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One God Many Names | Al-Latīf (The Ever Subtle)

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Subtle danger lurks in every corner of life. The overwhelming majority of this danger goes unnoticed by us, and we often do not use the necessary measures to shield ourselves from them. The same can be said about the countless doubts that have permanently hijacked the faith of many, or pulling temptation that has set some back in their Islamic practice many years, or physical dangers that are moments away from turning health, wealth, family, or entire lives upside down, or an envious eye that would have hacked away at happiness forever.

The conscious believer, different to all others, does not await any of the above to befall him in order to remember Allāh. The trained eye, wakeful heart, and primed īmān of the believer causes him to see the signs of Al-Latīf (the Subtle) in every event that unfolds, as well as those events that never did but simply could have.

1 – The linguistic meaning of Allāh’s name Al-Latīf

The Arabs say:




لطف فلان لفلان يلطُف: إذا رفق لطفًا

“So-and-so latufa to so and so, meaning, ‘so-and-so was gentle.’”[1]

اللطيف من الكلام: ما غمض معناه وخفي

“Words that are described as latīf refer to those with unclear and secretive meanings.”[2]

Hence, the concept of lutf essentially revolves around two key meanings:

  • 1) The subtlest forms of kindness that are usually not known to the recipient
  • 2) Something that is too subtle to be seen or felt due to its secrecy or ambiguity.

Who, then, is Allāh Al-Latīf?

Imam Ibn al-Qayyim said:

واسمه اللطيف يتضمن: علمه بالأشياء الدقيقة، وإيصاله الرحمة بالطرق الخفية

“His name Al-Latīf, which entails His knowledge of the minutest of matters, and the conveyance of His mercy in the most discreet of ways.”[3]

Shaykh al-Sa’di said:

اللطيف: الذي أحاط علمه بالسرائر والخفايا، وأدرك الخبايا والبواطن والأمور الدقيقة. اللطيف بعباده المؤمنين، الموصل إليهم مصالحهم بلطفه وإحسانه من طرق لا يشعرون بها

“Al-Latīf is He Whose knowledge has encompassed the secrets of every hidden matter, knowing their innermost details. He is also Latīf towards His believing servants, entailing the conveyance of their needs through His Subtleness and Kindness through ways they do not even feel.”[4]

Al-Latīf, therefore, is He Whose knowledge of the subtlest of matters is absolute and, at the same time, Whose subtle kindness to His allies and finely suited gifts is sublime.

2 – The effects of believing in His name Al-Latīf

To call upon Him using His name Al-Latīf

When the believer raises his hands in du’ā, saying, “O Latīf, convey your lutf (subtlety) upon me”, he is saying, “Take me, O Allāh, as an ally of Yours, and rectify my affairs – the public and private, the internal and external, and the worldly and religious – in those subtle ways that none but a Lord of your majesty can achieve.”

The answer to such a du’ā will not always take the expected forms, and thus is the nature of subtlety. Consider Prophet Yūsuf’s consecutive ordeals: his strange dream, the plotting of his envious brothers, his ordeal at the bottom of a well, his transfer to Egypt as a slave, the cunning plots he faced from women, defamation, and a life in prison.

The tide, however, would begin to turn: his release from prison, vindication, rise to power, and reunion with his parents and humbled penitence of his siblings. At that moment, Prophet Yūsuf announced to the world that his ordeals – which had paved the way for this perfect ending of happiness – was the planning of Al-Latīf. Prophet Yūsuf said:

إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٌ لِمَا يَشَاءُ

“Indeed my Lord is Latīf (subtle) in fulfilling what He wills…”[5]

Your duty is to place your burdens at the doorstep of Allāh by packaging your heartfelt du’ā with “O Latīf!” As for the releasing of these burdens, the diffusing of their anxiety, and the restoration of bliss in the most miraculous of subtle ways, that is on someone else. Praise be to the One who introduced us to His majestic name Al-Latīf, and congratulations to those who are inspired to use it in du’ā.

Consciousness of the perfect awareness of Al-Latīf

In one of the most beautiful conversations ever recorded between a father and his son, Prophet Luqmān said to his son:

يَا بُنَيَّ إِنَّها إِنْ تَكُ مِثْقالَ حَبَّةٍ مِنْ خَرْدَلٍ فَتَكُنْ فِي صَخْرَةٍ أَوْ فِي السَّماواتِ أَوْ فِي الْأَرْضِ يَأْتِ بِهَا اللَّهُ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَطِيفٌ خَبِيرٌ

“My dear son, even if a deed were the weight of a mustard seed—be it hidden in a rock or in the Heavens or the Earth—Allāh will bring it forth. Surely, Allāh is Most Subtle (Latīf), All-Aware.”[6]

  • – What is a mustard seed in the palm of an adult?
  • – What is the palm of an adult in comparison to the room the adult stands in?
  • – What is that room in comparison to the house?
  • – What is the house in comparison to its city?
  • – What is the city in comparison to its country?
  • – What is that country in comparison to the planet?
  • – What is planet Earth in comparison to the endlessness of the galaxy?

This mustard seed of a good deed or sin can (and certainly will) be brought forth by Al-Latīf on the Day of Reckoning. This realisation gives birth to an indispensable trait in the life of a believer: perpetual vigilance towards the ever-watching Eye of Allāh, along with the most intense shyness from Him to be seen beyond a limit of His.

The smallest, quietest, and most short-lived of your good deeds or sins today will be exhibited before you on the Day of Reckoning in the starkest of detail. Many will express utter shock at the preciseness of their account as their gaze falls upon deeds they had completely forgotten about. All shock, however, will be rejected, for they were told well in advance of their reckonings that their Lord was Al-Latīf.

Intense love of Al-Latīf

Coming to grips with this Majestic name sets one upon new ways of thinking involving an overhaul in one’s worldview, one where all good that is sent one’s way or harm that is diverted is seen through the lens of this name. Indeed, the name Al-Latīf has always been connected to every cell in your body, mixed with your every drop of blood, and interwoven into every event in life that has somehow involved you. The believer finds himself compelled to raise his eyes to the Heavens in awe, wondering just how subtle Allāh had been towards him all along, but then remembers what he should never have forgotten to begin with:

اللَّهُ لَطِيفٌ بِعِبَادِهِ

“Allāh is most subtle towards His servants.”[7]

Consider the following. When Al-Latīf intended to release Prophet Yūsuf from prison, He did not cause a seismic earthquake, nor did He send a thunderbolt that shattered the walls of the prison. Instead, His planning was far more subtle: a discreet dream that crept through the darkness of night, silently entering the bedroom of the king; a dream that would become the cause of Prophet Yūsuf’s release. This is the work of Al-Latīf.

When Al-Latīf intended to return Prophet Mūsa to the arms of his mother, He did not deck the dams of the Nile and drown the Pharaoh and his people, nor did He decree a bloody coup that would save Prophet Mūsa from the oppressors. Instead, His plan was far more subtle: baby Mūsa was inspired to reject the milk of every woman who attempted to breastfeed him, causing the guards of the Pharaoh – the very same men whose hands were stained with other children’s blood – to return Prophet Mūsa back to the arms of his mother.

Similarly, when Al-Latīf intended to put an end to the siege that the Prophet Muhammad (sall Allāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his tribe had endured at the hands of the pagans, He did not send a violent storm, nor did He cause the nearby mountains of Mecca to collapse on the perpetrators. Instead, Al-Latīf’s plan was infinitely more subtle: tiny mites were sent to the written agreement to eat it to shreds, subsequently ending the boycott.

Consider when, during your deepest sleeps, a gentle breeze is sent your way that causes your window to make a sound that wakes you up, or your toddler cries at the perfect time, or you get an intense urge to drink water in the nick of time for the prayer you would have otherwise missed. You wake up, look at the clock, and moments later you are bowing and prostrating, having successfully prayed on time. Who was the One who woke you up in this subtle way? He was Al-Latīf.

Consider that time when you parked your car momentarily to take something out from the glove compartment, when a terrifying accident unfolds inches away from your bonnet at the very site where your car would have been had you not parked up. Who was the One who subtly instilled within you that urgent need to reach out to the glove compartment at that particular moment in time? He was Al-Latīf.

Consider the sheer number of times you were on the verge of sinning before you were interrupted by a passer-by, or by a reminder that appeared on your phone, or a pain that momentarily cripples you. Who was the One who subtly disturbed your self-destructive plans for that evening? He was Al-Latīf.

Consider the countless times you walked into your room at the very second where your child was on the verge of rolling off the bed. In each case, you ask, “But why now?” The answer to this is the same as the answers given above: your Lord is Al-Latīf.

Consider how Allāh has made doing good deeds inherently pleasing to the soul, having beautified them to the eye of the doer and observer in order to ease such acts. Similarly, consider how Allāh has made sins inherently dark, laden with guilt and regret in order to deter the perpetrator from continuing them. How Latīf has Allāh been to man?

Consider that time in your life when you felt gripped by heart-wrenching anxiety, a family breakdown situation that snatched all sleep from your eyes, or simply a depressive state of plummeting īmān. Then the perfect lecture and article, or the timeliest of uplifting phone calls, came to you. So perfect was the timing and so dire was the need that you start doubting that someone must have disclosed your situation. You then realise that such subtlety could only be the works of Al-Latīf.

Endless hours would be exhausted listing examples of Allāh’s subtle manifestations upon us, without us even scratching the surface. His subtlety appears in every gust of wind that blows, every morsel of food that is swallowed, every batting of the eyelid, every breath of air inhaled, every subtle alternation of the seasons, every subtle merging of day into the night and night into the day, every subtle growth of a child’s mind in perfect milestones relative to the child’s body, every subtle moment of perfect timing that is wrongly labelled a coincidence, every subtle bodily reflex, and in the countless circumstances that have been perfectly designed for our welfare every second of the day – all of this is another cause of love for Al-Latīf.

Let every event in your life trigger a new episode of such love, refreshing it each time:

(i) Whenever you see clouds forming, rain falling, and crops subsequently growing, announce to those around you, “Observe the effects of Al-Latīf upon us! Should He not be loved?”

Allāh said:

أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ أَنْزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَتُصْبِحُ الْأَرْضُ مُخْضَرَّةً إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَطِيفٌ خَبِيرٌ

“Do you not see that Allāh has sent down rain from the sky, and the Earth becomes green? Indeed, Allāh is Latīf (Subtle) and Acquainted.”[8]

(ii) Whenever you find provisions coming your way – your monthly salary, an unexpected meal for that evening, or any goodness that crosses paths with you – allow your heart to ask, “Not once did He ever fall short towards me. Should Al-Latīf not be loved?”

Allāh said:

اللَّهُ لَطِيفٌ بِعِبَادِهِ يَرْزُقُ مَنْ يَشَاءُ

Allāh is Subtle with His servants. He provides for whom He wills.”[9]

(iii) Whenever you find yourself harbouring ill thoughts towards Allāh for decreeing a matter in your life that discomforts you, comfort your soul with, “So subtle is His kindness towards me that I am unable to perceive it at present, but soon enough, I will.”

Allāh said:

أَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ اللَّطِيفُ الْخَبِيرُ

“How could He not know His Own creation? He is the Most Subtle, All-Aware.”[10]

For those who enjoy a life of companionship with this name, every event of life provides an opportunity to remember Al-Latīf and is, better still, an intensification of love towards Him.

Peace with the decrees of Allāh

Up until this point, the explanation of this divine name has revolved around one key meaning: Al-Latīf is He who sends His allies whatever is best for them, through the subtlest and least expected avenues. In most cases, this is done without the person even noticing the goodness that has just descended upon them.

He who cements this belief will (and must) experience immense inner peace towards all of the decrees of Allāh, knowing that the nature of a subtle Lord is far different to that of hasty and short-sighted men. The person knows that a subtle Lord may cure him through an avenue of illness, enrich him through an avenue of poverty, and provide him relief through avenues of pain. When these meanings truly settle in one’s heart, the sweetest of spiritual fruits grows: peace with the decrees of Allāh, for Allāh is subtle and man is rash, and Allāh knows and man does not.

To demonstrate this, let us return to the case study of Prophet Yūsuf. Imagine if the average person had access to edit the script of the story of Prophet Yūsuf before it happened. Most would have sought to change the following:

  • – His brothers were jealous of him – surely that would be edited.
  • – His brothers conspired to kill him and throw him in a well, separating him and his family – surely a Prophet in the making does not need to experience this.
  • – He was sold as a slave and became the subject of arduous labour and seduction – traumatic experiences that surely should be edited.
  • – He was imprisoned for several years – surely a waste of time in the life of a Prophet who has a divine message to convey.
  • – His friend who was released from prison forgot the request of Prophet Yūsuf to mention him to the authorities for his release, causing him to remain a few more years in prison – surely this is unnecessary time wasted in the life of a Prophet.

Had these edits been made, would Prophet Yūsuf have ended up where he did?

If the brothers of Prophet Yūsuf did not become jealous of him, they may have not conspired to kill him. Had they not conspired to kill him, they may have not thrown him in the well. Had they not thrown him in the well, he may not have been picked up by the caravan. Had that not happened, he may not have been sold as a slave. Had that not happened, he may not have found his way to Egypt. Had that not happened, he may not have been seduced by the wife of the ruler. Had that not happened, he may not have been thrown into a prison cell. Had that not happened and had his friend not forgotten to put in a good word for him, Prophet Yūsuf’s knowledge of dream interpretation may not have been discovered. Had that not happened, he may not have met the ruler. Had that not happened, he may not have become the treasurer of Egypt. Had that not happened, he may not have been able to rescue Egypt from the famine. He would not have been reunited with his mother, father, and brothers, nor would he have been able to give them refuge at their hour of need.

Indeed, in our eyes, what Prophet Yūsuf experienced in his formative years was the worst of what could happen to a human being, let alone a Prophet. In the Eyes of Allāh, however, the matter was completely different: Prophet Yūsuf’s position of authority was being established. Immediately after Allāh tells us that the Prophet Yūsuf was sold as a slave for a cheap price, He says:

وَكَذَلِكَ مَكَّنَّا لِيُوسُفَ فِي الْأَرْضِ

“And thus we established Yūsuf in the land.”[11]

For this reason, Prophet Yūsuf gave a very telling commentary on his experiences towards the end of the story:

وَرَفَعَ أَبَوَيْهِ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ وَخَرُّوا لَهُ سُجَّدًا وَقَالَ يَا أَبَتِ هَذَا تَأْوِيلُ رُؤْيَايَ مِنْ قَبْلُ قَدْ جَعَلَهَا رَبِّي حَقًّا وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاءَ بِكُمْ مِنَ الْبَدْوِ مِنْ بَعْدِ أَنْ نَزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٌ لِمَا يَشَاءُ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ

“He raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration, and he said, ‘My father, this is the explanation of my previous vision. My Lord has made it reality, and He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from Bedouin life after Satan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Latīf (Subtle) to whom He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise.”[12]

All praise be to Allāh for not affording anyone the opportunity to edit the script of the story of Prophet Yūsuf, for a story that is decreed by Al-Latīf will always be fuller, more magnificent in its details, and better in its outcomes.

Your small boat may be able to take you to the edge of an ocean, but it cannot make you sail through it. Similarly, your mind may guide you to the Oneness of Allāh, but never will it be able to fully encompass His wisdom and endless subtleties upon you.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Notes:

[1] Lisān Al-‘Arab

[2] Tahdhīb Al-Lugha

[3] Shifā’ Al-‘Alīl

[4] Tafsīr Al-Sa’di

[5] Al-Qur’ān, 12:100

[6] Al-Qur’ān, 31:16

[7] Al-Qur’ān, 42:19

[8] Al-Qur’ān, 22:63

[9] Al-Qur’ān, 42:19

[10] Al-Qur’ān, 67:14

[11] Al-Qur’ān, 12:21

[12] Al-Qur’ān, 12:100

About Shaikh Ali Hammuda

Shaikh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is a UK national of Palestinian origin. He gained bachelors and masters’ degrees in Architecture & Planning from the University of the West of England, before achieving a BA in Shari'ah from al-Azhar University in Egypt. He is currently based in Wales and is a visiting Imām at Al-Manar Centre in Cardiff, and also a senior researcher and lecturer for the Muslim Research & Development Foundation in London. Ustādh Ali is the author of several books including 'The Daily Revivals' and 'The Ten Lanterns", and continues to deliver sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.

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