Beautiful Names of Allah
(al-asmāʾ al-ḥusnā)

Gibril Fouad Haddad

The Most Beautiful Names of Allah (asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā), together with the Divine Attributes (ṣifāt), constitute Allah’s naming and description of Himself. Knowledge of and belief in them form the essence of pure monotheism (see Tawḥīd), and increases understanding of the Divine (see Allah Most High). This article summarizes the scholarship on the Names and their sourcing, as well as provides English translations and brief exegeses of several selected Names.

The article comprises the following sections: i. Definitions, Usage, Etymology; ii. The Naming, the Named, and the Attribute; iii. The Names as Divinely Ordained or Deducible/Conventional; iv. The Hadith of the Ninety-Nine Names; v. Name Lists in al-Tirmidhī and Ibn Mājah; vi. Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq’s and Sufyān b. ʿUyayna’s Qurʾānic Lists; vii. “Allah has Ninety-Nine Names” may be Specific but not Exhaustive; viii. Ibn Ḥazm’s Restrictive List of Eighty-Four Names; ix. Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Qurʾānic List of One Hundred Forty-Six Names; x. Ibn Ḥajar’s Quintessential List of Ninety-Nine Names; xi. Ibn al-Wazīr’s Inclusive Lists of Two Hundred Twenty-Eight Names; xii. The Four Invocations that Incorporate all the Divine Names; xiii. Pairing (Iqtirān) of Certain Names in the Qurʾān; xiv. Commentary Literature on the Divine Names; xv. Glossary and Sources of Selected Names; xvi. The Greatest Name; xvii. The Use of Divine Names by Human Beings; xviii. Bibliography.

Definitions, Usage, Etymology

The Qurʾān uses the phrase “the most beautiful Names” (al-asmāʾ al-ḥusnā) in relation to Allah Most High in four verses: To Allah belong the most beautiful Names, so invoke Him by them. And leave the company of those who blaspheme His Names. They will be requited what they do (Q 7:180); Say: Call unto Allah or call unto the All-Beneficent (al-Raḥmān); whichever you call upon, His are the most beautiful Names (Q 17:110); Allah! There is no god except He; His are the most beautiful Names (Q 20:8); He is Allah—the Creator, the Originator, the Fashioner. His are the most beautiful Names; whatever is in the heavens and the earth declares His glory; and He is the Mighty, the Wise (Q 59:24). The first two verses (Q 7:180; 17:110) were reportedly revealed when, on separate occasions, Abū Jahl and another Makkan polytheist, hearing Muslims call unto al-Raḥmān, wondered aloud why “Muḥammad and his friends claim to worship a single God, yet they call upon two?” (Tafsīrs of Muqātil, Samarqandī, Baghawī, Thaʿlabī, Ibn al-ʿArabī, Qurṭubī, Abū Ḥayyān, Ibn Juzayy, Thaʿālibī, sub Q 7:180 and 17:110). It is also related that the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, would dictate “In Your Name, O Allah, our Lord” (bi-smik Allāhumma); after In the name of Allah be its course and its mooring (Q 11:41) was revealed he would dictate (or order written) bi-smil-Lāh; after Say: Call unto Allah or call unto the All-Beneficent (al-Raḥmān) (Q 17:110) was revealed he would dictate bi-smil-Lāh al-Raḥmān; and after Verily it is from Sulaymān and verily it is In the name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the Most Merciful (Q 27:30) was revealed he would dictate bi-smil-Lāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm (Tafsīrs of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, ʿAbd al-Razzāq, Jaṣṣāṣ, Baghawī, sub Q 27:30; Ibn ʿAṭiyya and Qurṭubī, sub Q 1:1) (see Basmala).

The most beautiful Names in these four verses have been glossed as the “ninety-nine Names” that are referred to in the sound hadith of Abū Hurayra (d. 58/678) (see below), then individually listed in its later interpolations and interpretations, including Names found only in the Hadith (Tafsīrs of Abū al-Layth al-Samarqandī, Thaʿlabī, Qurṭubī, Ibn Kathīr, Ibn Juzayy, Ibn ʿAjība, sub Q 7:180 and 59:24; Jalālayn, Tafsīr, sub Q 20:8 and 59:24). Blaspheming His Names (yulḥidūn fī asmāʾih, see Blasphemy) in Q 7:180 has been glossed as “naming Allah in an inappropriate way, such as what we hear the Bedouins say in their ignorance: ‘O father of noble traits (yā abā al-makārim)!’ ‘O fair-faced one (yā abyaḍ al-wajh)!’ ‘O gallant one (yā nakhī)!’ or their (the Makkan pagans’) refusal to call Him by some of His beautiful Names, such as saying ‘ Allah!’ but not ‘ Raḥmān!’” (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 7:180). Makkī al-Qaysī (d. 437/ca.1045) glossed they blaspheme (yulḥidūn) in Q 7:180 as referring to a linguistic corruption of the Divine Names intended to refer to idols (Makkī, Hidāya; cf. Thaʿlabī, Kashf).

The Names of Allah are described as “the most excellent (aḥsan) names because they point to excellent meanings of rendering majesty, exalting [Him] and so forth” (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf, sub Q 7:180); and because they reflect magnification (taʿẓīm), yield Paradise as a reward according to the Divine promise, attract hearts through Divine generosity and mercy, teach which aspects of His description are necessary, possible, or impossible with respect to Him, and constitute the noblest type of knowledge conceivable, since their referent is the Almighty (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām).

The root ḥ-s-n from which is derived “most beautiful” (aḥsan) signifies not only beauty (ḥusn)—whereby it is the antonym of ugliness (qubḥ)—but also goodness, in which sense it is the antonym of evil (sūʾ) (al-Fārābī, Dīwān al-adab 2:6, sub fuʿlā; 2:277, sub faʿula yafʿulu) as well as excellence (iḥsān), so that, ultimately, “what is ḥasan is deemed so from the perspective of reason (min jihat al-ʿaql), from the perspective of proclivity (min jihat al-hawāʾ), and from the perspective of the senses (min jihat al-ḥiss)” (Rāghib, Mufradāt).

Although grammarians have given “almost seventy different definitions for ism (noun, name)” (Ibn al-Anbārī, Asrār al-ʿarabiyya p. 5), it has been defined mostly as “a word that intrinsically points to a particular meaning unconnected with any of the three tenses” (al-Ṣāyigh, al-Lamḥa, Bāb al-ism; cf. al-Taftāzānī, Sharḥ al-Maqāṣid 4:338, vii: Fī Asmāʾ Allāh, al-ism; al-Aḥmadnagarī, Muṣṭalaḥāt p. 109, al-ism), and described as “a marker (ʿalāma) for something, if we say ism is derived from wasama (to describe); and the evidence (dalīl) that brings it up to the intellect if we say it is derived from sumuww (height)” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:31). In the strict sense a name is underived, for otherwise it is not a name but an attribute—“a [differentiating] rule stipulated by al-Sībawayh (d. 180/796) which the Law neither confirms nor denies” (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām, sub Q 7:180). For since the Name Allāh alone has been claimed to be truly non-derived, and at any rate is qualified by all the other Names, while it itself qualifies none of them, hence literally they are attributes (al-Juwaynī, al-Irshād p. 138, al-Qawl fī maʿānī Asmāʾ Allāh; Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 80-81; al-Rāzī, Tafsīr 1:162-164, Muqaddima ix: fī-l-mabāḥith al-mutaʿalliqa bi-qawlinā Allāh). Typically, moreover, the name or noun is “the only one of the three parts of speech—noun (ism), verb (fiʿl), and particle (ḥarf)—that is governable by a preposition of attraction (ḥarf jarr)” (opening words of Mubarrid’s Muqtaḍab). Ibn Ḥazm (384-456/994-1064) deems ism an original word in itself, “not derived from anything whatsoever but a name devised by convention like ḥajar (stone), raml (sand), khashba (plank), and every other non-derived name” (al-Fiṣal 5:137, al-Kalām fī-l-ism wal-musammā). Al-Bayḍāwī (d. 685/1286) in his commentary on the Basmala makes it clear he believes the etymology of ism to stem from s-m-w, in conformity with the position of the grammarians of Baṣra, rather than w-s-m as claimed by the Kūfans. He also, like Ibn Ḥazm before him, considers “the Names” to mean literally the actual words (alfāẓ) that stand for them (Tafsīr, sub Q 1:1 and 7:180; cf. Ibn Ḥazm, al-Fiṣal 5:136, al-Kalām fī-l-ism wal-musammā).


The Naming, the Named, and the Attribute

Al-Ghazālī (450-505/1058-1111) defines “name” logically as “the probative verbal presence of something on the tongue” (or, “in language:” wujūd al-shayʾ al-lafẓī al-dalīlī fī-l-lisān), as distinct from either “actual basic existence among material objects” (al-wujūd al-aṣlī al-ḥaqīqī fī-l-aʿyān) or “cognitive imaginal existence among abstractions” (al-wujūd al-ʿilmī al-ṣūrī fī-l-adhhān). The majority of scholars similarly view the name (ism) as distinct from the referent (musammā) according to al-Rāzī (543-606/1148-1209) and as synonymous with the act of naming (tasmiya) according to Ibn ʿAṭiyya (480-542/1087-1148). However, Māturīdīs, Muʿtazilīs, some hadith scholars, and some major Ashʿarīs such as Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ashʿarī (260-324?/874-936?) himself, al-Bāqillānī (d. 403/ca.1013), and Abū Manṣūr al-Baghdādī (d. 429/1038) consider the name and the referent identical. Al-Ṭabarī (224-310/839-ca.922) shows they may be the same or different according to the context; he glosses bi-smi-Llāh in the Basmala as referring to the act of naming (tasmiya), and as signifying bi-tasmiyat Allāh (Tafsīr, basmala).

A number of well-known Qurʾānic texts provide examples where name and referent are the same. They include the verses Glorify the Name of your Lord, the Highest (Q 87:1), Yet they ascribe unto Allah partners. Say: Name them (Q 13:33)—meaning “prove their divinity” (Rāghib), since al-Lāt, al-ʿUzzā are empty designations without actual referents (Fayrūzābādī)—and the expression names which you and your forefathers invented and for which Allah has sent down no authority (Q 7:71; 12:39; 53:23), where the names stand for the objects of their worship which are in no wise partners for Allah Most High (al-Bāqillānī, al-Inṣāf p. 57-58; al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl p. 114-115, Fī maʿnā al-ism wa-ḥaqīqatih; Ibn Ḥazm, al-Fiṣal 5:135-145, al-Kalām fī-l-ism wal-musammā; al-Juwaynī, al-Irshād p. 135-138, al-Qawl fī maʿānī Asmāʾ Allāh; al-Ghazālī, Maqṣad p. 8-12, 19-20; al-Nasafī, Baḥr al-kalām p. 138-139; Ibn ʿAṭiyya, Muḥarrar, basmala, Faṣl fī-l-adilla ʿalā anna al-ism lā yajūz an yakūn huwa al-musammā; Rāzī, Tafsīr, sub Q 1:1; Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub 6:1, 7:180; Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 7:71; Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb, sub Q 1:1; Samīn, Durr, sub Q 12:40; Ibn ʿĀshūr, Tafsīr, sub Q 13:33; Rāghib, Mufradāt, sub samāʾ; Fayrūzābādī, Baṣāʾir 3:265-266, sub samāʾ; Zarkashī, Burhān 2:297, Type 26).


The Names as Ordained (tawqīfiyya) or Deducible/Conventional (qiyāsiyya/iṣṭilāḥiyya)

The Divine Names are known only through “transmitted evidence” (al-dalīl al-maʾthūr), meaning their explicit and verbatim mention in the Qurʾān, the Sunna, or the Consensus (ijmāʿ). They cannot be inferred grammatically (e.g., by deriving an active participle from a verb ascribed to Allah), according to most scholars (Ālūsī, Rūḥ, sub Q 7:180): “It is not lawful for anyone to name Allah the Most Glorious by other than what He named Himself, or to describe Him by other than what He related of Himself” (Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā 1:29, Tawḥīd, masʾala 54; 1:30, masʾala 56). Al-Ashʿarī stated this rule during a debate with his teacher and father-in-law Abū ʿAlī al-Jubbāʾī (d. 303/ca.916) (see Ibn al-Subkī, Ṭabaqāt 3:357-358).

Similarly, al-Ashʿarī’s epigones Ibn Khafīf al-Shīrāzī (d. 371/ca.982) and Abū Manṣūr al-Baghdādī say in their credal texts: “The Divine Names and Attributes can only be identified from transmitted sources: that is, either what Allah has said of Himself, or what the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said of Him, or what the Muslims concur about in relation to a given Name or Attribute” (al-Daylamī, Sīrat Ibn Khafīf p. 342; al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl p. 115-116, Bayān maʾkhadh Asmāʾ Allāh ʿazza wa-jall). This principle was summed up in verse 39 of Ibrāhīm al-Laqānī’s (d. 1041/1631) doctrinal primer Jawharat al-Tawḥīd: “The conclusion is that the Divine Names are Divinely ordained (tawqīfiyya), and so are His Attributes; so memorize the transmitted evidence” (see ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd, al-Niẓām al-farīd bi-taḥqīq Jawharat al-tawḥīd p. 126).

Al-Baghdādī adduced among the proofs against the permissibility of name-derivation the fact that Allah Most High cannot be named Sāqī (cupbearer) on the basis of And their Lord slaked their thirst (saqāhum) with a pure drink (Q 76:21); nor Mustahziʾ (mocker) or Sākhir (derider) on the basis of Allah Himself does mock (yastahziʾu) them (Q 2:15) and Allah Himself derides (sakhira) them (Q 9:79); nor Ghaḍbān (angry) on the basis of Allah is angry (ghaḍiba) against them (Q 48:60); nor Muṣallī (blesser) on the basis of Truly Allah and His angels shower blessings (yuṣallūn) on the Prophet (Q 33:55); nor Murhiq (burdener) on the basis of I will burden him (sa-urhiquh) with hardship (Q 74:17) (Uṣūl p. 129, Bayān mā yūṣaf bihil-Lāh taʿālā min fiʿl lā yaṣdur ʿanhu ism). Nevertheless, a few Sunni scholars, among them al-Bāqillānī, did allow the derivation of praiseworthy Divine Names on grammatical principles “when it involves unmistakable praise” (Ibn Juzayy, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:180), as did the Muʿtazila and Qadariyya regarding “every name He truly deserves—it may be used for Him, without restriction” (Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār, al-Mughnī 5:192; cf. al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl p. 115-116, Bayān maʾkhadh Asmāʾ Allāh ʿazza wa-jall):

Those who posit that there is no need for Divine ordainment to determine the Names have said:

The Names and Attributes of Allah are mentioned in Persian, Turkish, and Hindi, although none of this was transmitted in the Noble Qurʾān or in the reports; yet the Muslims agree by consensus on the permissibility of using them.

Allah Most High said To Allah belong the most beautiful Names, so invoke Him by them (Q 7:180); and a name is not beautiful for any other reason than denoting praiseworthy attributes and majestic traits. Any name that denotes those meanings is a beautiful name. Hence it is obligatory to allow it to be applied to Allah Most High in compliance with this noble verse.

Terms have no use other than for the meanings for which they stand: if the meanings are sound, forbidding the terms that represent those meanings amounts to futility.

Ibn ʿĀdil, Lubāb 1:153-154, sub Q 1:1,
faṣl fī bayān anna Asmāʾ Allāh
tawqīfiyya am iṣṭilāḥiyya


The Hadith of the Ninety-Nine Names

A sound hadith in the two foremost Ṣaḥīḥs, narrated from Abū Hurayra (Allah be well-pleased with him), states there are ninety-nine Names—without identifying them—that guarantee Paradise “for whoever gathers them (aḥṣāhā)”: “Truly Allah possesses ninety-nine Names—one hundred less one—and whoever gathers them enters Paradise” (Bukhārī, Tawḥīd, inna lil-Lāh miʾata ismin illā wāḥid; Muslim, Dhikr wal-duʿāʾ wal-tawba wal-istighfār, fī Asmāʾ Allāh taʿālā). The term aḥṣāhā literally means memorization (ḥifẓ) according to al-Bukhārī, who elsewhere cites the gloss of aḥṣaynāhu (Q 36:12 and 78:29) as “We preserved it (ḥafiẓnāh) and counted it (ʿadadnāh)” (Bukhārī, Ṭalāq) in the context of the verse Q 65:1. Al-Nawawī (631-676/1234-1277) comments: The meaning of aḥṣāhā is (i) to memorize (ḥafiẓahā). That is how al-Bukhārī and the majority explain it, which is supported by the alternate narration in the Ṣaḥīḥ that actually says “whoever memorizes them (man ḥafiẓahā) enters Paradise” (Muslim, Dhikr wal-duʿāʾ wal-tawba wal-istighfār, fī Asmāʾ Allāh taʿālā wa-faḍl man aḥṣāhā). It is also said that its meaning is (ii) whoever knows their meanings and believes in them. It is also said its meaning is (iii) whoever can implement them (aṭāqahā) with the best care toward them (ḥusn al-riʿāya lahā) and acquires them as his own character (takhallaq bihā) to the extent that he can put their meaning into practice, and Allah knows best (al-Nawawī, al-Adhkār, Mā yaqūluh idhā dakhal fī-l-ṣalāt, Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā). It is also said that it means (iv) whoever puts them into practice and obeys each and every Name—as belief in them does not presuppose putting them into practice. One scholar holds that (v) what is meant is memorization of the Qurʾān and its integral recitation, since it contains them all. The latter view is weak and the correct one is the first (Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim, Dhikr wal-duʿāʾ wal-tawba wal-istighfār, fī Asmāʾ Allāh taʿālā wa-faḍl man aḥṣāhā; cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:321, Aymān).

Ibn Ḥajar reinforces the caveat that “the gathering (iḥṣāʾ) of the Names means putting them into practice, not their mere enumeration (ʿadduhā) or memorization (ḥifẓuhā)” (Fatḥ al-bārī, Tawḥīd, inna lil-Lāh miʾata ismin illā wāḥidan) and a 12th/18th-century encyclopedist further defines such iḥṣāʾ purely in spiritual terms: “Gathering the Divine Names (iḥṣāʾ al-asmāʾ al-ilāhiyya) consists in self-realization through them (huwa al-taḥaqquq bihā) in the Unique One through self-extinction from human trappings (al-fanāʾ ʿan rusūm al-khalqiyya) and abiding through the abiding of absolute Oneness (al-baqāʾ bi-baqāʾ al-ḥaḍrat al-aḥadiyya)” (al-Tahānawī, Kashshāf 1:112, Iḥṣāʾ al-Asmāʾ al-Ilāhiyya).

Ninety-nine Names identified by al-Tirmidhī (cited below) with English translation are:

al-Raḥmān

the All-Beneficent, All-Gracious

al-Raḥīm

the Most Merciful

al-Malik

the King and Sovereign, the Possessor

al-Quddūs

the Supremely Holy, Perfect, and Transcendent

al-Salām

Salvation, Peace and Security, the Transcendent beyond defects

al-Muʾmin

the Confirmer, Guarantor, Securer, and the Bestower of faith

al-Muhaymin

the Vigilant Guardian, Preserver and Protector, Witness, and Muʾmin

al-ʿAzīz

the Mighty, Irresistible Vanquisher, Inaccessible, Independent One

al-Jabbār

the Invincible, Irresistible, and Unattainable, the Transcendent All-Compeller, Constant Repairer, Com­forter, and Reformer

al-Mutakabbir

the Self-Exalter, the Superb and Proud

al-Khāliq

the Creator

al-Bāriʾ

the Producer, Evolver, and Originator

al-Muṣawwir

the Shaper and Fashioner of forms

al-Ghaffār

the Oft-Forgiving, the Great Forgiver

al-Qahhār

the All-Compelling Subduer, the Dominant

al-Wahhāb

the Ever-Bestowing

al-Razzāq

the Ever-Providing

al-Fattāḥ

the All-Opener, the Victory-Giver, Decider and Judge

al-ʿAlīm

the All-Knowing

al-Qābiḍ

the Seizer, Restrainer, and Straitener

al-Bāsiṭ

the Expander, the Munificent

al-Khāfiḍ

the Abaser

al-Rāfiʿ

the Exalter

al-Muʿizz

the Honorer

al-Mudhill

[these last six in Q as nouns, not verbs]

the Dishonorer

al-Samīʿ

the All-Hearing

al-Baṣīr

the All-Seeing

al-Ḥakam

the Judge, the Arbitrator

al-ʿAdl [not in Q as a name but as a modifier]

the Utterly Just

al-Laṭīf

the All-Subtle, All-Pervading, Most Kind

al-Khabīr

the All-Aware

al-Ḥalīm

the Forbearing, Indulgent, Clement

al-ʿAẓīm

the Incommensurable, Magnificent, Infinite, Immense, Eminent

al-Ghafūr

the All-Forgiving

al-Shakūr

the Ever-Grateful

al-ʿAlī

the Sublimely Exalted

al-Kabīr

the Great

al-Ḥafīẓ

the Preserver and Guardian

al-Muqīt

the Maintainer, Nourisher, and Strengthener

al-Ḥasīb

the Reckoner

al-Jalīl [not in Q verbatim but as Dhūl-Jalāl]

the Majestic

al-Karīm

the Bountiful, Generous, and Noble

al-Raqīb

the Watchful

al-Mujīb

the Responsive, Answerer

al-Wāsiʿ

the Vast, All-Embracing

al-Ḥakīm

the All-Wise

al-Wadūd

the Most Loving and Most Kind

al-Majīd

the All-Glorious

al-Bāʿith [in Q not as a noun but as a verb]

the Raiser of the dead

al-Shahīd

the Witness

al-Ḥaqq

the Truth, the Real

al-Wakīl

the Trustee, Dependable, Advocate

al-Qawī

the Most Strong

al-Matīn

the Most Firm, Steadfast

al-Walī

the Protecting Friend, Patron, and Helper

al-Ḥamīd

the All-Praiseworthy, Glorious

al-Muḥṣī

the Accounter, Numberer of all

al-Mubdiʾ

the Originator and Initiator of all beginnings

al-Muʿīd [this and the preceding two not in Q as nouns but as verbs]

the Restorer and Reinstater Who brings back all

al-Muḥyī [in Q in construct without al-, also as a verb]

the Quickener, Giver of life

al-Mumīt [in Q as a verb]

the Destroyer, Bringer of death

al-Ḥayy

the Ever-Living

al-Qayyūm

the Self-Subsisting, Self-Sufficient and Immutable Sustainer and Maintainer of all

al-Wājid [not in Q]

the Perceiver, the Finder, the Unfailing

al-Mājid [not in Q]

the Self-Glorious

al-Wāḥid

the One, All-Inclusive, and Indivisible

al-Ṣamad

the Eternally Self-Sufficient, Impregnable, Eternally Be­sought of all

al-Qādir

the Supremely Able,,All-Powerful

al-Muqtadir

the Supreme All-Determiner, the Dominant Who Prevails

al-Muqaddim

the Expediter, He who brings forward

al-Muʾakhkhir [these two not in Q]

the Delayer, He who defers and puts far away

al-Awwal

the Absolute First without beginning, the Pre-Eternal

al-Ākhir

the Absolute Last, the Everlasting without end

al-Ẓāhir

the Manifest, the Outward, the All-Victorious

al-Bāṭin

the Hidden, the All-Encompassing, the Inward

al-Wālī [not in Q]

the Supreme Patron and Governor

al-Mutaʿālī

the Supremely Self-Exalted

al-Barr

the Most Kind and Righteous, Source of all goodness

al-Tawwāb

the Ever-Relenting, Accepter of re­pentance

al-Muntaqim [in Q in the plural without al-]

the Avenger

al-ʿAfuww

the Pardoner and Effacer of sins

al-Raʾūf

the Compassionate, Kindly, Gentle

Mālik al-Mulk

the Owner of All Sovereignty

Dhūl-Jalāl wal-Ikrām

the Lord of Majesty and Grace

al-Muqsiṭ [not in Q]

the Equitable, Requiter

al-Jāmiʿ [in Q in construct, without al-]

the Gatherer, Unifier

al-Ghanī

the All-Rich and Absolutely Self-Sufficient True Sovereign

al-Mughnī [in Q not as a noun but as a verb]

the Enricher, Emancipator, Liberator from Need

al-Muʿṭī [not in Q]

the Giver

al-Māniʿ [not in Q]

the Withholder, Shielder, Defender

al-Nāfiʿ [not in Q]

the Propitious Benefactor

al-Ḍārr [not in Q]

the Distresser, Harmer

al-Nūr [in Q in construct, without al-]

the Light

al-Hādī [in Q without al-]

the Guide

al-Badīʿ [in Q without al-]

the Incomparable Originator

al-Bāqī [not in Q]

the Everlasting, Immutable

al-Wārith

the Heir and Inheritor of all

al-Rashīd [not in Q]

the Guide, Unfailing Teacher, Knower of all

al-Ṣabūr [not in Q]”

the All-Enduring, the Supremely Patient, Timeless


Name Lists of al-Tirmidhī and Ibn Mājah

Other versions of the same hadith follow up with various lists of the Names. These lists—two of which are cited below as narrated by al-Tirmidhī (209-279/824-892) and Ibn Mājah (209-273/824-887) respectively—are not Prophetic hadiths but interpolation (idrāj) by one or more of the great post-Tābiʿī narrators—Zuhayr b. Muḥammad al-Tamīmī (d. 162/779), Saʿīd b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. Abī Yaḥyā al-Tanūkhī (d. 167/784), or al-Walīd b. Muslim (c. 195/811) (cf. Ibn Ḥajar, Amālī muṭlaqa p. 240)—although most of these Names are found in the Qurʾān or the Sunna.

(a) [al-Tirmidhī’s list] “He is Allah, besides Whom there is no god but He (lā ilāha illā Hū):

 

al-Raḥmān

the All-Beneficent, All-Gracious

al-Raḥīm

the Most Merciful

al-Malik

the King and Sovereign, the Possessor

al-Quddūs

the Supremely Holy, Perfect, and Transcendent

al-Salām

Salvation, Peace and Security, the Transcendent beyond defects

al-Muʾmin

the Confirmer, Guarantor, Securer, and the Bestower of faith

al-Muhaymin

the Vigilant Guardian, Preserver and Protector, Witness, and Muʾmin

al-ʿAzīz

the Mighty, Irresistible Vanquisher, Inaccessible, Independent One

al-Jabbār

the Invincible, Irresistible, and Unattainable, the Transcendent All-Compeller, Constant Repairer, Com­forter, and Reformer

al-Mutakabbir

the Self-Exalter, the Superb and Proud

al-Khāliq

the Creator

al-Bāriʾ

the Producer, Evolver, and Originator

al-Muṣawwir

the Shaper and Fashioner of forms

al-Ghaffār

the Oft-Forgiving, the Great Forgiver

al-Qahhār

the All-Compelling Subduer, the Dominant

al-Wahhāb

the Ever-Bestowing

al-Razzāq

the Ever-Providing

al-Fattāḥ

the All-Opener, the Victory-Giver, Decider and Judge

al-ʿAlīm

the All-Knowing

al-Qābiḍ

the Seizer, Restrainer, and Straitener

al-Bāsiṭ

the Expander, the Munificent

al-Khāfiḍ

the Abaser

al-Rāfiʿ

the Exalter

al-Muʿizz

the Honorer

al-Mudhill [these last six in Q as nouns, not verbs]

the Dishonorer

al-Samīʿ

the All-Hearing

al-Baṣīr

the All-Seeing

al-Ḥakam

the Judge, the Arbitrator

al-ʿAdl [not in Q as a name but as a modifier]

the Utterly Just

al-Laṭīf

the All-Subtle, All-Pervading, Most Kind

al-Khabīr

the All-Aware

al-Ḥalīm

the Forbearing, Indulgent, Clement

al-ʿAẓīm

the Incommensurable, Magnificent, Infinite, Immense, Eminent

al-Ghafūr

the All-Forgiving

al-Shakūr

the Ever-Grateful

al-ʿAlī

the Sublimely Exalted

al-Kabīr

the Great

al-Ḥafīẓ

the Preserver and Guardian

al-Muqīt

the Maintainer, Nourisher, and Strengthener

al-Ḥasīb

the Reckoner

al-Jalīl [not in Q verbatim but as Dhūl-Jalāl]

the Majestic

al-Karīm

the Bountiful, Generous, and Noble

al-Raqīb

the Watchful

al-Mujīb

the Responsive, Answerer

al-Wāsiʿ

the Vast, All-Embracing

al-Ḥakīm

the All-Wise

al-Wadūd

the Most Loving and Most Kind

al-Majīd

the All-Glorious

al-Bāʿith [in Q not as a noun but as a verb]

the Raiser of the dead

al-Shahīd

the Witness

al-Ḥaqq

the Truth, the Real

al-Wakīl

the Trustee, Dependable, Advocate

al-Qawī

the Most Strong

al-Matīn

the Most Firm, Steadfast

al-Walī

the Protecting Friend, Patron, and Helper

al-Ḥamīd

the All-Praiseworthy, Glorious

al-Muḥṣī

the Accounter, Numberer of all

al-Mubdiʾ

the Originator and Initiator of all beginnings

al-Muʿīd [this and the preceding two not in Q as nouns but as verbs]

the Restorer and Reinstater Who brings back all

al-Muḥyī [in Q in construct without al-, also as a verb]

the Quickener, Giver of life

al-Mumīt [in Q as a verb]

the Destroyer, Bringer of death

al-Ḥayy

the Ever-Living

al-Qayyūm

the Self-Subsisting, Self-Sufficient and Immutable Sustainer and Maintainer of all

al-Wājid [not in Q]

the Perceiver, the Finder, the Unfailing

al-Mājid [not in Q]

the Self-Glorious

al-Wāḥid

the One, All-Inclusive, and Indivisible

al-Ṣamad

the Eternally Self-Sufficient, Impregnable, Eternally Be­sought of all

al-Qādir

the Supremely Able,,All-Powerful

al-Muqtadir

the Supreme All-Determiner, the Dominant Who Prevails

al-Muqaddim

the Expediter, He who brings forward

al-Muʾakhkhir [these two not in Q]

the Delayer, He who defers and puts far away

al-Awwal

the Absolute First without beginning, the Pre-Eternal

al-Ākhir

the Absolute Last, the Everlasting without end

al-Ẓāhir

the Manifest, the Outward, the All-Victorious

al-Bāṭin

the Hidden, the All-Encompassing, the Inward

al-Wālī [not in Q]

the Supreme Patron and Governor

al-Mutaʿālī

the Supremely Self-Exalted

al-Barr

the Most Kind and Righteous, Source of all goodness

al-Tawwāb

the Ever-Relenting, Accepter of re­pentance

al-Muntaqim [in Q in the plural without al-]

the Avenger

al-ʿAfuww

the Pardoner and Effacer of sins

al-Raʾūf

the Compassionate, Kindly, Gentle

Mālik al-Mulk

the Owner of All Sovereignty

Dhūl-Jalāl wal-Ikrām

the Lord of Majesty and Grace

al-Muqsiṭ [not in Q]

the Equitable, Requiter

al-Jāmiʿ [in Q in construct, without al-]

the Gatherer, Unifier

al-Ghanī

the All-Rich and Absolutely Self-Sufficient True Sovereign

al-Mughnī [in Q not as a noun but as a verb]

the Enricher, Emancipator, Liberator from Need

al-Muʿṭī [not in Q]

the Giver

al-Māniʿ [not in Q]

the Withholder, Shielder, Defender

al-Nāfiʿ [not in Q]

the Propitious Benefactor

al-Ḍārr [not in Q]

the Distresser, Harmer

al-Nūr [in Q in construct, without al-]

the Light

al-Hādī [in Q without al-]

the Guide

al-Badīʿ [in Q without al-]

the Incomparable Originator

al-Bāqī [not in Q]

the Everlasting, Immutable

al-Wārith

the Heir and Inheritor of all

al-Rashīd [not in Q]

the Guide, Unfailing Teacher, Knower of all

al-Ṣabūr [not in Q]”

the All-Enduring, the Supremely Patient, Timeless

 

(Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt, mā jāʾ fī ʿaqd al-tasbīḥ bil-yad). Thus the literal Qurʾānic Divine Names in the above list amount only to sixty-five.

(b) [Ibn Mājah’s list] “The Names are: Allah, al-Wāḥid, al-Ṣamad, al-Awwal, al-Ākhir, al-Ẓāhir, al-Bāṭin, al-Khāliq, al-Bāriʾ, al-Muṣawwir, al-Malik, al-Ḥaqq, al-Salām, al-Muʾmin, al-Muhaymin, al-ʿAzīz, al-Jabbār, al-Mutakabbir, al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm, al-Laṭīf, al-Khabīr, al-Samīʿ, al-Baṣīr, al-ʿAlīm, al-ʿAẓīm, al-Bārr, al-Mutaʿāl, al-Jalīl, al-Jamīl, al-Ḥayy, al-Qayyūm, al-Qādir, al-Qāhir, al-ʿAlī, al-Ḥakīm, al-Qarīb, al-Mujīb, al-Ghanī, al-Wahhāb, al-Wadūd, al-Shakūr, al-Mājid, al-Wājid, al-Wālī, al-Rāshid, al-ʿAfuww, al-Ghafūr, al-Ḥalīm, al-Karīm, al-Tawwāb, al-Rabb, al-Majīd, al-Walī, al-Shahīd, al-Mubīn, al-Burhān, al-Raʾūf, al-Raḥīm, al-Mubdiʾ, al-Muʿīd, al-Bāʿith, al-Wārith, al-Qawī, al-Shadīd, al-Ḍārr, al-Nāfiʿ, al-Bāqī, al-Wāqī, al-Khāfiḍ, al-Rāfiʿ, al-Qābiḍ, al-Bāsiṭ, al-Muʿizz, al-Mudhill, al-Muqsiṭ, al-Razzāq, Dhūl-Quwwat al-Matīn, al-Qāʾim, al-Dāʾim, al-Ḥāfiẓ, al-Wakīl, al-Fāṭir, al-Sāmiʿ, al-Muʿṭī, al-Muḥyī, al-Mumīt, al-Māniʿ, al-Jāmiʿ, al-Hādī, al-Kāfī, al-Abad, al-ʿĀlim, al-Ṣādiq, al-Nūr, al-Munīr, al-Tāmm, al-Qadīm, al-Watr/Witr, al-Aḥad, al-Ṣamad, al-Ladhī lam yalid wa-lam yūlad wa-lam yakun lahu kufuwan aḥad” (Ibn Mājah, Duʿāʾ, asmāʾ Allāh ʿazza wa-jall)

Other, different lists are variously narrated in less prestigious hadith compilations (see next section). It is al-Tirmidhī’s list that has proved the most authoritative and is used as the default corpus text in most of the commentary literature on the Divine Names, as in the monographs of al-Zajjāj (241-311/ca. 855-923), al-Zajjājī (d. 340/951), al-Khaṭṭābī (319-388/931-998), al-Qushayrī (376-465/ca.986-ca.1073), al-Ghazālī, al-Rāzī, Zarrūq (d. 899/1494), and, in modern times, the late Egyptian exegete Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Shaʿrāwī (1329-1419/1911-1998) among many others (see “Commentaries on the Divine Names”).

 


Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq and Sufyān b. ʿUyayna’s Qurʾānic Lists

Abū Nuʿaym (336-430/ca.948-1039) in his monograph on the reports of the ninety-nine Names and al-Zajjājī in Ishtiqāq Asmāʾ Allāh respectively narrate from Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq (80-148/699-765) and Sufyān b. ʿUyayna (107-198/ca.725-ca.814) a sura-by-sura duʿāʾ-like, vocative list of Divine Names found in the Qurʾān either verbatim or inferred from their verbal Qurʾānic forms (“In the Fātiḥa, five Names: Allāh, Rabb, Raḥmān, Raḥīm, Mālik! In al-Baqara, thirty-three Names”). Ibn Ḥajar concatenates the two lists and adds seven Names (al-Ghālib, al-Qahhār, al-Kafīl, al-Ḥafī, al-Shakūr, al-Aʿlā, and al-Akram), bringing the final count to 115 Names, each referring back to the sura in which it first appears without repetition (Abū Nuʿaym, Ṭuruq ḥadīth inna lil-Lāh tisʿatan wa-tisʿīn isman p. 182-184; al-Zajjājī, Ishtiqāq Asmāʾ Allāh p. 20-21; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Daʿawāt, lil-Llāh miʾat ismin ghayr wāḥid; Ibn Ḥajar, al-Amālī al-muṭlaqa p. 244-248).


“Allah has Ninety-Nine Names” may be Specific but not Exhaustive

Just as scholars have differed over the Divine ordainment of the Divine Names or their grammatical derivability (see discussion above), they have also differed on the following:

  • whether the expression “Allah has ninety-nine Names” is meant literally as if to say “and not a single one more” or as a subset of an open-ended whole, as if to say “ninety-nine special Names out of many more”;
  • whether that subset itself would then consist of ninety-nine specific Names or any ninety-nine Names; and
  • whether these Names are to be found in the Qurʾān alone or in both the Qurʾān and the Sunna.

Regarding the first two issues, Ibn Ḥazm al-Ẓāhirī declares apostate anyone who dares claim that Allah Most High possesses a single name more than ninety-nine; that, he claims, would be belying the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) (see Apostasy) (Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā 1:30, Tawḥīd, masʾala 55). The overwhelming agreement of the scholars, however, is that there are other Names and not just ninety-nine. That number is not meant exhaustively applies in the same terms as for the Prophetic hadith “I have five names” (Bukhārī, Manāqib, mā jāʾ fī asmāʾ Rasūl Allāh; Mālik, Jāmiʿ, asmāʾ al-Nabī) (al-Suyūṭī, al-Riyāḍ al-anīqa, preface). In his commentary on al-Tirmidhī’s Sunan, Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Mālikī (468-543/1075-1148) asserts that their number is infinite, remarkably glossing the words of my Lord as “the Names of my Lord” in the penultimate verse of Sūrat al-Kahf (Q 18:109) (Ibn al-ʿArabī, ʿĀriḍat al-aḥwadhī 10:281, Asmāʾ, asmāʾ al-Nabī ṣallā Allāh ʿalayh wa-sallam).

The fact that the number and identity of all the Divine Names are impossible to encompass can be gleaned from the Prophetic supplication narrated by Ibn Masʿūd (d. 32/ca.653) (Allah be well-pleased with him): “I ask You by every Name that belongs to You by which You named Yourself, or which You taught one of Your creatures, or revealed in Your Book, or kept exclusively to Yourself in the knowledge of the unseen (see Manifest and Hidden) in Your presence…” (Aḥmad 6:246-250 §3712; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 7:180; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Daʿawāt, lil-Lāh miʾat ismin ghayr wāḥid).

Al-Bayhaqī (384-458/994-1066) observes in his doctrinal handbook al-Iʿtiqād wal-hidāya ilā sabīl al-rashād that “Truly Allah possesses ninety-nine Names does not negate there being other Names; he (upon him blessings and peace) only meant—and Allah knows best—that whoever gathers [any] ninety-nine Names out of all the Divine Names enters Paradise, whether from the hadiths we mentioned or the rest of what the Book, the Sunna, and the Consensus (al-ijmāʿ) indicate” (al-Bayhaqī, al-Iʿtiqād p. 48, emphasis added). He elaborates this point in the chapter entitled “Exposition that Allah the Exalted has Other Names” at the very beginning of his Asmāʾ wal-Ṣifāt. Similar explanations are given by al-Khaṭṭābī (319-388/931-998), al-Ghazālī toward the end of his treatise on the Names, Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī who cites a count of four thousand Names (a thousand in the Qurʾān and the authentic reports, a thousand in the Torah, a thousand in the Injīl (Evangel), a thousand in the Zabūr (Psalms), and a thousand in the Preserved Tablet ), al-Nawawī, Ibn Ḥajar, al-Suyūṭī (849-911/1445-ca.1505), and al-Ṣanʿānī (1099-1182/1688-1769), among others, in their discussion of the hadith of the ninety-nine Names (al-Khaṭṭābī, Shaʾn al-duʿāʾ p. 23-24; al-Ghazālī, al-Maqṣad p. 139-147; Rāzī, Tafsīr 1:160, muqaddima viii: fī baqiyyat al-mabāḥith ʿan Asmāʾ Allāh; al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 50 I.viii: Fī tafsīr al-khabar al-wārid fī faḍl al-asmāʾ al-tisʿa wal-tisʿīn; Nawawī, Sharḥ Muslim, Dhikr wal-duʿāʾ wal-tawba wal-istighfār, fī Asmāʾ Allāh taʿālā wa-faḍl man aḥṣāhā; Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Daʿawāt, lillāh miʾat ismin ghayr wāḥid; al-Suyūṭī, al-Miṣbāḥ, Duʿāʾ, asmāʾ Allāh ʿazza wa-jall; al-Ṣanʿānī, Subul al-salām, see below).

Nevertheless, the intensive modifier “one hundred less one” drew scholars’ attention to the possibility that the ninety-nine figure may in fact be specific; but the exact meaning of that specificity, as shown by the different interpretations mentioned above, remains uncertain (al-Ghazālī, al-Maqṣad p. 142-146; al-Ṣanʿānī, Subul al-salām 8:28-29 and 8:34, al-Aymān wal-nudhūr, al-khilāf fī ʿadad Asmāʾ Allāh taʿālā and aqwāl al-ʿulamāʾ fī maʿnā aḥṣāhā).


Ibn Ḥazm’s Restrictive List of Eighty-Four Names

Al-Ghazālī said he was “unaware of anyone who had tried to gather the specific Divine Names prior to a certain man among the Maghribī hadith masters who goes by the name of ʿAlī Ibn Ḥazm who said, ‘I have found around eighty Names contained in the Book and the sound reports’” (al-Ghazālī, al-Maqṣad p. 146-147). Ibn Ḥazm rejects the authenticity of the lists given in al-Tirmidhī’s Sunan and strives to list only Names that are in the Qurʾān or the authentic Sunna and which, in the strictest sense, if one were to swear by any of them, one’s oath would be binding in the eyes of the Law (Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā 8:30-31, Aymān, masʾala 1126).

Of Ibn Ḥazm’s list only sixty-seven Names are Qurʾānic according to Ibn Ḥajar (Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:320 §2531, Aymān). Al-Qurṭubī (d. 671/1273) wonders why Ibn Ḥazm “stopped at eighty-four Names when Allah Most High says We have neglected nothing in the Book (Q 6:38), yet he left out Allāhumma, al-Ṣādiq, al-Mustaʿān, Muḥīṭ, Ḥāfiẓ, Faʿʿāl, Kāfī, Nūr, Mukhrij, Fāṭir, Fāliq, Badīʿ, Rāfiʿ…” (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā, cited in Ibn Ḥajar, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:318 §2531, Aymān) and he documents about two hundred Names from the Qurʾān and the Sunna in his book al-Asnā fī sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā.


Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Qurʾānic List of One Hundred Forty-Six Names

The first all-Qurʾānic list that reflects both greater inclusivity and—paradoxically—literalism was drawn up by the Sevillan exegete and linguist Abū Bakr Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Maʿāfirī in al-Amad al-aqṣā fī Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā, which he epitomized in his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān. He snubs Ibn Ḥazm (whom most Mālikī jurists deemed a maverick because of his Zahirism—Allah have mercy on all of them) and takes al-Ghazālī to task for not dismissing Ibn Ḥazm’s reductive list and for himself documenting only the classic ninety-nine Names of al-Tirmidhī’s narration—two methods indicative, in his view, of linguistic inadequacy. He then turns to extracting all the Divine Names he can from the Qurʾān alone, listing the one hundred forty-six Names according to sura in the same fashion as in the reports from Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq and Sufyān b. ʿUyayna before him, but with vastly different results (Ibn al-ʿArabī, Aḥkām 2:337-343, sub Q 7:180; cf. Ibn al-Mulaqqin, Badr al-munīr 9:485).


Ibn Ḥajar’s Quintessential List of Ninety-Nine Names

Next was compiled Ibn Ḥajar’s list in which he honed the criteria of his predecessors in several respects: he avoided the frequent cognate derivation found in the Sunan lists and those related from Jaʿfar al-Ṣādiq and Ibn ʿUyayna such as Qābiḍ, Bāsiṭ, Ṣādiq, Munʿim, Mutafaḍḍil, Mumīt, Mannān, Bāʿith, Bāqī, Muʿīn, Mubdiʾ, and Muʿīd (Abū Nuʿaym, Ṭuruq ḥadīth inna lil-Lāh tisʿatan wa-tisʿīn ismān p. 182-184); limited himself strictly to Names found in the Qurʾān unlike the Sunan lists, Ibn Ḥazm, and al-Qurṭubī; and strove not to exceed the number ninety-nine, unlike Ibn al-ʿArabī before him and Muḥammad b. al-Wazīr (775-840/1373-1437) after him:

I have searched out the Names at length in the Majestic Book until I finally drew up a precise list of ninety-nine of them. I am not aware that anyone preceded me in refining such a list…. I have ordered them as follows to facilitate supplication by them:

al-Ilāh, al-Rabb, al-Wāḥid, Allāh, al-Raḥmān, al-Raḥīm, al-Malik, al-Quddūs, al-Salām, al-Muʾmin, al-Muhaymin, al-ʿAzīz, al-Jabbār, al-Mutakabbir, al-Khāliq, al-Bāriʾ, al-Muṣawwir, al-Awwal, al-Ākhir, al-Ẓāhir, al-Bāṭin, al-Ḥayy, al-Qayyūm, al-ʿAlī, al-ʿAẓīm, al-Tawwāb, al-Ḥalīm, al-Wāsiʿ, al-Ḥakīm, al-Shākir, al-ʿAlīm, al-Ghanī, al-Karīm, al-ʿAfuww, al-Qadīr, al-Laṭīf, al-Khabīr, al-Samīʿ, al-Baṣīr, al-Mawlā, al-Naṣīr, al-Qarīb, al-Mujīb, al-Raqīb, al-Ḥasīb, al-Qawī, al-Shahīd, al-Ḥamīd, al-Majīd, al-Muḥīṭ, al-Ḥafīẓ, al-Ḥaqq, al-Mubīn, al-Ghaffār, al-Qahhār, al-Khallāq, al-Fattāḥ, al-Wadūd, al-Ghafūr, al-Raʾūf, al-Shakūr, al-Kabīr, al-Mutaʿāl, al-Muqīt, al-Mustaʿān, al-Wahhāb, al-Ḥafī, al-Wārith, al-Walī, al-Qāʾim, al-Qādir, al-Ghālib, al-Qāhir, al-Barr, al-Ḥāfiẓ, al-Aḥad, al-Ṣamad, al-Malīk, al-Muqtadir, al-Wakīl, al-Hādī, al-Kafīl, al-Kāfī, al-Akram, al-Aʿlā, al-Rāziq, Dhūl-quwwa, al-Matīn, Ghāfir al-Dhanb, Qābil al-tawb, Shadīd al-ʿiqāb, Dhūl-ṭawl, Rafīʿ al-darajāt, Sarīʿ al-ḥisāb, Fāṭir al-samāwāt wal-arḍ, Badīʿ al-samāwāt wal-arḍ, Nūr al-samāwāt wal-arḍ, Mālik al-mulk, Dhūl-jalāl wal-ikrām.

Ibn Ḥajar, Talkhīṣ al-ḥabīr 4:320-321 §2531, Aymān


Ibn al-Wazīr’s Inclusive Lists of Two Hundred Twenty-Eight Names

Ibn Ḥajar’s exact contemporary the Yemeni Zaydi scholar Muḥammad b. al-Wazīr al-Ḥasanī cites three lists of Divine Names. The first list is formed of 173 nominal forms purportedly found verbatim in the Qurʾān (including forms found without the definite article or forms found only in the plural such as Mūsiʿ, Munzil, Zāriʿ, Ḥāsib, Ṣādiq, Mustamiʿ, and Kātib), after Ibn al-ʿArabī’s model and almost as accurate; Ibn al-Wazīr includes one verb-inferred Name, “Wāsiʿ kulli shayʾin raḥmatan wa-ʿilmā,” from wasiʿta kulla shayʾin… in Q 40:7. The second list adds Names from the Sunna. The third comprises grammatically-inferred Names, such as al-Dāfiʿ and al-Mudāfiʿ (both mean the Repeller), inferred from the verbal noun (maṣdar) dafʿ in Q 2:251 and 22:40 and from the verb yudāfiʿ in Q 22:38 respectively—among the “inferences from the glorious lordly verbs” (al-mushtaqqāt min al-afʿāl al-rabbāniyyat al-ḥamīda); he adds that these inferences “are countless” (Ibn al-Wazīr, Īthār al-ḥaqq p. 159-163).


The Four Invocations that Incorporate all the Divine Names

In his refutation of anthropomorphism entitled al-Mulḥa fī iʿtiqād ahl al-ḥaqq, Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (577-660/ca.1181-1262) contends that all of the ninety-nine Names are implied in the four phrases Subḥān Allāh, al-Ḥamd lil-Llāh, Allāh akbar, and Lā ilāha illā Allāh (see Remembrance and Reminder of Allah) (Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, al-Mulḥa p. 13-15).


Pairing (Iqtirān) of Certain Names in the Qurʾān

Certain Divine Names are either predominantly or invariably paired (muqtarana) with others. The reasons for such pairings are elaborated in the exegesis of those Names (see “Glossary” below). The table below shows selected paired Names.

A subset of paired Names is what some scholars have termed “double Names” (al-asmāʾ al-muzdawija), which they said are in reality single Names formed of two components that are not to be mentioned individually but only as a couple because they are contradistinctive, such as al-Nāfiʿ al-Ḍārr, al-Khāfiḍ al-Rāfiʿ, al-Muʿizz al-Mudhill, al-ʿAfuww al-Muntaqim, al-Awwal al-Ākhir, al-Ẓāhir al-Bāṭin, and al-Muʿṭī al-Māniʿ (Ibn Qayyim, Badāʾiʿ al-fawāʾid 1:294-295, Fī Asmāʾ Allāh wa-Ṣifātih, and Shifāʾ al-ʿalīl p. 367-368, xxiii: Ṭuruq ithbāt ḥikmat al-Rabb, Jawāb 11 and 12; al-Kawārī, al-Mujallā p. 52).


Commentary Literature on the Divine Names

Numerous commentaries have been devoted to the Divine Names and Attributes; the following have all been published except, to our knowledge, Ibn al-ʿArabī’s Amad.

Tafsīr Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā by al-Zajjāj (a student of al-Mubarrid), a systematic exegesis of the ninety-nine Names mentioned in the list narrated by al-Tirmidhī with the hadith of Abū Hurayra (Allah be well-pleased with him).

Ishtiqāq Asmāʾ Allāh by al-Zajjājī, in which the author analyzes the grammatical roots of ninety-nine Names including “lā ilāha illā Hū” treated as a name.

Shaʾn al-duʿāʾ by al-Khaṭṭābī, a thorough explanation of the ninety-nine Names as narrated by al-Tirmidhī.

al-Taḥbīr fī-l-tadhkīr by al-Qushayrī, an explanation of the ninety-nine Names as narrated by al-Tirmidhī.

al-Asmāʾ wal-Ṣifāt by al-Bayhaqī, which opens with the words, “Book of the Names of Allah the Most Exalted and His Attributes to which the Book of Allah points as established, or to which the Sunna of the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace) points, or to which the Consensus of the early Muslims of this Community pointed before dissension befell and innovation appeared.” Together with al-Qurṭubī’s al-Asnā it is the most comprehensive monograph on the Names, being replete with proofs from the Qurʾān, the Sunna, and the exegeses of the early masters.

al-Maqṣad al-asnā sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā by Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazālī, an explanation of the 99 Names as narrated by al-Tirmidhī. This work is in three parts, devoted to the definition of “name,” the explanation of the ninety-nine Names, and the exploration of additional Names together with a systematic description of how each Name can be put understood, put into practice, and “acquired” as the servant’s own (except for the Names conveying the sense of divinity). Both al-Suyūṭī’s al-ʿUjālat al-ḥasnā fī sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā and al-Nabahānī’s (1265-1350/1849-1932) Mukhtaṣar al-Maqṣad al-asnā fī sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā are abridgements of al-Ghazālī’s work.

al-Amad al-aqṣā fī Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā wa-ṣifātih al-ʿulā by Ibn al-ʿArabī al-Mālikī, which he epitomized in the discussion of the Divine Names in his Aḥkām al-Qurʾān, and in which he says he documented a list of 146 Names (Aḥkām, sub Q 7:180).

Lawāmiʿ al-bayyināt fī-l-Asmāʾ wal-Ṣifāt by Fakhr al-Dīn al-Rāzī, theologically the most important treatise on the list of ninety-nine Names narrated by al-Tirmidhī, which the author concludes with a brief section on the five “Essential Names” (asmāʾ al-dhāt): al-Shayʾ, al-Qadīm, al-Azalī, Wājib al-wujūd bi-dhātih, and al-Dāʾim; and also on the “Names of the Active Attributes” (Asmāʾ al-Ṣifāt al-maʿnawiyya), including some of the Attributes themselves: al-Muḥīṭ, al-Qarīb, al-Mudabbir (comprising al-Qādir, al-Murīd, al-qaṣd, al-mashīʾa, and al-ikhtiyār), al-maḥabba, al-riḍā, al-sukhṭ, al-ghaḍab, al-muwālāt, al-muʿādāt, and al-karāha.

al-Ishāra ilā al-ījāz fī baʿḍ anwāʿ al-majāz by Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, a seminal treatise on the Ashʿarī understanding of the Names and Attributes and the principles of their metaphorical interpretation.

al-Asnā fī sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā by al-Qurṭubī, the foremost commentary on the Divine Names with systematic sourcing and exegesis of about two hundred Names, based mainly on the previous commentaries of three Andalusian Mālikīs: Ibn al-Ḥaṣṣār, Ibn al-ʿArabī (see above), and Abū al-ʿAbbās al-Uqlīshī (d. 550/1155).

al-Qaṣd al-mujarrad fī maʿrifat al-Ism al-mufrad by Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh (d. 709/1309), a treatise on the Divine Names focusing on “the One Name” Allāh as the Greatest Name, in which he says:

Know that the Beautiful Names are one thousand Names: 300 in the Torah, 300 in the Injīl, 300 in the Zabūr, one in the Leaves of Ibrāhīm, and 99 in the Furqān. The meanings of all of those Names were gathered up and incorporated into the 99 Names that are in the Qurʾān and the latter Names include the others and comprise their immense merits, their secrets, and their rewards.

Ibn ʿAṭāʾ Allāh, al-Qaṣd al-mujarrad p. 20

Sharḥ al-Asmāʾ al-ḥusnā by Sayyid Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Sanūsī (822-895/1419-1490), a treatise based on al-Tirmidhī’s list with the addition of al-Jawwād (the Munificent).

al-Maqṣad al-asmā fī sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā by Aḥmad Zarrūq, a practical guidebook characterized by four aspects: concision; authoritative glosses of each of the Names in al-Tirmidhī’s list of ninety-nine Names; mention of their practical applications in one’s devotional life according to the Sufi masters (see last section); and mention of the effective spiritual properties of each Name.

Sharḥ Asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusnā by Muḥammad Mutawallī al-Shaʿrāwī.


Glossary and Sources of Selected Names

  al-Ākhir—The Absolute Last; the Everlasting without end. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 57:3) (see al-Awwal, with which it is paired), and is otherwise used as an adjective for the Last Day (al-yawm al-ākhir) twenty-six times.

al-Akram—The Most Munificent, Noblest, and Most deserving of praise. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 96:3). It is the superlative of its synonymous cognate al-Karīm (see below) and shares all its meanings and connotations.

al-Aʿlā—The Highest, a Name cited twice in the Qurʾān (Q 87:1; 92:20), frequently used by the early generations in construct with ʿAbd as a Muslim name (ʿAbd al-Aʿlā), and included by Ibn Ḥazm, Ibn al-ʿArabī, Ibn Ḥajar, and Ibn al-Wazīr among the Divine Names. Ibn ʿĀshūr (d. 1339/1973) specifies it is originally an adjective for Allah rather than a Name, and denotes “figurative elevation (ʿuluww majāzī): that is, complete and perduring perfection” (Tafsīr, sub Q 87:1).

al-Awwal—The Absolute First without beginning; the Pre-Eternal. This Name is mentioned once, paired with its opposite al-Ākhir (see above), in the verse He is the First and the Last and the Manifest and the Hidden, and He has knowledge of everything (Q 57:3). Its meaning is the same as al-Qadīm (the Beginningless) but the latter, while mentioned among the Names by the majority, is not in the Qurʾān. The above verse captured the fervor of the commentators and al-Rāzī gave twenty-four different exegeses of it, writing that even the pagans of Makka prostrated to the Kaʿba when they first heard it (Tafsīr, sub Q 57:3; Lawāmiʿ p. 240-241).

al-ʿAẓīm—The Incommensurable, the Magnificent, the Infinite, the Immense, the Eminent. This Name is mentioned nine times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:255; 9:129 (in Ibn Kathīr’s canonical reading); 23:86 (in Ibn Muḥayṣin’s reading); 27:26 (in al-Ḍaḥḥāk and Ibn Muḥayṣin’s reading); 42:4; 56:74; 56:96; 69:33 and 52), out of a hundred instances of the adjective ʿaẓīm applied mostly to reward, punishment, transgressions, Divine bounty, and the Day of Resurrection. In his commentary on this Name al-Rāzī states that the magnificence and infiniteness of what Allah Most High determines with His power dictate that there is no difference at all between the creation and annihilation of the Throne, the Footstool (q.v.), the heavens and the earth, and the creation and annihilation of a gnat, as is declared in the verse Our word for a thing when We intend it, is only that We say to it “Be,” and it is (Q 16:40) (Lawāmiʿ p. 190).

al-ʿAzīz—The Mighty, the Irresistible Vanquisher, the Inaccessible, the Independent One. This Name is mentioned eighty-eight times in the Qurʾān, mostly paired with al-Ḥakīm.

al-Bāriʾ—The Producer, Evolver, and Originator. This Name is mentioned three times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:54 twice; 59:23). Among other meanings the root b-r-ʾ points to the processing or actualization of destiny as stated in the verse No disaster befalls in the earth or in yourselves but it is in a Book before We bring it into being (nabraʾahā) (Q 57:22). “Allah is al-Khāliq in the sense of the existentiator (mūjid) of essences and beings; He is al-Bāriʾ in the sense of separating (faṣala) individuals one from another; and He is al-Muṣawwir in the sense that He is the fashioner of each individual in his particular image” (al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 158).

al-Bāṭin—The Hidden; the All-Encompassing; the Inward. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 57:3), paired with its opposite al-Ẓāhir (see explanation under the latter).

al-Ghālib—The Vanquisher. It is cited in the Qurʾān once: Allah always prevails in His purpose (wallāhu ghālibun ʿalā amrih) (Q 12:21) and is also the counter-implication (mafhūm al-mukhālafa) of the verse See they not how We set upon the land, reducing it of its outlying borders? Can they then be the victors (a-fa-humu l-ghālibūn)? (Q 21:44). Al-Bayhaqī, al-Qurṭubī, and Ibn Ḥajar all cite it in their lists, while Ibn al-Wazīr cites it as al-Ghālib ʿalā amrih. This shows the inaccuracy of Ibn Ḥazm’s claim that “the oddest thing is that Abū Ḥanīfa added al-Ṭālib and al-Ghālib to the Names of Allah; we have no idea where he encountered them” (Ibn Ḥazm, al-Muḥallā 9:386, Aqḍiya, masʾala 1784). As for al-Ṭālib, if the report is true, such an inclusion might have been grounded in the linguistic counter-implication of the verse So weak are both the seeker (al-ṭālib) and the sought! (Q 22:73), and Allah knows best.

al-Ḥalīm—The Forbearing and Longanimous, the Most Indulgent, the Most Clement. This Name is mentioned eleven times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:225, 235, 263; 3:155; 4:12; 5:101; 17:44; 22:59; 33:51; 35:41; 64:17) and thrice more in relation to the Prophets Ibrāhīm and Shuʿayb, and also, in the sense of “wise” (ʿalīm), Ismāʿīl (upon all of them peace). It is defined as “The Forbearer who is able to punish” (al-Khaṭṭābī, Shaʾn al-duʿāʾ p. 63). It is paired mostly with its synonyms Ghafūr and ʿAlīm (see both above), all three being intensive forms (faʿīl and faʿūl) conveying emphasis, and has been said to be close in meaning to Sattār and Wadūd (see below) according to al-Rāzī (Lawāmiʿ p. 189) and synonymous with al-Ṣabūr. It “bespeaks patience (ṣabr) that results in a delay of prompt requital despite ability to do so, out of for­giveness, to show favor, and pardon completely, or for some other profound wisdom… Ṣabr is part of ḥilm, for every possessor of ḥilm also has ṣabr” (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:94, 98). The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said to al-Ashajj ʿAbd Qays: “There are in you two traits dear to Allah: forbearance (ḥilm) and equanimity (anāt)” (Muslim, Īmān, al-amr bil-īmān; and the Sunan).

al-Ḥayy—The Ever-Living. This Glorious Name is mentioned in five verses of the Qurʾān (Q 2:255; 3:2; 20:111; 27:58; 40:65) as well as in “the Verse of the Footstool” (Āyat al-Kursī, Q 2:255), whence it was said to be the Greatest Name or part of it (see next section). It is often paired with al-Qayyūm (see below) and is related to the synonyms (i) al-Muḥyī (which only occurs in the Qurʾān and the Sunna in construct form without al- and frequently as the verbal form yuḥyī, for which reasons Ibn Ḥajar did not include it in his list) and (ii) M/t/yukhrij al-ḥayy min al-mayyit wa-M/t/yukhrij al-mayyit min al-ḥayy (Q 3:27; 6:95; 10:31; 30:19).

al-Jabbār—The Invincible, Irresistible, and Unattainable; the All-Compeller; the Constant Repairer, Com­forter, and Reformer. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23), and when applied to a person rather than to Allah is invariably a negative trait (Q 5:22; 11:59; 14:15). It is a symbolic pivot of the fundamental difference between the Sunni doctrine of unqualified Divine Omnipotence on the one hand and, on the other, Muʿtazilism and libertarianism which claims that evil lies outside Allah’s control, as illustrated by the exchange between the second-generation Ashʿarī arch-jurist (mujtahid) Abū Isḥāq al-Isfarāyīnī (d. 418/1027) and the Muʿtazilī judge and exegete al-Qāḍī ʿAbd al-Jabbār b. Aḥmad al-Asadābādī (d. 415/1024) (see Ibn ʿAsākir, Tabyīn p. 240-241; al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 150-151).

al-Karīm—The Most Bountiful and Most Generous; the Most Noble and Most Deserving of Praise. This paramount Name “whose meanings the Arabs, the specialists of legal and credal doctrine (uṣūl), and the people at large have found inexhaustible in its meanings” (Ibn al-ʿArabī) occurs four times in the Qurʾān (Q 23:116 (in Ibn Kathīr’s canonical reading), 27:40; 44:49; 82:6) and is paired once with al-Ghanī (Q 27:40) and once with al-ʿAzīz (Q 44:49). It is mentioned many times more as an adjective to qualify (i) reward (ajr), (ii) station (maqām), and (iii) sustenance (rizq) to convey abundance and pre-eminence, as well as (iv) writing (kitāb) and (v) messenger (rasūl) to convey the magnificence of the sender, (vi) the Throne, (vii) pairs (q.v.) of created species, and (vi) the Qurʾān itself. Ibn al-ʿArabī defines al-Karīm succinctly as “He Whose will is universally enforced (al-ladhī taʿumm irādatuh)” (Aḥkām al-Qurʾān 2:345, sub Q 7:180), but expands on this lavishly in his monograph on the Names, with sixteen different definitions which al-Qurṭubī cites in full (al-Asnā 1:112-115).

al-Khāliq—The Creator. This Name is cited in the Qurʾān verbatim (Q 59:23), in construct with “everything” without the definite article al- (kulli shayʾ) (Q 6:102; 13:16; 39:62; 40:62), as a transitive present continuous participle with the object “human being” (basharan, Q 15:28; 38:71), as the counter-implication of the rhetorical questions Is there any Creator other than Allah who sustains you out of heaven and earth? (Q 35:3), Or are they the creators? (Q 52:35), Is it you that create it or are We its Creator? (am naḥnu al-khāliqūn) (Q 56:59), and in the superlative as “the Best of creators” (aḥsan al-khāliqīn, Q 23:14; 37:125). Creation is verbally or nominally attributed to Allah Most High in seventy other verses as well.

al-Malik—The King and Sovereign, the Possessor. This Name occurs as such six times in the Qurʾān (Q 1:4; 20:114; 23:116; 59:24; 62:1; 114:2). It is also derivable from the verb in Q 10:31 and from the nuance of many verses, and from an entire sura (Q 67) mentioning Allah’s exclusive possession of kingdom (mulk) and supernal sovereignty (malakūt) (e.g., Q 17:111; 22:56; 23:88; 24:42; 25:1-2, 26; 35:13; 36:83). Ibn Mandah (310-395/922-1005) said it has the same meaning as Mālik and Malīk (see both below) according to the exegetes (al-Tawḥīd p. 296). The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said: “There is no Malik other than Allah” (Muslim, Ādāb, taḥrīm al-tasammī bi-malik al-amlāk).

al-Muhaymin—The Vigilant Guardian, Preserver and Protector, Witness, and Muʾmin. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23) and is also cited as an attribute of the Qurʾān itself (Q 5:48) (see Abrogation).

al-Muʾmin—The Confirmer, Guarantor, Securer, and Bestower of faith. This Name is found once in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23). Al-Ghazālī draws the simile of someone besieged by enemies who is completely helpless, unable to fend them off, and unable to flee, but is then rescued by a helper who brings him reinforcements and weaponry and builds up defenses all around him: “Such a helper is eminently deserving of being called his muʾmin.” Similarly, he says, the helpless servant who is sorely tried by the hardships of life and fearful of the hereafter, is rescued solely by Allah Most High, Who guides him to say the witnessing of faith, whereby, as He said, “Lā ilāha illā Allāh is My fortress, and whoever enters My fortress is safe from My punishment” (Abū Nuʿaym, Ḥilya 3:191-192, “a famous and well-established hadith”). “So then,” al-Ghazālī concludes, “there is no security in the world other than what comes from the means that Allah alone creates, and to which He alone guides those who use them.” Al-Rāzī paraphrases all of the above and comments, “This commentary by al-Ghazālī is brilliant” (al-Ghazālī, al-Maqṣad; al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ).

al-Muṣawwir—The Shaper and Fashioner of forms. This Name is mentioned verbatim once in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23), but the Divine fashioning is also mentioned as a verb (Q 3:6; 7:11; 40:64; 64:3) and nominal object: In whatever form (ṣūra) He pleased He assembled you (Q 82:8). The feminine noun ṣūra—form, statue, physique, or image—stems from ṣ-y-r which yields (i) ṣāra(hu), to become or make, aorist yaṣūr(uhu), yaṣīr(uhu), and (ii) ṣayyara, to make something or someone incline a certain way, as in the verse train/gather them (ṣur(ra)hunna/ṣir(ra)hunna) to come back to you (Q 2:260, also translatable as grasp them and cut them to pieces), as “the ṣawwār is the bird that responds when you call it” (Ibn Fāris, Maqāyīs 3:320, sub ṣ-w-r). “Hence the ṣūra is the form that inclines to the states suited to [its] welfare and benefit” (al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 158) (see Apportionment; and relevant section in Ādam, upon him peace).

al-Mutakabbir—The Self-Exalter, the Superb and Proud. This Name occurs once in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23) and—like Jabbār—is a negative trait when applied to persons rather than to Allah (Q 16:29; 39:30; 39:72). It is close in meaning to al-Kabīr and al-ʿAẓīm.

al-Qayyūm—The Self-Subsisting, Self-Sufficient and Immutable Sustainer and Maintainer of all. This Name is mentioned three times in the Qurʾān (Q 2:255; 3:2; 20:111) paired with al-Ḥayy. Together the two form the Greatest Name according to one view (see next section). It is an intensive form of the Name al-Qāʾim and the two are close in meaning to al-Ghanī and al-Ḥaqq, as well as qayyim (upright) which is used as an attribute of the Qurʾān itself (Q 18:2). According to al-Rāzī, the Divine qayyūmiyya or quality of being qayyūm distinguishes Allah Most High from all creation with all the essential attributes of the Necessarily Existent (wājib al-wujūd) such as being unique, pre-eternal, changeless, timeless, placeless; not a substance (mawḍūʿ), nor an accident (ʿaraḍ), nor a form (ṣūra) (Lawāmiʿ p. 226-228). In the sense of immutability this Name is close to al-Awwal, al-Ākhir, al-Bāqī, al-Dāʾim, al-Qadīm, and al-Ṣabūr.

al-Quddūs—The Supremely Holy, Incomparably Perfect and Transcendent. This Name is mentioned twice in the Qurʾān (Q 59:23; 62:1). The only other fuʿʿūl-formed Name is its non-Qurʾānic synonym al-Ṣabūr (see below).

al-Rabb—The Lord (Rabb) (q.v.), Owner, Fosterer, Reformer, Consoler, Disposer, and Sustainer; the Object of worship (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:391-396). As a rule, it is mentioned in the Qurʾān without the definite article al- but either as a vocative (e.g., Rabbi and Rabbanā Q 2:126-127) or in construct such as Rabbu/a/ika and Rabbu/iki (your Lord, 224 times), Rabb al-ʿālamīn (Lord of the worlds, 34 times), Rabb al-samāwāt wal-arḍ (Lord of the heavens and the earth, 13 times), Rabb kull shayʾ (Lord of everything, Q 6:163), Rabb al-shiʿrā (Q 53:49), Rabb al-ʿArsh al-ʿaẓīm (Lord of the mighty Throne, Q 9:129; 27:26). This Name is included in Ibn Mājah’s list and is among the Qurʾānic Names as compiled by Ibn Ḥazm, Ibn al-ʿArabī, Ibn Ḥajar, and Ibn al-Wazīr. It has also been said to be the Greatest Name (see next section).

al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm

al-Raḥmān—The All-Beneficent, All-Gracious.According to al-Qurṭubī, mentioned fifty-seven times in the Qurʾān, not counting its occurrence in the basmala at the head of suras—is a hyperbolic derivative of the root raḥma according to the vast majority, used to mean the incompara­ble Possessor of mercy. Unlike raḥīm, it has no dual nor plural. Some scholars hold that a person may be described as a rajulun raḥmān or a rajulun raḥīm but never both raḥmān and raḥīm, that being exclusively reserved for Allah Most High (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 19:65); but most consider raḥmān to be exclusively reserved for Him as well, and impermissible to be used for anyone else. Ibn al-Ḥaṣṣār (d. 422/1031) considers there is absolute consensus over this, which no-one has ever breached except Musaylima the Arch-Liar (d. 11/632). Ibn ʿAbbās (3bh-68/619-688) thus explained the Qurʾānic challenge to that effect, Know you one that can be named along with Him?: “Only Musaylima the Arch-Liar (d. 11/632), who named himself ‘the raḥmān of Yamāma,’ defied this verse out of sheer folly” (Zamakhsharī, Kashshāf; Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr; and Abū Ḥayyān, Baḥr, sub Q 19:65). Al-Khaṭṭābī said that this Name encompasses all creatures in the Divine Mercy in this life, including the disbelievers; hence it is correct—although not agreed upon—to describe the unbeliever as “marḥūm (an object of Divine Mercy) in this world.” Raḥmān, furthermore, is the nearest meaning in inclusivity (istighrāq) to the Name Allāh and hence is said to be the Greatest Name. Ibn al-Mubārak said al-Raḥmān is He Who gives when asked, whereas al-Raḥīm is He Who becomes angry when not asked, as in the hadith “Whoever does not ask Allah, He becomes angry with him” (Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt; Ibn Mājah, Duʿāʾ, faḍl al-duʿāʾ) (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:61-73).

al-Raḥīm—The Most Merciful. Another derivative of the root raḥma, illustrated by the Divine self-description as “the Most Merciful of those who are merciful” (arḥam al-rāḥimīn) (Q 7:151; 12:64 and 92; 21:83). Raḥīm (without the definite article) can be used for creatures, the most deserving of whom is the Messenger of Allah (upon him blessings and peace), for whom it is used in Q 9:128: There has certainly come to you a Messenger from among yourselves. Grievous to him is your distress; he has deep concern for you, and is most kind and merciful to the faithful.

In four verses (Q 1:3; 2:163; 41:2; 59:22), al-Raḥmān and al-Raḥīm are paired. Al-Qurṭubī states that His naming Himself al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm after the title Rabb al-ʿālamīn in the Fātiḥa (Q 1:3) is meant as encouragement (targhīb) after deterrence (tarhīb). According to Ibn al-ʿArabī, the meaning of both Names is one and the same. However, al-Raḥmān is more expressive of mercy as it relates to the mercy of the Divine Essence while al-Raḥīm relates to the mercy of the Attributes of Act, as indicated by Ibn al-Ḥaṣṣār. This Name encompasses only the Believers as stated in the Qurʾān (Q 33:43). It has been said: al-Raḥmān in this life, al-Raḥīm in the next. So the first is specific in terminol­ogy and general in meaning, the second vice versa. Al-Uqlīshī said: “His self-essential Mercy (raḥmatuh al-dhātiyya) is One, but His created mercies are many, as the Prophet said: ‘One hundred’ (Bukhārī, Riqāq, rajāʾ min al-khawf; Muslim, Tawba, saʿat raḥmat Allāh; and Sunan)” (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:73-92). Al-Suyūṭī comments on al-Bayḍāwī’s statement “raḥma, lexically, is tenderness of heart” (Bayḍāwī, Tafsīr, sub Q 1:1): “Its upshot is that it is impossible to attribute literal compassion to Allah, hence it is explained as that which it necessitates (tufassaru bi-lāzimihā)” (al-Suyūṭī, Nawāhid, sub Q 1:1). This method and its examples are elaborated by al-ʿIzz Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām in his treatise on Qurʾānic metaphors, al-Ishāra ilā al-ījāz, as epitomized in the previous section.

al-Ṣabūr—The All-Enduring, the Timeless. This Name is not in the Qurʾān but in hadiths, in the comparative afʿal form: “There is no-one more long-suffering (aṣbar) than Allah” (Bukhārī, Adab, al-ṣabr ʿalā al-adhā; Muslim, Ṣifat al-Qiyāma wal-Janna wal-Nār, lā aḥad aṣbar ʿalā adhā min Allāh). It is listed by al-Tirmidhī and included by al-Qurṭubī in his encyclopedia of the Names, where he says that ṣabr is mentioned in 75 different places in the Qurʾān (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:143). Al-Ṣabūr is interpreted figuratively in the sense of al-Ḥalīm (see above) according to Ibn Fūrak (d. 406/1015) (al-Qurṭubī, al-Asnā 1:98) and Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām (see previous section). Al-Qurṭubī said:

Ibn al-Ḥaṣṣār says this name is applicable to the servant without contest. Ṣabr origi­nally means “captivity until death.” Ibn al-ʿArabī says such a meaning is utterly precluded from Allah Most High and means Ḥalīm according to Ibn Fūrak and al-Qushayrī. (…) The correct position is that al-Ṣabūr refers to the will of delay­ing punishment [as Ghazālī also suggests] as in the aforementioned hadith. For He grants [people] health and sustenance while they claim He has a mate and a son! Ibn al-Ḥaṣṣār added: “And He is patient over all that harms His Friends.”

al-Asnā 1:137-142

al-Salām—Salvation, Peace and Security, Transcendent beyond defects. Cited once in the Qurʾān as a Divine Name (Q 59:23), salām is otherwise used there as a common noun for the same meanings (Q 5:16; 97:5), as an interjection signifying a greeting of peace (Q 6:54), or in construct with dār (see Abode) as one of the names of Paradise (Q 6:127).

al-Sattār—The Concealer. This Name is not found in the Qurʾān but in the Sunna, and only as its etymological twin Sittīr (i) in the hadith “Truly Allah is Most Modest (Ḥayiyy) and Most Concealing (Sittīr). He loves modesty (ḥayāʾ) and concealment (satr), so when you bathe, cover yourselves” (Nasāʾī, Ghusl, al-istitār ʿind al-ightisāl; Abū Dāwūd, Ḥammām, al-nahy ʿan al-taʿarrī) and (ii) from Ibn ʿAbbās (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Tafsīr, sub Q 24:58; Samarqandī, Baḥr, sub Q 24:52-55). Ibn Mandah and al-Qurṭubī (with al-Sātir) include Sattār among the Names, adducing hadiths that include the verb s-t-r as attributed to Allah Most High (al-Tawḥīd p. 372-373; al-Asnā 1:167-168).

al-Wāḥid—The One, All-Inclusive, and Indivisible. This Name occurs six times in the Qurʾān, always in conjunction with al-Qahhār (Q 12:39; 13:16; 14:48; 38:65; 39:4; 40:16).

al-Ẓāhir—The Manifest, the Outward, the All-Victorious. This Name is mentioned once in the Qurʾān (Q 57:3), which defines it in contradistinction to its opposite (cf. Q 6:120) and in the sense of vanquishing (cf. Q 61:14). Al-Zabīdī (1145-1205/1732-1791) in his commentary on al-Ghazālī’s Qawāʿid al-ʿaqāʾid defines it in the identical terms with which Ibn al-Athīr (544-606/1149-1210) defines light: “The intrinsically manifest that makes others manifest is called light” (al-ẓāhir fī nafsih al-muẓhir li-ghayrih yu­sammā nūran) (Ibn al-Athīr, Nihāya, sub n-w-r; Zabīdī, Itḥāf 2:23-24).


The Greatest Name (al-Ism al-aʿẓam)

Certain hadiths allude to what the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) called “the Greatest Name which, whenever Allah is invoked by it, He answers” (Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt, mā jāʾ fī jāmiʿ al-daʿawāt; Abū Dāwūd, Ṣalāt, duʿāʾ; Ibn Mājah, Duʿāʾ, ism Allāh al-aʿẓam). For example, the Prophet clearly approved of Ubayy b. Kaʿb’s (d. 32/ca.653) reply when he asked him which verse of the Qurʾān he thought was the greatest verse and he replied: Allah! There is no god but He, the all-Living, the all-Sustaining (Q 2:255, 3:2) (Muslim, Ṣalāt al-musāfirīn, faḍl Sūrat al-Kahf wa-Āyat al-Kursī)—hence the view that the Greatest Name was “al-Ḥayy al-Qayyūm” according to al-Ghazālī (Jawāhir al-Qurʾān p. xiv: Fī kawn Āyat al-Kursī sayyidat Āy al-Qurʾān wa-bayān al-Ism al-aʿẓam) among others; and Asmāʾ bint Yazīd b. al-Sakan (d. ca.60-64/680-683, Allah be well-pleased with her and her father) related from the Prophet that the Greatest Name was contained within the two verses And your god is One God; there is no god but He, the All-Beneficent, the Most Merciful (Q 2:163) as well as the verse from Āyat al-Kursī (Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt, mā jāʾ fī jāmiʿ al-daʿawāt; Abū Dāwūd, Ṣalāt, duʿāʾ; Ibn Mājah, Duʿāʾ, ism Allāh al-aʿẓam). Al-Thaʿlabī (d. 425/1035) narrates the hadith of Abū Hurayra asking the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) about the Greatest Name of Allah, whereupon he answered: “Go to the end of Sūrat al-Ḥashr (Q 59) and recite it often.” Abū Hurayra said he kept repeating the question and the Prophet kept repeating the reply (Thaʿlabī, Kashf, sub Q 59:24). Another hadith promises, for whoever recites the last three verses of that sura in the morning or the evening, that “Allah puts seventy thousand angels in charge of invoking blessings on him for the rest of the day (or night), and if he dies that day (or night) he dies a martyr” (Tirmidhī, Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān, mā jāʾ fī-man qaraʾa ḥarfan min al-Qurʾān; Dārimī, Sunan, Faḍāʾil al-Qurʾān, fī faḍl Ḥāmīm al-Dukhān wal-Ḥawāmīm).

Al-Suyūṭī gathered the above reports and several others in a monograph he named al-Durr al-munaẓẓam fī-l-Ism al-aʿẓam—as did others before him—together with sayings related from the exegetes among the Companions and the imams of successive generations, mentioning about twenty different positions on the identity of the Greatest Name. Among these positions are the following:

There is no specific Greatest Name since all the Divine Names qualify for that title, which means “greatest” not in relation to the Divine Names themselves, but to all other names. This position is related from al-Ashʿarī, al-Ṭabarī, Ibn Ḥibbān (d. 354/965), al-Bāqillānī, al-Rāzī in the Lawāmiʿ (p. 62-64), and others.

The Greatest Name is unknown and is the exception meant in the hadith of the ninety-nine Names (“one hundred but one”). Allah Most High “keeps it exclusively to Himself in the knowledge of the unseen in His presence” as alluded in the hadith already mentioned (see section “Allah has Ninety-Nine Names may be Specific but not Exhaustive”) to encourage spiritual striving in searching for it, just as He did in relation to knowledge of Night of Qadr, the time when all prayers are answered on Friday, and the Middle Prayer (al-ṣalāt al-wusṭā) (al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl p. 120-121, Tafsīr al-khabar al-wārid fī ʿadad Asmāʾih; Ibn ʿAjība, Baḥr, sub Q 17:110).

The Greatest Name is : this is a position al-Rāzī supports in his Lawāmiʿ al-bayyināt and Mafātīḥ al-ghayb on the basis of the tripartite Name-sequence in the first verse of Sūrat al-Ikhlāṣ, Qul: Huwa Allāh, Aḥad (Q 112:1) and by virtue of its absolute, unqualified singularity (fardāniyya) beyond linguistic composition (tarkīb), as well as the reverential awe (hayba) it evokes since it refers par excellence to the unfathomability (ṣamadiyya) of the unknowable One (al-Rāzī, Lawāmiʿ p. 73-79; Tafsīr, sub Q 2:163 and 2:255).

The greatest Name is Allāh.

The greatest Name is Bi-smi-Llāh al-Raḥmān al-Raḥīm, on the basis of certain hadiths narrated from ʿĀʾisha (d. 58/678) and ʿUthmān b. ʿAffān (d. 35/ca.656) (Allah be well-pleased with them) (see Basmala).

The most preponderant of all hadiths narrated on this issue from the viewpoint of authenticity is that related from Burayda (Allah be well-pleased with him):

The Messenger of Allah heard a man say: “O Allah, my Lord, truly I am asking You by my witnessing that You are Allah, there is no god but You, al-Aḥad, al-Ṣamad, lam yalid wa-lam yūlad, wa-lam yakun lahu kufuwan aḥad! (Q 112:3-4)” whereupon he said: “By Him in Whose Hand is my soul! He has certainly asked Allah with His greatest Name by which, whenever He is invoked by it, He answers, and whenever He is asked by it, He gives.”

Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt, mā jāʾ fī jāmiʿ al-daʿawāt; Abū Dāwūd, Ṣalāt, duʿāʾ; Ibn Mājah, Duʿāʾ, ism Allāh al-aʿẓam

The greatest Name is Rabb according to Ibn ʿAbbās and Abū al-Dardāʾ (d. 32/ca.653) (Allah be well-pleased with them) (Ibn Ḥajar, Fatḥ al-bārī, Daʿawāt, lil-Lāh miʾat ism ghayr wāḥid).

The greatest Name is among the Muqaṭṭaʿāt, or Opening Letters (q.v.), of the Qurʾān according to Ibn Masʿūd and Ibn ʿAbbās (Ṭabarī, Tafsīr, sub Q 2:1, 28:1, 30:1, 31:1), while ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 40/660), Anas b. Mālik (10bh-93/612-712), Saʿīd b. Jubayr (46-95/666-ca.714), al-Shaʿbī (19-103/640-721), Ibn ʿĀmir (d. 118/736), al-Suddī (d. 127/745), Mālik b. Anas (93-179/712-795) and others held that the Opening Letters are among the Divine names (Tafsīrs of Ibn Jurayj, Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Ibn al-Mundhir, and Ibn Mardawayh; al-Bayhaqī, al-Asmāʾ wal-Ṣifāt 1:230-232 §163-169, Mā jāʾ fī ḥurūf al-muqaṭṭaʿāt fī fawātiḥ al-suwar wa-annahā min Asmāʾ Allāh ʿazza wa-jall; all as cited in Suyūṭī in Itqān, Durr, and his marginalia on Bayḍāwī’s Tafsīr entitled Nawāhid al-abkār, sub Q 2:1; Ibn Mandah, Tawḥīd p. 436-438).

This is the reason for the desirability of systematically reciting all the Opening Letters in their Qurʾānic sequence as a spiritual practice (cf. Ibn al-Wazīr, Īthār p. 162), and for the study of their properties (khawāṣṣ) which came to form one of the branches of exegetical learning named “knowledge of disposal through the Greatest Name” (ʿilm al-taṣrīf bil-ism al-aʿẓam) as found in a prominent Ottoman encyclopedia of the sciences (e.g., Ṭāshkubrīzada, Miftāḥ al-saʿāda 2:549, al-Maṭlab al-thālith: ʿIlm al-tafsīr).

“No Muslim ever invokes the supplication Yūnus, upon him peace, made from the belly of the sea-creature—There is no god but You. Glory to You! I was indeed a wrongdoer (Q 21:87)—with regard to anything, without being answered.” (Tirmidhī, Daʿawāt, mā jāʾ fī ʿaqd al-tasbīḥ bil-yad; cf. Qurṭubī, Tafsīr, sub Q 10:10; Ibn Kathīr, Tafsīr, sub Q 21:87-88).

One of the most penetrating investigations of the Greatest Name and its uses in supplications (see Supplication and Answer) as well as spiritual pictographs (awfāq) was given by the Yemeni Sufi savant ʿAfīf al-Dīn al-Yāfiʿī (696-768/1297-1367) in his book on the properties of the Qurʾān entitled al-Durr al-naẓīm fī khawāṣṣ al-Qurʾān al-ʿaẓīm (p. 30-43, Faṣl fī-l-qawl ʿalā Ism Allāh al-aʿẓam). Another Yemeni from Zabīd, the encyclopedist of Qurʾānic medication (see Medicine) Shihāb al-Dīn al-Sharjī (d. 893/1488), cites al-Fayrūzābādī’s (729-817/1329-1414) narration of the modality and etiquette of reciting the ninety-nine Qurʾānic Names—including among them the Greatest name—“on Friday before dawn after having fasted the previous day, whereupon Allah will answer even if the request is to walk on water or fly in the air” (al-Sharjī, al-Fawāʾid p. 97, Fāʾida 60).


The Use of Divine Names by Human Beings

Beautiful names are greatly encouraged for human beings, because the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said: “Verily you will be summoned on the Day of Resurrection by your names and the names of your fathers, so give yourselves beautiful names” (Abū Dāwūd, Adab, taghyīr al-asmāʾ). With the exception of Names that are exclusive to the Divine—al-Ilāh (the Deity), al-Raḥmān (the All-Beneficent), al-Khāliq (the Creator), al-Quddūs (the all-Holy), al-Razzāq (the Sustainer), al-Muḥyī (the Giver of life), al-Mumīt (the Giver of death), Mālik al-mulk (the Owner of sovereignty), and Dhūl-jalāl wal-ikrām (the Possessor of Majesty and Grantor of grace)—the Divine Names may be applied to other than Allah, with two caveats. Firstly, some of those Names connote praise when applied to Him but dispraise when applied to others, such as jabbār (compeller), mutakabbir (proud), and muṣawwir (fashioner); secondly, some Names describe Him in absolute terms but must be qualified by a construct when describing others, such as rabb (lord), qābiḍ (seizer), bāsiṭ (expander), khāfiḍ (abaser), and rāfiʿ (exalter) (al-Baghdādī, Uṣūl p. 128, Fī-mā yajūz tasmiyat ghayr Allāh bih min Asmāʾih). In addition, Divine Names that can be applied to creatures literally—such as “the planter” (al-zāriʿ) or “the writer” (al-kātib)—are not to be used for Allah Most High in isolation but only in the exact textual context in which they were transmitted, so as to avoid confusion or anthropomorphism (Ibn al-Wazīr, Īthār al-ḥaqq p. 160-161).

Al-Ghazālī states in the introduction to his al-Maqṣad al-asnā that “the servant [of Allah] possesses a portion (ḥaẓẓ) of the meaning of each of the Divine Names” in that qualified sense. Such a portion consists of two parts: (i) knowledge of the Names and Attributes—which defines the strength and soundness of one’s pure monotheism—and (ii) their praxis, both of which aspects are alluded to in al-Nawawī’s commentary already cited (see above, “Hadith of the Ninety-Nine Names”). The latter aspect consists in self-purification through the acquisition of the character and adornment proper to each Name (al-takhalluq wal-taḥallī bil-ism), practicing the Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) protasis “whoever gathers them” (aḥṣāhā) in the hadith of the ninety-nine Names (see Ethics; Purification).

Thus the famous exhortation narrated from Dhūl-Nūn al-Miṣrī (d. 245/859), “Ac­quire among your traits the qualities of Allah” (takhallaqū bi-akhlāq Allāh) (Abū Nuʿaym, Ḥilya 9:351, 9:376)—attributed to the Prophet by al-Ghazālī, al-Rāzī, al-Suyūṭī, and others—and its variant “Allah has 360 traits; whoever acquires one of them enters Para­dise” (in Rūzbahān al-Baqlī, Sharḥ al-ḥujub wal-astār p. 78) are applicable only in a relative sense in emulation of ʿĀʾisha’s description of the Prophet (upon him and his family blessings and peace): “His charac­ter was the Qurʾān” (Muslim, Ṣalāt al-musāfirīn, jāmiʿ ṣalāt al-layl).

Another staunch critic of al-Ghazālī, the Sicilian Mālikī Abū ʿAbd Allāh al-Māzarī (453-536/1061-1141), in apparent reference to the chapter of the Maqṣad al-asnā entitled “Exposition that the servant’s perfection and bliss consist in acquiring the traits of Allah and adorning himself with the meanings of His Attributes and Names to the extent conceivable in relation to Him,” objected that “Allah does not have a single Name which the servant can acquire among his traits!” (in Aḥmad b. Taymiyya, al-Ṣafadiyya 2:338). In rebuttal, Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām in his Shajarat al-maʿārif not only endorses al-Ghazālī’s advice but goes further: “We must acquire as our own traits the entirety of the Attributes of the Divine Essence to the extent that we can. (...) Most of the human appropriation of Divine traits is di­vided into individual categorical obligation, sunna, and col­lec­tive categorical obligation. So look at His Beautiful Names and acquire as your trait, from every Name among them, as much as possible of its due (muqtaḍā).” He then describes in detail the modality of such appropriation ac­cording to each Name (Ibn ʿAbd al-Salām, Shajarat al-maʿārif p. 73-95; emphasis added).


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See also

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