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Last Updated: 2013/02/02
Summary of question
Given the fact that God is not recognizable by the mind, how is it possible to have knowledge of Him in a way which is not concomitant with polytheism?
Salamun alaykum, I hope you are successful and in the best of your health. Given the fact that man is unable to understand most of the truths and considering that God, the Exalted, says about Himself in the Quran, “there is nothing like Him”, how can we assume God in a way which is free of polytheism and disbelief? Thank you.
Concise answer
In regards to proper knowledge of God, we must say that, based on authentic traditions, the criterion is to avoid likening God to anything and divesting God of His attributes. For further explanation in this regard, read the detailed answer below:
Detailed Answer
Cognition of God is possible by way of knowledge of divine epiphanies. He who knows God finds God in himself and this is possible by way of self-disclosure or self-unveiling on his heart. To further explain, based on authentic traditions transmitted from the Infallibles (a.s.), the criterion in cognition of God is to avoid likening Him to anything and divesting God of His attributes. When it comes to likening God to anything and divesting God of His attributes, we must say:
Negation of divine attributes and likeness will practically lead to ta’til or negation of divine attributes for those who have no intellectual and intuitive knowledge of God. Negation of divine attributes means to divest God of His kingdom and attributes considering no relationship between the Creator and creatures. As for likening (tashbih), it is the opposite of ta’til in the sense that it is likening God to His creatures and believing that God’s features and attributes are the same as those of human beings. As it has been quoted, “gatheredness of God and creatures (jam’) amounts to disbelief and divesting Him of all attributes amounts to ‘ta’til’ and the combination of the two is tawhid (monotheism).[1], [2]
In a nutshell, we must avoid divesting God of His attributes which means we should not consider Him as deprived of all kinds of attributes. We must accept His glorious presence in the world of existence. To avoid likening God to anything also means that we must not associate anything with God by drawing similarity between God and things which are the expressions of divine attributes. We must, instead, be mindful of their Creator.
In other words, God is never imaginable and comprehendible through the mind and the right way to know God is the ‘way of heart’ in the sense that we must acquire knowledge of God through loving the epiphanies of God.
It is only in the state of real love that knowledge of the divine expressions and epiphanies lead to knowledge of God. That is because God is neither the epiphanies nor is He separated from them. Knowledge of God is perfected when one cognizes the perfect man.
For further information in this regard, refer to the following answers:
o        Possibility of Cognition of God, 15792 (site: 15628)
o        Cognition and Love of God 9344 (site: 9327)
o        Fitrah and Cognition of God 1041 (site: 1105)
o        Glorification (Tasbih) in Prayer with Divine Praise (site: 9773).

[1] «ان الجمع بلا تفرقه زندقه و التفرقه بدون الجمع تعطیل و الجمع بینهما توحید» Amuli, Sayyid Haider, Jami’ al-Asrar wa Manba’ al-anwar, p. 117, Cultural and Scientific Publications, 1368; Hasan Zadeh Amuli, Mamad al-Hemam, p. 109, Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, 1378 (1999).
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