“There is no god but Allah; Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
Longer versions are common, especially those beginning with “I bear witness” or “I testify,” e.g.:
“I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.”
A person becomes a Muslim by reciting the Shahada with a sincere heart in Arabic.
The first part of the Shahada predates Islam. A monotheistic Arabian group called the Sabians recited “La ilaha illallah” (“There is no god but Allah”) as their confession of faith. Hence, Muhammad simply added “Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah” to a creed that was already familiar in Arabia.
Indeed, Muhammad and his followers were sometimes confused with the Sabians because of the Shahada. As the eighth-century Islamic scholar Abd al-Rahman Ibn Zayd wrote:
The polytheists used to say of the prophet and his companions, “These are the Sabians,” comparing them to them, because the Sabians who live Jaziartal-Mawsil (i.e., Iraq) would say “La ilaha ila Allah.”
The Islamic Creed is related to Jihad, for Muhammad claimed that he was commanded to fight people until they submit to Islam by reciting the Shahada:
Sahih al-Bukhari 6924—Allah’s Messenger said, “I have been ordered to fight the people till they say: La ilaha illallah (There is no god but Allah), and whoever said La ilaha illahllah, Allah will save his property and his life from me.”
Sahih Muslim 33—The Messenger of Allah said: I have been commanded to fight against people till they testify that there is no god but Allah, that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, and they establish prayer, and pay Zakat and if they do it, their blood and property are guaranteed protection on my behalf except when justified by law, and their affairs rest with Allah.
For more introductory material on Islam, visit our “Islam” page.