I’d like to share a short reflection on the fundamental belief of the Islamic tradition. The Islamic creed is built upon five main pillars: 1) shahada 2) establishing prayer 3) fasting the days of Ramadan 4) giving charity 5) performing Hajj. Of the five pillars of Islam, the first is the shahada, which is a verbal affirmation that there is only one God and that Muhammad (PBUH) was His final messenger [along with all the other prophets, including Adam, Abraham, Jesus, Moses and others (Peace Be Upon Them)].
Thankfully, being a student of the classical traditions of Islam, I learned that the shahada is interestingly nuanced and possesses meaning far deeper than what I had learned at a younger age. I’d like to offer an often overlooked reflection on the first part of that phrase.
Laa ilah illa Allah
Translation: There is no god but God
The word I find interesting here is ilah, which generally translates to ‘god.’ But in classical arabic, the word ilah refers to a central focus: the thing that one holds most important, or the thing one considers most beloved. Thus, the shahada isn’t only affirming that “There is no god but God,” but that “There is nothing I place more central in my life, nothing I prioritize more in my life, nothing that is more beloved to me, other than God.”
If you look at the individual in love, you see that the person is in constant remembrance of his or her beloved because nothing is more prioritized to that person other than his beloved. In the same way, when the Muslim says the shahada, he is affirming that God is his most centralized focus and goal. Nothing matters more.
To me, an inherent element in the Islamic creed is to not only recite “there is no god but God,” but to live the true meaning of that statement. When this happens, the individual is in constant remembrance of God and consequently driven towards a life of righteousness, compassion, and mercy. This is why I identify as a Muslim before anything else. The Muslim is the one who prioritizes God over everything in every wake of his or her life. Through this prioritization does he find the drive towards goodness.
May we all find the drive towards love, compassion, and righteousness.