Thursday, December 17, 2009

Doctrines of the Qur'an -- God

Doctrines of the Qur'an -- God

The doctrine about God in the Qur'an is rigorously monotheistic: God is one and unique; he has no partner and no equal. Trinitarianism, the Christian belief that God is three persons in one substance, is vigorously repudiated. Muslims believe that there are no intermediaries between God and the creation that he brought into being by his sheer command: "Be." Although his presence is believed to be everywhere, he does not inhere in anything. He is the sole Creator and sustainer of the universe, wherein every creature bears witness to his unity and lordship.

But he is also just and merciful: his justice ensures order in his creation, in which nothing is believed to be out of place, and his mercy is unbounded and encompasses everything. His creating and ordering the universe is viewed as the act of prime mercy for which all things sing his glories. The God of the Qur'an, described as majestic and sovereign, is also a personal God; he is viewed as being nearer to man than man's jugular vein, and, whenever a person in need or distress calls him, he responds. Above all, he is the God of guidance and shows everything, particularly man, the right way, "the straight path."

This picture of God--wherein the attributes of power, justice, and mercy interpenetrate--is related to the Judeo-Christian tradition, whence it is derived with certain modifications, and also to the concepts of pagan Arabia, to which it provided an effective answer. The pagan Arabs believed in a blind and inexorable fate over which man had no control. For this powerful but insensible fate the Qur'an substituted a powerful but provident and merciful God. The Qur'an carried through its uncompromising monotheism by rejecting all forms of idolatry and eliminating all gods and divinities that the Arabs worshipped in their sanctuaries (harams), the most prominent of which was Ka'bah sanctuary in Mecca itself.

The Universe

In order to prove the unity of God, the Qur'an lays frequent stress on the design and order in the universe. There are no gaps or dislocations in nature. Order is explained by the fact that every created thing is endowed with a definite and defined nature whereby it falls into a pattern.

This nature, though it allows every created thing to function in a whole, sets limits; and this idea of the limitedness of everything is one of the most fixed points in both the cosmology and theology of the Qur'an. The universe is viewed, therefore, as autonomous, in the sense that everything has its own inherent laws of behaviour, but not as autocratic, because the patterns of behaviour have been endowed by God and are strictly limited. "Everything has been created by us according to a measure." Though every creature is thus limited and "measured out" and hence depends upon God, God alone, who reigns unchallenged in the heavens and the earth, is unlimited, independent, and self-sufficient.


According to the Qur'an, God created two apparently parallel species of creatures, man and jinn, the one from clay and the other from fire. About the jinn, however, the Qur'an says little, although it is implied that the jinn are endowed with reason and responsibility but are more prone to evil than man. It is with man that the Qur'an, which describes itself as a guide for the human race, is centrally concerned.

The Judeo-Christian story of the Fall of Adam (the first man) is accepted, but the Qur'an states that God forgave Adam his act of disobedience, which is not viewed in the Qur'an (in contradistinction to its understanding in the Christian doctrine) as original sin.

In the story of man's creation, angels, who protested to God against the creation of man, who "would sow mischief on earth," lost in a competition of knowledge against Adam. The Qur'an, therefore, declares man to be the noblest of all creation, the created being who bore the trust (of responsibility) that the rest of the creation refused to accept. The Qur'an thus reiterates that all nature has been made subservient to man: nothing in all creation has been made without a purpose, and man himself has not been created "in sport," his purpose being service and obedience to God's will.

Despite this lofty station, however, the Qur'an describes human nature as frail and faltering. Whereas everything in the universe has a limited nature, and every creature recognizes its limitation and insufficiency, man is viewed as rebellious and full of pride, arrogating to himself the attributes of self-sufficiency. Pride, thus, is viewed as the cardinal sin of man, because by not recognizing in himself his essential creaturely limitations he becomes guilty of ascribing to himself partnership with God (shirk: associating a creature with the Creator) and of violating the unity of God. True faith (iman), thus, consists of belief in the immaculate Divine Unity and Islam in one's submission to the Divine Will.


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