Having discussed the various literal senses of the word, let us now see what the pre-Islamic concepts of ilah were, and which of these the Qur’an strove to reject: “And they have taken for their Ailihah others than Allah, that they may according to their reckoning be a source of strength to them” (or that coming under their protection may confer security). (Quran 19:81). “And they have taken others than Allah as their Ailihah hoping that they might be helped when needed”. (Quran 36:74).
From these two verses we learn that the Arabs of the Jahiliyyah (the pre-Islamic period of Ignorance) believed that those whom they regarded as ilah were their patrons, would come to their rescue in time of danger or difficulty, and that by placing themselves under their protection they rendered themselves safe from fear, molestation or harm. “And when the Decree of your Lord had gone forth (and the time came for its execution), the Ailihah they used to invoke instead of Allah proved of no avail to them and contributed only to their doom”. (Quran 11:101). “And those whom the people call to instead of Allah have not created aught, but are themselves creatures. Dead they are, and not alive, and they know not when they would be raised from their state; the real ilah is the One and Only Ilah”. (Quran 18:20-21).
“Invoke not; or pray to, any ilah along with Allah. There is no ilah but He. [It should be borne in mind that the word Ilah is used in the Qur’an in two different senses, namely, the object or being, etc., to whom worship is actually being given, irrespective of whether rightly or wrongly, and the Being who is really worthy of worship. In this verse, the word is used in the first sense on the first occasion and in the other sense on the second”. (Quran 28:88). “....And those who, instead of praying to Allah, pray to His supposed associates do but follow suppositions and idle guesses”. (Quran 10:66)
These verses point to three aspects. The first is that the Arabs used to address their prayers to those whom they regarded as their ilah and invoke them in times of distress or for fulfillment of any of their needs. The second is that these ilah included not only Jinns, angels, and Allihas, but dead humans too, as one can see from the second of the above verses. The third is that they believed that these ilah could hear their prayers and could come to their rescue.
It seems desirable to clear up one point, at this stage, about the nature of the prayer made to the ilah or aaliha and the help or succor sought of them. If I feel thirsty, and call to my servant to give me some water, or am unwell and call for a doctor for treatment, my summons to them does not constitute Du’a, that is, it has no similarity to a prayer sent up to a deity, nor does this make either the servant or the doctor into an ilah. Both these are common, in everyday happenings, with nothing of the supernatural about them. However, if I should, while feeling thirsty or unwell, call to some saint or Allah instead of the servant or a doctor that obviously would amount to treating the saint or Allah as an ilah and to my addressing a Du’a to him.
Addressing a prayer to a saint confined to his grave hundreds or even thousands of miles away. In point of principle, it makes no difference if the distance were of a few feet only, the significant point being the act of addressing a prayer to someone who is dead and is believed to possess, even in, or perhaps because of that state, some extraordinary powers not only of hearing the prayer but also of granting it if he so chooses. It is also believed that the saint may, if he cannot himself grant the prayer, pass it up to Allah with a recommendation clearly indicates that I believe him–though dead–to be possessed of the power to listen to a prayer at such a distance or to otherwise being aware of things so far off or, if one may use the appropriate Arabic words, to be both Samih and Baseer. Literally, these words, which are actually two of Allah’s personal attributes, mean, the All-Hearing the A11-Seeing, respectively.
Allah’s knowledge transcends everything, and He is aware of everything that is happening anywhere. This is not the case with His creatures, whose capacities in these respects are severely limited. To believe someone other than Allah (SWT) to have power to physically hear prayer offered out of his hearing or to see things happening out of his sight amounts to attributing to him powers which are Allah’s only, and which He has never given to any of His creatures. My action would clearly imply belief in their exercising such a way over the realm of creation as to be able to have water reach me or to make me recover from my illness. In the case of an Allah, my prayer would mean that I believe him to possess power over water and over health and sickness, and to therefore arrange, by supernatural means, to fulfill my needs. Thus, the basis on which a prayer is addressed to someone includes necessarily a concept of his being possessed of some supernatural authority and power.
“And, verily, We did destroy the places of which you see ruins about you, and We showed them Our signs in diverse ways that they might turn (away from their wrong ways to Us). So why did not those whom they had made their Ailihah, and presumed to have access to Us, help them in their hour of doom? Far from helping, they abandoned them and made themselves scarce, exposing the hollowness of their falsehoods and fabrications. [The reference here obviously is not to mythological or inanimate Allihas, but to priests and others who exacted peoples’ worship and thus set themselves up as Ailihah in opposition to the True Ilah. (Quran 46:27, 28). “And wherefore should I not give my worship to Him who created me and to Whom all of you will return? Should I take for myself ilah other than Allah Who, should He Who is also Ar-Rahman wish me any harm, will avail me naught by their intercession, nor will they be able to come to my rescue?” (Quran 36:22-23).
“And those who have taken others than Allah as protectors or helpers say,” We do not worship them except that they may bring us closer to Him.” Allah will decide for them on the Day of Judgment regarding that in which they differ”. (Quran 39:3). “And they worship other than Allah those who have power neither to harm nor benefit them, and they say that they are their intercessors with Him”. (Quran 10:18).
What we learn from these verses is, firstly, that it was not that the Arabs believed their aaliha to account for the whole of divinity among themselves or that there was no Supreme Being over and above them. They quite clearly believed in the existence of such a Being for whom they employed the special Proper name of” Allah.” As for their aaliha, their belief consisted essentially of the concept that they enjoyed some share in the divinity of the Supreme Allah, that their word carried some weight with Him, and that their intercession could result in some gains or ward off some harm or loss. It was on these grounds that they regarded them as Ailihah besides Allah and, considering their precept and practice, we may say that it was the belief about someone to have power to intercede with Allah, the act of addressing of prayers to him for help, the performing of certain devotions indicative of respect and reverence and adoration, and the making of offerings, that constituted in their terminology, the treating of Him as ilah. And Allah said: “Do not make two Ailihah; there is but one ilah; so, fear Me alone.” (Quran 16:51)
(TO BE CONCLUDED)
(The Author is Director International Center for Spiritual Studies, Islamic University of Science and Technology Awantipora Pulwama. Former Director, Shah-i-Hamadan Institute of Islamic Studies, University of Kashmir Srinagar. He can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org)