The paramount importance for Muslims to know Allah is evidenced within our daily ritual practices and prayers. In fact Muslims begin their ritual prayer (salah) by declaring: “Allahu akbar,” which means “Allah is the greatest” or “Allah is greater.” Before commencing recitation of the Qur’an, Muslims say “Bismillah,” which means “With/In the name of Allah.”
Most religious people would likely assert that they know God. Often however, their behavior indicates that they do not truly appreciate or understand God.
In order to better recognize Allah, we must determine and grasp several issues:
Who Allah is; the obligation to know Him; ignorance regarding Allah; the effects of acquiring/having knowledge about Allah; and how we should and should not perceive Him.
While the reality of His Self or Essence can never be fully comprehended by His creation, we can look towards His interactions with the creation in order to gain a little insight and better appreciate Him.
Allah’s Noble Name
Many Names are used to describe Him in many languages. In the Islamic tradition, His primary name is “Allah.” This is known as the Magnificent Utterance (Lafzh al-Jalalah). While there is scholarly disagreement as to the etymology of the Name, a number of ’ulama’ including Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah believe that the Name “Allah” linguistically originates from the Arabic definite article (adat al-ta’rif) affixed to the word deity (ilah). Ilah refers to an object of devotion or worship. Therefore Allah is the God.
The Name “Allah” means: the One, Only, Single, Supreme, God.
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According to Mu’jam al-Mufahras the Name “Allah” is mentioned over 2,698 times within the Qur’an. It is the most frequent word in the Qur’an besides the particles (huruf).
Allah is the greatest name of Allah according to many ‘ulama’.
How Is Allah Known?
The way that we know Allah is through Tawhid (Islamic monotheism or Unicity). Tawhid refers to Allah’s Oneness.
- Allah is al-Wahid, the Indivisible. He is not made of parts.
- Allah is al-Ahad, the Only. He is the only thing which truly exists independently, the only Lord, the only being truly worthy of worship, and His are the Most Beautiful Names and Attributes.
- Allah is alone has the right to create law, whether personal or societal. He controls the universe and has sent down the Shari’ah.
- To have a personal relationship with him is the most wonderful thing that a person can ever attain.
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The Obligation of Knowing Allah
Knowing Allah is the first obligation upon the entirety of mankind. Allah ta’ala says:
فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنْبِكَ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتِ ۗ
(Then know that there is no god but Allah. Seek forgiveness for your sins, for the believing men and women.) [Surah Muhammad (47):19]
Allah commands us to seek Him out. He says:
اقرَأ بِاسمِ رَبِّكَ الَّذي خَلَقَ
خَلَقَ الإِنسانَ مِن عَلَقٍ
اقرَأ وَرَبُّكَ الأَكرَمُ
الَّذي عَلَّمَ بِالقَلَمِ
عَلَّمَ الإِنسانَ ما لَم يَعلَم
(Read in the Name of your Lord who created
created man from a clinging mass.
Read, and your Lord is most noble,
who taught by the pen,
Taught man that which he knew not.)
[Surah al-’Alaq, the Clinging Mass (96):1-5]
This obligation is for us to seek knowledge that will aid us in returning to that which Allah has already hard-wired within us. We must seek knowledge about Him that will lead us to submit to Him.
Ignorance in Allah
Some of the Righteous Predecessors (Al-Salaf al-Salihun) are reported to have stated that only the ignorant sin. Imam al-Bukhari entitled a chapter within his al-Jami’ al-Sahih as follows:
باب الْمَعَاصِي مِنْ أَمْرِ الْجَاهِلِيَّةِ
Chapter: Sins Are From the Matter of Ignorance
However the ignorance that is being referred to here is not necessarily always due to a person not having awareness regarding the prohibition of a specific act. Usually, the perpetrator is well-aware of the impermissibility of the sinful crime they are committing. The ignorance which is identified here pertains more to ignorance regarding Allah—His worthiness of our love; His mercy towards us; His blessings upon us; His reward for the righteous and obedient; His forgiveness for the remorseful and repentant; and His punishment for the obstinate and impertinent.
Abusing a blessing which Allah granted to us freely—a blessing which we never earned or deserved—is without doubt a sin.
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Effects of Knowing Allah
Taking Allah’s Name is such a serious matter that the great scholar of the Salaf, Ibrahim al-Nakha’i, said:
قال إبراهيم: كانوا يضربوننا على الشهادة والعهد ونحن صغار.
“They [parents] used to hit us when we were children regarding witnessing and oaths [in Allah’s Name].”
Allah explains the condition of the true believers with respect to His Name. He mentions in the Qur’an:
(إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ الَّذِينَ إِذَا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَجِلَتْ قُلُوبُهُمْ وَإِذَا تُلِيَتْ عَلَيْهِمْ آيَاتُهُ زَادَتْهُمْ إِيمَانًا وَعَلَىٰ رَبِّهِمْ يَتَوَكَّلُونَ)
(Indeed, the believers are those whom, when Allah’s Name is mentioned, their hearts quake. When His Signs are recited to them, it increases them in faithful conviction, and upon their Lord they trust.)
[Surah al-Anfal, War Booty (8):2]
وَإِذا ذُكِرَ اللَّهُ وَحدَهُ اشمَأَزَّت قُلوبُ الَّذينَ لا يُؤمِنونَ بِالآخِرَةِ ۖ وَإِذا ذُكِرَ الَّذينَ مِن دونِهِ إِذا هُم يَستَبشِرونَ
When Allah is mentioned alone, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink away, but when others are mentioned besides Him, behold, they rejoice!
[Surah al-Zumar, The Throngs (39):45]
How do you feel when you are reminded of Allah?
Do you feel fear? Does your heart tremble?
Do you feel hope? Is your heart put at ease?
Do you experience ecstasy out of immense love?
The life of someone who truly knows Allah will be a life revolving entirely in relation to Allah and a life devoted to Him completely.
Are you insolent against Allah?
Do you feel despondent and dejected?
Do you dislike being reminded about Allah?
Ask yourself: Who am I?
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Who Is Allah?
و قد سئل الحسن رضي الله عنه عن الله فقال: إن سألت عن ذاته فليس كمثله شيء، وإن سألت عن صفاته فهو الله أحد الله الصمد لم يلد ولم يولد ولم يكن له كفوا أحد، وإن سألت عن أسمائه فهو الله الذي لا إله إلا هو عالم الغيب والشهادة هو الرحمن الرحيم، وإن سألت عن أفعاله فكل يوم هو في شأن.
Al-Hasan was asked about Allah, so he answered:
If you are asking about His Essence, then:
“There is nothing whatsoever that is anything like Him.” [Surat al-Shura (42):11]
If you are asking about His attributes, then:
“He is Allah: the One. Allah is the Indomitable Recourse for all needs. He does not beget, nor was He begotten. And there is none comparable to him.” [Surat al-Ikhlas (112):1-4]
If you are asking about His Names, then:
“He is Allah, the One besides whom there is no other God—[the Sole] Knower of the [realms of all the] unseen and the seen. He is the Most Merciful and Most Compassionate.” [Surat al-Hashr (59):22]
If you are asking about His actions, then:
“[Each and] every day it is He [alone] who executes [every] affair [in the universe].” [Surat al-Rahman (55):29]
(Al-Nasihat al-Kafiyah li man Khassahu ‘llahu bi ‘l-Afiyah)
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