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Surah al-Ikhlas (No. 112: 'Devotion')

Verses 1-4

بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ

In the Name of Allah, the All-beneficent, the All-merciful.

قُلْ هُوَ اللَّهُ أَحَدٌ

Say, 'He, Allah, is One. (112:1).

اللَّهُ الصَّمَدُ

Allah is the All-embracing. (112:2).

لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ

He neither begat, nor was begotten, (112:3).

وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ

nor has He any equal. (112:4).

1. Absolute Oneness Of Essence

The significance of this surah is the same as that of Ayat al-Kursiy: insofar as it describes the Lord and styles Him with the most exalted attributes, namely absolute oneness of essence (ahadiyyah), the absence of any equal to Him, whether in essence, attributes or deeds, the logical corollary of which is that He alone is worthy of turning to in every matter, and that He is exalted above any composition such that He would need any other being, or that would require Him to take on a physical form.

This is why this surah has acquired such a special place of honour, because it expounds the loftiest realities of existence in a few short verses; in a narration from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) about the Mi'raj, we read that Allah said to the Prophet (S): 'Recite [the surah] 'Say Allah, He is One' as it came down, for it is My attribution and My description.'1 Which is why it is appropriate to affirm the contents of this surah by saying 'Thus is Allah, my Lord!' (kadhalik Allahu rabbi) after we recite it in prayer.

2. Equal To One Third Of The Entire Qur’an

Narrations2 state explicitly that this surah is equal to a third of the entire Qur’an, and this has been explained in a number of ways:

a. That this is with regards to the doctrinal teachings of the Qur'an as represented by divine unity (tawhid), prophethood (nubuwah) and resurrection (ma'ad). And this surah undertakes to expound the first of these three.

b. That this is because the very foundation of the Shari'ah is knowing Allah in three dimensions; namely with regards to His Essence, His attributes and His actions. And this surah also, undertakes to explain the first of these three.

c. Insofar as the Qur’an in its entirety revolves around faith, morality and parables of peoples of the past. And this surah undertakes to explain the first of these three.

3. Affinity Between The Last Four Surahs

There is a certain affinity between the four surahs towards the end of the Qur'an that begin with the command: 'Say...!' (qul), namely Surah al-Nass, Surah al-Falaq, Surah al-lkhlas and Surah al-Kafirun:

a. In al-Ikhlas, the aspect of affirmation is dominant; namely that of turning to the aspect of Lordship and all of its corollaries such as relying only upon Allah in seeking one's needs.

b. In al-Kafirun, the aspect of negation is dominant; namely that of turning towards any object of worship besides Him, and both of these surahs are connected to the actions of the heart.

c. As for al-Nass and al-Falaq, they both expound the way to being saved from the evil of every whisperer (muwaswis) who bars the way to obeying Allah, and the evil of every envier who envies one's blessings, and the harm of every evil thing, whether the darkness of the night or a sorcerer's witchcraft. And all these are connected to the actions of the limbs.

4. Allah's Magnificent Name

Allah's Magnificent Name (lafz al-jalah)3 appears in more than one thousand five hundred places throughout the Qur'an. This is the name used to denote all Allah's attributes of magnificence and perfection in their totality, as opposed to those names which signify one of the many attribute, such as the All-Generous (al­ karim), the Knower (al-'alim) etc.

And all the parts that make up this blessed Name appear in the Qur'an, beginning with "Allah" itself, then "lillah", "lahu" and ending with the pronoun that refers to Him: "huwwa."

5. Referring To Allah With The Pronoun 'Huwa’ (He)

Referring to Allah with the pronoun 'He' (huwa) as a metonymy for Him (kinaya 'anhu), not - as some have suggested - as the subject of the sentence, followed by the Magnificent Name itself, conveys some deep ideas, insofar as:

a. It refers first to that dimension of Allah, which, in its perfection and intangibility, is above specification and description, using the word: 'He.'

b. Then it refers to Him with the Name that signifies His attributes, using the word: 'Allah.'

c. Then it refers to Him with one of His attributes, 'One,' then another; 'the All-Embracing.'

And to grasp the awesomeness of the reference to this first dimension without specifying any name or description, we must look at the words narrated from the Commander of the Faithful (‘a): 'I saw Khidr (‘a) in a dream on the night before [the Battle of] Badr. I told him: "Teach me something which will help me against the enemy!" He said: "Say: 'O He! - O He whom there is no He except He!" So, when I awoke, I related this to Allah's Messenger (S), who told me: "O 'Ali! You have been taught the Greatest Name!" So, it was upon my lips on the Day of Badr.'4

6. Divine Unity

The practical outcome of believing in the oneness of the divine essence, attributes and acts is divine unity in (the acts of) worship; for when someone believes in these, how can he even think of worshipping anyone else? This is how we know that deepening one's theoretical understanding will help him dedicate his worship for Him - for it is human nature to show concern for that, which will fulfill one's needs - when a person sees no efficient cause (mu'aththir) in existence except Him. And this is a logical corollary of the theory of divine unity. It is natural that he will take recourse only to Allah, even if this is just because he wants to attain his goals through Him rather than because He is worthy of worship!

7. Etymology Of The Name “Allah”

The etymology of the name "Allah" denotes a state of perplexity and seeking refuge, when the Arabs use the verb aliha, they mean that the subject of the verb has become perplexed by something and does not know what it is, and when they use the verb walaha, this means that its subject has taken refuge in its object from something which it fears.

And in this context, we can turn to the following narration from the commander of the faithful (‘a): 'Allah means: The object of worship about whom all creation is perplexed, and in whom all creation seeks refuge. Allah is veiled from apprehension by sight, and secluded from all thoughts and suppositions.' 5 And likewise, from Imam al-Baqir (‘a): 'Allah means the object of worship about whom, in trying to grasp His quiddity and encompass His quality, all creation becomes confused.'6

8. The Meanings Of Wahid And Ahad

There is a clear difference between the Arabic terms wahid and ahad; both are translated as 'one', but it is the second which best befits the divine station. This is because when we negate wahid, this does not negate the possibility of a number above one. If you say: 'One person did not come to me' (ma ja'ani wahid), this leaves open the possibility that two or more people did. However, when we negate ahad, this negates all numbers, whether in the mind or in the external world; this negation negates multiplicity in all its forms, which is why we only use the description 'the One' (al­ahad) for the Divine Essence.7

This subtle use of language makes this surah an object of intense interest for those who love plumbing the depths of its meaning; it is narrated that Imam al-Sajjad (‘a) said: 'Allah knew that in the later times there would be people of deep understanding (awqam muta'ammiqun) so, Allah sent down the verse:

“Say: 'He, Allah, is One.” (al-Ikhlas, 112:1).

“Allah is the All-Embracing ...” (al-Ikhlas, 112:2).

And the first verses in Surah al-Hadid up until His words:

“...and He knows best what is in the breasts.” (al-Hadid, 57:6).

So, whoever conjectures beyond what is there will perish.'

9. Multifaceted Words

The Qur’anic approach rests on awakening people's intellects, so, it brings words, which are multifaceted and could apply to numerous meanings, words such as 'Kawthar.'8 Another example is the use of a third person pronoun in this surah, expressing an ambiguous concept: 'Say: 'He...’ then clarifying it ‘...Allah, is One.’ So, we see a succession of predicates for that which is hidden in the utmost with regards to its essence, even if it is manifest in the utmost with regards to its effects.

10. The Word ‘As-Samad’ (The All-Embracing)

The word ‘As-Samad’ (the all-embracing) applies to that which people resort to and rely upon for the fulfillment of their needs, as is narrated from Imam al-Jawad (‘a): When he was asked: ‘What is the All-Embracing (al-samad)?' He replied: 'The master to whom people turn (masmud ilayh) in all matters, great and small.'9 And this term cannot truly be applied to anyone not imbued with the attribute of Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyah), such that there is no equal to Him in essence, attributes or acts.

'The All-Embracing' has been applied to Allah in this verse, taking the magnificent name as the subject of the sentence; just as the attribute 'One' is predicated to the magnificent name too. So, each verse expounds a single aspect of the Divine with a single tenor; insofar as the latter

“Allah is the All-Embracing” (al-Ikhlas, 112:2).

expounds the aspect of Divine Acts, while the former verse

“He, Allah, is One” (al-Ikhlas, 112:1).

expounds the aspect of the Divine Essence, and it is well known that the perfect conception of divine unity encompasses both dimensions.

11. Absolute Oneness

The verses of this surah are arranged in the best manner possible insofar as:

a. The logical consequence of Absolute Oneness (ahadiyyah) is that Allah is the All-Embracing (al-Samad) to whom everything turns because He alone possesses all the attributes of magnificence and perfection.

b. The logical consequence of His being All-Embracing is the negation of any composition (juz'iyyah) from Him, such as being a father or a son, because every compound needs its components. And it is also, a negation of His being a trinity, because a negation such as this cannot be attained unless He is completely without need of any presumed partner, whether at the level of the divine essence, attributes or actions.

12. The Word ‘As-Samad’ (The All-Embracing)

The word 'All-Embracing' has been explained in this surah to mean that which is not hollow. It is narrated from Imam al­Husayn (‘a): 'The All-Embracing is that which is without a cavity (jawf).' Thus the phrase 'All-Embracing' here means something totally solid10, which of course must be a metaphorical expression referring to either:

a. The fact that He is not affected by other beings, as corporeal beings can be compressed because of the spaces they contain within themselves.

b. Or the absence of a womb in which to beget offspring, as exists in His creatures, in which case the words

“He neither begat, nor was begotten” (al-Ikhlas, 112:3).

serve as an explanation of this dimension to Him.

13. The False Attribution Of Fatherhood To Allah

The false ascription of fatherhood to Allah was widespread in earlier peoples, such as the claim that either Jesus or Ezra was His son as in His words:

“The Jews say, 'Ezra is the son of Allah,' and the Christians say, 'Christ is the son of Allah.” (at-Tawbah, 9:30).

Or the claim that the angels are His sons and daughters, as in the verse:

“they... carve out sons and daughters for Him ...” (al-An'am, 6:100).

And this is why the verse first negates fatherhood from Him

He neither begat...nor was He begotten” (al-Ikhlas, 112:3).

before His being begotten, as it was uncommon to claim - as a few idolaters did - that He had been begotten by another deity.

14. Exclusivity

In Arabic rhetoric, placing something earlier in word order when it normally appears later yields the meaning of exclusivity (hasr). So, when the Qur'an places 'has He' (lahu) before 'any equal' in the verse:

“nor has He any equal.” (al-Ikhlas, 112:4).

this indicates that only Allah is without equal, because it is possible to conceive of an equal to everything besides him, as all contingent beings are equal by the fact of that they have origin (huduth) and potentiality (qabiliyyah). Another verse which yields this exclusiveness is

“Look! In Allah's remembrance do the hearts find rest!” (ar-Ra'd, 13:28).

So, this indicates that the hearts only find rest in His remembrance, the Most High; the One who has no equal in His essence has no equal in His effects, and one of these is in giving tranquility to human hearts through His remembrance!

15. Equality

Equality in essence cannot apply to any being in the sense of their being two beings whose existence is necessary (wajib al-wujud), but equality in action has many instances throughout history; some give the attribute of arrangement (tadbir) to other beings independently of Allah, as did the idol-worshippers or those who worshipped human beings, for example those who believed that Pharaoh was the highest lord!

And accepting this equality in the arrangement of worldly affairs could be a subtle form of polytheism for those who rely on anyone besides Allah in looking after their affairs, even if they do not actually believe in that.

16. Divine Unity In Legislation And Governance

One of the effects of a deeply rooted faith in divine oneness - in addition to divine unity in worship - is divine unity in legislation and governance. This is the social dimension of divine unity, in addition to the individual dimension which is sometimes mentioned; how can someone who believes in a singular, all-embracing deity who is without equal possibly allow anyone else to rule over him unless he has been appointed by the True Ruler, or to promulgate legislation in some affair whose knowledge he has not been inspired with by the All-Embracing source of revelation?

And this is why the Qur'an counts those who do not rule according to what Allah has sent down as amongst the disbelievers;

“Those who do not judge by what Allah has sent down - it is they who arc the disbelievers.” (al-Ma'idah, 5:44).

  • 1. 'Ilal al-Shara'I, 2/315.
  • 2. See, for instance al-Kafi, 4/644; Wasa'il al-Shi'a, 6/ 225.
  • 3. Meaning the name: "Allah".
  • 4. Tawhid, p. 89.
  • 5. Tawhid, p. 89.
  • 6. Tawhid, p. 89.
  • 7. So, the same sentence using ahad - ma ja’ani ahad - would be translated as 'Not a single person came to me.' And the implications of this are clear in English. [Tr.]
  • 8. Surah al-Kawthar:
    “Surely We have given you Kawthar” (108:1).
  • 9. Al-Kafi, 1/91.
  • 10. Solid as against ‘hollow’ [Note of Al-Islam].