The Islamic Conception of God

Mubarak Mosque Brampton
22 min readJun 11, 2021

The first object of religion relates to four questions, and I shall, therefore, state what Islam teaches concerning each of these questions.

The first question is, what does Islam teach concerning the person and attributes of God? Islam describes God as a Perfect Being, possessing every excellence. The opening verse of the Holy Quran runs.

‘All praise is due to Allah, the Creator and Sustainer of all the worlds.’13 As God has created all things, and all things depend on Him for their sustenance, He alone deserves all praise for the beauties and excellences to be found in different things, for all these beauties and excellences are derived from God. The beauty of a scene, the charm of a voice, the fragrance of a flower, the softness of a bed, the daintiness of a dish, in short the beauty and charm of all that pleases and appeals to the senses of man, is created and bestowed by God.

The verse then proceeds: al-Rahman al-Rahim i.e., God has, out of His pure grace and bounty, created all those things the need of which was to be felt by man; for instance, light and air; fire and water; different kinds of food and medicines; timber; iron, stones, etc. He has 13 Al-Fatihah, 1: 2. created so many things for the use and the exercise of man’s faculties that whichever way man turns he finds enough to occupy his attention and is afforded countless opportunities of improving and perfecting his knowledge and capacities. In fact, man cannot possibly feel any need which has not been met and provided for before his birth. All this has been done under God’s attribute of Rahmaniyyat.

Again, He has been called Rahim in the Holy Quran, that is to say, He rewards all labour and effort according to its deserts. Man’s effort is never wasted, and he is ever rewarded in true proportion to its merits.

Again, He is called Malik-e-Yaumid-Din, i.e., He is the Master of the Day of Retribution. In other words, apart from the operation of the laws of nature, and the rewards and punishments which are meted out contemporaneously, He has fixed the limits of every action, and as soon as those limits are reached, final judgment is passed on each action whereby the good are rewarded, and the evil ones are punished, subject always to this, that under His attribute of Malikiyyat it is always open to Him to forgive and to remit the punishment.

Again, He is called Qadir, that is to say, He has fixed the nature and properties of all things. If this had not been so, there would have been constant confusion and disorder in the world and the affairs of the world would soon have come to an end. If men had not been certain about the nature, effect and properties of things, they could never have entered upon any enterprise, not knowing what it might lead to. For instance, a man who desires to cook food lights a fire in the certain belief that fire would generate heat. If the generation of heat had not been the fixed property of fire, and the extinguishing of fire had not been the fixed property of water, if fire had sometimes generated heat and at other times had caused cold, if water had some times extinguished fire and at other times had set it alight, nobody could have derived any benefit from them, and men would have lost heart in despair and would soon have perished.

God has also been described as ‘Alim, that is to say, He has knowledge of secret as well as of manifest things. He is aware of the secrets of a man’s heart and knows all hidden things. He is acquainted with the hidden secrets of man’s nature of which the latter is not even himself aware. Things buried under the earth and those placed on mountain tops are equally within His knowledge. He knows that which is past and that which is to come.

He is Sami‘, that is, He hears everything; the slightest whisper does not escape Him and the sound of a crawling ant, and of the blood coursing through a man’s veins reaches Him.

He is Hayy, that is, He is Himself alive and bestows life on others.

He is Khaliq, the Creator.

He is Qayyum, that is, He supports the existence of others.

He is Samad, that is, nothing can exist without His support and assistance.

He is Ghafur, that is, He forgives our trespasses.

He is Qahhar, that is, all things are subject to His power.

He is Jabbar, that is, He remedies all ills and disorders.

He is Wahhab, that is, He bestows favours and bounties on His creatures.

He is Subbuh, that is, He is free from all defects.

He is Quddus, that is, He comprises in Himself all aspects of purity and holiness. He does not sleep, nor is He fatigued. He is Eternal and Ever-existing.

He is Muhaimin, that is, He guards all things. It is under the working of this Divine attribute that man is guarded from evils and sufferings, of the approach of which he may not even be aware. He is very often saved from a disease or a calamity by secret influences which have been working in his favour. As soon as a disease attacks the human system, counter influences begin to destroy germs of the disease. So long as a man does not persist in acting rashly and breaking the laws of nature, he is saved from many of the evil consequences of his conduct. God says in the Holy Quran: ‘That is, if God were to start punishing men for all their irregularities of conduct not one of them would be spared.’14

In short, He possesses all perfect attributes and His mercy encompasses all things, as He says: ‘My mercy encompasseth all things.’ 15

In other words, His attributes of anger and punishment are governed by His attributes of mercy.

He is Ahad, that is, nothing is His equal; He is Wahid, that is, all things had their origin in His command and He is the first cause of all creation. Many other attributes of His are mentioned in the Holy Quran, which show that Islam teaches a perfect conception of God as possessing attributes which create love on the one hand and fear on the other, both of which are indispensable for a perfect relationship between man and God.

A moment’s reflection will show that perfect unity and perfect obedience can be produced only either by love or by fear. No doubt, love is the higher and the more perfect relationship, but there is equally no doubt that some natures are affected by nothing but fear. A religion, therefore, which does not emphasize the Divine attributes both of mercy and of punishment can never be universally beneficial. In considering the 14 Al-Nahl, 16: 62. 15 Al-A‘raf, 7:157. Sources and causes of human conduct, a religion must have regard, not only to the motives which influence the more highly developed sections of society, but to the motives governing the actions of all classes and conditions of men. In fact, the higher sections of mankind are generally naturally inclined towards good. The greater part of our attention must, therefore, be devoted to those who have fallen low and have wholly forgotten their duties as human beings. This class of people, with rare exceptions, is amenable only to fear, and no moral or spiritual reform can be effected in this class unless it is faced with the prospect of loss or pain. A religion which claims to bring all mankind in direct relationship with God, must, therefore, have regard to this characteristic of human nature. In describing the attributes of God, Islam has so balanced the different attributes that no more perfect combination could be imagined which could attract and control men of widely different natures. The attributes both of love and anger have been emphasized, subject to the assurance: ‘My mercy encompasseth all things,’ that is, that mercy overcomes anger, for the object of the latter is to reform and not to inflict pain.

This is a supreme and perfect conception of God, and completely answers the real object of religion. Yet it is not distinctive of Islam. Most religions ascribe similar attributes to God, with slight differences. This causes superficial observers to wonder why different religions should be opposed to each other. The fallacy, however, that all religions present a similar conception of God, arises from the fact that most people, when considering this question lose sight of the workings of human nature. It is a characteristic of human nature that it accepts or rejects certain things as a matter of course, without any external aid or interference. These things are said to be self-evident, and although some thinkers may not accept them as such, the mass of the people accept them without question as they become a second nature with them, and nobody can hope to obtain any support for an assertion to the contrary. One of these things which is almost unanimously accepted by mankind is that God is a Perfect Being Who is free from all defects, and no religion which asserts that God lacks perfection or is subject to shortcomings can ever hope to obtain a hearing. Therefore, there cannot be much difference between the names or attributes which various religions ascribe to God. Differences, however, arise in the manner in which the followers of different religions explain these names and attributes. The apparent agreement as to these names is not due to the fact that all religions are agreed as to the attributes of God, but to the unwillingness of the mass of the people to accept any other names in place of them. In comparing the merits of different religions, therefore, one must consider the explanations which each religion puts forward in interpreting these names or attributes.

For instance, all religions are agreed that God is the Creator of the universe and that He enables each created thing to progress within its own circle, but vast differences are revealed between the teachings of different religions with respect to this attribute of God. As I am explaining the teachings of Ahmadiyyat, I proceed to state what Islam teaches concerning this attribute. It is obvious that this attribute means that God is not the Creator and Sustainer of any particular class or nation, but that He is the Creator and Sustainer of the whole universe, and that, so far as the attribute of creation is concerned, all men are equal and no nation can claim any particular relationship with God. He provides for the people of Asia in the same manner as He provides for the people of Europe, and He looks after the people of Africa, just as He looks after the people of America; and as He provides for our physical needs, so does He provide for our spiritual needs. On the basis of this principle, the Holy Quran, at a time when the spirit of national exclusiveness was rife, and political prejudices were at their height and the people of one country were not even aware whether people of other countries had any conception of prophethood, proclaimed:

‘There has been no people in the world but that God raised among them a Prophet for their guidance.’16 At another place, it says:

‘Verily, We have sent Prophets to every nation with the message, “worship God and do not listen 16 Al-Fatir, 35:25. to the wicked and the rebellious,” and some of them believed by the grace of God, and others remained in their error. So travel round the world and you will find that God has sent His Prophets to all nations and you will learn the end of those who had rejected the Prophets.’17

It is related in one of the traditions that the Holy Prophetsa was once asked whether God had revealed anything in the Persian tongue and he replied, ‘Yes, God spoke to a Prophet in Persian.’

Consider, therefore, how Islam has, by offering this explanation of the expression Rabbul ‘Alamin, which is common to the followers of all religions, discovered to the world a new truth, and laid the foundations of the common brotherhood of man. Thereafter a Muslim can have nothing but reverence for the founders and leaders of other religions. For him, Krishnaas, Ramchandraas, Buddhaas, Zoroasteras and Confuciusas are as much the Prophets of God as Mosesas and Jesusas, the only difference being that as the latter are mentioned in the Holy Quran, there is a greater amount of certainty concerning them. This fact fundamentally affects the attitude of Islam towards other religions. As soon as a Muslim hears of an old religion of which he was not aware before, or learns about an old Prophet of whom he had never heard before, he is not troubled, as if another rival had appeared in the field, but welcomes the discovery as a fresh proof of the truth of Islam and a 17 Al-Nahl, 16 :37. Fresh confirmation of the teachings of the Holy Quran. Does not Islam teach that God is Rabbul ‘Alamin and that His bounties are not confined to Arabia and Syria, and that as the physical sun lights up every corner of the world, so must the Word of God illumine every valley and give light to all nations?

It may here be asked, that if all religions have a Divine origin, why should we not accept all of them as true and believe that every one of them leads to God? This question has been answered by the Holy Quran in the following verses:

‘We swear by our Ownself, that We sent Messengers to all nations before you, but the wicked people engaged them (i.e., the nations) in other pursuits and such people are their friends today; they shall suffer a grievous punishment. And We have not revealed to thee the book but that thou mayest make clear to them that in which they had differed, and as a guidance and blessing for those who believe.’18

This verse indicates that the integrity of all previous books and teachings had become doubtful and extraneous doubts and errors had found place in them before the advent of the Holy Prophetsa so that in spite 18 Al-Nahl, 16: 64,65. of their Divine origin they had become unworthy of practice and could no longer offer the guarantee that by acting on them a man could attain to God.

Another question concerning God which it is the duty of religion to answer is, why cannot we see God if He exists? It is easy to assert that God exists, but the difficulty is to prove the various attributes of God. The Holy Quran recognizes this responsibility and furnishes proofs of the various Divine attributes. For instance concerning the last mentioned question it says:

‘God cannot be seen with the physical eyes but He reveals Himself to the eyes of man. He is too subtle to be seen by the eye of man, but He is aware of everything!’ 19

What a brief but comprehensive explanation! Subtle things, for instance, air, electricity, ether, etc., cannot be seen by man. How can he then see God, Who is more subtle than the subtlest thing and is not made of matter however subtle, but is Himself the creator of all things? On the other hand God knows that man is restlessly seeking His union and is impatient for His meeting. He, therefore, Himself comes to man and reveals Himself to his eyes, that is to say, manifests Himself through His powers and attributes and thus man is enabled to see Him with the eyes of reason. 19 Al-An‘am, 6:104 50 Concerning the proof of the existence of God, the Holy Quran says:

‘Blessed is He in Whose hand is the kingdom and Who has power over all things, Who has created life and death to ascertain which of you is best in deeds. (That is to say, He has created life for actions and death for compensation, for perfect compensation could not be awarded in this life, lest faith should become a thing of no value). He is the Mighty, the Forgiving. He has created the seven heights, each supporting the other. You will find no incongruity in Rahman’s creation. Then look and see whether you can discover any defect, and look again and again and your look will return to you unsuccessful and fatigued.’20

In other words, if one considers the entire universe, one will find that every need has been met, and the most appropriate materials for the development of every faculty and capacity have been provided. Some of the needs of the meanest worm that crawls on the earth, are being provided by a planet which is travelling billions of miles away from the earth. Let the contem20 Al-Mulk, 67:2–5. Plation of this circle of the want and its satisfaction teach us that this universe has a Creator, Who has not omitted to foresee our smallest want and has provided the means of satisfaction of every yearning and every true desire.

Another question which is sometimes asked is, if God is a Beneficent Creator, why has He created things like wild and savage animals, worms and reptiles, pains, troubles, ailments, and pestilences, etc. Islam offers an explanation of this also. For instance, the Holy Quran says: ‘All praise is due to God Who has created the heavens and the earth and has made the light and darkness, and yet those who deny the truth associate others with Him.’21

That is to say, all things that are troublesome and are called the children of darkness, for instance, reptiles, wild beasts, poisons, plagues, etc., are also the creation of God, and their creation does not offend against the attribute of Mercy but on the contrary proves the Mercy of God. If their true nature is considered, they add to the praise and glory of God and do not in any way detract from it. Yet those who are ignorant of the nature of these things, regard their creation as derogatory to God and associate others with Him, believing that these things must have been created by some other being. See 21 Al-An‘am, 6:2. How beautifully Islam has unveiled the truth and has explained the object of creating those things which appear at first sight to be harmful. It teaches that they have all been created for a useful purpose and that man ought to praise God for their creation. Considered in this light the whole position is reversed. Arsenic, strychnia and morphia are deadly poisons, yet how frequently are they used to relieve human distress and to combat disease? Do more men die of these poisons, or are more men saved through them? Millions of men are every year saved from the clutches of death by the use of these poisons. How can it then be said that these things are harmful or even useless? The same is the case with snakes, scorpions and other reptiles. Much attention has not yet been devoted to these creatures, but further research is bound to disclose the fact that their existence is of great value from the scientific and medical points of view. Besides, as it appears from the Holy Quran, the creation of these insects, reptiles, etc., was a preliminary to the creation of man, and they had a large share in the purification of the atmosphere of the earth. These insects and animals were in fact the first links in the creation of man. Not, however, in the sense in which evolution is generally understood in these days, but as indicating and representing the different stages of development through which the earth has passed.

Again He says: ‘One of His bounties is the creation of the heavens and the earth, and of all living things between them, and He can do away with them when He pleases, and whatever befalls you is the consequence of your own actions; and God suppresses many evil consequences of your errors.’ 22

In other words God has created the sun, the moon and the stars and the heavens and the earth and all that is between them to serve man, but if he fails to take advantage of them or misuses any of them and thus suffers loss or injury, it is his own fault. In many cases God averts the evil consequences of man’s errors, and the evils suffered by him are not, therefore, due to God’s action but to man’s contravention of the laws of nature which had been devised for his benefit. Disease is also due to the action of the active and the impressible faculties with which man has been endowed. All man’s progress is due to the action and re-action of these faculties and if these faculties did not exist man would not be what he is. Under a general law of nature man influences all things around him and is in his turn influenced by all of them. Whenever in this process of influencing or being influenced he contravenes any of the laws of nature he exposes himself to the attack of a disease or becomes liable to some other ill or inconvenience. God has not, therefore, created disease, but has created the law of nature which is indispensable to man’s progress, and disease is the result of an infringement of this law. As this law is in itself the result of the 22 Al-Shura, 42 :30,31. beneficence of God, the mere fact that disease may result from ignorance or infringement of it does not in any way detract from the perfection of God’s beneficence.

As with disease, so with sin, which, again, has no independent existence. An infringement of a moral or spiritual law is termed a sin. The existence of sin, therefore, does not offend against the beneficence or sanctity of God. The names which have been used in the Holy Quran to signify sin, indicate either excess or default, none of them being an underived noun, which shows that according to the Holy Quran sin has no independent existence, and signifies merely the absence of righteousness. Excess and default are the direct result of man’s action or omission, his failure to use or his misuse of God’s bounties or his attempt to infringe the rights of others.

No other religious book presents God in this light. It is the Holy Quran alone which asserts and explains that the existence of these apparently harmful and injurious things does not detract from the perfect attributes of God. The Holy Quran does not merely enumerate the attributes of God; it explains and illustrates them in such detail that all doubts and misgivings vanish and a revelation of their beauty enchants the eye, compels admiration and fills the heart with the longing to love and obey. A mere enumeration of Divine attributes, however, is of no great merit.

It is sometimes objected that it is incompatible with God’s mercy that children should suffer from diseases and disorders which they have in no way earned or brought upon themselves.

The answer to this objection is contained in the above explanation, that is to say, God has made a law that all things are influenced by their surroundings, and this law is wholly beneficent. If this had not been so, man could neither have been influenced by external things nor could he have made any progress. Under the operation of this law children are influenced both for good and for evil, by their parents. They get from them both health and disease. If they could not have inherited disease they would equally have been unable to inherit the faculties and capacities of their parents, and man would have been born a mere image of stone, impervious both to good and to evil influences, and the object underlying the creation of man would have been frustrated and his existence would have been worse than that of animals.

The next question is, whether there is any compensation for the loss and suffering caused by inherited diseases and disabilities. The answer given to this question by Islam is that in measuring the spiritual progress of each person allowance will be made for every disability under which he had suffered and which had not been incurred by some fault of his own. For instance, the Holy Quran says: ‘On the day of the final Retribution causes which had impeded the spiritual progress of a man and over which he had no control will be taken into consideration.’23

At another place it says: ‘Those of the faithful who do not strive in the path of God cannot be put on the same level with those who strive, except those whose inability is due to some natural deficiency. God will keep their disability in view.’ 24

The Holy Prophetsa says: ‘No believing men or women experience any suffering in relation to their bodies, their children or their property, but that their sins are thereby reduced and they are so purified by the suffering that by the time they appear before God, their sins have been entirely washed away.’ 25

Although this tradition refers particularly to the believers, the principle laid down by the Holy Quran is of universal application, and the believers are mentioned in the tradition because this explanation was given in answer to their question.

What has been described above is an apt illustration of the teachings of different religions concerning the attributes of God. Islam defines the attribute of beneficence in one way and other religions define it in quite another way. Some of them have had to import the 23 Al-A‘raf, 7:9. 24 Al-Nisa’, 4 :96. 25 Tirmidhi. doctrine of transmigration of souls in order to support the beneficence of God. But even a brief consideration would show that the explanalion given by Islam is perfectly reasonable and in accord with the laws of nature, whereas the doctrine of transmigration of souls is based on mere suppositions.

The working of the Divine attributes of justice and mercy also requires attention. All religions describe God both as Just and Merciful, but there is a vast difference between their respective explanations of the working of these attributes. Islam says that there is no conflict between these two attributes and that both of them can and do operate simultaneously. Mercy is not opposed to justice but is above it. The Holy Quran says: ‘Whoever does a good deed will have a tenfold reward, and whoever does an evil thing, will be recompensed only in proportion thereto, and they will not be unjustly dealt with.’ 26

This shows that according to Islam it is not unjust to reward a person in excess of his deserts, but that it is unjust to inflict on a man punishment greater than he deserves.

Surely, injustice means to reward a man in a measure less than that he has earned, or to punish a man in a measure larger than that he deserves, or to give to 26 Al-An‘am, 6:161 one man that which is due to another, and God never does any of these things. All that He does is that He forgives a repentant creature who, having realized the error of his ways, gives up his evil course of life and presents himself before the throne of Divine mercy supplicating for forgiveness with a beating heart, trembling lips, streaming eyes, a head bowed with shame, a mind bursting with tumultuous thoughts, and a determination to lead a pure and unsullied life in future. God enables such a person to start on a new course of life. He is like the father whose son goes astray and comes home humbled and repentant after a long time, unable to lift his eyes to his father, who, overcome by natural affection, draws him to his breast, and does not reject him, but on the contrary proclaims his joy at the return of his son. Would this be an occasion for his other sons who had remained at home and served him, to complain of the injustice of their father?

No doubt punishment is one of the instruments of reform, but the tortures of hell are not a greater punishment than true remorse. What the fire of hell can effect in the course of a hundred thousand years, true remorse may effect in the course of a few minutes. When a man appears before God truly repentant and with a determination to lead a pure life in future, the Merciful God must take pity on him. Shall the Merciful and Forgiving Lord turn away from, and reject a servant of His who throws himself down at the door of His mercy, all remorse for the past and hope for the future? Surely, No!

Lastly, I shall refer to the attribute which is better known than any other attribute of God, but concerning which there is greater disagreement among the different religions than in the case of any other attribute, that is, the attribute of Unity. There is not a single religion in existence which teaches plurality of Gods: as a matter of principle all of them proclaim the Unity of God. Nay, the followers of one religion charge the followers of another religion with non-belief in a perfect Unity. I have seen it stated in some books written by Europeans that the Muslims are polytheists, and I am told that many people in Europe and America who are ignorant of Islamic teachings and literature, imagine that the Muslims worship the Holy Prophetsa. This indicates the general feeling that the doctrine of plurality of Gods is impossible of acceptance in this age. But notwithstanding the agreement of all religions in their professed belief in the Unity of God, everyone of them differs from the others in its interpretation of it, and many of them use the expression only as a cloak to hide their polytheistic beliefs. But Islam is wholly free from polytheistic conceptions and doctrines and has completely uprooted all beliefs and practices which even remotely suggest such ideas. It has defined and explained the doctrine of associating aught with God so exhaustively that nobody is left in any doubt concerning it.

The Holy Quran classifies Shirk (or association of other gods with God) into four kinds. First, a belief in a plurality of gods. Second, a belief that any other being shares, in a greater or lesser degree, in God’s attributes, irrespective of the fact whether such being is or is not called a deity. For instance, a belief that a particular person can create living things or can bring the dead to life amounts to Shirk, although the person to whom such attributes are ascribed be a human being. For here, there is a difference only in name, and the essence of Divinity has been ascribed to another. Third, to look upon a being other than God as worthy of worship although that being is not considered a god, nor is believed to share in the attributes of God; as, for instance, parents were worshipped in some tribes in ancient days. Fourth, to regard a human being as infallible. For instance, a belief that a particular saint or holy person is wholly free from the natural weaknesses of man and must therefore, be implicitly obeyed in all matters, however objectionable his orders may be, and practically to prefer his commands to those of God, although as a matter of belief that person is not regarded as God. The Holy Quran indicates these four kinds of Shirk in the following verse: ‘O, people of the Book, let us agree in this one matter, which both of us accept, that we worship none but Allah, Who has no partner, and that we associate with Him none in His attributes and that we prefer to Him nobody from among His servants. If they refuse, say, bear witness ye people that we submit ourselves to God in this manner.’27

What a complete refutation of all kinds of Shirk is contained in this one brief verse! In view of what is laid down in this verse when a Muslim says he believes in one God, he means that he worships none but God, that he does not ascribe to any other being any of the attributes of God, that he considers Him free from all earthly relationships, that he believes that God is above assuming human form, that he believes that God is not subject to death or hunger or thirst, that he bows to none except God, that his hopes are centred in no other being, that he addresses his prayers to none but Him, and that although he venerates the Prophets of God, he does not regard them as anything more than human. This is what Islam teaches him and to which he holds throughout his life.

Generally speaking, all religions agree with Islam in declaring the Unity of God, but when we come to details we find that each religion differs greatly from the others.

In short, the conception of God, both in principle and in detail, which is presented by Islam is most perfect and a contemplation of it draws men to God in a manner which is not possible in the case of any other religion. Islam explains every attribute of God in detail and states the effect which each of these attributes produces on the daily life of man. It also describes the 27 Al-e-‘Imran, 3:65 inter-relation of different attributes and the limits of their action and reaction. Hence a complete and perfect conception of God is presented before the eyes of man’s judgment, and his heart overflows with love. Other religions may share with Islam only the names of the attributes of God, but none of them shares with it the reality of those attributes. It is obvious that in judging different religions we must consider the reality and not merely the name.