Etymologic meaning of word ‘ilah’
The word ‘ilah’ comes from the word ‘alaha’. It is mentioned In the book titled “Ash Shihah fii Lughah” that ‘alaha’ means ” ‘abada” or worship. While in “Mukhtar Ash Shihah“‘ it is mentioned that ‘alaha-ya’lahu’ means ” ‘abada”, or worship. The word ‘ilah’ refers to the word pattern ‘fi’al’, which literally means maf’ul (object). Thus, the word ‘ilah’ means “ma’luh” or a worshipped object. (Refer to Mukhtar Ash Shihah, chapter “hamzah”, www.islamspirit.com)
In the other reference, Al Mu’jam Al Wasith Dictionary (part 1, page no. 25), it is explained that ‘ilah’ means every thing that used to be worshipped. The plural form of it is ‘alihah’. In Arabic language, ‘ilah’ is also termed as ‘ma’bud’. Hence, the scholars interpreted the actual meaning of “Laa ilaaha illallaah (None has the right of worshipping but Allah) as “Laa ma’buda bihaqqin'” or “laa ma’buda bihaqqin illallaah” (Refer to “Syarh Tsalatul Ushul“/Explanation of The Three Foundation, author Ibn othaymeen, page no. 77)
Terminological meaning of the word ‘ilah’
In terminology regarding aqeedah (belief), the meaning of ‘ilah’ does not differ from it’s etymological meaning. Ibn Rajab Al Hanbali stated that “Ilah is every thing that is obeyed, without being rebelled, and that obedience comes from love and fear, together with hope and self dependency upon that object, plea and prayer (du’aa), directed to it. And none deserve of all those matters but Allah The Mighty and The Exalted.” (See: Jami’ul ‘Ulum wal Hikam, cited from Hushnul Al Ma’mul page no. 111)
Which means, the word ‘ilah’ contains the meaning ‘someone or something to be worshipped’. The examples mentioned by Ibn Rajab are parts of worship, such as obedience, glorification, love, fear, hope, etc. Thus we can infer that ‘ilah’ means ‘someone or something to be worshipped’. This meaning was also interpreted by some scholars in tafseer, as what quoted by The Imam of the experts in tafseer, Ibn Jarir Ath Thabari (See: Tafseer Ath Thabari, at soorah Muhammad: 19) and other scholars. This meaning will be even clearer if we take a look at the meaning of ‘ilah’ in the verses of Qur’an below.
The Meaning of the Word ‘ilah’ According to Qur’an
Allah The Exalted decreed telling about the attitude of the disbelievers from Quraish, when they welcomed the calling of Allah’s messenger Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam (may blessings and peace of Allah be upon him), “Indeed they, when it was said to them, “There is no deity but Allah”, were arrogant. And were saying, “Are we to leave our gods for a mad poet.” (Ash Shaffaat/Those who set ranks, 35-36)
Look at this noble verse closely. When The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam called them to testify the shahaadah ‘Laa ilaah Illallaah’, they replied by saying, “Are we to leave our gods (ilah in plural form)…”. This reply indicated that they perceived the meaning of ‘ilah’ as god whom they worshipped, not The Creator or such meaning.
Even clearer to it’s meaning, is the comparison between their statement of refusal and their acknowledgment of the Oneness of Allah on rububiyya, as Allah revealed at the other verse of Qur’an.
Allah The Exalted decreed, (which means), “Say: ‘Who provides you from the heaven and the earth? Or who controls hearing and sight and who brings the living out of the dead and brings the dead out of the living and who arranges [every] matter?” They will say: “Allah”.” (Yunus/Jonah: 31)
The meaning of word ‘they’ on that verse is the disbelievers who made an ascription to Allah, as explained by the scholars of tafseer. (See: Taisir Al Karim Ar Rahman, page no. 363)
This verse explicitly shows that the disbelievers already acknowledged the tawheed rububiyya. And through this acknowledgement, Allah compelled them to carry out the consequence of tawheed rububiyya, that is tawheed uluhiyya. This is the commentary of Sheikh Abdurrahman As Sa’di -may Allah have mercy on him- in his book of tafseer, (In Taisir Al Karim Ar Rahman, page no. 363)
Thus, the scholars from time to time refused the translation of testimony ‘Laa ilaaha illalllaah‘ to be solely meant by tawheed rububiyya.
Ibn Taimiyya said, “And the meaning of tawheed is not merely confined to tawheed rububiyya, that is the belief that Allah is the only one who created the universe, as what supposed by the experts in kalam/ philosophy and the followers of tasawwuf (Soofis). They reckon that if they made to establish the tawheed rububiyya by proposing argumentations or strong evidence to support it, they are already succeeded in establishing the ultimate core of tawheed…” ( As what quoted by the author of Fathul Majid, page no. 15-16)
As the conclusion, based on the explanations mentioned above, it is inferred that the meaning of “Laa ilaaha illallaah” is none of the things worshipped deserves to be worshipped, as the object of worships -whether in the form of physical or spiritual worships, by heart, tongue, or body parts- , but Allah The Exalted alone. Thus, a person who committed the shahaadah (testimony) of ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’, has declared that he will worship Allah alone, submit himself to Him physically and spiritually, and devote his pure love and glorification solely to Him.
The Virtue of “Laa ilaaha illallaah”
Ibn Rajab mentioned in his work “Kalimatul Ikhlas”, “The sentence of tawheed (Laa ilaah illallaah-translator) possesses an intense nobility, which could not be counted.” After that he-may Allah have mercy on him- named several virtues of this noble sentence. Amongst the virtues he named:
First, the sentence “Laa ilaaha illallaah” is the Price of Heaven
Once upon a time, The Prophet Shallallaahu ‘alayh wa Sallam heard the shout of the muadhdhin (one reverberating azan/adhan) said, “Asyhadu alla ilaaha illallaah’. Then he said to the muadhdhin: “You are freed from the Fire.” (Collected by Muslim, in hadith no. 873)
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam declared,
مَنْ كَانَ آخِرُ كَلَامِهِ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ دَخَلَ الجَنَّةَ
“Whoever whom last word before he dies is ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’, will enter the Heaven.” (Collected by Abu Daud, hadith no. 3118, Al Hakim in hadith no. 1229. Classed sahih by Al Albani)
Second, the sentence “Laa ilaaha illallaah” is the highest of righteous deeds
Abu Dhar said, “Tell me O the Messenger of Allah, teach me the deeds which can bring me closer to Heaven and far from the Fire.” The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam replied, “If you committed a sin, then perform righteous deed (after that), because by doing it, you will be rewarded by 10 of the like.” Then Abu Dharr said again, “O messenger of Allah, is “Laa ilaaha illallaah’ a from of righteous deed?” Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “That sentence (Laa ilaaha illallaah) is the highest of righteous deeds. That sentence can erase various sins and mistakes.” (Classed hasan (good) by Al Albani in his research for the book ‘Kalimatul Ikhlas‘, page no. 55)
Third, the sentence “Laa ilaaha illallaah” is the most prime dzikr (remembrance)
This virtue is as mentioned in a hadith believed to be derived from The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam himself (hadith marfu’) as follows:
أَفْضَلُ الذِّكْرِ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ
” The most prime dhikr is the words “Laa ilaaha illallaah’.” (Collected by At Turmudhi, in hadith no. 3383, Ibn Hibban in hadith no. 846. Classed sahih by Al Albani)
Fourth, the sentence ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’ is the most prime of deeds, most in rewards, equals the reward from manumission of the slaves, and protector from Satan.
As mentioned in Sahihain (Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim), from the authority of Abu Huraira -may Allah be pleased with him-, from the Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam, he (the Prophet) said, “Whoever says, “Laa ilaaha illallaah wahdahu laa syariika lahu, lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu wa huwa ‘ala kulli syai’in qodiir’ [none of the worshipped deserves to be rightfully worshipped but Allah, no ascription to Him, to Him all kingdoms and praises belong. He is The Master of all things] 100 times a day, will be rewarded as (the reward of ) freeing 10 slaves, written down for him 100 good deeds, erased from him 100 wrongdoings, and he will be protected from satan from the noon until evening, and none more supreme than him except for those reading it more than that.” (Collected by Bukhari in hadith no. 3293 and Muslim in hadith no. 7018)
Fifth, the sentence ‘Laa ilaah illallaah’ is the key of the 8 doors of the Heaven. One who says it can enter the Heaven from whichever door he likes.
From ‘Ubadah Ibn Shamit, -may Allah be pleased with him- The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Whoever says, ‘I testify that none has the right to be rightfully worshipped but Allah, no ascription to Him, Muhammad is His slave and His messenger, and (testify) that Jesus (‘Eesa) is the slave of Allah and son of His slave, and His sentence which was sent to Mary and the spirit from Him, and (testify) that Heaven is true and Hellfire is true, Allah will include him to the Heaven from the eight doors of the Heaven, whichever he wants.” (Collected by Muslim, in hadith no. 149)
“Laa ilaah illallaah” has 2 pillars, which are An Nafyu (refusal/dismissal) and Al Itsbat(establishment) Both pillars are taken from the words “Laa ilaaha” and “illallaah”. Here is the details:
- Laa ilaaha = An Nafyu, which means dismissing and leaving any form of shirk, and refusing any thing worshipped but Allah The Exalted.
- Illallaah = Al Itsbat, which means establishing belief that none deserves to be righfully worshipped but Allah, and perform all deeds based on this pillar.
There are plenty of verses fromThe Qur’an reflecting these 2 pillars. Among them is the verse: “So whoever disbelieves in taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it (the sentence ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’).” (Al Baqara/The Cow: 256)
Disbelieve in taghut (thing worshipped beside Allah) os the reflection of the pillar ‘An Nafyu’ (Laa ilaaha) and believe in Allah is the reflection of the pillar Al Itsbat (illallaah).
Conditions of shahaadah (testimony of) “Laa ilaaha illallah”
The scholars had explained that the testimony of “Laa ilaah illallah” have 8 conditions, which are:
A testimony can not be erected but by firm knowledge upon it. Thus, we are obliged to say the shahaadah by understanding it’s meaning. Allah decreed, “And those they invoke besides Him do not possess [power of] intercession; but only those who testify to the truth [can benefit] and they know.” (Az Zukhruf/The Ornaments of Gold: 86)
Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Whoever dies in the state of knowing the meaning of Laa ilaaha illallah must enter the Heaven.” (Collected by Bukhari and Muslim). And the true meaning of ‘Laa ilaah illallah’ is none has the right to be rightfully worshipped but Allah The Exalted.
Convinced means having no doubt upon the truth of it’s meaning thus will not be easily deviated due to many tests (afflicted upon the believer). Allah decreed, “The believers are only the one who have believed in Allah and His Messenger and then doubt not bur strive with their properties and their lives in the cause of Allah. It is those who are the truthful.”(Al Hujurat/The Rooms:15)
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Whomever you meet outside this wall, he testifies ‘Laa ilaah illallaah’ by his heart, tell him glad tidings that he will enter the Heaven.” (Collected by Muslim)
Allah told about the condition of the disbelievers of Quraish who refused the calling of Prophet Muhammad in His decree, ” “Indeed they, when it was said to them, “There is no deity but Allah”, were arrogant. And were saying, “Are we to leave our gods for a mad poet.” (Ash Shaffaat/Those who set ranks, 35-36)
Arrogant means refusing the truth and underestimating other than himself. This is the characteristic of disbeliever, who reject to acknowledge the truth of ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’. Indeed, Allah is the only one rightful of worshipping.
Obeying the sentence means to perform the consequences physically and spiritually. Allah decreed, “And whoever submits his face [i.e. self] to Allah while he is a doer of good-then he has grasped the most trustworthy handhold. And to Allah will be the outcome of [all] matters.” (Luqman: 22)
Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Your faith will not be perfect until your lust submit to follow my teaching.” (Collected by Thabrani)
Allah decreed, “Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?.But We have certainly tried those before them, and Allah will surely make evident those who are truthful and He will surely make evident the liars.” (Al Ankabut/The Spider: 2-3)
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “None of you who testify ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’ and Muhammad is His slave and His messenger sincerely, but Allah will prohibit the Hell-fire to touch him.” (Collected by Bukhari in hadith no. 128)
It could be seen that honesty is the condition for shahaadah to be valid. Look how the testimony of the hypocrites were denied by Allah due to their dishonesty, as He decreed: “When the hypocrites come to you [O Muhammad], they say, ‘We testify that you are The Messenger of Allah’. And Allah knows that you are His messenger, and Allah testifies that the hypocrites are liars.” (Al Munafiquun/The Hypocrites: 1)
Sincerity means hoping the rewards from Allah alone, not from other beside Him. Allah decreed, “And they were not commanded except to worship Allah, being sincere to him in religion, inclining to truth, and to establish prayer and to give zakah. And that is the correct religion.” (Al Bayyinah/The Clear Proof: 5)
What is meant by ‘sincere’?
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Indeed Allah has forbidden the Hell-fire to touch a person who testifies, ‘Laa ilaaha illallah’ sincerely only to seek for Allah’s face.” (Collected by Bukhari in hadith no. 6059 and Muslim in hadith no. 263)
Allah decreed, “And [yet] among the people are those who take other than Allah as equals [to him]. They love them as they [should] love Allah. But those who believe are stronger in love for Allah. And if only those who have wronged would consider [that] when they see the punishment [they will be certain] that all power belongs to Allah and that Allah is severe in punishment.” (Al Baqara/The Cow: 165)
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Whoever possesses the following three qualities will have the sweetness [delight] of faith: 1. The one to whom Allah The Exalted and His messenger (Muhammad) become dearer than anything else. 2. Who loves a person and his loves him only for Allah’s sake. 3. Who hates to revert to atheism (disbelief) as he hates to be thrown into the Fire.”(Collected by Bukhari in hadith no. 16 and Muslim in hadith no. 67)
8. Refusing worship to taghut
Taghut is any other thing but Allah, which is worshipped. Allah decreed, “There shall be no compulsion in [acceptance of] the religion. The right course have become distinct from the wrong. So whoever disbelieve in taghut and believes in Allah has grasped the most trustworthy handhold with no break in it (the sentence ‘Laa ilaaha illallaah’).” (Al Baqara/The Cow: 256)
The Prophet Shallallaahu’alayh wa Sallam said, “Whoever says, ‘Laa ilaha illallaah’ and disbelieves in everything that is worshipped instead of Allah, his blood and his wealth are protected and his reckoning will be with Allah The Mighty and Exalted.” (Collected by Muslim in hadith no. 36)
Thus, for a shahaadah (testimony of faith) to be valid and accepted, he must fulfill all conditions mentioned above, not simply memorizing them.
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