By Mass L. Usuf –
‘Tawheed’ variously spelt as, ‘Thawheed’, ‘Thowheed’, ‘Tauhid’, ‘Tauheed’ is an Arabic term translated in simple English as ‘Monotheism’. Tawheed is dearest to all the three great Abrahamic faiths namely Judaism, Christianity and Islam. In fact, it is on this foundation of ‘Tawheed’ that these religions have been established. The total population of the world is approximately 7.9 billion. Of this, the total Jewish, Christian and Muslim population of the world approximates to 4.4 billion. Monotheism is thus close to the hearts, feelings and sentiments of more than half of the people living in this world. Therefore, to understand the depth and meaning of this word, ‘Tawheed’ or ‘Monotheism’ in the light of the above three major religions would broaden perspectives. Especially, at a time when this term has been grossly misunderstood and, consequently, misinterpreted. Mostly, through innocent ignorance.
In Islam, Tawhid in its true sense would be believing in One God and its diverse essence of establishing the Godly society, Godly law and Godly system. It is clear that this belief is not one of faith alone but is connected with duties and responsibilities of man. The relationship of man with his God. Man’s relationship with his own self. Man’s relationship with society. Man’s relationship with nature.
Oneness And Unity
All these three religions believe in an Omnipotent and Omniscient Creator. This Creator is One, and everything is originated from that One source. The concept of Tawheed or Monotheism clearly negates the idea of several gods and goddesses or, gods who have different functions and so on. Greek mythology informs us that Zeus is the king of all the gods (called Jupiter, in Roman mythology). Aphrodite (Venus) as goddess of beauty and love. Apollo (Apollo) as god of prophesy, music and poetry and knowledge. Dionysus (Bacchus) the god of wine, pleasure and festivity and so on.
The Abrahamic triad believes that God created this entire universe and all of its creatures including the human beings. God Alone is the Sustainer, Cherisher and Controller of all His creation. God does not need the assistance of anyone. He is All powerful.
Elohim, Elah, Allah
The personal name of God in the Hebrew Bible or the Old Testament has not really been translated. In Judaism, it is believed that it cannot be translated. It is represented by The Tetragrammaton. Tetra means, four and Grammaton means, letters. The four letters are, ‘YHWH’ or ‘JHVH’ and articulated as Yahweh or Jehovah. The Old Testament states:
“Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain; for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain”. (Bible, Exodus 20 :7)
In the biblical Hebrew ‘Elohim’, is used as one of the common names of God in the Bible. While in the biblical Aramaic ‘Elah’ is used. In the Arabic language the word is ‘ilah’. There can be noticed a close resemblance between Elohim, Eli and Ilah. The Book of Mathew in the Bible has reference to this.
“And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Bible, Matthew 27:46)
In Islam, God is called, ‘Allah’ derived from the word, ‘ilah’ which has a close resemblance to the biblical Hebrew, ‘Elohim’ and the biblical Aramaic ‘Elah’. The Quran states:
“Say: He is ‘Allah’, the One and Only;
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; (The Self-Sufficient, Whom all creatures need).
He begets not, nor was He begotten;
And there is none co-equal or comparable unto Him.”
(Quran, Chapter 112:1).
Genesis of Tawheed
The above verse means, the Oneness of God, the Unity of God and, naturally, the worship of this One God. The single outstanding thread that wove the messages of all these great recent Prophets – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (May peace and blessings be upon all of them) was the message of Monotheism (Tawheed).
Judaism was the first among the three Abrahamic religions circa 500 years after Prophet Abraham. The triad trace their messengers to the first two sons of the patriarch Abraham, namely Ishmael and Isaac. The advent of Prophet Abraham, one of the early Monotheists (Tawheed) was circa 4000 years ago. The covenant of God with Abraham was that He alone was to be the God to Abraham and his offspring.
“I will establish My covenant as an everlasting covenant between Me and you and your descendants after you, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Bible, Genesis 17:7).
As can be seen, the above covenant to worship one God was binding on the descendants of Abraham as well. They were his sons Ishmael and Isaac and their progeny. It is following this that the Jews and Christians take the lineage of his second son Isaac – the teachings of Prophet Moses, the Torah and Prophet Jesus, the Gospels. For the Arabs, his elder son Ishmael was the bearer of the message of the worship of One God, the concept of Tawheed. The patriarchal lineage of Prophet Abraham ending with the final Prophet Muhammed.
Prior to Abraham, there was the Noahide Laws, also called Noachian Laws a Jewish Talmudic designation for seven biblical laws given to Adam (the first man created) and to Noah binding on all mankind. (Encyclopaedia Britannica, Noahide Laws).
‘Behold, I establish my covenant with you, and with your seed after you.’ (Genesis 9:9).
Here again, what is evident from the Biblical scripture is the ownership by virtue of His creation of the entire mankind. The Talmud reports the following laws (cf. Genesis Rabbah 34:8). They are:
1. Do establish laws.
2. Do not curse God.
3. Do not practice idolatry.
4. Do not engage in illicit sexuality.
5. Do not participate in bloodshed.
6. Do not rob.
7. Do not eat flesh from a living animal (eating an amputated limb of an animal).
Evidence of this early laws of God laid down to man is clearly seen established in today’s world irrespective of religious bias.
Adam to Muhammad
Adam was the first human to be created and he was also the first prophet of God. From Adam up to the Final of the Prophets namely, Muhammed (May peace and Blessings be on them), the dominant message was the same. All the prophets, reformers and messengers of God, who were sent by God to all nations, all tribes and all regions of the world at different time periods carried the same message of Tawheed – Monotheism.
The Quran gives the names of some of these Prophets. Their biblical names are given within brackets.
“And Messengers We have mentioned to you before, and Messengers We have not mentioned to you, …” (Quran, Chapter 4:164).
In elaborating on the exposition of this verse, the famous Quranic exegete Ibn Katheer said:
“These are the names of the Prophets whose names are mentioned in the Qur’an in various places: Adam, Idrees (Enoch), Nooh (Noah), Hood, Salih (Methuselah), Ibrahim (Abraham), Loot (Lot), Ismail (Ishmael), Ishaq (Isaac), Ya‘qub (Jacob), Yoosuf (Joseph), Ayyub (Job), Shu‘ayb (Jethro), Moosa (Moses), Haroon (Aaron), Yoonus (Jonah), Dawood (David), Sulaiman (Solomon), Ilyaas (Elijah), al-Yasa‘ (Elisha), Zakariya (Zachariah), Yahya (John the Baptist), and ‘Eesa (Jesus) (peace and blessings be upon them), as well as Dhu’l-Kifl (Ezekial) according to many commentators, and finally, Prophet Muhammad (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him).”
The words, “and Messengers We have not mentioned to you” mean: other people who are not mentioned in the Qur’an. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer, 2/469.)
Islam is the Arabic word for submission to that One God and the worship of One God. From the beginning of Prophet Adam, Islam remains to be the oldest religion on this earth. Prophet Abraham brought the message of Islam over 4,000 years ago and prior to him, it was Prophet Noah who was responsible to spread the message of monotheism.
An important question sometimes raised is if Gautama Buddha who came later circa 2,500 years ago, was also one such Reformer among the unnamed Reformers the Quran refers to above. There is, however, no direct evidence to prove it. Nevertheless, the moral and ethical lessons taught by this great teacher Gautama Buddha has very close similarities with the teachings of the others. An implication worthy of research indicating that the message has been emanating from the same fountain source. This is an altogether separate discussion.
Scriptural References For Tawheed
Tawheed constitutes the monotheistic concept of God in Judaism, as declared in the Shema Yisrael, prayer. Shema Yisrael means, “Hear, [O] Israel”). This is the Jewish declaration of faith. This is a prayer that serves as a centrepiece of the morning and evening Jewish prayer services.
The first verse encapsulates the monotheistic essence of Judaism. In the Hebrew language: “Shema Israel ADONAI Eloheinu, ADONAI Echad,”
“Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one.” (Deuteronomy 6:4).
They read the section, “hear, O Israel”, first, because there is in it the unity of God (Tawheed), and the love of him and his doctrine; for it is, “the great root”, or “foundation”, on which all hangs or depends.” (See: Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible).
Further references to the concept of Tawheed or monotheism is seen below:
“Unto thee it was showed, that thou mightest know that the LORD he is God; there is none else beside him.” (Deuteronomy 4:35)
“ … might do evil in the sight of the LORD your God and violate the covenant. For instance, they might serve other gods or worship the sun, the moon, or any of the stars—the forces of heaven—which I have strictly forbidden.” (Deuteronomy 17:3-5).
The Bible too emphasises in the New Testament the reference to this Monotheistic concept, as seen below:
“And Jesus answered him (the Scribe), the first of all the commandments is, Hear, O Israel; The Lord our God is one Lord.” (Bible, Mark 12:28-29)
“You shall worship the Lord your God and serve him alone.” (Bible, Luke 4:8)
Similarly, in Islam, the foremost article of the Muslim profession of faith is this Monotheistic declaration. This forms the first part of the Shahada (the Islamic declaration of faith). This declaration is the belief in the Oneness of God, Tawheed.
The Oneness of God asserts the existence of a single and absolute truth that transcends the world; A unique, independent and indivisible being, who is independent of the entire creation. God does not need offerings from his creation – the human beings. This One God, is a universal God, rather than a local, tribal, or parochial one. The Quran states:
“Say: He is Allah, (the) One and Only”. (Quran, Chapter 112:1-3)
“And your ‘Allah’ (God) is One God —, there is no god but He, the Most Merciful, the All-compassionate.” (Quran, Chapter 2:163)
Understand And Appreciate
All of the scriptures point to the Oneness of Godhood which is monotheism and translated as ‘Tawheed’ in Arabic.
With specific reference to the triad, it is part of our common belief that every human being is the creation of God. Therefore, all the citizens of Sri Lanka and around the world are part of this larger brotherhood in humanity. This brotherhood is irrespective of race, colour, caste, ethnicity or religion. This is written with the fervent hope that our majority Sinhala (Buddhist) and Tamil (Hindu) friends and the venerable Buddhist and Hindu clerics will appreciate and get a clear understanding of this term, “Tawheed”.
In part two of this article, the application of this principle will be explored.