Chapter 6: Tawḥīd al-Asmā’ w’al-Ṣifāt (Monotheism in Names and Attributes)

Believing in Allah’s names and attributes has enormous influence both on the soul of a Muslim as well as on his worship of his Lord. The impact includes that feeling he has in the course of his engagement in heart-related devotion to Allah, which makes him rely on Allah and be mindful of his physical and mental actions. He will also gain control of his thoughts; thus, only thinking of what pleases Allah, and loves anyone or anything strictly for his sake alone. His hearing and sight will be full of hope for Allah’s mercy and has a fair thought concerning Him.

All these and other concepts relating to the belief in the meanings of Allah’s names and attributes cause one to offer both noticeable and unnoticeable acts of worship to Allah. Worshippers are, however, not the same in this regard, and that is a favor of Allah which He bestows on whoever likes.

The great impact of Allah’s name al-Ghaffār (the Most Forgiving) for instance, manifests in the love one has for Him, and the ceaseless hope he shows for His mercy. The impact of Allah’s name Shadīd al-‘Iqāb (the One Who is Stern in Punishment) is so enormous that one would fear Him and never dare to break His laws. Similarly, all other names and attributes of Allah, based on what each of them denotes, have impacts on the soul of a Muslim as well as on the level of his compliance with Allah’s law. That further gives rise to heartfelt love for Allah, which is the basis of a Muslim’s happiness in this world and the hereafter, the key to all success, and the most valuable assistance one could obtain regarding the worship of his Lord in the most accurate manner. The degree of such love for Allah determines how easy or tedious the physical acts of worship become for a worshipper.

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Perfecting an act of worship or improving it in accordance with the will of Allah depends on the heartful love one has for Him, which is also contingent on knowing Him by His names and attributes. This is why the Messengers worshipped Allah the most, since their love and knowledge of Him surpassed those of any other.

Definition and Proofs for Tawḥīd al-Asmā’ w’al-Ṣifāt

Concerning the definition of this tawḥīd, it refers to believing in the names and attributes that Allah has ascribed to Himself, or which have been ascribed to Him by His Messenger, and to absolve him from such names and attributes which He or His Messenger have declared as unbefitting of Him. This also entails acknowledging the true meaning and indication of any divine names or attributes, as well as bearing in mind its impact and implications on Allah’s creation.

The proper method to establishing this belief is to believe absolutely and decisively in whatever term that Allah or His Messenger have used to describe Him with, neither distorting, negating, or subjecting such term to takyīf (descriptive designation) or tamthīl (anthropomorphic explanation). Distortion refers to altering or misrepresenting something and is done in two ways:

  1. Literal or physical distortion by adding something to a word, deleting part of it, or changing a vowel on it. An example of this occurs in the following verse,

“The Most Merciful istawā the Throne.” (Q, 20:5)

Some people distort the word istawā (rose over) in this verse to mean istawlā (take possession of). The author of al-Nūniyyah commented, “The Jews inserted the letter N[1] and the Jahmites inserted the letter L,[2] and both are additions to the revelation to the Lord of the Throne.”

  1. Abstract distortion by twisting a word to mean something different from what Allah and His Messenger intended. An instance of this is the interpretation by some of the word Hand in reference to Allah as either being His power or His blessing. Such a wrong interpretation conforms to neither religious nor linguistic rules.

Tatīl (negation) in Arabic is to deny Allah’s attributes, such as the claim of some who state that He has not attributes at all. The difference between this and the earlier mentioned distortion lies in the fact that the later involves substituting an incorrect meaning for the already misrepresented word, while denial of the intended or the correct meaning remains a common denominator in both.

Takyīf refers to subjecting Allah’s attributes to human imagination in terms of how a certain quality of His could be. Some mistaken people or groups try to give descriptive explanation of Allah’s attributes and thus claim that His Hand, or His being established upon the Throne, is in such-and-such manner. This is truly an undue claim, for the state of Allah’s attributes is known only to Him, and it something that is beyond the comprehension of people.

Tamthīl refers to comparing Allah to His creation, such as saying that He has hearing or a face that is similar to ours. Far exalted is He above such a similitude.

The correct applicable method concerning Allah’s names and attributes has three fundamental rules, fulfillment of which is enough to guarantee of safety from any deviation in this respect. They are:

  1. Eliminating any anthropomorphic elements in our conception of Allah’s attributes. In other words, none of Allah’s attributes should be likened to any of His creation.
  2. Believing in any name or attribute that is ascribed to Allah either by Himself or by His Messenger in a manner that suits His Sublimity and Majesty.
  3. To have no aspiration to comprehend the actual condition of Allah’s attributes, as it is impossible for a created being to know this.

True implementation of these rules indicates genuine establishment of faith regarding Allah’s names and attributes, and in line with the principle laid down by the worthy scholars of Islam.

The Qur’anic proofs in this regard, and specifically related to first rule of tamthīl, is the following,

“There is nothing like Him; He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.” (Q, 42:11)

This verse deplores resemblance of any kind between the Creator and what He has created, and yet ascribes hearing and sight to Him. The meaning here is that although many from the creation possess the sense of hearing and seeing, but their ability can never be equal to that of Allah’s. This is also applicable to all other of Allah’s attributes. Look at the following verse,

“Allah has certainly heard the words of her who disputes with you concerning her husband, and complains to Allah. Allah hears the argument between you both. Verily, Allah is the All Hearing, the All Seeing.” (Q, 58:1)

In his commentary of this verse, ibn Kathīr relates from ‘Ā’ishah that she said, “Praise be to Allah, whose hearing covers every voice. That woman had spoken to the Prophet while I was in a corner of the house and I could not hear their conversation, yet Allah revealed the verse, ‘Allah has certainly heard the words of her who disputes with you concerning her husband…’”[3]

[1] Referring to the verses Q, 2:58-9.

[2] Chaning the words from istawa to istawla.

[3] Tafsīr ibn Kathīr 8/60.

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