By Dr. Eren Tatari
In a sense, “There is no deity but God, Muhammad is His servant and messenger” is the motto of Islam. Its literal meaning, that there are not two Gods but just The One, is straightforward. Yet this phrase carries many layers of meaning that we need to contemplate upon in order to decipher and implement it as the guiding principle of our life. Unless we are ready to renew our self, we will continue reconfirming our prejudices and dogmas. Islam came to destroy all idols and the wrong ways of the ancestors (such as our parents or pop culture). Thus, we have to be ready to deconstruct our pre-learned dogmas and wrong perceptions in order to construct the Qur’anic paradigm. The following Qur’anic verses offer essential insights to understand the meaning of the affirmation of the oneness of God:
“To God belongs the East and the West (and therefore, the whole earth: wherever you are, you can turn to Him in the Prayer). Then, whatever direction you turn, there is the “Face” of God. God is All-Embracing (with His Mercy), All-Knowing” (Qur’an, 2:115).
Acknowledging that the existence of everything depends on God’s existence is comforting for our hearts. If there was no God, there would have been no existence. We cannot explain the existence of anything if we do not base its existence on God. Do we feel this when we say “there is no deity but God”? The verse claims that “…whatever direction you turn, there is the Face of God…” (Qur’an, 2:115). Is this really so? We turn one way and see our friend; we turn the other way and see the fruit trees in the garden. Where is God? Moreover, we claim to be believers, but then say “this is my watch; the weather is horrible today; this is what I think.” Where is God in any of this?
“God does not disdain to strike any parable – (that of) something like a gnat or something greater or lower than that. Those who have already believed know that it is the truth from their Lord. As to those whose unbelief has long been established in their hearts, they say, “What does God mean by such a parable?” Thereby He leads many astray, and thereby He guides many. He thereby leads none astray save the transgressors” (Qur’an, 2:26).
This means that even the simplest thing is a parable pointing to its Creator. Whoever creates the world, He creates it to manifest His Creatorship. Creation, in its entirety, is a sign pointing to the Creator. So not just the fly but everything we encounter is a parable pointing to its Creator. By reflecting on the creation of things, we can begin to understand the transcendental world. This is confirming the claim“…whatever direction you turn, there is the Face of God…” (Qur’an, 2:115). In a sense, we are living in a parable and we are a parable. Yet in this verse, God tells us that the deniers ridicule the parable of a fly not comprehending its significance as a parable referring to and representing the truth. He teaches us that this is the deniers’ attitude.
The verse “…Thereby He leads many astray, and thereby He guides many…” (Qur’an, 2:26) does not mean that God leads people astray by creating a (seemingly ugly) bat or guides by creating a beautiful peacock. We go astray by our misinterpretation of creation of a bat or a peacock and do not see them as demonstrating the Attributes of their Creator. Only according to our choices (partial-freewill) does God lead us astray or guide us. In other words, He creates the results of our choices. For God also says in the Qur’an: “We have only sent you (O Muhammad) but as an unequalled mercy for all the worlds” (Qur’an, 21:107). He lovingly and constantly guides us through the Scriptures and the Prophets, but we sometimes choose to go astray.
“Muhammad is His servant and His messenger” may also be understood as he was appointed to teach how true the first phrase is: “There is no deity but God.” Only through the light brought by the prophets, can human beings encounter the mercy and the wisdom prevalent in every creature. Every creation, from inanimate things to social events, is a means for those who reflect on it to realize that its Creator is manifesting His Attributes of Perfection (Asma al-Husna). For those who do not heed the prophets, the entire creation is a mass of meaningless matter that happen to exist without any reason. Yet when we look at the creation through the light of the Divine Scriptures, we see how this wrong perception deprives us of compassion.
 Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age (Tughra Publications, December 2012). She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.