The witnessing statement of Islam, “I testify there is no god but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God”, is essentially the religion of Islam distilled and captured by a single sentence. When the Prophet Muhammad was alive, this was a real-life witnessing, that denounced the multiple gods Arabs believed in, and acknowledged the position of Muhammad as God’s appointed Messenger. After his life, and today, these words serve as confirmation of one being a Muslim. Muslims repeat these words in their daily prayers and at various times throughout their life. The words are succinct but very important to Muslims, and they mean and represent a great deal.
The statement is a declaration of a personally held belief, and so, just repeating these words without belief does not make one a Muslim. Many who ‘change’ their faith to become Muslim will often say they have been Muslim for a lot longer, whilst others may say they haven’t changed their essential belief at all because they have always “believed” – these are important personal voices we are being offered that should be respected. When Muslims approach death, this witnessing statement is what they hope to be among their final words.
The Shahada or witnessing statement can be broken into 3 parts: a negation of false gods, an affirmation or embracing of (One) God, and acceptance of Muhammad’s appointment by God. All of these parts can have a deep meaning and resonance for a believer. For example, many may see a blind love of material possessions, being a slave to one’s greed, or lusts as false gods (even though they are not statues of worship). The regular repetition of the Shahada points to one pondering its meaning and magnitude across the span of one’s life at different moments, to live a life in committed to God and inspired by the example of the Prophet Muhammad.