The first article of faith extends beyond our personal relationship with God. Its social implication is that we must welcome not only our fellow Muslims, but also all humans, and all beings for that matter. This is a direct consequence of analysing God’s oneness.
A major academic contribution of Mohammad Ali Shomali is his theory of social wilāyah. Through a series of articles and lectures he clarifies that wilāyah (authority, guardianship, friendship) is not limited to one’s relationship with God, nor to one’s relationship with His prophets and saints, but also includes one’s relationship with one’s fellow believers. Being devoted to a leader entails a fairly high level of devotion to their followers. (1)
A similar analysis can be applied to the foremost principle of Islam: tawḥīd (oneness, unity). As we shall see, tawḥīd is not restricted to believing in God’s unity or worshipping Him alone, but it has direct implications in our social interactions.
As limited beings, we cannot comprehend God as He is, for He is not confined by any boundaries. This makes the ‘definition of God’ an oxymoron. Nevertheless, it is meaningless to make any statement about a subject without a clear definition of that subject. And God is not an exception. Even though we cannot know God as He is, we can make some progress, and we can make statements about Him inasmuch as our progress. We have an understanding of existence and existential perfections – such as life, knowledge, power, will, generosity and compassion – as we find limited reflections of them in ourselves and the other beings. We also have an understanding of limit and being limited. Hence, we can imagine a reality that has existence and all existential perfections without any limitation. That would be the reality of existence, the absolute, the infinite.
Such boundless existence entails absolute unity, meaning that He is the only being. For if there were any being that is other, separate and distinct from Him, then It would not be boundless in its existence. This proves the ‘personal unity’ of God, meaning that there is no person of existence but Him. And if God is the only reality in existence, it follows that all other things – including the ‘I’ – are not separate beings.
‘So what is the sky, and the earth that’s so wide? / And men and animals, and all in the midst?’ Whatever they are, if He is a Being, / It’s wrong to say that they too subsist.
Saʿdī, Būstān, bāb 3.
This comes close to the Buddhist principle of emptiness, which explains that there is no substance or essence for things. All things are in a constant state of flux. The reality of being is eternal and immutable, but its manifestations are all impermanent.
This does not mean to deny the existence of ourselves and other things altogether. It means to clarify that there is only one existence in reality, and that all realms and beings are in fact manifestations, expressions, and extensions of that one reality. They exist not by themselves and with their own existence, but they are only a reflection of the absolute. The reflection is a limited and empty bubble, but it is supported and maintained by the infinite ocean.
From Oneness to Multiplicity
This realisation is the provenance of social tawḥīd. If nothing is separate from Him; if all things are sustained by Him; if any life that we see is an extension and reflection of God’s life; then it follows that the entire universe is sacred, for the divine permeates all things: To Allah belong the east and the west: so whichever way you turn, there is the face of Allah! Allah is indeed all-embracing, all-knowing (2:115).
Look at all the roses, filling this farm; / See the face of the Friend in the water of the pool; See Her eyes so drunk and filled with a charm; / Look at Her lips, which are red like a jewel.
Rūmī, Dīvān-i Kabīr, ghazal 2428
In a sacred narration, God says to Prophet Jesus: ‘If one slaps you on the right cheek, turn over the left one as well. Seek proximity to Me through love with all your might. And turn away from the fools.’ (2) In another narration he says, ‘O Jesus! Keep up My remembrance with your tongue, and let My love be in your heart.’ (3) The question to reflect on here is: What is meant by love in these narrations? What does it mean to love God? We should answer this question while keeping in mind that God is the reality of existence, the absolute, the infinite; that anyone or anything that we encounter is not separated from God; and that all things are reflections of the divine light in myriad mirrors. It thus follows that one cannot love God without loving everyone and everything in the world, because that would entail a separation between them.
I’m lively in the world, for its life is from Him; / I love the whole world, for the whole world is from Him. Sorrow and joy do not differ to a mystic; / Let’s have a toast to Him, for we’re toast from Him.
Saʿdī, Mawāʿiẓ, ghazal 10.
Similarly, humility before God means being humble with respect to the infinitude of the colourless reality, which is inseparable from its colourful manifestations. Social tawḥīd stipulates that as long as we are not in peace with the entire universe; as long as we hold any grudge against anyone; as long as we reject any mode of being or any expression of existence; then we are not fully living up to the oneness of God with its implications.
You shall see the rose hidden in the thorn; / Otherwise, everyone can see it outside. You shall see the farm hidden in the corn; / That shows that you are one of those inside.
Rūmī, Dīvān-i Kabīr, ghazal 326.
- Shomali, ‘A Probe into Wilayah and its Social Dimensions’, Message of Thaqalayn, 10:3.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 8:138. Ibn Shuʿbah al-Ḥarrānī, Tuḥaf al-Uqūl, p. 499.
- Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, 8:132. Ibn Shuʿbah al-Ḥarrānī, Tuḥaf al-Uqūl, p. 497.