Monotheism

Yesterday I was requested to write about faith itself, rather than the interpretations of practices of it, from someone who wished to understand the significance of the Oneness of God, or why it is so important for Muslims that we are monotheists. A few days ago Khadeeja addressed this question of “Why does it matter so much that God is One?”–and why, as Muslims, it is something that we repeat to ourselves at every possible chance: There is no God but God, there is no God but God, there is no God but God. In times of hardship, passion, discontent, great joy, frustration, love, despair. It’s something we attempt to say as often as we breathe.

I could write entire books about the qualities of God, and still not begin to understand even myself the complete infinite nature of these qualities. But throughout the Qur’an it is the quality of Oneness that is most emphasized:

Worship God, and do not associate any others with God. (Qur’an 4:36)

Say: Surely God is one God; behold, far be it from me to ascribe divinity to aught beside God! (Qur’an 6:19)

Do not associate others with God; to associate others is a mighty wrong. (Qur’an 31:13)

Say: I have been commanded to worship God, and not to associate anything with God. (Qur’an 13:36)

because Oneness encompasses all things: by believing that God is One, we have a Single Ultimate Source of existence. That means that all forms of unjust discrimination we implement against each other is shirk, or associations with God. Because we are created with the breath of God, to say that one is any separate or different enough in nature than another to deserve lesser treatment is a great sin. “Masculinity” is often associated with God, with the “feminine” characteristics of God reduced or viewed as lesser in God’s creations what with the effects of global patriarchy, and this is a great sin. There are many forms of shirk, but essentially they are all the same.

When I was very young I didn’t understand why shirk was considered the greatest sin of all–a sin so destructive that it makes you stop being Muslim. Surely there are other sins that are greater? I thought. Like rape, torture, murder, and genocide. The answer is, of course, that these are all forms of shirk. You have wrongfully determined that these people are lesser forms of beings, thereby not only insulting the Oneness of God and God as the Only Source but associating yourself with God in asserting that you have the right to Judge and then carry out unjust punishments in accordance with your wrongful judgement.

Associating yourself with God, and saying–directly or indirectly–“follow me, and not God” is a very prevalent form of shirk. It frustrates me to no end when Muslims conclude their arguments regarding very restrictive religious laws with “God knows best” and have only cited hadith and not the Qur’an, placing the dictations of men at the level of that of God, or they use words of humility “I know nothing” but only to blanket their contempt, or misconstrue the practice of modesty to silence those who are oppressed with statements like “those who are knowledgable speak little and feel they know nothing”–again to blanket their own contempt in the most pretentious way possible, indirectly accusing the other of sin to avoid facing their own. It is dishonest and cruel, a way to stall righteousness under the guise of humility, and wholly immature with an underlying “I know this because I’m better than you.”

With this mentality, heinous crimes are committed against humanity. With this mentality, we distance ourselves from God and overturn what is compassionate and merciful within us, such a horrendous and destructive act. We overturn these qualities which God created into every human being with the breath of God. Heaven is the realm of those who have been true to their compassion and mercy, and Hell is the realm of those who have committed crimes against humanity and consequently have stopped being human.

But God is everywhere, such is the quality of Oneness–there cannot be an opposite. The devil is not the opposite of God–to say so is shirk because good is greater and more complete than evil and will always conquer evil. This is because

God is the light of the heavens and the earth (Qur’an 24:35)

and to this absolute light there is no absolute darkness (remember please, that light is not visible but is often invisible to the human eye; angels who are made of light, are often invisible to us) because there is nothing outside the existence of God and nothing without some amount of light. The devil, however, is darkness that is created. There is created darkness, and there is created light that is its oppsite–like the angels who were created–but there is only one God and only one Uncreated Eternal Good. The opposite of created good is created evil, but there is no opposite for God.

Praise belongs to God, who created the heavens and the earth and who made the darknesses and the light (Qur’an 6:1)

Notice that darknesses is plural but light is singular. Losing light, goodness or humanity, is distancing oneself from God.

And that, is a little of why There is One God is so important in Islam.

50 thoughts on “Monotheism

    1. I do believe the devil is a real entity, and that Hell is a real place; that it is a place distant from God, but a real tangible physical place. I tend to take the more literal interpretations when it comes to the unseen, because taking the figurative to me is like morphing and modifying things to fit with our definition of possibility and concreteness. I believe these things are very possible without having to be abstract. Of course, the same argument can be made to support abstract interpretations: to say that something cannot be real unless it is tangible is also morphing and modifying things to fit with our definition of reality. Though I’m not saying that it has to be tangible to be real, just that it IS tangible, and that it doesn’t have to be abstract to be possible… if that makes any sense.

      That said, humans being free-willed creatures, are more than capable of evil without the help of the devil. We are fragments, after all, mixtures of light and darkness and of neither absolute. We’re chiaroscuros, and thus can become either.

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  1. Afief Halumi

    If memory serves the “we are created in God’s image” part is nowhere to be found in the Quran, it’s from the bible. In the Quran it says “There is nothing like him”, so how does this fit in your worldview?

    Also “angels who are made of light, are often invisible to us”, does that mean I can see them with a UV/Roentgen/Gammy Ray…etc scanners I could see them? (I’m assuming they are above visible light frequency because less than visible light doesn’t carry much energy. But I never thought angels would cause cancer…)

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      1. I always thought it was when people said it. Perhaps I misinterpreted their meaning. *turns to everyone* I mean God breathed into us when I say that, people.

        UV angels are cool.

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      2. Afief Halumi

        Sorry but people smelling me makes me uneasy. Where I come from we shake hands and ask about each others beliefs instead, I don’t know if smelling is the norm where you come from.

        Yes I’m a long time, out of the closet atheist. I’ve stated this a couple of times before on this blog, and Nahida has known that I’m an atheist for a couple of years already.

        So please, no smelling.

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      3. KelsShels

        Pardon me for not remembering. ;)

        I only meant to say that a couple of your comments seem really irrelevant in a humorous way. It wasn’t at all the UV angels as it was you repeating the question and pointing out to Nahida that they’re unobserved… which seemed to pose “What about them?” , as in “So why doesn’t this change your mind?”

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      4. Afief Halumi

        That was not my intention. From my point of view pointing out “not all light is visible, there is invisible light too”, which is a scientific fact and afterwards to point out “remember angels are light but they are invisible” implies that angels are invisible for the same reason that light is invisible, which is clearly wrong because we *can* see invisible light using inexpensive equipment, we cannot see angels using that.

        In my opinion of course angels are invisible because they don’t exist, but if you believe they do exist you still cannot claim that the reason we can’t see them is that they are made of invisible(as in outside the visible bandwidth) light because that would be as absurd as claiming the sun goes to kneel in front of God’s throne at night. We know what happens to the sun at night, and we know how to detect invisible light.

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      5. Afief Halumi

        I thought faith was believing without evidence(dictionary.com agrees) not believing in something despite evidence.

        Quick checklist:
        You believe angels are made of (invisible) light
        You know that we can detect light easily with modern technology(and are doing so 24/7)
        You know that there are no records of angel sighting.

        That begs the question of why there are no recorded angel sightings(especially in Ramadan.) And believe me, I’d be fine with some kind of cool explanation(for example angels are made of light but they don’t *emit* light therefore there is nothing for us to detect unless they go through us…etc. Yeah I watch a lot of sci-fi), but it doesn’t even seem to matter to anybody that the way it is currently talked about makes no sense.

        And if faith is the belief of something despite evidence, what is the difference between the way you believe and the way creationists believe in 6 literal days of creation?

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        1. Despite evidence? There’s evidence angels don’t exist? No records of angel sightings (really? there are no records? interesting) is evidence that they must not exist?

          Afief, if you want to have an “angels are real! angels are not real!” debate you can find a forum with people willing to engage in one. That’s not what the post is about, and I don’t allow proselytizing–not from Christians, Wiccans, Jews, Muslims, any religion, or atheists. No one is asking you *why* you don’t believe in angels and implying that it is absurd you don’t and would make more sense if you believed otherwise. And if you have explanations, why are you demanding them here? It sounds like you’re just giving everyone a test for your own amusement (“prove to me that you’re not a literal 6 day creationist!”) instead of offering to the discussion.

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      6. Afief Halumi

        And where in this whole post do I argue that angels don’t exist? Yes I said that personally I don’t believe that they exist, but that is nowhere in my argument!

        My argument pure and simple: If you want to say we cannot see angels because they are made out of invisible light, please account for why machines that can film invisible light never filmed an angel in action. That’s all, nothing more nothing less!

        And about this being a “test for my amusement”: No it’s not. I can come up with a million reasons why we can’t see angels(after all, I’m just making stuff up, it’s easy to make stuff up when nobody demands evidence), but you actually believe in it, and I wanted to know what YOU think is the reason. But of course, as an atheist asking any questions and disagreeing with anything is seen as an attack of the religious person’s belief’s *sigh*

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        1. You said having faith is believing without evidence, not despite evidence–and the evidence we were referring to is whether they exist; effectively, you said there is evidence they don’t exist. I don’t agree there is evidence they don’t exist. Am I misunderstanding you?

          If you want to say we cannot see angels because they are made out of invisible light, please account for why machines that can film invisible light never filmed an angel in action.

          And I breezed right over it the first time. (Although that was because I thought you were joking and that you didn’t have an actual question… just what about them?) Why are you under the impression that I owe you an explanation, especially since we obviously don’t have the same standards of evidence and are likely to get nowhere? The purpose of the post wasn’t to reflect upon the properties of angels (though that would have been awesome) but mentioning angels in this post was to differentiate between created light and created darkness, and it was very clearly tied to being representations of good and evil (angels having no free will and being created good; and evil becoming evil only with intent as we cannot sin in Islam without intention)–and like light, we can’t see these things with the human eye, or trust our judgment entirely when it comes to the good and evil in people. This was part of the reason I thought you were joking: I didn’t think “light is invisible to the human eye” would be taken as an actual argument for why we can’t see angels to then prompt the question of why as far as we know we haven’t detected angels with other instruments–it was mostly just a metaphor for good, that it’s invisible to the human eye.

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      7. I mean, really. This is the thing that frustrates me about atheists. “Light” in the spiritual / religous / theological sense != electromagnetic radiation!! Athiests do this all the time, assume that “belief” means “I have a scientifically provable theory on the nature of G-d”, and that our statements about “light”, “breath of life”, etc refer to scientific phenonema.

        Afief, maybe you should read up on Steven Jay Gould’s concept of science and faith being separate magisteria and that the arguments of one magisterium cannot be applied to questions in the other one. And maybe also read up on the etymology of the words ‘faith” and “belief” (in the religious magisterium, not the scientific one), starting with the Greek word “pistis”, which is the root of both of those words.

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      8. Nahida, I’ve read all the posts again, and I can’t see how it is not obvious that I was talking about the invisibility part in all of them. The only part I talked about existence was prepended with “as an atheist” meaning that I don’t assume that this should apply to anybody who isn’t(everybody else here I guess.) I do not think you _owe_ me anything. I think that you implied angels are invisible because the frequency of the light they are made of is not in the visible range and I raised the point that this can’t be the explanation because if it were people would be selling us angel detectors. I haven’t thought that it’d be such a big deal.

        gallinggalla, I’m sorry but if Nahida had said “angels are made of light implying they are good” or something like that I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. Believe it or not, most of us evil atheists know what metaphors are, have a sense of humor, and were actually religious ourselves at some point. In my case I was a muslim so I know what people talk about when they say angels are made of light. BUT(you know this was coming, don’t act surprised) what Nahida did say was “remember please, that light is not visible but is often invisible to the human eye.” Now I read this quote a dozen times before writing a reply, and I don’t see how it can be made to talk about spiritual/abstract light and not electromagnetic waves.

        When you lived most of your life in Israel you’ll come to understand why Non-overlapping magesteria is a joke. Just go to your favorite news website and check out news on my country. Go ahead, I’ll wait. You checked? Good, now add to that that I grew up in a small muslim village where people believed that chickens could see UV radiation BECAUSE according to the hadith a rooster crows(I hope this is the right word) when he sees an angel, and that donkeys can see infra-red radiation because they bray when they see one. Yes grown people, some with university degrees believed that. Still want to lecture me about non-overlapping magesteria? If religion truly were outside of the realm of the physical I’d have no problem with it, but it just isn’t. For a more relevant example I direct you to the fiasco that happened recently in Texas and Kansas regarding Evolution/Creationism.

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      9. aziza

        afief, do you see the verse she quotes above it? the one that says God is the light of the heavens and the earth? it doesnt mean literal light… instead it’s referring to the connotations of light (radiance, intensity, a matter of speaking “youre the light of my life” etc) and the angels being made of light is that same goodness, being invisible to humans… like light is sometimes invisible, but thats not what makes them (scientifically) invisible. like, that isnt WHY. its a metaphor. does that make sense?

        i think animals can see angels and jinn. but i dont think they can see UV light. humans can sometimes see angels and jinn too, but obviously we dont see UV light. its playing on multiple qualities, not just one.

        i liked your comments. and i know nahida must enjoy your virtual company too, since you implied you’ve known each other for a couple years. and people said they were funny so i dont think anyone doubts you have a sense of humor. it was that you asked …three times. the first time she didnt say anything, the second she said they’re cool, and then you said theyre unobserved and she still didnt say anything because it doesnt matter to us that theyre unobserved, until you talked about how its ridiculous. so it sounded like you felt you were owed an answer.

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      10. Thank you Aziza. Maybe I’m a bit too touchy about the light thing since the chicken/donkey story happened, but all I was actually hoping for was “it’s a metaphor” or “spiritual light, not physical light” in those three times I asked. When no one answered I took it to mean that people agree with the physical invisible light thing.

        Now whether the story of God is the light of the heavens and the earth was a metaphor or not is arguable because some tafsirs actually say it’s a literal light. Qortobi says light is a metaphor for guidance, Jalalein says that it’s physical light(“God’s light which he brought forth through the sun and the moon”).

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        1. In the post, it wasn’t so much a metaphor as it was an analogy. i.e. Goodness is often invisible to the human eye like angels who are made of light are often invisible to the human eye. So I guess if you wanted to follow that the question would be whether goodness can be detected with other instruments. (Like the heart, awwwwe.) Kidding, kidding (kind of) that’s why I wasn’t understanding why you saw it as me providing a reason for angels to be invisible Afief.

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      11. Reggie

        Why do they think it has to be one or the other? Why can’t there be dual meanings?

        Obviously in the verse Nahida quoted it is a metaphor, because God created light. Isn’t saying God is light, in the literal sense, association? It sounds suspiciously like the beginning of sun and moon worship. But that doesn’t mean every time the word light is used that it’s metaphorical, or that it has to be either metaphorical for physical. Most things are both. Humans have physical qualities and invisible qualities. Angels are made of literal light, but there’s no reason to believe it’s the same light as the sun and moon. I’m not saying there’s a whole undiscovered new “type” of light, but that it’s likely it just has very different properties. We’re made of the earth, but we don’t walk around looking like dirt or clay.

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      12. Afief Halumi

        Reggie, Actually now that you mention it I can’t recall a single verse or hadith saying God created light… just sayin’.

        I’m sorry but gallinggalla’s “it’s not spiritual light, not electromagnetic waves” makes much more sense, because if it were an electromagnetic wave(aka light) we could measure it no matter what its properties, which again violates the proposed non-overlapping magesteria. And if you are going to say you are literally made out of (mostly?) clay (do the close to 90% water count?) you’d do well to see a doctor, that high a dose of aluminium silicate and minerals is toxic to carbon based biology as we know it.

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      1. Afief Halumi

        As a teenager I was an orthodox muslim, but not anymore. But my problem was not with the language(We’re speaking English anyway, not Arabic), but with the content which was quite unislamic IMNSHO.

        Also, UV angels rock! They make your teeth glow(you have been brushing them nice and white, right? RIGHT?)

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      2. aziza

        o.O the content isnt unislamic, God breathed into us and so we are inherently equal, and it’s shirk to be racist or sexist etc cause you’re saying there are parts that are lesser. what’s unIslamic?

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      3. He breathed into us and we are equal(to each other), that’s cool, however the sentence didn’t say “god breathed into us” it said “god created us in his image” and that’s what I’m objecting to.

        I wonder if I’m missing something here cause both you and Nahida seem to be missing what the sentence is actually saying…

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  2. There’s a tension in my mind between the Oneness of God (which I wholeheartedly believe) and the Christian concept of the Trinity. I’ve yet to reconcile these two to my satisfaction. It’s not like I think that there’s three gods — that thought is horrifyingly idolatrous to me — it’s just I don’t know what to do with it. Clearly, the Qur’an treats Christianity and Judaism as monotheistic religions.

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    1. I’ve always been interested to know how Christians reconcile the two. I’ve heard Muslims assert that Christianity is not monotheistic, which–though I understand the confusion–is often argumentative solely for the sake of being an ass, and for “othering.” You don’t get to define someone’s religion for them. And yes, the Qur’an treats Christianity and Judaism as monotheistic; considering that, it’s contradictory for Muslims to say otherwise.

      One of my friends explained it to me once, but I can’t remember entirely. Feel free to share if you figure it out as a Christian. =)

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      1. Easy: There is GOD(capitalized to indicate greatness), but we humans are too stupid to understand the concept of god. So we have three “avatars” of god to make it easier for us. A lot of religions have this “all the gods are but different faces of The One”.

        A river, a glacier and a cloud are all avatars of the same elements.

        I hope this makes sense.

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      2. Afiefh — Yeah, I think your idea of avatars works, at least when thinking of the divine aspects of God.

        Nahida, I’ve heard Jews make the same assertion of Christianity, that it’s not monotheistic. Sadly, when I was practicing Judaism, I was often one of them.

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      3. Panopticon

        I’ve always understood the concept of the Trinity not in a literal sense of three Gods in One, but rather each member of the Trinity as a “persona” of God. God the Father as the patriarch and progenitor of existence; God the Son as the manifestation of the compassionate, “human” side of God that is identifiable by humanity; and the Holy Spirit as the unseen “hand” of God that guides all things great and small. In this sense, it isn’t too much of a stretch from God’s 99 names, save the fact that’s much more complicated.

        Conjecture is usually considered to be trivial in understanding the Trinity; it itself is often portrayed as an esoteric “mystery” of the divine nature, unknowable by humanity. I guess that saves a lot of thinking :)

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  3. Nahida could it be that Christianity back then was different? sb once told me that Christians back then didn’t ascribe divinity to Jesus. not sure but could they be Arian Christians or was it another branch?
    so the Qur’an would not be referring to today’s Christians as they clearly assign divinity to Jesus.

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    1. Yes, I’ve heard this too, but the Qur’an was revealed after divinity was already ascribed to Jesus–or at least, various verses in the Qur’an refer to the Christians viewing Jesus as the son of God to say this is incorrect. So it is probably referring to both the Christians of the time and today’s.

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      1. That’s a common (mis)conception I think. Muslims to get around God accepting other faiths (christians, sabians ayat) and say well that applied to different chistians. Because I think it is too complicated for people to believe in God who is just?

        Anyway Nahida’s response is spot on :)

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      2. Those who believe (in the Qur’an) those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Sabians and the Christians― any who believe in God and the Last Day, and work righteousness―on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve. (Quran 5:69)

        And then read,

        Verily, those who believe, and those who are Jews, and the Sabians, and the Christians, and the Majus, and those who worship others besides God, truly, God will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection. Verily! God is Witness over all things. (Qur’an 22:17)

        It separates monotheists from those who worship others beside God. (The monotheism is in the language; In the Qur’an Arabic differentiates in its use of “God” with a definite article.)

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      3. Afief Halumi

        The Qur’an also talks about Jews who believe that “Alize’ir is the son of God”, so you might want to keep in mind that some of the information is out of date. No Jew I know believes in a son of God(most of them even find the concept that Jesus is the son of God ridiculous)

        A lot of things about the bible changed, a well known example is the story of Jesus and the adulteress where the famous “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone” came from: We know when and where this story was added to the bible, it was not in any of the original manuscripts.

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  4. SOLIDSOUL

    Angel’s are like digital images / sounds /videos /audios having life of their own (light).
    Digital images and audios are visible (can be heard) only if you have TV, mobile ,laptop or other gadgets. you cannot see them in open eyes even though they are surrounded around the above said objects.
    Human being couldn’t invent gadgets that can capture invisible angels. May be god doesn’t want that to be known to human beings right now till he decides when that could be possible for us to see.
    With god everything is possible. Even to create invisible angels. Faith itself is a science which has its own proof but cannot be proved to people who couldn’t believe there are digital images around the above said gadgets until it appears on screen.
    Faith is the device of a faithful to see / comprehend /feel those angels with their own experiences and its occurrences.
    A poor woman having no food in her home told her daughter ( to calm her down) who was crying with hunger that, god will send angels to provide food very shortly. Being a small child the girl believed it , stopped crying and put a plate on the table and waited the angel to come and feed.
    a few minutes later, her neighbor entered the home with a bag having food and some other stuffs saying she is going to visit her mother and thought of not to throw the food which she has instead gift this poor mother.
    The poor mother said an angel entered my home when I was desperate and stressful.

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  5. This is a really thought-provoking post. I’ve never heard this perspective on shirk before, but it makes a lot more sense than the conservative interpretations that work to infidelize fellow Muslims (and of course, non-Muslims). It’s frustrating how some Muslims are too busy playing “shirk” and “biddah” police instead of working towards eradicating injustice, oppression, sexual violence, etc.

    I see this happen a lot against Shias and Sufis where expressions of Love for the Prophet and his family (peace upon them all) is often mistaken as “shirk” or “biddah.”

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    1. Sakina

      I see this happen a lot against Shias and Sufis where expressions of Love for the Prophet and his family (peace upon them all) is often mistaken as “shirk” or “biddah.”

      Funny how those same people who make that mistake value hadith over the quran!

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