Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ: Islamic Monotheism

Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ is one of the most powerful short Sūrahs in the Quran. Also known as Sūrah at-Tawḥīd, it is a summary of the core tenets of monotheism. In an authentic narration, it is referred to as one-third of the Quran. The message of the Quran focuses on three primary components of theology; monotheism, revelation, and the Afterlife. One-third of this message is summarized in Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ.

Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ is a Makkan Sūrah according to the majority of scholars. Its theme is purely Makkan in that it focuses on the essential attributes of Allah and clarification of pure monotheism. The scholars differ on whether it has four or five verses, with some schools of recitation counting “He does not beget” and “Nor was He begotten” as two separate verses. Allah knows best.

Virtues of Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ

It is reported on the authority of Abū Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said, “Get together, for I am going to recite one-third of the Qur’an before you.” And those who could get together gathered there. Then the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) came out and recited: “Say: He, Allah, is One.” He then entered (his house). Some of us said to the others, “Perhaps there has been some news from the heaven on account of which he has gone inside (the house).” The Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him) again came out and said, “I told you that I was going to recite one-third of the Quran; keep in mind, this (Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ) is equivalent to one-third of the Qur’an.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 6:316)

Abū Saʿīd al-Khudrī narrated that a man heard another man reciting “Say He is Allah, the One.” repeatedly. The next morning he came to Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) and informed him about it as if he thought that it was not enough to recite. On that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “By Him in Whose Hand my life is, this Sūrah is equal to one-third of the Qur’an!” (Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 66: 35)

Pure Monotheism

The core message of this Sūrah is the Islamic understanding of monotheism. Islam is unique in its clear and uncompromising stance on the Oneness of God. Although the majority of religions, and the majority of humans, believe in One Creator, they have several major mistakes in their understanding of that Creator. The beauty of this Sūrah is that it clears up every one of those misconceptions with its four powerful verses.

The Sūrah begins by clarifying that there is only One God, Allah. This clarifies the misconception in many religions that there are one major god and several minor gods. The belief in a pantheon of gods was very common in several ancient religions and still exists in some parts of the world today. This verse makes it very clear that there is only One God.

The second verse clarifies that God is as-Ṣamad. The name as-Ṣamad is difficult to translate into English. An explanation is more suitable here than a translation. The name as-Ṣamad means that Allah does not need anything and everything is in need of Him. It indicates that He is All-Knowing, All-Seeing, All-Hearing, All-Powerful, and Ever-Living. It is a comprehensive name that covers many of the other names of Allah.

The mention of this name in this verse serves several purposes. It clarifies that Allah has the most beautiful names and attributes. It demonstrates the perfect power and might of Allah. And it clears up the misunderstanding that Allah needs our worship, or that we don’t need Him. The first verse clears up the doubts of those who believe in several gods. The second verse clears up the doubts of those who believe God has any weaknesses or is in need of assistance. Several religions portray images of their gods as weak and in need. Islam teaches us that Allah is As-Ṣamad. He needs nothing while we all need Him.

The third verse clarifies that Allah is unique in the sense that He has no descendants or ascendants. He is eternal, has always existed, and will always exist. Several religions preach the idea of a family of gods. Even today, there are many people who believe in concepts like someone being the son of God or the mother of God. These concepts are false beliefs that have no basis in revelation. The true God is eternal, He is not the descendant of anyone, nor does He have any children.

The final verse covers the fourth and final principles of Islamic monotheism; there is nothing like Him. This is a complete rejection of anthropomorphism. This may be the most unique aspect of the Islamic understanding of God. Almost every other religion worships an image of God. That image is often human, or a mixture of human and animal. Muslims reject all such images.

God is beyond our imagination, and nothing we think about could be God. He is unique in every possible way, and therefore it is prohibited to even try to imagine Him. This unique aspect of Islamic monotheism has, over the centuries, causes millions of people to convert to Islam. It makes far more sense to worship a God that is beyond human imagination than to worship an image that people made up.

Theological Controversies

The message of these verses is very clear. There is only One God. All of Creation depends on Him. He is eternal without ascendants or descendants, and there is nothing like Him. Despite having such a clear and uncompromising declaration of monotheism in the Quran, Muslims across the globe have developed different interpretations of that final principle; there is nothing like Him.

During the first two centuries of Islam, Muslims tended to avoid discussion on this issue and were united in keeping monotheism simple and pure. Once Greek philosophy was introduced into the Muslim world in the third century, Muslims began to overthink these concepts and split up into several schools of thought. Despite these schools of thought all co-existing peacefully throughout most of Islamic history, these differences have become causes of tension and chaos in our times.

Some zealous Muslims have raised these issues again, and in their zealousness they have declared every understanding of this issue deviant, besides their own. Such extremes can be found in every school of thought regarding the names and attributes of Allah. Their arguing and bickering over these interpretations have distracted the Muslim nation from our priorities and caused unnecessary disunity among Muslims.

Furthermore, these different schools of theology have caused doubt to enter the minds of some young Muslims. They wonder why Muslims differ regarding how to interpret the attributes of God, and how such a difference of opinion can exist on such a fundamental issue. This issue requires a much deeper discussion, and cannot be clarified in a few short paragraphs. I hope to discuss it in more detail at a later point if Allah wills it.

For now, I simply want to remind Muslims that our unity is essential. The differences of opinion that exist among Sunnī Muslims on the names and attributes of Allah are a secondary issue. All Sunnī Muslims believe in the four principles laid down in this Sūrah. All Sunnī Muslims agree upon the five pillars of Islam and the six pillars of faith. Our differences in these issues are simply a matter of interpretation. But Allah is infinitely Merciful and Just. So let us trust Allah’s Mercy and not divide the Muslim nation over secondary issues.

The Quran is very clear regarding the concept of monotheism. Sūrah al-Ikhlāṣ summarizes this concept perfectly. If Muslims just stick to what is mentioned in this Sūrah, we can keep our monotheism simple and pure. But unnecessary questioning and argumentation over the nature of God’s attributes only lead to problems and disunity. The nature of God’s attributes is a matter that is beyond human comprehension. So it is best that we avoid overthinking this issue, and focus instead on worshipping Allah.

Posted by Ismail Kamdar

Ismail Kamdar is the Founder of Islamic Self Help, author of over a dozen books, faculty manager of IOU, and a freelance writer.

Leave a Reply