La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah. These words comprise what is known as the shahada, or testimony, among Muslims. It is a phrase that one should hear immediately after birth and should say as he passes from this life. No other words are more repeated by the Muslim, nor are there any more dear to him. Let’s explore the meaning and implications of the two parts of the shahada.
La ilaha illa Allah. These four Arabic words, which mean, literally, “no god but The God,” carry the greatest and richest meaning to a Muslim. The meaning of life, the contentment of the soul, and the essence of truth, goodness and justice lie in the understanding of this brief and simple statement. These four words are uttered numerous times a day by the devout Muslim, but their weight is demonstrated in the conversation between Moses and the Lord in this saying of the Prophet Muhammad: “When Moses asked God to teach him a prayer to recite whenever he remembered or called upon Him, God answered, ‘Say, Moses, “There is no god but Allah.”‘ Moses said, ‘O Lord, all of your servants say these words.’ God said, ‘O Moses, if the seven heavens and all they hold, and the seven earths as well – if all these were weighed against this word of “There is no god but Allah,” the latter would outweigh the former.'” To deny the fact that there is only one God, or to believe in a deity beside or other than God, is the single unforgiveable sin in Islam. The Quran warns, “Indeed, God does not forgive association with him but He forgives what is less than that for whom He wills. And he who associates others with God has certainly gone far astray” (4:116). La ilaha illa Allah.
God, or Allah, is the One Who gives life and brings death, Who owns the earth and everything on it, Who protects, Who knows the unseen and the visible, and in Whose hand lies control over everything (Quran 23:78-92). When someone sincerely believes in one God and His omniscience and omnipotence in the workings of the universe, he achieves clarity in thought, peace in his heart and direction for his entire life. He also gains three main characteristics: he loves God, he calls on Him and he avoids associating other powers to God. La ilaha illa Allah.
The believer naturally loves God, but the Quran warns against loving others more: “And yet, among the people are those who take other than God as equals (to Him). They love them as they (should) love God. But hose who believe are stronger in love for God…” (2:165) Therefore, the love for family, friends, wealth, or any object or activity on earth should not resemble our adoration for God, who is the Giver of such gifts. La ilaha illa Allah.
The believer also frequently calls on God, and God alone, because he knows that “Whoever relies on God will find Him sufficient” (Quran 65:3). This does not mean that he should not try his best to avoid affliction and prepare for a secure future, but he does so knowing that God, out of His infinite wisdom and mercy, will facilitate only what is good for him. The believer is confident that God is always near, hears every prayer and knows every need. La ilaha illa Allah.
It is incumbent upon us to help one another, but the true believer does not rely on others’ help before first calling on God’s support and doing whatever he can to help himself. The Quran encourages good planning and positive action: “God will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves” (13:11). He does not believe in luck or superstitions. He never has blind faith in such things as medicine, his connections, or his own capabilities, but knows that without God’s support, nothing can be achieved. He is also careful not to give sole credit to other people and things, but acknowledges God’s overriding authority and will. La ilaha illa Allah.
Muhammad rasool Allah. The second part of the shahada recognizes Muhammad as the prophet of God, the last of a succession of prophets and messengers that includes Noah, Abraham, Moses, Zachariah and Jesus, among others. To believe that Muhammad is the messenger of God is to believe not only that he delivered a message from God (i.e., the Quran), but also that he lived according to God’s guidance in a way that was acceptable to Him.
Like the words “I do” said for marriage, Muhammad rasool Allah has life-long implications. To believe that Muhammad is the messenger of God is to believe that his commands, prohibitions, characteristics and habits are also God-inspired. The Quran states, “Accept anything the Messenger may command you, and keep away from anything he forbids you. Heed God; God is stern in punishment!” (59:7) and “You who believe, obey God and His messenger; do not turn away from him after hearing (his commands)” (8:20). Muhammad told the believers, “If you love God, follow me; then God will love you and forgive your offenses God is Forgiving, Merciful” (3:31). Therefore, believers follow Muhammad’s example out of love for God and hoping for God’s love and forgiveness in return. The Muslim is thankful to have a human example of righteousness, or a “human Quran” as he has been called, and he frequently sends blessings on Muhammad in appreciation of the hardship he endured to bring God’s message to mankind.
The shahada is a short phrase that, when applied fully over a lifetime, raises us to our highest potential. It assures us that there is a God Who manages the universe purposefully and Who sent a message to us to guide us to both individual and collective success. It provides an example of an upright person, the prophet Muhammad, who can be followed to gain the Creator’s love and forgiveness. If we analyze every problem, question or situation in our lives against the shahada, thereafter applying its principles, we will find guidance for every circumstance, peace and contentment on a day to day basis, and success that reaches far beyond our earthly expectations – we will inherit Paradise.
La ilaha illa Allah, Muhammad rasool Allah.