Allah Most High

Muzaffar Iqbal and Naseer Ahmad

Allāh, referred to as “the Name of Majesty” (ism al-jalāla) and “the Name of the [Divine] Essence” (ism al-dhāt) in commentary literature, occurs in the Qurʾān 2697 times in 85 of its 114 suras, aside from its presence in the theonymic invocation which occurs at the head of every sura except Q 9 (see Basmala). The rest of the article explores certain aspects of the Divine Name and related terms and concepts.

The Qurʾān declares on the tongue of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, "Say, Were all the sea ink for [writing] the words of my Lord, the sea would be exhausted before the Words of my Lord were exhausted, even if We brought the like thereof to replenish it” (Q 18:109). And if all the trees on the earth were pens, and the seas [were ink]—replenished with seven more seas—the Words of Allah would not be exhausted. Indeed, Allah is All-Mighty, All-Wise. (Q 31:27)

Commentaries on these verses observe that humans’ limited capacities preclude the possibility of full comprehension of an Infinite God Who is unlike anything that exists. The exegetes elaborate that forests of pens and replenished seas of ink would all be insufficient to expound the wonders He has created, the blessings He has bestowed, or His Inexhaustible Knowledge (cf. Tafsīrs of Ṭabarī, Tustarī, Qushayrī, Rāzī, Ibn Kathīr, sub Q 18:109 and Q 31:27). Sahl al-Tustarī (d. 283/896) comments that, since His Book is part of His knowledge, even if one of His bondmen were given a thousand ways of understanding each letter of the Qurʾān he would not be able to fathom the knowledge within it. This, he writes, is because the Qurʾān is His pre-eternal Speech (kalāmuh al-qadīm), and His Speech is one of His Attributes; there is no end to any of His Attributes, just as He has no end. All that can be comprehended of His Speech is whatsoever He opens to the hearts of His friends (Tafsīr, sub Q 18:109). Nor can human beings fully praise Him. ʿĀʾisha, Allah be pleased with her, reported that one night she found the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, uttering while prostrating: “O Allah, I seek refuge in Your pleasure from Your anger and in Your forgiveness from Your punishment, and I seek refuge in You from You; I cannot fully praise You, for You are as You have praised Yourself” (Muslim, Ṣalāt, mā yuqāl fī-l-rukūʿ wal-sujūd).

“Allāh is the proper name of the Essence (al-dhāt) of the Necessary Existent (wājib al-wujūd), combining all attributes of perfection (al-mustajmiʿ li-jamīʿ ṣifāt al-kamāl); He is free from [all] deficiency and from being non-existent (al-munazzah ʿan al-naqṣ wal-zawāl); to Him is referred the existence of all else; and all that is said about His Essence, Attributes and Acts is a commentary on this statement” (Zabīdī, Tājsub ʾ-l-h; Ibn Abī Sharīf, Kitāb al-Musāmara p. 21; al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-mafātīḥ 3:917).

Definitions and Usage

Allāh is considered “the Supreme Name” (al-ism al-aʿẓam) by Abū Ḥanīfa (80-148/699-767) (Māwardī, Nukat, sub Q 1:1); a majority of Muslim scholars concur with this assessment (cf. Tustarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 1:1; Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 59:24; Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām, sub Q 7:180; Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub fī mabāḥith al-ism; Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh, al-Qaṣd al-mujarrad p. 103; Ibn Mandah, Tawḥīd p. 268-270; al-Sanūsī, Sharḥ al-Asmāʾ al-ḥusnā p. 27; al-Shirbīnī, al-Sirāj, sub Q 3:2; al-Qārī, Mirqāt al-mafātīḥ 1:6).

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According to the vast majority of scholars (al-jumhūr), Allāh is originally a proper and underived noun (al-Shawkānī, Nayl al-awṭār 1:18).

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Belief in Allah Most High is Obligatory (wājib)

Even though Allah Most High remains inaccessible to all creation in His Being (dhāt), belief in Him is imperative (wājib), and all other obligations are based upon this belief (al-Khalīlī, Fatāwā 1:71). 

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Gnosis of Allah Most High (maʿrifat Allāh taʿālā)

Belief in Allah, however, does not mean that the believer has knowledge of His Essence, for the Divine ipseity remains beyond the reach of all created beings. “No one but Allah knows Allah,” writes al-Rāzī. Knowledge that He exists is one thing, knowledge of His Being another, he explains.

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The Existence of Allah (wujūd Allāh)

While maintaining the inaccessibility of the Divine ipseity, the Qurʾān offers a number of proofs for the existence of Allah Most High; some of these are discussed in the following sections.

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The Qurʾān Itself is a Proof of Allah Most High

In a number of self-referential verses, the Qurʾān declares that it has been revealed by Allah, variously described as the Lord and Cherisher of the Universe (Rabb al-ʿālamīn) (Q 32:2; 56:80; 69:43); the Mighty, the Most Merciful (al-ʿAzīz al-Raḥīm) (Q 36:5); the Mighty, the Most Wise (al-ʿAzīz al-Ḥakīm) (Q 39:1); the Mighty, the Omniscient (al-ʿAzīz al-ʿAlīm) (Q 40:2); and the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful (al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm) (Q 41:2). 

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Knowledge of the Existence of Allah Most High is Innate

According to most Muslim scholars, human recognition of the existence of Allah Most High is axiomatic, imprinted onto the innate nature (fiṭra) with which human beings have been created, and so requires no external proof (Samʿānī, Tafsīr, sub Q 30:30; al-Shahrastānī, Nihāyat al-iqdām p. 124; Ibn Taymiyya, Majmūʿ al-fatāwā 6:73; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 14:12).

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Proofs of His Existence from Divine Acts

In addition to itself and innate nature (fiṭra), the Qurʾān also refers to the Acts of Allah (afʿāl Allāh), including Divine creation and guidance, as proofs for His existence.

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Al-Rāzī comments that among the unfailing (al-muʿtamad) Qurʾānic arguments for the existence of the Maker (al-Ṣāniʿ) is the creation of human beings. Citing Q 2:21 and 258, 26:78, 20:50, and 96:1-2, he writes: “These six verses show that the Most High has offered the creation of the human being as a proof for the existence of the Maker, Exalted is He.

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Guidance (hidāya)

Al-Rāzī notes that the arguments most often adduced by the major Prophets are based upon creation and guidance.

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Proofs for His Existence in Islamic Intellectual Sciences

Further arguments for the existence of God, deployed in works dealing with intellectual sciences (al-kutub al-ʿaqliyya), are premised on creation (ḥudūth) and contingency (imkān). 

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Position of the Philosophers about His Existence

Many (al-Ghazālī claims a majority) of the Muslim philosophers believed in the eternity of the world, claiming that it “has never ceased to exist with Allah, Exalted be He, being an effect (maʿlūl) of His, existing along with Him, not posterior to Him in time—[as] an effect coexists along with the cause, and light along with the sun—and that the Creator’s priority to [the world] is like the priority of the cause to the effect, which is a priority of essence and rank, not of time (taqaddum bil-dhāt wal-rutba lā bil-zamān)” (al-Ghazālī, Tahāfut, First Discussion, p. 88).

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The Path of the Sufis

Without denying the validity or utility of demonstrative proofs, the Sufis consider the path of inner illumination (ilhām) and purification of the self a superior method of gaining certitude regarding the existence of Allah Most High.

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His Attributes (Ṣifāṭ)

Sūrat al-Ikhlāṣ (Q 112) enjoins the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, to proclaim: Say: He, Allah, is One. Allah, the Eternally Self-Sufficient (al-Ṣamad). He begets not, nor is begotten. And none is like Him. 

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His Transcendence (Tanzīh)

Another aspect of the Qurʾānic affirmation of a singular, Omnipotent, and Merciful God, closer to him (every human) than his own jugular vein (Q 50:16; see Arteries and Veins), is mentioned in verses which refer to His transcendence (tanzīh), classically defined as “declaring Allah Most High free of all that is not worthy of Him” (Ghazālī/Zabīdī, Iḥyāʾ/Itḥāf 2:135).

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He is the First and the Last

Commenting on Q 57:3 (He is the First (al-Awwal) and the Last (al-Ākhir), the Manifest (al-Ẓāhir) and the Inward (al-Bāṭin), and He has complete knowledge of everything), al-Qurṭubī observes that its Prophetic explanation (sharḥ) suffices, and nothing more need be said (yughnī ʿan qawl kull qāʾil) (Tafsīr).

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His Self-Subsistence

The two Divine Names (see Beautiful Names of Allah) al-Qayyūm and al-Ghanī directly indicate absolute Self-Subsistence and Self-Sufficiency.

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Speech of Allah Most High (Kalām Allāh taʿālā)

Reference to the Speech of Allah occurs in the Qurʾān as a noun in three verses (kalām Allāh, “Speech of Allah”) (Q 2:75; 9:6; 48:15) and otherwise in verbal form.

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Seeing Allah Most High (ruʾyat Allāh)

The possibility and modality of seeing Allah Most High (ruʾyat Allāh) has remained a credal controversy; major positions are briefly summarized in this section.

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Did the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, see Allah Most High?

Al-Nawawī (631-676/1234-1277) registers the “well-known difference of opinion among the Companions, Successors, and Imams” regarding whether the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, saw Allah Most High during the Night Journey (laylat al-isrāʾ) (see Night Journey and Ascension) (Sharḥ Muslim 18:56).

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Seeing Allah Most High in this World

Muslims are in agreement about the impossibility of seeing Allah Most High with one’s mortal eyes during this worldly life. At the same time, the vast majority of Sunni scholars also agree that “seeing” Him in dream-visions is possible.

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Objections on the possibility of seeing Allah Most High

The Muʿtazilīs and other groups argued against what al-Rāzī called the “consensus of ahl al-Sunna” affirming the possibility of seeing Allah Most High in the Hereafter (al-Maʿālim 1:76).

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Encouragements for Seeking a Vision of Allah

Exegetes and Hadith masters record in this connection supplications of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, asking Allah Most High to increase his longing to see Him.

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See also

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