Leonard O Goenaga
The Qur’an, Islam, Man, and God
When asked to define Islam to a non-believer, a Muslim may respond with a simple repetition of the shahadah: La ilaha illa Allah; Muhammad rasul Allah (There is no God but God; Muhammad is the messenger of God). The simple creed is quite telling: God is One, and there exists no other, and his message, whatever it may be, was revealed through a messenger named Muhammad. What forms the bulk of Islamic piety is this message, which is revealed to man as the Qur’an (“recitation”). By probing into the history and the role of the Qur’an and oral narratives of its messenger Muhammad, called Hadiths, we can find answers to keen questions concerning Islam: who God is, what role human nature and human responsibility have, and what relationship exists between mankind and God.
When a 40 year old man named Muhammad (570-632 CE) decided to take a religious retreat to Mount Hira for some prayer and meditation around 610 CE, he found himself receiving direct revelation from God. These messages form the Qur’an, which is “a recitation of an eternal Scripture, written in heaven and revealed, chapter by chapter, to Muhammad.” (Hopfe 326). In order to attempt to explain the Qur’an, one must underscore its eternal, absolute, and irrevocable nature, as well as its true author: God. One must understand that it is not simply God-inspired, but God’s literal message to mankind as passed through the Prophet. The Qur’an is broken down into 117 surahs, or ‘chapters’, starting with the Al-Fatiha (opening prayer to God), and arranged after by their sizes. It contains roughly 6000 ayas, or verses. It covers figures we find in the Old and New Testament (Adam, Eve, Moses, Solomon, Jesus, etc), offers practical admonitions (money, inheritance, marriage, etc), mentions the life of Muhammad, discusses religious practices (fasting, pilgrimages, regulations, etc), and defines religious beliefs (judgment, repentance, etc) (Molloy 450). In addition to this divine message given through the Prophet Muhammad, we have an oral collection of narratives on the Prophet’s life. These are called Hadiths, or ‘recollections’ on the prophet’s custom of living. Qur’anic support to this can be found in the 33rd Sura of the Qur’an; “Verily in the messenger of God you have a beautiful model for everyone who hopes for God and the Last Judgment and often remembers God,” (Qur’an 33:21). This verse has led to the imitation of the Prophet’s example in every detail, ranging from the brushing of teeth with certain sticks, to the type of clothing worn. This prophet’s sunna (custom), “thus became in itself a kind of interpretation of the Koran,” (Schimmel 52). After being passed down from generation to generation, individuals began to write these reports out. These recollections contain matn (text) and isnad (sources). The most prominent sources of hadiths were collected by two scholars (Bukhari & Muslim), and form the sahih (‘sound without flaw’). Thus, the Qur’an’s traditional role is that as the direct guiding message of God, as sent through his vehicle: Muhammad, and the Hadith works as the oral recollections of the customs of the Prophet to serve as a model for pious Islamic living.
Having established the absolute authority and importance of the Qur’an, we can now evaluate who and what God is according to this source. The Qur’an is quick to make one thing clear: Islam holds unto absolute monotheism (much like Judaism). It clearly “Say[s]: He is God, One, God, the everlasting Refuge, who has not begotten, and has not been begotten and equal to Him is not anyone,” (Qur’an 112). This issue of not having
begotten, nor having been begotten, is a direct opposition to the view of the Godhead as a Trinity as found in Christianity. Allah is the sovereign God over the entire universe, and is one, complete, eternal, and undivided. God’s role is similar to that in Christianity in that He’s the omnipresent, omniscient, and omnipotent creator of the Universe. Through His mercy, God has revealed His message and life’s purpose through the Old and New Testament prophets (Abraham, Moses, Jesus, and others), and has concluded His message of submission and repentance through the Prophet Muhammad. God seeks total submission from His creation, and seeks the worship and repentance to aid in ones judgment.
Having established the authoritative, all powerful and merciful nature of God, we may now look into the Islamic understanding of human nature and human responsibility. We must first understand that God created the heavens and the earth, as well as man and animals in seven physical days. With the creation of Adam and Eve (God’s first human creations), man was made in the state of frita (a natural state of the human being in submission to God). In this natural state of submission, we do not find the Augustine view that man was born to inherit a sinful nature. Instead, man achieves forgiveness of sins by continuous repentance, and is promised continued forgiveness by God (unless that sin is shirk). Upon the above-mentioned creation, a creature named Iblis rejected bowing before God’s creation of man, and his rebellion led him to banishment on earth where he tempts humanity into joining his rebellion. This scenario of man’s tendency to refuse submitting to God’s will and allowing himself to be seduced by Satan’s temptations (haiif), lead to man’s responsibility to submit to and walk God’s righteous path.
With man’s natural state of submission to God, the efforts of Satan to steal potential disciples, and the foundation of the guiding message of repentance and submission as found in the Qur’an, we can now dig into the relationship between human beings and God in Islam. The Qur’an acts as a penned guide authored by God and given to man to aid in life and judgment. It outlines the proper way for a child of God to behave, and expresses man’s purpose: To Worship God (‘qbada). Mankind was created with an awareness of right and wrong, and is responsible to submit to God and follow his righteousness as outlined in the Qur’an. Muslims practice this relationship of submission to God through the Five Pillars of Islam. The first pillar is the above-mentioned shahadah, or confession of faith. It is said anyone willing to express this creed is a Muslim. In addition to the shahadah is the second pillar known as salat (prayer). Here a Muslim is expected to pray five times during the day (dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset and nightfall). During salat, worshipers usually recite the Qur’an while bowing, prostrating, and sitting. Third in line is the pillar of zakat (or charity), where Muslims give 2.5% of their possessions/income to the poor and needy. The fourth pillar is that of sawn, where a Muslim fasts during the month of Ramadan. The last pillar to aid in pious living is that of the Hajj, where a Muslim is expected to take a pilgrimage once to the holy city of Mecca.
With the holy message of the Qur’an, the model of the Prophet, and the nature of God explained, we can now come to understand man’s responsibilities, role, and relationship to God. He has given man guidance through the prophets of old and the book of the Qur’an, and has also given man the weighted benefit of judging good deeds over bad. In addition to the added weight of good deeds during judgment, God has offered to forgive man of their sins upon repentance. With this relationship between the Qur’an, the model of the prophet, the five pillars, and the nature of God, we can understand why Islam is a religion of merciful submission, with the desired goal of total submission of oneself to the Creator and Ruler of the universe. It is best to allow God’s word to conclude an explanation of God’s religion:
“In the name of God The Compassionate The Merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of the Universe, The Compassionate, the Merciful, Sovereign of the Day of Judgment! You alone we worship, and to You alone we turn for help.” (Qur’an Al-Fatihah).
Arberry, A.J. (translated). The Koran Interpreted. New York: Macmillan, 1955.
Brinkley, Alan. The Unfinished Nation. New York: Knopf, 1993.
Hopfe, Lewis M. Religions of the World. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 1992.
Schimmel, Annemarie. Islam: An Introduction. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1992.
 Qur’an 2.117
 Qur’an 14.38
 Qur’an 31.34
 Qur’an 5.120
 Qur’an 57.1-6, Qur’an 2:255
 Qur’an 25:2
 7:11-25, 15:26-42. Also see Qur’an 6:101.
 Qur’an 2:29-38,
 Qur’an 17:61
 Qur’an 17:62
 Qur’an 22:35
 Qur’an 2:185
 Qur’an 1:1