The major religions of the world can be divided into two broad categories—the Aryan and the Semitic, with Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism in the first and Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the second. So far as their theological aspects are concerned, there is a difference between these two kinds of religions. While the Aryan religions are basically philosophy based, the Semitic religions are revelation based. The former represent the culmination of the philosophical pursuit of truth by the great minds of the world. In the quest for reality, meditation and contemplation brought these saintly souls to the conclusions, which gave rise to the principal, organized religions of the eastern hemisphere.
The creeds of the Semitic religions on the other hand, are based on divine revelation. That is, God chose a series of Semites to be His apostles and then imparted to them His commandments, frequently in the form of Scriptures, through His angels. These messengers were not only the bearers of divine scriptures but also their interpreters. It was these revelations and their divinely inspired interpretations, which provided the fundamentals of the Semitic religions, as they exist today.
The basic difference in respect of beliefs of the Aryan and Semitic religions can be briefly described in terms of monism and monotheism respectively.
Although both traditions—monism and monotheism—have the idea of God in common, there are fundamental differences in their conceptualization of God. In the Aryan tradition, God is an all-pervasive force rather than an independent reality. Monism posits the totality of a single reality, with all the diverse phenomena of the natural world seen as different manifestations of the same reality, according to this concept, therefore, there is no real difference between the creator and the creature. Thus in monistic theorizing, the concept of an individual, personal God does not exist.
In Semitic religions, particularly in Islam, the concept of God is entirely based on monotheism. This concept can also be termed dualism, that is, the Creator and the creature, in their nature are completely different from one another. God has a real and eternal existence. As the Creator of all things, He is distinct as an entity from all that He has created. His creatures in their seemingly independent existence totally depend upon the will of God. The sole possessor of all power, God has created man to live for a specific period of time, during which he is sent into the world to be tested. It is this concept of the Creator as totally distinct from creature, which sets the Semitic religions apart from the Aryan.
The philosophy of Islam is explicitly that of monotheism. It is true that the Sufi system has, to a great extent, incorporated monistic concepts. This is in actual fact, a deviation from the original and real Islam. It is therefore held by the majority of Islamic scholars to be an incorrect interpretation, not truly representative of Islam.
Other presentations of Islam also figure in the books produced in the later period of Islam. But all of these, based as they are on personal interpretations, do not have the status of sacred books. In Islam, it is only the Qur’an and Sunnah (the Prophet’s words and deeds), which enjoy the status of the only authentic sources, and it is to them that we must turn if we are to have a true appreciation of the essence of Islam.
The mainstay of Islam is its monotheism—tawhid—that is, belief in the oneness of God in the complete sense of the word. God is One. He has no partner. He created all things and has complete control over the universe. We should serve Him and submit to Him alone. In Him should we repose our hopes and to Him should we pray. Though He cannot be seen, He is so close to us that He hears and answers us when we call upon Him.
The distinctive aspect of this monotheism is that no intermediary link exists between the Creator and the creature. By remembering Him, any individual at any point in time may, quite independently, establish contact with God. There is no need for any go-between. Indeed belief in an intermediary link with God is alien to the Islamic religious system, called shirk (associating others with God) it is deemed to be an unpardonable offense.
According to the Qur’an God in Islam is not a symbol, but a reality. God has not been conceived of as a kind of working hypothesis on which to found a religious system. On the contrary, God in Islam is a Personality. He has a real and independent existence. He is alive and self-sustaining, self-perpetuating. He is near us; He cares for us; He hears and sees. He has knowledge. He takes decisions. He rewards and punishes. He is the Controller and Sustainer of human history (1/97).