The Meaning of ILAH
The root of this word consists of the three letters, alif, lam, and ha and the connotations of various derivations, as one finds in lexicons are as follows:
Became confused or perplexed.
Achieved peace and mental calm by seeking refuge with someone or establishing relations with him.
Became frightened of some impending mishap or disaster, and someone gave him the necessary shelter.
Turned to another eagerly, due to the intensity of his feelings for him.
The lost offspring of the she-camel rushed to snuggle up to its mother on finding it. Became hidden, or concealed. Also, got elevated.
Adored, offered worship to.
If we reflect upon these original meanings, we can gain the necessary idea of how the verb came to mean the act of worship and the noun to denote the object of worship. There are four considerations to bear in mind in this connection:
- Foremost among the factors which engender a sentiment of some degree of adoration for some one is a person's own state of being in distress or need. He cannot even conceive of worshiping someone unless he has reason to believe that someone to be in a position to remove his distress, to fulfil his needs, to give him shelter and protect him in time of danger, and soothe his troubled heart.
- It goes without saying that the above belief is accompanied by a belief also in the superiority of the other in status, power, and strength.
- It is also a matter of fact that where any of the needs of a human being are met under the ordinary process of give and take, which takes place perceptibly before one's own eyes, it leads to no sense of reverence, much less of adoration, for the other. For example, if I should be in need of money and, having applied for, and been given a job, am paid for it, since the whole transaction would take place within the full ken of my senses, and I would be fully aware of the circumstances or the reason for giving me the money, I would experience not the slightest desire to offer my employer any adoration. That sentiment arises only when there is some element of mystery surrounding the personality, the power, or the ability of the other to fulfil peoples' needs or to influence events. That is why the word chosen to denote an object of worship includes in its meanings the senses of mystery, perplexity, and superiority in status, etc.
- Lastly, it is only natural that if one believes another to be in a position to fulfill one's needs, to provide shelter and protection, to soothe a disturbed heart and fill it with peace and calm, one turns eagerly to that person as a matter of course.
We may therefore safely conclude from the above that the connotation of the word ilah includes the capacities to fulfil the needs of others, to give them shelter and protection, to relieve their minds of distress and agitation, superiority, and the requisite authority and power to do all these, to be mysterious in some way or hidden from men's eyes, and the turning of men eagerly to him.
Having discussed the various literal senses of the word, let us now see what the pre-Islamic concepts of ilah were, and which of these the Qur'an strove to reject:
And they have taken for their ilahs others than Allah, that they may according to their reckoning be a source of strength to them (or that coming under their protection may confer security). (Quran 19 : 81)
And they have taken others than Allah as their ilahs hoping that they might be helped when needed. (Quran 36:74)
From these two verses we learn that the Arabs of the Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance) believed that those whom they regarded as ilahs were their patrons, would come to their rescue in time of danger or difficulty, and that by placing themselves under their protection they rendered themselves safe from fear, molestation or harm.
And when the Decree of your Lord had gone forth (and the time came for its execution), the ilahs they used to invoke instead of Allah proved of no avail to them and contributed only to their doom. (Quran 11 : 101)
And those whom the people call to instead of Allah have not created aught, but are themselves creatures. Dead they are, and not alive, and they know not when they would be raised from their state, the real ilah is the One and Only Ilah. (Quran 18 : 20-21)
Invoke not; or pray to, any ilah along with Allah. There is no ilah but He. [ It should be borne in mind that the word Ilah is used in the Qur'an in two different senses, namely, the object or being, etc., to whom worship is actually being given, irrespective of whether rightly or wrongly, and the Being who is really worthy of worship. In this verse, the word is used in the first sense on the first occasion and in the other sense on the second. - A.A.Maududi] (Quran 28 : 88)
....And those who, instead of praying to Allah, pray to His supposed associates do but follow suppositions and idle guesses. (Quran 10:66)
These verses point to three aspects. The first is that the Arabs used to address their prayers to those whom they regarded as their ilahs and invoke them in times of distress or for fulfilment of any of their needs. The second is that these ilahs included not only Jinns, angels, and gods, but dead humans too, as one can see from the second of the above verses. The third is that they believed that these ilahs could hear their prayers and could come to their rescue.
It seems desirable to clear up one point, at this stage, about the nature of the prayer made to the ilah or ilahs and the help or succour sought of them. If I feel thirsty, and call to my servant to give me some water, or am unwell and call for a doctor for treatment, my summons to them does not constitute du'a, that is, it has no similarity to a prayer sent up to a deity, nor does this make either the servant or the doctor into an ilah. Both these are common, in everyday happenings, with nothing of the supernatural about them. However, if I should, while feeling thirsty or unwell, call to some saint or god instead of the servant or a doctor, that obviously would amount to treating the saint or god as an ilah and to my addressing a du'a to him. Addressing a prayer to a saint confined to his grave hundreds or even thousands of miles away [ In point of principle, it makes no difference if the distance were of a few feet only, the significant point being the act of addressing a prayer to someone who is dead and is believed to possess, even in, or perhaps because of that state, some extraordinary powers not only of hearing the prayer but also of granting it if he so chooses. It is also believed that the saint may, if he cannot himself grant the prayer, pass it up to God with a recommendation. A.A.Maududi] clearly indicates that I believe him--though dead--to be possessed of the power to listen to a prayer at such a distance or to otherwise being aware of things so far off or, if one may use the appropriate Arabic words, to be both samee and baseer [ Literally, these words, which are actually two of Allah's personal attributes, mean, the All-Hearing the A11-Seeing, respectively. God's knowledge transcends everything, and He is aware of everything that is happening anywhere. This is not the case with His creatures, whose capacities in these respects are severely limited. To believe someone other than God to have power to physically hear prayer offered out of his hearing or to see things happening out of his sight amounts to attributing to him powers which are God's only, and which He has never given to any of His creatures. A.A.M.]. My action would clearly imply belief in their exercising such a way over the realm of creation as to be able to have water reach me or to make me recover from my illness. In the case of a god, my prayer would mean that I believe him to possess power over water and over health and sickness, and to therefore arrange, by supernatural means, to fulfill my needs. Thus, the basis on which a prayer is addressed to someone includes necessarily a concept of his being possessed of some supernatural authority and power.
And, verily, We did destroy the places of which you see ruins about you, and We showed them Our signs in diverse ways that they might turn (away from their wrong ways to Us). So why did not those whom they had made their ilahs, and presumed to have access to Us, help them in their hour of doom? Far from helping, they abandoned them and made themselves scarce, exposing the hollowness of their falsehoods and fabrications. [ The reference here obviously is not to mythological or inanimate gods, but to priests and others who exacted peoples' worship and thus set themselves up as Ilahs in opposition to the True Ilah. A. A. Maududi] (Quran 46 : 27, 28)
And wherefore should I not give my worship to Him who created me and to Whom all of you will return? Should I take for myself ilah other than Allah Who, should He Who is also Ar-Rahman wish me any harm, will avail me naught by their intercession, nor will they be able to come to my rescue? (Quran 36 : 22-23)
And those who have taken others than Allah as protectors or helpers say, "We do not worship them except that they may bring us closer to Him." Allah will decide for them on the Day of Judgement regarding that in which they differ. (Quran 39 : 3)
And they worship other than Allah those who have power neither to harm nor benefit them, and they say that they are their intercessors with Him. (Quran 10 : 18)
What we learn from these verses is, firstly, that it was not that the Arabs believed their ilahs to account for the whole of divinity among themselves or that there was no Supreme Being over and above them. They quite clearly believed in the existence of such a Being for whom they employed the special Proper name of ''Allah." As for their ilahs, their belief consisted essentially of the concept that they enjoyed some share in the divinity of the Supreme God, that their word carried some weight with Him, and that their intercession could result in some gains or ward off some harm or loss. It was on these grounds that they regarded them as ilahs besides Allah and, considering their precept and practice, we may say that it was the belief about someone to have power to intercede with God, the act of addressing of prayers to him for help, the performing of certain devotions indicative of respect and reverence and adoration, and the making of offerings, that constituted in their terminology, the treating of Him as ilah. And God said: "Do not make two ilahs; there is but one ilah; So, fear Me alone." (Quran 16:51)
And (Ibrahim said to them): I fear not those you associate with God. Any harm can come to me only if He should will it, and not otherwise (through any or all of your supposed gods). (Quran 6 : 81)
(And said Hud's people to him:) All we think of you is that you are under the curse of someone or other of our ilahs. (Quran 11 : 54)
According to these verses, the Arab belief about their ilahs was that if they should give them any cause for offence or should otherwise be deprived of their favors and attentions, they would suffer epidemics, famine, lose of life and property, or other calamities.
They made their religious scholars and rabbis their rabbs instead of Allah, and Jesus son of Mary too into one, although they had been told to worship but one ilah only, besides Whom there is no ilah at all. (Quran 9 : 31)
Have you noticed the men who has made his selfish desires his ilah? Can you assume any responsibility about such a one? (Quran 25 : 43)
And in this wise did the supposed gods of pagans make infanticide appear an approved act in their eyes. (Quran 6 : 138)
What! Have they partners in godhood who have established for them some religion without sanction from Gods? (Quran 42 : 21)
Here we have yet another concept of ilah very different from those dealt with above. Here there is no element of the supernatural. The ilah here is some human being, or man's own selfish ego or selfish desires. No prayers are offered to it, nor is it regarded as being in a position to will any harm or benefit to someone nor is it looked to for help or succour. It is an ilah in the sense that its dictates are accepted and obeyed to such extent that that which it declares to be permitted or prohibited is treated as such, and it is deemed to have an inherent right to make us do or not do certain things, with no higher or superior authority whose approval might be necessary for its orders or which might be appealed to against them.
The first verse we have quoted here (Quran 9:31) speaks of religious scholars and rabbis having been made into ilahs. We get a very lucid explanation of this in Hadith. Hazrat 'Adi bin Hatim once asked the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, about the verse, and in reply the Prophet told him that whet was characterized as taking as ilahs was the practice of accepting as permitted or prohibited anything pronounced as such by the scholars or rabbis, without caring to ascertain what God had actually said about it.
As for the second verse, (Quran 25:43) the meaning is clear enough. He who obeys only the dictates of his selfish desires or inclinations or, rather regards his personal views as the only law, in effect makes his self his ilah instead of God.
The last two verses use the word shuraka which we have translated as supposed gods or partners, in godhood, but although the word ilah has not been used, the implication clearly is that to treat any beings, etc., as shuraka amounts, in effect, to believing them to have a share in divinity. The import of these verses is that those who regard any custom or rule or practice as permissible although it has no divine sanction, are guilty of treating the originators of the custom, etc., as having a share in divinity, i. e., of treating them as ilahs.
There is a clear logical inter-connection between all the different concepts of ilah set out above. Whosoever regards any other person or being to be his helper or patron in the supernatural sense, or capable of solving his problems or fulfilling his needs, of hearing and granting his prayers, or of doing him harm or good, does so only because he believes that Person or being to enjoy some measure of authority in the management of the universe.
Similarly, if a person's avoidance of certain actions or performance of others is governed by the hope or fear that they would win him the pleasure or displeasure of some other person or being, he does so obviously because of belief that that person or being possesses some kind of supernatural authority in shaping the affairs of men. As for him who believes in God and yet turns to others for the fulfilment of his needs, he too can do so only because he believes them to have some share in God's authority. And, lastly, no different is the case of the person who accords the status of law to the commandments of someone other than God, and binds himself to obey the injunctions or prohibitions of that someone, for he in effect thereby accords him supreme authority. We can therefore safely conclude that the essence of godhood is authority, whether it is conceived as sovereignty of a supernatural kind over the whole universe, or on the basis that man is bound by God's law in his worldly life and that all of His injunctions are to be complied with because they emanate from Him.
It is this very concept of authority on the basis of which the Qur'an expends the whole force of its argument in rejecting the claims to godhood of all others than God, and affirming it to vest exclusively in Him. It categorically asserts that there is only One Being in the heavens and the earth Who possesses and exercises all the powers and all the authority. All Creation is His, and subservient to Him, all grace and blessings flow from Him alone, His alone is the Word, and in Him alone vest all power and authority. Everything that exists, whether animate or inanimate, is bound by the laws made by Him and is, to that extent, subservient and submissive to Him, willingly or unwillingly. No one besides Him is possessed of any such authority, nor does anyone else dispose of the affairs of the universe. No one else knows the secrets of the Creation or its organization or the manner of its proper management. Nor, lastly, does anyone have the least share in His Sovereignty and Authority. Therefore, the only reality is that there is no ilah but He and, this being so, anything that men do on the supposition of anyone else being an ilah in any sense whatsoever is by its very nature utterly wrong, whether it be the act of praying to someone, seeking refuge with him, turning to him with hope or fear, seeking his intercession with God, or treating him as the final authority. All such relationships which people establish with others ought to exist solely and exclusively with Allah Almighty, because He alone is the Sovereign of the Universe.
Let us now see the Qur'anic treatment of the matter in some detail:
And He alone is the Ilah in the heavens and the Ilah in the earth; and He alone is the all-Wise, the all-Knowing (that is, He alone possesses the wisdom and the knowledge required for governing such a Domain). (Quran 43 : 84)
Can He Who creates, and he who does not, be alike? Have you not sense to realize this simple fact? ...And those whom the people pray to other than Allah, do not create anything and are themselves creatures; your ilah is only one Ilah. (Quran 16 : 17-20)
O mankind: Call unto mind the grace of God unto you; is there any Creator besides Allah, to give you sustenance from heaven or earth; there is no ilah but He; how, then, are you deluded from Truth? (Quran 35 : 3)
Say (O Prophet) : "Think you, if God took away your hearing and your sight, and sealed up your hearts (that is, hardened them to the acceptance of any sensible precept), which ilah is there, besides Allah, who could restore them to you ?" (Quran 6:46)
And He is Allah--the God: no god there is but He; To Him alone is due all praise, in this world and the next; His alone is the Command and Sovereignty, and to Him alone will you be returned. Say (O Prophet): "Have you ever thought that, if Allah should make the night continue till Doomsday, which ilah is there besides Him who could bring you any light? Do you not hearken?" Say (to them, 0 Prophet): "Has it ever occurred to you that if Allah should make the day perpetuate over you till Doomsday, who is the ilah other than He who can give you back night that you may rest in it? Do you not see?" (Quran 28 : 70-72)
Say (O Prophet): "Call upon the others whom you fancy, besides Allah; they do not own even an atom in the heavens or on earth; no sort of share have they therein, nor is any of them a helper to God. No intercession can avail with Him, except where He himself permit it in anyone's favor..." (Quran 54 : 22-23)
He (God) created the heavens and the earth with Truth; He makes the night overlap the day, and the day overlap the night; He has subjected the sun and the moon (to His law); each one follows a course for a time appointed... He created you all from a single person (that is, brought human life into existence); then created out of him his mates; and sent down for you eight heads of cattle in pairs; He makes you, in the wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness; such is God, your Lord and Creator; to Him belongs all dominion; there is no god but He; how then, do you get turned another way?" (Quran 39 : 5-6)
Who is it who has created the heavens and the earth, and who sends down rain from the sky? Yea, with it We cause to Brow well-planted orchards full of beauty and delight; it is not in your power to cause the growth of the trees in them. Can there be another ilah besides Allah? Nay, they are a people who swerve from reality. Who has made the earth firm to live upon, made rivers in its midst, act thereon mountains immovable, and made a separating bar between the two bodies of flowing water? Can there be another ilah besides Allah? Nay, most of them know not. Who listens to the (soul) distressed when it calls to Him, and who relieves its suffering, and make you (mankind) inheritors of the earth-that is, gives you authority to utilize your purposes? Can there be another ilah besides Allah? Little it is that you heed. Who guides you through the depths of darkness on land and sea, and who sends the winds as heralds of glad tidings, of His Mercy in the form of rain? Can there be another ilah besides Allah?--High is God above what they associate with Him! Who originates Creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from heaven and earth? Can there be another ilah besides Allah? Say, "Bring forth your arguments, if you be in the right " (Quran 27 : 60-64)
He (is the One) to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the earth; no son has He begotten, nor has He a partner in His dominion; it is He Who created all things, and ordered them in due proportion. Yet have people taken, besides Him, gods that can create nothing but are themselves created, that have no control over harm or good to themselves; nor can they control Death nor Life nor Resurrection. (Quran 25: 2-3)
To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth. How can He have a son when He had no consort? He it is Who created all things, and He alone has full knowledge of all things; That is God, your Lord! No god there is but He, the Creator of all things; Then give your worship to Him; And He it is Who looks after the safety and well-being of all. (Quran 6 : 102-103)
Yet are there men who take (for worship) others besides God as equals (with Him). They feel the love for them which they should for God. If only the unrighteous could but see. Behold, they would seethe penalty: (they then will see) that to God belongs all power, and God will strongly enforce the Penalty. (Quran 2:165)
Say (O Prophet): "Do you see what it is you invoke besides God? Show me what it is they have created on earth, or have they a share in the heavens?...And who is more astray than one who invokes besides God such as will answer him not (though he call to him till) the Day of Judgement" (Quran 46 : 4-5)
If there were, in the heaven and the earth, other gods besides God, there would have been confusion in both! But glory to Allah, the Lord of the Mighty Throne: High is He above that they attribute to Him. None there is who can question Him for His acts, but they (certainly) yet will be questioned for theirs. (Quran 21 : 22-23)
No son did God beget, nor is there any god alone; with Him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created and some would have lorded it over others! (Quran 23 : 91)
Say (O Prophet): "If there had been other gods with Him as they say-behold, they would certainly have sought ways for capturing His Throne. Glory to Him! He is High above all that they say! --Exalted and Great (beyond measure). (Quran 17 : 42)
It will be seen that there is one central idea running through all these verses, and that is that godhood and authority are inextricably interconnected and are, in essence and significance, one and the same thing. He who has no authority can be no god, and it is but fitting that he should not be so. And He Who has all due authority, He alone can be, and ought to be, God, because all the needs which one might refer to a god, or the experiencing of which might turn one's thoughts to someone supposedly gifted with divinity can only be fulfilled if the person or being involved has in fact the power and the authority to be able to meet them. Hence, we must conclude that it is meaningless to regard anyone without the necessary power and authority to have any part of godhood: it is absolutely contrary to reason and reality, and it is quite absurd as well as useless to turn to these for help.
The full argument of the Holy Qur'an, based on this central idea will be clear from the following premises and the deductions which it sets forth:
- The fulfilment of the needs of human beings, the removal of their distress, the grant to them of refuge or protection, the extension of any needed help or assistance, their bringing up or preservation, and the acceptance of their prayers-none of these matters are so simple as people seem to assume them to be and hence mistakenly regard them as within the competence of human beings. All are dependent, inextricably and ultimately, upon the creative power and the controlling and managing authority being exercised over the entire universe by its One and only Lord and Master. Even the smallest need depends, for its fulfilment, on the combined results of a vest multitude of factors. Take for example the provision of just one glass of drinking water, or even just one grain of wheat used by men for food. Neither would come about but for incalculable and multifarious and, in many cases, get hidden activity on the part of the sun and the earth and the oceans and the winds. Therefore, the authority or power which is actually required for listening to our prayers is no ordinary authority but, rather, super-extraordinary and unique authority or power, not less than that required for creating the heavens and earth and for ordering the movement of the heavenly bodies and of the winds and of causing rain, and so on-- in short, that needed for governing the entire universe itself.
- This authority is indivisible. It is not possible that, while the control over creation should rest with one authority, that of providing for its food and drink should be with someone else; or that-the sun should be -under the control of one authority and the earth that of another; or that while one has the power to create, that of preserving health or causing illness should be possessed by another and that of ending life rest with still another. Had there been such division of authority and power, there would certainly-have been utter confusion and chaos in the universe and it could never have ordered the way it has been operating all along. Hence, it is essential that all authority and power should and does vest in one, central authority, in One Sovereign.
- Since all authority and power vests in one Sovereign only, with no-one else having the least share in it, it must equally logically follow that godhood is special and exclusive to Him alone, and in this too there is absolutely no share. Nobody other than He has the power to listen to men's plaints or grant any of their prayers, grant them refuge and protection, be their helper and patron, or do them good or harm. Therefore, whatever be anyone's conception of ilah, there is no ilah but He, so much so that there is no ilah even in the apparently less important sense of someone being close enough to God to be able to intercede with Him. No-one has the least power or authority to interfere with His rule over His universe or His ways, and it is entirely up to Him whether to accede to, or reject, any intercession because no-one-unlike the viziers or ministers of earthly monarchs--occupies any position or status which would lend weight enough to his word.
It is also of the essence of the Unity of the Supreme Authority that all the various manifestations of sovereignty or over-lordship should, ultimately, he centered in one and only one Supreme Sovereign, and not even the tiniest factor of such authority should vest in anyone else. Since God is the Creator, and no-one else has had a share in the act of Creation, and since He alone is the Provider and no-one else shares this attribute with Him, and since He alone is the Controller and Administrator of the entire system of the Universe, and there is none to share these capacities with Him, it follows that He alone should also be the one to lay down the law, and that His word, and no-one else's should prevail, for there is no reason at all why anyone else should have a share here either. Just as if also is wrong, in principle and in fact, for anyone else to listen to others' prayers and expect to deliver them from distress and be their protector, in just the same way is it wrong for anyone else to be the absolute authority and the sovereign and to have any intrinsic authority to legislate for mankind. Whether it be creation, or providing of sustenance, the giving or taking away of life, the ordering of the sun and the moon and the heavenly bodies, the bringing of the night to overlap the day and of the day to overlap the night, the ordaining of peoples' destinies and the apportionment of their lots, or being ruler or monarch, or laying down the law or indicating the right and the wrong, all are different facets of a single, autocratic authority and sovereignty which is absolutely indivisible. If anyone regards the word of someone else to be deserving of obedience without any sanction from God, he is as much guilty of the offence of shirk as the one who prays to or worships someone other than God. And if someone regards himself as the lord and master and absolute monarch of any part of the earth in the political sense, his act too amounts as much to a claim to godhood as it would if he were to tell people that he was their helper and patron and guardian in the supernatural sense. [ The Translator feels tempted, at this stage, to point to the fact that all those who indulge in such pretensions turn out invariably to be the worst oppressor, and exploiters of human beings, and the farther they are from belief in God, the more this happens to be the case. On the other hand, the more a ruler is God-fearing the greater is his beneficence towards not only his own people but even towards his enemies Abu Asad] That is why the Qur'an emphasizes, wherever it speaks of creation or of the destinies of creatures or the management of the universe, that:
--To Him belongs the ultimate dispensation of men's affairs (and of other things in creation too) - His is the Kingdom--
--There is no sharer in His Suzerainty--
All of which clearly shows that godhood includes monarchy and rulership. And it is also that Tawheed necessarily requires that in this sense too no-one should be believed to have any share with God:
Say (O Prophet): O God! You are the Lord of all the Domains; It is You who grant kingdom to whom you please; and take it away from whomsoever You will; It is You who confer honor on whomsoever You please, and take it away from whomsoever You will. (Quran 3 : 20)
Right and Mighty is Allah, the True Sovereign; then, is no ilah but He, the Lord of the Sublime Throne. (Quran 23 : 116)
Say (O Prophet): I seek refuge with Him who is Rabb of all mankind, the Sovereign of all mankind, and the Ilah of all mankind. (Quran 114 : 1-3)
And then there is another verse which makes the point even clearer: The Day when the secrets of everyone of them will be laid bare; when it will become manifest to men that none of their actions is hidden from God, the call will go out: To whom belongs the Dominion this Day? And the answer will invariably be: To none but Allah alone, Allah Whose power and authority transcend that of all others. (Quran 40 : 16)
This verse is excellently explained in a Hadith narrated by Imam Ahmed (ra) on the authority of Hazrat 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with both) that, on one occasion the Holy Prophet (on whom be peace) stated, in the course of a sermon, that: God will take both the heavens and the earth in His hand, and will proclaim to all before Him: I am the King; I am the Mighty one: I am the Self-exalted one; Where are the people who used to style themselves kings upon the earth, those who called themselves mighty, and who were 'their Majesties'?
Hazrat Abdullah (with whom Allah be pleased) narrates that while the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was repeating these words, his body trembled so much in awe of Allah Almighty that we were really afraid that he might fall from the pulpit.