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SHAHADAH. The Islamic witness of faith is, “There is no god but God, and Muhammad is the Apostle of God” (Arabic, la ilaha illa Allah wa-Muhammad rasul Allah). Recitation of the shahddah (literally, “witness”) is the first of the five pillars of Islam. The formula is not in the Qur’an, although the book speaks often of the “witness” of various articles of faith; the phrase “there is no god but God” is found (3’7.35 47.19), as well as the same declaration many other times in similar words; and Muhammad is constantly referred to as a messenger. The formula is recorded, however, in several different contexts in the prophetic traditions (hadith). There it stands as the earliest and simplest form of the articles of faith; some hadiths have only “There is no god but God.”

The traditions indicate that at the beginning of Islam the shahddah alone was enough to establish belief and membership in the community. In one report the Prophet states that God has forbidden the fire of Hell to those who recite “There is no god but God,” while in another he declares, “I have been ordered [by God] to fight the people until they say, `There is no god except God,’ and the life and property of them who say this are protected from me” (that is, they shall be considered to have confessed faith and may no longer be warred against as non-Muslims). Later, however, several controversies arose. What, it was asked, is the position of one who pronounces the shahadah hypocritically? A common answer was that such persons, while their declaration would not be accepted by God, were still to be regarded as members of the community for practical purposes, for example for burial and exemption from the poll-tax (provided they had not otherwise flaunted their unbelief). The question was also raised whether the person who recites the shahadah must have a real understanding of what he says in order to gain salvation. In this case it was generally agreed that true understanding of the basic tenets was necessary; sincere and heartfelt faith was also emphasized. The shahadah also entered into the controversy over faith and works, with those arguing for the necessity of works along with faith asserting that the witness itself was a work-“the work of the tongue.”

The elementary witness finally became merely the nucleus of increasingly elaborate and diverse creeds, reflecting the evolution of the community from a simple unity to ever greater fragmentation. [See `AqIdah.] The shahddah is still, however, accepted as declaration of acceptance of Islam by a convert: the convert has only to repeat it twice in the presence of other Muslims. A more detailed declaration may be required by some institutions, for instance by the Saudi authorities for the purpose of admittance to the Two Holy Sanctuaries and by the great Egyptian Islamic university al-Azhar for the purpose of certification of Muslim status, but the basis of the affirmation is still recitation of the shahddah.

[See also Pillars of Islam.]

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Alusi, Mahmfid Shukri al-. Kanz al-sa`adah ft sharh al-shahadah. Cairo, c41 I/1991. Brief elaboration of the meaning of the shahddah, largely from a grammatical point of view. Al-Alusi died in 1924. Carra de Vaux, Bernard. “Shahada.” In First Encyclopaedia of Islam, vol. 7, P. 259. Leiden, 1913-.

Sha’rani, `Abd al-Wahhab ibn Ahmad al-. Asrar arkan al-Islam. Cairo, 1400/198o. Interpretation of the five pillars, including the shahddah, from a Sufi perspective. Al-Sha’rani died in 1565/6.

LYNDA CLARKE

Azhar Niaz Article's Source: http://islamicus.org/shahadah/
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  • writerPosted On: July 30, 2017
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