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Bahar Davary, "God's Most Beautiful Names: The Islamic Tradition"

99 Names of Allah
"God is the First, the Last, the Inward, and the Outward, the Knower of all things"
—- Quran 57 : 3

Names of God

Islam's profession of faith begins with the statement of tawhid (God's unity): "There is no god but God." The oneness of God is absolutely essential in both Islamic theology and spirituality. It is the cornerstone of Islamic thought. A true understanding of the one God, however, cannot be achieved without divine revelation. Therefore, any reflection on Islamic understanding of God begins with the study of the Qur'an. While the entire Qur'an as God's speech clearly points to the divine, the specific teachings about God are summarized in particular verses in which the "most beautiful names" (asthma ‘al-husna) are mentioned.

The 99 names of God mentioned in the hadith (sayings) of the Prophet of Islam are considerably well known; however, too much importance should not be given to the number, for one can easily find more than 99 names for God in the Qur'an. Furthermore, it would be erroneous to consider these names as personal names, for they do not refer to a concrete entity, but rather they represent a characteristic, a quality, or an attribute of God.

In order to understand what the Qur'an implies by the names of God and to be able to compare the images they evoke with the Christian image of God as Father, it is indispensable to give a brief overview of the theological classification of the names of God.
Some Islamic theologians classify the names of God into 3 distinct categories:
- of essence,
- of attributes, and
- of acts.[3]

The names referring to the God's essence
define the reality of God and emphasize what differentiates God from all other things in the cosmos. The essence of God is well defined in the qur'anic statement, "Nothing is like Him" (42:11). Thus, the names of essence indicate what God is not, rather than what God is. Some of the names of essence are:
- Ghani, "affluent," which suggests that God does not depend upon anything in the universe, and that God is free from all dependencies
- Quddus, "holy," which declares God as a reality without imperfection
- Subbuh, "pure," which depicts God as being beyond all creaturely understanding

In short, one cannot come to an understanding of the essence of God. In fact, there are several references within the tradition that dissuade the believers from pondering the divine essence.

The second category contains the names of God's attributes

While the first category specifies what God is not, the second defines what God is. The assessment of God's attributes is revealed not only within the text of the Qur'an, but also within the human soul and the cosmos. Certain qualities such as knowing, desiring, seeing, and hearing are among the beautiful names of God. One might rightly object that these qualities can be found in humans, too. The only difference is that God's attributes are real, and humans' are images of that which is real. According to the Qur'an, in the design of creation, humans are called to conform themselves with the qualities of God.[4]

The third category contains the names of act

While the names of essence and of attribute define God in God's self, the names of act define God in God's interaction with the creation. Most names of act have their opposites that are also divine names.
For example:
- God is "Forgiver" (ghafur) and concurrently "Avenger" (montaghem);
- "Life-giver" and "Slayer";
- one who raises (rafi'), "Exalter," and one who lowers (khafid), "Abaser."

The names of act require the existence of the creatures, for the acts cannot be performed in their absence. Opposite names apply only to the names of act, not to the names of essence or the names of attribute.
For example, the fact that God is Alive [hay] does not necessarily imply the life of anything else besides God, just as it does not connote the opposite, that God is dead. God is Knowing, a'lam, but this does not refer to God's knowledge of the universe nor does it signify the opposite of it, ignorance.
The opposite qualities of God are not to be viewed as a contradiction in God. The names of act refer to the interaction of God with the creatures, and this relation varies from case to case and time to time. Therefore, it is not contradictory if God acts as "Merciful" (rahman) at times and as "Wrathful" (jabbar) at other times, or in different circumstances.
Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the mystic poet, addresses this issue in the following verses:
Just as a person is in relation to you a father
and in relation to another either son or brother,
so the names of God in their number have relations:
God is from the viewpoint of the infidel the Tyrant (qaher);
from our viewpoint, the Merciful.[5]

Rumi discerns an ethical implication within the names of God. He maintains that if God is called "the Seeing" or "the Hearing," it is to prevent humans from sinning or uttering foul words. "If one wants to avoid God's wrath", he adds, "one must first give up one's own wrath".[6]

The 2 basic modes in God's relationship with the creation are in fact 2 sides of the same coin and often referred to as the incomparability, i.e., God's utter difference and distance from creation; and similarity, i.e., semblance of reality between God and creation.
- the 1st aspect, incomparability, is associated with the names of majesty and severity such as wrathful, severe, just, harmer, vengeful, and slayer.
- the 2nd aspect, which can be known as the maternal qualities of God, is identified with the names of beauty and gentleness such as merciful, compassionate, loving, kind, beautiful, and forgiving.

Allah, Rabb, or Abba

Allah, the most common qur'anic name for God, is used not only by Muslims, but by Arab Christians as well. It is simply regarded as an equivalent to the English word God in the Arabic language. The famous grammarian Sibewayh defines Allah as "one in whom they take refuge." Nonetheless, the most concrete portrayal of God in the Qur'an is presented in the name Malek ("king"), often depicted as seated on the throne. In calling upon God during supplication and prayer, Christians use the word Abba, while Muslims call upon God using the words Ellah(i) or Rabb(i) but never Ab(i) - "Father".

One of the strongest propositions of the Qur'an is the rejection of the concept of "the begetting God." The Qur'an clearly asserts that God "does not beget and was not begotten" (112:3), and yet God is the primary cause of all things. Thus, within the Islamic framework of thought, the image of fatherhood and sonship in reference to God and God's creatures is purposely avoided. The same precept applies to the usage of the word Abba, and therefore it is not used.

The word rabb is frequently used throughout the Qur'an. If we were to go by Madd-ul Ghamus (an Arabic-English lexicon), the word rabb can be defined as "lord, possessor, and owner"; "one who has command and authority over someone or something."
The verb form of the word can be used to imply:
1. to rule, to govern, as well as to be ruled over, and
2. to rear, to foster, to nourish (one's own child or another's), as well as to have been brought up, fostered, and nourished.

In other words, rabb can be translated as "one who brings a thing to a state of completion by degrees."
The word is used in the Qur'an in a variety of forms. Examples of some of its usages can be helpful in understanding its qur'anic implications.

One of the most essential concepts presented in the Qur'an is the primordial testimony of humanity to the fact that God is our Lord. "Alastu berabbekum? Ghalu bala shahedna" ("Am I not your Lord?" They said: "Yea, verily we testify") (7:172). Muslim thinkers interpret this verse as an indication of divine unity, tawhid. The word rabb in this verse and throughout the Qur'an has often been translated into English as "Lord," and never as "Father." However, one could read this verse as an implication to the point that our real guardian, one who raises us to perfection, is God and not those from whom we are born. It is interesting that the verse that immediately follows explains that the purpose of this witnessing is to avoid the claim that "our fathers (aba'una) ascribed partners to God, and we were [their] seeds" (7:173). This argument is not found justified by the Judge (another qur'anic name for God):
- primarily because of our innate monotheist nature and
- secondarily because our fathers (aba'una) are only our secondary causes. Our true Guardian, the One who brings us to a state of completion, is our Lord, God.

Another interesting aspect of the Qur'an's use of the term rabb is found in Sura 17:24.
Describing the respect due to parents, this verse reads:
"And submit to them as if you were a bird lowering your wings with mercy, and say:
My Lord (Rabbi)! Have mercy on them both as they cared for me (rabbiani), when I was little."

Attention should be given to the use of the verb form of the word rabb.

The content of these verses indicates that the image of God as parent or guardian is not entirely foreign within the qur'anic context. Indeed, God functions as a guardian for Muslims as well as for Christians. However, the term father in reference to God has been altogether avoided in Islamic terminology in order to avoid the theological controversies surrounding the term in the Christian tradition.

No matter what word is used to call upon the creator of the worlds, Muslims and Christians as well as Jews agree that:
- "there is no god but God"
and are bound by the command:
- "Love thy Lord."


3. For a more detailed explanation of the names of God, see "The Vision of Islam", by Sachiko Murata and William Chittick, New York: Paragon House, 1994, pp. 47-78, 134-142
4. Sibghat Allah (Qur'an 2:138)
5. Quoted by Annemarie Schimmel in "The Triumphal Sun: A Study of the Works of Jalaloddin Rumi", New York, State University of New York Press, 1993, pp. 237-238
6. Ibid.
This excerpt is taken from the article "God's Most Beautiful Names: The Islamic Tradition"
by Bahar Davary, "The Living Light", Fall 1998, Vol. 35, No. 1
BAHAR DAVARY works in Washington, D.C., at the Secretariat for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Ms. Davary did graduate work at Tehran (Iran) University, specializing in Islamic mysticism.

Бонус - имена Бога
- Почему в Православии не упоминают имя Иеговы?: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/3699308.html
- Эл-Шаддай - след богини-матери в Библии?: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/143016.html
- Б.В. Раушенбах, "Логика Троичности": http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/143016.html
- 99 имен Аллаха:
--- Bahar Davary, "God's Most Beautiful Names: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/2519840.html
--- Картинки: http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/665585.html
--- Вики: http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/99_%D0%B8%D0%BC%D1%91%D0%BD_%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%BB%D0%B0%D1%85%D0%B0
--- А.С. Пушкин, "Бог - изобретатель" / Аль-Бади': http://hojja-nusreddin.livejournal.com/2520143.html
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