Question 36 : What Is the Criterion For Distinguishing 'unity' From 'polytheism'?


The most important matter in the subject related to unity and polytheism is knowing the criterion for both; and as long as this matter is not solved regarding its fundamental concept, some of the matters that have an apparent concept will also not be solved. Thus we shall present the meanings of both unity and polytheism in different dimensions though briefly:

Unity in it's essence:

This can be presented in two ways:

God (and according to the scholars of dialectical theology: the necessary existence) is an absolute one and has no homologue. This is the same unity referred to as the one that is mentioned in the Holy Quran in various ways such as, "Nothing is the likeness of Him."

And in another instance, "And none is like unto Him," This kind of unity is of course interpreted in a manner that gives us the impression of numerical interpretation, that God is one and not two. It is obvious that this kind of numerical unity is not suitable for the divine position of Allah.

The essence of Allah is simple and not compound, due to the fact that compoundness of a being in mental or external parts, is the sign of a need toward its parts; 'need' being the sign of possibility and possibility is accompanied with a need for a cause, and all these are in disagreement with the position of the necessary existence.

Unification in the creation:

This is one of the stages of unity which is accepted both logically as well as according to the traditions:

From the logical point of view, there is a possible system lacking every kind of perfection and whatever thing there is other than God, which originated from the source of the self-sufficient. Thus all the manifestations of beauty and perfection in the universe belong to the Lord of beauty and perfection.

As for the Quranic point of view, there are many verses that state about the unity of the creator, such as:

"Say, Allah is the creator of all things, he is one, the supreme."

Thus, there is no difference in opinion among the theologians regarding the unity of creation in general. However, there are two interpretations for the unity of creation that we shall mention to both of them:

A. All the kinds of reason and caused systems, and reason and caused relations among the beings, terminate to the cause of all causes. In reality the independent and original creator is God, and the effect of other than God in causing anything is in succession with his permission and will.

According to this theory, it admits of the system of cause and effect in the universe which science has also uncovered, however, at the same time, all the systems are in one way attached to God, and it is only He, who is the one to bring about this system in the first place and give cause to the causes, reason to reasons and effect to the effects.

B. There is only a single creator in the universe and that is the one and only Lord of the worlds. In the system of existence, there is no kind of effect and is not being influenced by other things, and God only is the direct creator of all the natural phenomenon there is, such that even the humans power is not able to depict His intricately-designed actions.

Thus, there is left only one cause in the universe and this is the replacement for what science identifies as 'natural causes'.

Such thinking is an interpretation for the unity in the creation and meets the approbation of the Asharite scholars, however, some of their personalities, such as Imam Al-haramain and lately, Sheikh Muhammed Abduh in their treatise of unification, deny to this commentary choosing the first interpretation.

Unity in management:

Since creation is specifically done by God, the management of the system of the universe also belongs to Him. In the entire universe, there exists only a single management and the logical proof that stabilizes the unification in the creation also proves the unification in the management of it.

The Holy Quran in several verses introduces Allah as the sole manager of the universe by quoting verses like:

"Say, What! Shall I seek a Lord other than Allah? And He is the Lord of All things."

According to both the Shia and Sunni commentators, they fully agree to the unity regarding the creation, although from our point of view, the meaning of unity in the managing of the universe is the restriction of the independent management of God.

Thus, the entire management existing among the beings in the system of creation takes place with the sole will and desire of God. The Holy Quran also points to the kind of management that is usually attached to the Lord such as:

"Then those who regulate the affair."

Unity in Rulership:

This concept is explained in that the rulership of a particular right only belongs to God and it is only Him ruling over the individuals in the society as a whole. As the Holy Quran mentions:

"Judgment is only Allah's"

Thus, the ruler ship of others ought to take place with His permission such that only the earnest humanbeing may tend to control the affairs of the society and lead the people towards happiness and salvation, as the holy Quran states:

"O Dawood, surely we have made you a ruler in the land; so judge between the men with justice."

Unity in Obedience:

The unity in obedience means that the essentially obeyed and the one on whom obedience is an obligation, is none but the Glorious Lord, Allah. Thus, the necessity to obey others such as the pr, imams, jurisprudent, scholars, mother and father is all due to the will and command of Allah. Unity in Legislation:

This means that the right of legislation belongs to God alone. Thus, our heavenly book declares any other rule which is out of the framework of the divine law as sheer infidelity, as the Quran states declares:

"and whosoever did not judge by what Allah revealed, they are those who are the non-believers."

".., and whosoever did not judge according to what Allah has revealed, they are those who are the transgressors."

", and whosoever did not judge accordingly to the commands of Allah and what He has revealed, they are those who are the unjust."

Unity in Worship:

The most important subject regarding this unity is identification of the meaning of 'worship'in itself due to the fact that all the Muslims agree upon this matter that worship only belongs to Allah and one cannot claim to worship other than Him. As the Holy Quran states in this regard that: "Thee alone we serve and thee alone do we seek for help."

When looking at the verses of the Holy Quran, one can derive to the point that this is a matter of joined principle amongst the call of all the prophets and all the divine messengers who were appointed for the purpose of propagating this. The Holy Quran says to this regard: "And certainly We raised in every nation an apostle saying: Serve Allah and shun the Satan."

Therefore, there lies no disparity in this principle of the unity in worship being exclusive for God and no one other than His who is worthy to be worshipped; and no individual is a believer in the unity of Allah except when he implies to this principle.

The contradiction lies somewhere else i.e. what is the criterion for distinguishing 'worship' from non-worship?

Or maybe in other words, is the paying of homage to the saints of God or even for instance kissing the hand of a teacher, father, mother, scholar, considered to be worshipping them? Or is it that worship other than the absolute meaning of extraordinary homage and submission, where the element is to be considered that if that element is not to be achieved in practice, no kind of submission, not even to the limit of prostration is considered as worship.

At this point, let us observe that particular element which gives the submission and paying of homage the name of worship and this subject seems to be of paramount importance.

The Misconception Of Worship:

A group of authors came up with the meaning of worship as 'submission' or the 'extraordinary submission.' However, this group failed to solve it accordingly to the chain of the Quranic verses. The Holy Quran says declares that:

"we ordered the angles to prostrate in front of Adam." "And when we said to the angles: Make obeisance to Adam."

The prostration for Adam is done as the same manner as the prostration for God. Whereas the first shows humility and submissiveness, the second is regarded worship.

Now why do these two similar prostrations have two different quiddities?

The Quran at another instance said:

Prophet Yaqub together with his sons prostrated to prophet yusuf:

"And he raised his parents upon the throne and they fell down in prostration before him, and he said, O my father! This is the significance of my vision of old, my Lord has indeed made it to be true."

It is necessary to mention that what Yusuf meant by his previous dreams, the one whereby he saw the eleven stars, the sun and moon prostrating before him. As the Holy Quran states for Yusuf says:

" O my father! Surely I saw eleven stars and the sun and the moon I saw them making obeisance to me."

Since prophet Yusuf mentioned the prostration as the interpretation to his dream, it becomes clear that which was meant by the eleven stars were his eleven brothers, and the sun and moon as his parents.

Thus, not only Yusuf's brothers, but also his father yaqub prostrated to him.

The question arises here, why was this prostration that was the sign of utmost humility and submission not referred to as 'worship'? A mere Excuse worse than the sin:

Hereby, the mentioned group that is helpless from answering say the following, "Since this submission occurred with the command of God, it is no longer regarded as polytheism."

However, it is quite obvious that this answer is unskillful because of the quiddity of a work being polytheism, God would not have ordered for it to be observed in the long run.

The holy Quran states:

"Say, surely Allah does not enjoin indecency; do you say against Allah what you do not know?"

Basically, God's command does not transform the quiddity of the thing; if the reality of the submission before a human is worship to him and God has commanded to performing it; the result is the command of the worship to him.

Solving the problem by stating the real meaning of 'Worship'

To this point, it has become clear that the principle of the prohibition of worship other than God is agreed upon by all those who believe in the unity of God. On the other hand, it becomes clear that the prostration of the angles for Adam and Yaqub and his son's prostration for Yusuf (p) is not considered as worship to them.

So let us see to the element causing the movement at a single time to have the title of worship at the same time the very movement with the same properties is not worship at another.

By referring to the Quranic verses, it becomes clear that worship is the submission before a being that is accompanied with considering him as God or attributing Godly works to him. It becomes very clear that the belief in God or the belief in his ability to the performance of Godly works is that element when accompanied by any submission, makes it to be worship.

The polytheists, including the inhabitants of the Arab peninsula and others, had the submission before certain beings whom they considered to be created by God, however, at the same time, also believed that some of the Godly works were also assigned to them, the least of which being the right to the forgiving of sins, and the freedom of intercession.

A group of the Babylonian polytheists worshipped celestial bodies considering them as their 'Lord' and not their 'creator', as the ones assigned for the management of the universe and the humans. The history of prophet Ibrahim when came across these people, was also based on this fact. The polytheists of Babylon never considered the sun, moon and stars as the created by God, rather, accepted them to be powerful creatures that were assigned to the management of the universe.

The Quranic verse explains Ibrahim's debate with these polytheists and depended on the word. 'Rabb-Lord' in his argument meaning the owner and m anager of ones slave.

The Arabs called the owner of the house as 'Rab al bait' and the owner of the farm as rab al dai-ah, because the management of the house and the farm is assigned to them.

The Quran, by introducing God as the only manager and the 'Lord' of the universe combats against the polytheists calling them all towards the worship of the one and only God and says:

"Surely, Allah is my Lord and your Lord, therefore, serve Him; this is the right path."

Yet elsewhere states:

"That is Allah, your Lord, there is no God but He; the creator of all things, therefore, serve him,."

It is said in sura 'al-Dukhan':

"There is no God but He; he gives life and causes death, your Lord and the Lord of your fathers of yore."

The Holy Quran quoting from prophet Jesus says: and the Messiah said:

"O children of Israel! Serve Allah my Lord and your Lord."

Thus, it clearly becomes apparent that any kind of submission which is free from belief in being God and attributing divine works to him, cannot be referred to as 'worship' even if it is with utmost submission and humility.

Therefore, the submission of the children before their parents and the nations submission towards the prophet (p) which is free from that condition will never be called as worshipping them.

Thus, the subjects such as, 'seeking blessings with God's close and pious servants, kissing the shrine, thdoor, wall of the sanctuaries, seeking the aid through the beloved of God, calling upon the upright slaves of God, commemorating the death and birth ceremonies of the saints of God and that some unaware people refer to as the act of worship and regard as polytheism, are all in actuality free from the worship to other than God.

(Shura: 11)

(Ikhlas: 4)

(Ra'd: 16)

Millah and Nahl (shahristani) vol. 1.

(Anam: 164)

(Naziat: 5)


(Sad: 26)

(Maidah: 44)

(Maidah: 47)

(Maidah: 45)

(Hamd: 4)

(Nahl: 36)

(Baqarah: 34)

(Yusuf: 100)

(Yusuf: 4)

(A'raf: 28)

(Anam: 76-78)

(Ale-Imran: 51)

(Anam: 102)


(Maidah: 72)