The Meaning of the Word of Unity
Translated & Narrated by Aliya Atalay
The Word of Unity: La ilaha illallah, comprises the foundation of the Islamic faith.
Taken literally, it means: There is no god, only Allah.
If we evaluate its meaning… La means No, ilaha means god, i.e. there is no god.
Note that, the first part of the word of unity is a denunciation: there is no god, there is no deity, after which it establishes the realityilla Allah, there is ONLY ALLAH!
It is of paramount importance that we understand how big a mistake it would be to evaluate and translate this statement according to the colloquial language spoken by the Arab population today.
Let us give an example. The Arabic statement: La rajulun illa Ali can be translated literally as: ‘There is no real man except/but Ali’ or ‘There is no man like Ali’ or ‘Among the men none are Ali’s alike’ (note that all of these statements denote there are in fact other men, but they are not like Ali). However, when the word illa is used in conjunction with the word ALLAH it does not mean ‘a god like Allah’, that is, it should not be understood as ‘there other gods, but none are like Allah’, as the very meaning denoted by the word ALLAH invalidates this supposition from the onset.
Just as the auxiliary verb was (khaane), when used in conjunction with Allah, loses its general meaning and is taken as the present simple tense, when the word except (illa) appears next to the word Allah it also loses its general connotation and is taken to mean only. Here is an example:
KhaanALLAhu gafurur rahiyma cannot be translated as ‘Allah was Ghafur and Rahim’as the qualities denoted by the Names of Allah cannot be subject to time; they are ever present and ever effective.
Similarly, illa Allah cannot mean except Allah, which denotes the existence of others, but must be understood as only Allah!
The compositional qualities of the One to which the word Allah refers, does not accept the existence of another, especially that beside itself.
Hence, khaane, illa and all other expressions that denote time and (other) existence must be construed appropriate to the meaning of Allah when used in conjunction with it. Otherwise, it will inevitably result in the conception of a god beyond!