Could you please explain the notion of Tawhid (Oneness)?

The Details of the Question
Could you please explain the notion of Tawhid (Oneness)?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Author: İslam Ansiklopedisi 2006-03-12 

It means oneness; to declare as one.

To know and to believe in the existence and oneness of Allah, that Allah has all of the efficient qualities and that He has no associates or partners. This knowledge and belief is expressed concisely in the sentence, "La Ilaha Illallah” (There is no god but Allah). Therefore, this sentence is called kalima at-tawhid (word of oneness). A person who utters and believes in the word of oneness is called a believer and a muwahhid. The branch of science that that deals with the issues of oneness is called ilm at-tawhid.

The word tawhid does not exist in the Quran. However, the belief of oneness is mentioned in numerous verses in terms of its various aspects.

Especially, the verses sent down in Madinah focus on the belief of oneness so that it will be understood well. The belief of oneness, which forms one of the three principles of the religion called usul ad-din, has been examined deeply by Islamic scholars, kalam scholars and Sufis and interpreted in various ways.  

The Quran deals with the belief of oneness in terms of the essence of Allah, his oneness, attributes, relations with the universe and man in various dimensions. They can be summarized as follows: 

Allah is one. There is no god but Him. He does need anything; everything needs Him. There is nothing similar to Him. He is free and away from having an associate or partner. If there were other gods along with Him, some of them would want to dominate the others. He is one; He is not one of the three as Christians believe. Those who attribute daughters and sons to Him and who say Jesus is his son or he is God slander Allah. He has neither sons nor daughters. He did not beget; He was not begotten. However, unbelievers attribute the things that do not create anything but that are created to Him as partners. Those so-called gods can do neither something good nor something bad. They can control neither death nor life, nor resurrection. Therefore, there is no god that can be connected with Allah. The gods that people make up are only names based on imagination and what their souls wish.  

Allah has absolute power. Everything returns to Him. He is the Creator; He is the one that starts the process of creation and that creates as He wishes. First, He created the skies and the earth; He brought them together in the form of smoke or a nebulous substance and then separated them. The skies and the earth with all of the beings on are His order. His order is definite; nobody can change it.  The sun, the moon and stars that He created act in accordance with His laws and orders. Every being in the sky and on the earth surrender to His orders willingly. He is the one that creates and shapes everything. 

Allah is the Lord of the realms; He is the Lord of the hidden beings, too. He has power over everything; all of the powers of the skies and the earth belong to Him. He is the Owner of the generous and exalted Arsh (throne). He is the owner of all of the elevation degrees. He extends the earth like a cradle; He sends down water in appropriate amounts. He created all of the beings in pairs. He arranged and perfected the sky. He is sovereign over the skies and the earth and everything between them. The east and the west belong to Him. No matter what direction you turn, He is there because He has surrounded everything. His chair covers the skies and the earth. He protects and takes care of His creatures; and He does not have any difficulty in doing it. He is mighty and wise.   

Allah is not only the Creator; He is also the Compassionate; He gives sustenance; He guards, helps and guides; He sends help to the creatures that are in need. Allah did not create the world for fun. The world was created for a certain period based on a purpose and plan. He imposes laws and guides; He creates everything based on a criterion; He creates and shows the way. He knows everything. He sees everything.

Allah is the best one among those who judge. He never oppresses anyone. He does not treat man unjustly; man treats himself unjustly. On the Day of Judgment, the scale of justice will be established; even the slightest deed will be accounted. He punishes quickly with painful torture. He orders people to be just and He loves those who are just. He gives great rewards to those who avoid sins and do good deeds. The good deeds of people are recorded so as to be rewarded in the best way. Allah has collected all good deeds in His self; He is the source of all good deeds. He is free and away from all bad deeds.    

Allah created the spirit of man out of nothing; He created the humankind from that single soul. He created the first man and his wife; then, he made many men and women reproduce from them. He gave man ears, eyes, the mind and feelings; He made man His vicegerent on earth. He decided that he would die one day; then, it was written that he would be resurrected on the Day of Judgment. The whole humanity is one family because they come from the same parents. Man is the most superior creature because Allah created him in the best of moulds. He is born by breathing in the breath blown by Allah. Therefore, the perfection of man depends on being painted by the paint of Allah, and being the perfect realization and internalization of the divine names. Allah does not want anything but the perfection of His light, that is, the perfection of those attributes in man. The only aim of man is to promote all of the divine qualities and natural values and to realize them in himself. Allah has encompassed the humanity and elevates man. He is always with man; He is nearer to man than his jugular vein.  

The understanding of oneness expressed in the Quran has been systemized by Kalam scholars in various forms. According to this, the oneness of Allah includes the oneness of the creator and the divinity. Expressing the oneness of the creator is called oneness based on will (tawhid al-iradi) and oneness based on action (tawhid al-amali). All of the prophets called people to this oneness. Hazrat Muhammad was sent to teach and realize those two kinds of oneness. Oneness based on knowledge means to accept the essential qualities of Allah and to reject the incomplete qualities. Thus, oneness based on knowledge saves one from the understanding that does not accept the attributes of Allah and the understanding that likens Allah to the created beings. Oneness based on knowledge means to express that Allah is one in the level of knowledge and words.   

Oneness based on will or action necessitates worshipping Allah, who has no associates or partners, love, sincerity, trust in Allah, loyalty to Allah, expecting and fearing from Him only, and not associating partners with Him. Oneness based on will means to express that Allah is one through one’s intention, will and actions. In oneness based on knowledge, there exists confirmation and refutation; in oneness based on will, there exists encouragement or prohibition. There are two opposites of oneness based on knowledge. They are cancellation of the attributes and likening Allah to the created beings. Oneness based on action has two opposites, too. They are avoiding love, loyalty, trust in and reliance on Allah and associating other beings as partners to Allah.

Oneness based on knowledge and oneness based on action complement each other compulsorily. The oneness of understanding put forward by Islam cannot be realized without combining those two kinds of oneness. For instance a person who says, “Allah is the only creator” is not regarded to have said “La ilaha illallah” (There is no god but Allah). The essence o f the word oneness is worshipping the real Allah, who deserves being worshipped, who has no partners and who is one. Therefore, it is not enough to say that Allah is the Creator and Lord of everything, that He has no partners in creation and lordship. Along with saying them, it is necessary to say that there is no divinity to be worshipped except Him.  

The fact that Allah creates the deeds of people, that He administers the whole universe and that He is the Lord of the realms constitutes the topics of the oneness based on knowledge. Those kinds of facts are called universal realities. The facts like loving what Allah orders, disliking what Allah prohibits, loving those that Allah loves, disliking those that Allah dislikes and the judgments of the religion being imposed by Him constitute the elements of oneness based on action. Those kinds of facts are called religious realities. A person who regards universal realities enough and who does not surrender to religious realities is not regarded to have obeyed the prophets and is not regarded as a muwahhid.

To say that Allah is one means to say that He is one in His personality, attributes and deeds. To say that His personality is one means to say that He has no parts or divisions because it is one of the indispensable qualities of Allah not to be combined. To say that his attributes are one means to say that He has no partners and that He does not resemble anyone because not to resemble the created beings is one of His essential qualities. To say that He is one in His deeds means to say that He has no partners because to have partners necessitates being weak.

Sufis have interpreted oneness in various forms. According to the most common one, oneness is divided into two: oneness based on intention and oneness based on witnessing. Oneness based on intention means to want and wish Allah or rather to want and wish what Allah wants and wishes. In this oneness, the will of the slave and the will of Allah unite in the same point; they want and wish the same thing. This kind of oneness is expressed in the sentence, "La maqsuda illallah" (There is nothing purposed except Allah).

Oneness based on witnessing originates from the spiritual experience of the sufi. The sufi who is enraptured and enchanted sees Allah only. He does not see the other beings. This oneness which is also called oneness based on conscience or pleasure is summarized by the sentence, "La mashhuda illallah"(There is nothing witnessed except Allah). Oneness based on witnessing has three degrees. In the first degree, Allah becomes manifest to the sufi in His deeds; he sees all deeds as coming from Allah. The oneness in this degree is expressed by the sentence, "La faila illallah" (There is no doer except Allah). In the second degree, Allah becomes manifest to the sufi in His attributes. In this case, the sufi sees only Allah and His attributes not the beings. In the third degree, Allah becomes manifest to the sufi in His essence. In this case, the sufi sees Allah in all beings. This oneness which is based on observation is expressed by the sentence, "La mawjuda illallah" (There is no being except Allah). This last form of oneness is the understanding of the oneness of being (wahda al-wujud) of the sufis.

Worshipping Allah is not limited to certain deeds. Worshipping Allah means to obey the rules imposed by Him, to fulfill His judgments and to follow the way of the prophets in one’s deeds, actions and words. To ask help only from Him, to fear Him, to trust and rely on Him, to take refuge in Him, not to accept anyone except Him as a guardian, to refer to Him to solve one’s problems, and not to accept anyone as a protector constitute the dimensions of worshipping only one Allah, which the belief of oneness necessitates.


Detailed explanation of oneness (tawhid)

One of the most beautiful similes about this realm is the Palace of the Universe.

In this simile, there exists oneness. There cannot be two sultans in one palace. It is impossible for the floor of the palace to belong to someone and the ceiling to belong to another one. It is impossible for the outer walls to belong to the sultan and the inner walls to belong to the vizier (minister). When there is one palace and one sultan, you cannot attribute the things in it to another person.

The carpets, lamps and other things in the palace of the universe were not brought from another realm and then mounted here. Everything, every guest in the palace is born in the palace. Let us have a look at a flower: Every being of the palace, from the soil to the sun, has some share in it. Let us have a look at the human body: The elements that are the building blocks of this palace are present in him.

The mountains settled on the plains like armchairs. However, they were not brought from somewhere else; they rose from within the plain. 

The fruits are attached to the trees. They were not imported from another country; they grew from the trees.
The baby is on its mother’s lap. It did not come from another country; it grew up in her womb.

The sun is a lamp for this palace. It was not brought from somewhere else; it was created together with the sky.

The oneness is the creed of recognizing the sultan of this palace as one and not associating any partners with Him.
This oneness in the universe is manifest in everything.

“There is oneness in everything; and oneness shows the one.”

The universe is a single palace and the sun is a single lamp. Every tree is a being on its own. Man is a different realm. 

The man is said to be a tiny sample of this realm. It is impossible to say that his hands were created by a being and feet by another being.  It is impossible to say that his inner part was created by a being and outer part by another being.
Allah is the only Owner and Creator of the realm of all beings.

“…He has no partners in His sultanate; He does not need any assistants or partners in His activities of Lordship, either. But for His command and will, nothing could interfere with anything.” (Mektubat:Letters)

We learn two degrees of the oneness from the statement above: oneness of divinity and oneness of lordship.

Oneness of divinity means to know the essence of God Almighty as one and to free Him from all kinds of partners. In fact, this is what comes to the mind when the word oneness is uttered. The word, “La ilaha illallah” expresses this oneness.

When the name of Allah is mentioned, all of the attributes of perfection and beautiful names are remembered together: Allah is pre-eternal; Allah is eternal; Allah is ar-Rahman the All-Merciful); Allah is ar-Rahim (the All-Compassionate), etc.

Thus, thinking about all of the meanings expressed by the name Allah leads us to the oneness of lordship. That is, it is only Allah who educates and trains everything gradually and makes everything a useful being. This deed of education and training, this lordship are carried out by all divine attributes and holy deeds; and a work on which the divine names are read appears. Allah is both the Creator and Lord of this work.

The egg of yesterday flies today. The seed of yesterday yields fruit today. And the nutfah (drop of fluid) of yesterday studies to learn today. The latter ones reached those states after being educated and trained. They were all educated and trained by Allah.

Let us think of a building. Someone laid the foundations; another one laid the bricks; different people carried out the works of plumbing, wiring, plastering and painting. The creation of man is not like that. The building of man with all of its installations, parts, organs and numbers were recorded in the divine code called nutfah by divine determination. The Being that records the information like that creates this body with all of its constituents. It is Allah who creates the nutfah who decodes the code and who arranges the body that comes out of it. All of the deeds belong to Him.

To know and accept that all of those deeds are from Allah is called the oneness of deeds. Those deeds are carried out by divine attributes, that is, by the same knowledge, the same power and the same will. To know and to accept that all of those deeds are done by Allah is called oneness based on deeds. Those deeds are carried out by divine attributes, that is, the same knowledge, the same power and the same will. The one who knows and the one who wishes are not different people. The one who sees and the one who does are not different people, either.   

To grow trees from seeds, to create fish from eggs, to create babies in the womb, to hold the sky without any poles, to rotate the word regularly, to make the wind blow and to make it rain are all based on the same power. Those deeds are carried out and known by the same will and knowledge. 

To attribute those realms of deeds to the same attributes are called the oneness of attributes.
There is also the oneness of essence. To accept that this infinite knowledge, this endless power, this absolute will and other attributes are the attributes of one person ant to attribute all of them to Him.

The mind becomes satisfied by oneness like the heart. If a person paints your building, can he claim that he is the owner of that building? He can only charge for the work he has done. That person is not the owner of that building; he is only an assistant, worker or employee.

Another deity cannot decorate the body that Allah created. Even if we assume the existence of such a deity, that deity is not the owner of that body. It can only be an assistant. An assistant cannot be a deity and Allah does not need any assistants.

Then, He is the one that creates and that gives life. He is the one that gives form and sustenance. He is the one that educates and arranges. He is the one that rotates things and stops them.

The inside and outside of everything belong to Him. Then, Allah is both az-Zahir (the Maifest One) and al-Batin (the Hidden One).

He created the beginning and the end of everything. Then, Allah is both al-Awwal (the First) and al-Akhir (the last). 

He is the owner of all creatures and He meets their needs, too. That is, Allah is both al-Malik (the Absolute Ruler and ar-Razzaq (the Sustainer).

All of the people have something in common; they are human beings. The Being that creates one of them is the one that creates all of them. The people and animals have something in common; they are living beings. The one that creates the fly creates the whale, too. All of the stars are together as stars. The Creator of one star is the Creator of all stars. All of the beings have something in common; they are all creatures. They are all works and arts of Allah.

God almighty combined leaves, branches, a stem and roots, and a tree appeared. He combined seventy trillion cells and a human body appeared. He combined the mind, imagination, love, fear and many other feelings in the spirit.
Eventually, He combined the spirit and the body as man.

He connected strong ties between the human body and the universe. He connected the lungs with the air and the stomach with the food. He made the eyes travel in the sky and the feet on the ground. Thus, man became one with the universe, in a sense. The heart becomes satisfied by recognizing the Lord of this realm, which is a single one, as one and by accepting that he is one.

Some scholars divide oneness into two as oneness based on knowledge and oneness based on action. According to this classification, the things written so far are oneness based on knowledge. Oneness based on action means the full rule of this belief over man in his realm of action.   

The verse, “iyyaka na’budu wa iyyaka nastain” teaches us the oneness based on action.   

“Thee do we worship, and Thine aid we seek.”

We turn to the direction that you tell us only; we stand in the presence of you only; we bow down and prostrate before you only.

We think about the things that only you consent to and we love those that only you consent to.

We said, “Inna lillah” (We belong to Allah). We speak for you and keep quiet for you. We sit down for you and stand up for you.

A person who worships Allah only is freed from the contempt of worshipping idols; a person who asks for the help of Allah only will not pursue causes and will be freed from being the slave of events; and he will take refuge in Allah with full trust. It is a lofty pleasure and a superior power. 

Besides, the way of being a perfect believer is through attaining perfection in oneness based on knowledge and oneness based on action.


The shape of the nightingale is so different from that of the camel. The date tree does not remember the poplar tree. Man has the best appearance. Each human being has a different shape. Even the fingerprints are different. It is impossible to find two same stars in the sky and two same fish in the sea that are 100% identical. All of those different shapes originate from the same deed: depicting. 
To keep, to maintain is one deed. However, it is manifest in different forms in different creatures. The cat carries its young in its mouth; the eagle raises its prey with its paw; the mother carries her baby on her bosom. The way a tree holds its fruits does not resemble any of them; it is as if it sticks the fruits to itself. The way the sun keeps the planets is different; it does not touch them; it keeps them at a distance. This manifestation and other ones are actually various applications of the same law; they are different manifestations of the same light on different mirrors.

To give life, to kill, to heal, to guide, to sustain are all different deeds. Those numerous deeds are based on the same attributes: Life, knowledge, power, hearing, sight, will, speech and creating.  To accept that those numerous deeds carried out in the realm of creatures originate from those divine attributes is called oneness based on deeds. To attribute all that attributes to only one being is called oneness of essence.

Prof. Dr. Alaaddin Başar

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