Was Prophet Ibrāhīm ﷺ a polytheist?

و صلى الله على سيدنا محمد و على آله حق قدره و مقداره العظيم

Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse (may Allāh ﷻ be pleased with him) comments on the following ayah:

Thus did we show Ibrāhīm the kingdom of the heavens and the earth that he be one of those who have faith with certainty. So when the night covered him [with darkness], he saw a star. He said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “I like not those that disappear.” And when he saw the moon rising, he said, “This is my lord.” But when it set, he said, “Unless my Lord guides me, I will surely be among the people gone astray.” And when he saw the sun rising, he said, “This is my lord; this is greater.” But when it set, he said, “O my people, indeed I am free from what you associate with Allāh.” (6:75-78)

Ibrahim ﷺ is the Principal of Monotheism (quṭb al-tawḥīd). Allāh ﷻ doesn’t mention him without absolving him from polytheism. How is this the case? This is so because he said, ‘This is my Lord.’ Had he intended [that] the star was his Lord, that utterance would have been polytheistic. However, he did not intend the star in question, but was instead drowned in monotheism. He didn’t see anything but Allāh ﷻ. If he had intended the star he would have said that [is my Lord as opposed to this] as he was far away from it. He would have also said the same for the sun saying, that [is my Lord, as opposed to this] in its feminine capacity [as the Arabic language places gender assignments to these words]. However, in every instance (here) he says ‘this’, since His Lord is closer to him than these things, [and] he intended the True Lord in each instance. This is why every time Allāh ﷻ mentions him he states, ‘…and he was not a polytheist.’

Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse et al; “In the Gardens of Quranic Commentary (Fī riyāḍ al-tafsīr li al-qur’ān al-karīm)”, Volume 2, pg. 223-224 (trans. A.L. Finch)

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The Place and Purpose of Proper Comportment With God ﷻ

و صلى الله على سيدنا محمد و على آله حق قدره و مقداره العظيم

Ibn ᶜArabī al-Sā’iḥ stated in Bughya al-mustafīd:

Some of the Folk have said: ‘Monotheism obliges faith. So, whosoever is devoid of faith has no monotheism. Faith requires sacred law. So, whoever fails to adhere to it has neither faith nor monotheism. Sacred law necessitates good manners. So, whoever is bereft of etiquette has no Sacred Law, no faith and no monotheism.’” The etiquette of comportment, then, is to know its placement amongst all other activities, inward or outward.1

“Monotheism obliges faith.” It was narrated from Anas bin Mālik that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said: “There are three things, which whoever has them has found the taste of faith.” (One of the narrators) Bundar said: ‘The sweetness of faith: that when he loves a man and only loves him for the sake of Allāh; when Allāh and His Messenger ﷺ are more beloved to him than anything else; and when being thrown into the fire is dearer to him than going back to disbelief after Allāh has saved him from it.”2 In each instance wherein faith may be attested to in a person, Allāh ﷻ is the basis.

In the first example the love a person has for another is fortified by their belief in one God. This person’s monotheistic love serves as testament to his or her own discovery of the sweetness of faith. In this situation, monotheism not only obliges faith’s existence, it necessitates that its existence be a nectarous one.  The Qur’ān asks, “Is there a reward for good other than good?” In other words, the delight of one’s love for God’s sake is reflected in the pleasurable experience of their belief in Him.

The second example refers to the fact of annihilation in Allāh ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ, or in the monotheistic statement, “There is no god but God and Muḥammad ﷺ is the Messenger of God,” where one’s faith is obliged. This tradition obligates faith for one who has become absent from all things excluding Allāh ﷻ and His Messenger ﷺ. Among those things that lie outside of these two exclusions is one’s own self.  ᶜUmar ibn al-Khaṭṭāb told the Prophet ﷺ, “I love you more than anything except my soul which is between my two sides.” The Prophet ﷺ replied, “None of you will believe until I am dearer to him than his own soul.” ᶜUmar said, “By the One who sent down the Book on you, I love you more than my soul which is between my two sides.” The Prophet ﷺ said, “ᶜUmar, now you have it!”3 In other words, now that you love me more than yourself you have achieved perfect faith. This means that if an individual is sufficiently devoted to monotheism that they cannot incline toward themselves, they necessarily have faith. Again, as in the the situation above, not only does monotheism obligate faith, but that faith is sweet.

As per the above tradition, the third example of when monotheism obligates faith is when being cast into the Hell-fire is more beloved to a person than their going back to disbelief after Allāh ﷻ has rescued him or her from it. This is to say, the gift of a monotheistic heart is so appreciated, to the extent that the place a person was destined for prior to their having been given faith is more beloved to them than their losing that same faith. This is, perhaps, because after receiving Islam the life of monotheism has granted them such a honeyed existence that they could endure being in the Fire if they had to. On the other hand, if they were to try to live their lives without the sweetness that is a direct product of the necessary link between monotheism and faith, their lives would be an unbearable punishment. The statement continues by mentioning the negative logical imperative it implies.

“So, whosoever is devoid of faith has no monotheism.” If one doesn’t trust in things that they do not see, they are devoid of faith. Faith in this instance regards Allāh ﷻ. God in Islam is understood to be the solitary entity to whom all supplicate. If one is devoid of trust in the unseen in this sense, they are not just non-monotheists, they are atheists. Being devoid of faith is not to be confused with its periodic appreciation and depreciation. It was narrated that Abū Dardā’ said: “Faith increases and decreases.”4 The fluctuation of faith is a fact of life, and not to be confused with one’s status as believer or disbeliever.

“Faith requires sacred law.”  One may not simply have trust in Allāh ﷻ while not observing proper comportment with Him. This is because none comes to Allāh ﷻ but as a servant, as the Qur’ān states, “There is no one in the heavens and earth but that he comes to the Most Merciful as a servant” (19:93). A servant has to observe protocol; as narrated by Abū Hurayrah, the Prophet ﷺ said: “The most perfect believer in respect of faith is he who is best of them in manners.”5 Therefore, faith requires a sacred law which provides procedure. This approach is true for faith and its structure as is addressed in the next part of the statement.

“So, whoever fails to adhere to it has neither faith nor monotheism.” Without exception, the failure to comply with sacred law deprives one of faith and creed. Belief in one God has a defined set of creedal points that make up its edifice. Faith in the unseen for the Muslim relies on this construction. These formations derive from the matrix of the sacred law; without the scale of the law there is nothing but ambiguity.  Without definitions and limits, there can be no knowledge. Without knowledge the human being is left to his or her own ignorance. The ignorant do not know how to undertake the advance toward Allāh ﷻ. In order to escape this ambiguity and its catastrophic consequences one must have the ability to navigate relationships, giving each thing its proper placement and establishing norms.

“Sacred law necessitates good manners.” Man has no access to the structure without first observing proper decorum towards it. The Qur’ān states, “And enter houses from their doors,” (2:189) (i.e. one will not gain access to the structure without the primary obligation of taking the proper means of approach towards it). One who fails to enter through the door will remain a stranger to the contents of the house. In this sense, the house must have a means of access which, in this case, are good manners. Etiquette, therefore, is the fulcrum of one’s relationship with Allāh ﷻ.

“So, whoever is bereft of etiquette has no Sacred Law, no faith and no monotheism.” This wisdom helps to explain one of the basic traits of the Dīn of Islām: etiquette as [the] basis. To this end, the narration of Abū Hurayra that the Messenger of Allāh ﷺ said, “Two things will not be together in a hypocrite: good manners, and understanding of the religion.”6 The understanding of religion is the understanding of its structure. Its structure supports the faith it conveys. Abū Hurayra narrated that the Prophet ﷺ said, “The most perfect believer in respect of faith is he who is best of them in manners.”7 In other words, the one who believes in the unseen, and as a product of doing so puts their trust in Allāh ﷻ, alone, comports their faith via the structure of the Sacred Law, on the basis of good manners with God. Abū ᶜAlī al-Daqqāq said8, “The servant’s obedience causes him to arrive into Paradise, while his proper comportment in that obedience to Him causes him to arrive to Allāh Himself (ﷻ).” 

Ultimately, the etiquette of comportment is to know its placement amongst all other activities, inward or outward. If one is able to pay proper attention to this fact, one may have Allāh Himself ﷻ.

May Allāh ﷻ give us Allāh ﷻ.

Imām Muḥammad ᶜAbd al-Laṭīf Finch

(originally posted on 6 August 2014 for Al-Madina Institute; republished with permission from Imām Finch)

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1 Ibn ᶜArabī al-Sā’iḥ, Bughya al-mustafīd li sharḥ munya al-murīd; trans. A.L. Finch (Beirut: Dār al-Jīl, 2005), 39.

2 Ibn Māja.

3 al-Bukhārī.

4 Ibn Māja.

5 Abū Dāwūd.  

6 Jāmiᶜ al-Tirmidhī 2684.

7 Sunan Abī Dāwūd # 4682.

8 Ibn ᶜArabī al-Sā’iḥ, Bughya al-mustafīd li sharḥ munya al-murīd; trans. A.L. Finch (Beirut: Dār al-Jīl, 2005), 39.

Is the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ the best of the Prophets or not ?

و صلى الله على سيدنا محمد و على آله حق قدره و مقداره العظيم

Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse (may Allāh ﷻ be pleased with him) comments on the following ayah

Those are the ones to whom We gave the Scripture and authority and prophethood. But if the disbelievers deny it, then We have entrusted it to a people who are not therein disbelievers. Those are the ones whom Allāh has guided, so from [all of] their guidance take an example [O Muḥammad] (6:89-90)

"This Qur’ānic proof is the most conclusive testimony regarding the superiority of the Messenger ﷺ over all the Prophets and Messengers. God ﷻ mentioned them all, and yet he has characteristics superior to them all. They all took on praiseworthy character, yet each of them had a particular one that they became famous for. David ﷺ and Solomon ﷺ were people of gratitude, joining between kingship and prophecy. They thanked God ﷻ. Therefore, they are the people of appreciation. Job ﷺ was of the people of endurance. Moses ﷺ was of the people of dazzling miracles. Zachariah, John, and Jesus ﷺ were the people of asceticism in the world. Joseph ﷺ joined between endurance and thankfulness, as he was persistent in his beginning and thankful in his end. Whereas they all took on these character traits, the Prophet [Muḥammad] ﷺ was commanded to take them all as examples. This is a proof for the fact that he is the best of all of them because he gathered in himself what was dispersed amongst them."

—Shaykh Ibrāhīm Niasse et al; “In the Gardens of Quranic Commentary (Fī riyāḍ al-tafsīr li al-qur’ān al-karīm)”, Volume 2, pg. 226-227 (trans. A.L. Finch)

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'ان الله يأمركم أن تؤدوا الآمانات الى اهلها (النساء: الاية ٥٨) وأداء الامانة إلى أهلها هو الفتوة ولهذا قال الله تعالى لموسى عليه السلام حين سأله عن الفترة: 'الفتوة أن ترد نفسك الى طاهرة كما قبلتها مني طاهرة.' والله الموقف.


‘Verily Allāh has commanded that the trust be returned to their owners.’ (4:58).

Returning the trusts is chivalry. For this reason, God ﷻ replied to Moses ﷺ when the latter asked Him about chivalry: ‘Chivalry is to return your self to God ﷻ [just as] pure just as you received it from me while it was pure.’ God is the one who causes [all things] to be realized.

Shaykh ᶜAbd al-Razzāq al-Qashānī, “Comportment of Spiritual Wayfaring and Secrets of Reality (Adab al-sulūk wa asrār al-ḥaqīqa)”, p. 173 (trans. A.L. Finch)