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 Islamic doctrine emphasizes the oneness, uniqueness, and transcendence of God.  As such, God is different from anything that the human senses can perceive or that the human mind can imagine.  Islam teaches that God encompasses all creation, but no mind can fully encompass or grasp Him.  God, however, is manifest through His creation and, through reflection, humankind can easily discern the wisdom and power behind the creation of the world.  Because of God's oneness and His transcendence of human experience and knowledge, Islamic law forbids representations of God, the prophets, and human beings in general and any attitude of worship toward images and icons is strictly forbidden in Islam.  As a result of this belief, Islamic art came to excel in a variety of decorative patterns including leaf shapes later stylized as arabesques, and Arabic script.



Islamic Monotheism


Before Islam, many Arabs believed in a supreme, all-powerful God responsible for creation; however, they also believed in lesser gods.  With the coming of Islam, the Arab concept of God was purged of elements of polytheism and turned into a qualitatively different concept of uncompromising belief in one God, or monotheism.


The status of the Arabs before Islam is considered to be one of ignorance of God, and Islamic sources demonstrate that Islam brought about a complete break from Arab concepts of God and a radical transformation in Arab belief about God.


The doctrine of monotheism in Islam is a continuation of that found in the original Jewish and Christian scriptures.  However, the Qur'an and Islamic traditions stress the distinctions between Islam and later forms of the two other religions. According to Islamic belief, both Moses and Jesus, like others before them, were prophets commissioned by God to preach the essential and eternal message of Islam. The legal codes introduced by these two prophets, the Ten Commandments and the Gospel, took different forms than the Qur'an, but according to Islamic understanding, at the level of doctrine, they were the same teaching.  The recipients of scriptures are called the "people of the book" or the "scriptured people."  Like the Jews and the Christians before them, Muslims became scriptured when God revealed his word to them through a prophet; God revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), commanding him to preach it to his people and later to all humanity.



God’s Relationship to Humankind


Although Muslims believe that the original messages of Judaism and Christianity were given by God, they also believe that Jews and Christians eventually distorted them.  The self-perceived mission of Islam, therefore, has been to restore what Muslims believe is the original monotheistic teaching and to supplant the older legal codes of the Hebrew and Christian traditions with a newer Islamic code of law that corresponds to the evolving conditions of human societies.  Thus, for example, Islamic traditions maintain that Jesus was a prophet whose revealed book was the Gospel, and that later Christians distorted the original scripture and inserted into it the claim that Jesus was the son of God.  Or to take another example, Muslims maintain that the strict laws communicated by Moses in the Torah were appropriate for their time.  Later, however, Jesus introduced a code of behavior that stressed spirituality rather than just ritual and law.


According to Muslim belief, God sent Muhammad (peace be upon him) with the last and perfect legal code that balances the spiritual teachings with law, and thus supplants the Jewish and Christian codes.  According to the teachings of Islam, the Islamic code, called "Shariah,” is the final code, one that will continue to address the needs of humanity in its most developed stages for all time.  The Qur'an mentions 25 pre-Islamic prophets and messengers, and Islamic traditions maintain that God has sent numerous prophets to various peoples since the beginning of creation.  Some of the Qur'anic prophets are familiar from the Hebrew Bible, but others are not mentioned in the Bible and seem to be prophetic figures from pre-Islamic Arabia.


For the Muslim, Islamic history unfolds a divine scheme from the beginning of creation to the end of time.  Creation itself is the realization of God's will in history.  Humans are created to worship God, and human history is punctuated with prophets who guarantee that the world is never devoid of knowledge and proper worship of God.  The sending of prophets is itself understood within Islam as an act of mercy.  God, the creator and sustainer, never abandons his creations, always providing human beings with the guidance they need for their salvation in this world and the world to come after this one.  God is just, and His justice requires informing people, through prophets, of how to act and what to believe before He holds them accountable for their actions and beliefs.  However, once people receive the teachings of prophets and messengers, God's justice also means that he will punish those who do wrong or do not believe and will reward those who do right and do believe. Despite the primacy of justice as an essential attribute of God, Muslims believe that God's most fundamental attribute is mercy.


According to Islamic belief, in addition to sending prophets, God manifests His mercy in the dedication of all creation to the service of humankind.  Islamic traditions maintain that God brought the world into being for the benefit of his creatures.  His mercy toward humanity is further manifested in the privileged status God gave to humans.  The Islamic concept of a privileged position for humanity departs from the early Jewish and Christian interpretations of the fall from Paradise that underlie the Christian doctrine of Original Sin.  In the biblical account, Adam and Eve fall from Paradise as a result of disobeying God's prohibition, and all of humanity is cast out of Paradise as punishment.  Christian theologians developed the doctrine that humankind is born with this sin of their first parents still on their souls.  Based upon this reading of the story, Christians believe that Jesus Christ came to redeem humans from this original sin so that humankind can return to God at the end of time. In contrast, the Qur'an maintains that after their initial disobedience, Adam and Eve repented and were forgiven by God.  Adam and his progeny were subsequently appointed as God's vice-regents and were entrusted with the guardianship of the earth.





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