Tawhid, derived from wahda (oneness), means unifying, regarding as one, believing in God’s Oneness or Unity, and sincerely accepting the reality that there is no deity but God. The Sufis add to these meanings the ideas of seeing only He Who is the One, and knowing, mentioning, desiring, and calling Him alone, and conducting relations with others than Him only because of Him.
The beginning of unity is admitting that the Divine Being is beyond and above all concepts that occur to the mind concerning Him, the result of this being that there is no room for anything else save Him in one’s heart, according to the depth of the spiritual state and pleasures, and fixing one’s eyes on Him alone. In this meaning, unity is both the foundation of Islam and its fruit. Sufism has considered unity with respect to both its beginning and end. Those who are not included in the fold of Sufism have regarded it slightly differently.
According to such people, unity means recognizing the Almighty as the Lord of all creation, and responding to His Divinity with servanthood or worshipping, and acting with a feeling of responsibility. In other words, unity is the belief we must acknowledge with both our words and our actions that God has absolute authority over the whole of creation and disposes as He wills, and He is absolutely above having a like, a rival or an equal. In addition, since He is the One Who absolutely deserves to be worshipped and to be desired, we must serve Him perfectly in a way that contains the meanings of glorifying, exalting and praising Him, and by declaring that He is the All-Holy. To sum up these definitions, we can say that unity has three types or degrees: unity based on knowledge and belief, unity based on spiritual discovery and pleasures, and unity based on the Divine Being’s bearing witness to Himself. Being aware of the last one is a special gift granted by the Almighty to His chosen servants.
- “Unity based on belief and knowledge” is the kind or degree of unity which is acquired through observation, inference or Those who have acquired this degree of unity are free from associating any kind of partners to God and spend their lives thinking about God’s Oneness, mentioning Him and feeling Him in the depths of their hearts.
- “Unity based on spiritual discovery and pleasures” means feeling the knowledge of God which has been acquired through observation and reasoning in one’s conscious nature, sipping the pleasures originating in this knowledge, and experiencing it in the heart and daily life.
- “Unity based on the Divine Being’s bearing witness to Himself” is so profound that only those whom God has favored with it can feel it, and those who can feel it either become dumbfounded or can express it to those around them only to the extent to which He allows In the sight of the initiates who can feel such a degree of unity, all proofs and indications of the Almighty fade away, things turn into a mirage, all existence is reduced to relativity, and the attitude of modesty which initiates must adopt before God tells them to keep silent. For this station is that where an initiate must keep silent and this degree or kind of unity is the unity that brings about silence.
Jalalu’d-Din Rumi says concerning the unity of this degree:
O brother, keep aloof from those
who are busy with discussion about the Divine Being,
so that the Almighty may cause knowledge
from His Presence to rise in your heart.
When speech comes to this point,
lips are no longer able to move or close;
and the pen breaks when it reaches the same point.
This is not the station where eloquent words will be uttered;
So, come and give up talking; God knows best the truth.
This station, where knowledge from God’s Presence has turned into knowledge of God from His Presence, where the consciousness has been awarded special favors, and where travelers to God feel that they are being attracted toward Him by Himself, is the station of being a mirror to God where a drop has become like an ocean, an atom like the whole universe, and non- existence is honored with existence. In his introduction to Harabat, Ziya Pasha , with his poetic ability and pleasure, describes the state of an initiate in this station as follows:
O You Who exist,
and Who have brought existence into existence,
there is nothing which does not exist;
how can it be possible to claim Your non-existence!
Those who are the foremost in unity, which has opened for a drop the way to become an ocean and an atom to become a sun, and which has caused that which does not exist to gain existence, and has encompassed both the beginning and the end of the journey, and which it is possible for everybody to attain according to the capacity of each, are the Prophets. They begin their speeches with unity, and stop where they must stop because unity requires them to do so. The first platform for the travelers to God on their way to God is also this objective consideration of unity, where the beginning and end of the journey are united. All the Messengers and Prophets of God, from the first to the last, who carried out their responsibilities on the way of wakefulness, preached this greatest pillar of belief first, declaring: Worship God alone: you have no deity other than Him (7:59, 65, 73, 85 …). Then they went on to communicate other principles and commandments to explain its meaning and content and to establish these in this world.
This consideration of unity is the first door to entering Islam and is the means to feeling and experiencing Islam with a certainty based on knowledge, and a certainty based on observation, and a certainty based on experience. This is also the first call of God to know Him—according to the individual’s capacity—as He makes Himself known. One enters the fold of Islam with such a concept of unity, and those who have the potential to advance, advance by means of it. Studies and mental endeavors gain profundity through this concept, and it is again through it that what lies beyond the relative truths appears. The difference between eternity and what is eternal and what is contained in time can be discerned within this concept. One perceives through this concept the nature of the relation between God as the Creator and the Sole Object of Worship with other beings as the created and those responsible for worshipping and servanthood. Again, it is through this concept that one understands that the Creator is not of the same kind as the created, and that His Attributes are perfect, universal and essential to Him, while the attributes of the created are imperfect, particular, relative and borrowed. This concept of unity causes one to base all one’s views on the principles taught by the Prophets. Starting from these principles, one is saved from falling into errors such as, while arguing (in the name of unity) that He is absolutely free of any imperfections that belong to the created, going to the extreme of denying God any Attributes; or (another extreme) assuming that God takes on bodily form (incarnation) or that a created being can be united with God and become God (union). One is also saved, while observing His manifestations, from likening God in any respect to the creation, or, while interpreting His Attributes, likening Him to the created or attributing to Him a body and being that are contained in time and space. Thus one displays the worthiness (and need) to be counted among the people of the Straight Way, when one prays at least forty times a day (in the daily Prayers) to God to guide one on this Way.
That conception of unity also serves to guide travelers to God so that they can perceive the sole source and nature of the Divine Destiny and Decree. Turning to Him, they do not waste their lives in the philosophical deviations of the Mu‘tazila (the Muslim theologians who maintain that human beings will and create their actions) and the Jabriya (who deny human free will). They serve God sincerely, and feel a deep respect for Him because of His every commandment. Without denying that they have been endowed with free will, they believe that God is the Creator and the eternal origin or cause of everything, and expect from Him the attainment of all their purposes. They always rely on Him, and implore Him for happiness in both this world and the next.
Philosophers such as Aristotle, Abu ‘Ali ibn Sina (Avicenna), and Nasiru’d-Din at-Tusi , who considered unity as the Existence alone with no identity or Attributes, opened the door to the deviation of monism, which would later evolve as a philosophical system, in turn giving rise to many other falsehoods. Those who have strayed into incarnation and union—which can be said to have been smeared onto the belief-system of Islam by Neo-platonism—have fallen into associating partners with God by seeing existence as the constant appearance or externalization of the Necessarily Existent One, and therefore as being (in some measure) identifiable with Him. Among other groups or movements, the Qadariya and Jahmiya, which deny God any Attributes, have attributed to God impotence and to human will absolute power. The attitude of the Jabriya in particular, who deny human free will and regard humans as if they were dried leaves blown about by winds, is totally contrary to the most rational realities and is a great slander against God. What is true for all such movements, even if there was a grain of truth in them, is that their early followers were not able to save themselves from going to extremes and they prepared many points from which those who followed them and the ideas they promoted might stray.
As for the overwhelming majority of Muslims, who have accepted the truth of the Messenger and his Companions, they have learned unity (as well as other aspects of Islam), from, once more, the explanations, attitudes, visions, and spiritual discoveries of the true successors of the Messenger and the Companions, experiencing it in their inner and outer worlds. According to them, unity is the bedrock of Islam, a fact which the Qur’an and the Sunna give the greatest importance to with respect to the Creator’s Lordship and recognition of our being His servants who must recognize and worship Him. The Qur’an and God’s Messenger frequently refer to the Divine Being and His Attributes, Names, and Acts, including the establishment of Himself on the Throne—the nature of which is unknown to us—His speaking to the Messengers and Prophets, and honoring ever He wills with speaking to Himself, and reminding us of His absolute, unconditioned Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Seeing, Power, Will, and Speech. They also teach us that God is the Creator and the One Who takes life and revives after death, and that He is the All-Providing. All these Attributes and Acts of God have a close connection with God’s being One and Unique.
- Ziya Pasha (1825–1880) was one of the influential political and literary figures of the second half of the 19th-century Ottoman Turkey. He published Hurriya (Freedom) newspaper (Tr.)
- Nasiru’d-Din at-Tusi (1201-1280) was one of the leading scientists, philosophers, and theologians of the time and was a prolific writer. He also wrote poetry in Persian. He built an observatory at Maragha in 1262. His influence on sciences was immense. (Tr.)