We all think we know the meaning of ‘Tawhid’ (Oneness) Oh yes –La ilaha illa Allah – there is only one God and nothing should be associated with him or worshipped beside Him. This is the basic meaning, but during my journey I have discovered that there are many layers of meaning from the obvious to the subtle, and the more I seek, the more understanding I find. I have become convinced that unless Muslims connect with the subtle and deeper meanings and apply them to their practice and daily lives, we will not be truly living our faith, and our schisms, divisions and illusions of personal power will get worse. There is already great tribulation in the Muslim world because we have forgotten the purity of Oneness. All Muslims adhere to the basic meaning which goes back to Prophet Ibrahim(a), who recognised that neither the sun nor the moon should be worshipped as gods- only the One who created them. In many ancient religions this was realised by a few. For example Pharoah Akhnaten angered the priests of Egypt’s pantheon of gods by declaring there was only one. Some early Persian kings acknowledged this also. The revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad(s) constantly tells him that God cannot be divided into parts and does not have a son. (Qur’an:112, Al Ikhlas) Idols representing gods were destroyed. So the original Oneness of God has been recognised since very early times. Muslims would deny indignantly any suggestion that they might in fact worship more than one God. However if we look closely at ourselves, we have to face the uncomfortable truth that most of us do ‘worship’ other ‘gods’. What or who are these gods? At the level of the individual human being Tawhid means; making one’s ego subservient to one’s soul.
Muslims would deny indignantly any suggestion that they might in fact worship more than one God. However if we look closely at ourselves, we have to face the uncomfortable truth that most of us do ‘worship’ other ‘gods’.
As the Holy Qur’an says, ‘Have you not seen him that has taken his desire as his god, and God has made him err while having knowledge…’ (45:23) So if we put our wealth and our children and our unworthy egotistical desires before serving Him, these become our other ‘gods’. This does not mean that we should not love or enjoy the good things He has given us in this world, but to be too attached to them is in fact ‘shirk’ or association. We have to be prepared to give them up. If we are in a state of true tawakkul (trust), taqwa (God-consciousness) and thankfulness, disappointments should not last too long. Numerous verses in the Holy Qur’an affirm that those in this state ‘need have no fear, neither shall they grieve.’ (2:62; 2:112; 2:262; 2:274; 3:153 and many others.) I have found that excessive attachment to children is one of the most difficult things to give up; eventually we have to recognise that they do not belong to us; they are only entrusted to us for a time after which we must let them go and be accountable for their own actions. So to guard against shirk we have to constantly witness ourselves. Ramadhan is a most useful time to do this, since we give up some of our most cherished habits! Another example of shirk is when some leaders become too self-important and attached to wielding power and their followers become ‘hero-worshippers’. The great Imam Ali(a) warned us against this by reminding his governors that they were subject to the law of God. Once a leader, manager, father or anyone with authority starts thinking that power is ‘his’, he is no longer fit to lead. Confidence in our abilities must be accompanied by humble thanksgiving to God, the source of our existence and all our abilities. Even our vices are a result of our perversion of the attributes of the Divine; when our ego self forgets its origin and sees itself as the origin of power and wealth, it is in separation from God.
Practising Tawhidi attitudes and perception in our lives is one of the most difficult and challenging tasks. It starts with recognising when we ourselves are in a state of disunity (self-awareness).
The Imam showed us his deep understanding of the unity of humanity with the message: ‘Mankind falls into two categories, either a brother for you in faith or a counterpart for you in Humanity.’ In other words he did not regard those who had not embraced Islam as ‘second class citizens’ who should be treated differently. At this level Tawhid means seeing God in every manifestation, because he is its ultimate source – ‘and wherever you turn, then there is the Face of God’ (2:115); And God encompasses all things (4:126). Of course this does not mean that a person is God, or that God has a face; it refers to His essence which has been breathed into every part of creation, without which that creation could not exist. Practising Tawhidi attitudes and perception in our lives is one of the most difficult and challenging tasks. It starts with recognising when we ourselves are in a state of disunity (self-awareness): who has not struggled with intrusive thoughts when praying?! Who has never lost his temper or committed a selfish act? Once we recognise what is happening we can seek the remedy of asking God to cover our faults, giving thanks and making amends. We see God as the primary cause of everything that happens. It is a necessary part of our development in this world to see ourselves as unique and separate; we have to go through this stage. But as we grow older and develop spiritually, we try to witness unity as the connecting factor in life – not always easy! Once on a bus I found myself opposite a drunken and rather smelly man; my first re-action was to get away from him, but the bus was too crowded to move. Then he started to talk to me about football. I could see he meant no harm so I began to acknowledge the original noble human soul behind the layers of dirt and alcohol by responding to his enthusiasm and praying for his healing. Of course if such a person becomes a danger, one would have to avoid the situation, but one could still pray for that person to realise who he really was. It is by taking small steps that we can behave in a more Tawhidi way in the world. The ultimate level of Tawhid is one which only the Prophets, Imams, saints and enlightened ones have reached: that is, nothing exists except the Only One and all else are shadows which overflow from the original One. They have no fear of humanity, no fear for their provision, nor of death, and are in a constant muraqaba (watchfulness) and dhikr (remembrance) in the Light of God. If any of us can enter that state, even for a moment, we will indeed experience bliss and blessedness.