Has no equal
It is also evident from the Shahaddah; the declaration of Faith which is one of the five pillars of Islam: “I bear witness that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”
How did this come about? Islam developed at a time and place when polytheism was the norm - the Bedouin tribes of Arabia that Muhammad came from worshipped many gods and the Kaaba was cleared of these idols by Muhammad and his followers. Islam differed radically in stressing the oneness of Allah - but God is also utterly different from us and beyond our comprehension. That is why God is given 99 names in Islam, this shows that one cannot pin God down or reify him. So being One does not make God simple!
Allah cannot be described fully by any or all of these names but they help Muslims to think about Allah’s unknowable nature.
Many Muslims recite the names as one of the forms of dhikr (remembrance) to develop their awareness of Allah and some Muslims use prayer beads (subha) to help them remember as they recite.
Some examples of the 99 names:
- Al-Rahman, the All-beneficent (the Compassionate)
- Al-Rahim, the Most Merciful
- Al-Aziz, the Almighty (the Victorious)
- Al-Hakam, the Judge
The concept of Tawhid should serve as a reminder to us, whether we are religious or not, that our lives are fleeting and that we cannot hope to understand anything like all there is to know. Muslims believe that Allah is the only being in this position, likewise Christians and Jews have the same concept of God. There is something very salutatory in this idea, especially in a society that seems to be less and less appreciative of the value of knowledge (the "I can just Google it" culture). I am not saying we should not strive for knowledge and understanding, far from it. But I am saying that we also need to be humble in the face of the vastness of the cosmos and our tiny place within it.