What is the meaning of the phrase I witness?

Details of the Question

What is the meaning of the phrase I witness in kalima ash-shahadah? Does it mean I believe or I believe as if I have seen?

The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Kalima ash-shahadah is a statement which means to believe and to say that there is no god but Allah and that Hz. Muhammad is His slave and messenger.

Kalima ash-shahadah is the first one of the five basic principles of Islam and it means “the statement of witnessing”.

As a religious term, it is used for the statement “Ashadu an la ilaha illallah wa ashhadu anna Muhammadan abduhu wa rasuluh”, which means I believe heartily and state that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and messenger”.

It is also called “kalimatayish-shahada” in some resources; the first part expresses the witnessing related to Allah, who is one with His essence, attributes and deeds, and the second one related to Hz. Muhammad, who is His slave and messenger and who brings commands and news from Allah.

The word “rasuluh” expresses that Hz. Muhammad (pbuh) is Allah’s messenger and that he receives revelation from Him; the word “abduhu” emphasizes he is a slave of Allah and that he must not be deified as Christians did related to Hz. Isa (Jesus).

The verb “ashhadu” expresses knowledge and belief showing certainty. Imam Ghazzali states that kalima ash-shahadah includes four principles: Allah’s essence, attributes, deeds, and the Prophet’s loyalty. (Ghazzali, I, 143)

Kalima ash-shahadah is formed by adding the verb “ashhadu” before kalima at-tawhid, which means “There is no god but Allah”; there is no difference between them in terms of content.

However, kalima ash-shahadah expresses being a member of Islam since it expresses witnessing (belief and expressing it).

Those two sentences are mentioned in the Quran in slightly different forms.

It is stated in the chapter of Aal-i Imran (3/18) that Allah, His angels, and those endued with knowledge witness, standing firm on justice that there is no god but God Almighty.

It is stated in the chapter of an-Nisa (4/166) that Allah and the angels bear witness that what He sent to Hz. Muhammad is from His own knowledge.

Kalima ash-shahadah is mentioned in various places in hadiths. The most important of them is the hadith known as “Jibril hadith”; it mentions the five principles of Islam; the first principle is expressed as ash-shahadah. (Musnad, I, 319; Bukhari, Iman, 2; Muslim, Iman, 1)

The opposite of witnessing is denial. Unbelievers can become believers when they accept the content of kalima ash-shahadah.

Kalima ash-shahadah, which means “the acceptance of the religion of Islam as a whole”, forms the first stage of a person’s entering Islam; thanks to it, a person is regarded as a member of the Islamic ummah and receives all the rights given to Muslims; he also undertakes some responsibilities.

Kalima ash-shahadah;
- is regarded as a sign of the last religion,
- forms the second and third sentences in the adhan that is called five times a day,
- is the last statement of Amantu taxt, which virtually approves the six principles of Amantu,
- is recited into the ear of a new-born child,
- is necessary to utter for a person who wants to become a Muslim,
- is reminded to the Muslims who are about to die so that they will utter it.

References:
Musnad, I, 319; III, 135, 174, 175, 224;
Ghazzali, Iḥyau ʿUlumid-Din, Cairo 1387/1967, I, 143;
Abul-Fida Ibn Kathir, Tafsirul-Qurʾanil-ʿAzim, Istanbul 1986, II, 530;
Tajrid Translation, I, 24; V, 3, 9;
Elmalılı, Hak Dini, II, 1055-1060;
TDV İslam Ansiklopedisi, Kalima ash-shahadah item

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