The Importance of The Shahada In Islam
Imagine if you were the star witness in a big court case. The entire jury has been waiting to hear your testimony. The defendant’s guilt or innocence rides on your statements. When you are called up to the witness stand, everyone pays attention, and assumes your words are true. To enter Islam, the Shahada plays a similar role.
Declaring the shahada, or testimony, is all one needs to enter Islam. It is the most important of all the five pillars of Islam. This little phrase is what separates Muslims from everyone else. Because those who state this phrase have declared their acknowledgment of Allah’s monotheism and Prophet Muhammad’s status.
A person can convert to Islam by stating the Shahada with conviction.
The Meaning of the Shahada
The word shahada actually means to testify or to bear witness. There are actually two parts to the shahada which when taken together is often called the Shahadatayn, meaning “two testimonies.” The full shahadatayn requires a statement testifying to Allah’s monotheistic qualities and another statement testifying that Prophet Mohammad is the messenger of Allah.
Here are both parts of the shahada in English and Arabic.
Ash-hadu an laa ilaaha illallah
“I bear witness that there is no god except Allah”
Wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan rasulullah
“And I bear witness that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.”
There is No God Except Allah. True, But…
The first part of the shahada deals with our relationship with Allah, may He be Glorified and Praised. Even though the literal translation of “laa ilaaha illallah” means “no god but Allah,” the actual meaning is much deeper than that.
Simply stating there is no god but Allah indicates that Allah is the only true deity and creator of all that exists. That is most certainly true. But to really understand the essence of Islamic monotheism you must take it further. After all, a person may agree that Allah is the only god, but they may worship Him through other entities.
There are many other faiths that use intermediaries, or “go-betweens”, when worshiping Allah. Sometimes these “go-betweens” may be a prophet, or a saint, or an idol. But whatever the intermediary is, the person focuses their worship towards them first, instead of towards Allah only. Whatever that intermediary is, it is a created being and not the creator. Therefore, it does not deserve any portion of worship.
The more accurate meaning of “laa ilaaha illallah” would be “There is no deity worthy of worship except Allah.” Using this phrase, we make it perfectly clear that we are not going to worship anything else besides Allah. We are not only declaring that Allah is the one and only true God of all, we are also stating we will only worship Him and reject everything that even remotely compromises that worship.
Muhammad is Not Just a Prophet of Allah
The second part of the shahadah deals with our understanding of the status of Prophet Muhammad Ibn Abdullah, may Allah be pleased with him. The phrase “Muhammadan rasulullah” does not mean “Muhammad is the prophet of Allah,” even though he certainly was. This phrase actually means “Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” While this may seem insignificant to some, it is actually very important.
Allah has sent several men to mankind to remind them of their duty towards Him. Muslims believe that all of these men were prophets. These prophets of Allah include Adam, Noah, Abraham, Ismail, Isaac, Jacob, Jonah, Moses, Joseph, Jesus, and Muhammad, peace be upon them all. However, some of these prophets actually came with a message from Allah for mankind.
The prophets that came with a message are also called “Messengers of Allah.” Prophet Moses (Musa in Arabic) was a messenger as he came with the Torah. Prophet Jesus (Isa in Arabic) was a messenger as he came with the Gospel. And Prophet Mohammed was also a messenger as he came with the Quran.
In order for a person to be Muslim, they must accept the second shahada along with the first shahada. A person cannot be Muslim if they only believe in the oneness of Allah, but do not accept that Muhammad was the Messenger of Allah. When a person testifies that Muhammad was also Allah’s messenger, they are also accepting the message he came with, that being the Quran.
So how can anyone worship Allah as the only God, but not accept Prophet Muhammad who taught us how to worship Him, and the Quran that was His message to mankind? It’s impossible and implausible.