The first article of the shahda, or Islamic profession of faith, is "L ilha ill llh", "there is no deity but God". This statement is the heart of Islamic monotheism, and means both that God is one and that he is unique.

Islamic monotheism has far-reaching consequences. Muslim theologians are fond of linking all the beliefs of Islam to the two statements of the shahda. This may appear to be a good mnemonic device, a pedagogical method of getting students to remember the numerous dogmas taught in theology. Yet the shahda does more than conveniently link disparate teachings around two main points. These points are tied to the rest of Islamic teaching by tight bonds of logical necessity, so that the whole of Islam enjoys a remarkable consistency and coherence. No single teaching can be tampered with without affecting the whole religious system of Islam.

This article will investigate the logical implications of the first article of the shahda as it is elaborated by Islamic tradition. By "Islamic tradition" I do not mean just Hadth, but the common interpretation of Muslims over the centuries. Why the shahda gave rise to the very radical monotheism of Islamic tradition may have various sociological explanations, but rests ultimately on a metaphysical interpretation, expressing the relationship between God and creatures by a particular understanding of analogy. Therefore this article will examine the idea of analogy as the ancient Greeks used it and then show how Christian and Islamic theology made different use of it.

Analogy, an analogical concept

The Greek philosophers

The idea of analogy, without the use of the term itself, was first elaborated by Plato, who, to solve the problem of the multiplicity of beings sharing one specific form, posited the existence of an immaterial world of ideal forms, of which this world is only a shadow or dim reflection. (1) Somewhere among or beyond these ideal forms, just where, Plato is not clear, lies God, the cause or perhaps only the coordinator of all goodness, being and perfection. (2) Philo developed Plato's theology by identifying God with the transcendent One who is totally inaccessible to the human mind. The problem was now posed, what is the relationship between the ideal world or God and the world about us? Is the idea of goodness, being etc. the same when applies to both worlds, or completely different, or somewhere in between. In other words, is our use of language concerning this world and the world beyond univocal, equivocal or, to use the term that concerns us, analogical?

The ancient world did not come up with an explicit answer to this question, except that Plotinus realized the problem that if God created by way of necessary emanation, the world would be of the same univocal nature as God, and pantheism would be verified.

Aristotle disagreed completely with Plato's theory of an ideal world as a scientific explanation of the multiplicity and change which we observe in the world about us, and attacked Plato's theory as a gratuitous assumption not verified by direct evidence or legitimate inference. (3) Aristotle did maintain the existence of an immaterial world, comprising the souls of deceased humans (if these can be identified with the separable "agent intellect"), (4) the spirits that animate or move the heavenly spheres (5) and God himself, who is both the Good motivating these spirit workers and a self-subsistent Intelligence unchangingly enjoying the act of contemplating his own infinite being. (6)

Aristotle never face the further problem of the relationship between the immaterial and material worlds, yet in his book of definitions (7) he gave explicit attention to the idea of analogy:

Again, some things are one numerically, others formally, others generically, and others analogically: numerically, those whose matter is one formally, those whose definition is one generically, those which belong to the same category and analogically, those which have the same relations as something else to another object. In every case the latter types of unity are implied in the former: e.g., all things which are one numerically are also one formally, but not all which are one formally are one numerically and all are one generically which are one formally, but such as are one generically are not all one formally, although they are one analogically and such as are one analogically are not all one generically. (8)

St. Paul

Christian theology did face the problem how we know and name God. the most relevant Scriptural passage is Romans 1:19-20: "What can be known about God is evident among them. For God made himself evident to them. What is invisible about him, namely his eternal power and divinity, can, ever since the creation of the world, be seen with one's intelligence through the things he has made." (9) Paul here is evidently making use of the Deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom, 13:1-6:

Yes, naturally stupid are all men who have not known God and who, from the good things that are seen, have not been able to discover Him-who-is, or by studying the works, have failed to recognize the Artificer. Fire, however, or wind, or the swift air, the sphere of the stars, impetuous water, heaven's lamps, are what they have held to be the god who governs the world.

If, charmed by their beauty, they have taken things for God, let them know how much the Lord of these excels them, since the very Author of beauty has created them. And if they have been impressed by their power and energy, let them deduce from these how much mightier is he that has formed them, since through the grandeur and beauty of the creatures we may, by analogy, contemplate their author.

The word "analogy" is used in Romans 12:6, but in reference to the use of prophecy, and not in the context of which we have been speaking.

St. Thomas Aquinas

As an example of how the idea of analogy developed in christian thought, let us jump to Thomas Aquinas. About God, he says, (10) our natural intelligence leads us to know: 1) that he exists as a cause, 2) that he is different from his creatures and has none of their defects, and 3) that positively he possesses all their perfections in a supereminent way. The last type of knowledge of God is by way of analogy.

In his commentary on the passage quoted above from Aristotle's Metaphysics, Thomas says that analogy can be taken in two ways: 1) Two things can have the same relationship to a third thing, such as "healthy urine" which is a sign of health, and "healthy medicine" which is a cause of health both are related to the health of an animal. 2) Two things can have the same relationship to different things, such as calmness of the sea and stillness of the air in this case we have four terms. (11) In this passage Thomas set the distinction between analogy of "proportion" or "attribution" and analogy of "proportionality".

Applying this concept to God, Thomas maintained in his Disputed questions on Truth (12) and his Disputed questions on power (13) that the analogy characterizing the relationship between God and creatures cannot be one of attribution, because we do not say God is being and goodness because he is the cause of being and goodness in creatures, since this would imply that real goodness and being is principally in creatures and God must be defined in relationship to them. Rather it is the other way around. So Thomas opts for analogy of proportionality: As God has being, goodness etc. in an infinite way, so creatures have these in a finite way. Any positive attribute observed in creation may be applied to God in a "superexcellent way", provided it does not imply a defect or limitation, such as materiality. Names such as "the Sun of justice" are not proper analogical expressions, but simply metaphors, and are sometimes categorized as "analogies of improper proportionality".

In the Summa theologiae (14) and in the Summa contra gentiles (15) Thomas passes over the analogy of proportionality which involves four terms, and returns to a revised version of the two term analogy of attribution. Using the same illustration of "health", this time medicine is not defined as "healthy" merely because it cause health in an animal, but because it has a power to heal which is prior in nature to the health that is in the animal. So, although our knowledge of God's goodness stems from our knowledge of created goodness, his own goodness does not consist merely in causing goodness outside himself, but in possessing goodness essentially and in a more eminent way. For Thomas, then, both proportionality and attribution are two valid forms of analogy in language about God.


More interesting for us with regard to the subject of this paper is the use made of analogy by a Dominican of the next generation, the mystic and theologian Meister Eckhart (d.c. 1328). Deeply steeped in the Platonic tradition, Eckhart saw the mystical process basically as an emptying of the soul of everything so as to be filled with God. This meant above all an inner poverty entailing a surrender of all willing and knowing even of God himself. The mystical goal is union with God in a way that goes beyond human action and beyond God himself: beyond human action to the deeper level of the substance or ground of the soul, and beyond God, the creator, to "Gottheit" (Godhead or divinity), the one and simple undefinable and hidden being of God. Having reached union with the Godhead, a person then shares in the eternal "bullitio" or boiling life process which gives rise to the Trinity. He also shares in the "ebullitio" or overflow of God's life to creatures in the form of an active productive life. (16)

The metaphysical presupposition of Eckhart's thought is that God is not only his own being, but that being is God, pure and simple. Creatures have only a borrowed shadowy being which is not their own at all and has no more reality than an image in a mirror. The being of creatures is analogous to that of God, not by an analogy of proportionality which allows a limited reality to created being, but by an analogy of attribution, whereby the only real being is God's being, and all other being, in logical consistency, is only non-being. In the words another Dominican mystic, St. Catherine of Siena (d. 1380), claimed to hear from God: "I am he who is you are she who is not". (17) The same idea comes up in St. John of the Cross, who stressed that to have all (God) one must have nothing. (18)

It is understandable that mystics should think of God in terms of analogy of attribution. Yet if we exclude totally the analogy of proportionality we must logically say that creatures do not exist at all and are only illusions. A step short of this ultimate conclusion is to deny, with Democritus, the formal identity and cohesion of any natural unit and reduce it to a cluster of atoms moving, according to the idea of Anaxagoras, under the direction of the eternal Nous, which we can take as the Mind of God. Here we have pure and simple occasionalism. Creatures have no power in themselves to act, not even a God-given power, but are only the occasions of God's direct action.

The logic of the shahda

The philosophical background of Islamic thought

The intent of the shahda is to affirm the uniqueness of God and deny any shirk, that is, any association, partnership or competition with the sovereignty of God on the part of his creatures.

How the shahda is understood or interpreted depends on certain presuppositions either consciously adopted by an individual or inherited as part of a community tradition. Islamic thought in its formative period was influenced by at least three currents of tradition. The first is pre-Islamic Arabian thought. This was heavily occasionalist and fatalistic, as may have been conditioned by unpredictable rains and consequently unpredictable food supply, and would account for the same trend in the Qur'n, although modified by emphasis on the free choice of both God and man in influencing events. (19)

The second influence on Islamic thinking was Jewish or rabbinical thought. The very term for analogy in Islamic jurisprudence, qiys, comes from rabbinical science, together with its meaning as "a conclusion based on the occurrence of an essential common feature in the original and the parallel case". (20)

The third influence on Islamic thought is Greek philosophy, particularly Platonism. Platonism had developed in different directions which found expression in different segments of the Muslim community. The Philosophers, with some Aristotelian influence, viewed the world as fully real and endowed with natural power operating according to fixed laws. Most theologians, including the Mutazilites, saw the whole concept of natural power or natural law as derogating from God's absolute power. They therefore stressed Plato's emphasis on an ideal world, and adopted the Democritan and Epicurean view of the world as a cluster of atoms drifting aimlessly except, the theologians added, according as God freely directed them. In between these two views we have the views of certain compromising Mutazilites. Muammar, in holding that the world was created by God and then operates independently of his knowledge or will, was in practical agreement with the Philosophers, but an-Nazzm said that the world of nature operates under God's constant supervision. (21)

Asharite theology has dominated Sunnism and represented the mainstream of Islamic thinking for many centuries. Let us see how Asharite theology has developed an occasionalist interpretation of the shahda, while noting where the Philosophers and Mutazilites have diverged.

No power in creatures

As a variation of the shahda, any of God's attributes or names may be substituted for ilha, for example, "No one is powerful (qdir) but God" "No one is seeing (basr) but God". (22) Asharite theology has used such statements as these to support its cardinal teaching that there is no power in nature at all, or to be exact, nature as an active principle of operation does not exist. Only God acts directly in every instance on the occasion of the conjunction of what appear to be a cause and an effect. This is viewing the relationship between God and creatures exclusively through the analogy of attribution to the exclusion of analogy of proportionality. Let us hear the words of Muammad as-Sans in his al-Aqda al-wust: (23)

For the same reason, you become aware of the impossibility of anything in the world producing any effect whatsoever, because that entails the removal of that effect from the power and will of our majestic and mighty Protector, and this necessitates the overcoming of something from eternity by something which came into being, which is impossible. Therefore a created power has no effect on motion or rest, obedience or disobedience, or on any effect universally, neither directly nor through induction. (n. 35)

For that matter, food has no effect on satiety, nor water on moistening the land, growing plants, or on cleaning, nor fire on burning, heating or cooking food, nor clothing or shelter on covering or repelling heat and cold, nor trees on shading, nor the sun and the rest of the heavenly bodies on illumination, nor a knife on cutting, nor cold water on diminishing the intensity of heat of other water, as neither has the latter in diminishing the intensity of cold in the former. Conclude by analogy from these examples that whenever God acts in his ordinary way he makes something exist on the occasion of another. but know that it is from God from the start, without the other accompanying things having any intermediacy or effect on it, neither by their nature, nor by a power or peculiarity placed in it by God, as many ignorant people think. More than one sound imm has recalled that there is agreement that whoever holds that those things produce an effect by their nature is an unbeliever. (n. 39)

The total lack of power in creatures applies also to human choice. The same as-Sans maintains that man has a "power" to choose, but this power has no effect on his act whatsoever. It merely gives him a feeling of ease and freedom, whereas in reality he is forced (n. 37). God rewards obedience and punishes disobedience by his own free decision, not because of any obligation of justice (n. 38). As-Sans's position is in line with Asharite theological tradition, even though Qur'nic texts can be cited in favour of both human freedom and divine determination. (24)

The popular expression of this teaching is the doctrine of qadar, or determination, which has its roots in pre-Islamic Arabian thought. Qadar applied first of all to the term of one's life span (ajal) and one's livelihood (rizq), but also to human choice, which Asharite thought, in spite of the subterfuge of kasb, places firmly under the absolute determination of God. (25)

The Mutazilites were uniformly opposed to determinism, but not for the same reasons. For the majority it was simply a question of defending God's justice, since it would not be right for him to reward or punish someone who was not free and responsible for his actions. Only for such as Muammar and an-Nazzm was it a question of consistency with the existence of secondary causes. While Asharites rejected nature and secondary causality because it seemed to subtract from God's omnipotence, the Mutazilites were not concerned with this consequence, provided God's justice and goodness were maintained.

No philosophical ethics

The next step in the logical process is to deny the validity of any philosophical ethics. If the natural world has no power or predictable behaviour of its own, we cannot look to the nature of man and say that anything is good or bad for him, because that all depends on the free decision of God. God's free decisions, revealed in the Qur'n and Hadth, are known as Shara. Let us again listen to as-Sans:

It is impossible for the Most High to determine an act as obligatory or forbidden.. for the sake of any objective, since all acts are equal in that they are his creation and production. Therefore the specification of certain acts as obligatory and others as forbidden or with any other determination takes place by his pure choice, which has no cause. Intelligibility has no place at all in it rather it can be known only by revealed-law shara. (n. 19)

In other words, God does not command or forbid something because it is good or evil, but it is good or evil because he commands or forbids it.

In contrast to this Asharite position is the minority view of the Philosophers and Mutazilites that goodness or evil are innate in things themselves, and this is why they are commanded or forbidden. Moreover, this goodness or evil can be known even without the Shara. (26)

No divine charism in man

The use of analogy of attribution to the exclusion of that of proportionality also means that men do not have any share in God's life or attributes. In Islam there is none of the Christian "new life", "regeneration", or "sanctifying grace". There is only fitra, the natural man as God created him, distinguished only by piety (taqwa) or adherence by faith to the covenant (mthq) with Adam and his descendants. (27) Thus the basic difference among men is between believers and non-believers all believers are fundamentally equal, although they may have differing amounts of good works to their credit.

The same equality applies to rulers and the ruled. No one has a divine right to rule (except that the Shites believe that Al and the imms designated to succeed him do), but everyone has the right and duty to "command the good and forbid the evil". (28) Even Muslims who are guilty of misbehaviour are obliged to correct the misbehaviour of others, since the obligation to avoid evil and the obligation to forbid it are distinct, and someone who omits one obligation is not excused from fulfilling the other. (29) An imm and law enforcement agents are necessary and deserve obedience, according to Qur'n 4:59: "Obey God obey the Messenger and those who have authority among you". But these functionaries, who fulfil a communitarian obligation (fard al-kifya), do not take over completely from other Muslims the obligation of commanding the good and forbidding the evil. Since all are subject to the Shara, any time an official is remiss in enforcing it, any Muslim has the duty, according to his ability, to correct the official or, if the case is serious, to overthrow him.

The logic of the shahda, following an exclusive use of the analogy of attribution, also demands that prophets have no prerogative elevating them above the rest of men. In Asharite theology the gift of prophesy is not a permanent gift at the disposal of the prophet, but God only acts through him when he wants to reveal something. This is strict Sunnism, but no, of course, the belief of popular Islam. One need only to look at the mawlid literature to see how Muammad is made the Alpha of God's creation, the light which came into being before anything else was created, and the Omega whose intercession on the last day will usher the elect into Paradise.

A saint (wal) likewise has no divine gift distinguishing him from other men. He is only purified from selfish accretions to his created innocence (fitra) so that he can be "brought near" to God. (30) There is no question of "union with God" or of God "dwelling" within him, in spite of the tendency of Sfs to affirm this.

The Islamic view of Scriptural inspiration also follows from the view that man can have no divine charism. In a broad sense of causality, a Muslim might conclude that God writes all books, but in the special sense of communicating his divine word it is greater insistence that man cannot cooperate. For Muammad to be the author of the Qur'n in any slightest sense would mean that the Qur'n is that much less inspires. Cooperation is understood as dividing the causality on a percentage basis. This kind of Scriptural co-authorship, whatever the percentage is allocated to God and man, is abhorrent to both Christian and Muslim thought. The idea of subordinate causality, whereby God is the primary cause of the total effect, and man is a secondary cause of the total effect, has never been considered by Asharite or Mutazilite theologians. Muslims therefore have difficulty accepting the Christian idea that God is 100 author of the inspired text and man, on another level, is also 100 author.

Contrasting with the previous positions is the Platonic view of the Philosophers that men and angels are stratified in different ranks according to the differing excellence of their nature. Prophets, for them, are simply men whose superior intelligence enables them to understand divine things.


The use of the analogy of attribution to the exclusion of that of proportionality explains how the major teachings of Asharite theology derive necessarily and coherently from the shahda. These include specifically Islamic principles of physics, anthropology, ethics and social organisation.

Are such positions necessary to Islam? Historical circumstances may have made this development in Islam inevitable, but a different direction is theoretically possible. The Mutazilite movement wished to recognize a God-given power for creatures to act, but this school failed to provide an adequate and consistent rationale for some of its otherwise reasonable positions. Medieval Mutazilism died out as a result of political intrigue, but its thinking has found modern expression in Muammad Abduh, (31)and is very popular in Muslim modernizing circles. For example, in the "Friday Worship" column in the Guardian (Lagos), 27 January 1984 Imam Shodeinde argues from Qur'nic texts supporting human responsibility to say that Islam condemns fatalism. He states that "any persuasion or belief which makes faith in certain dogmas to be the only passport of salvation is the religion most favourable to fatalism". Typically of such writers, beyond Qur'nic arguments, Shodeinde offers no explanation of the philosophical aspects of the question.

Certainly different tendencies of thought on this matter in Christianity have been tolerated in the balance of orthodoxy. The more one meditates on God and his perfection, the more one will think in terms of analogy of attribution and emphasise the contrast between God and creation. The more one looks at our immersion in the world about us the more one will think in terms of analogy of proportionality and stress the positive reality of the world.

The Muslim community likewise accommodates a balance of complementary viewpoints in practice and common outlook, but an updating on the level of philosophical theology (kalm) remains to be done.


1. This theory was broached in Phaedo, then developed in the Republic, Timaeus and other works.

2. On the different interpretations of Plato's theology see R. Arnou, "Platonisme des pères", Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, 12:2, 2258-2398, particularly 2264-6.

3. See Metaphysics, Book 7.

4. See Peri psyches, Book 7.

5. Physics, Book 8.

6. Metaphysics, Book 10.

7. Metaphysics, Book 5.

8. 1016b-1017a.

9. My own translation.

10. Summa theologiae, I, q. 22, a. 12.

11. In Metaphysicorum libros commentarium, liber 5, lectio 8. See also Quaestiones disputatae de veritate, q. 2, a. 3, ad quartum.

12. 1, art. 11.

13. 7, art. 7.

14. I, q. 13, a. 56.

15. I, ch. 34.

16. Cf. J.D. Caputo, "Fundamental themes in Meister Eckhart's mysticism", The Thomist, 42 (1978), pp. 179-225, Benedict M Ashley, "Three strands in the thought of Eckhart, the scholastic theologian", Ibid., pp. 226-239.

17. Cf. Raymond of Capua, The life of Catherine of Siena, tr. C. Kearns (Wilmington: Glazier, 1980), Part 1, ch. 10, nos. 92 ff.

18. See especially his Subida del monte Carmelo, I, 13.

19. Cf. W.M. Watt, The formative period of Islamic thought (Edinburgh, 1973), pp. 88 ff.

20. Cf. J. Schacht, The origins of Muhammad jurisprudence (Oxford, 1950), p. 99.

21. Cf. H.A. Wolfson, The philosophy of the Kalm (London, 1976), pp. 575-6. For more on Mutazilite ideas about causality see M. Fakhry, Islamic occasionalism (London, 1958), chapter 1.

22. See M. as-Sans, Al-Aqda as-sughr (Cairo, 1939), and al-Ghazl, al-Maqsad al-asn f sharh asm' Allh al-husn (Cairo: Gindi, 1968), p. 47.

23. The following citations are from my Muslim theology as presented by M. b. Ysuf as-Sans, especially in his al-Aqda al-wust, Ph.D. thesis, University of Edinburgh, 1970.

24. Cf. J. Jomier, "La tout-puissance de Dieu et les créatures dans le Coran", Mélanges de l'Institut Dominicain d'Etudes Orientales, 16 (1983), pp. 31-55.

25. Cf. W.M. Watt, loc. cit.

26. Cf. M. Valiuddin, "Mutazilism", ch. 10 in M. Sharif, A history of Muslim philosophy (Wiesbaden, 1963), vol. 1, p. 201.

27. Cf. Qur'n 20:115 7:172 etc.

28. Qur'n 3:104 etc.

29. Cf. M. as-Sans, Sharh al-Aqda al-wust, f. 82b.

30. Cf. Qur'n 56:11 etc.

31. Cf. J. Jomier, Le commentaire coranique du Manr (Paris, 1954), chapters 3 4.