¡ Say, “He, God, is One,
1 Some of the Companions of the Prophet are said to have read this sūrah without reciting Say (qul) at the beginning. While most retain it, those who omit it argue that it is not possible for the Prophet to have been unaware of God’s Oneness; thus he would not have needed to be instructed in this fashion (Āl, R). This verse can also be read, “Say, ‘He is God, One.’” Many commentators distinguish between the meaning of aḥad (“One”), which is used in this verse, and wāḥid (“One”), which is known as one of the Divine Names, as in the One, the Paramount (12:39; 13:16; 14:48; 38:65; 39:4; 40:16), and which some early Muslims are said to have recited in this verse rather than aḥad (Ṭ, Z). The most widely held interpretation is that wāḥid is a numerical one to which another number can be added, while aḥad denotes an Absolute Oneness that is unique and cannot take a second or be divided (Ṭs). Some view aḥad and wāḥid as synonyms (Āl, R). Others say that aḥad indicates negation, as when one says mā raʾaytu aḥad (“I did not see anyone”), while wāḥid indicates affirmation, as when one says raʾaytu rajul wāḥid (“I saw one man”; R, Ṭs). Both names denote oneness, but whereas aḥad conveys an “internal oneness,” something that is one unto itself, wāḥid conveys an “external oneness,” something that is one in relation to others. Aḥad is thus seen by many as conveying a higher degree of Divine Oneness without any consideration of its relation to the multiplicity of creation, while wāḥid is seen as
conveying the Oneness of the Divine Being in relation to the multiplicity of Divine Attributes and of creation (K).
As Muslims meditated upon the relationship between the One God and the multiplicity of creation that God brings forth, the opening words of this sūrah came to be employed to identify different aspects of Divine Oneness. According to some commentators, He (huwa) designates God in and of Himself, the undifferentiated Divine Self or Essence (Kā, R). Huwa would thus be the greatest Name of God (al-ism al-aʿẓam; Ṭs), and one of the most effective formulas for calling upon Divine aid would be yā huwa yā man lā huwa illā huwa, “O He. O the One other than Whom there is no He” (Ṭs), or “O He. O the One Who is He, other than Whom there is no god” (Āl). For al-Rāzī huwa indicates a degree of Divinity above that designated by the Name Allāh, when Allāh is understood to indicate God in relation to the multiplicity that the Divine Essence or Self brings forth. For others, huwa indicates the Essence qua Essence beyond consideration of Its Attributes, and Allāh indicates “the Essence with the totality of the Attributes” (K). This, however, is not a difference in degree of Divinity, but in inner dimensions. According to al-Rāzī, Allāh can also be seen as conveying the totality of positive Divine Attributes (e.g., Creator, Knower, Powerful), and aḥad can be seen as conveying the totality of negative Divine Attributes (e.g., without body, substance, or accident); the two together, Allāh aḥad (“God, One”), thus communicate the complete understanding of God. In this context, the Name Allāh is sometimes referred to as the “Gathering Name” (al-ism al-jāmiʿ), because all of the other Divine Names and Attributes are in principle gathered within it.