The Arabs and the Makkans during the pre-Islamic time were not atheists. They believed in Allah as the supreme God, but associated other gods alongside with Him. In fact, if asked who created the heaven and the earth, they would answer Allah (Quran 43:84-87).
Surah al Ikhlas was revealed to resolve this matter unequivocally. Allah is one, and one only. He is absolutely self sufficient, in need of no one to be His associates or helpers in managing His affairs, but everyone is in need of Him.
This we have touched in the Part 2.
In Madinah, in addition to the polytheist Arabs, who lived either in the city or throughout the Arabia, he also faced the People of the Book, the Jews and the Christians.
The Jews were the first to confront Him, for many of them lived in Madinah itself. The confrontation with the Christians came much later, after his mission had succeeded and spread as far as the border of the Roman Empire.
Being among the front runner of Tawhid, the Jews had no problem with the Oneness of God. In fact, they were among the earlier Muslims, for their ancestor, Jacob, known as Israel, was a Muslim. Their leading Prophet, Moses, who delivered Torah to them, was also a Muslim in the truest sense of the word.
Like the Ishmaelite Arabs, they too descended from the Great Patriarch, Abraham the Muslim, as the Quran puts it.
Overtime, however, they made the universal God to be their exclusive God, the God of Israel. They anthropomorphized Him, assigning human attributes to Him, depicting Him as a bearded old man, like the way the Greeks depicted their god Zeus. The exceptions being, Zeus is the King of many gods, whereas Yahweh, the God of the Jews, is one and only God, and that only the God’s face is painted, not the whole body of a man holding a lightning rod, like Zeus is pictured.
In their tendency to attribute God in the likeness of man, a quotation from Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo would come handy.1
The New International Version of Genesis 3:8-11, reads,
8 Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden. 9 But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10 He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11 And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”
Here, God is pictured as walking in the garden in the cool of the day. What is even more astonishing is that Adam and Eve were able to hide from God and he had to ask, “Where are you?...”
In Genesis 32:24-28, there is the story and literal description of Jacob wrestling with and defeating God. In verse 28, it says, “You [Jacob] have wrestled with God and with men, and you have won.” In other words, the creator of the universe whom mankind is expected to worship and submit to was defeated by a mere mortal in a wrestling match.
The Old Testament even pictures God as one who intended to do evil but then repented. Exodus 32:14 states, “And the Lord repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people” (King James Version). It would not be surprising for anyone to turn away from God and not consider Him worthy of worship if He himself has to repent from His own evil.
It is with this obsession of anthropomorphizing God that the Jews came to the Prophet, asking him about the attributes of Allah, as various Traditions in Part 1 suggest. The Prophet answered their questions, which came in various ways, by reciting Surah al Ikhlas.
Just as Surah al Ikhlas was an apt answer to the polytheist Arabs, it was also an apt answer to the Jews with their obsession of anthropomorphizing God, as if God has sex, need to eat and drink, and carries Himself like a human being.
And it was also a very apt answer to the Christians, who was obsessed with the nature of God, of what substance He was made, as the Tradition quoted in Part 1 illustrates.
Since the Godhood of Christianity is far more complex than the anthropomorphizing tendency of the Jews, we need to explore this issue with a little background.
Like Islam and Judaism, Christianity too considers itself a monotheistic religion. Unlike Islam and Judaism, which have no problem with number, for to them God is one and only, Christianity’s notion of the oneness of the God is more problematic. It says that God is one, but exist in three personalities: the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. This triad makes up what they call Holy Trinity.
But since there are three personalities in the One God, questions arise as to how these three persons is actually only one God.
It would have been easier if they believe that only the Father is God, as the Jews likewise believe. The Jews called their God Yahweh, but they address Him as Aba, meaning father. Yahweh is the name of their God, while the Father is only the way they address Him. There is no mistaken identity as far their God is concerned, and there is no problem with regard to His number, which is one and one only. The only problem with the Jews is their tendency of assigning human attributes to an otherwise unique God.
Christianity is different. While they believe the Father to be the One God, they also believe in Jesus to be the God. They regard him as the Son of God. On top of that, they also believe the Holy Ghost to be the God as well. Yet, they consider themselves monotheists.
Monotheism simply means that God is One, and only One. If they believe Jesus to be no more than human, or that the Holy Ghost is no more than God’s Messenger, then there is no issue in the first place. Likewise, there would not be any issue if they believe the number of God to be more than one.
Since they believe that God is only one, but yet Jesus Christ and Holy Ghost are also God alongside with the Father, then they are tied with a very complex knot. For many centuries, there had been raging debates about the nature of their God, especially on the nature of Jesus Christ, for the God in Heaven and the God on earth can hardly be one. For three centuries, their Church Fathers (leading priests or theologians), could only come up with words. When one theologian comes up with one word, however, the other theologian would come up with ten opposite words.
If Jesus is the One God like the Father, is his divinity similar to the Father? Is he created or uncreated? Is he equal or subordinated to the Father? Does his substance different, similar or in fact exactly the same as the Father? And many more questions of that nature.
In the fourth century AD, the knot that tied the mystery was at last broken. It was untied not so much because their Church Fathers suddenly found the answer. It was not merely words that put the matter to rest. It was with the help of the sword. In that century, one pagan emperor had decided to convert to this faith. It was through the power of his sword, and the swords of his successors, that Christianity finally found its true faith.
The Pagan Emperor who had helped in the cause of finding this true faith was none other than Constantine the Great. It was to him, perhaps, more than to the Christian theologians, that Christianity owed their orthodox or true faith.
In the fourth century, or more precisely the year 325 AD, a council was held to resolve the nature of Christ’s Godhood at the city called Nicaea. It was in that Council that Jesus the Christ was officially proclaimed as God, along with the Father.
The answer to the mystery is deceptively simple. God is only one. The Father and the Son are not two, but one. They are of the same substance. They are co-eternal, co-equal, exactly the same. They are not even of similar nature or substance, because that would make them more than one already. They are exactly of the same substance, exactly of the same nature. They are consubstantial, theologically speaking.
The answer would not have been deceptively simple, one may observe, if the pagan emperor who had become a Christian, the Emperor Constantine, did not help with his sword. His sword had made it acceptable what the theologians could not make with their words. With the help of the State apparatus, the third element of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost, did not pose much of the problem. It was resolved in the Council of Constantinople, which took place in 381 AD.
But wouldn’t it easier to just believe that Jesus Christ is only God’s Messenger, instead of making him God as well?
If you ask that question, then you definitely do not know what Christianity is all about. One is not a Christian if he does not believe Christ to be a God, or at least Divine. The whole Christianity tenet rests on that.
You see, when Adam and Eve ate the Forbidden Fruit, they did not only become naked, as the above quotation suggests. They had in fact committed a major and unforgivable error, known as the Original Sin. Since it is the Original Sin, it gets stuck into humanity and becomes hereditary. There is no way you can get it off, no matter how much you repent. Although you don’t commit that Original Sin, for it was your first ancestor who did, you are nevertheless going to carry it down until you die. And your children too will inherit it from you.
But God is Gracious (or perhaps He has regretted the whole thing about the Forbidden Fruit, which has caused the whole mankind to be doomed). He does not wish for the mankind to be doomed forever. The problem is, even God cannot erase that Original Sin from humanity, unless of course, God Himself makes a sacrifice. And not just any sacrifice. God Himself has to be sacrificed.
But can God sacrifice Himself?
Well, God is all powerful. He can do whatever He wants. It would be funny, however, if God were to take His own life, because the world would be without God, albeit for a while. Further, if God were to sacrifice Himself, who is going to resurrect Him? Can the dead God resurrect Himself?
It was quite a bind, to say the least. Yet, for the Original Sin to be erased, God MUST sacrifice himself.
So, how does God get out of this bind?
Well, He took His own Word, His faculty of Speech and planted it into the womb of the Virgin Mary. Lo and behold, the Word became flesh. Now that the God had become human, it was easy to get him sacrificed. So he was sacrificed at the Cross. Problem solved.
It sounds simple now, but it was not then. A whole three centuries were required to understand it. And it is simple only to the believing Christians. Even to the majority of the Christians, it raises more questions than answers. For instance, when God took out His Word, or His Speech, does He become mute? Well, this tenet has got to be believed, not so much understood.
Even the first proponent of Trinity, whose name was Tertullian, found it perplexing and absurd. But he has a simple solution. “I believe in it because it is absurd,” he was quoted as saying.
St. Augustine, the fifth century Church Doctor (a status higher than Church Father), who was credited to solving the mystery of Trinity, simply said: “Anyone who denies the Trinity is in danger of losing his salvation, and anyone who tries to understand it is in danger of losing his mind.”
In short, you are damned if you don’t believe in it, and you are damned if you try to understand it. That is why it is a matter of faith, not a matter of reason. Since it is easier to believe and be saved than to understand and go crazy, one might as well just believe in it.
Since the whole crux of Christianity Godhood is based on the substance of His nature, it is no wonder, then, that the Christians who came to the Prophet asked him: "O Muhammad, tell us what is your Lord like and of what substance He is made."
To this inquiry, the Prophet recited Surah al Ikhlas. In one short chapter, he told them that God is Ahad, one and only. There is no need to make it complicated by saying One for Three and Three for One, as if God is some kind of musketeers, and that one plus one plus one is equal to one.
He is the Samad. He is not in need of any absurd theology to solve the dilemma posed by the Original Sin, which does not exist in the first place. He can just forgive whatever sin there is, Original or Otherwise.
He does not give birth, nor is He born. Thus He has no parent, neither does He have a son. And nothing is equivalent to Him. There is no such thing as His co-equal, co-eternal, or consubstantial.
To sum up, Surah al Ikhlas, which takes no more than two lines out of 604 pages of 15 lines each, can be used as an answer to just about every question regarding Islamic theology. No wonder, therefore, that the Prophet says this short Surah is equivalent to a third of the Quran.
1. Jamaal al-Din Zarabozo, “The Miraculous Quran.”