Belief in Allah’s Names and Attributes
To truly be devoted to Allah and to love Allah above all else imaginable one needs to have knowledge about Allah that goes beyond the basic aspects of Him being the sole Creator and Sustainer. Indeed, a believer would yearn to know more and more about Allah. Of course, Allah is beyond the realm of human experience and therefore one cannot accurately know details about God unless He reveals them. Via His revelation and by His grace and mercy, Allah has revealed a great deal of information about Himself, such that any truth seeker can know and worship his Lord based on accurate knowledge.
In fact, the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) stated, “Allah has ninety-nine names, one hundred less one.” Thus, one finds Allah’s names and attributes mentioned throughout the Quran. For example, Allah says, “He is Allah other than Whom there is none who has the right to be worshipped, the King, the Holy, the One Free from all defects, the Giver of security, the Watcher over His creatures, the All-Mighty, the Compeller, the Supreme. Glory be to Allah! (High is He) above all that they associate as partners with Him. He is Allah, the Creator, the Inventor of all things, the Bestower of forms. To Him belong the Best Names. All that is in the heavens and the earth glorify Him. And He is the All-Mighty, the All-Wise” (59:23-24). In another verse, mentioned by the Prophet himself as the greatest verse of the Quran, Allah is further described in marvelous detail: “Allah! None has the right to be worshipped but He, the Ever Living, the One Who sustains and protects all that exists. Neither slumber, nor sleep overtake Him. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on earth. Who is he that can intercede with Him except with His Permission? He knows what happens to them (His creatures) in this world, and what will happen to them in the Hereafter. And they will never compass anything of His Knowledge except that which He wills. His Footstool extends over the heavens and the earth, and He feels no fatigue in guarding and preserving them. And He is the Most High, the Most Great” (2:255).
From the Quran and statements of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) one can learn the following about Allah: Allah is the Most Compassionate, Ever Merciful, Ever Forgiving, Ever accepting of repentance, Ever Patient, Pardoning and Loving. He is the Generous, the Magnanimous, the Bestower and the Clement. He responds to those who call upon Him and He is the Rescuer. He is the Glorious, the Great, the deserver of all Praise, Lord of all creation, Master of the Day of Judgment and the Judge of the Final reckoning. He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, the All-Knowing and the All-Wise. He is the Ever Strong, Ever Capable, Almighty. He is the Self-Sufficient, free of any need and provider of all sustenance. He is the Exalted and the Most High. He is the Watcher over all affairs and the Protector. He is administering the affairs of His creation, commanding, forbidding, being pleased, being angered, rewarding, punishing, giving, withholding, honoring, debasing. He does whatever He wills. He is attributed with every attribute of perfection and free of even the tiniest amount of imperfection or shortcoming. Greatly exalted and perfect is He above all that they associate with Him. Not even an atom moves save by His will and permission.
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This wonderful information about Allah Himself is a great blessing for humankind. There is no need for humans to try to ponder over the nature of God while, as stated above, God is above their comprehension. Instead of deriving fanciful theories about God, God Himself has revealed sufficient information about Himself that humankind need not stray or be confused. Furthermore, He has provided the information in such a way that all can understand it, even though one can imagine that it is simply the tip of the iceberg of the depths of the greatness of the Lord and Creator.
On this point, though, there is something very clear in the Quran: There is absolutely no hint of any form of anthropomorphism in the Islamic beliefs about God. This is a point concerning which many earlier peoples have strayed. The famous humorous but true statement made by many in the West, “God created man in His own image and man was quick to return the favor,” has no place within Islamic beliefs. The Creator and the created are separate and distinct. The attributes of Allah are perfect attributes that are becoming of His holiness and greatness. Even when there is some “common concept” between an attribute of Allah and an attribute of humans, there is actually no similarity in the quality of the two. Thus, Allah Himself says in the Quran, “There is nothing like unto Him, and He is the All-Hearer, the All-Seeing” (42:11). Here, there is a complete denial of anthropomorphism while at the same time affirming that Allah hears and sees. Muslims always realize Allah’s perfection while never belittling Him by describing Him in unbecoming manners. God does not have human-like attributes nor do humans have Divine attributes. Any violation of this latter principle is clear disbelief and associating of partners with Allah.
People before the coming of the Prophet (peace be upon him) accepted the idea of Allah being the only Creator of the Universe. However, they associated partners with Allah in different forms of worship. Therefore, Islam came to purify this concept of Allah being the Lord and gave it its proper understanding. Thus, the beginning point is to have knowledge and correct understanding of Allah’s names and attributes. If one has knowledge of and a correct understanding of Allah’s names and attributes, then he would never turn to anyone else or direct any form of worship to anyone other than Allah.
Furthermore, the knowledge and understanding of these names and attributes should play a profound role in the development and purification of the soul. In reality, the knowledge of each of Allah’s names should lead a person to greater love of Allah as well as greater fear of Him, accompanied by attempting to get closer to Him due to His wonderful attributes of perfection and greatness.
Additionally, a detailed knowledge about God is going to have a greater effect on the individual than a general, vague knowledge about God. Many of the great scholars of Islam emphasized this point. For example, Ibn Taymiyyah noted, “Whoever knows the names of Allah and their meanings, while believing in them, will have a more complete faith than the one who does not know them but just believes in them in general.” (Majmu al-Fatawah) Ibn Saadi also stated, “Whenever a person’s knowledge of Allah’s beautiful names and attributes increases, his faith also increases and his certainty is further strengthened.”
There is an important and vital relationship between this concept of Allah’s names and attributes and the previous two concepts (the belief that God is the Sole Creator and Sustainer of all Creation and the belief that Allah must be the only object of worship). One could argue that deviations with respect to monotheism are rooted in a failure to understand and appreciate the names and attributes of Allah as well as their uniqueness. If one honestly recognized and understood the names and attributes of Allah, one would never have any desire to worship or submit to anything other than Allah himself.
From the history of humankind, it can be argued that it is innate in humans that they would want to worship. They want to have a god that they can worship and adore. They know that there must be something special and great about that thing which they humble themselves to. However, so many of them put their hopes, trust, dreams and aspirations in things that are simply not deserving of such—whether it be forces of nature, inanimate objects, other humans, materialism, nations, race, whatever. They force themselves to believe that these false objects of worship can bring about what they hope for and what they are dreaming of. In other words, they begin to give their false objects of worship the attributes of God. Instead of turning to God and knowing God by His attributes—and then realizing that He is the One they are truly looking for—they turn to other objects of worship, love and adoration. Due to this, they stray very far from the straight path and from their true God.
In numerous places, Allah speaks about such gross errors. Upon closer inspection, it can be noted that the source of their errors is incorrect belief about the attributes of those that they turn to while ignoring the attributes that reside with Allah. For example, Allah says, “Say [O Muhammad to mankind], ‘How do you worship besides Allah something which has no power either to harm or to benefit you? But it is Allah Who is the All-Hearer, All-Knower’” (5:76). Allah also says, “And who is more astray than one who calls (invokes) besides Allah, such as will not answer him till the Day of Resurrection, and who are (even) unaware of their calls (invocations) to them? And when mankind are gathered (on the Day of Resurrection), they (false deities) will become enemies for them and will deny their worshipping” (46:5-6). Allah also says, “And they worship others besides Allah, such as do not and cannot own any provision for them from the heavens or the earth” (16:73). Again, “Is then He, Who creates as one who creates not? Will you not then receive admonition?” (16:17). And, as a final example, “O mankind! A similitude has been coined, so listen to it (carefully): Verily! Those on whom you call besides Allah, cannot create (even) a fly, even though they combine together for the purpose. And if the fly snatched away a thing from them, they would have no power to release it from the fly. So weak are (both) the seeker and the sought. They have not estimated Allah His Rightful Estimate; Verily, Allah is All-Strong, All-Mighty” (22:73-74)
In reality, it is Allah who hears, Allah who responds, Allah who gives, Allah who is in control, Allah who is the just and the judge, Allah who creates, sustains, gives, recreates and so forth. In sum, if one truly knows the names and attributes of Allah, one would never turn to worship anyone or anything but Him. None of those false objects of worship are deserving of worship. By worshipping them and seeking them, humans are doing nothing but debasing themselves. Worse of all, they are ignoring Allah, equating partners with Him, earning His wrath and preparing for themselves an evil end.
The proper belief in Allah is the essence and cornerstone of the Islamic faith. It is the key—the key to life, the key to proper living, the key to understanding reality, the key to happiness and peace. When the person truly knows Allah, he will recognize that it does not make any sense to worship anything other than Him. He will realize that this is what his soul has been created for and this is what it has been seeking. Once he realizes the beauty of worshipping Allah alone, he will never desire or wish to worship anyone other than Him. His soul will be a rest and his heart will be tranquil.