Peace, one and all…
If you wanted a handy summation of the basic beliefs of Islam, you couldn’t do much better than the shahadah, the Islamic declaration of faith (literally ‘witnessing’). In Arabic, it runs thus:
La ilaha ill Allah, Muhammadur rasul Allah
A literal translation would run something like this: ‘there is no god but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God’. Whilst this does, indeed, capture the essence of the Islamic worldview it doesn’t fully convey the breadth that this statement is really trying to make. Thus, a more accurate translation (at least in terms of ideas) would probably be something like this:
‘Nothing has the right to be worshipped but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God’
That is, the Islamic tradition has a very well developed understanding of the human pysche – in particular, our ability to turn all sorts of things into ‘gods’. Thus, much of the Quranic discourse on assigning partners to God works in this multi-layered manner too.
In one particularly important passage, the Quran states:
‘Have you seen the one who takes as his god his own desire?’ (al-Furqan 25:43)
That is, our own desires can, if unchecked, become ‘gods’ themselves, or rather, people can serve their egos as if they were gods. Such ego-gods are perhaps the most pernicious and hard to deal with of all, and they can take many forms. Lust, greed, selfishness – all of these things can be served as deities, if we’re not careful. Religion too can become a god. That is, when we’re unconnected from ourselves and our inner ears, our (mis)understandings of religion can also become a god.
The Islamic tradition is really pointing out here, though, that the only real god is God (one of whose Names in Islam is al-Haqq, The Truth or The Real). In a very important prophetic tradition, Prophet Muhammad (alaihi al-salatu wa al-salam) is reported to have said:
Then he (the man) said, “Inform me about Ihsan.” He (the Messenger of Allah) answered, ” It is that you should serve Allah as though you could see Him, for though you cannot see Him yet He sees you.”