Islam believes in ‘Tawheed’ which is not merely monotheism i.e. belief in one God, but much more. ‘Tawheed’ literally means unification i.e. asserting oneness and is derived from the Arabic verb ‘Wahhada’ which means ‘to unite’, ‘unify’ or ‘consolidate’.
‘Tawheed’ can be divided into three categories.
1. ‘Tawheed ar-Ruboobeeyah’
2. ‘Tawheed al-Asmaa-was-Sifaat’
3. ‘Tawheed al-Ibaadah’
1. ‘Tawheed ar-Ruboobeeyah’ (maintaining the unity of Lordship)
The first category is ‘Tawheed ar-Ruboobeeyah’. ‘Ruboobeeyah’ is derived from the root verb ‘Rabb’ meaning Lord, Sustainer and Cherisher.
Therefore ‘Tawheed-ar-Ruboobeeyah’ means maintaining the unity of Lordship. This category is based on the fundamental concept that Allah سبحانه و تعالى alone caused all things to exist when there was nothing. He created or originated all that exists out of nothing. He alone is the sole Creator, Cherisher, and Sustainer of the complete universe and all between it, without any need from it or for it.
2. ‘Tawheed al-Asmaa was-Sifaat’ (maintaining the unity of Allah’s name and attributes)
The second category is ‘Tawheed al Asmaa was Sifaat’ which means maintaining the unity of Allah’s name and attributes. This category is divided into five aspects:
(2.1) Allah should be referred to as described by Him and His Prophet
Allah must be referred to according to the manner in which He and His prophet have described Him without explaining His names and attributes by giving them meanings other than their obvious meanings.
(2.2) Allah must be referred to as He has referred to Himself
Allah must be referred to without giving Him any new names or attributes. For example, Allah may not be given the name ‘Al-Ghaadib’ (the Angry One), despite the fact that He has said that He gets angry because neither Allah nor His messenger has used this name.
(2.3) Allah is referred to without giving Him the attributes of His creation
In a reference to God, we should strictly abstain from giving Him the attributes of those whom He has created. For instance in the Bible, God is portrayed as repenting for His bad thoughts in the same way as humans do when they realize their errors. This is completely against the principle of Tawheed. God does not commit any mistakes or errors and therefore never needs to repent.
The key principle when dealing with Allah’s attributes is given in the Qur’an in Surah Ash Shur
“There is nothing Whatever like unto Him, And He is the One That hears and sees (all things).”
Hearing and seeing are human faculties. However, when attributed to the Divine Being they are without comparison, in their perfection, unlike when associated with humans who require ears, eyes, etc. and who are limited in their sight and hearing in terms of space, time, capacity, etc.
(2.4) God’s creation should not be given any of His attributes
To refer to a human with the attribute of God is also against the principle of ‘Tawheed’. For example, referring to a person as one who has no beginning or end (eternal).
(2.5) Allah’s name cannot be given to His creatures
Some Divine names in the indefinite form, like ‘Raoof’ or ‘Raheem’, are permissible names for men as Allah has used them for Prophets; but ‘Ar-Raoof’ (the Most Pious) and ‘Ar-Raheem’ (the most Merciful) can only be used if prefixed by ‘Abd’ meaning ‘slave of’ or ‘servant of’ i.e. ‘Abdur-Raoof’ or ‘Abdur-Raheem’. Similarly ‘Abdur-Rasool’ (slave of the Messenger) or ‘Abdun-Nabee’ (slave of the Prophet) are forbidden.
3. ‘Tawheed al-Ibaadah’ (maintaining the unity of worship)
(3.1) Definition and meaning of ‘Ibadaah’
‘Tawheed al-Ibaadah’ means maintaining the unity of worship or ‘Ibaadah’. Ibaadah is derived from the Arabic word ‘Abd’ meaning slave or servant. Thus Ibaadah means servitude and worship.
(3.2) All three categories to be followed simultaneously
Only believing in the first two categories of ‘Tawheed’ without implementing ‘Tawheed-al-Ibaadah’ is useless. The Qur’an gives the examples of ‘Mushrikeens’ (idolaters) of the Prophet’s time who confirmed the first two aspects of ‘Tawheed’. It is mentioned in the Qur’an,
“Say: ‘Who is it that Sustains you (in life) From the sky and from the earth? Or who is it that Has power over hearing And sight? And who Is it that brings out The living from the dead And the dead from the living? And who is it that Rules and regulates all affairs?’ They will soon say, ‘Allah’. Say, ‘Will you not then Show piety (to Him)?’ “
A similar example is repeated in Surah Zukhruf of the Glorious Qur’an,
“If thou ask them, Who Created them, they will Certainly say, ‘Allah’: how Then are they deluded Away (from the Truth)?”
The pagan Meccans knew that Allah سبحانه و تعالى was their Creator, Sustainer, Lord and Master. Yet they were not Muslims because they also worshipped other gods besides Allah. Allah سبحانه و تعالى categorised them as ‘Kuffaar’ (disbelievers) and ‘Mushrikeen’ (idol worshippers and those who associate partners with God).
“And most of them Believe not in Allah Without associating (others As partners) with Him!”
Thus ‘Tawheed al-Ibaadah’ i.e. maintaining the unity of worship is the most important aspect of Tawheed. Allah سبحانه و تعالى alone deserves worship and He alone can grant benefit to man for his worship.