March 17, 2015 · updated February 15, 2022

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In the religion of Islam, belief in Allah is the single most important tenet. The Muslim name for God is "Allah," which is simply Arabic for "the (al) God (Ilah)." Muslims believe that Muhammad was Allah's chief servant and messenger.

Muslims believe that Allah is the all-powerful Creator of a perfect, ordered universe. He is transcendent and not a part of his creation, and is most often referred to in terms and with names that emphasize his majesty and superiority. Among the 99 Beautiful Names of God (Asma al-Husna) in the Quran are: the Creator, the Fashioner, the Life-Giver, the Provider, the Opener, the Bestower, the Prevailer, the Reckoner, and the Recorder.

Although the God of Islam has revealed his will through the prophets, his actual nature remains ultimately unknowable. According to one Islamic scholar, Allah's will "is all we have, and we have it in perfection in the Quran. But Islam does not equate the Quran with the nature or essence of God. It is the Word of God, the Commandment of God, the Will of God. But God does not reveal Himself to anyone." {2} In the words of another writer, "only adjectival descriptions are attributed to the divine being, and these merely as they bear on the revelation of God's will for man. The rest remains mysterious." {3}

What is knowable about Allah?

Despite Allah's transcendence and ultimate unknowability, however, the Quran does not teach that Allah does not know people, nor that he remains aloof in some distant heaven. Quite the contrary: He is present everywhere {4} and "as close to a man as the vein in his neck." {5}

The one thing that is made abundantly clear, however, is that Allah is One. He is unique and indivisible. The Quran repeatedly emphasizes strict monotheism, explicitly rejecting both polytheism and the Christian concept of the Trinity. {6}

Characteristics of Allah

Along with Judaism and Christianity, Islam belongs to the religious category of "ethical monotheism." Allah is a God of justice, who expects righteous behavior and submission to the divine will (the word Islam means "submission," and a Muslim is literally "one who submits") and punishes unrighteousness.

"If ye love Allah, follow me; Allah will love and forgive you your sins." (Qur'an 3:31) "Allah loves not transgressors" (2:190) "He loves not creatures ungrateful or wicked" (2:276) "Allah loves not those who do wrong" (3:57, 140) "Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious" (4:36). Yet divine mercy is not absent from the Qur'an. It teaches that God will respond to anyone who cries out to him in distress and that he mercifully provides guidance to humanity so they can follow "the straight path." {7} The primary way God has done this is through his prophets or messengers, the last and most important of which is the Prophet Muhammad.

In the article on Islam for the Encyclopædia Britannica, Fazlur Rahman notes how the Muslim concept of God relates to the religious context in which the faith arose:

This picture of God-wherein the attributes of power, justice, and mercy interpenetrate-is related to the Judeo-Christian tradition, whence it is derived with certain modifications, and also to the concepts of pagan Arabia, to which it provided an effective answer. The pagan Arabs believed in a blind and inexorable fate over which man had no control. For this powerful but insensible fate the Qur'an substituted a powerful but provident and merciful God. {8} Finally, to conclude with a description of the God of Islam in the words of Muslims themselves, this is an excerpt from the same text on God found on several Islamic websites:

Allah is the proper name applied to the true God Who exists necessarily by Himself comprising all the excellent Divine names and attributes of perfection. Allah is One and Unique. He has no son, partner, or equal. He is the sole Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Every creature bears witness to His Oneness, Divinity, and Ruboobiyyah, and to the uniqueness of His attributes and names. His essence does not resemble any other essences. He does not exist in anything, nor does anything exist in Him. There is none like unto Him. He is the One, the Sole, the Indivisible. He is the Rubb who accomplishes all affairs, Allah is the Omnipotent and the Omniscient. His knowledge comprehends in perfect manner all things, hidden or manifest. He is greater than can be encompassed by the knowledge of His creatures. He knows everything, and He is aware of all that take place in the earth or in the heavens. Allah, the Supreme, is the Rubb of everything and has a free hand in the disposal of all affairs. Allah-exalted be He is the One Who manages the things that take place. No affair occurs in the visible or the invisible world without His determination, His decree, His will and His decision, so that what He wills takes place, and what He does not will does not take place. No one who can ever resist His command or change His decision. He is the Merciful One, and His mercy encompasses everything. He is far removed from injustice and tyranny. He is wise in all His actions, just in all His decrees. His justice ensures order in the universe, in which nothing is out of order. There is no one to share His dominion, nor does He take an aide or supporter from His creatures. He is the Rubb of the worlds. He is nearer to man than man's own jugular vein. Whenever a believer is in need or distress calls on Him, He responds. He is above the Seven Heavens, mounting His throne in the manner that suits His grandeur and majesty. Allah has revealed His final Scripture, the Qur'an, to the last of His Messengers, Muhammad, peace be upon him, who was responsible for conveying the Message of Islam to mankind. He is the Exalted Allah. Glory is due to Him. He is far removed from every imperfection. {9} References

    - Qur'an 2:255 - al-Faruqi, Christian Mission and Islamic Da`wah: Proceedings of the Chambèsy Dialogue Consultation (Leicester: The Islamic Foundation, 1982), 47-48. - Shabbir Akhtar, A Faith For All Seasons (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee Publisher, 1990), 180. - "To Allah belong the east and the West: Whithersoever ye turn, there is the presence of Allah. For Allah is all-Pervading, all-Knowing." (Qur'an 2:115) - "It was We Who created man, and We know what dark suggestions his soul makes to him: for We are nearer to him than his jugular vein. (Qur'an 50:16. See also 2:186; 34:50; 56:85; 57:4.) - "Believe in God and the Apostles and say not 'Three.'" (Qur'an 4:169) - Qur'an 27:62. - In "Islam." Encyclopædia Britannica (Encyclopædia Britannica Premium Service, 2004). - and