THE MOSLEM DOCTRINE OF GOD
AN ESSAY ON THE CHARACTER AND ATTRIBUTES OF ALLAH
ACCORDING TO THE KORAN AND ORTHODOX TRADITION
SAMUEL M. ZWEMER, F.R.G.S.
AUTHOR OF "ARABIA, THE CRADLE OF ISLAM", "RAYMUND
AMERICAN TRACT SOCIETY
150 NASSAU STREET, NEW YORK
"Your God and our God are the same."—The Koran.
"Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well,
the devils also believe and tremble."—James 2:19.
"Neither knoweth any man the Father save the Son
and he to whomsoever the Son will reveal Him."—Matt. 11:27.
JEWS, Christians and Mohammedans believe in one God and yet differ widely in
their interpretation of this idea. Unless we know the Moslem's idea of God we
cannot understand his creed nor judge his philosophy, nor intelligently
communicate our idea of God to him. The strength of Islam is not in its ritual nor in
its ethics, but in its tremendous and fanatical grasp on the one great truth -
[1.]Our purpose in these pages is to learn the extent and content of this idea; an
idea which holds the Moslem world even more than they hold it. I have found no
book in English, among the wealth of literature on Islam, that treats of this subject.
In German there are two books on the theology of the Koran 1, but both are rare
and limited, as appears from their titles, to a consideration of what the Koran
For a fair interpretation, however, of Islam's idea of God we must go not only to
the Koran, but also to orthodox tradition. The Hadith are the records of the
authoritative sayings and doings of Mohammed and have exercised tremendous
power on Moslem thought since the early days of Islam; not only by
supplementing but by interpreting the Koran. The Hadith are accepted by every
Moslem sect, in some form or other, and are indispensable to Islam. For proof of
these statements we refer to Sprenger and Muir. The Koran-text quoted is from
Palmer's translation, together with references to the three standard commentaries
of Beidhawi, Zamakhshari and Jellalain. For orthodox tradition I have used the
collection known as Mishkat-al-Misabih, because it is short, authoritative, and
because an English translation of this collection exists. (Captain Matthew's Mishcat-ul-Masabih, or a collection of the most authentic traditions regarding the actions
and sayings of Mohammed; exhibiting the origin of the manners and customs, the
civil, religious and military policy of the Musselmans. Translated from the original
Arabic. Calcutta, 1809; 2 folio volumes.) This collection, originally the work of
Bagawi (516 A.H.) and based on the classical works of Buchari and Muslim, was
edited and issued in its present form by Abdullah-al-Khatib (737 A.H.); and
Brockelmann in his history of Arabic literature calls it "the most correct and
practical book of Moslem traditions." I had no access to the translation and all
references are to the Arabic edition printed in Delhi.
The frontispiece is from the celebrated Shems-ul Ma'arif of Muhyee-ed-Din-al-Buni
This book treats of the names of God and their use in amulets, healing, recovering
lost property, etc. I am aware that in some parts of the Mohammedan world
disintegration of religious ideas is in progress and that the theology as well as the
ethics of Islam is being modified by contact with Western civilization, Protestant
missions, and Christian morals. My idea, however, was not to sketch the
theological views of Moslems in Liverpool nor of the reformers of Islam in India, but
of the vast orthodox majority of the people both learned and illiterate.
In the comparative study of any religion the idea of God is fundamental, and if
these pages give a clearer idea of what Mohammed taught and what his followers
believe concerning Allah, the Christian missionary will the more earnestly preach to
Moslems the Gospel of our Saviour, who said, "He that hath seen Me hath seen
"Historically, a pure theism is all but impotent. There is only one example of it
on a large scale in the world, and that is a kind of bastard Christianity -
Mohammedanism; and we all know what good that is as a religion. There are
plenty of people who call themselves Theists and not Christians. Well, I venture
to say that is a phase that will not last. There is little substance in it. The God
whom men know outside of Jesus Christ is a poor nebulous thing; an idea and
not a reality. You will have to get something more substantial than the far-off
god of an unchristian Theism if you mean to sway the world and to satisfy
men's hearts." - Alexander Maclaren (in sermon on John 14:1).
ANALYSIS OF ISLAM AS A SYSTEM DEVELOPED FROM ITS CREED
"There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is His Apostle"
THE DOCTRINE OF GOD "Pantheism of Force"
1. Negative (Nafi) "There is no god" -
2. Positive (Athbat) "but Allah."
His Names ... of the essence, Allah (the absolute unit)
of the attributes, - ninety-nine names
His attributes ... The physical emphasized above the moral
Deification of absolute force
Expressed in a series of negations, "He is not."
THE DOCTRINE OF REVELATION:
(Mohammed, the Apostle of God, is the sole channel of revelation and abrogates
Orthodox Moslems acknowledge two kinds of revelation and one authority besides
I. BY THE KORAN
(Wahi el Matlu)
Verbal revelation, which teaches the two-fold demands of Islam: -
(what to believe), "Iman"
1. In God
2. Angels (angels, jinn, devils)
Moslems believe that 104 "books" were sent from heaven in the following order:
These are utterly lost
To Adam – ten books
To Seth – fifty books
To Enoch – thirty books
To Abraham – ten books
These are highly spoken of in the Koran but are now in corrupted condition and
have been abrogated by the final book
To Moses – The TORAH
To David – The ZABOOR
To Jesus – The INJIL
To Mohammed – the KORAN
Eternal in origin: complete and miraculous in character; supreme in beauty and
4. Last Day (Judgment)
a. The Greater
Adam – "Chosen of God."
Noah – "Preacher of God"
Abraham – "Friend of God"
Moses – "Spokesman of God"
Jesus – called "Word of God" and "Spirit of God"
MOHAMMED, (who has 201 names and titles)
b. The Less
Of these there have been thousands. Twenty two are mentioned in the Koran viz.:
Enoch, Hud, Salih, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Aaron, Shuaib, Zakariah,
John, David, Solomon, Elias, Lukman, Zu-el-kifl, Alexander the Great, Elisha.
B. PRACTICE :
(what to do) "Din"
[the five pillars]
1. Repetition of the Creed
2.Prayer (five times daily) including:
a. Purification : washing various parts of the body three time according to fourteen rules
b. Posture (prostrations) : facing the Kiblah (Mecca), prostrations, genuflections
c. Petition : Declaration of the Fatihah or first Surah. Praise and confession – the
3. Fasting (month of Ramadhan)
4. Alms-giving (about 1-40 of income)
Mecca (incumbent), Medina (meritorious but voluntary), Kerbala, Meshed, Ali, etc.
II. BY TRADITION
(Wahi gheir el Matlu)
Revelation by example of the perfect prophet [The Man]
1. Records of what Mohammed did (Sunnat-el-fa'il) example
2. Records of what Mohammed enjoined (Sunnat-el-kaul) (precept)
a. Verbally handed down from mouth to mouth and finally sifted and recorded by
(1) The Sunnite Traditions: (collected and recorded by the the following six
Buchari A.H. 256
Muslim A.H. 261
Tirmizi A.H. 279
Abu Daood A.H. 275
An-Nasaee A.H. 303
Ibn Majah A.H. 273
Note: Not one of them flourished until three centuries after Mohammed.
(2) The Shiah Traditions: (five authorities)
Kafi A.H. 329
Sheikh Ali A.H. 381
Tahzib A.H. 466*
Istibsar A.H. 466*
Ar-Razi A.H. 406
*By Abu Jaafer
3. Records of what Mohammed allowed (Sunnat-et-takrir) (license)
III. OTHER AUTHORITY
A. Among the Sunnites:
1. IJMA'A or unanimous consent of the leading companions of Mohammed
concerning Sources I, i.e. the Koran,
2. KIYAS or the deductions of orthodox teachers from Sources I and II
3. The doctrine of the twelve IMAMS (beginning with Ali, who interpreted I and II.
THERE IS NO GOD BUT ALLAH
"One God the Arabian prophet preached to man;
One God the Orient still
Adores through many a realm of mighty span -
A God of power and will.
"A power that at his pleasure doth create
To save or to destroy,
And to eternal pain predestinate
As to eternal joy."
- Lord Houghton.
AMONG all the religions of the world there is none that has a shorter creed than
Islam; none whose creed is so well known and so often repeated. The whole
system of Mohammedan theology and philosophy and religious life is summed up in
seven words: La ilaha illa Allah, Mohammed rasul Allah. "There is no god but Allah
and Mohammed is Allah's apostle" - on these two phrases hang all the laws and
teaching and morals of Islam. The logical development of Islam took place after the
death of Mohammed in two ways: by the interpretation of the Koran and by the
collection (or invention)
of a mass of so-called tradition. The former is what Allah revealed by means of a
book; the latter is what Allah revealed by means of a man, Mohammed. Both
revelations have well-nigh equal authority and both rest their authority on the
kalimet or creed of seven words. The accompanying analysis shows this relation.1
Gibbon characterizes the first part of the Moslem's creed as "an eternal truth" and
the second part as a "necessary fiction."2 Concerning the latter statement there is
no dispute, but whether we can admit the former depends altogether on the
character of the Being of whom it is affirmed that He displaces all other gods. If
Allah's nature and attributes are in any way distorted or are unworthy of Deity,
then even the first clause of the briefest of all creeds is false. "Because Mohammed
taught the unity of God it has been too hastily concluded that he was a great social
and moral reformer as well. But there is no charm in the abstract doctrine of the
unity of God to elevate humanity. The essential point is the character attributed to
this one God."3 It is, therefore, not superfluous to inquire both from the Koran and
from orthodox Tradition what Moslems mean by asserting God's unity and what
character they ascribe to their only, true God. For there is no doubt
1 Revised and reprinted from Arabia, the Cradle of Islam.
2 Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. III., pp. 488.
3 Osborne's Islam under the Khalifs of Bagdad, p. vii.
that they themselves emphasize nothing so much as this part of their system. It is
the motto-text of the Moslem's home-life, the baptismal formula to welcome the
infant as a believer, the final message to whisper in the ears of the dying, La ilaha
illa Allah. These words they chant when carrying a burden or a bier; these words
they inscribe on their banners and their door-posts; they appear on all the early
coins of the caliphs and have been the great battle-cry of Islam for thirteen
centuries. By repeating these words, the infidel turns Moslem and the renegade is
welcomed back to a spiritual brotherhood. By this creed the faithful are called to
prayer five times daily, from Morocco to the Philippines, and this is the platform on
which all the warring sects of Islam can unite, for it is the foundation and criterion
of their religion. According to a traditional saying of Mohammed, "God said to
Moses, if you were to put the whole universe on one side of the scale-pans and the
words La ilaha illa Allah on the other, this would outweigh that."1 Orthodox
tradition also relates that the prophet one day was passing by a dry and withered
tree and as soon as he struck it with his staff the leaves fell off; then the prophet
said, Verily, the words La ilaha illa Allah shake off the believer's sins as my staff
shook off the leaves from this tree.2
1 Mishkat el Misabih, Delhi edition, Book X., p. 201.
2 Ibid., p. 202.
The Koran is never weary of reiterating the formula which expresses God's unity,
and the one hundred and twelfth Surah, specially devoted to this subject, is, so
Moslems say, equal in value to one-third of the whole book. It is related by
Zamakhshari in his commentary that Mohammed said, "The seven heavens and
the seven earths are built on this Surah and whoever reads it enters paradise."
Now in spite of the emphasis thus put on the doctrine of God's unity by Moslems,
and in spite of the fact that it is this part of their creed which is their glory and
boast, there has been a strange neglect on the part of most writers who have
described the religion of Mohammed to study Mohammed's idea of God. It is so
easy to be misled by a name or by etymologies. Nearly all writers take for granted
that the God of the Koran is the same being and has like attributes as Jehovah or
as the Godhead of the New Testament. Especially is this true of the rationalistic
students of Islam in Germany and England. Is this view correct? The answer,
whether affirmative or negative, has important bearing not only on missions to
Moslems but on a true philosophical attitude toward this greatest of all false faiths.
If we have to deal with "an eternal truth" linked to "a necessary fiction" our simple
task is to sever the link and let the eternal truth stand to make men free. On the
other hand, if the necessary fiction is put as the foundation of a distorted truth,
be no compromise; both clauses of the creed fall together.
To the etymologist, Zeus-Pater, Jupiter and Heavenly Father mean the same thing;
but these words express widely different ideas to the student of comparative
religions. Many people have a better knowledge of Jupiter, Brahma or Thor as
deities than of Allah; and it is so because in the former case they go to mythology
and in the latter case to etymology for the sum of their ideas. The word Allah is
used for God not only by all Moslems, but by all Arabic-speaking Jews and
Christians in the Orient. But this does not necessarily mean that the idea expressed
by the word is the same in each case.