Rizwan Khan, Missionary, USA
This series of articles seeks to explain the names of Allah using other synonymous names of Allah. When the difference between two synonymous names is unclear to us, this subject seems difficult.
For example, the following six names describe creation:
1. Al-Mubdi’ (The Beginner), 2. Al-Fātir (The Originator/Creator), 3. Al-Badī’ (The Originator), 4. Al-Khāliq (The Creator), 5. Al-Khallāq (The Supreme Creator), and 6. Al-Bāri’ (The Maker).
Three names from the same root describe power:
1. Al-Qādir (The Possessor of Power), 2. Al-Qadīr (The All-Powerful), and 3. Al-Muqtadir (The Omnipotent).
Three names from the same root describe forgiveness:
1. Al-Ghāfir (The Forgiver), 2. Al-Ghafūr (The Most Forgiving), and 3. Al-Ghaffār (The Oft-Forgiving).
How are these names distinct? How do we use each name differently in prayer? This series of articles seeks to explain these differences for practical application in our prayers. For this reason, the names of Allah are listed in this series of articles in a sequence that explains them using names that have related meanings.
Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra said, “[…] Attributes [of Allah] that appear at first sight to be overlapping or mere repetitions are in fact intended to signify very fine distinctions. Once the significance of each attribute is clearly grasped, one is able to appreciate the beauty and the glory of the spiritual universe that the Quran describes.” (The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, p. cccxxxi)
The main objective of this series of articles is to learn how to use each name of Allah in prayer.
If we can use any name of Allah in prayer, we will more readily absorb it because we have some practical experience with it. The focus of this series of articles is prayer. For this reason, rather than listing the names of Allah as, for example, Al-Malik or Al-Quddūs, they have been listed as prayers, as Yā Malik or Yā Quddūs.
Allah Almighty says, “And to Allah alone belong all perfect names. So call on Him by these.” (Surah al-A‘raf, Ch. 7: V. 181) “Call upon Allah or call upon Rahmān; by whichever name you call Him, His are the most beautiful names.” (Surah Bani Israil, Ch. 17: V. 111) In commentary, Hazrat Musleh-e-Maudra explained that every objective has a relevant name of Allah Almighty which we should use in prayer. When we need something related to a name of Allah, we should pray using the relevant name. We should pray using the name that is according to the situation. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 4, p. 401)When we ask of Allah using the name relevant to our purpose, the prayer is more blessed.” (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 9, p. 269)
Each attribute in this series begins with a brief definition of the name of Allah based on classical Arabic dictionaries or books that refer to classical Arabic dictionaries. However, the meanings of the names of Allah are not confined to only the dictionary definition. Even if we checked every dictionary in the world, they could not give the vast meanings that the verses of the Holy Quran give. (“Allah Ki Sifat-e-Hilm”, Friday Sermon, 23 Mar 1984, Khutbat-e-Tahir, Vol. 3, pp. 157-171)
The Holy Prophetsa said that Allah has 99 names, and whoever knows them will enter paradise. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ad-da‘wat, Bab lillahi mi’atu ismin ghayra wahid) This does not mean that Allah Almighty is confined to only 99 names. Rather, this hadith teaches that we can enter paradise by knowing the 99 names of Allah. (Hasti-e-Bari Ta‘ala, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 6, pp. 372-374; Fath al-Bari, al-‘Asqalani, Kitāb al-Da’wat, Bab lillahi mi’atu ‘ismin ghayra wahid) While the names of Allah Almighty are limitless, we should only use the ones He has taught. (Hasti-e-Bari Ta‘ala, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 6, p. 370) The names of Allah listed in this series of articles are primarily from a hadith narrated in Jami’ at-Tirmidhi. (Jami’ at-Tirmidhi, Kitab ad-da‘wat ‘an rasulillahsa, Chapter 82) Some additional names of Allah found in the Holy Quran and other ahadith have also been included.
1. Yā Rahmān – O Gracious! – يا رحمٰن
The root of rahmān means mercy, pity, or compassion. The word rahmah combines the tenderness of heart and good action. (Al-Mufradat, al-Raghib, Root: رحم, See “والرَّحْمَةُ رقّة تقتضي الإحسان إلى الْمَرْحُومِ”) Al-Rahmān means The Compassionate or The Gracious.
This name is also mentioned under Al-Rahīm (The Merciful).
Use in Prayer
The word rahim (رَحِمٌ) means womb. Allah Almighty said, “I am Al-Rahmān (The Gracious). I created the womb (rahim) and named it after My name.” The Holy Prophetsa said, “The womb (rahim) is named after Al-Rahmān (The Gracious).” (Jami’ al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-birri wa s-silati ‘an rasulillahsa, Bab ma ja’a fi qati‘ati r-rahim; Sunan Abi Dawud, Kitab az-zakat, Bab fi silati r-rahim)
The name Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) describes a maternal type of love. Our mothers cared for everything in the womb and throughout childhood without our ever asking for it or earning it. Similarly, the grace of Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) provided everything we have without our effort or asking for it.
When we say Yā Rahmān (O Gracious!), we remember how comforting maternal grace is, and we pray that Allah Almighty covers us with that unconditional mercy.
2. Yā Rahīm – O Merciful! – يا رحيم
Grammatically, the intensive fa’lān (فَعْلَان) form describes a passion or sensation. The word rahmān (رَحْمٰن) expresses it as a tenderness of heart. The intensive fa’īl (فَعِيْل) form describes a constant attribute. The word rahīm (رَحِيْم) expresses it as an inclination towards beneficence and favour. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: رحم , Entry: الرَّحْمٰنُ) Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) refers to extensive mercy that includes the entire universe. In contrast, Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) refers to a specific mercy shown repeatedly and liberally. (The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Surah al-Fatihah Ch.1: V.1, p. 6)
Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) and Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) come from the same root. The difference is that the mercy in Rahmāniyyah (graciousness) is not related to our actions, but Rahīmiyyah (mercy) is related to our actions. (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 182) Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) is One who shows mercy to all creation without regard to their effort, and Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) is One who shows mercy in response to our actions and shows it repeatedly. (The Holy Quran with English Translation and Commentary, Surah al-Fatihah, Ch. 1: V. 1, p. 6) Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) applies more to this world because it includes mercy for disbelievers and believers. However, Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) applies more to the hereafter because it is specific to mercy for believers. (“Fayzan-e-Rahmaniyyat…”, Friday Sermon, 15 Dec 2006, Khutbat-e-Masroor, Vol. 4, pp. 619-630)
Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) is a fatherly love. For example, if a child is sick and has to suffer through treatment to get well, forcing a reluctant child to undergo that treatment expresses a more fatherly love. (The Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, al-Ghazali, p. 56) When a child falls, to run to the child and help them up is more a maternal love, but to wait and let the child learn to pick himself up is more a fatherly love. Both types of love are necessary at different stages of our development. Maternal love develops our abilities, and paternal love gives us the strength to use those abilities.
The graciousness (Rahmāniyyah) of Allah Almighty gives us the ability to benefit from His mercy (Rahīmiyyah). We use the abilities He gave us through graciousness (Rahmāniyyah) to do good actions and then be rewarded through His mercy (Rahīmiyyah). (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 184 ; Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 112)
All the other attributes of Allah Almighty are branches of Al-Rahmān (The Gracious) and Al-Rahīm (The Merciful). (I‘jaz-ul-Masih, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 18, p. 116)
This name is also mentioned under Al-Ra’ūf (The Compassionate), Al-Barr (The Beneficent), Al-Qawiyy (The Strong), and Al-Halīm (The Forbearing).
Use in Prayer
The mercy of Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) waits for us to pick ourselves up before abundantly rewarding us with His mercy. When we say Yā Rahīm (O Merciful!), we bring to mind the One who repeatedly and liberally rewards us for our actions and pray that He has mercy on us.
3. Yā Ra’ūf – O Compassionate! – يا رؤف
The root of ra’ūf means pity, compassion, or tender affection. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: رأف Entry: رأف) Al-Ra’ūf means The Compassionate or The Affectionate.
Mercy (rahmah) and pity (ra’fah) are synonymous. The difference is that Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) is more general, whereas Al-Ra’ūf (The Compassionate) is more specific. Mercy is in response to both happiness and suffering, but pity is a response to seeing someone suffering and wanting to remove that hardship. Pity is a part of Mercy. Pity is specifically the feeling of sympathy and love resulting from seeing someone in pain.(Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 2, pp. 455-6;Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 2, p. 228; Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 4, p. 131)
This name is also mentioned under Al-Latīf (The Kind).
Use in Prayer
We say Yā Rahīm (O Merciful!) and pray for mercy in any situation. For example, if we were blessed with a child, we would say Yā Rahīm (O Merciful!) and pray that Allah Almighty supports us with His increasing, repeated, and liberal mercy throughout the child’s upbringing. When we say Yā Ra’ūf (O Compassionate!), we appeal for pity and compassion, particularly when suffering. For example, when children get hurt, they sometimes exaggerate their pain because there is comfort in receiving sympathy from their parents. Similarly, the comfort in receiving pity from Allah Almighty is so great that it can sometimes make us look forward to suffering because then we have an excuse to turn to Him for His compassion. When we are suffering, we say Yā Ra’ūf (O Compassionate!) and beg Allah Almighty to pity us.
The Holy Prophetsa prayed, يَا رَؤُوفُ ارْأَفْ بِي (O Compassionate! Bestow on me Your compassion.) (Al-Mu’jam al-Kabīr, al-Tabarānī, Hadith 9942)
4. Yā Barr – O Beneficent! – يا برّ
The root of barr means to behave with kindness, goodness, affection, or gentleness. It also means being true to an oath. Al-Barr means The Merciful, Compassionate, Gentle, or the Ample in goodness or beneficence. It also means The True in His promise. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: بر Entry: برّ، بَرٌّ)
The word barr also means land, as opposed to the sea, and signifies extensiveness. This meaning is why, when this root describes doing good, it means doing good extensively. (Al-Mufradāt, al-Rāghib, Root: بر)
Al-Barr (The Beneficent) is synonymous with Al-Latīf (The Kind) and Al-Rahīm (The Merciful) in its meanings of “kindness” and “gentleness”. (Lisan al-‘Arab, Ibn Manzūr, Root: برر, See “العَطُوفُ الرحيم اللطيف الكريم…وهو العَطُوف على عباده بِبِرَّهِ ولطفه”)
One difference in these words is that, when applied to a person, one can not be latīf (Kind) or rahīm (Merciful) to Allah Almighty, but one can be barr (righteous) to Allah Almighty.
A person being barr (righteous) to Allah Almighty means his doing good actions and obeying Him. Allah Almighty being Barr (Beneficent) to a person means His being the source of extensive goodness and ample reward. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: بر Entry: برّ، بَرٌّ) The focus of the word barr is on good action. What makes the name Al-Barr (The Beneficent) distinct is its emphasis on action and its additional meaning of Allah Almighty being True in His promise of reward.
Use in Prayer
The name Al-Barr (The Beneficent) brings to mind all the good we have received from Allah Almighty, and all the good He has promised for the righteous that we hope to receive. When the Holy Quran mentions this name of Allah, it speaks of the apprehension that righteous people have in this world and the relief they will feel upon being saved from punishment in the hereafter. The righteous will say, “Before this, when we were among our family, we were very much afraid of God’s displeasure. But Allah has been gracious unto us and has saved us from the torment of the burning blast. We used to pray to Him before. Surely, He is the Beneficent (Al-Barr), the Merciful (Al-Rahīm).’ (Holy Quran, Surah at-Tur, Ch.52: V. 27-29) On reciting these verses, Hazrat Aishara prayed, “O Allah, be gracious to us and save us from the torment of the burning blast, surely, You are the Beneficent (Al-Barr), the Merciful (Al-Rahīm).” (Tafīr Ibn Kathīr, at-Tur 52:28)
When we say Yā Barr (O Beneficent!), we thank Allah Almighty for the extensive good we have received from Him, and we pray that He includes us in His promises of reward for the righteous in the hereafter.
5. Yā Latīf – O Kind, Imperceptible, Knower of Subtleties! – يا لطيف
The root of latīf means small, thin, or fine. It also means elegant or graceful. The word latīf means gentle, gracious, or courteous. It means subtle. It also means knowing the subtleties or obscurities of things. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: لطف Entry: لطف، لَطِيفٌ)
Al-Latīf means 1. He who is so subtle that He cannot be perceived, 2. He who knows all subtleties and the smallest of things, 3. and He who is kind and gentle to His servants. (Tafiīr-e-Kabir, Vol. 3, p. 363 ; Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 7, p. 15; Friday Sermon, 17 Apr 2009 ; Al-Mufradat, al-Raghib, Root: لطف)
Al-Ra’ūf (The Compassionate) and Al-Latīf (The Kind) are synonymous in their meaning of “kindness.” (Lisan al-‘Arab, Ibn Manzūr, Root: رأف, See “الرؤوف وهو الرحيمُ لعباده العَطُوفُ عليهم بأَلطافه”)
Whenever Al-Latīf (The Kind, Knower of Subtleties) is paired with a name in the Holy Quran, it is always paired with Al-Khabīr (The All-Aware). (Holy Quran, 6:104, 22:64, 31:17, 33:35, 67:15 ; Faza’il-ul-Qur’an 2, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 11, p. 140) The names Al-Latīf and Al-Khabīr describe both knowledge and action. Al-Khabīr describes how Allah Almighty knows every hidden thing and emphasises how He will hold us to account for our hidden sins. Al-Latīf (The Kind, Knower of Subtleties) also describes how Allah Almighty knows every hidden thing, but it emphasises how He cares for our hidden needs with His gentle kindness.
This name is also mentioned under Al-Rafīq (The Companion) and Al-Hādī (The Guide).
Use in Prayer
The name Al-Latīf (The Kind, Knower of Subtleties) reminds us that Allah Almighty knows all our hidden desires that no one else knows. When we say Yā Latīf (O Kind, Knower of Subtleties!), we pray that Allah Almighty fulfils those desires with His loving kindness.
6. Yā Rafīq – O Companion – يا رفيق
The root of rafīq means gentle, tender, gracious, courteous, or civil. It also refers to a companion on a journey. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: رفق Entry: رفق، رَفِيقٌ) Al-Rafīq means The Companion or The Gentle.
Al-Latīf (The Kind) and Al-Rafīq (The Companion) are synonymous in their meanings of “kindness” and “gentleness.” (Lisan al-‘Arab, Ibn Manzūr, Root: لطف)
This name is also mentioned under Al-Waliyy (The Friend).
Use in Prayer
The last words of the Holy Prophetsa were, اللَّهُمَّ الرَّفِيقَ الأَعْلَي “O Allah! The Highest Companion.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-Maghazi, Bab akhiri ma takallama n-nabiyyusa; Malfuzat [English], Vol. 2, p. 21 “The True Companion on High (Rafiq-e-A‘la) is God.”) The name Al-Rafīq (The Companion) brings to mind that companionship for which the Holy Prophetsa left the whole world behind. When we say Yā Rafīq (O Companion), we pray that Allah Almighty also gives us His eternal companionship, such companionship as would make us want to leave this world behind.
7. Yā Waliyy – O Friend! – يا وليّ
The root of waliyy means two or more things coming in uninterrupted succession. Based on this, it refers to nearness, whether physical nearness, nearness in lineage, nearness in religion and doctrine, or nearness in friendship and support. (Al-Mufradat, al-Raghib, Root: ولي) The word waliyy means a friend, helper, protector, one who loves, or guardian of one’s affairs. (Dictionary of the Holy Quran, Malik Ghulam Farid, p. 837 ; Al-Qāmūs al-Muhīt, Fīrūzābādī, الوَلْيُ, See “والوَلِيُّ: الاسمُ منه، والمُحِبُّ، والصَّدِيقُ، والنَّصيرُ” ; Friday Sermon, 23 Oct 2009.) Al-Waliyy (The Friend) means The Close and Loving Friend Who is The Helper and Guardian of His friends.
Al-Rafīq (The Companion) and Al-Waliyy (The Friend) are synonymous in their meaning of “friend” (sadīq). The difference is that Al-Rafīq means a companion with an emphasis on accompanying us on our journey. Al-Waliyy means a close friend with an emphasis on supporting us.
This name is also mentioned under Al-Wadūd (The Loving) and Al-Wālī (الوالي) (The Ruler).
Use in Prayer
The name Al-Waliyy (The Friend) brings to mind the loving friendship Allah Almighty has with His chosen servants, and it makes us realise that a close friendship with Him is also possible for us. When we say Yā Waliyy (O Friend!), we ask that we become His friend.
The Promised Messiahas once suffered from an illness that caused him great pain. He received the following prayer as a revelation, by observing which he was relieved of his ailment:
“In the name of Allah, the Sufficient (Al-Kāfī), in the name of Allah, the Healer (Al-Shāfī), in the name of Allah, the Most Forgiving (Al-Ghafūr), the Ever Merciful (Al-Rahīm), in the name of Allah, the Benevolent (Al-Barr), the Noble (Al-Karīm). O Protector (Yā Hafīz), O Mighty (Yā ‘Azīz), O Companion (Yā Rafīq). O Guardian (Yā Waliyy), bestow healing on me.” (Tadhkirah [English], p. 717)
8. Yā Wadūd – O Loving! – يا ودود
The root of wadūd means love, and the word wadūd can refer to one who loves or one who is loved. Al-Wadūd means The Loving, or He who is beloved. (Lane’s Lexicon, Root: ود, Entry: ودّ، وِدٌّ، وَدُودٌ)
This root also refers to a stake, and since it is driven firmly into something, the meaning of love may have been derived from it. (Al-Mufradat, al-Raghib, Root: ودد) Thus, the root of wadūd refers to a love that is driven firmly into one’s heart.
Al-Waliyy (The Friend) and Al-Wadūd (The Loving) are synonymous in their meaning of “one who loves” (muhibb). What makes Al-Waliyy different is its additional meanings, whereas Al-Wadūd focusses on love.
Use in Prayer
The word wadūd refers to a love that results in spiritual nurturing. The Holy Prophetsa said, “Marry women who are loving (Wadūd) and prolific, for I will boast of your great numbers.” (Sunan Nasa‘i, Kitab an-nikah, Bab karahiyati tazwiji l-‘aqim; Sunan Abi Dawid, Kitab an-nikah, Bab an-nahyi ‘an tazwiji mun lum yalid mina n-nisa’) Great numbers alone are no source of pride. The Holy Prophetsa can only be proud of his people if they are righteous, which is only possible if they are raised by mothers who spiritually nurture their children with constant love (wadūd). This hadith shows us that the word wadūd is deeply tied to spiritual nurturing. (Ta‘alluq Billah, Anwar-ul-Ulum, Vol. 23, p. 152-3)
The name Al-Wadūd (The Loving) refers not only to the One who has an intense love for us but the One who is also the beloved of His servants. When we say Yā Wadūd (O Loving!), we pray that Allah Almighty lovingly nurtures us and develops in us an unbreakable bond of love for Him.
9. Yā Hādī – O Guide! – يا هادى
The root of hādī means to guide someone to follow a right direction. Al-Hādī means He who shows His servants the ways of knowing Him. (Lisan al-‘Arab, Ibn Manzūr, Root: هدى ; Lane’s Lexicon, Root: هدى Entry: هدى)
Al-Hādī (The Guide) does not just mean to guide someone but to guide with the gentleness and graciousness described in Al-Latīf (The Kind). (Al-Mufradāt, al-Raghib, Root: هدى, See “الهداية دلالة بلطف”)
This name is also mentioned under Al-Rashīd (The Guide to the Right Way) and Al-Nūr (The Light).
Use in Prayer
Guidance (hudā) has three meanings. It means being shown the right path, being taken to the right path, and being led on the right path. (Tafsir-e-Kabir, Vol. 1, pp. 32, 34) When we say Yā Hādī (O Guide!), we pray that Allah Almighty shows us all the ways of attaining His nearness that we do not know. We also say Yā Hādī (O Guide!) and pray that after being shown the right path, we are taken to it and act on it. We also say Yā Hādī (O Guide!) and pray that Allah Almighty keeps us on the right path and leads us to our destination.
(To be continued)