God’s Attributes of Glory
According to the religious methodology or the basic principles of religion, God’s Attributes consist of certain transcending and blessed concepts—whose transcendence and blessedness come from the Being Whom they describe; these describe God Almighty and are, in one sense, regarded as the veils of the Divine Essence. These blessed concepts, mentioned as the Attributes of the Divine Being, are either in the form of nouns, infinitives, adverbs, or of adjectives.
As a mental consideration, there are realms both before and beyond the Attributes of Glory. All the acts and phenomena in both the material and immaterial realms are manifestations of Divine Names; these Names originate from the Attributes. The Attributes are based on the Essential Qualities or Characteristics of the Divine Being, of Which perhaps only the people of spiritual unveiling and vision can be aware, and the Essential Qualities or Characteristics of the Divine Beings, as well as the Attributes, Names, and Acts ultimately end in the Divine Essence. Even though the true nature of the Names and Attributes and the Essential Characteristics are unknown to us, there is a subtle difference between the Names and Attributes. The words that describe God the All-Supreme in the form of adjectives, such as the All-Living, the Self-Subsistent, the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing, and the All-Knowing, are Names, while the concepts used in relative to the Divine Essence have been mentioned as God’s Attributes or Divine Attributes.
Among the exalted Attributes that belong to God Almighty there is nothing that implies impotence, defect, or fault. For this reason, all of the Divine Attributes of Glory have been designated as Attributes of Perfection. Therefore, believing in God Almighty, exalted is His Majesty, means believing in an All-Supreme Being Who is absolutely free from any attributes of defect and Who is only describable by the Attributes of Perfection appropriate for His All-Supreme Being.
Like His Essence, God’s Attributes of Glory are eternal, having neither a beginning nor an end. Even though the attributes of all created beings, like humankind and jinn, are reflections of God’s Attributes, they have both a beginning and an end and their continuance depends on Divine Attributes, each of Which is living and luminous. Neither the lives of humankind, jinn, angels, or spirit beings, nor their knowledge and will resemble God’s Life, Knowledge, and Will. He has no equals, peers, rivals, or opposites both in His Essence and Attributes. As He encompasses all the things, beings, and events, whether they have come into existence or not, or have happened or not, with His all-encompassing Knowledge and with His Power and Will, He is the unique Owner and Ruler of all visible and invisible things, beings, natures, and characteristics.
Whatever we say or can say concerning the Divine Being can only be concerned with His Acts and Names, and in a sense, His Attributes. As for the All-Holy Essence, He is absolutely beyond our comprehension. For this reason, thinking or putting forward opinions about Him is something regarded as risky and it is forbidden. Declaring, Eyes comprehend Him not, but He comprehends all eyes. He is the All-Subtle (penetrating everything no matter how small), the All-Aware (6:103), the holy Qur’an indicates the final point to which we can go in this respect and reminds that One Who is the All-Encompassing or All-Comprehending cannot be encompassed or comprehended.
With respect to our capacity of perception, the All-Holy Essence is One Who is known with His Names and Who encompasses everything with His Attributes. This marks the farthest limit of human thought and comprehension. As for the knowledge concerning the realms beyond and the truths that lie beyond, it consists only of or can only be based on intuition, spiritual experiences, and visions. This knowledge, which is imparted only to the people of a certain level, can be regarded as the Ultimate Truth’s special gift in return for faithfulness, constancy, resolution, and endeavor. Also, the truth of the matters concerning Divine Destiny and Decree, which the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, became aware of during his Ascension, is unfolded only for those of certain level of “sight” and “hearing.”
Hearing, sight, and feeling in this corporeal world occur by means of certain causes and means, and what we experience here is the lowest level of these functions. It is God Who supplies us with the necessary means for these functions and it is He Who creates these functions as well. It is He Who creates both our eyes and ears and our sight and hearing. Therefore, all the senses and organs that comprise a human body are only veils before the Divine Power and Will and they act as screens to reflect the same; however, on account of being means, they are regarded as the performers of the acts in question. In fact, they are not the actors, but are only means and causes; it is God Who creates all human acts. Just as any sound that is emitted by God’s leave from an inanimate object or animal unable to speak cannot be ascribed to any attribute or ability of that object or animal, so too the acts of human beings and the fruits that emanate from these acts belong essentially to the Creator of all things. To explain more clearly, by way of an example, God Almighty has created the attribute of knowledge in human beings and the jinn, thus preparing the ground for their relationships with the objects to be known, guiding their attribute of knowledge to its field of learning, and enabling the objects to be known to be unfolded in it. Comparing hearing and sight to this, we can say that the Unique and Absolute One of Unity has created the senses and organs of hearing and sight, established their relationships with the brain and other relevant systems, and entrusted these functions to the relevant mechanisms. It is because of all these facts that we say that the Truly Knowing, Hearing, and Seeing One is He, and affirm that it is He Who knows everything, has absolute power over everything, sees everything, and hears every voice or sound. We say and affirm: “There is no one else other than the Ultimate Truth who exists by themselves, or who is their own true owner, and there is no true owner, master, or object of worship other than He both in this world and the next.”
In fact, everything other than the All-Holy Divine Essence is, in one sense, something other than Him. According to the people of spiritual vision and experience, even His Attributes of Glory and All-Beautiful Names are also other than Him, although from a different perspective the Muslim theologians affirm that His Attributes are neither He nor other than Him.
Life is the most comprehensive of all the Divine Attributes of Glory. What is the most indispensable to Life is the (Holy) Existence; this is followed by the Attribute of Knowledge, Which has the broadest of dimensions. Knowledge is also important in respect of Its being the beginning of our master’s identification, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace. The Attributes other than Knowledge mark the beginning of the universal identifications of the other “chosen, best ones (of the creation)”—the other Messengers and Prophets.
Each Attribute is the cause of the emergence of many people of universality as well as numerous ones of particularity. These are the ranks of the identification of beings of different ranks of life. That is, a particular Attribute manifests Itself on some people— like Prophets—in a universal form and gives them their particular character. So, in relation to this Attribute, those people reflect It universally and takes on a universal character. However, many other people reflect the same Attribute in a particular form by following those of universal character. Universality is, in one sense, of an original function and nature, while particularity is of a shadowy one. Those—like Prophets—whose rank of identification is of a universal nature are the foundations or originals in the axis or orbit where they are located, and the others, whose identifications are of a particular nature, are their projections and are regarded as existing under their feet, or following in their footsteps. One with a shadowy nature can, in one sense, reflect the characteristics of the original, but is never identical to it. The narrowness in observation, the excessive good opinion of the particulars by their followers, and their concentration on them may cause a particular or one of a shadowy nature to be confused with the universal or the original. Those who cannot view matters with the eyes of the Shari‘a may be deceived and regard, for example, a shadow which moves around the orbit of the Messiah as the Messiah himself. In addition, purposeful and planned claims by the many who attribute themselves great ranks due to such confusion and deception are not few—may God preserve us from such deceptions and claims.
Some have expressed their views of the original and shadow with statements that a certain person is under the feet or following in the footsteps of the master of creation, upon him be peace and blessings, or that another person is under the feet or following in the footsteps of Prophet Moses, upon him and our Prophet be peace, or that yet another is under the feet or following in the footsteps of Prophet Jesus, upon him and our Prophet be peace. Through the ways of spiritual progress and spiritual journey, those of shadowy nature and rank can benefit from the special blessings that arrive at the orbit or axis of the originals. Therefore, the particulars can assume or give an image of universality in spiritual visions, ecstasies, and experiences. It sometimes occurs that those who are favored with certain attainments through following an original fall under the influence of the light of their own existence and—unable to comprehend the place and position of the original—can claim superiority over the original. In order to be preserved from such confusion and deceptions, the principles established by the Conveyor of the Shari‘a should be taken into consideration.
On account of their being the beginning of everything in the name of all material and spiritual worlds of existence and inherent in the Divine Essence, God Almighty’s Attributes have the same qualities as the Divine Essence in that they do not have any peers, equals, or anything similar to them. However, the All-Majestic, All-Exalted, All-Glorified Being is beyond all Names, Attributes, and Qualities or Characteristics. He is infinitely beyond manifestation, appearance, and emergence, and beyond all vision, unveiling, reasoning, conception, and imagination.
Those who belong to the school of Ibnu’l-‘Arabi have seen God Almighty’s Names and Attributes as being identical to the Divine Being Himself and regarded this approach as the requirement of God’s being the One and the belief in His Oneness. Furthermore, they have regarded the Attributes as being identical to each other. For example, in addition to viewing the Attributes of Power and Knowledge as being identical to the Divine Essence, they have asserted that these two Attributes do not differ from each other. According to them, the Divine Essential Qualities or Characteristics, Attributes, and Names have been manifested in a single composition. They have designated this as the first identification or the rank of Divine Uniqueness, in Which all the Essential Characteristics, Attributes, and Names are summed up, while they have termed the manifestation of everything in existence in its fullness as the second identification and the rank of Divine Unity, in Which in addition to the Divine Essence, the Attributes and Names are also considered. As a result of this approach, they have seen the truth or original of contingencies as archetypes, which means that this physical realm does not have an external existence and all the things we observe are no different from images reflected in mirrors, and that, in the words of Mulla Jami‘, whatever we observe is a figment of the imagination. According to them, the (visible) realm of multiplicity is the collection of these imaginary scenes. This realm has three steps of existence, the first of which is “identification as spirits,” the second “identification as ideal forms or immaterial representations,” and the third “identification as bodies.”
The Sunni Sufis who deal with the subject of the Divine Essence and Attributes, and that of existence according to the essential principles of the Religion, stress the existence of certain Attributes of Glory besides the Divine Essence, even though the difference between them is only in the mind. They see the Attributes of Glory as if they are luminous veils of the Divine Essence. In the view of these Sufis, all existent things and beings are mirrors of the Divine Names and act as arenas for the manifestation of the Attributes. All of existence is a bright mirror, an arena for the manifestation of the Existence of the All-Sacred Being; every rank of life of the Life of the All-Living, the Giver of life; all knowledge of the Knowledge of the All-Knowing; all power and strength of the Power of the All-Powerful, the All-Able; and all speeches are mirrors, arenas for the manifestation of the Speech of the Eternal All-Speaking. All instances of seeing and hearing on all kinds of wavelengths are arenas of the manifestation of the Sight and Hearing of the All-Seeing and the All-Hearing respectively. Considering the difference between the Divine Essence and Attributes— even though the difference is in our minds—they say that the whole universe and whatever is in it act as mirrors and screens for the manifestations of Divine Names and Attributes, not of the All-Sacred Divine Essence. All existent things and beings are shadows or rays of the Attribute of Existence, Which is living; all (true) information or knowledge that human beings have is a reflection of and radiation from the Attribute of Knowledge; all strength and power observed in all existent beings, animate or inanimate, is a reflection of the Attribute of Power. Other Divine Attributes can be considered from this perspective in connection with their functions or acts.
It should however be remembered that Divine Attributes are inseparable from and inherent in the Divine Being, while the attributes that contingent beings have are only shadows or reflections. As stated before, the source or original is something different, while a shadow is yet again a different thing, and whatever is other than the original is still another different thing. For this reason, Muslim theologians tend to describe the attributes that contingencies have as “accidental,” for they owe their existence and subsistence to the Divine Attributes. Even though matters of “substance” and “accident” are subjects discussed with respect to the physical realm, the Sufis have not deemed it harmful to use these terms in their approaches to the relationship between the Divine Being and contingencies. Moreover, some of them have gone one step further and maintained that all substances and accidents and all attributes and characteristics subsist by God’s being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. However, there have been some who have gone so far as to claim that whatever exists or the existence as a whole consists in Him or “everything is He;” it is impossible to accept such assertions.
According to the scholars of the essentials of the Religion, Divine Attributes are as if additional to the Divine Essence, without ever implying compositeness for God. This approach is also shared by Sunni Sufis. The existence is never He; whatever there is—substance or accident, attribute or characteristic—is from Him and subsists by His being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. That everything is from Him and subsists by Him can never mean that there is a continuance or contiguity between the Divine Being and the contingent existence or that the latter is a place for the existence of the Former. The Sufis have maintained that the whole of contingent existence with whatever things, characteristics, and states there are in it consists in the shadows of Divine manifestations. All acts are the shadows of Divine Attributes, and the Attributes are the manifestations of Divine Essential Characteristics. For this reason, everything in the universe is nearer to Him than it is to itself by His absolute nearness to it and their being the shadows of His Attributes.
All things in the universe, animate or inanimate, have their existence, characteristics, and features from the manifestations of the Divine Attributes such as Life, Knowledge, Hearing, and Sight, etc. Divine Attributes and All-Beautiful Names are living and luminous veils of the All-Sacred Divine Essence, and indicate His Essential Perfection. In fact, His Being or Essence does not need any attributes; the Attributes are inherent in His Essence. It can and should be said from this perspective, that is, from the perspective that His Attributes are inherent in His Essence, He exists by Himself or His All-Sacred Essence, and is living by Himself or by His All-Sacred Essence. Other Attributes can be considered from this perspective. That is, He is All-Knowing by Himself or by His Essence; He is All-Speaking by Himself or by His Essence, All-Willing by Himself or His Essence, and so on. As this is true for both His Essential and Positive or Affirmative Attributes (the Attributes Which describe Who God essentially is), it is also true for the Attributes connected with the Attribute of Making things Exist, Which is among the Positive or Affirmative Attributes.
Thus, Divine Attributes can also be considered as the veils or screens of His Perfection, the veils of His hidden Lights, and the points of His gracious, self-condescending relationship with things and events. As Divine Dignity and Grandeur use apparent physical causes as veils before God’s Acts in the creation and operation of the universe, they have also made Divine Attributes veils before the Divine Essence beyond any modality of quality. The imperceptible and incomprehensible relationship of the Divine Being with things and events requires using veils before the Divine Essence and Acts. Similarly, the use of such veils is also required by the Divine Wisdom before the rays of the Divine “Facial” Lights. Nevertheless, even though the Divine Attributes have the position of serving as a veil before the Divine Essence, the manifestation of Divine Perfection occurs through these same Attributes. For this reason, this veil may also be considered to be a screen that reflects God in His Uniqueness as the Divine Essence.
In short, Divine Attributes are neither the Divine Essence nor the Divine Being Himself, nor are they detached or separate from Him. They are both veils and mirrors for the All-Sacred Divine Essence, and in His relationship with them the Divine Essence is the incomprehensible Original. As His Being cannot be compared to other beings, neither can His Attributes be compared to the attributes of others. He is the Self-Subsisting, while all other beings subsist by His being the Self-Subsisting by Whom all subsist. His Attributes are uncontained by time, having neither a beginning nor an end, and they are living as well. They have the dignity of having the sacredness that is unique to the Divine Being. As for the attributes of all created beings, they are lifeless in themselves and relative in respect of their functions and outcomes. They have neither a substantial existence, nor life, nor knowledge. However, as being able to distinguish these realities from one another depends on having an ever-ready, active knowledge originating from God’s Presence, not everyone is able to perceive the truth of the matter.
The Divine Attributes from the Perspective of the Essentials or Basic Foundations of the Religion
Now let us discuss the matter from the viewpoint of respected scholars of Islamic theology.
Even though there are some differences in style between the Sufis and the scholars of Islamic theology in approaching the Divine Attributes and in the language they use, both sides have almost the same opinion on the subject. In fact, the Sufis have based their approach to the creeds of Islam on the views of the scholars of Islamic theology or the essentials of the Religion, and have tried to interpret their visions and spiritual observations accordingly.
The scholars of Islamic theology have dealt with Divine Attributes of Glory within the categories of the Essential Attributes, the Positive or Affirmative Attributes, the Attributes in the negative or the Attributes of Exemption or Freedom, the Attributes of Action, and the Attributes to which the Qur’an or the Prophet refer figuratively; these last usually have a figurative meaning, such as God’s establishing Himself on the Supreme Divine Throne, Coming, (Having) Hands, Face, Eye(s), and so on.
The Attributes in the Negative or the Attributes of Exemption or Freedom
These Attributes are concepts which express that God Almighty is absolutely free or exempt from any need, defect, fault, or shortcoming such as impotence, poverty, neediness, the need to eat or drink, and to beget or be begotten. Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum mentions some of them as follows:
There is no opposite, nor peer, of my Lord in the universe;
He is the All-Transcendent and exempt from having a form.
He has no partners, and He is free from begetting and
being begotten; He is the Unique, having no equals—
these He mentions in Suratu’l-Ikhlas.
He is neither a body nor a substance,
nor is He an accident nor of matter.
He does not eat or drink, nor is He contained by time.
He is absolutely free from change,
alteration, and transformation,
and from colors and having a shape as well—
these are His Attributes in the negative.
He is neither in the heavens nor on the earth;
neither on the right nor on the left; neither before nor after;
He is absolutely free from any direction.
So He is never contained in space.
He is God, eternally existent, having
neither a beginning nor an end.
His Existence is by Himself, not with or by any other one—
by God, this is so.
He existed while the universe did not exist;
He is the Unique, the One;
He needs nothing and no one at all,
but everyone needs Him.
Nothing bound by time or space happens to Him;
nothing is incumbent on Him.
In whatever He does there are instances of wisdom;
He does nothing in vain.
Scholars mention many other Attributes of Exemption for the Divine Being. However, these cannot even be restricted to those that they have mentioned, for many things unbecoming to the truths of Divinity and Lordship, which we are acquainted with based on the explicit, indisputable statements of the Qur’an and Hadith, have been put forward from the earliest times and are still being put forward and will be put forward in the future. Therefore, believers do and will continue to declare God’s absolute exemption or freedom from such imputations.
The Essential Attributes
These are the following six Attributes:
(The All-Holy, Self-) Existence, Oneness, Having No Beginning, Eternal Permanence, Being Unlike the Created, and Self-Subsistence.
These are particular to God and cannot be attributed to anyone or anything other than God. Since the opposites of these Attributes are not in question for the Divine Being, they are also considered to be among the Attributes of Exemption.
Wujud ([The All-Holy, Self-] Existence)
Literally meaning being and being existent, Wujud ([The All-Holy, Self-] Existence) is an Essential Attribute of God Almighty and denotes that God’s existence is by Himself. Even though some scholars of theology and Sufis have asserted that “Existence is identical to the Divine Being Himself,” and have therefore attributed to It certain meanings of Divine Unity, verifying scholars have seen Existence as the title of Eternal—Eternal in the past and in the future—Existence and accepted It as the original source of the metaphysical and physical worlds. Just as all existent things and beings are, in one sense, the shadows of the Light of that Essential Existence, so also it is through aspects of their existence such as contingency, being contained in time and space, being created out of non-existence, having certain, unchanging patterns of existence, and purposes for their existence, and through the order, favoring, wisdom, and mercy that they display through their existence or life, that they also act as witnesses and proofs of the Eternal Existence.
God is such a Necessarily Existent Being that in the same way as all the proofs, signs, indications, and witnesses in both our inner worlds and in the outer world demonstrate His existence and Oneness, our sensations, perceptions, and intuition, which we always feel appear in the depths of our spirits, and the points of reliance and seeking help in our consciences also indicate that Permanent Existence both individually and collectively. All consciences that are open to the life lived at the level of the heart and spirit always speak of Him and proclaim His Existence through an inward sensation and intuition that burst forth from the essence of their existence and more loudly than their external sensations and comprehension and more profoundly than their mental perceptions.
Oneness is an Essential Attribute of God in the sense that God Almighty has no peers, equals, rivals, or opposites in either His Essence or His Attributes. Since this Attribute denotes God’s being absolutely exempt or free from having any peers or equals, or any resemblance to any other things or beings, It is also considered to be among the Attributes of Exemption.
The Oneness of the Divine Being does not mean that He is one in terms of number; rather He is One in the sense that He has no partners, peers, equals, or opposites in His Essence, Attributes and Acts. As He is One and Unique in His Essence, He is also peerless and unequalled in His Divinity; it is only He Who is the absolutely Worshipped, Besought, Beloved, and Sought One. The Qur’an, which declares,
Say: “He—(He is) God, (Who is) the All-Unique of Absolute Oneness. God—(God is He Who is) the Eternally All-Besought (Himself in no need of anything). He begets not, nor is He begotten. And comparable to Him there is none.” (112:1–4),
expresses that He is absolutely One and completely independent of anything.
In every place where His existence is mentioned and stressed in the Qur’an and the Sunna, His Oneness is also mentioned; where His Oneness is noted, His being the Necessarily Existent One is also emphasized. Let us examine the topic briefly from Bediüzzaman, who dedicated his life to describing and teaching about God’s existence and Oneness:
O friend, everything bears a stamp and seal particular to the One, the Eternally All-Besought, and has signs testifying that He is its Maker and Owner. If out of the innumerable stamps of His Oneness and seals of His being the Eternally All-Besought you can look at the “stamp” put on the sheet of the earth in spring, you will see that the following facts indicate and bear witness to Him as brightly as the sun:
On the sheet of the earth, we observe acts of ever-original, wise, and purposeful creation. Now notice the following facts and see that wise and purposeful creation:
The act of creation on the earth occurs in infinite abundance.
Together with infinite abundance, it occurs with absolute ease, through an absolute power and with perfect artistry.
Everything is created at an incredible speed but in perfect order and arrangement.
Things are created in absolute abundance and with the greatest economy or at the lowest cost imaginable, yet every individual is unique and priceless.
Despite innumerable causes of disorder and confusion, everything is brought into existence with extraordinary distinction.
Despite the vast distances in time and space and worldwide distribution, there is the highest correspondence and similarity between and among individuals and species.
Despite the highest correspondence and similarity, and though generated from similar or even the same materials, structural principles, and organization, they are in perfect balance and order with an absolute variety and a perfect individualization of characters and features.
The wise and purposeful creation, and perfect ease and artistry despite the absolute abundance; the perfect order, arrangement, proportion, and firmness despite the incredible speed; the uniqueness and highest value of every individual despite the absolute abundance and the greatest economy; the extraordinary distinction despite the innumerable causes of disorder and confusion; the highest correspondence and similarity despite the world-wide distribution; the perfect individualization of characters and features and distinction despite the highest correspondence and similarity and being generated from similar or even the same materials, structural principles, and organization—all these features are such witnesses for both the existence and Oneness of the Necessarily Existent One that it would be absolute blindness and obstinacy not to recognize these witnesses, each of which has the strength of thousands of proofs.62
Qidam (Having No Beginning)
God Almighty exists free of time; He has no beginning and His existence does not rest on a cause previous to Him. His Attribute of Having No Beginning is a blessed title of His being eternal in the past in connection with His Name the First, and is the basis of the celebrated Name al-Muqaddim (the One Who causes to advance).
All Muslim scholars, to whichever school of thought they belong, are in agreement that Having No Beginning is one of the Essential Attributes of the Divine Being. Interpreting this in the meaning of God Almighty being absolutely free from and independent of any causes previous to Him, they have used the following statement concerning this Attribute of the All-Sacred One: “He is the First, Eternal in the past, without having a beginning.”
Both the Attribute of Qidam (Having No Beginning) and the celebrated Name al-Qadim (One with no beginning) mark the Divinity of God Almighty. They denote that God’s Existence has no beginning and that non-existence is not applicable to the All-Holy Existence. The opposite of Having No Beginning is being existent in time, from which God, exalted is His Majesty, is absolutely free.
Baqa’ (Eternal Permanence)
Eternal Permanence with no discontinuity at all is one of God’s Essential Attributes and is related to the Name the Last, similar to the relationship of the Attribute of Having No Beginning and the Name the First. The Qur’an and the Sunna indicate this Attribute sometimes explicitly and sometimes allusively, and refer to God’s eternal permanence either through the Name the Last singly or the Names the First and the Last together. In addition to frequently reminding us that everything is perishable except Him, the Qur’an makes references to His Eternal Permanence by mentioning Him with His Names the First and the Last. Our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, also reminds us of God’s Attributes of Having No Beginning and Eternal Permanence in some of his sayings or prayers, such as: “O God! You are the First, there is nothing preceding You. You are the Last; there is nothing to succeed You.”63 The Attributes of Having No Beginning and Eternal Permanence have approximate meanings and implications. It is this relationship or approximation which has led scholars to establish the undeniable, logical argument: “The non-existence of one who exists eternally is inconceivable.” In addition, it is also important that in demonstrating the relationship between these two Attributes verifying scholars usually mention them together.
Scholars have expressed the Attribute of Eternal Permanence sometimes with the phrase “the Undecaying,” sometimes with the phrase “the Undying,” and sometimes with the phrase “the Imperishable.” All of these words have almost the same meaning.
In addition to the scholars who have seen the Attribute of Eternal Permanence as one of the Essential Attributes like (the All-Holy Self-)Existence, there have been some who have regarded It as being among the Positive or Affirmative Attributes, Which are the Attributes that describe Who God is, such as Life, Knowledge, and Power; they say: “God is eternally permanent with a permanence that is particular to His Essence.” There have also been some who have considered It to be among the Attributes of Exemption and have used Eternal Permanence in the meaning of God being absolutely exempt or free from cessation or becoming non-existent.
Another point to mention concerning Divine Eternal Permanence is that creatures will be favored with eternity in the eternal realm. God is Eternally Permanent, so some creatures will be favored with eternity in the other, eternal realm. However, God’s Eternal Permanence is by Himself and inseparable from Him, while the eternality of others is a relative permanence that is absolutely dependent on God’s Permanence. The eternality of Paradise and Hell is also due to God’s Eternal Permanence, like the eternality with which creatures such as human beings, jinn, spirit beings, and angels will be favored.
Muhalafatun lil-hawadith (Being Unlike the Created)
This Attribute denotes that the All-Majestic, All-Exalted God does not resemble, in any way, any of His creatures in His Essence or Attributes. On account of the fact that the opposites of the Essential Attributes of God Almighty are inconceivable for the Divine Being, this Attribute has also been mentioned among the Attributes of Exemption. The decisive, explicit statements of the Qur’an and the Sunna which state that God has no peers, equals, partners, or opposites point to the truth of His Being Unlike the Created.
While some misguided sects have deviated into likening God to His creatures in some respects, some other schools of creed and thought, such as the Mu‘tazila64 and Jahmiyya,65 have gone to the extreme of not recognizing His Attributes to emphasize His being unlike the created. However, the scholars of the Ahlu’s-Sunna or the Sunni scholars have followed the middle way and, by recognizing God’s Attributes and drawing attention to an important, basic difference between the Creator and the creation which is marked by the Attribute of Being Unlike the Created, have emphasized that God is unlike the created in both His Essence and Attributes. They conclude: “Whatever comes to your mind concerning the Divine All-Transcending Being, He is beyond it.”
Qiyam bi-nafsihi (Self-Subsistence)
God’s Being Self-Subsisting means He subsists by Himself in absolute independence of anything else and without needing anything, either in His existence or subsistence, while everything and everyone other than Him owes both their existence and subsistence to Him. On account of any meaning opposite to this Attribute being inconceivable for the Divine Being, this Attribute is also regarded as being among the Attributes of Exemption. Although this Attribute of Glory is not explicitly mentioned in the Qur’an, all the verses concerning God’s self-subsistence and maintaining the whole of creation also point to His Self-Subsistence.
Muslim theologians have explicitly stressed God’s absolute independence of and freedom from time and space, and from everything else, whether it be a substance or an accident, material or immaterial. They have regarded the physical causes and means that He employs in His Acts and executions as the veils of His Dignity and Grandeur. In the words of Bediüzzaman, Divine Dignity and Grandeur require that physical causes must be veils before the Hand of Power in the sight of the intellect, so that the Power’s relationship with some unpleasant and insignificant-seeming things and affairs will not be seen.
The Positive or Affirmative Attributes
The Attributes Whose existence is indispensable and mark God’s absolute Perfection have been called the Positive or Affirmative Attributes. God has Life, has perfect Knowledge of everything and an overwhelming Power over everything. He has also a Will Which determines whatever It wishes, however It wishes. In short, these Attributes make God known to us and describe Who He is through affirmative expressions. Like the Essential Attributes, the opposites of these Attributes cannot be conceived for the All-Holy Being, and all of these Attributes are eternal both in the past and in the future, for they are among the sacred Attributes that are inherent in or inseparable from the All-Majestic, All-Exalted Being with absolute perfection.
As discussed in books on Islamic creed, some of these Attributes such as Life, Knowledge, Power, and Will are in the infinitive form (in the Arabic), while others are in an adjectival form. Human beings, jinn, spirit beings, and angels also have these attributes, but when ascribed to the Divine Being, they are absolute, timeless (eternal in the past and in the future), and inherent in Him. Other beings have them as reflections of the same Attributes of God, and these attributes are restricted.
With the exception of the Attribute of Making Exist or Creation, for which there are different considerations, all of the Positive or Affirmative Attributes are veils before the Dignity and Grandeur of the Divine Being, Who has no beginning, is eternally permanent, and infinitely encompassing. They are Attributes of Majesty and Grace that are inherent in the All-Sacred Being, Which subsist by Him, but are not nominally identical to the Divine Being Himself. They are Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Sight, Will, Power, Speech, and Making Exist.
Life is one of the eternal Divine Attributes of Glory and—provided we do not ignore that Life is an Attribute of the Being Whom It describes—the sole source of life for all the worlds of living beings. It is solely God Who gives life to and maintains everything in the heavens and on the earth, on land and in water, and in both the physical and metaphysical realms. Every existent thing and being in this world is favored with life by Him and will also be favored with a second life in the other world by Him.
Through the perpetual Divine Attribute of Life, every living being experiences its near and distant environment, builds relationships with these environments, and becomes as if a universal being while it is a particular. God bestows on everything a great profundity and every being gains a different expansion through this connection. While the Attribute of Life, Which is a veil for the All-Independent Being described by It, shows Itself with Its manifestations and reflections in all the worlds of living beings, It is never subjected to division or separation from the All-Sacred One Whom It describes. It is absolutely free from all such instances of exposure.
The Attribute of Life has priority to other Affirmative Attributes, for Attributes like Power, Will, and Knowledge cannot be conceived of without Life; it is not possible to think about these without considering Life. The manifest Qur’an draws the attention to that perpetual Life in many of its verses and reminds us of the reality, “He is All-Living, and never dies.” The spirit is a general manifestation of Life, and the state of being alive is Its reflection. In His Speech (the Qur’an), God calls attention to the celebrated Names the All-Living and the Giver of life as the background of life and He emphasizes that perpetual Life in different manners in connection with Prophets Adam and Jesus, and with all other living beings. The Ultimate Truth should be viewed through the telescope of life. Everyone who looks through belief can read on the face of life such truths as: “It is He Who causes to die, Who revives, and Who will restore everything to a new life in the other realm; it is also He Who will return the bones, rotten and mixed with earth, to life in a different fashion with their essential parts.”
On account of being related to everything the existence of which is either necessary, contingent or disallowed, Knowledge is the Attribute Whose area of comprehension is the broadest; it is also the origin of contingencies. Reminding us of this breadth, the manifest Qur’an declares:
With Him are the keys to the Unseen; none knows them but He. And He knows whatever is on land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls but He knows it; and neither is there a grain in the dark layers of earth, nor anything green or dry, but is (recorded) in a Manifest Book. (6:59)
Do you not consider that God knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth? There is not a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth among them, nor between five but He is the sixth among them, nor less than that, nor more, but He is with them wherever they may be. Thereafter, He will make them truly understand all that they do (and call them to account) on the Day of Resurrection. Surely God has full knowledge of everything. (58:7)
By reminding us of the infinite area of comprehension of Divine Knowledge, the Qur’an both stirs up our feelings of appreciation and admiration and calls us to self-possession and alertness.
Like other Attributes of Glory, the Divine Attribute of Knowledge never resembles the knowledge of angels, human beings, jinn, or spirit beings. God’s Knowledge encompasses everything and nothing is outside this limitless, all-encompassing circle. This Knowledge has also nothing to do with increase or decrease, development or perfection, or acquisition. Just as the Ultimate Truth knows Himself through this Knowledge that is inherent in Him, He also knows whatever has happened, whatever will happen, and whatever is disallowed to happen. However, God’s knowledge of what we call “contingent things or beings”—those whose external existence is not necessary, but possible—does not necessitate their existence. They owe their external existence to the Divine Will’s preference that they come into external existence to their remaining only in Knowledge; as a result of this preference the Divine Power brings them into existence.
Another point that indicates the broadness of the sphere which Divine Knowledge encompasses is the beauty, order, arrangement, harmony, wisdom, and observance of the maximum use and benefits that we observe throughout the universe. These are the outcomes of the determination of Knowledge and the truth-speaking witnesses of the All-Knowing, the All-Wise One. They originate from Him and proclaim Him most loudly.
God’s Knowledge relates to both eternity in the past and eternity in the future. However, His Knowledge being pre-eternal does not require the pre-eternity of the contents of this Knowledge. Knowledge is something, identification is something different, and the intermediary and ideal existence is different again, and the physical existence is completely different. God Almighty has absolute knowledge and dominion of everything, large or small, particular or universal, material or immaterial, with their types of existence in all these stages or dimensions.
Through His transcendent Attribute of Hearing, God Almighty listens to and hears all sounds and voices, whether they be hidden or in the open, inward or articulate, whispered or expressed out loud, and answers those that He wills to answer. In relation to God, there is no difference at all between inward sighs and lamentations or resounding wailings and cries. Also, His hearing millions of sounds or voices at the same instant does not prevent Him from hearing and answering millions of others. With whatever mouths billions of beings speak, He hears and answers all of them without the least confusion.
On numerous occasions, the Qur’an and the Sunna emphasize that God is the All-Hearing and the All-Seeing, but no explanations are offered concerning the nature of His hearing and seeing; rather the matter is referred to God Almighty, as are the other Attributes. Just as the true nature of the All-Holy Creator is beyond perception, so too are His Knowledge, Hearing, and Seeing or Sight imperceptible, and they will remain so. We see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and speak with our mouth, whereas God does not need any such organs to see, hear, or speak. He is absolutely free and exempt from anything implying personification or comparison.
Sight is one of God’s Positive, or Affirmative, Attributes. Through this Attribute of Glory, God Almighty sees everything, large or small, mighty or insignificant, material or spiritual, earthly or heavenly, and protects and cares for whatever and whoever He wills, with nothing remaining hidden from Him. With the same clarity, He sees into the depths of the darkness and the illuminated heavens, He discerns the deepest, darkest corners of the strata of the earth, observes the microscopic, atomic and sub-atomic objects and beings, perceives the most hidden living beings and their most secreted parts, and has knowledge of everything, be it hidden or in the open.
The Attribute of Sight is not mentioned in the Qur’an in Its own, infinitive form, but is referred to with the Divine Name the All-Seeing. This Name is sometimes mentioned singly and sometimes together with the Name the All-Hearing. As with the other Divine Attributes, where this Attribute is mentioned It is mentioned in the affirmative and a warning is made against both the personification of God on one hand and the denial of the Attribute on the other.
The functions of seeing and hearing in human beings have been made dependent on many physical means, causes, and conditions, whereas the Divine Being needs neither physiological nor psychological means or causes, nor any other thing of a similar nature. He sees by Himself through the veil of certain Attributes, He also hears by Himself, and knows by Himself. Even though He sees, hears, and knows by Himself, His Knowledge, Hearing, and Sight are all different from one another. It is manifest misguidance to ascribe all these acts only to the Attribute of Knowledge and to ignore other sacred Attributes. The expressions of some Sufis implying this misguidance are due to certain spiritual states like absorption and spiritual intoxication, and are based on the doctrine of the Unity of Being. The final, decisive judgment in every matter always rests with the Qur’an, according to which God is the All-Knowing through (the veil of) His Knowledge, the All-Hearing through (the veil of) His Hearing, and the All-Seeing through (the veil of) His Sight.
Will is an Affirmative Attribute of God that is inherent in Him; Will determines what will be created and when, where, and how. Whatever God wills to be, whenever, wherever, and however He wills it to be, it is thus. He has certain instances of wisdom in or wise purposes for whatever He does and creates, but these instances of wisdom and purposes do not cause or compel Him to create or do anything. Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum says:
No one can ever compel Him to do something;
Whatever He Himself wills to create, it comes into existence.
Mashi’a is another word which is sometimes used in place of Irada. Our master, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace, used this word in different forms in his morning and evening prayers, saying: “Whatever God wills is, whatever God does not will, is not.”66
It is apparently the Attribute of Will Which determines whether something will or will not be and if it will be, then when, where, and how it will be. The manifest Qur’an emphasizes God’s Attribute of Will in many of its verses, such as the following ones, and reminds us of Will’s encompassing area of manifestation:
To God belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He creates whatever He wills. He grants to whom He wills daughters, and grants to whom He wills sons. (42:49)
When God wills evil for a people, it cannot be averted, and apart from Him, they have no protector. (13:11)
Say: “Who is there that can hinder God from it, if He wills evil for you, or if He wills mercy for you?” They will not find for themselves, apart from God, either guardian or helper. (33:17)
When He wills a thing to be, He but says to it “Be!” and (in the selfsame instant,) it is. (36:82)
Say (to them): “Who is there that can intervene on your behalf with God if He wills harm for you or if He wills a benefit for you?” (48:11)
Say: “O God, absolute Master of all dominion! You give dominion to whom You will, and take away dominion from whom You will, and You exalt and honor whom You will, and abase whom You will; in Your hand is all good; surely You have full power over everything.” (3:26)
God’s Will concerns both the creation and operation of the universe and the worldly life of creatures, and the religious life of conscious beings. His Will concerning the creation, operation, and worldly life of creatures is the determining Attribute in the creation and life of creatures at a certain time and place and with certain qualities. As mentioned before, when God Almighty says to something “Be!” at a certain time and place and in the way He wills, it immediately is; while whatever He does not will to be remains in non-existence until He wills it to be. The expression, “‘Be!’ and it is,” which is mentioned many times in the Qur’an, acts as the cipher for a very important truth.
The Divine commands of the creation and operation of the universe that issue from the Divine Will are obeyed absolutely, but obedience to the Divine religious commands has been left to human free will. God orders belief, an Islamic life, and excellence in worship and conduct, showing people the way to being true human beings. If a human being displays an inclination in this direction, it is up to God whether He gives external existence to this inclination in accordance with His Wisdom or not. If He wills to give it external existence, He enables His servant to attain true humanity; if He does not, He manifests His wisdom in another way.
Due to the different benefits and purposes that are beyond human perception, the Divine Will that is related to the operation and life of the universe sometimes wills apparent evils alongside good, and harmful things alongside what is useful; however, His Will relating to religious commands and affairs always wills what is good, beautiful, and useful. However, the responsibility for the apparent evils in the Divine Will’s choice concerning human actions and the life of the universe belongs to those who cause them. Human free will, whether it be in the form of an inclination or putting that inclination into action, is a shadow of the Divine Will and is a potential ability to make choices with which human beings have been equipped. According to the Maturidis, what is called “the universal will” is this potential ability or capacity, while what they call “the particular will” is the inclination and determination to do or not do a particular thing. As for the Ash‘aris,67 they prefer calling God’s Will “the Universal Will,” and the inclination of human beings “the particular will.”
Qudra is another of the Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty; Qudra means that God the All-Exalted is absolutely able to do anything He wills and that He has absolute power over everything. Incapacity, impotence, or powerlessness, all of which are the opposites to Power, cannot be conceived of in connection with the Divine Being. There is nothing over which He does not have absolute power. Everything, from the bottom of the earth to the highest heavens, has been and is being created through that all-overwhelming Power, and it is again through that Power that everything changes forms and states, develops and is perfected, thus undergoing ceaseless experiences. In many verses such as the following ones, the Qur’an reminds us of His infinite Power and calls us to turn to that All-Strong, All-Forceful, All-Powerful, All-Omnipotent One:
And God’s is the sovereignty (absolute ownership and dominion) of the heavens and the earth, and God has full power over everything. (3:189)
The matter of the Hour (of Doom) is but the twinkling of an eye, or even quicker. Surely God has full power over everything. (16:77).
And so, God is He Who is the Ultimate Truth (and Ever-Constant), and He gives life to the dead, and He has full power over everything. (22:6)
Say: “Go about on the earth and see how God originated creation. Then God will bring forth the other (second) creation (in the form of the Hereafter). Surely God has full power over everything. (29:20)
Blessed and Supreme is He in Whose Hand is the Sovereignty; and He has full power over everything. (67:1)
By no means is God One Whom anything whatever in the heavens or on earth can frustrate (in His decrees). Surely He is All-Knowing, All-Powerful. (35:44)
Despite insignificant differences of view concerning the relation of the Divine Power with things and events, all scholars of the Ahlu’s-Sunna are in agreement that Power is among the eternal, Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty.
Speech is another of the All-Exalted God’s Affirmative Attributes, Which marks His Perfection. All religious commands and all decrees and directions that come on different wavelengths in the form of Revelation and inspiration, with their unique nature, have originated from that Attribute. In many verses like the following, the Qur’an not only presents the Attribute of Speech explicitly or implicitly, but also reminds us of the fact that all Divine Words that issued from His Attribute of Speech and Which were manifested in the form of Revelation were of the same basic nature for all Prophets:
Of those Messengers, some We have exalted above others (in some respects). Among them are those to whom God spoke (in a peculiar fashion), and He raised some others in degrees. (2:253)
It is not for any mortal that God should speak to him unless it be by Revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger (angel) to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills (to reveal). Surely He is All-Exalted, All-Wise. (42:51)
And Messengers We have already told you of before, and Messengers We have not told you of; and God addressed Moses and spoke to Him. (4:164)
And He revealed to His servant what He revealed. (53:10)
We have revealed to you (O Messenger), as We revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him; and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Prophets who were raised in the tribes among his progeny, and Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon; and We gave David the Psalms. (4:163).
And just so We reveal to you a Qur’an (a Recitation) in Arabic so that you may warn the mother-city and all those around it. (42:7)
The noble Qur’an is a manifestation of Divine Speech in keeping with the time from when it began to be revealed to the Day of Resurrection, and with the Prophet to whom it was addressed, and to the community to which it was sent. Divine Speech manifested Itself in the particular form of a Divine Book for each community in which It was revealed. Both the Attribute of Divine Speech, Which is the source of the Divine Books, and the Divine Books in their essence are eternal in the past. So, on account of their essence, which is described as “God’s speech to or in Himself,” none of the Divine Books are created. However, their written forms as books or their recitations are created. Their written forms and recitations are described as “the Speech in words.”
If there is a Divine Book Which originated from the Divine Attribute of Speech and has remained intact in its original form, it is the noble Qur’an. From the very first day when it began to be revealed, it has remained without undergoing the least change, thanks to God’s protection and the sincere efforts of its faithful followers. The richness of its contents, the conservation of its freshness as if it was being revealed anew in every age, and its power and profundity in solving all spiritual, emotional, mental, economic, social, administrational, and political problems, are another guarantee for its indispensability. It is for this reason that what is meant and reminded of by the phrase “the Divine Word” has generally been the noble Qur’an.
Takwin (Making Exist)
Takwin, which means making or causing to exist, according to the Maturidis, is the eighth of the Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty.
God is the Creator of everything, and the Attribute of Making Exist is the Attribute of Glory that is the origin of this creation. The All-Exalted Creator, Who introduces Himself as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, prepares everything He creates for existence through His all-encompassing Knowledge, His all-embracing Will, Which determines what will be sent into the arena of existence and when, where, and with what characteristics, and His all-overwhelming Power, Which is all-able to do whatever His Will determines; and He finally refers this to the veil of His Attribute of Making Exist. The whole universe with whatever is in it, everything animate or inanimate, all with different designs, styles, and natures, comes into existence through His creation, invention, and origination. The sacred Attributes are veils before this Act of God Almighty, and the Attribute of Making Exist is another curtain before the Will and the Power. Everything of contingency is established within a broad frame by the Knowledge; the Will selects between many probabilities, while the Power marks its possibility to be or to come into existence, and the Attribute of Making Exist manufactures it on Its own immaterial workbench, presenting what has been created to the View of the Eternal Witness.
Making Exist is, according to the Maturidis, among the independent, eternal, and substantial Affirmative Attributes. The Ash‘aris’ approach is slightly different; according to them, this Attribute is of nominal or relative existence. For if something which the Divine Will has judged to exist is brought into existence through the Power and Will, there is no further need for Making Exist. The Ash‘aris have this same approach for other Attributes of actions that relate to Making Exist. They view them as Attributes that are not eternal in the past, but which emerged later; they explain every occurrence with the Power and Will. However, it is God Who knows best.
The Attributes of Action
As for the Attributes of action, briefly, they are six and are as follows: Creation, Originating Uniquely, Producing, Giving Life and Reviving, Causing to Die, and Providing.
Literally meaning originating out of nothing and formation, khalq (creation) denotes that God originates something when nothing of it exists and makes it with all of its essential elements. With this meaning, creation cannot be attributed to any other than God Almighty.
Khalq is used in the Qur’an also in the meanings of making up, fabricating, and giving form to clay. While it can be used for created beings with these meanings, the Qur’an attributes creation only to God. Likewise, the attributes of Khaliq (the Creator) and Khallaq (the Supreme Creator), which are derived from khalq, are used only in attribution to God.
There is a difference between the sacred Attribute of Creation (Khalq) and the majestic Attribute of Making Exist (Takwin), as well as between the Attributes of Originating Uniquely (Ibda’) and Producing (Insha’), which are regarded to have originated from the latter. This difference is as follows: Creation means giving existence to something with its essential parts and building blocks, Originating Uniquely means creating without having any precursor to imitate and creating in a unique and peerless way, Producing denotes bringing about something by arranging its parts which have already been created, while Making Exist signifies bringing into existence in a way to encompass the meanings or actions of all the Attributes of action—all the actions belonging to the Attributes of action are included in Making Exist.
It is God alone Who creates everything particular or universal, small or large, earthly or heavenly, animate or inanimate, spiritual or corporeal, and it is also He Who creates all states and the acts of all beings during their entire life. In many of its illuminating statements, the noble Qur’an reminds us that it is exclusively God Who originates, creates, and produces. For example:
It is He Who has created all that is on the earth for you. (2:29)
All praise and gratitude are for God, Who has created the heavens and the earth, and brought into being veils of darkness and the light. (6:1)
Indeed your Lord is God, Who has created the heavens and the earth in six “days.” (7:54; 10:3)
Do they never consider that God Who has created the heavens and the earth is able to create them anew (the dead) in their own likeness? (17:99)
And He it is Who from a fluid has created humanity and made it (a male and female and, through them,) into a population through descent and marriage. And Your Lord is All-Powerful. (25:54)
God is He Who creates you, then He sustains you (by providing for you), then He causes you to die, and then He will bring you to life again. (30:40)
All-Glorified is He, Who has created all the pairs, of that the earth produces, and of themselves, and of that which they do not know. (36:36)
It is God Who has created you and all that you do. (37:96)
Have they (the unbelievers) not considered that surely God, Who has created the heavens and the earth, and never wearied with their creation, is able to bring the dead to life? Certainly He is; He has full power over everything. (46:33)
Ibda’ (Originating Uniquely)
Ibda’ means that God Almighty creates without there be anything before to imitate and in a unique, unequalled, and unprecedented way. In place of ibda’, the words ihdath (innovation), ihtira’ (creating out of nothing), i’jad (invention), and sun‘a (making) can be used, although there are slight differences among them. In fact, all of these words or concepts express different aspects of Takwin (Making Exist). In several verses such as the following ones, the manifest, noble Qur’an presents to our view God Almighty’s unprecedented origination and calls upon us to notice the beauties of His peerless Art:
The Originator of the heavens and the earth with nothing before to imitate. When He decrees a thing, He does but say to it, “Be!” and it is. (2:117)
The Originator of the heavens and the earth with nothing before Him to imitate. (6:101)
Literally meaning gathering together certain ingredients or essential components and elements to produce a new thing, Insha‘ is the Attribute of God Almighty Which denotes gathering together certain essential ingredients or components that have already been created to produce something new. In dozens of explicit verses, the glorious Qur’an reminds us of this mighty reality. For example:
He it is Who produces gardens (and vineyards, and orchards) trellised and untrellised, and date-palms, and crops varying in taste, and olives, and pomegranates, resembling one another and yet so different. (6:141)
He it is Who has made for you (the faculty of) hearing, and eyes, and hearts. (23:78)
He it is Who developed you from a single human self and has appointed for each of you a lodging-place where you will stay permanently, and a place where you will stay temporarily. (6:98)
Say: “He Who produced them in the first instance will give them life (anew).” (36:79)
Ihya’ and Imata (Giving Life and Reviving, and Causing to Die)
Both Ihya’, which means granting life, favoring with life, and reviving, and Imata, which means causing to die or dealing with death, are among the Attributes of action of the Giver of life and the One Who causes death. These two Attributes are mentioned in the Qur’an in different verb forms, sometimes together and sometimes separately. Some examples are as follows:
Surely in the creation of the heavens and the earth, and the alternation of night and day, and the vessels sailing in the sea with profit to people, and the water that God sends down from the sky, therewith reviving the earth after its death and dispersing therein all kinds of living creatures, and His disposal of the winds, and the clouds subservient between the sky and earth—surely there are signs (demonstrating that He is the One God deserving worship, and the sole Refuge and Helper) for a people who reason and understand. (2:164)
God sends down from the sky water and therewith revives the earth after its death. Surely in that there is a sign for people ready to hear (the truth). (16:65)
A clear sign for them (of God’s Oneness and Lordship) is the dead earth: We revive it and bring forth from it grain. (36:33)
And He it is Who causes to die and gives life. (53:44)
How can you disbelieve in God, seeing that you were dead, and He gave you life? Then He causes you to die. Then He will bring you to life again; and then you will be returned to Him. (2:28)
They will say: “Our Lord! You have made us die twice, and given us life twice, so we acknowledge our sins.” (40:11)
Abraham said, “My Lord is He Who gives life and causes to die.” (2:258)
Surely it is also We, We Who give life and cause to die. (15:23)
God (He alone) gives life and causes to die; and whatever you do, God sees it well. (3:156)
Literally meaning providing, sustaining, and maintaining, tarziq is also among the Attributes of action. Everything from food and beverages to whatever we need for our physical, mental, and spiritual life is included in the meaning of the word rizq (provision) and, therefore, everything is provided by God, the All-Providing. In dozens of verses, such as the following ones, the Qur’an of miraculous exposition reminds us that God is the All-Providing for all of creation and emphasizes His majestic Attribute of Providing:
O you who believe! Eat of the pure, wholesome things that We have provided for you, and (in return) give thanks to God, if you worship Him alone. (2:172)
Those who believe in the Unseen, establish the Prayer in conformity with its conditions, and out of what We have provided for them they spend (in God’s cause and for the needy). (2:3)
We do not ask you to provide for Us; rather, it is We Who provide for you. (20:132)
Say: “Who is it that provides for you from heaven and earth…?” (10:31)
Surely those that you worship instead of God do not have power to provide for you; so seek all your provision from God, and worship Him and be thankful to Him. (29:17)
God enlarges provision for whom He wills of His servants, and straitens it (for whom He wills). Surely God has full knowledge of everything. (29:62)
In addition to those explained above, it is possible to mention many other Attributes of action related to the Attribute of Making Exist, such as Arrangement or Organization, Beautification, Making Happy, Bestowing Bounties, Making Victorious, and Defeating. But since we intended only to give a brief explanation of the Divine Attributes of Glory, let us not go beyond the limit of our intentions and put a halt to our discussion here.
O God! I ask You for Your forgiveness, health, and for Your good pleasure, regard and attention, breezes of peace and relief, and for Your intimacy, Your nearness, and Your love. And bestow blessings and peace on the noblest one of Your creatures, our master Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions, pure and clean.
God’s Figurative Attributes
I later realized that I had forgotten to write about God’s Attributes which are used in the Qur’an and Sunna in a figurative sense. Since a reference was made to them at the beginning of the article on God’s Attributes of Glory, it is necessary that I provide brief information about them here.
Although the Figurative Attributes are frequently mentioned in the Qur’an and the Sunna, as it is not proper to ascribe them to the Divine Being with their apparent or literal meanings, different interpretations have been made about them and they have caused some to slip away from the Straight Way. Some people have approached them in their literal meanings and have not been able to prevent themselves from going to extremes, thus putting themselves at the risk of falling into misguidance and loss. However, while the earliest, upright Muslim scholars preferred to keep aloof from making interpretations about them based on their personal views, their righteous followers never abandoned respect or self-possession in their moderate interpretations, going neither towards denial nor deviating into anthropomorphism or similar creeds.
We encounter the Figurative Attributes both in the Qur’an and the Sunna. Among these Attributes we can list what follows:
- “Coming” in And Your Lord comes (89:22);
- “Self-Establishment” in The All-Merciful, Who has established Himself on the Supreme Throne (20:5), which means God’s subjugating the creation to His command, manifesting His Sovereignty, Grandeur, and Power;
- “Avoidance” in God avoids but completing His light (9:32);
- “Self” in He has bound Himself to mercy (6:12), And I have attached you to Myself (20:41), and in the Prophetic saying, “You are as You have praised Yourself;”68 and the Prophetic quotation from God, “Surely I have made wrongdoing unlawful for Myself.”69
- “Wrath” in God has become wrathful with them (4:93), which means punishment and condemnation;
- “Hand” in verses such as God’s hand is over their hands (48:10), and All grace is in God’s hand (57:29), which means power, ownership, control and disposal, and help;
- “Face” in verses such as Everything is perishable except His Face (28:88), But there remains forever the Face of Your Lord (55:27), and “We feed you only for the sake of God’s Face” (76:9), which means the Divine Being Himself or God’s approval and good pleasure.
- Further, concepts, such as:
- “Saying” in verses like: When your Lord said to the angels (2:30);
- “Speaking” in His Lord spoke to him (7:143);
- “All-Hearing, All-Seeing” in the Divine declaration, Surely God is All-Hearing, All-Seeing (22:75);
- “Companionship” which is understood from God is with You (47:35); and
- “Footing” in They have a sure footing with their Lord (10:2),
are regarded by some as being among the same Attributes. It is possible to encounter many similar Attributes in the sayings of the noblest, most illustrious Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings.
- “Asking” in “He asks the angels;”70
- “Ordering” and “Prohibiting” in the Prophetic sayings where we see the phrases “He orders”71 and “He prohibits;”72
- “Witnessing” in the sayings where the phrase “He witnesses”73 is mentioned;
- “Moving Speedily” in the sayings such as “He moves speedily to respond with favor;”74
- “Approaching” in such sayings as “He immediately approaches with favor;”75
- “Descending” in the sayings such as “He descends to the heaven of the world,”76 and several other concepts such as:
- “Loving, Becoming Wrathful, the Best Form, Exhilaration, Smiling, Grasping, Contracting, Expanding, Struggling, Feeling Wonder, Showing Care, Heed and Sensitivity, Being with or Companionship” in the Prophetic sayings where we see the phrases, “He loves;77 He becomes wrathful;78 He is seen in the Best Form;79 He exhilarates;80 He smiles;81 He grasps;82 He expands;83 He struggles;84 He feels wonder;85 There is none more careful and sensitive than God,”86 and “I am with him when he mentions Me,”87 respectively.
The earliest scholars of Islam, who followed the way of the Prophet and his Companions very closely, acted in self-possession and with great care concerning the Figurative Attributes, in the same way they did with the subtle, very meaningful statements of the Qur’an. They admitted them to be among God’s Attributes and preferred referring their true meanings to God Almighty. Unlike these scholars of the Ahlu’s-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, the followers of certain misguided sects, such as the Anthropomorphists (Mujassima) and the Comparers (Mushabbiha), asserted that God Almighty had a body and compared Him to the created, respectively; this was partly in order not to deny these Attributes, and thus the Divine Being was conceived as One Who, like human beings, has hands, feet, eyes, and ears, and Who descends, ascends, runs, gets near, becomes rejoiced, and smiles, etc. As a result, they fell into mental misguidance. In contrast to such an extreme attitude as this, the Mu‘tazila and the Jahmiyya went to the opposite extreme and, considering that having such Attributes was not appropriate for the Divine Being, denied God any Attribute, rather asserting that there is only the Divine Being Himself with His Acts. However, the earliest, righteous Muslim scholars admitted the existence of all the Divine Attributes including the Figurative Ones, and referred the exact knowledge of their true nature to God Almighty. In addition to their considerations of the Divine Essence and Attributes that are free from any comparison and anthropomorphism, they were able to view and speak of the Divine Being as absolutely exempt from any defects, resemblance, or partnership, and, in the following words of the scholars of religious essentials or basic principles, they ascertained the truth: “God exists and has Attributes, without having any resemblance and bearing no comparison to anything created; He is absolutely free from any defect, resemblance, and comparison, but has Attributes and Names.”
Some of the scholars of later generations did not deem it harmful to make certain reasonable interpretations concerning the Attributes based on the essential principles of the Religion in order to preserve minds from adulteration with misguided thoughts and creeds. For example, they interpreted “Descending” as the descent of God’s mercy, “Coming” as the coming of His punishment, “Self-Establishment on the Supreme Throne” as His demonstrating His absolute dominion, “Hand” as His bounties, Power, and ownership, “Moving Speedily” and “Getting Near” as God’s immediate response with favor and regard, and “Love” as His treating people pleasingly and mercifully.
Unless there is a necessity to respond to objections, following the way of the earliest righteous scholars is safer and is a better-mannered approach. In case of necessity, the way of the righteous scholars of later generations may be adopted.
O God! I believe in You and in whatever comes from Your Presence. Enable us to follow Your Religion in safety and make us steadfast. Do not let our hearts swerve after You have guided us, and bestow upon us mercy from Your Presence. Surely You are the All-Bestowing. And bestow blessings and peace on our master and the intercessor for our sins, Muhammad, and on his Family and Companions, pure and clean. All praise and gratitude are for God, the Lord of the worlds.
By M. Fethullah Gulen
- al-Mathnawi an-Nuri – Seedbed of the Light (trans.), New Jersey, 2007, pp., 49–50.
- Muslim, “Dhikr” 61; at-Tirmidhi, “Da‘awat” 19, 67.
- The Mu‘tazilites or al-Mu‘tazilah: The school of the Muslim “rationalists” which accorded creative effect to human will and agency, concluding that it is human beings who create their actions. In addition, it denies God Almighty Attributes, and claims that God is obliged to reward those who believe and do good deeds, and punish those who disbelieve. (Tr.)
- Jahmiyya, founded by Jahm ibn Safwan, who lived in the second century of Hijra, is the deviant school of creed whose members deny God Attributes and humanity free will, attribute space to God, and claim that the Qur’an is created. (Tr.)
- Abu Dawud, “Sunna” 6, “Adab” 101.
- The Maturidis, the followers of Imam Muhammad ibn Muhammad Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), and Ash’aris, the followers of Imam Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 665), comprise the Ahlu’s-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, the overwhelming majority of Muslims. There are slight differences of opinion between these two branches of the Ahlu’s-Sunna. (Tr.)
- Muslim, “Salah” 222; at-Tirmidhi, “Da‘awat” 75.
- Muslim, “Birr” 55; Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, 5:160.
- al-Bukhari, “Mawaqitu’s-Salah” 16; Muslim, “Masajid” 210.
- al-Bukhari, “Tafsiru’l-Qur’an” 22; Muslim, “Salatu’l-Musafirin” 274.
- al-Bukhari, “Maghazi” 38; Muslim, “Ayman” 1.
- at-Tirmidhi, “Tafsir” 24; Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, 5:172.
- al-Bukhari, “Tawhid” 15; Muslim, “Dhikr” 2.
- al-Bukhari, “Tawhid” 15; Muslim, “Dhikr” 2.
- al-Bukhari, “Tahajjud” 14; Muslim, “Salatu’l-Musafirin” 168, 172.
- al-Bukhari, “Manaqibu’l-Ansar” 4; Muslim, “Iman” 129.
- al-Bukhari, “Manaqibu’l-Ansar” 4; Muslim, “Iman” 129.
- at-Tirmidhi, “Tafsir” (38) 2–4; Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, 1:368.
- al-Bukhari, “Da‘awat” 4; Muslim, “Tawba” 2.
- al-Bukhari, “Adhan” 129; Muslim, “Iman” 299.
- al-Bukhari, “Tawhid” 19; Muslim, “Sifatu’l-Munafiqin” 23.
- Muslim, “Tawba” 31; Ibn Hanbal, al-Musnad, 4:395.
- at-Tabarani, al-Mu‘jamu’l-Kabir, 11:19.
- at-Tirmidhi, “Da‘awat” 46; Abu Dawud, “Jihad” 74.
- al-Bukhari, “Kusuf” 2; Muslim, “Kusuf” 1.
- al-Bukhari, “Tawhid” 15; Muslim, “Dhikr” 2.