“Say, ‘Allah [alone] do I worship, sincere to Him in my religion, So worship what you will besides Him.’ Say, ‘Indeed, the losers are the ones who will lose themselves and their families on the Day of Resurrection. Unquestionably, that is the manifest loss.’” (Qur’an 39:14-15)
The time preceding the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) was dark, bleak and empty. It was considered sound business practice for merchants to drown their customers in usury and dubbed socially progressive for communities and families to bury their baby daughters.
“And likewise, to many of the polytheists their partners have made [to seem] pleasing the killing of their children in order to bring about their destruction and to cover them with confusion in their religion.” (Qur’an 6:137)
In spite of the chaos, there existed a few men in this period that believed in one God alone and refused to succumb to the ignorant ways that existed in the communities of those that worshiped their desires, idols, status and power. Zayd bin’ Nufail was one among a few that had a sense of Allah’s (God’s) complete Oneness (tawheed). Zayd traveled wide and far in search of the truth. He met with Christians and Jews during his travels, but decided in the end that both religions were missing critical elements, so he finally concluded that the truth rested in the footsteps (Sunnah) of the Prophet Abraham `alayhi sallatu wa sallam (may Allah send peace and blessings on him). Zayd even went to the extent of proclaiming the Oneness of God to the people of Quraysh. In the center of Mecca with his back against the Kabba, he would say to them:
“O people of Quraysh! By Allah, none amongst you is on the religion of Abraham except me.” (Sahih al Bukhari)
Zayd never accused the Quraysh of not believing in God, but rather accused them of not following in the footsteps of the Prophets that proceeded them in worshiping God alone. Zayd was later banished by his own family from Mecca. When in Al-Sham (modern-day Syria) Zayd was told by a monk that a Prophet would soon appear in Mecca. So Zayd made the intention of going back to Mecca to wait for the Prophet to appear, but was killed before he could make it back. Zayd’s son Sa’eed, who lived in Mecca after his father passed away, became Muslim under the leadership of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him).
There are many stories similar to Zayd’s. Each time a person who believed in the oneness of God came forward in Mecca and demanded that its population submit themselves entirely in oneness and purpose to God’s cause (i.e. politically, socially, spiritually and economically) they were threatened and usually banished from the city.
It’s critical to understand though that the Quraysh never ran people out of Mecca that preached the belief in one God. It was when people preached oneness in purpose and complete submission in all aspects of life to God (tawheed), that the Quraysh felt threatened. For example, the wife of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Khadija radi Allahu `anha (may Allah be pleased with her), had two cousins that believed in one God (one of them even embraced Christianity). Why weren’t the Quraysh threatened by them? Why didn’t the Quraysh try to run them out of Mecca? Because neither of them expressed the importance of worship to One God alone in all aspects of life. Tawheed, when practiced in its essence, affects everything. It is at the heart of every single other matter. Belief in God does not alone qualify one as being a believer (mu’min) in Islam. It is the complete submission to God that makes the difference.
It was for this reason that the Quraysh perceived the Prophet ﷺ as a challenge. It meant a change in the political, social, and economic spheres of influence. Tawheed would have a huge impact on their political power, but more so, it would overwhelm their economic dominance in the peninsula. Case in point? In the times of the Prophet ﷺ, caravans with goods that would travel back and forth to Syria were very commonly attacked by tribal people and everything was stolen. The only tribe this didn’t happen to was the Quraysh. That’s because the Quraysh owned everyone’s idols in the Arab peninsula. If one of the tribal people tried to steal from their caravan, the Quraysh could easily threaten to destroy their idol since it was stored in the Kabba. The Prophet Muhammad’s ﷺ practice meant complete loss of such economic benefits for the Quraysh. It meant no more “free trade” agreements or economic buffer zones.
So the importance isn’t only in believing in One God. As a matter of fact, Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) clearly states that messengers and prophets were sent not only to declare the belief in one God, but to warn of any form of taghut (rebellion, deviation, transgression outside the bounds of God’s rulings). Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an:
“And We certainly sent into every nation a messenger, [saying], ‘Worship Allah and avoid taghut (all false deities, authorities, ideas, solutions, etc. outside of Islam).’” (Qur’an: 16:36)
Taghut is a very potent term that engenders many complexities. In his great work called “Four Basic Quranic Terms,” Maududi does a great job of explaining the seriousness of taghut, by laying out 3 shades of rebellion against God. The first category is when someone declares obedience to God (as a matter of principle), but in deeds they disobey and fall short (fisq). The second is when someone rejects obedience to God (as a matter of principle) and does as he pleases or obeys someone else (kufr). The third category (and most serious) is when one rejects the principle of obedience to God alone, and begins to make his/her own laws and rules for a nation and its people (taghut).
It’s the third level of rebellion—taghut—that the Quraysh and so many others before them and after them were accused of. They refused to believe and obey God alone, and they openly declared their own laws based on what suited them economically and politically. When Zayd bin’ Nufail stood up to the Quraysh and declared his belief in the Oneness of purpose to God, he wasn’t simply declaring his belief in God, he was articulating his faith in a way of living—a way of living that would require his people humbly and faithfully submit themselves to God alone in everything they do together as a nation.
When the Prophet ﷺ years later spoke of Zayd bin’ Nufail, he said that Zayd “[would] be raised as a nation by himself on the Day of Resurrection,” (Sahih al Bukhari). It was this idea of oneness in purpose to God that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ would soon successfully articulate and advance through the revelations of the Qur’an and his Sunnah (tradition).