an singles out one group in particular as being guilty of far more than simple wrongdoing. These are the munafiqun, the “hypocrites” who feign belief in Allah or allegiance to the community of believers while their hearts are far from them. Such people were regarded by Muhammad as particularly detestable. A group of them in Medina outwardly professed allegiance to his cause when he first became the leader of the people there but, again and again, proved to be entirely undependable and, at worst, secretly hostile towards the believers. Their leader was one `Abdullah ibn Ubayy who at times took sides with Muhammad but at others deserted him with his own followers. This happened just before the famous Battle of Uhud and the depletion of the Muslim ranks led partly to their defeat. About one-third of the army Muhammad had assembled deserted him just before the conflict and returned to Medina when it was apparent that the Muslims intended to fight the battle outside the city. `Abdullah’s followers preferred to defend their homes near the city.

Nonetheless the Qur’an sees this inclination towards double-mindedness as something far more than disloyalty towards the Muslim community. It is a malady in the very mentality of those who have it. On no less than thirteen occasions the book links the munafiqun(“hypocrites”) with “those in whose hearts is a disease”. The maradh is a “sickness” in their hearts which makes them attempt to mislead believers (Surah 8:49). The constant use of the two expressions side-by-side suggests that they are intended to be synonymous. It would probably be most appropriate to say that Muhammad was nauseated by them and their fickleness. He obviously regarded them as a dangerous group whose loyalty was likely to turn to hostility at any time.

While dhulm covers all kinds of wrongdoing, whether social, moral or religious, nifaq(“hypocrisy”) is seen to be solely in the religious realm. As Muhammad saw himself not only as the political leader in Medina but also as the Prophet of Allah to the nations it is perhaps not surprising that he viewed their inconstancy first and foremost as a challenge to the sincerity of his prophetic convictions. It also explains why he saw them as possessed of a sickness in their hearts. The Qur’an regards them as worse than unbelievers, much in the same way as Jesus regarded the religious Pharisees of his own day. It defines them as follows:

The hypocrites seek to outwit Allah but he will outwit them. When they stand up to pray, they stand listlessly, to be seen of men but holding Allah little in remembrance. (They are) distracted all the time, given to neither one nor the other. For those whom Allah leads astray you will not find a way. Surah 4:142

Their casual indifference is seen to be their undoing. The Biblical rebuke for being neither cold nor hot but generally lukewarm (Revelation 3:16) seems to have a parallel here. They are not seen to be halfhearted believers but the worst of Allah’s enemies whose eternal destiny has already been sealed and determined:

Indeed the hypocrites are the rebellious (ones). And Allah has promised the hypocrites, both men and women, and unbelievers the Fire of Hell therein to dwell. It is sufficient for them. Allah has cursed them and there awaits them a lasting chastisement. Surah 9:67-68

Not only are they boldly reprobated but it is also said that they will be thrown into the deepest parts of the Fire (Surah 4:145). A brief analysis of some of the specific occasions of their opposition to Muhammad during his last ten years at Medina will show why he detested them so much and regarded them as worse than unbelievers. One passage says of them:

They are those who believe and then disbelieve. Then they believe (again), then they disbelieve (again), then they increase their disbelief. Allah will neither forgive them nor guide them on the way. Announce to the hypocrites that there is for them a grievous penalty. Surah 4:137-138

At times it appears that they would publicly acknowledge that Muhammad was sent as the Messenger of Allah while in their hearts they wished it were otherwise. They might take oaths to convince the Muslims that they were sincere but this was only to give them an opportunity to obstruct others from the path of Allah (Surah 63:1-2). In a typically derogatory passage Muhammad is instructed about them as follows:

When you look at them their bodies please you and when they speak you listen to their words. They are like propped-up timbers. They think every cry is against them. They are the enemy – so beware of them. Allah curses them! How they are deluded! Surah 63:4

The same chapter makes a brief reference to an incident where they went out with Muhammad in an expedition against the Banu Mustaliq. `Abdullah ibn Ubayy then suggested that if they were to return to the city (Medina) they, the “more honourable” group, would expel “the meaner” group, namely the Prophet and his followers who had come up from Mecca. The Qur’an, however, states that true honour belongs to Allah alone even though they know it not (Surah 63:8).
In another passage the hypocrites and, again, “those in whose hearts is a sickness”, are rebuked for deliberately stirring up sedition in the city (Surah 33:60) while on another occasion they are upbraided for falsely making promises to the Jews around the city that they would stand by them if they were attacked or exiled (Surah 59:11). It is known that they proved to be totally unreliable when their help was really needed.
Mankind in general is not highly esteemed in the Qur’an. There is a rebellious spirit pervading the human race and only in a true repentance and turning to Allah as submissive Muslims is there a hope of forgiveness and acceptance with him.


One of the commonest words in the Qur’an is amana meaning “to believe”. More than anything else true Muslims are characterised by this one prime virtue, namely to believe in Allah and his will as revealed in the book. One of the names of Allah himself in the Qur’an is Al-Mu`min, “The Faithful One”, the word coming from the same roots as amana. Again and again the address to the followers of Islam commences Yaa ayyuhallathiina aamanuu, “O you who believe!” A typical verse containing this injunction as well as a call to project the character of a true believer reads:

O you who believe! Bow down and prostrate yourselves and serve your Lord and do good so that you may prosper. Surah 22:77

The prevalence of idolatry throughout the Arabian Peninsula during the time of Muhammad led him to seeing the issue between true faith and falsehood being confined to one simple principle. Belief in Allah as the only true God, summed up in the fundamental testimony “There is no god but Allah”, was regarded as the dividing line between a true Muslim and an unbeliever. He had trouble in the later years of his mission with the Jewish and Christian belief in God which was also monotheistic in emphasis, especially when they rejected him as the Apostle of Allah, as his whole vocation in Mecca had been built on the basic premise that he was the standard-bearer of Allah’s truth against the falsehoods of the pagan Arabian idolaters. He solved the problem by eventually accusing the Jews and Christians of associating partners to Allah as well (Surah 9:30). To him Muslim faith had one exclusive character – true Muslim believers were committed to an exercise of faith in Allah alone. The following verse sums up the basic conviction very succinctly:

Say: He is the Compassionate. We believe in Him, and towards Him we put our trust. Soon you will know who is in manifest error. Surah 67:29

True belief naturally is not just an assent to the reality of Allah, it requires a heartfelt commitment to his will. It is only through genuine repentance, the Qur’an teaches, that believers can hope to ultimately be forgiven and admitted to Paradise (Surah 66:8). In another place the Qur’an declares that they are overflowing in their love for Allah (Surah 2:165). A true believer is therefore seen to be enthusiastically committed to his faith in Allah, it is the essential witness of his whole being. By this faith he can discern the reality of Allah in all things even when he uses similitudes of small things such as gnats and other tiny creatures of the earth. Those who believe recognise the truth from their Lord while the unbelievers are led astray into ignorance (Surah 2:26).

True believers are commanded to be consistent in their devotion to Allah, to obey him and his Apostle, to give response to them both when they are called to follow the path that leads to life. They are also commanded not to betray the trust of Allah and his Apostle nor to misuse what has been entrusted to them. Their possessions and offspring are but a trial to see whether their hearts are committed to Allah with whom lies their highest reward. As long as they fear Allah he will grant them a criterion (furqan) to distinguish good from evil (Surah 8:20-29). It is in the constancy of true faith that they will find true peace:

(It is to) those who believe and whose hearts are at rest in the remembrance of Allah, for it is in the remembrance of Allah that hearts find their leisure. Surah 13:28

The summons is constantly to an undivided loyalty towards Allah. The believers’ profession of faith in him must not be distracted in any way by the setting of their affections on anything else apart from him such as their riches or their children. Anything that takes a man away from the remembrance of Allah will cause him one or other form of loss in the end (Surah 63:9). Indeed there is even a severe warning in the Qur’an that one’s own wife and children may be the enemies of the believers – they are to beware of anything that might take them away from their faith (Surah 64:14). The good news which Allah sends them as long as they are faithful to him is the assurance that they are a liberated people with a very high rank before him (Surah 10:2).

The road of faith is furthermore seen to be one where many trials will come across the path of believers to test them. They should not lose heart for they must learn to master themselves and their trials if they are true in faith. If they are injured in any way they must remember that other believers before them have likewise been wounded and yet have kept their faith. Times of varying fortunes are sent to prove those that believe and so that Allah may himself find ranks of witnesses and martyrs for Islam (Surah 3:139-140). It is a hard path sent to try and prove those who truly believe in Allah and his Apostle:

Allah tries those who believe and purges unbelievers. Did you think you could enter Paradise without Allah knowing those who struggled and knowing the patient? Surah 3:141-142

Those who believe are elsewhere said to be those who also do deeds of righteousness, who establish regular prayers and charity. The mark of a true Muslim accordingly is one who believes in the oneness of Allah and fervently follows the path of faith before him.

There is more to true faith, however. Believers make up an ummah, a community of those who are submissive to Allah (Surah 2:128). They are said to be the best of peoples in the Qur’an (Surah 3:110). Mankind had originally been created as one single nation of peoples (Surah 10:19) and it was only the stubborn unbelief of most of them that led to the human race becoming a multitude of people hostile to God. The ummah of those who truly believe, however, though possibly made up of only a minority of the people who live on the earth, is also one ummah, a body of Muslims whose corporate devotion must be to Allah alone (Surah 21:92).


The Qur’an takes the essence of true belief in Allah further than this, however. Not only is real faith seen in the exercise of good deeds and a general conformity to the will of Allah as revealed in his holy scripture but it has an element of a trust in something that is unseen. It is the hope of ultimately seeing his face that should inspire the faithful to remain steadfast on the road of faith.

There are two realms according to the Qur’an, the world of the unseen and invisible (`alam al-ghayb) and the world of what is visible and tangible (`alam ash-shahadah). Only the latter realm is at man’s disposal but Allah reigns over them both. The invisible realm is his alone. From his standpoint there cannot be anything that is invisible for he sees and knows all things, but there are some things that he has hidden from his servants. It is a confession of genuine faith to acknowledge his right as Creator of all things to conceal some things though he is aware of them all:

Say, O Allah! Creator of the heavens and the earth! Knower of the Invisible and the Visible! Surah 39:46

It is a very common theme in the Qur’an. Allah himself is called Al-Ghayb, “The Unseen One” (Surah 2:3) and it is part of his majesty to keep himself hidden from his creatures. Muhammad himself was quite disturbed when unbelievers would not simply believe in the testimony of Allah through his preaching but demanded all kinds of proof of his existence and power. He was warned that they would charge him to declare the time of the final hour of judgment:

Men will ask you concerning the Hour. Say: The knowledge of that belongs to Allah alone. And what will make you ever understand? Perhaps the Hour is nigh! Surah 33:63

On another occasion they demanded to know when the punishment he was threatening them with for disbelieving in his preaching was coming. He had warned them that Allah would overthrow their city. He was told to respond to them as follows:

Say: “I do not know whether what you are threatened with is near or whether my Lord will appoint a longer term for it. He is the knower of the Unseen (al-ghayb) and to no one does he disclose what is concealed (ghaybih).” Surah 72:25-26

Another passage strongly emphasises this theme. How can the unbelievers say that there are gods beside Allah? He originated the creation and gives sustenance to all men from both heaven and earth. None in the heavens or on the earth knows the Unseen except Allah, nor can they perceive when they shall be called to judgment. Still less can their knowledge comprehend the hereafter (Surah 27:64-66).

Whenever Muhammad was challenged to bring forth a sign in proof of his mission he would revert to this premise. The Unseen belongs to Allah alone and he himself is hidden within its realm. To command him to prove himself is to arrogantly expect him to relinquish the order of the visible and invisible which he has decreed.

They say: “Why is not a sign sent down to him from his Lord?” Say: “The Unseen belongs to Allah. So wait! I too will wait with you!” Surah 10:20

Even believers cannot expect him to disclose what is concealed by his decree. He has promised that, as soon as the good has been separated from the evil, he will deliver the believers from their state, but he will not disclose to them the secrets of the Unseen (Surah 3:179). Those who believe without seeing are the blessed. As long as they realise his presence as if they saw him they are men of genuine faith. They need only to purify themselves and to establish prayer to fulfil the will of their Lord though he remains unseen (Surah 35:18).

The goal of every believer is to seek to ultimately see the Face of Allah (wajhullah). Though unseen he stands face-to-face with his own and their spiritual well-being is best promoted by pursuing the knowledge of his will, though they see him not, as if they were standing directly in front of him. The principle is stated in this verse:

Allah sets on the right path whomever he pleases. Whatever good you give benefits your own souls, and you will only do so seeking the Face of Allah. Whatever good you give will be returned to you and you will not be dealt with unjustly. Surah 2:272

This same theme is repeated in another similar passage where the heart of true faith is again seen to be the putting away of everything else to seek the countenance of Allah. This is perceived to be the sure mark of a sincere believer:

Those who spend their wealth to increase their own purity and seek no favour from anyone expecting a reward in return, these are those who desire only the Face of their Lord Most High, and surely they will be satisfied. Surah 92:18-21

Although he is presently unseen while the universe stands fully apparent before mankind, at the end what is visible will be seen to have been transient while only his Face will remain (Surah 28:88). All true believers will then be satisfied with the sight of his glory and all else will be forgotten. The reality of Allah, the only true God, is once again seen to be central to all that the Qur’an teaches and true faith in the heart of a believer will lead him towards the awareness of Allah at all times. The final destiny is stated clearly in these words:

All that is on the earth will perish, but will abide the Face of your Lord, the Majestic, the Noble. Surah 55:26-27

If it should be asked what is meant by the “Face of Allah” the Qur’an defines it as the Splendour of his bounteous goodness in meeting the need of every creature in the heavens and the earth (Surah 55:29). It is also interpreted to be his whole countenance for, whichever direction a man may turn, there is the Face of Allah – for Allah is the All-Pervading, the All-Knowing (Surah 2:115).

Anyone seeking his reward with his Lord must perform the basic duty of a Muslim – to submit to the Face of Allah (aslama wajhullah) and to al

ways do what is right and good (Surah 2:112). The expression is a very common one in the Qur’an (Surah 30:38, etc) and it is set forth as the prime aim of all who do not now see Allah but hope to see him face-to-face and to be accepted by him.
The character of a true believer is defined in the Qur’an in very clear terms. A true Muslim is one who believes in Allah alone, who seeks to do his will, who joins the body of believers, and who directs his face to the One who is presently Unseen but who is facing his servants in return. Such is said to be the only course that leads to the rewards and delights of Paradise while those who reject the knowledge of Allah, for whatever reason and in whatever manner, will be the losers on the Last Day.
John Gilchrist.