Linguistically, the word Tawheed توحيد, in Arabic, means unification (to make something one). Islamically, it is in reference to Allaah being singled out alone, in all that is particular to Him. The opposite of Tawheed is ‘Shirk’ which is to associate partners with Allaah by giving (or attributing) that which is exclusively His to others. It comes from the Arabic verb (wahhada) وحد which itself means to unite, unify or consolidate.
However, when the term Tawheed is used in reference to Allaah (Tawheedullaah), it means the realising and maintaining of Allaah’s unity in all of man’s actions which directly or indirectly relate to Him. It is the belief that Allaah is One, without partner in His dominion and His actions (Ruboobeeyah), One without similitude in His essence and attributes (Asmaa wa Sifaat), and One without rival in His divinity and in worship (Uloohiyyah/‘Ebaadah). These three aspects form the basis for the categories into which the science of Tawheed has been traditionally divided. The three overlap and are inseparable to such a degree that whoever omits any one aspect has failed to complete the requirements of Tawheed. The omission of any of the above mentioned aspects of Tawheed is referred to as ‘Shirk’ (lit. sharing); the association of partners with Allaah, which, in Islamic terms, is in fact idolatry.
Traditionally, Tawheed has been divided into three categories which help us to understand why Allaah alone deserves to be singled out for worship. The division of Tawheed into these three categories is something which was not done by Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) or any of his Companions (Sahaabah RadiyAllaahu ‘anhum) So, is this Bid’ah (something new that has been introduced into the religion)? The answer to this is no, because we find that the basis of these three categories are to be found in the verses of the Qur-aan, Hadeeth [authenticated Prophetic reports] of the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) and the statements of his Companions.
The Unity of Allaah’s Lordship (Tawheed Ar-Ruboobiyyah)
This first category of Tawheed is known as Tawheed Ar-Ruboobiyyah or the Unity of Allaah’s Lordship. Through this we understand that it is Allaah Who Alone created the universe, which is why one of His divine names is Al-Khaaliq (the Creator). Through this we know that it is Allaah Alone Who controls the universe and allows things to happen. This is why Allaah refers to Himself in the Qur-aan as Al-Maalik (The Sovereign). Hence, when something happens, it only happens with the permission of Allaah, as stated in the Qur-aanic verse (which means): “And no calamity strikes except with the permission of Allaah”. [Qur-aan 64:11]
This category is based on the concept that Allaah alone caused all things to exist when there was nothing; He sustains and maintains creation without any need from it or for it and He is the sole Lord of the universe and its inhabitants without any real challenge to His sovereignty. In Arabic the word used to describe this creator-sustainer quality is Ruboobeeyah which is derived from the root ‘Rabb’ (Lord). According to this category, since God is the only real power in existence, it is He who gave all things the power to move and to change. Nothing happens in creation except what He allows to happen. In recognition of this reality, Prophet Muhammad (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) used to often repeat the exclamatory phrase “La hawla wa laa quwwata illaa billaah” (There is no movement nor power except by Allaah’s will).
The Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) further elaborated on this concept of Allaah’s control over the universe by saying: “Be aware that if the whole of mankind gathered together in order to do something to help you they would only be able to do something for you which Allaah had already written for you. Likewise, if the whole of mankind gathered together to harm you, they would only be able to do something to harm you which Allaah had already written to happen to you”. [At-Tirmidhi]
Thus, what man conceives as good fortune and misfortune are merely events predestined by Allaah as part of the tests of this life. The incidents follow patterns set only by Allaah. “Perhaps you may dislike something which is really good for you or like something bad for you, but Allaah knows (what is best for you), and you do not.” [Surah al-Baqarah/2, v:216]
The Unity of Allaah’s names and Attributes ( Tawheed Al-Asmaa’ Was-Siffaat)
Allaah Says in the Qur-aan: “Allaah — there is no deity except Him. To Him belong the best names.” [Surah Tawhaa/20, v:8] This category of Tawheed helps us to understand Who our Creator is through His Names and Attributes. Through His Names and Attributes we know that Allaah is far beyond our imagination and bears no resemblance to human beings. In fact, it is this principle which makes Islam unique from all the other religions on the face of this earth. Allaah says in the Qur-aan: “There is nothing like unto Him and He is the Hearing, the Seeing.” [Surah ash-Shuraa/42, v:11]
For the unity of Allaah’s names and attributes to be maintained in the first aspect, Allaah must be referred to according to how He and His Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) have described Him without explaining away His names and attributes by giving them meanings other than their obvious meanings. The similarity between God’s attributes and those of mankind is only in name and not in degree. When attributes are used in reference to God, they are to be taken in the absolute sense, free from human deficiencies.
It is man who tires after heavy work and needs sleep to recuperate. In contrast Allaah says explicitly in the Qur-aan, “No tiredness overcomes Him nor sleep…” (Surah al-Baqarah/2, v:255). Elsewhere in the Bible and Torah, God is portrayed as repenting for His bad thoughts in the same way that humans do when they realize their errors. [Exodus 32:14] (Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version).
Similarly the claim that God is a spirit or has a spirit completely ruins this area of Tawheed. Allaah does not refer to Himself as a spirit anywhere in the Qur-aan nor does His Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘Alayhi wa Sallam) express anything of that nature in Hadeeth. In fact, Allaah refers to the spirit as part of His creation. Allaah clearly states that in the following verse: “They ask you (Muhammad) about the spirit. Tell (them) that the spirit (exists) by my Lord’s command” (Surah al-Israa/17, v:85).
The key principle is “There is nothing like Him and He is hearer and seer of all.” [Surah Ash-Shuraa/42, v:11]
The attributes of hearing and seeing are among human attributes, but when they are attributed to The Divine Being they are without comparison in their perfection.
The Unity of Allaah’s Worship (Tawheed Al-‘Ebaadah)
This part of Tawheed is known as Tawheed Al-‘Uboudiyyah, or the Unity of Allaah’s worship. It is this aspect of Tawheed which is the most important. It is through this that we learn how to worship our Creator alone. Allaah is not the kind of god who does not respond or hear your calls. He is not the kind of god who needs some sort of middleman to take our prayers up to Him. Rather, Allaah says in the Qur-aan: “And your Lord says, Call upon Me; I will respond to you.” [Surah al-Ghafir/40, v:60]
In spite of the wide implications of the first two categories of Tawheed, firm belief in them alone is not sufficient to fulfill the Islamic requirements of Tawheed. Tawheed ar-Ruboobeeyah and Tawheed al-Asmaa was-Sifaat must be accompanied by their complement, Tawheed al-‘Ebaadah, in order for Tawheed to be considered complete according to Islaam.
An example is how the Catholic faith holds that the belief that celibate priests are purer than normal people. This allows for them to then hear the confessions of people’s sins and subsequently grant them forgiveness. It is this kind of behaviour which takes a person away from the worship of Allaah to the worship of man, because with Allah, there is no need for an intermediary. It is between you and your Maker.
Tafseer Ibn Jareer at-Tabaree states clearly that the Kuffaar of Makkah (pagans) knew of Allaah’s sovereignty, dominion and power. In fact, they used to faithfully devote various types of worship to Him like Hajj, charity, animal sacrifices, vows and even prayers in times of dire necessity and calamity. They even used to claim that they were following the religion of Prophet Abraham. Because of that claim, Allaah revealed the verse: “Abraham was not a Jew nor was he a Christian, but (he) was one who believed and upheld the Oneness of God and not among those who joined partners with God.” [Surah Aal-‘Imraan/3, v:67]
Allaah emphasized the importance of directing worship to Him alone by pointing out that this was the main purpose of man’s creation and the essence of the message brought by all the prophets. Allaah says:
“I did not create the Jinn and Mankind except for My worship.” [Al Surah adh-Dhaariyaat/51, v:56] and
“Verily, We have sent to every nation a messenger (saying), ‘Worship Allaah and avoid false gods’”. [Surah an-Nahl/16, v:36] Understanding the purpose of creation in a complete sense is beyond man’s innate abilities. Man is a finite created being and can not reasonably hope to fully comprehend the actions of the infinite Creator. Hence, God made it a part of man’s nature to worship Him, and He sent prophets and books of divine revelation to clarify the aspect of the purpose of creation which was within man’s mental ability to grasp. That purpose is, as was previously mentioned: the worship of God (‘Ebaadah) and the main message of the prophets was to worship God alone, Tawheed al-‘Ebaadah.
Worship is for Allaah alone, as stated in the opening chapter of the Qur-aan, Surah al-Faatihah. How many Muslims are there today who call upon others besides Allaah? We find that in some countries, there are millions of Muslims who go to the graves of ‘saints’ and ask them for children, wealth, fame and more sadly, forgiveness. What makes this more ironic is the fact that many of these Muslims pray five times a day, and in every Rak’ah (unit) of their prayer they say the following to their Creator: “It is You we worship and You we ask for help.” [Surah al-Faatihah/1, v:4]
Learning about the Tawheed of Allaah is the most important thing for the whole of humanity. For if we learn how to trust and worship our Creator with sincerity, then -and only then- will we escape from the slavery and captivity of this life. It is by worshipping Allaah alone does a man achieve true peace and success in this life and the next.
Sources mainly from “The Fundamentals of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism)” By Bilal Philips