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Shahadah - The First Pillar of Islam: The Spiritual and Political Significance

Contents Of Subjects Covered

  1. Summarising The First Pillar Of Islam - The Shahadah
  2. Understanding the Shahadah In a Western Context?
  3. Is There a Conflict of Interest In A Muslim’s Shahadah Whilst Living As A Citizen Of An Non-Islamic State?
  4. Why is the Shahadah Important To A Muslim?
  5. Mankind Undertook The Shahadah At The Time Of Creation
  6. Mankind Has Forgotten The Shahadah Undertaken At The Time Of Creation
  7. Why Is the Shahadah A Muslim’s Last Words Before Death?
  8. There Is A Battle With The Devil At The Time Of Death
  9. Saying The Shahadah In Times Of Fear, Sadness And Sin
  10. Should An Apostate Who Breaks the Oath Of The Shahadah And Becomes a Non-Muslim Be Executed?
  11. What Are The Theological Evidences That Allow Apostates to Be Executed?
  12. What Are The Theological Evidences That Allow Apostates to Live?
  13. How To Reconcile Conflicting Views On Muslim Apostasy?
  14. What Was Muhammad (saw) Attitude Towards Muslim Apostates?
  15. What Was Abu Bakr (ra) Attitude Towards Muslim Apostates?
  16. What Was Umar (ra) Attitude Towards Muslim Apostates?
  17. What Was Ali (ra) Attitude Towards Muslim Apostates?
  18. Understanding Islam’s Attitude Towards Apostasy Within a Western Context
  19. Conclusion
the-spiritual-and-political-significance-of-the-first-pillar-of-islam-the-shahadah

1) Summarising The First Pillar Of Islam - The Shahadah

Islam is the five Pillars:

  • Shahadah - to bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah;
  • Salat - to establish the Salât,
  • Zakat - to pay the Zakat,
  • Fasting - to fast (the month of) Ramadhan; and
  • Hajj - to perform pilgrimage to the House (the Ka’ba), if you have the means.

The Shahadah is: ‘La ilaha illallah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah’ which means: ‘I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and I testify that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah’. The Shahadah is the first pillar of Islam[2] and is ones declaration, intention and proclamation to join or be a part of the Islamic faith. The Shahadah serves both a religious and political purpose. Religiously the utterance of the Shahadah instils strength and hope to a Muslim in times of fear, sadness and general adversity. Politically the Shahadah is an individual’s solemn pledge and oath to God; and loyalty to God implies goodness of intent and action in serving humanity.

…The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘Islam means to bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah; to establish the Salât, to pay the Zakat, to fast (the month of) Ramadhan and to perform pilgrimage to the House (the Ka’ba), if you have the means…

— REFERENCE: SAHIH MUSLIM HADITH NUMBER: [93] 1 – (8) [1]

2) Understanding the Shahadah In a Western Context?

In order to understand the first pillar of Islam (the Shahadah) in a Western context, see it as an oath of allegiance similar to a ceremonial citizenship ceremony that takes place in various parts of the world. During a State citizenship ceremony, an individual becomes a member of a State by swearing allegiance to a new authority and/or country.

In the UK, the oath of allegiance is:

‘I [your name] swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to law’. Furthermore, after swearing allegiance to the Queen [and her heirs and successors], a further pledge of commitment is made to the UK via the following vow: ‘I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.’ .[3]

Likewise, similar to a British citizens oath of allegiance which is made to the Queen [and her heirs and successors] followed by a pledge of loyalty to the United Kingdom; the first pillar of Islam (the Shahadah) is a Muslim’s sworn oath and pledge of allegiance to Allah and Muhammad (saw) by saying:

‘La ilaha illallah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah’Which means: ‘I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and I testify that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah. [4]

the-spiritual-and-political-significance-of-the-first-pillar-of-islam-the-shahadah

3) Is There a Conflict of Interest In A Muslim’s Shahadah Whilst Living As A Citizen Of An Non-Islamic State?

Is there a conflict of interest in a Muslim’s Shahadah whilst living as a citizen of a Non-Islamic State? It all depends on your outlook and world-view. The Shahadah is a Muslim’s sworn oath and pledge of allegiance to Allah and Muhammad (saw) by saying:

La ilaha illallah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah’ which means: ‘I testify that none has the right to be worshiped but Allah and I testify that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah’

The UK oath of allegiance is:

‘I [your name] swear by Almighty God that on becoming a British citizen, I will be faithful and bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second, her heirs and successors according to law’. Furthermore, after swearing allegiance to the Queen [and her heirs and successors], a further pledge of commitment is made to the UK via the following vow: ‘I will give my loyalty to the United Kingdom and respect its rights and freedoms. I will uphold its democratic values. I will observe its laws faithfully and fulfil my duties and obligations as a British citizen.’ .[5]

My personal opinion is that if you as an individual view that the State in which you live is in conflict and at odds with Allah and Muhammad (saw), then, there is a conflict of interest in a Muslim’s Shahadah whilst living as a citizen of a non-Islamic State. If you on the other-hand view that the non-Islamic State in which you live is impartial, and both fair and just in treating all of its citizens with equality, then, there is no conflict of interest in a Muslim’s Shahadah whilst living as a citizen of a non-Islamic State.

An example of a State that is in conflict and at odds with Allah and Muhammad (saw) would be a nation with extreme right-wing tendencies that revokes the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights.[6] If however you view that the State in which you live adheres and abides by the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, then, there is no conflict of interest in a Muslim’s Shahadah whilst living as a citizen of a non-Islamic State.

the-spiritual-and-political-significance-of-the-first-pillar-of-islam-the-shahadah

4) Why is the Shahadah Important To A Muslim?

The most obvious reason that the Shahadah is important to a Muslim is because it is the first of five pillars of Islam.[7]

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However, the recitation of the Shahadah is not merely a verbal utterance but entails much more.[9] The Shahadah is a Muslim’s sworn pledge and oath of allegiance to Allah and Muhammad (saw). With the Shahadah, a Muslim vows to follow the teachings and edicts of Allah and Muhammad (saw). Whether one truly succeeds in honouring this vow to follow the teachings and edicts of Allah and Muhammad (saw) will only be known to you if you sense a feeling of happiness and contentment whilst alive, because the feeling of happiness and contentment is a sign of guidance.

…'There is no one among you, no living soul, but Allah has decreed his place in Paradise or the Fire, and it has been decreed whether he is miserable or happy.' A man said: '0 Messenger of Allah, shouldn't we rely on our destiny and stop striving?' He said: 'Whoever is one of the happy, he will find himself doing the deeds of the happy, and whoever is one of the miserable, he will find himself doing the deeds of them miserable.' He (saw) said: 'Do good deeds, for everyone is helped (to do their deeds). The happy are helped to do the deeds of the happy, and the miserable are helped to do the deeds of the miserable.'…

REFERENCE: SAHIH MUSLIM, HADITH NUMBER: [6731] 6 – (2647) [10]

Quite what it means to follow the teachings and edicts of Allah and Muhammad (saw) is open to interpretation and a lifelong journey as you search for the meaning of life. You may only know the true meaning of life, and the significance of this vow (of the Shahadah), if you are fortunate enough to attain a level of Taqwa. Whereby Taqwa is to become curiously conscious of your conscience hidden within yourself, because hidden within your conscience and attached to your soul is where you will find God.

5) Mankind Undertook The Shahadah At The Time Of Creation

During the creation of Adam (as); Allah also bought forth from within Adam (as) all of our souls. Allah then spoke to our souls directly [11] and posed a rhetorical question by saying:

‘Am I not your Lord?’ We said: ‘Why not! You are. We bear witness (that You alone are our Lord)…’

— (Quran 7:172)

Essentially, the Shahadah is the reaffirmation of a testimony that every soul has already undertaken. We testified in the presence of God that Allah is our Lord on the day that Adam (as) along with our souls was created. However, none remembers the day that Adam (as) along with the rest of our souls were created, nor do we remember the testimony we undertook in the presence of God.

In essence, the Shahadah is a reaffirmation and reminder of a testimony which every soul has already undertaken in the presence of God on the day that Adam (as) along with rest of our souls were created. Whether one truly succeeds in striving to honor the Shahadah and search for the purpose of life will be a matter for Allah to judge in the afterlife, but the Shahadah nonetheless is a vow that humanity vowed to uphold on the day Adam (as) along with the rest of our souls were created.

And (call to mind) when your Lord brought forth the human race from the loins of the Children of Adam and made them bear testimony to their own souls (and said:) ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They (all) said: ‘Why not! We bear witness (that You alone are our Lord.’ This He did) lest you should say on the Day of Resurrection: ‘We were unaware of this promise.’

— REFERENCE: QURAN, SURAH AL-ARAF, 7:172 - TRANSLATED BY: MUHAMMAD TAHIR-UL-QADRI [12]

6) Mankind Has Forgotten The Shahadah Undertaken At The Time Of Creation

On the day our souls were created; Dawud (David [as]) was given a sixty-year lifespan, and Adam (as) was granted a one-hundred year lifespan. Adam (as) looking upon the souls of his children through the gaze of a fathers love, was particularly impressed by Dawud (David [as]) whom had an astonishing ray of light beaming from between his eyes. Adam (as) upon becoming impressed by Dawud (David [as]) ray of light beaming from between his eyes; lovingly offered to give Dawud (David [as]) an additional forty-years of life which was to be deducted from Adam (as) one-hundred year grant. Such was our father Adam (as) love for his son Dawud (David [as]) that he (Adam [as]) sacrificed part of his life for his child (Dawud/David [as]). Likewise, I suppose, good fathers to this day sacrifice a part of their own lives working for the betterment of one’s children?

Allah granted Adam (as) request to give Dawud (David [as]) an additional forty-years of life, thus, Adam (as) sacrificed forty-years of his own life in order for his son Dawud (David [as]) to live longer. However, on the day that Adam (as) died, at the ripe old age of sixty, Adam (as) could not remember giving his son Dawud (David [as]) an additional forty years of life. Therefore, Adam (as) queried why the ‘Angel of Death’ had come early, as Adam (as) was expecting to live for another forty years.[13]

Considering Adam (as) forgot that he had given Dawud (David [as]) an additional forty years of life from his own lifespan, but did remember God initially granting Adam (as) one-hundred years; likewise, mankind to this day has a spirit/soul within reminds man of something and that is to yearn God. But the mind has forgotten about the day our souls were created and the solemn oath we pledged whereby we said: “…We bear witness (that You alone are our Lord)…’ (Quran 7:172).

…(Allah said) This is a man from the latter nations of your offspring called Dawud(as).' He (Adam(as)) said: 'Lord! How long did You make his lifespan?' He (Allah) said: 'Sixty years.' He (Adam(as)) said: '0 Lord! Add forty years from my life, to his.' So at the end of Adam's(as) life the Angel of death came to him, and he (Adam(as)) said: 'Do I not have forty years remaining?' He (Angel of death(as)) said: 'Did you not give them to your son Dawud(as)?" He (Muhammad (saw) said: "Adam(as) denied, so his offspring denied, and Adam forgot and his offspring forgot…

REFERENCE: TIRMIDHI - HADITH NUMBER: 3076 - GRADED: HASAN [14]

7) Why Is the Shahadah A Muslim’s Last Words Before Death?

The Shahadah is:

La ilaha illallah, Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah’, which means: ‘I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and I testify that Muhammad (saw) is the Messenger of Allah’ [15]

However, on one’s dying deathbed it is sufficient to just say ‘La ilaha illallah’, which means: ‘I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah.[16]

Muhammad (saw) said that the one whose last words are La ilaha illallah (I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah)[17] will enter Paradise. Therefore, Muslims on their dying deathbed ultimately trust this statement of Muhammad (saw), and having faith in Muhammad (saw) instruction implies acceptance of Muhammad (saw) prophethood, which is perhaps why there is no further need to say Muhammad-ur-Rasul Allah’ as part of a dying persons Shahadah.

Muhammad (saw) instruction was to say La ilaha illallah on ones deathbed; and La ilaha illallah to a dying person is a comforting and soothing statement because it carries the belief and hope that the one who utters La ilaha illallah as their last words will enter Paradise.

…The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: ‘The one whose last words are La ilaha illallah will enter Paradise’…

— REFERENCE: SUNAN ABU DAWUD - HADITH NUMBER: 3116 - GRADED: HASAN [18]

8) There Is A Battle With The Devil At The Time Of Death

Keep the Shahadah on your tongue and in your heart at all times. If you do not keep the Shahadah alive whilst you are well, able and healthy; then, what guarantee do you have that you will remember or want to or even be able to say it on your death bed? In essence, if the Shahadah is unimportant to you whilst you are alive, well, and healthy, then, it may become difficult for you to say ‘La ilaha illallah’ at death as it will not be a priority or come naturally. Therefore, keep the Shahadah on your tongue and in your heart at all times; whether you are happy, sad or scared.

‘Have Taqwa of Allah as is His due, die not except as (true) Muslims.’

— QURAN, SURAH AL-IMRAN 3:102 - TRANSLATED BY: SAFIUR-RAHMAN AL-MUBARAKPURI [19]

…preserve your Islam while you are well and safe, so that you die as a Muslim. The Most Generous Allah has made it His decision that whatever state one lives in that is what he dies upon and is resurrected upon. We seek refuge from dying on other than Islam…

— REFERENCE: TAFSIR IBN KATHIR - 3:102 [20]

At the time of death; Satan will have one last attempt to digress and convince your mind that Allah and the afterlife does not exist. The Devil may fill your mind with much regret, sadness, doubt and sorrow but do not be fooled by his evil whispering; remember to die as the Muslim that you came by saying:

La ilaha illallah (I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah)’ [21]

Have firm belief in Muhammad (saw) words that:

“…the one whose last words are La ilaha illallah will enter Paradise’…”

— (Sunan Abu Dawud, 3116, Hasan)

Muhammad (saw) himself would supplicate and seek refuge in Allah from the confusion that Satan causes at death, therefore it is paramount that lesser mortals such as ourselves are aware of the devils trick prior to our appointment with the Angel of Death (as).

…And I seek refuge in You from the Satan confusing me at (the time of any) death. And I seek refuge in You from dying while turning away from Your path…

— REFERENCE: SUNAN ABU DAWUD - HADITH NUMBER: 1552 - GRADED: HASAN [22]

9) Saying The Shahadah In Times Of Fear, Sadness And Sin

I find that to say the Shahadah in times of fear instills bravery. I also find that to say the Shahadah in times of sadness, sorrow and depression brings hope. But I find it difficult to say the Shahadah when sinful thoughts appear, perhaps I or the devil reminds me of the mercy of Allah so as to justify the sin? I suppose I am an ungrateful slave that only turns to Allah when I need Him. Nonetheless, even though I struggle to say the Shahadah when an evil thought appears, Allah says to remember Him in order to see sense.

Surely, those who have adopted piety, when some temptation from Satan touches them, they actively remember (the commands and prohibitions of Allah and the wickedness and hostility of Satan). So, the eyes (of their hearts) open up right away.

— REFERENCE: QURAN, SURAH AL-ARAF, 7:201 - TRANSLATED BY: MUHAMMAD TAHIR-UL-QADRI [23]

10) Should An Apostate Who Breaks the Oath Of The Shahadah And Becomes a Non-Muslim Be Executed?

The Shahadah is a Muslim’s sworn oath and pledge of allegiance to Allah and Muhammad (saw). For a Muslim to become apostate is to break this sacred vow and covenant with Allah and Muhammad (saw). Therefore, if a Muslim becomes non-Muslim, he has broken his sacred vow of allegiance to Allah and Muhammad (saw). I do not know the answer to the question of ‘if a Muslim apostates whether he should be executed or not’; because the matter is rather complex with valid theological arguments both ‘for’ and ‘against’. I will however provide both sides of an argument with the intention of trying to shed some light on this intricate issue. Firstly so as to be clear, below is the English definition of ‘apostate’.

Apostate: A person who abandons his religion, party, cause, etc.

— REFERENCE: COLLINS DICTIONARY [24]

11) What Are the Theological Evidences That Allow Apostates to Be Executed?

Evidence One:

The most obvious theological argument to justify the killing of Muslim apostates can be seen in Muhammad (saw) own words whereby he said:

“…Whoever changes his religion, execute him.”

— REFERENCE: SUNAN IBN MAJAH - HADITH NUMBER: 2535, GRADED: SAHIH [25]

Evidence Two:

Another obvious theological argument justifying the killing of apostates can be seen in the example below whereby a Jewish man had become a Muslim but then apostatized from Islam thus executed.

…Mu'adh came to 'Ali while I was in Yemen, and there was a man who had been Jewish, then he accepted Islam, then he apostatized from Islam. When Mu'adh came he said: 'I will not dismount until he is executed, so he was executed.'" One of them said: "And he had been asked to repent before that.’

— REFERENCE: SUNAN ABU DAWUD - HADITH NUMBER: 4355, GRADED: HASAN [26]

Evidence Three:

A further theological argument justifying the killing of apostates can be seen in the example below during the Riddah war whereby a group of Muslims were deemed to have apostatised and subsequently attacked because of their refusal to pay Zakat (tax) during the reign of Abu Bakr (RA). I call this type of apostasy subtle because some of those attacked by Abu Bakr (RA) during the Riddah war considered themselves to be Muslims, whereas Abu Bakr (RA) disagreed due to their refusal to pay Zakat (tax) which Abu Bakr (RA) considered amounted to apostasy. This type of apostasy whereby one group claiming to be Muslim but another disagreeing is an internal conflict / dispute, and this is somewhat different to an outright proclamation of apostasy. Notwithstanding, the Riddah war of 632CE in itself was a complex politico-religious mess that centred on tax evasion, rebellion and the false claims of the prophet Musaylimah and his followers in Al-Yamamah; [27] but, nonetheless, some of those killed by Abu Bakr (RA) during the Riddah war did profess to saying ‘La ilaha illallah’ yet deemed apostates.

…When the apostates apostatised at the time of Abu Bakr, 'Umar said: How can you fight the people, 0 Abu Bakr, when the Messenger of Allah (saw) said: "I have been commanded to fight the people until they say La ilaha illallah (there is no god but Allah), and whoever says La ilaha illallah, his wealth and his life are protected from me except in cases dictated by Islamic law, and his reckoning will be with Allah"? Abu Bakr said: By Allah, I will most certainly fight those who separate prayer and zakah, for zakah is what is due on wealth, By Allah, if they withhold from me a small she-goat that they used to give to the Messenger of Allah (saw) , I will certainly fight them for withholding it… REFERENCE: MUSNAD AHMED - HADITH NUMBER: 239, GRADED: SAHIH [28]

Evidence Four:

Lastly, during the reign of Ali (RA) a group of people following Abdullah-bin-Sabbah apostatized by considering Ali (RA) to be Divine. Ali (RA) burnt some members of this group alive so as to send out a strong message of deterrence to others. [29]

…Ali (RA) burnt some people who apostatized from Islam…

— REFERENCE: TIRMIDHI HADITH NUMBER: 1458 GRADED: SAHIH [30]

12) What Are the Theological Evidences That Allow Apostates to Live?

Evidence One:

During the lifetime of Muhammad (saw); a man by the name of Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (ra) converted to Islam and migrated to Abyssinia along with his Muslim wife, Umm Habiba (ra). When Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (RA) arrived in Abyssinia, he adopted Christianity and parted from Islam. After Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh’s (RA) conversion to Christianity, the Muslim’s that were in Abyssinia would say to Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (RA): ‘We see clearly, but your eyes are only half open,’ i.e. ‘We see, but you are only trying to see and cannot see yet.’ Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (RA) lived the remainder of his life in Abyssinia and died as a Christian without returning to Islam. When Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (RA) died of a natural death, Muhammad (saw) married his wife Umm Habiba (ra) who had remained a Muslim. [31] The point I am making is that Ubaydullah-Bin-Jahsh (RA) apostatized from Islam but he was not killed nor attacked by Muhammad (saw) or his followers.