To an English-speaking audience, Islam is often advertised as a 'monotheistic religion in the tradition of Judaism and Christianity,' and we often, with the best of intentions, add: "The difference is, we only believe in One God."
I am afraid, however, that this fails to capture the essence of Tawheed, Islam's concept of monotheism. It is not that there is only one God and that is that. If this were the case, little is there to differentiate us from Christians and Jews, who also conceptually believe in One God (despite different theological formulations). What makes us different is that we believe in One God and, furthermore, we believe that only Allah is to be worshipped.
The core of Islam is wrapped in the message of 'Laa ilaaha illallaah': There is no god worthy of worship except Allah. This means, in other words, that we turn away not only from idols of wood and stone, but also the idols of ideology. Today, humanity, spurred by Western culture, worships many things, but above all, it worships itself.
Secularism is the ideology of Western countries (and even some Muslim countries). The reason it works so well is because it is the best, and latest, way to deceive people away from Allah. Rather than urge people to worship forms and shapes, the new Shirk (polytheism) tells people to worship themselves. Everyone is a god!
The American dream has become the construction of a society in which everyone is his or her own god, and does what he or she wants to do regardless of the consequences. Naturally, it is a very attractive idea. Do what you want - do what you feel - you are always going to be right! Each man is his own judge and jury!
What this fails to realise is that humans are, by nature, fragile beings. Despite being such a self-proclaimed 'free' and 'individualistic' society,
In Islam, a man's role is honourable because of his sacrifice and responsibility. A noble and virtuous man is a pious one, who works hard, provides for his family, goes out of his way for his wife and is always faithful to her. Thus, the Muslim character is the responsible and strong one, because the Muslim accepts the Trust from Allah - Islam - and does not shy away from it.
Western society, on the other hand, preaches that everyone is a god, and thus, you never have to discipline yourself. The result is a society made of weak, selfish and narrow-minded people (proven by alarming rates of suicide, violent crime, depression and spiralling divorce rates).
Allah Tells us in the Quran: "And I [Allah] did not create the Jinn and mankind except to worship Me." [Quran: 51:56] The drive to worship is an intrinsic human need. One attempt to crush worship in all forms was communism, and communism - as history attests - failed and continues to fail miserably. Due to the evolution of Western thought and Western society, the drive to worship has been channelled away from Allah and towards the individual.
However, it does not take long for human beings to realise that we, as individuals, make pathetic idols. At a very young age, we realise we are fallible, and often unsuccessful in many things we wish so sincerely to do. How many kids want to play professional sports, but are never able to?
So, instead, people start to worship ideas. They attribute power to these ideas. They start to believe that governments are all-powerful, or that flags, ethnicities, tribes or languages hold mystical powers.
But we, as Muslims reject all of this, because we know that it is simply no more than Shirk - partnership in the worship of Allah - which is the unforgivable sin. Why is it unforgivable? The essence of Islam, as stated earlier, is not only that we believe in Allah, but also that we worship Him and make Him the centre of all our efforts. Should we put anything between Allah and ourselves, then we corrupt the purity of our beautiful faith.
When Prophet Muhammad sallallaahu 'alayhi wasallam (may Allah exalt his mention) came to the Arabs of Makkah in 610 CE with a message directly from Allah, the Arabs of that time were not atheists. They believed in Allah, they believed He was the most powerful deity and, most interestingly, they believed He could not be represented by a physical idol. However, they believed that many idols interceded on their behalf (over three hundred lesser gods, in fact!). In other words, the pagans believed that there were channels between the individual and Allah, and that these barriers needed to be worshipped.
Modern Western society is no different. At every turn, American politicians invoke God's Name. How often do we hear President Bush say 'God Bless
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Should we choose to go down this ill-fated path, we will find, to our horror, that Allah will not be denied. He - and may He be exalted over such comparisons - will just be dismissed so far that people will become like atheists in denial of their atheism. May Allah save us from this fate, and I apologise for the harshness of the prediction, but we know that once the road is opened to the slightest deviation, this deviation snowballs. This is how religions before us were destroyed; how many times has Allah asked us to reflect on history? The choice is, as always, our own!