The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of Allah – Allah’s Attributes
The number of these names or attributes of Allah is given by Tradition as 99. Abu Huraira relates that Muhammad said, “Verily, there are ninety-nine names of God and whoever recites them shall enter Paradise.” In the same tradition these names are mentioned, but the number is arbitrary and the lists of the names differ in various Muslim books. It is the custom of pious Muslims to employ in their devotions a rosary of ninety-nine beads to represent these names, and the repetition of them is called Thikr, or remembrance. The latter is the chief religious exercise among the various schools of dervishes.
Although we are not going to highlight all the ninety-nine names in the list, it should be noted that they are an expression of Allah’s attributes and are intended to have an affect on His worshippers, who through fear of death and terror of Allah’s mighty power are all their lives subject to bondage.
Just as the rosary is in three sections, so some divide the attributes into three classes i.e., the attributes of wisdom, power and goodness. But the more common division is into two: Isma-ul-Jalaliyah and Isma-ul-Jamaliyah, terrible attributes and glorious attributes. The former are more numerous and more emphasised than the latter, not only in the Quran but in Tradition and daily life.
Seven of the names describe Allah’s unity and absolute being: El-Wahid – The One; Es-Samad – The Eternal; El-Awwal – The First; El-Akhir – The Last; El-Dhahir – The Substance; El-Batin – The Essence and El-Jamiyah – The Gatherer.
There are twenty-four titles which characterise Allah as merciful and gracious (to believers). Er-Rahman – The Merciful; Er-Rahim – The Compassionate; Es-Salam -The Peace or The Peace-maker; El-Mu’min – The Faithful; El-Ghafir- The Forgiver; El Wahab – The Bestower; El-Razzak – The Provider; El- Halim – The Clement; El-Ghafur – The Forgiving; Esh-Shakkur – The Acknowledger of Thanksgiving; El-Hafidh – The Guardian; El-Karim – The Generous; El-Wadud – The Affectionate; El Hamid – The Laudable; El-Muhyi – The Quickener or Life-giver; El-Barr -The Beneficient; Et-Tawwab – The Relenting, one who turns frequently; El-Afuw – The Pardoner; Er-Rauuf – The Kind or Indulgent; El-Mu’ti – The Giver; En-Nafia – The Profiter; El-Hadi – The Guide; Er-Rashid – The Director and Es-Sabur – The Patient.
We are glad to acknowledge that these are indeed beautiful names and that they are used often and beautifully in the Quran. On the other hand, there are thirty-six names which describe Muhammad’s idea of Allah’s power, pride and absolute sovereignty: El-Malik – The King or the Possessor; El-Muhaimin – The Protector; El-Aziz – The Mighty One; El-Jabbar – The All-Compelling; El-Mutakkabir – The Proud; El-Qahar – The Dominant; El-Qabidh – The Grasper, The Restrainer; El-Basit – The Spreader; Er-Rafia’ – The Exalter; El-Mu’izz -The Strengthener; El-Hakim – The Wise, The Only Wise; El-Adhim – The Grand; El-‘Ali – The Exalted; El-Kabir – The Great; El-Muqit – The Feeder, The Maintainer; El-Jalil – The Majestic; El Wasia – The Capacious; El-Mujid – The Glorious; El-Ba’ith – The Awakener or Raiser; El-Qawi – The Strong; El-Mutin – The Firm; El-Mubdi -The beginning; El-Mueed – The Restorer; El-Mumit – The Slayer; El-Mughith – The Refuge or The Helper; El-Qadir – The Powerful; El-Muqtadir – The Prevailer or Overcomer; El-Wali – The Governor; El-Muta’ali – The Lofty One; Malik-ul-Mulk – Ruler of The Kingdom; El-Ghani – The Rich; El-Mughni – The Enricher; El-Azili -The Eternal in the Past; El-Baki – The Enduring; El-Warith -The Inheritor of all things.
In addition to these are the five “terrible attributes” which describe Allah as hurting and avenging: El-Khafidh – The Abaser; El-Muthill – The One who Leads Astray; El-Muntaqim – The Avenger; El-Mania‘ – The Witholder and Edh-Dhur – The Harmful. Allah is a God who abases, leads astray, avenges, withholds His mercies, and works harm. In all these doings He is independent and all-powerful.
The moral attributes of Allah
Finally, there are four terms used to describe the moral or forensic in deity; El-Quddus – The Holy; El-‘Adl – The Just; El-Haqq – The Truth; El-Muqsit – The Equitable and we also admit that the merciful attributes are in a sense moral attributes. While we find the “terrible attributes” occurring again and again in the Quran the net total moral attributes are found in only two verses:
1. >”Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god; the Sovereign, the Holy One…. (Al-Hashr 59:23)
2. >”That is because Allah is the Truth, and that what they call upon besides Him– that is the falsehood,” (Al Hajj 22:62)
When God is called The Holy, the term does not signify moral purity or perfection. Beidawi commenting on this word says, “Holy means the complete absence of anything that would make Him less than He is.” It is a hopeless case to look for the doctrine of the holiness of God and the necessity of purity of heart in the Quran. The whole idea of moral purity and utter separation from sin is unknown to the vocabulary of the Quran. What a contrast this is to the Bible!
The Quran shows and Tradition illustrates that Muhammad had, in a measure, a correct idea of the physical attributes (used in a theological sense) of Deity; but he had a false conception of His moral attributes or no conception at all. He saw God’s power in nature but never had a glimpse of his holiness and justice. The reason is plain. Muhammad had no true idea of the nature of sin and its consequences. There is perfect unity in this respect between the Prophet’s book and his life.
The Quran is silent on the nature of sin and tells us next to nothing about its origin, result and remedy. In this, the last sacred book of the East stands in marked contrast with all the other sacred books of religion including the Bible. This was noticed as early as the days of the Reformation; for Melancthon says, in an introduction to a Latin Quran, that he thinks Muhammad “was inspired by Satan, because He does not explain what sin is and sheweth it not the reason of human misery.”
The nearest approach to a definition that can be gathered from the passages of the Quran that deals with sin is that sin is a wilful violation of known law. The words “permitted” and “forbidden” have superseded the use of “guilt” and “transgression;” the reason for this is found in the Quran itself. Nothing is right or wrong by nature, but becomes so by the decree of the Almighty. What Allah forbids is sin, even though He forbids what seems to the human conscience to be right and lawful. What Allah allows is not sin and cannot be sin at the particular time He allows it, though it may have been before or after.
To the common mind there is no distinction whatever between the ceremonial law and the moral; nor is it easy to find such a distinction even implied in the Quran. It is as great an offence to pray with unwashed hands as to tell a lie; and “pious” Muslims who nightly break the seventh commandment (according to their own lax interpretation of it) will shrink from a tin of English meat for fear they be filled with swine’s flesh. As regards the moral code, Islam is Phariseesism translated into Arabic. It is the repetition of the creed that counts, not the reformation of character. Repeating the Kalamah is the door into the religion of Islam.
Allah does not appear to be bound by any standard of justice.
He is merciful in winking at the sins of His favourites, such as the prophets and those who fight in His battles. The Quran teaches that the first sinner was Adam (Al-Baqarrah 2:35-37), and yet the general belief of Muslims is that all the prophets, including Adam, were without sin. Especially is this asserted in connection with Muhammad, the seal of the prophets.
He reveals truth to His prophets, but also abrogates it, changes the message, or makes them forget it (Al-Baqarrah 2:105). He can do what he pleases not only physically but morally, for He is Almighty , in the Muslim sense of the word. Allah, the Quran says, is the best plotter (Al-Imran 3:54). Allah mocks and deceives. Allah “makes it easy” for those who accept the prophet’s message (Al-Anfal 8:29, Al-Imran 3:57) but He is the quick avenger of all infidels, and idolaters. The portion of unrepentant sinners who deny the Unity of Allah as preached by Muhammad is hell-fire (Al-Kahf 18:53, Maryam 19:86, Ta-Ha 20:74); the punishment is eternal (Az-Zukhruf 43:74-77) and there is no repentance possible (Ash-Shu’ara 26:91-102). All the wealth of Arabic vocabulary is exhausted in Muhammad’s particularised descriptions of the awful torments of the doomed.
For the deeper tints in the horrible picture one has only to read the commentators, who also delight in describing the situation of the unbelievers. Hell has seven distinct divisions, each with special terrors, purpose and name. Jahannum is the Muslim’s purgatory; Laza blazes for Christians (said by some to be a smokeless flame or fire – this kind of fire has a hotter heat); El-Hatumah is hot for the Jews; Sa’eer for the Sabeans; Sakkar scorches the Magi; El-Jahim is the huge, hot fire for idolaters, and Hawiyah the bottomless pit for the hypocrites – so say the commentators. The Quran only gives the names and states, “each portal has his party.” It is remarkable that nearly all the references to hell-punishment are in the Medinan Suras, and therefore belong to the latter period of the prophets life. The allusions for hell in the Meccan Suras are very brief and are in every case directed against unbelievers in the prophets mission and not against sin.
One Muslim author, Muhammad al-Burkawi says, “Allah can annihilate the universe if it seems good to Him and recreate it in an instant. He receives neither profit or loss from whatever happens. If all the infidels became believers and all the wicked pious He would gain nothing. And if all believers became infidels it would not cause Him loss. He can annihilate even heaven itself. He sees all things, even the steps of a black ant on a black rock in a dark night.”
This last expression shows how the idea of God’s omniscience remain purely physical, even in its highest aspect. How much loftier is the thought of God’s omniscience in the 139th Psalm than in any verse of the Quran or any passage of the Traditions. In the Quran, God’s eye is a big microscope by which He examines His creatures. In the Bible, His eye is a flame of fire laying bare the deepest thoughts and intents of the heart. The Quran has no word for conscience.
What must have been Muhammad’s idea of the character of God when he named Him The Proud, The All-Compelling, The Slayer, The Deferrer, The Indulgent, and the Harmful? The mind cannot reconcile such attributes with those of goodness and compassion without doing violence to the text of the Quran itself. Some Muslim theologians, therefore teach that all the good attributes are exercised towards the believers and the terrible ones toward the unbelievers making of Allah a sort of two-faced Janus. In the Muslim doctrine of Unity all real unity is absent. The attributes of Allah can no more be made to agree than the suras which He sent down to Muhammad; but, in neither case, does this lack of agreement, according to Muslims, reflect on Allah’s character.
Abridged from ‘The Muslim Doctrine of God’ by S.M Zwemer.