The Concept of Tawhid in Islam

Meaning of Tawhid

The word Tawhid comes from the verb wahhad which literally means to unite. In Islamic terminology, it means to realize and maintain the unity of Allah in one’s actions (inwardly and outwardly). The actual word tauhiyd does not occur in the Quran or Sunnah though the present tense of the verb (from which tauhiyd is derived) is used in Sunnah. The Prophet sent Muadh ibn Jabal as governor of Yemen in 9 A.H. He told him, “You will going to the People of the Book, so first invite yuwahhidu Allah [them to the assertion of the oneness of Allah]”.1

Further, the division of tawhid into the components known to us today were not done by the Prophet nor his Companions. It was systematically defined as such in order to convey, as concisely as possible, the simple unitarian belief of Islam. This was necessary because as Islam quickly spread to the four corners of the world, new converts began to interpret the teachings of Islam in line with their own philosophical concepts of Allah and so confusion arose. Preconceived interpretations, all of which are blameworthy, were propagated by those who wanted to destroy Islam from the inside. The first such enemy of Islam was an Iraqi convert from Christianity named Sausan who preached man’s absolute free will while denying qadr (Divine Decree)2. His student, Ma’bad ibn Khalid al-Juhani3, spread such deviant ideas until he was tried and executed by the Umayyad Caliph. There were three other such executions over the period of 26 years. The later Umayyad Caliphs were relatively more corrupt and cared less about such religious issues. At the same time, the masses were also relatively less educated about their religion. This proved to be a deadly combination. As the number of deviants increased through the liberation of various lands, apostates were no longer executed. Instead, Muslim scholars rose to execute the tide of heretics intellectually. Tauhiyd, precisely defined, emerged out of this defense strategy.Tauhiyd had been divided into the three following categories: tauhiyd ar-rububiyah, tauhiyd al-asma was-sifaat, and tauhiyd al-ibadah</em> or <em>tauhiyd al-uluuhiyah. Tauhiyd has been likened to a tree, the roots being tauhiyd ar-rububiyah, the trunk being tauhiyd al-asma was-sifaat, and the fruit being tauhiyd al-`ibadah. Each category of tauhiyd will now be discussed in some detail.

The Divisions of Tauhid

On tauhiyd ar-rububiyah4. All of mankind readily recognizes this aspect of tauhiyd (except the most arrogant5) because this belief in imprinted on our nature. This is belief in the uniqueness of Allah with respect to His actions. This belief, more specifically and among other things, is that He is the only Lord of the seven heavens (without partner in His dominion), the only Lord of the great Throne, the only One in whose hand is sovereignty of everything, the One who protects all yet is not protected nor is their a protector against Him, the only Creator (who creates from nothing), only Owner, and only Maintainer/Sustainer of all that exists, etc. Even the pagan Arabs knew this.

This category of tauhiyd necessitates the following beliefs: everything that happens in creation is by the decree and permission of Allah; sustenance and provision are from Allah alone; life and death are in His control only; all blessings and disasters come from Him only6; guidance and misguidance is by the will of Allah alone; Allah alone has knowledge of the unseen; nobody has any rights over Allah unless He Himself has laid down such upon Himself; legislation and prescribing a way of life is the right of Allah alone, among other things.

On tauhiyd al-asma was-sifaat. This aspect of tauhiyd includes belief in only those attributes Allah has described Himself with in His Book and in only those attributes His Messenger has attributed to Him.7 One must affirm that these attributes are perfect or absolute in Allah alone (i.e., are unique to Him) and deny the similarity of His perfect attributes with anything other than Him.8 Such affirmation is without distortion9, interpretation, denial, nor are they depicted in a way that makes His attributes similar to His creation, and without stating how the attributes are. We do not negate His actions like His establishment on His throne or His descending to the lowest heaven. Nor do we seek to explain the modality of such actions. This is because the modalities of such actions are unknown though the actions themselves are known. Belief in them is obligatory and asking about the modality is innovation. Belief in this aspect of tauhiyd requires both negation and affirmation for “There is nothing similar to Him, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing.” (Qur’an, ash-Shura:11).

The more one knows about Allah and His names and attributes, the more one will love, desire to please and have Allah pleased with him, fear, hope, and trust Allah. Hence, the correct understanding of the names and attributes of Allah is very important and beneficial.

On tauhiyd al-`ibadah: The implementation of tauhiyd is a fulfillment of the shahada. This is the reason that messengers were sent and books revealed10. This is the belief, recognition, and knowledge that Allah has the position of God over all His creation. It is the rejection of all the so-called “partners” of Allah and a rejection of worship of anything other than Allah. The necessary and proper consequence of the recognition that there is no god except Allah is that all worship will reserved for Allah alone. This category of tauhiyd requires that one single out Allah in all acts of worship such as: purity of intention, gratitude, love, fear, hope, awe, repentance, putting one’s trust, seeking aid and assistance, seeking guidance, as well as the obvious acts such as salah (ritual worship), being good to one’s parents, supplication, sacrifice, jihad, etc.11 The person will not have any goal other than pleasing his Lord and attaining His rewards. His beliefs will be whatever is proven in the Quran and Sunnah, he will be following the Messenger of Allah, his deeds and actions will be what Allah and His Messenger prescribed, and his character and manners will be an imitation of the Prophet.

There are two actions of the heart that must be combined for the spirit of worship to be realized: love and submission. When faith enters a person’s heart, it causes therein certain mental states, which result in apparent actions, both of which are proof of true faith. Foremost among those mental states is the feeling of gratitude towards Allaah which could be said to be the essence of `ibadah. This feeling of gratitude is so important that a nonbeliever is called a kaafir which means “one who rejects the truth” as well as “one who is ungrateful”. And with the feeling of gratitude comes love. A believer loves and is grateful to Allah for His bounties, but being aware of the fact that his good deeds, whether mental of physical, are far from commensurate with Allah’s favors. He is always anxious lest, because of his sins, Allah should withhold from him some of those favors or punish him in the hereafter. He therefore fears Him and surrenders to Him and serving Allah with humility.

Other necessary components of the heart are fear and hope. Fear comes out of the greatness of Allah and comes about when one truly glorifies and exalts Allaah and hope flows from complete and true love. Both of these must be held in balance. The scholars of Islam have described these components like the wings of a bird with which a believer flies towards Allah. If they are balanced, he flies properly. If one of them is missing, then he has a shortcoming. If they are both missing, the bird is on the verge of death.

This category of tauhiyd is the key to real life. A human’s need for Allah that he worship Him and not associate any partner with Him as it is a need concerning which there is no comparison that one could even make an analogy to. The reality of a human being is in his heart and soul and these can not be sustained without their relation with Allah, there is no tranquility in this world except in His remembrance.

A significant part of tauhiyd al-ibadah is the implementation of Divine Law and this aspect of tauhiyd al-ibadah is referred to as tauhiyd al-hakamiyah [the oneness of Allah with respect to His rule].

On tauhiyd al-hakamiyah: Submission to Allah, alone, encompasses worshipping and obeying Him, alone. Associating partners with Allah with respect to His rule and associating partners with Him in worship are one and the same thing. Whoever follows a legal system other than Allah’s is like one who prostrates to an idol. All rulers who have changed the laws of Allah or rulers who rule in accordance with something other than Shari’ah (Divine Law) must be rejected and opposed. Allah says in the Quran that He had sent messengers to every single nation proclaiming the worship of Allah alone while also shunning at-taghuut12. Judging and ruling according to what He revealed is obligatory on believers so much so that it is one of the main reasons why messengers were sent with scripture to judge between people in matters they differed13. Ruling in accord with what Allah has revealed is the exact same as singling out Allah for obedience and one owes complete obedience to Him. It is therefore clear that those who do not rule or judge by what He had revealed are unbelievers14. The refusal to rule according to what Allah had revealed violates every aspect of tauhiyd. It violates tauhiyd ar-rububiyah because Allah alone is in full charge of His creation and He directs all of its affairs. To rule by something else is to set up gods with Allah. It violates tauhiyd al-asma was-sifaat because Al-Hakam (The only Judge, The only Decider, The only Ruler) is one of the beautiful names of Allah. It violates tauhiyd al-ibadah because Allah alone is to be submitted to. It violates another type of tauhiyd, not previously discussed, and that is tauhiyd al-itibaa. This means that the only one who is to be followed and obeyed is the one whom Allah sent for that purpose (i.e., the Messenger of Allah).

“The dominion [(i’nil hukmu) i.e, of rule and judgement] is for none but Allah. He commanded that you worship none but Him. That is the straight deen [judgement or religion]” (Qur’an, Sura’ Yusuf: 40)

In Sura’ at-Tauba, Allah tells us that the Jews and the Christians took their rabbis and monks as lords. When Allah’s Messenger was reciting this verse, Adi bin Hatim contradicted the Messenger saying, “they don’t worship them.” The Messenger replied, “they certainly do. [They] made lawful things as unlawful and unlawful things as lawful. And they (Jews and Christians) followed them and by doing so, they worshipped them.”15

On submitting one’s loyalties and love to the commands and guidance of Revelation. Having loyalty for the sake of Allah and basing one’s love and hate on guidance from Allah is essential for one’s faith to be correct and there is no proper implementation of the shahada without it.16 Concerning this topic, nothing seems to be more stressed with more evidences provided for, after the obligation of tauhiyd, than loving and hating for the sake of Allah. Allah will be more beloved than anything if one truly worships Him and because of that, he will love what Allah loves and despise what Allah despises. He will be disgusted and will hold in contempt anything that is affront to his beloved. Associating “partners” with Allah – though He alone is deserving of worship – is the greatest disrespect and opposition to Allah. Those who give loyalty to the unbelievers – instead of opposing them – are not worshipping Allah properly because if they were, how could they show love, approval, and support to those who oppose Allah and His religion? Should Muslims love, approve, and support unbelievers, while also keeping ties with unbelievers stronger than with each other, then such Muslims have violated the shahada and have apostated17. This is because the truthfulness of a statement is indicated by actions.

Cite this article as: Author Unknown, "The Concept of Tawhid in Islam," in Bismika Allahuma, October 7, 2005, last accessed March 20, 2018,


  1. Sahih Bukhari vol 9, No. 469 and Sahih Muslim vol 1, No. 27 []
  2. Denying qadr (i.e., Allah’s secret knowledge of the future) nullifies one’s belief in tauhiyd for this is in violation to tauhiyd ar-rububiyah as well as the rejection of many verses from the Quran such as, “No calamity occurs on the earth or among yourselves but is inscribed in the Book before We bring it into existence. Verily, that is easy for Allah.” (Qur’an, al-Hadeed: 22). “And Allah created you and whatsoever you do.” (Qur’an, 37:96). When one denies qadr thinking that all acts one does is new both to Allah and new to one, is to say that one can act outside the limits imposed by Allah i.e., to act outside His realm of absolute control. The realm of influence we have in the course of events which make up our lives are limited to the mental choice between options presented to us. In other words, man proposes and Allah disposes. []
  3. It is narrated on the authority of Yahya ibn Yamur that the first man who discussed qadr in Basra was Ma’bad al-Juhani. I [Yahya] along with Humaid ibn Adbul Rahman al-Himyari set out for umrah and said, “If it should so happen that we come into contact with anyone of the Companions of the Messenger of Allah, we shall ask him about what is being talked about concerning qadr.” Unexpectedly, we came across Abdullah ibn Umar ibn al-Khattab while he was entering the mosque. I and my friend surrounded him — one of us was on the right and the other on the left. I expected that my friend would authorize me to speak so I said, “O Abu Abdu Rahman, there have appeared some persons on our land who recite the Qur’an and pursue knowledge.” Then after explaining their affairs, I said, “they claim that there is no such thing as qadr.” Ibn Umar said, “When you happen to meet such persons, tell them that I have nothing to do with them and they have nothing to do with me. And verily, there are in no way responsible for my belief.” Ibn Umar then swore by Allah saying, “If any of them had with him the gold equal to the bulk of the mountain of Uhud and then should spend it, Allah would not accept that from him unless he affirms his faith in the Divine Decree [meaning, that person is a kafir].” Abdullah bin Abi Awfa advised people not to greet those who denied qadr nor to make the funeral prayer over them when they died [i.e., they were kafir]. See Sharaha al-Arba’ain an-Nawawi #2 and also Fundamentals of Tawheed by Bilal Phillips, p. 3. []
  4. The basis for tauhiyd ar-rububiyah is founded on many verses, such as Qur’an, 39:62; 37:96; 8:17; 64:11, but in general, all verses in the Quran that speak of Allah’s actions are bases for tauhiyd ar-rububiyah. []
  5. The main motive for denying Allah is unjustified pride. Such a proud person feels that it is not becoming of him to have to acknowledge someone greater than himself and therefore be governed by Him. “Those who dispute concerning the signs of Allah, in their hearts is only pride that they shall never attain.” (Qur’an, al-Ghaafir: 56) []
  6. “If Allah allows harm to befall you, none can remove it except Him” (Qur’an, 6:17) []
  7. He is not described by any names other than those He or His Messenger have made mention of in order to prevent giving a false description of Allah. The creation is in no position to describe the Creator so we are obligated to stay within the limits He defined. []
  8. A similarity is bound to arise due to the medium used, i.e., the human language. Yet these similarities are only in label, not magnitude. For example, we need microscopes to see small things and telescopes to see things far away. So we see and Allah sees but He is All-Seeing. []
  9. Meaning to explain away His names and attributes by giving them other than obvious meanings. []
  10. See Qur’an, 16:36 []
  11. These acts must also be done in manner that is prescribed by Allah. Further, to perform any of the said acts for anyone other than Allah negates and destroys one’s fulfillment of this category of tauhiyd. []
  12. i.e. rulers who have changed the laws of Allah or rulers who rule in accordance with something other than what Allah reveals. Also see: An-Nahl: 36 []
  13. See al-Baqara: 213 and also an-Nisaa: 105 — “Surely, We have sent down to you the Book in truth that you might judge between men by that which Allah has shown you.” []
  14. This is the verdict regarding whether the rulers who fail to apply the guidance of Allah in their lands. “Whoever does not rule by what Allah has revealed are unbelievers.” Al-Maidah 44 (also see vv. 45 and 47). Ibn ‘Abbas when, while defending `Ali ibn Abi Talib when the Khawarij pronounced him kafir, said that not ruling by Islam in some of its aspects is a minor disbelief (kufr). [This statement was most likely made by a student of ibn ‘Abbas and not ibn ‘Abbas himself.] The proper dimensions of this statement are realized when particular rulers are examined. If a practicing Muslim ruler knows that it is obligatory on him to apply the Shariah in its entirety, yet for some reason (weakness) does not, then such a ruler is not a disbeliever (though he may be a faasiq). This is what Ibn ‘Abbas was referring to. Other rulers — who openly deny Islam, do not believe that it is obligatory to apply Shariah, who prefer other systems like democracy or socialism over the Shari’ah, nor believe in its implementation — are full fledged unbelievers (even if they practice all the other rites in Islam). []
  15. See: Tafsir at-Tabari Vol. 10, p. 114 or see the nine volume tafsir by Muhsin Khan and Hilali, vol 2, p. 370. []
  16. See al-Baqara: 213 and also an-Nisaa: 105 – “Surely, We have sent down to you the Book in truth that you might judge between men by that which Allah has shown you.” []
  17. “You see many of them taking the unbelievers as their friends and protectors. Evil indeed is that which they have sent forward before them. For that reason, Allah’s wrath fell upon them and in torment shall they abide. And had they believed in Allah and the Prophet and that which was revealed to them , they would not have taken them as friends and protectors, but many of them are disobedient to Allah.” (Qur’an, al-Maidah 80-81. Also see: verses 51 & 55-57). The statement above, “and had they believed…” is a conditional statement meaning that if those who perpetuate those acts are unbelievers. []

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