I heard a remarkable qari recite Surah Ikhlas, the 112th chapter of the Quran, last night. His recitation was simply beautiful. As I listened to him, I reflected on the surah and I feel I saw meanings in it that I did not notice before.
Translators often render “surah” as chapter though another possible interpretation is “a group of signs.” Surah Ikhlas, one of the “Qul” surahs, is quite short at only 4 ayahs (verses or signs). It looks more like a haiku than like a chapter of a book. But Allah is something of a literary renegade. He tosses aside conventions as He pleases. If He wants to call 4 verses a chapter, who is going to stop Him?
The following is the eloquent Abdullah Yusuf Ali’s (https://asad123.wordpress.com/wp-admin/post.php?post=96&action=edit) translation of the surah.
“Say: He is Allah, the One and Only;
Allah, the Eternal, Absolute;
He begetteth not, nor is He begotten;
And there is none like unto Him.”
The surah begins with the imperative “say” because it is the duty of Muslims to proclaim this message to the world. Then Allah states that He is Allah. He is Al-Ilah, not just a god, but The God. And He is the One. There is just one adjective here, “ahad,” but Ali renders it as “one and only” to convey exclusivity.
Think about “The One” in English. If you asked an adult woman if she is looking for “The One,” she might think you are talking about a future spouse. It’s as if she believes that once she finds her perfect husband, all of her problems will be solved. It’s the happily-ever-after paradigm.
But to Muslims, “The One,” is Allah. Allah is the One who has the capacity to solve all our problems, heal all our diseases, and make all our dreams come true.
Also, Allah is the only Being in His category. Every creature belongs to a species. But Allah is not a creature, so He has no species. An inanimate object like a robot may be unique, but with the right instructions and materials, someone can make a duplicate. Yet no one can duplicate Allah.
Allah is “The Eternal, Absolute.” Again Ali takes a single Arabic adjective, “samad,” and translates it as two English adjectives. One of the mysteries of Islamic faith is that Allah exists outside of time. He can see past, present, and future with no limit. He is completely, absolutely timeless. He is free from imperfection. Neither the naivete of youth nor the deterioration of age affect Him.
Ali uses the Biblical verb “beget” in the next verse. Begetting means having a child. Allah does not have children nor is He the child of anyone else. This creates an important distinction between Islam and other religions. Both Judaism and Christianity call people “children of God.” While people do not take this literally, they still look to God as a kind of spiritual father. Islam rejects this idea. Islam calls believers, “servants of God.” Allah loves mankind, in fact He loves them more than a parent can. But He is not a father, mother, son, or daughter.
Finally, “there is none comparable to Him.” It’s interesting how one of the greatest compliments one can give another person is, “There’s no one like him.” When we see someone achieve something of great magnitude, we think they are unique. Da Vinci was an artist like no other. Ibn Sina was a physician like no other. Muhammad Ali was an athlete like no other. Yet it does not take much effort to think of others who are quite similar to these three. Michelangelo was like Da Vinci. George Foreman was like Ali. Ar-Razi was like Ibn Sina. There were other artists, other physicians, and other boxers. And more will come in the future that could be like their predecessor. But who is like Allah? There has never been another God and there will never be another God.
Allah is The One God, Eternal. He is neither a child nor a parent. And there is no one like Him.