In a paradox, the literal meaning is never the true meaning. Understanding only the surface meaning of a paradox is to misunderstand the paradox. History and philosophy stand testimony that the touchstone of monotheistic theology is the Quranic description of God. And in the Quran it is the Sura Ikhlas that best defines and describes the attributes of God. These attributes when understood in a system of binary oppositions limit our access to the essence of God and hinder our vision. To understand the unity of god one has to free oneself from the conception of binaries, for if one takes binaries into consideration, the concept shall contradict itself.
In the Sura Ikhlas, God proclaims: Say, He is God, the one. Literal meaning of this utterance shall end in absurdity and shall contradict what actually God wants to convey. God is one is a contradictory statement. The number ‘one’ is understood only in context with other numbers. Say, for example, the number system didn’t exist, then the number ‘one’ would mean nothing. We understand ‘one’ in relation with the number ‘two’ or ‘zero’. Thus what we mean by ‘one’ is more than ‘one’, for ‘one’ in isolation is an impossibility. The essence of being one is to be incomparable, to remain unchanged and indivisible. This essence always escapes the translated version of the Arabic statement that God proclaims. Moreover, the unity of God is not numerical oneness; had it been numerical, then the number ‘one’ would fail to represent the component of uniqueness, for every number is unique in its own sense. ‘God is one’ contradicts the idea that God is absolute. It is an entity beyond the system of relativity. Hence, in the context of Surah Ikhlas, something that in itself is dependent on others won’t be able to completely define God. But this doesn’t mean that the translation of the statement is wrong. What I mean to say is that the meaning lies in the paradox that God employs. The paradox arises due to the contradiction between the number ‘one’ and God. The language of God is both complex and simple, paradoxical and literal, at the same time.
God being the first and the last, at the same time is also a paradox and slips the notion of first and last. It is not in a temporal sense that this statement is uttered. Emancipating meaning from the chain of binary oppositions, God challenges human understanding. The statement can’t be fully grasped in a world that is defined by time. Here it leads to nowhere and only confuses. In order to comprehend such a statement, the reader needs to transcend the boundaries of time, dissolving the consciousness of past, present and future. God uses paradox to give an inkling of the higher metaphysical world, which needs to be deconstructed in order to mentally grasp the meaning of every letter that God uses with such purity and perfection.