God, unity of


God, unity of
(tawhid)
   Islam places great emphasis on the unity of God, and this became an important theme in all the varieties of Islamic philosophy. It explains a motive for the attraction to Neoplatonism, which has as a central issue how there came to be many things in existence when really there exists only one absolute being or principle. For the Neoplatonists what happens is that the One thinks and through thinking brings other things into existence, since once it thinks it understands that it is a thinking thing, and this brings about a mental division in its perfect unity, and that leads to the production of a range of beings that exist either closer to or more distantly from it. The more perfect and abstract they are, the nearer, the less perfect and the more material are more distant. Another issue was how God related to the world. If God is identified with the One, then He creates the world by emanation, not production. God thinks about Himself and as a result other things are brought into existence, but it would be an interference with God’s perfection and unity were He to know or think about any of these lesser things. The only thing He should think about is Himself, and the world comes about indirectly while the One contemplates the One. Since God is eternal, His thinking is also eternal, and so is what He thinks about, the world. The doctrine of unity then leads to implications that do not accord with the literal meaning of the Qur’an, and the philosophers spent a lot of effort in showing why this was not a problem.
   Although the first employers of Neoplatonism were the Peripatetics, it was also much used by the Isma‘ilis, Illuminationists and Sufi thinkers. The notion of emanation as holding the universe together could be reinterpreted in terms of light for the former, and the idea that the world really is just an aspect of divine unity proved very fertile ground for the last of these.
   Further reading: Leaman 1985/2002; Watt 1962/85

Islamic Philosophy. . 2007.

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