2022 Abstracts Stage 3

Why is Idolatry Wrong From an Islamic Perspective?

Husnain Choudhary, 2022, Stage 3

The territory of my project is theology and the object is idolatry. The purpose of my project is to research Islamic monotheism or tawhid and aspects of Islamic mysticism, namely notions such as the purification of the heart (tassawuf) and analyse its relationship with idolatry and polytheism. Monotheistic and polytheistic traditions differ in their interpretation and engagement of the multiplicity of relationships between the transcended and created. The idea of a transcendent God is prevalent in many polytheistic traditions exemplified in Hinduism, Neoplatonism, Egyptian and Babylonian traditions. Thus polytheistic traditions cannot be reduced to the opposite of the common monotheistic belief of “One God”. On the contrary, unity has always been an important notion in the traditions stated above, yet these religions do worship a plethora of gods, hence unity in this case does not mean the sole worship of one God. I will attempt to explore and answer two questions: If many polytheistic traditions have a belief in a transcendent God, why is it wrong to practice idolatry? And can a person be a monotheist, but also believe in many Gods? The position from which I will answer these questions is that of a Muslim, from which I will assume that polytheism is wrong and considered the worst sin one can perform in Islam. I will also assume that the Qur’anic narrative of idolatry is correct and will use it as the underlying foundation of my project.
I will attempt to answer the two questions stated above by means of a interpretative methodology, through the reading of Sufi mystic Abū ‘Abdillāh Muḥammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad ibn `Arabī. Upon reading the former, I will highlight his cosmological system of wahdat-al wujud (The Unity of Being) to establish an understanding of the transcendent God and explore the concept of unity. For the second chapter, which concerns itself with notion of monotheistic idolatry, my primary reading will be Al-Raghib al-Isfahani ‘al-Dhar‘ia’ and his notion of the purification of the heart and its relation to idolatry.

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