by Syed Abul Ala Maududi
The root of this word consists of the three (Arabic) letters, alif, lam,
and ha and the connotations of various derivations, as one
finds in lexicons are as follows:
Became confused or perplexed.
Achieved peace and mental calm by seeking refuge with someone or
establishing relations with him.
Became frightened of some impending mishap or disaster, and someone
gave him the necessary shelter.
Turned to another eagerly, due to the intensity of his feelings for
The lost offspring of the she-camel rushed to snuggle up to its
mother on finding it. Became hidden, or concealed. Also, got elevated.
Adored, offered worship to.
If we reflect upon these original meanings, we can gain the necessary
idea of how the verb came to mean the act of worship and the noun to
denote the object of worship. There are four considerations to bear in
mind in this connection :
1. Foremost among the factors which engender a sentiment of some
degree of adoration for some one is a person's own state of being in
distress or need. He cannot even conceive of worshiping someone unless
he has reason to believe that someone to be in a position to remove his
distress, to fulfill his needs, to give him shelter and protect him in
time of danger, and soothe his troubled heart.
2. It goes without saying that the above belief is accompanied by a
belief also in the superiority of the other in status, power, and
3. It is also a matter of fact that where any of the needs of a human
being are met under the ordinary process of give and take, which takes
place perceptibly before one's own eyes, it leads to no sense of
reverence, much less of adoration, for the other. For example, if I
should be in need of money and, having applied for, and been given a
job, am paid for it, since the whole transaction would take place within
the full ken of my senses, and I would be fully aware of the
circumstances or the reason for giving me the money, I would experience
not the slightest desire to offer my employer any adoration. That
sentiment arises only when there is some element of mystery surrounding
the personality, the power, or the ability of the other to fulfill peoples' needs or to influence events. That is why the word chosen to
denote an object of worship includes in its meanings the senses of
mystery, perplexity, and superiority in status, etc.
4. Lastly, it is only natural that if one believes another to be in a
position to fulfill one's needs, to provide shelter and protection, to
soothe a disturbed heart and fill it with peace and calm, one turns
eagerly to that person as a matter of course.
We may therefore safely conclude from the above that the connotation
of the word ilah includes the capacities to fulfill the needs of
others, to give them shelter and protection, to relieve their minds of
distress and agitation, superiority, and the requisite authority and
power to do all these, to be mysterious in some way or hidden from men's
eyes, and the turning of men eagerly to him.
The Pre-Islamic Concept
Having discussed the various literal senses of the word, let us now see
what the pre-Islamic concepts of ilah were, and which of these
the Qur'an strove to reject :
And they have taken for their ilahs others than Allah, that they may
according to their reckoning be a source of strength to them (or that
coming under their protection may confer security).
(19 : 81) Surat Mariam
And they have taken others than Allah as their ilahs hoping that they
would help when needed.
(36:74) Surat Ya'aseen
From these two verses we learn that the Arabs of the Jahiliyyah
(the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance) believed that those whom they
regarded as ilahs were their patrons, would come to their
rescue in time of danger or difficulty, and that by placing themselves
under their protection they rendered themselves safe from fear,
molestation or harm.
And when the Decree of your Lord had gone forth (and the time came
for its execution), the ilahs they used to invoke instead of Allah
proved of no avail to them and contributed only to their Doom.
(11 : 101) Surat Hood
And those whom the people call to instead of Allah have not created
aught, but are themselves creatures. Dead they are, and not alive, and
they know not when they would be raised from their state, the real ilah
is the One and Only Ilah.
(18 : 20, 21) Surat Al kahf
Invoke not; or pray to, any ilah along with Allah. There is no ilah
(28 : 88) Surat Al Kassas
And those who, instead of praying to Allah, pray to His supposed
associates do but follow suppositions and idle guesses.
(10:66) Surat younus
These verses point to three aspects. The first is that the Arabs used
to address their prayers to those whom they regarded as their ilahs
and invoke them in times of distress or for fulfillment of any of their
needs. The second is that these ilahs included not only Jinns,
angels, and gods, but dead humans too, as one can see from the second of
the above verses. The third is that they believed that these ilahs could
hear their prayers and could come to their rescue.
It seems desirable to clear up one point, at this stage, about the
nature of the prayer made to the ilah or ilahs and the
help or succor sought of them. If I feel thirsty, and call to my
servant to give me some water, or am unwell and call for a doctor for
treatment, my summons to them does not constitute du'a, that
is, it has no similarity to a prayer sent up to a deity, nor does this
make either the servant or the doctor into an ilah. Both these
are common, in everyday happenings, with nothing of the supernatural
about them. However, if I should, while feeling thirsty or unwell, call
to some saint or god instead of the servant or a doctor, that obviously
would amount to treating the saint or god as an ilah and to my
addressing a du'a to him. Addressing a prayer to a saint
confined to his grave hundreds or even thousands of miles away3 clearly
indicates that I believe him--though dead--to be possessed of the power
to listen to a prayer at such a distance or to otherwise being aware of
things so far off or, if one may use the appropriate Arabic words, to be
both samee and baseer 4. My action would clearly imply
belief in their exercising such a way over the realm of creation as to
be able to have the water reach me or to make me recover from my
illness. In the case of a god, my prayer would mean that I believe him
to possess power over water and over health and sickness, and to
therefore arrange, by supernatural means, to fulfill my needs. Thus, the
basis on which a prayer is addressed to someone includes necessarily a
concept of his being possessed of some supernatural authority and power.
And, verily, We did destroy the places of which you see ruins about
you, and We showed them Our signs in diverse ways that they might turn
(away from their wrong ways to Us). So why did not those whom they had
made their ilahs, and presumed to have access to Us, help them in their
hour of doom? Far from helping, they abandoned them and made themselves
scarce, exposing the hollowness of their falsehoods and fabrications 5.
(46 : 27, 28) Surat Al Ahqa'af
And wherefore should I not give my worship to Him who created me and
to Whom all of you will return? Should I take for myself ilah other then
Allah Who, should He Who is also Ar-Rahman wish me any harm, will avail
me naught by their intercession, nor will they be able to come to my
(36 : 22-23) Surat ya'aseen
And those who have taken others then Allah as protectors or helpers say,
"We do not worship them except that they may bring us closer to
Him." Allah will decide for them on the Day of Judgment regarding
that in which they differ.
(39:3) Surat Al Zoumar
And they worship other than Allah those who have power neither to harm
nor benefit them, and they say that they are their intercessors with
(10 : 18) Surat younus
What we learn from these verses is, firstly, that it was not that the
Arabs believed their ilahs to account for the whole of divinity
among themselves or that there was no Supreme Being over and above them.
They quite clearly believed in the existence of such a Being for whom
they employed the special Proper name of '"Allah"." As for their ilahs,
their belief consisted essentially of the concept that they enjoyed some
share in the divinity of the Supreme God, that their word carried some
weight with Him, and that their intercession could result in some gains
or ward off some harm or loss. It was on these grounds that they
regarded them as ilahs besides Allah and, considering their
precept and practice, we may say that it was the belief about someone to
have power to intercede with God, the act of addressing of prayers to
him for help, the performing of certain devotions indicative of respect
and reverence and adoration, and the making of offerings, that
constituted in their terminology, the treating of Him as ilah.
And God said : "Do not make two ilahs ;there is but one ilah ; So,
fear Me alone." (16:51) Surat Al Nahl
And (Ibrahim said to them): I fear not those you associate with God.
Any harm can come to me only if He should will it, and not otherwise
(through any or all of your supposed gods).
(6 : 81) Surat Al Ana'am
(And said Hud's people to him :) All we think of yon is that you are
under the curse of someone or other of our ilahs.
(11:54) Surat Hud
According to these verses, the Arab belief about their ilahs
was that if they should give them any cause for offence or should
otherwise be deprived of their favors and attentions, they would suffer
epidemics, famine, lose of life and property, or other calamities.
They made their religious scholars end rabbis their rabbs instead of
Allah, and Jesus son of Mary too into one, although they had been told
to worship but one ilah only, besides Whom there is no ilah at all.
(9 :31) Surat Al Tawba
Have you noticed the men who has made his selfish desires his ilah ? Can
you assume any responsibility about such a one?
(25:43) Surat Al Forqa'an
And in this wise did the supposed gods of pagans make infanticide
appear an approved act in their eyes.
(6 : 138) Surat Al Ana'am
What! Have they partners in godhood who have established for them
some religion without sanction from Gods?
(42:21) Surat Al Shura'h
Here we have yet another concept of ilah very different from
those dealt with above. Here there is no element of the supernatural.
The ilah here is some human being, or man's own selfish ego or
selfish desires. No prayers are offered to it, nor is it regarded as
being in a position to will any harm or benefit to someone nor is it
looked to for help or succor. It is an ilah in the sense that
its dictates are accepted and obeyed to such extent that that which it
declares to be permitted or prohibited is treated as such, and it is
deemed to have an inherent right to make us do or not do certain things,
with no higher or superior authority whose approval might be necessary
for its orders or which might be appealed to against them.
The first verse we have quoted here (9:31) speaks of religious
scholars and rabbis having been made into ilahs. We get a very
lucid explanation of this in Hadith. Hazrat 'Adi bin Hatim once
asked the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, about the verse, and in reply
the Prophet told him that whet was characterized as taking as ilahs
was the practice of accepting as permitted or prohibited anything
pronounced as such by the scholars or rabbis, without caring to
ascertain what God had actually said about it.
As for the second verse, (25:43) the meaning is clear enough. He who
obeys only the dictates of his selfish desires or inclinations or,
rather regards his personal views as the only law, in effect makes his
self his ila'h instead of God.
The last two verses use the word shuraka which we have
translated as supposed gods or partners, in godhood, but although the
word ilah has not been used, the implication clearly is that to
treat any beings, etc., as shuraka amounts, in effect, to
believing them to have a share in divinity. The import of these verses
is that those who regard any custom or rule or practice as permissible
although it has no divine sanction, are guilty of treating the
originators of the custom, etc., as having a share in divinity, i. e.,
of treating them as ilahs.
The Criterion for Godhood
There is a clear logical inter-connection between all the different
concepts of ilah set out above. Whosoever regards any other
person or being to be his helper or patron in the supernatural sense, or
capable of solving his problems or fulfilling his needs, of hearing and
granting his prayers, or of doing him harm or good, does so only because
he believes that Person or being to enjoy some measure of authority in
the management of the universe. Similarly, if a person's avoidance of
certain actions or performance of others is governed by the hope or fear
that they would win him the pleasure or displeasure of some other person
or being, he does so obviously because of belief that that person or
being possesses some hind of supernatural authority in shaping the
affairs of men. As for him who believes in God and yet turns to others
for the fulfillment of his needs, he too can do so only because he
believes them to have some share in God's authority. And, lastly, no
different is the case of the person who accords the status of law to the
commandments of someone other than God, and binds himself to obey the
injunctions or prohibitions of that someone. for he in effect thereby
accords him supreme authority. We can therefore safely conclude that the
essence of godhood is authority, whether it is conceived as sovereignty
of a supernatural kind over the whole universe, or on the basis that man
is bound by God's law in his worldly life and that all of His
injunctions are to be complied with because they emanate from Him.
The Qur'anic Approach
It is this very concept of authority on the basis of which the Qur'an
expends the whole force of its argument in rejecting the claims to
godhood of all others than God, and affirming it to vest exclusively in
Him. It categorically asserts that there is only One Being in the
heavens and the earth Who possesses and exercises all the powers and all
the authority. All Creation is his, and subservient to Him, all grace
and blessings flow from Him alone, His alone is the Word, and in Him
alone vest all power and authority. Everything that exists, whether
animate or inanimate, is bound by the laws made by Him and is, to that
extent, subservient and submissive to Him, willingly or unwillingly. No
one besides Him is possessed of any such authority, nor does anyone else
dispose of the affairs of the universe. No one else knows the secrets of
the Creation or its organization or the manner of its proper management.
Nor, lastly, does anyone have the least share in His Sovereignty and
Authority. Therefore, the only reality is that there is no ilah
but He and, this being so, anything that men do on the supposition of
anyone else being an ilah in any sense whatsoever is by its
very nature utterly wrong, whether it be the act of praying to someone,
seeking refuge with him, turning to him with hope or fear, seeking his
intercession with God, or treating him as the final authority. All such
relationships which people establish with others ought to exist solely
and exclusively with Allah Almighty, because He alone is the Sovereign
of the Universe.
Let us now see the Qur'anic treatment of the matter in some detail :
And He alone is the Ilah in the heavens and the Ilah in the earth;
and He alone is the all-Wise, the all-Knowing (that is, He alone
possesses the wisdom and the knowledge required for governing such a
(43:84) Surat Az Zukhruf
Can He Who creates, and he who does not, be alike ? Have you not
sense to realize this simple fact ? ...And those whom the people pray to
other than Allah, do not create anything and are themselves creatures
;your ilah is only one Ilah.
(16 : 17-20) Surat Al Nahl
O mankind: Call unto mind the grace of God unto you; is there any
Creator besides Allah, to give you sustenance from heaven or earth ;
there is no ilah but He; how, then, are you deluded from Truth ?
(35 : 3) Surat Fatir
Say (O Prophet) : "Think you, if God took away your hearing and
your sight, and sealed up your hearts (that is, hardened them to the
acceptance of any sensible precept), which ilah is there, besides Allah,
who could restore them to you ?" (6:46) Surat Al An'am
And He is Allah--the God: no god there is but He; To Him alone is due
all praise, in this world and the next; His alone is the Command end
Sovereignty, and to Him alone will you be returned. Say (O Prophet) :
"Have you ever thought that, if Allah should make the night
continue till Doomsday, which ilah is there besides Him who could bring
you any light ? Do you not hearken? " Say (to them, 0 Prophet) :
"Has it ever occurred to you that if Allah should make the day
perpetuate over you till Doomsday, who is the ilah other than He who can
give you back night that you may rest in it ? Do you not see ?"
(28 : 70-72) Surat Al Qasas
Say(O Prophet): "Call upon the others whom you fancy, besides
Allah; they do not own even an atom in the heavens or on earth ;no sort
of share have they therein, nor is any of them a helper to God. No
intercession can avail with Him, except where He himself permit it in
(54 : 22, 23) Surat Al Jathiya
He (God) created the heavens and the earth with Truth; He makes the
night overlap the day, and the day overlap the night; He has subjected
the sun and the moon (to His law); each one follows a course for a time
appointed... He created you all from a single person (that is, brought
human life into existence) ; then created out of him his mates ; and
sent down for you eight heads of cattle in pairs; He makes you, in the
wombs of your mothers, in stages, one after another, in three veils of
darkness; such is God, your Lord and Creator; to Him belongs all
dominion; there is no god but He ; how then, do you get turned another
(39 : 5-6) Surat Az Zumar
Who is it who has created the heavens and the earth, and who sends
down rain from the sky ? Yea, with it We cause to Brow well-planted
orchards full of beauty end delight ; it is not in your power to cause
the growth of the trees in them. Can there be another god besides God ?
Nay, they are a people who swerve from reality. Who has made the earth
firm to live upon, made rivers in its midst, act thereon mountains
immovable, and made a separating bar between the two bodies of flowing
water ? Can there be another god besides God ?Nay, most of them know
Who listens to the(soul) distressed when it calls to Him, and who
relieves its suffering, and make you (mankind) inheritors of the
earth-that is, gives you authority to utilize your purposes? Can there
be another god besides God ? Little it is that you heed. Who guides you
through the depths Of darkness on land and sea, and who sends the winds
as heralds of glad tidings, of His Mercy in the form of rain ? Can there
be another god besides God ?--High is God above what they associate with
Him ! Who originates Creation, then repeats it, and who gives you
sustenance from heaven and earth ? Can there be another god besides God
? Say, "Bring forth your arguments, if you be in the right "
(27:60-64) Surat An-Naml
He (is the One) to Whom belongs the dominion of the heavens and the
earth; no son has He begotten, nor has He a partner in His dominion; it
is He Who created all things, and ordered them in due proportion. Yet
have people taken, besides Him, gods that can create nothing but are
themselves created, that have no control over harm or good to
themselves; nor can they control Death nor Life nor Resurrection.
(25: 2-3) Surat Al Forqan
To Him is due the primal origin of the heavens and the earth. How can
He have a son when He had no consort ? He it is Who created all things,
and He alone has full knowledge of all things, That is God, your Lord!
No god there is but He, the Creator of all things ; Then give your
worship to Him ;And He it is Who looks after the safety and well-being
(6 : 102, 103) Surat Al An'am
Yet are there men who take (for worship) others besides God a equals
(with Him). They feel the love for them which they should for God. If
only the unrighteous could but see. Behold, they would seethe penalty:
(they then will see) that to God belongs all power, and God will
strongly enforce the Penalty.
(2:165) Surat Al Baqarah
Say (O Prophet) :"Do you see what it is you invoke besides God ?
Show me what it is they have created on earth, or have they a share in
the heavens ? ...And who is more astray than one who invokes besides God
such as will answer him not (though he call to him till) the Day of Judgment"
(46:4,5) Surat Al Ahqaf
If there were, in the heaven and the earth, other gods besides God,
there would have been confusion in both ! But glory to Allah, the Lord
of the Mighty Throne : High is He above that they attribute to Him. None
there is who can question Him for His acts, but they (certainly) yet
will be questioned for theirs.
(21:22, 23) Surat Al Anbiyaa
No son did God beget, nor is there any god alone; with Him: (if there
were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had
created and some would have lorded it over others !
(23 : 91) Surat Al Muminun
Say (O Prophet) : "If there had been other gods with Him as they
say-behold, they would certainly have sought ways for capturing His
Throne. Glory to Him! He is high above all that they say ! --Exalted and
Great (beyond measure).
(17:42) Surat Al Isra'a
It will be seen that there is one central idea running through all
these verses, and that is that godhood and authority are inextricably
interconnected and are, in essence and significance, one and the same
thing. He who has no authority can be no god, and it is but fitting that
he should not be so. And He Who has all due authority, He alone can be,
and ought to be, God, because all the needs which one might refer to a
god, or the experiencing of which might turn one's thoughts to someone
supposedly gifted with divinity can only be fulfilled if the person or
being involved has in fact the power and the authority to be able to
meet them. Hence, we must conclude that it is meaningless to regard
anyone without the necessary power and authority to have any part of
godhood : it is absolutely contrary to reason and reality, and it is
quite absurd as well as useless to turn to these for help.
The full argument of the Holy Qur'an, based on this central idea will
be clear from the following premises and the deductions which it sets
1. The fulfillment of the needs of human beings, the removal of their
distress, the grant to them of refuge or protection, the extension of
any needed help or assistance, their bringing up or preservation, and
the acceptance of their prayers-none of these matters are so simple as
people seem to assume them to be and hence mistakenly regard them as
within the competence of human beings. All are dependent, inextricably
and ultimately, upon the creative power and the controlling and managing
authority being exercised over the entire universe by its One and only
Lord and Master. Even the smallest need depends, for its fulfillment, on
the combined results of a vest multitude of factors. Take for example
the provision of just one glass of drinking water, or even just one
grain of wheat used by men for food. Neither would come about but for
incalculable and multifarious and, in many cases, get hidden activity on
the part of the sun and the earth and the oceans and the winds.
Therefore, the authority or power which is actually required for
listening to our prayers is no ordinary authority but, rather,
super-extraordinary and unique authority or power, not less than that
required for creating the heavens and earth and for ordering the
movement of the heavenly bodies and of the winds and of causing rain,
and so on-- in short, that needed for governing the entire universe
2. This authority is indivisible. It is not possible that, while the
control over creation should rest with one authority, that of providing
for its food and drink should be with someone else; or that-the sun
should be -under the control of one authority and the earth that of
another; or that while one has the power to create, that of preserving
health or causing illness should be possessed by another and that of
ending life rest with still another. Had there been such division of
authority and power, there would certainly-have been utter confusion and
chaos in the universe and it could never have ordered the way it has
been operating all along. Hence, it is essential that all authority and
power should and does vest in one, central authority, in One Sovereign.
3. Since all authority and power vests in one Sovereign only, with
no-one else having the least share in it, it must equally logically
follow that godhood is special and exclusive to Him alone, and in this
too there is absolutely no share. Nobody other than He has the power to
listen to men's plaints or grant any of their prayers, grant them refuge
and protection, be their helper and patron, or do them good or harm.
Therefore, whatever be anyone's conception of ilah, there is no
ilah but He, so much so that there is no ilah even in
the apparently less important sense of someone being close enough to God
to be able to intercede with Him. No-one has the least power or
authority to interfere with His rule over His universe or His ways, and
it is entirely up to Him whether to accede to, or reject, any
intercession because no-one-unlike the viziers or ministers of earthly
monarchs--occupies any position or status which would lend weight enough
to his word.
It is also of the essence of the Unity of the Supreme Authority that
all the various manifestations of sovereignty or over-lordship should,
ultimately, he centered in one and only one Supreme Sovereign, and not
even the tiniest factor of such authority should vest in anyone else.
Since God is the Creator, and no-one else has had a share in the act of
Creation, and since He alone is the Provider and no-one else shares this
attribute with Him, and since He alone is the Controller and
Administrator of the entire system of the Universe, and there is none to
share these capacities with Him, it follows that He alone should also be
the one to lay down the law, and that His word, and no-one else's should
prevail, for there is no reason at all why anyone else should have a
share here either. Just as if also is wrong, in principle and in fact,
for anyone else to listen to others' prayers and expect to deliver them
from distress and be their protector, in just the same way is it wrong
for anyone else to be the absolute authority and the sovereign and to
have any intrinsic authority to legislate for mankind. Whether it be
creation, or providing
Of sustenance, the giving or taking away of life, the ordering of the
sun and the moon and the
heavenly bodies, the bringing of the night to overlap the day and of
the day to overlap the night, the ordaining of peoples' destinies and
the apportionment of their lots, or being ruler or monarch, or laying
down the law or indicating the right and the wrong, all are different
facets of a single, autocratic authority and sovereignty which is
absolutely indivisible. If anyone regards the word of someone else to be
deserving of obedience without any sanction from God, he is as much
guilty of the offence of shirk as the one who prays to or
worships someone other than God. And if someone regards himself as the
lord and master and absolute monarch of any part of the earth in the
political sense, his act too amounts as much to a claim to godhood as it
would if he were to tell people that he was their helper and patron and
guardian in the supernatural sense 6. That is why the Qur'an emphasizes,
wherever it speaks of creation or of the destinies of creatures or the
management of the universe, that :
To Him belongs the ultimate dispensation of men's affairs (end of
other things in creation too)-His is the Kingdom--
There is no sharer in His Suzerainty--
All of which clearly shows that godhood includes monarchy and
rulership. And it is also
that Tawheed necessarily requires that in this sense too
no-one should be believed to have any share with God, ;cf :
Say (O Prophet) : O God ! You are the Lord of all the Domains; It is
You who grant kingdom to whom you please; and take it away from
whomsoever You will; It is You who confer honor on whomsoever You
please, and take it away from whomsoever You will.
(3:20) Surat Al 'Imran
Right and Mighty is Allah, the True Sovereign; then, is no ilah but
He, the Lord of the Sublime Throne.
(23 : 116) Surat Al Muminun
Say (O Prophet) :I seek refuge with Him who is Rabb of all mankind,
the Sovereign of all mankind, and the Ilah of all mankind.
(114 :1-3) Surat An-Nas
And then there is another verse which makes the point even clearer :
The Day when the secrets of everyone of them will be laid bare ; when
it will become manifest to men that none of their actions is hidden from
God, the call will go out : To whom belongs the Dominion this Day ? And
the answer will invariably be :To none but Allah alone, Allah Whose
power and authority transcend that of all others.
(40 : 16) Surat Gafir
This verse is excellently explained in a Hadith narrated by
Imam Ahmed (R) on the authority of Hazrat 'Abdullah ibn 'Umar
(may Allah be pleased With both) that, on one occasion the Holy Prophet
(on whom be peace) stated, in the course of a sermon, that :
God will take both the heavens and the earth in His hand, and will
proclaim to all before Him :
I am the King; I am the Mighty one :I am the Self-exalted one; Where
are the people who used to style themselves kings upon the earth, those
who called themselves mighty, and who were 'their Majesties' ?
Hazrat Abdullah (with whom Allah be pleased) narrates that
While the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was repeating these words,
his body trembled so much in awe of Allah Almighty that we were really
afraid that he might fall from the pulpit.