Federico Consuegra :Tawhid and Free-will

Federico Consuegra

 

Tawhid and Free-will

The rise of Islam also gave rise to a very distinct set of people and values. Islam’s unique history, rapid expansion, and domination of society shaped the worldview of the Muslim people and directly influenced all aspects of life including knowledge, happiness, philosophy, politics, and law. Two of the most influential aspects of islamic worldview are Tawhid and the concept of freedom in the Muslim world. By studying these two concepts, we will better understand what shaped the Muslim societies of today.

Tawhid, or the oneness of god is one of the main tenets of Islam and makes up part of the Shahada. It proclaims “There is no god but God” and is Islam in its broadest view. Islam isn’t a new faith. God had sent down prophets before Mohammed and essentially, Mohammed came to the Arab people with the same message of the previous prophets. From the Qu’ran we see that this is true “And We never sent a messenger before thee save that We revealed to him, saying ‘There is no god but I, so worship Me’” (21:15). God sends prophets to humans to teach us about Him, for one cannot know or being to understand God without revelation.1 However, a key difference between Muslims and followers of other faiths is that for Muslims, God is the reality brought to light by the Qu’ran and one can understand God by understanding and following the Qu’ran. This is why the Qu’ran is so important in the Muslim worldview. It is the word of God and thus, it is the truth. And since tawhid is such a crucial part of Muslim faith, we see very strong movements to reject shirk, or the association of other things or beings with God.2 This attempt to avoid association of other things with God is very evident even today, although differing greatly based on interpretation. In Saudi Arabia, this is done through the destroying  of ancient Islamic relics and patrimonies to avoid associating these things with God. Mosques, homes, burial sites and locations associated with early islamic figures have been destroyed.3 The Saudi way of avoiding shirk and promoting tawhid however is not the only way; There are other less radical interpretations throughout the Muslim world. For many Muslims, tawhid means understanding that God is the only source of happiness; that adoring and seeking other things such as material wealth, fame, power or sex is against Islam and ultimately leads to misery. Tawhid, however is more than simply external. It is important to set the distinction of things done for the sake of God and things for God but for the sake of something else. For example, some may appear to worship God simply for the influence a seemingly pious man may have over his populace. Even though some of these things may seem, externally, as worshipping only God, it is really shirk because there is a hidden motive. As the prophet said in a  famous hadith, “The most frightening thing that I fear for my community is associating others with God. I don’t mean  that they will worship the sun, or the moon, or idols. I mean that they will perform works for other than God with a hidden desire.”4

The Qu’ran attributes ninety nine names of God and by studying the relation between some of these names and tawhid we can better understand its significance and importance. One of the names attributed to god is Real. So through tawhid we see that God is Real. and there is no Real but the Real. So all that is real in our world, is God.5 And since God is also good all that is not God is unreal and therefore not God. From this see why for the Muslim world, chasing money, fame, power is pointless.

From some of the other names of God, we can study the concept of Freedom in the Islamic worldview. God is also known as The Supreme, The Strong, The Powerful, and the Controller, among others. So it is no surprise that the concept of determinism has a large following in Islam. The Qu’ran says “Those who deny our signs are deaf and dumb in darkness. Whom God wills he leads astray, and whom he wills he puts on a straight path (6:39)”. Some early Islamic scholars believed that God determines humans choices, humans are completely subject to God, and have no power to act on their own. These early scholars were called by some the Jabriyya sects. 6  This belief, however, poses ethical problems. If God controls everything, even humans’ moral choices, then how could humans be punished for their choices since they have no control over them? This concern was expressed by another Islamic sect which came to be known as the Mu’tazilites, who were the early proponents of free will in the Islamic world. These two conflicting beliefs have continued to the present day and  are crucial to understanding the decisions and choices and responses of the Muslim community today. By better understanding the conflict between determinism and free-will we can better understand the world from the islamic point of view.

To sum up, the principle of tawhid, because of its importance in the Muslim faith directly affects the worldview of Muslims and affects how they think about law, ethics, virtue, happiness, and philosophy. From the principle of tawhid , we gain insight on the importance, uniqueness and power of God. We learn what it means to follow Islam and we learn that exterior showings of this principle aren’t necessarily enough to be a good Muslims. We also learn how these beliefs affect the Muslim world today. In addition, using the principle of tawhid we can derive the main arguments for and against determinism, which has shaped and continues to shape the decisions and responses of the Muslim world.

 

Endnotes

  1. Murata and Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Paragon House (1994). Pg 46
  2. Murata and Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Paragon House (1994). Pg 49
  3. “Medina: Saudis take a bulldozer to Islam’s history”. The Independent. Retrieved14 November 2014.
  4. Murata and Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Paragon House (1994). Pg 51
  5. Murata and Chittick. The Vision of Islam. Paragon House (1994). Pg 61
  6. Brown. A new Introduction to Islam. Wiley-Blackwell (2014). Pg 174-175