The first post in this series will look at the nature of
Allah. Let’s start with the question,
‘Why does it matter?’ The answer to that
question is straight-forward. To be
successful in the long-run, all societies must have an underlying moral basis. Our Founders understood this in establishing
the framework for this country. But a
few more questions are in order. What is
the moral basis of a society based upon Islam?
Does that moral foundation differ from a society based upon Judeo-Christian
tenets? If so, how does it differ? These
are some of the questions we will try to answer as we go through this series.
Finally, why start with morality when looking at Allah’s
nature? This can be answered in two
parts. First, Allah is considered to be
First Cause within Islam, and First Cause is the source for all existence,
morality, and knowledge. So Allah’s
nature should have a direct bearing on the underlying morality of a society
based upon Islam; the remaining areas will be the subjects for later posts. Second, our Founders chose to create a
society founded upon Judeo-Christian values after they had completed all of
their research into historical governance models and how they worked. So if the moral underpinnings of societies
based upon these two ideologies differ, then those differences likely
matter. And if Islam does present the
next Great Awakening, then how we address its resurgence will likely shape our
society for a long time to come.
We’ll start with a quick look at Neoplatonism. Neoplatonic thought developed during the
Middle Ages, and has had a great influence on Islam. The influence of outside forces on Islam’s
development, particularly through Roman law on shari’a and Neoplatonism on its
theology, were noted in the early twentieth century by Ignaz Goldziher in his
book Introduction to Islamic Theology and
Law. Augustine also wrote
extensively about the short-comings of the neoplatonic thoughts of Plotinus and
his student Porphyry in The City of God,
several hundred years before Muhammad’s birth.
So how has Neoplatonism influenced Islamic theology? Allah is an absolute simple unity; so
absolute it leaves no room for distinctions as provided by Aristotle, Clement
of Alexandria, Augustine, or many others.
Allah is transcendent in nature and pure will. Therefore, He cannot be known by man. As He cannot be known by man, He is also
extrinsic, He can only be known from His actions. Any names given to Him are what he causes,
but they are not a part of His nature.
In their book, Answering
Islam, Norman Geisler and Abdul Saleeb developed the following list of
characteristics to describe Allah as:
(1) absolute oneness, (2) absolute will, (3) absolute justice, (4)
absolute mercy, (5) absolute inscrutability, and (6) absolute ruler. To this list I have added absolute
foreknowledge, for a First Cause without absolute foreknowledge cannot truly be
First Cause. Each of these will be
briefly outlined in the following sections.
However, it should be noted that Neoplatonism has led to differing
beliefs in the nature of Allah even within the different sects of Islam. It is therefore not possible to find a single
universal view on Allah’s nature.
Surah 112 says, ‘Say:
He is Allah, the One! Allah, the
eternally Besought of all! He begets not
nor was begotten, and there is not comparable to Him.’ Allah is beyond all being, time, and
space. There is no knowable nature or
essence. This view of unity is so strong
that it leaves no room for plurality at all; it is nominalism.
This view creates several inconsistencies, some of which
will be discussed later. The first has
to do with the Qur’an itself. Orthodox
Islam teaches that the Qur’an is uncreated.
It is the eternal speech of Allah.
It is Allah, but separate from Him.
This distinction presents a plurality that is inconsistent with the notion
of Allah as a simple unity.
Incidentally, this type of distinction is the same as that used to
describe the relationship between God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which
Islam denies as being false teaching.
The simple unity that is Allah consists of pure will. It is this will that gives unity to His
actions. It is the effects of these
actions which may be used to identify His will, but that will is itself
unknowable. Allah is extrinsic in that
He can only be known from the actions of His will. This leads to a second inconsistency, that is
how can this will give so many things that it does not have? Plotinus answered this by describing the One
as an overwhelming power, the only power capable of performing such acts – but
even Plotinus in the end was not very satisfied with that answer.
Two relevant passages from the Qur’an are, ‘And if We had so
willed, We could have given every soul its guidance, but the word from Me
concerning evildoers took effect that I will fill Hell with the jinn and
mankind together.’ (Surah 32, 13) And, ‘As for the disbelievers, whether you
warn them or you warn them not it is all one for them; they believe not. Allah has sealed their hearing and their
hearts, and on their eyes there is a covering.
Theirs will be an awful doom.’
(Surah 2, 6-7)
Absolute Justice and Absolute Mercy
The Judge and the Merciful are two of the names of Allah. As
He is pure will and extrinsic, He can only be known by His actions – the things
that He wills. Surah 2, 210 states,
‘Wait they for nothing else then that Allah should come unto them in the
shadows of the clouds with the angels?
Then the case would be already judged.
All cases go back to Allah (for judgment).’ And Surah 3, 31, ‘Say (O Muhammad, to
mankind): If you love Allah, follow me,
Allah will love you and forgive you your sins.
Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.’
Allah being pure will leads to a serious moral problem. From Answering
Islam, ‘if God is pure Will, without any real essence, then he does not do
things because they are right; rather, they are right because he does
them. In short, God is arbitrary about
what is right and wrong. He does not
have to do good.’ This leads to another question. If Allah’s will is responsible for good
through its actions, then is it not also responsible for evil? Further, Allah is capable of changing His
will over time. The changes in the
revelations received by Muhammad form the basis for abrogation of verses within
the Qur’an, that later verses abrogate, change, or cancel out earlier ones.
As Allah is pure will, His nature is unknowable. We mentioned above that He is named by the
effects He causes, but He is not identified with any of those things. This leads to a core tenet of Islam, that it
is not our purpose to know Allah, but only to obey Him. We are not to meditate on his essence, but
instead to submit to His will. Indeed,
that is the meaning of the word Muslim, it is one who submits to the will of
‘If Allah afflicts you with some hurt, there is none who can
remove it save Him; and if He desires good for you, there is none who can repel
His bounty. He strikes with it whom He
will of His bondsmen. He is the
Forgiving, the Merciful.’ (Surah 10,
Allah is the creator and absolute ruler of all. Two verses from the Qur’an. ‘The Originator of the heavens and the
earth! When He decrees a thing, He says
unto it only; Be! And it is.’ (Surah 2, 117) And the second is, ‘Allah! There is no God save Him, the Alive, the
Eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtakes
Him. Unto Him belongs whatever is in the
heavens and whatever is in the earth.
Who is he that intercedes with Him save by His leave? He knows that which is in front of them and
that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of His knowledge save
what He will. His chair includes the
heavens and the earth, and He is never weary of preserving them. He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.’ (Surah 2,
Allah needs nothing, but everything needs Him. The relationship between Allah and man is not
one of love between Creator and creation, but rather one of master and
slave. Judeo-Christian worship involves
a relationship between two persons, the worshiper and God. Within Islam, how can one worship what they
cannot know? This leads to the last
characteristic of absolute foreknowledge.
Orthodox Islam teaches absolute predestination of both good
and evil. Indeed, within Islam it is
believed that we are born with our fate hung around our neck, and that fate
will be revealed to us on the Day of Judgment.
Yes, the Qur’an has verses supporting both free will and predestination,
but the views supporting predestination dominate most of Islam. This determinism leads to several
problems. First, Allah performs
contradictory actions based upon His will.
Second is a moral problem, as noted in one of the earlier Qur’an verses,
Allah could have chosen to save all of mankind – but chose not to do so. Finally, a third problem has already been
mentioned. That is that this view makes
Allah responsible for both good and evil.
Relevant verses from the Qur’an in this area include the
following, ‘Say (unto them): Would you
teach Allah your religion, when Allah knows all that is in the heavens and all
that is in the earth, and Allah is Aware of all things.’ (Surah 49, 16). Another is, ‘On the day when Allah will raise
them all together and inform them of what they did. Allah has kept account of it while they
forgot it. And Allah is Witness over all
things.’ (Surah 58, 6).
We started this post by asking questions about the morality
which underlies a society formed around Islam, and whether that moral basis
differs from one based upon Judeo-Christian tenets. From the information above, we can point to
several differences, which include:
There are many implications for society, but two
are as follows. First, as outlined by
Augustine, a society turned toward God is properly oriented toward good and
requires virtue to be developed within its citizens. In a society turned toward Allah, morality is
still important, but that importance is trumped by the expediency of
implementing His will. As His will is
inconsistent, both good and bad actions are appropriate, and dependent only on
the outcomes achieved. What matters is
obedience to His will. Second, a society
turned toward God is hopeful, as man can better himself by improving the
decisions that he makes. A society
turned toward Allah has in store for it whatever fate Allah has already
determined. It is rooted in a kind of
fatalism as Allah’s will determines their fate.
God is responsible for good. Man's turning away is the cause of evil. Allah is the only one in existence who can cause things through His will. Therefore, good and evil comes from what He wills.
God is consistent. Through His providence, He has taken the bad decisions
made by men and turned them to His good.
Allah is inconsistent as His will changes over time. Right and wrong become a matter of what Allah
God has offered the opportunity for redemption
to all man. Allah is capable of saving
all mankind, but has chosen not to do so.
Man predestines himself through the decisions he
makes. Allah has determined one’s fate
since before the beginning of time.
There is a relationship between God and His
worshippers based upon love. There is no
relationship between Allah and his followers as He cannot be known, only