5 – What is the meaning of ‘ilaha?


“And most of them believe not in Allaah except while they associate others with Him.” (Surah 12 Yusuf, verse 106)

In the above Quranic verse Allaah Ta’alah is showing us that amongst the people there are many who believe in Allaah while at the same time they commit ‘shirk’. In other words many of them proclaim that they have faith in Allaah but they worship others such as idols, false gods, etcetera (that is they commit ‘shirk’ ).

In this verse, Allaah Ta’alah is showing us an important piece of information. He is basically telling us that we should not just sit and think that our belief and deeds is all fine, but that we should make a move to ensure that our belief is exactly in line with the teachings of Allaah Ta’alah and His Nabi (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam). Allah Ta’alah wants us to check our belief and see if there is anything wrong with it.

In each verse of the holy Qur’an Allaah Ta’alah is teaching us ‘Tawheed’ (that is the oneness of Allah) – His Power and Greatness!

Knowing the Power, Greatness and Majesty or Sovereignty of Allaah Ta’alah is not just what is needed, but alongside with that, it is very important to know that we should not associate anyone or anything with Him.

That is why Allah Ta’alah has elaborated so much on the subject ‘Ilaha’ to us. What exactly is Ilaha? We will have a look at this in the following chapters and get some answers.


In the first ‘kalimah’ of laa-ilalah il-lal-laahu Muhammadur Rasulullah there is the word ‘ilaha’ which means ‘divinity’ or ‘god’ or ‘deity’. Many people mistakenly think that the word ‘ilah’ means idol or statue that non-Muslims worship or adore. But the meaning of ‘ilah’ is much broader and vast. If we fail to understand the meaning of ‘ilaha’ we will not understand the meaning of ‘Tawheed’. As a result we will not be able to understand the meaning of ‘shirk’.

Briefly speaking, the word ‘ilah’ means that divinity or god or object or person (dead or alive) or jinn or tree or sun or tomb or ideal or conviction etcetera to which a person worship and pray.


Some people take a person (dead or alive) or a tomb as their ‘Ilah’. They worship or pray to or ask these ‘Ilah’ for help, for protection against bad events or evil things; they ask them to make their wives conceive so that they can have children and so on.

The ‘sahabas’ were Arabic speaking Arabs and thus they understood the first ‘kalimah’ since the ‘kalimah’ is in the Arabic language. But it took Allaah’s Messenger years and years to explain the meaning of this ‘kalimah’ and its implication to them. Therefore, this demonstrates to us how much time and effort we should actually spend and make to understand the meaning of the first ‘kalimah’ and its implication.

The subject ilah

Allaah Ta’alah has elaborated on the subject of ‘ilah’ in detail in the holy Qur’an. To understand the implication of ‘ilah’ and ‘shirk’ let us have a look at the condition of the idol worshippers.

1) The ‘mushrikines’ (idolaters) believed in Allaah:

“And if you ask them (those who associate others with Allaah), who created them, they will certainly say ‘Allaah’: how is it then that they are deluded away (from the truth)?” ( Surah 43 Az-Zukruf, verse 87)

2) They believed in Allaah’s attributes, that Allaah is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon, etcetera. They never transferred those attributes to their ‘partners’ or ‘false gods’.

Say to them, “Who provides for you from the heaven and the earth? Or who controls hearing and sight and who brings the living out the dead and brings the dead out of the living and who arranges [every] matter?” They will say ‘Allaah,’ so say, “Then will you not fear Him?” (Surah 10 Yunus, verse 31)

3) The mushrikines’ hostile and oppressive attitude towards Allaah’s Messenger (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) was because of the subject ‘ilah’. It was because of this that the ‘mushrikines’ falsely accused Allaah’s Messenger (sal lal laahu alaihi wa sal lam) and said that he was a mad poet and a magician.

‘Indeed they, when it was said to them, “There is no deity but Allaah,” were arrogant. And were saying, “Are we to leave our gods for a mad poet?”‘ (Surah 37 As-Saafaat, verse 35 – 36)

Conclusion: The mushrikines believed in Allaah and in His divine powers but they took ‘ilah’ along with Him. Therefore they were committing ‘shirk’.

Some examples of ilah

The holy Qur’an shows us that people have made various entities their ‘ilah’ (gods). Such entities are:

  • 1) Angels
  • 2) Prophets
  • 3) Awliya
  • 4) Jinns and devils
  • 5) Ulama-e-soo
  • 6) Tombs, trees, idols, stars, mountains, rivers, the sun, etcetera .

1) Taking angels as ‘ilah’ (gods)

‘And [mention] the Day when He will gather them all and then say to the angels, “Did these [people] used to worship you?” They will say, ‘Exalted are You ! You, [O Allaah], are our benefactor excluding [i.e, not] them. Rather, they used to worship the jinn; most of them were believers in them.” ( surah 34 Saba, verse 40 – 41)

The ‘mushrikines’ took angels as their ‘ilah’ (gods) and used to invoke them in their difficult moments. However, in the answers of the angels to Allaah Ta’alah, it can be seen that it was in fact the ‘jinn’ and the devils that those people took as their gods (ilah). The jinn and the devils used their tricks and deception to make those people worship them (the jinn and devils) other than Allaah Ta’alah.

2) Taking the prophets as ‘ilah’

After the departure of the prophets from this world, people started invoking and worshipping prophets. Allaah Ta’alah will ask these people about this, that is, He will question them on their worshipping prophets after they were gone from this world.

‘And [beware the Day] when Allaah will say, “O Issa, Son of Mariam, did you say to the people, ‘Take me and my mother as deities besides Allaah…”‘ (surah 5 Al-Mai’dah, verse 116)

3) Taking the awliya as ‘ilah’

There are people who take pious people and awliya (dead or alive) as ilah. They ask them for help, invoke them, to realise their necessities and so on.

If we seek blessings, favours, help in difficult moments from someone else as if that someone was god other than Allaah, then this action of ours is ‘shirk’.

They have taken their scholars and monks as lords besides Allaah, and [also] the Messiah, the son of Mariam. And they were not commanded except to worship one God; there is no deity except Him. Exalted is He above whatever they associate with Him.” (Surah 9 At-Tawbah, verse 31)

A misunderstanding

Some people say that seeking help from a family member or a neighbour is also counted as ‘shirk’. But that is not true.

There must not be any confusion. In fact, asking for help from relatives or from another person is an act which Islaam has emphasized a lot. The prophet Muhammad (sal lal laahu alaihi was sal lam) has helped people all his life and he has taught that a good Muslim must have such good qualities (e.i. helping others and reaching out to those who need help).

In the holy Qur’an we are taught to give zakaat and sadaqat (alms-giving and money in charity) to help people who are in need of. It is compulsory on a Muslim, who has the means, to help the poor by giving ‘zakaat’.

4) Taking the jinn and devils as ‘ilah’

There are people who have taken the ‘jinn’ and the ‘devils’ as their ‘ilah’ (gods). In surah 14 Ibrahim of the holy Qur’an, verse 22 shows us what Satan has to say about this as follows;

And Satan will say when the matter has been concluded, “Indeed, Allaah had promised you the promise of truth. And I promised you, but I betrayed you. But I had no authority over you except that I invited you, and you responded to me. So do not blame me; but blame yourselves. I cannot be called to your aid, nor can you be called to my aid. Indeed, I deny your association of me [with Allaah] before. Indeed for wrongdoers is a painful punishment.

And in Surah Jinn, Allaah Ta’alah is showing us how the jinn push people to commit act of shirk and kufr:-

And there were men from mankind who sought refuge in men from the jinn, so they [only] increased them in burden [i.e. sin]” (surah 72 Al-Jinn, verse 6)

5) Taking ulama-e-soo as ilah

Ulama-e-soo are people who have learnt much about ‘deen’ but they have not made any effort to call people to believe in Tawheed (the oneness of Allaah) and the Truth. They have called people towards ‘shirk’, ‘kufr’ and ‘bidah’. They have become the cause of people deluding away from the path of the truth and going to perdition.

‘Those who disbelieved will [then] say, “Our Lord, show us those who misled us of the jinn and men [so] we may put (them) under our feet,(so) that they will be among the lowest [the lowest depths of Hell].” (Surah 41 Fussilat, verse 29)

6) Natural entities: There are people who worship rocks, animals, trees, mountains, rivers, the sun, stars and so on which they take as their ‘ilah’ (deities or gods).

“I found her and her people prostrating to the sun instead of Allaah, and Satan has made their deeds pleasing to them and averted them from [His] way, so that they are not guided. (Surah 27 An-Naml, verse 24)

The Reality of Ilah

The holy Qur’an has explained the meaning of the word ‘ilah’. Here are one or two verses about this explanation:

“Is He [not best] who responds to the desperate one when he calls upon Him and removes evil and makes you inheritors of the Earth? Is there a deity with Allah? Little do you remember.” (Surah 27 An-Naml, verse 62)

It can be seen from the above Quranic verse that:

  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who takes care of those who are suffering and in difficulties.
  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who takes away any evil or bad omen
  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who assigns ranks of authority on the earth
“Or who originates Creation, then repeats it, and who gives you sustenance from the heaven and earth? Can there be another god besides Allaah? Say, ‘Bring forth your proof, if you are telling the truth!” (Surah 27 An-Naml verse 64)
  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who has the Power to create all things
  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who has the power to re-create anything
  • – It is Allaah Ta’alah who has the power to provide means to sustain all the creatures of the heaven and the earth.

Similarly, in verses 60, 61, 63 and 65 of Surah An-Naml and in other Surah, we see Allaah’s attributes and qualities.

It is He who retains, that is, if Allaah Ta’alah wishes to hold back a person’s means of sustenance or provisions, He can do it. And if He wants to provide whoever he wants in abundance, then He will do it. Allaah does what He wills. He is all-hearing at all times. He can hear the requests of billions and billions of creatures simultaneously.

Allaah Ta’alah is showing us that those gods need to have the qualities that He alone possesses. It is only He who owns such qualities and no one else. Therefore there is no god or deity except Allaah Ta’alah.

What is the meaning of Ibaadah?

“And I did not create the jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” (surah 51 Aj-Jariaat, verse 56)

Allaah Ta’alah has created us for only one objective. And that objective is that we must submit to Him and worship Him only. Some Muslims believe that ‘Ibaadah’ only means: establish swalaats, fasting in the month of Ramadhan, give Zakat and go to Hajj (Pilgrimage).

But Ibaadah means submitting oneself with complete devotion and total humility to Allaah Ta’alah by obeying and loving Him only.

Definition of Ibaadah

Allamah Ibne Qayyum has defined Ibaadah as follow:

Ibaadah is to have the belief, conviction and conscience that the Ilah that one is worshipping has power or authority on the unseen; knowledge of the Hidden and has the power to cause both good and evil. Every prayer, worship, glorification and veneration that begins and evolves from this belief is called Ibaadah.

In the holy Qur’an the following acts of worship have been used to mean Ibaadah:

  • (i) Seek help (make du’a) – du’a means supplicating and asking Allaah
  • (ii) Prostrate
  • (iii) Make ‘tawaaf’ (i.e. to circumambulate the Ka’abah)

For as long as a person is seeking Allaah’s help or prostrating to Him or circumambulate the Ka’abah to please Him, all these good deeds or practices will count as act of worship for Allaah and he will be rewarded by Allaah Ta’alah for them.

However, if a person is seeking help from, or prostrating to, or circumambulate for another thing (such as a tree or a person or a tomb etcetera), then his worship will be for that tree or person or tomb only. So that person’s faith or belief has been then corrupted and he will never be rewarded for his deeds because all of his deeds are rejected by Allaah Ta’alah. That’s because he is committing the most serious crime which is called ‘shirk’.

A person with a corrupted belief or faith will not get any rewards from Allaah because he has committed sins that are very serious.

Ibaadah in Islam

The word ‘ibaadah’ is derived from the word ‘abd’ (slave or servant) and it means submission: our relationship with Allaah is such that He is our Master and we are His obedient slaves or servants.

  • -Any action that a slave or servant does in obedience to his master is called ‘ibaadah’. Speaking the truth, doing good deeds and abstaining from evil talks (backbiting), because Allaah has ordered us to do so, also counts as ‘ibaadah’.
  • -If we help the poor, the sick and those who are in difficulties for the sake of Allaah’s pleasure, then that also will count as ‘ibaadah’.
  • -Working, trading without cheating and abstaining from forbidden things and performing permissible deeds to please Allaah Ta’alah also counts as ‘ibaadah’.

So, ‘ibaadah’ means our total submission to Allaah Ta’alah for the sake of pleasing Him. It further means that our entire life also must be totally submitted to Allaah Ta’alah for His pleasure.

Objective of Ibaadah

The objective of ibaadah is to seek the pleasure of Allaah in obeying His commandments throughout our life. If we perform ‘ibaadah’ in this manner, it will reform and build our character and behaviour. It will change our way of thinking to the betterment of ourselves.

However, if ibaadah does not change us or better our ways or cause us to make progress, then we must know that ‘ibaadah’ has lost its effect upon us.

Through the Oneness and the perfect attributes of Allaah Ta’alah, Islam has purified our human intelligence (mind) from all the filth of idol-worship (shirk) and superstitions.

Idol-worship and ‘shirk’, which Islaam is against, has indeed degraded humans to the lowest level of dignity. Islaam has rejected all forms of idolatry. For instance, Islaam has forbidden reading swalaats in front a tomb which may lead to tomb-worshipping or worshipping a dead person at his tomb.

At the time of the prophet Muhammad (sal lal laa hu alaihi wa sal lam) there was a tree under which the ‘sahabas’ used to take bai’yat (pledge absolute allegiance to) from him during the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah. After the prophet Muhammad (sal lal laa hu alaihi wa sal lam) departed from this world, one of his successors, caliph Hazrat Umar (radhi Allaah anhu) noticed that people had started to sanctify that tree. On seeing what they were doing, he became afraid that the sanctification of that tree would corrupt the belief of the people. Therefore he ordered to have that tree cut down.