This post critiques the aspect of Islamic Monotheim (Tawheed ) known as The Uniqueness And Oneness Of God In His Names And Attributes – in Arabic Tawheed al-Asmaa was-Sifaat.
I will argue that Tawheed al-Asmaa was-Sifaat prevents humanity from being able to meaningfully describe God or indeed any single attribute of God and, more importantly, prevents humanity from knowing what is Truth. Thus Islam, by its own standards and teachings, is incoherent as a spiritual belief system since transmission of Truth is the basic objective of any revelatory faith.
My Muslim acquaintances frequently tell me that because the Christian Trinity is impossible to explain then belief in the Trinity is unreasonable and should be rejected in favour of Islamic Monotheism (Tawheed).
‘If you cannot describe what you believe in’, they say, ‘then you should admit that your beliefs have no foundation in reason’.
Unfortunately for Muslims, it is Islamic Monotheism which requires belief in an unexplainable Deity and insists upon acquiesence to truth claims which are not examinable by reason.
Islamic scholars describe Allah as an undifferentiated and indivisible monad. Yet this monad has a number of attributes. These attributes, such as wisdom and power, are possessed by Allah in a manner completely unique to him and have no equivalents elsewhere in creation.
As the Islamic site Al-Masjid explains in its article Monotheism,
Many of God’s names and attributes seem to have equivalents on the human level, but this is only a reflection of human language. God’s attributes, like God Himself, are unlike anything in our experience.
For instance, God has divine knowledge. Man has knowledge. God’s knowledge however, is nothing at all like the knowledge of human beings. God’s knowledge is unlimited (omniscient, The All Knowing). It is neither learned nor acquired. God’s knowledge encompasses all things without experiencing increase or decrease. Human knowledge, on the other hand, is acquired and limited. It is constantly changing, increasing and decreasing, and subject to forgetfulness and error.
Note that Muslims are able to abstractly describe Allah’s attributes, in this case his knowledge, but they are not able to make any comparison or link between Allah’s knowledge and human knowledge. Allah’s knowledge is of a completely different type , not merely degree, than human knowledge. Mankind is therefore completely unable to understand what is true knowledge i.e. knowledge as God possesses it.
Moreover, not only are Allah’s attributes unlike anything in our experience and hence beyond our understanding , but so Allah himself is completely unknowable and indescribable.
Since Muslims are incapable of understanding even a single attribute of Allah such as his knowledge and cannot know or understand Allah himself, it is unreasonable for Muslims to demand Christians to abandon belief in Trinity for supposedly being unable to understand that.
However, there is a much more serious problem for Muslims embedded in their theology of Allah’s inscrutable attributes, and that is that it leaves them incapable of knowing what is Truth.
Truth, (Al-Haqq), is an attribute of Allah. By definition, Allah possesses and knows real truth. But since Truth, as Allah has it, is not possessed in any way by humankind, nor does it exist anywhere else in creation.
It follows that humankind, according to Islam, does not know what is real Truth, cannot understand real Truth, and is incapable of recognising real Truth, as real Truth is the possession of Allah only and is not shared with creation.
How could created beings, incapable of sharing in the attribute of Divine Truth, recognise or respond to Divine Truth when we encounter it ? Divine Truth doesn’t look or sound like human truth. Its a completely different thing, not different merely in degree. So says Islam.
As Al-Masjid puts it: God’s truth is nothing at all like the truth of human beings.
Since Allah’s Truth is unlike truth as humans conceive it, any attempt by Allah to explain Truth to humanity is futile. By definition then, Islam is incoherent as a revelatory system. By definition Islamic revelation cannot succeed in its aims of revelation. Humanity is simply unable to understand the Truth possessedby Allah.
Tawfeed (Only Allah Knows)
The Islamic site, Islam Q & A, is explicit that only Allah understands His own attributes such as Truth. This is formally stated in the doctrine of Tawfeed (Only Allah Knows What Is Meant)
[Tawfeed] is affirming the wording and the meaning to which it points, then leaving knowledge of how it is to Allah. So we affirm the beautiful names and sublime attributes of Allah, and we acknowledge and believe in their meanings, but we do not know how they are.
So, Muslims believe it proper to state that humanity cannot know the nature of Allah expressed in his attributes, as only Allah understands them, but yet insist that Christians must be able to fully know and explain the nature of God expressed by His Trinity.
Such an insistence by Muslims appears, to my mind, to be a clear double-standard.
Bi-la Kaifa (Without Knowing or Discussing How)
A related Islamic principle to ‘Only Allah Knows’ is ‘Without Knowing How’ (Bi-la Kaifa).
This principle was developed specifically in order to silence intra-Islamic theological disputes about the nature of God. As Wikipedia states
Abu al-Hasan al-Ash’ari (ca. 873-936) originated the use of the term in his development of the orthodox Ash’ari school against some of the paradoxes in the rationalist Mu’tazilah school of thought. Instead of explaining that God has a literal face (which would anthropomorphize God) he explained that the earliest Muslims simply accepted the verses as they stand, without asking how or why. This view was held by the vast majority of Sunni Muslims from the first generations of Islam.
In other words, early Islamic thinkers, the Mu’tazilites, were using their rationality to probe Qu’ranic data about the nature of Allah and uncovered discovered a series of irreconcilable contradictions. Traditionalist scholars then simply shut down rational inquiry by inventing the priciple of Bi-la Kaifa (Believing without knowing or discussing how).
Islam Q&A regularly cites this principle of belief without inquiry. Here is an example:
Correct belief should be based on what is proven in the Qur’an and Sunnah, as understood by the early generations (salaf) of this ummah, namely the Sahaabah, Taabi‘een and leading scholars. They were unanimously agreed that the divine attributes mentioned in the Qur’an and Sunnah are to be affirmed without discussing how
So, Muslims believe it proper to state that humanity cannot know the nature of Allah expressed in his attributes, as only Allah understands them, and also accept Qu’ranic propositions without rational inquiry, but yet insist that Christians must be able to fully know and explain the nature of God expressed by His Trinity.
Such an insistence by Muslims appears, to my mind, to be a clear double-standard. I would personally find it impossible to give allegiance to any organisation which enshrines belief without discussion as a fundamental principle of operation.