It had taken me a while to grasp the concept that Allah is actually the Arabic word for God. Previously I had thought that perhaps this profession of faith was a statement to say 'we Muslims know His name, and you others have got it wrong'. But no, Allah is not actually the name for the Muslim God, as opposed to the Christian God. Christians in the Middle East also use the word 'Allah' instead of 'God', in fact, for them there is no other word.
So why was it so important to profess that there is no other god than God, and why this emphasis on the 'oneness' of God? Was it in some way to exert Muslim superiority over Christians, who may have suggested that God was in some way actually three through the concept of the Trinity? Was God angry with mankind for getting his name wrong, or for suggesting that God may be found in more than one form, was that the central message to Islam? Or was it to tell us to stop worshipping other gods? Maybe we aren't making statues and bowing down before them like in the past, but people are chasing material wealth and fame for example; perhaps this was the importance of 'no god but God'? But what was the big deal, in this single statement? Did it really matter about names or who I worshipped so long as I was good and kind to my neighbour?
And then after some time pondering it struck me, out of nowhere some might say, or out of everywhere, personal revelation if you like: There is no god but God means this: my God is your God, and your God is mine. Since there is only one God, every man, woman, child, all of creation for that matter, must come from that one source of creation, and this, yes THIS is the beauty of Islam. It was at that moment of realisation that a key to my heart turned. I still had lots of unanswered questions mind, it wasn't with that one understanding that I embraced Islam - but it was the opening of a door, to look further, because I did indeed believe that all of mankind comes from one source, that we are all brothers and sisters whether we like each other or not, sharing the same humanity. This is the message that I love.
The emphasis on mankind, humanity and the whole of creation is one that I came to learn runs right through the Quran. The word for the people/mankind (and its derivatives) 'al-nas' is mentioned 241 times in the Quran.
In talking of the sanctity of every human life, and the value of each soul to the body of mankind, the Quran states "he who kills a soul, other than for a soul or for spreading corruption in the earth, it is as if he has killed all of mankind, and whoever saves it then it is as if he has saved all of mankind." (HQ 5:32)
Regarding why some people are raised above others in wealth and livelihoods in this world, the Quran explains "And if it were not that mankind were to become one community, we would have made for those who disbelieve in the Most Merciful for their houses roofs of silver and stairways upon which they mount..." (HQ 43:34) These verses explain why some people have more and others less - this is God's plan so that mankind might become one - for if we all had everything we needed, if we were all self-sufficient, there would be no need for us to draw closer to each other, and there would be no need for us to learn about mercy.
The word 'alamin' is another frequently used word that has a similar meaning and is also sometimes translated as 'mankind'. It is derived from the root 'alm' which is related to knowledge. Alamin actually means more than just mankind because it also includes animals, and the spirit world, and everything in nature, and even the planets. Sometimes it is translated as 'the worlds' or 'the universe', but for me that loses some of the beauty in the meaning of knowledge, so I like to think of it as 'mankind, plus all of creation'. It really is a wonderful word because it connects mankind to the rest of creation: in mankind plus all of creation together, there is knowledge, we are whole. This word is used in the very first Surah of the Quran, Surat Al-Fatihah 'The Opener', which is the verse that Muslims recite 5 times a day. It starts like this: "In the name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful, all praises and thanks be to Allah the Lord of Alamin (Mankind and all of creation)." (HQ 1:2)
Regarding Muhammad, the Quran uses the same word 'alamin' in the following verse "We have not sent you except as a mercy to mankind." (HQ 21:107) in the very next verse it says "Say only it is revealed to me that your god is One God, so will you submit?" (HQ 21: 108)
The most beautiful message delivered by Prophet Muhammad was that mankind is one, because we all share the same creator, and therefore we are all of equal value.
Muhammad, in his last sermon in the year before his death, gave what might be considered a summary of everything that he stood for: 'All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action.'