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Some of the characteristics of the name “Allāh”
This name is without a doubt the greatest name to have ever resonated within the ear of man, possessing qualities of utmost exclusivity. Below are but a few:
(1) This name is so unique and powerful that no tyrant, even those who claimed godhood, ever dared naming themselves with it. This is one of two understandings of the āyah where Allāh said:
هَلْ تَعْلَمُ لَهُ سَمِيًّا
“Do you know of any similarity to Him?”
In other words: do you know anyone who took this name other than Allāh?
(2) It is the most commonly repeated name of Allāh in the entire Qur’ān, appearing over 2,700 times.
(3) It is a name that captures every trait of Allāh’s names, and thus all of Allāh’s names are attributed to it and not the other way round. In other words, one says “Al-Rahmān is a name of Allāh”, “Al-Hakīm is a name of Allāh”, whereas one does not say “Allāh is a name of Al-Hakīm” or “Allāh is a name of Al-Rahmān.”
هُوَ اللَّهُ الَّذِي لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الْمَلِكُ الْقُدُّوسُ السَّلَامُ الْمُؤْمِنُ الْمُهَيْمِنُ الْعَزِيزُ الْجَبَّارُ الْمُتَكَبِّرُ
“He is Allāh, besides whom none has the right to be worshipped, the King, the Pure, the Perfection, the giver of security, the Overseer, the Dignified, the Compeller, the Supreme.”
In this āyah, eight names of Allāh were mentioned as an explanation of who Allāh is, thus all His names point back towards this majestic name and serve as descriptions of it. Hence, it can be said that the name “Allāh” encompasses all the other majestic names and attributes of Allāh.
(4) With respect to people naming themselves with some of Allāh’s names, this is possible with names of Allāh such as Al-Qādir (The Able), Al-‘Alīm (The Knowing), Al-Rahīm (The Merciful), Al-Azīz (The Mighty). It is mentioned in Sūrah Yūsuf:
وَقَالَ نِسْوَةٌ فِي الْمَدِينَةِ امْرَأَتُ الْعَزِيزِ تُرَاوِدُ فَتَاهَا عَنْ نَفْسِهِ
“And women in the city said, “The wife of Al-‘Azīz is seeking to seduce her slave boy”
There are, however, other names that cannot be the name or description of anyone but Allāh, one of which is the name “Allāh”.
(5) The statement of Tawhīd – Lā ilāha illal Allāh – is linked to the name of Allāh, for one does not usually say Lā ilāha illal Karīm, or Lā ilāha illal ‘Adhīm. Rather, we use Allāh’s name; none has the right to be worshipped but Allāh.
(6) The name “Allāh” is so profound that towards the end of time, when the very last soul of the believers would have been taken away, leaving only the worst of creation on earth, the name “Allāh” will also be lifted. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
لا تَقُومُ الساعةُ عَلى أَحد يَقُولُ اللهُ الله
“The hour will not come to pass upon anyone who says ‘Allāh, Allāh’.”
(8) This name is so majestic that the majority of the scholars were of the view that it is in fact Ism Allāh al-A’dham/The greatest name of Allāh, which, if He is called upon by it, He will most surely answer.
The linguistic origins of this name
The scholars have differed as per the origins of the Majestic name Allāh.
(1) Some say that it is derived from the word “Alaha”, meaning ‘Abada/ worshipped, making Allāh “Al-Ma’lūh”/ the One who is worshipped.
(2) Some say that it is derived from the root “Aliha”, meaning “Tahayyar”, in reference to one being bedazzled or losing his mind as a result of extreme happiness or grief. Such a man person would be described as “Wālih” and a woman as “Wāliha”.
It can also be in description of a well. The Arabs say ‘Aynun MuwAllāha – a well that does not have water within it, almost as if it is miserable that it has lost its water. Another usage is the term Tawlīh which is in reference to the separation between a mother and her child, as is found in the Hadīth:
لا تُوَلّه والدة عن ولدها
“A mother isn’t to be grieved (“Tuwllah”) by separating her from her child.”
(3) Some hold that it is derived from the root “Aliha”, as mentioned earlier, but with the meaning of “to seek refuge”. Thus the Arabs would say “Aliha ilaihi” in reference to a person who escapes and seeks protection in someone. Thus, when you say “Lā ilāha ilalLāh”, it means “You have no escape but to Allāh”
(4) Others opine that its roots are from the word “Al-Ilāh” , meaning “Alladhi Ta’lahuh al-Qulūb”, or “He whom the hearts adore”. From the 2,700+ times that the name “Allāh” appears in the Qur’ān, approximately 80 of its appearances came in the form of Al-Ilāh.
Undoubtedly, all of these meanings apply. Allāh is the One who is worshipped; He is the escape of creation and refuge during hardship; the One who bedazzles those who think of Him or live their lives without Him; and undoubtedly the One whom hearts adore. Some of these meanings will be elaborated upon thereafter.
What does “Allāhumma” mean?
The term “Allāhumma” is used in the context of du’ā, literally meaning “O Allāh”, and is thus a term exclusively used when making requests. As for the letter “mīm” found at the end of “Allāh” in “Allāhumma”, it has been positioned there to compensate for the particle of calling (“yā”) that is usually used before a name (“Yā Allāh”/“O Allāh”). For this reason, it is incorrect to say “Yā Allāhumma”, as the particle of calling has already been compensated for in the letter “mīm”.
Since it has been established that the name Allāh encompasses all of His names and attributes, when a person says “Allāhumma” (“O Allāh”) it is to say “O Allāh, possessor of all the beautiful names and majestic attributes”, thus one is asking Him through every one of His names.
For this reason, Al-Hasan said: “The term ‘Allāhumma’ is the collection of all du’ā.”
And Al-Nadr b. Shumail said: “Whoever says ‘Allāhumma’ has in fact called upon Allāh by every one of His names.”
The difference between the names “Allāh” and “Al-Ilāh (The God/The worshipped)”
The difference between the two is that the word “Allāh” is the name of He who is rightfully worshipped, whilst “Al-Ilāh” is in reference to that which is rightfully or wrongfully worshipped, thus it can be in reference to Allāh or other than Allāh, contrary to the name “Allāh”.
That is why the statement of Tawhīd is “Lā ilāha illal Allāh” – it negates the right of worship from every one of these alleged “āliha” and singles out just one of them for worship, and that Ilāh is Allāh.
The effects of the name “Allāh”
1. A new approach towards the term ‘Ibāda (worship) and The Ma’būd (The worshipped)
Regarding some of the opinions of what origins of the name “Allāh”, we mentioned that it is derived from the word “Alaha”, meaning ‘Abada, or to worship, making Allāh “Al-Ma’lūh”/the One who is worshipped. Indeed, everything in the heavens and the earth – whether we realise it or not – prostrate to Allāh and worship Him.
أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ يَسْجُدُ لَهُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَمَنْ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَالشَّمْسُ وَالْقَمَرُ وَالنُّجُومُ وَالْجِبَالُ وَالشَّجَرُ وَالدَّوَابُّ وَكَثِيرٌ مِنَ النَّاسِ
“Do you not see that to Allāh prostrates whoever is in the heavens and whoever is on the earth, and so does the sun, the moon, the stars, the mountains, the trees, the moving creatures and many of the people?”
Despite man being one of the weakest of creation, he is amongst the minority who refuse to prostrate to Allāh. Allāh says about them:
وَلِلَّهِ يَسْجُدُ مَنْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ طَوْعًا وَكَرْهًا وَظِلَالُهُمْ بِالْغُدُوِّ وَالْآصَالِ
“And to Allāh prostrates whoever is within the heavens and the earth, willingly or by compulsion, and so do their shadows in the mornings and the afternoons.”
Whether man realises it or not, and whether he chooses to prostrate to Allāh or not, his very shadow has not consulted him and falls into prostration to its Lord. Indeed, Allāh is the worshipped One on earth but also within the heavens. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said:
إِنِّي أَرَى مَا لا تَرَوْنَ وَأَسْمَعُ مَا لا تَسْمَعُونَ أَطَّتْ السَّمَاءُ وَحُقَّ لَهَا أَنْ تَئِطَّ مَا فِيهَا مَوْضِعُ أَرْبَعِ أَصَابِعَ إِلاّ وَمَلَكٌ وَاضِعٌ جَبْهَتَهُ سَاجِدًا لِلَّهِ
“I see what you do not see and hear what you do not hear. The sky is creaking and it has every right to creak! For there is not even the space of four fingers except that there is an angel there who has lowered his head in prostration to Allāh.”
The term “worship”, however, does not do justice to the reality of its Arabic translation, ‘Ibāda, nor does it capture its essence. The root meaning of the term ‘ibāda/worship is Dhull/humility. If the Arabs describe a path as being Mu’abbad, it is “a humble path that has been trodden upon”.
Our ‘Ibāda of Allāh includes this meaning of humility, but also includes the meaning of love. Hence a relationship of ‘Ibāda cannot be given such a title until it meets two conditions: utmost humility, and utmost love. Loving a person without humbling oneself to him is not ‘Ibāda, and similarly, humbling one’s self to someone without loving him is not worship.
The element of love is inseparable to the understanding of worship, as the very peak of love is called ‘ibāda. In fact, Imām Ibn Taymiyya listed the levels of love from the weakest form to the most intense.
The first is Al-’Alāqah (connection) due to the heart’s connection to the beloved.
It then develops into Al-Sabābah (desire), as the heart starts to crave the beloved. Then it develops into Al-Gharām (passion), which is the love inseparable from the heart. Then, it develops into Al-’Ishq (engulfing love). It’s final level Al-Tatayyam (infatuation, captivation, or enslavement). So a person who is “Mutayyam” to another is the worshipper of another.
‘Ibāda, therefore, is the peak of love, and is the essence of our relationship with Allāh. A true appreciation of this will lead to one no longer seeing anything of true value except His Ma’būd, or One whom He worships. His hope, fear, and reliance is upon Allāh; he begs only Allāh; his happiness is in his closeness to Allāh; his illness is being distant from Allāh, and his ambitions are in none but Allāh.
Appreciating the name “Allāh” is to realise that all one could possible aspire for is, in reality, in His Hands to be reaped through His worship. This worship, then, causes worldly attachments to gradually diminish until his heart fails to find space for other than its Lord. In the face of every calamity and challenging circumstance, such a worshipper finds himself saying the words of Prophet Ibrāhīm (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):
إِنِّي ذَاهِبٌ إِلَى رَبِّي سَيَهْدِينِ
“I will go to my Lord, He will guide me.”
2. Decisions in life will be centred around Allāh
One who accepts Allāh as his Lord will never again allow a human being, no matter how pressurising the circumstances are, to play a factor in whether he shall obey or disobey Allāh.
When Yaziīd, son of Mu’āwiya, sent a message to the governor of Iraq, Umar b. Hubaira, instructing him to carry out an act displeasing to Allāh, the governor consulted Al-Hasan Al-Basri who said to him: “Allāh can protect you from Yazīd but Yazīd cannot protect you from Allāh.”
Whenever feeling compelled to dodge an Islamic instruction or bend a prohibition backward due to family, work, or society related pressure, such a person is quick to recall the meanings found within the name “Allāh”. They remember how the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) was addressed during such testing and compromising times:
يَا أَيُّهَا النَّبِيُّ اتَّقِ اللَّهَ وَلَا تُطِعِ الْكَافِرِينَ وَالْمُنَافِقِينَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا (1) وَاتَّبِعْ مَا يُوحَى إِلَيْكَ مِنْ رَبِّكَ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ خَبِيرًا (2) وَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ وَكَفَى بِاللَّهِ وَكِيلًا
“O Prophet, fear Allāh and do not obey the disbelievers and the hypocrites. Indeed, Allāh is ever Knowing and Wise. And follow that which is revealed to you from your Lord. Indeed Allāh is ever, with what you do, Acquainted. And rely on Allāh; and Allāh is sufficient as a Protector.”
3. The gathering of one’s mind on Allāh
One of the immediate effects of comprehending this majestic Name – Allāh – is the liberation from the shackles of strain and humiliation that comes with being a slave of many disagreeing masters, having honoured himself by being a worshipper of just One Lord – Allāh.
Speaking about this, Allāh said:
ضَرَبَ اللَّهُ مَثَلًا رَجُلًا فِيهِ شُرَكَاءُ مُتَشَاكِسُونَ وَرَجُلًا سَلَمًا لِرَجُلٍ هَلْ يَسْتَوِيَانِ مَثَلًا الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ بَلْ أَكْثَرُهُمْ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
“Allāh presents an example of a man owned by quarrelling partners and another belonging exclusively to one man – are they equal in comparison? Praise be to Allāh! But most of them do not know.”
One is to imagine the analogy of a worker within a palace, serving many different people who, not only have their own interests, but are at odds with one another. He is called by one of them to fulfil a duty but no sooner does he make his way to fulfil it that another calls him for a second, conflicting task. Despite the strain, he endeavours to accomplish it, but soon after he is summoned by a third who requests something that clashes with the previous two. Can such a person ever experience happiness, dignity, and a gathered mind? Never.
This analogy is to be contrasted with a second: a worker works within one palace and at the service of only one person who is kind, loving, sympathetic, and generous. Fulfilling his tasks are not only easy, but also joyful as the tasks are doable, his goal is clear, the rewards are great, and ultimately his matters are gathered upon one. To Allāh belongs the best of all examples.
The first analogy is in reference to he who worships many different gods, each god having its own interests and requirements. Such ‘gods’ could include – for example – one’s business, status, urges and addictions, or friends even, each of which has a demand that contradicts the other. The second analogy is in reference to the Muslim whose obedience, worship, and submission is to One Master – Allāh – whereby everything else in life is secondary, fitting them around his duties to Allāh and assessing their invite based upon Allāh.
It is for this reason that when Hussain was asked by the Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam):
يَا حُصَيْنُ كَمْ تَعْبُدُ اليَوْمَ إِلَهًا؟
“O Husain, how many gods do you worship these days?”
سَبْعَةً سِتَّةً فِي الأَرْضِ وَوَاحِدًا فِي السَّمَاءِ
“Seven, six of which are on earth and one in the heavens.”
The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said to him:
فَأَيُّهُمْ تَعُدُّ لِرَغْبَتِكَ وَرَهْبَتِكَ؟
“Which of them do you give most attention to for your hope and fear?”
الَّذِي فِي السَّمَاءِ
“The one in the heavens”.
Husain would then embrace Islam.
4. Unending amazement and awe
An opinion was mentioned earlier that the name “Allāh” is derived from the root “Aliha”, meaning “Tahayyar”. This is in reference to one being bedazzled or losing his mind as a result of extreme happiness or grief. Indeed, bedazzlement, amazement, and sheer awe are perfectly natural experiences in the life of he whose realization of Allāh grows, for His greatness cannot be encompassed by minds and His true Majesty cannot be captured by words.
وَلَا يُحِيطُونَ بِهِ عِلْمًا
“And they will never compass anything of His Knowledge.”
لَا تُدْرِكُهُ الْأَبْصَارُ
“No vision can grasp Him…”
Ibn al-Athīr said,
“In other words, when a person becomes consumed by the glory, majesty and other attributes of Allāh’s Lordship, all of his concerns will then be directed to Him and will dislike the companionship of people, finding no inclination to anyone else.”
Furthermore, those who choose to lead their lives away from “Allāh” will find themselves bedazzled, lost, and swept off their feet in misery. It was previously mentioned that Tawlīh is in reference to the grief which strikes the heart of a mother when separated from her child. This is the outcome of not knowing Allāh; a sweeping sense of misery, as one’s need for Him is greater than the need for food, drink, and oxygen. Man cannot do without Him for a single second of the day, even if he arrogantly claims otherwise.
5. An immediate retreat to Him
An opinion was mentioned earlier that the name “Allāh” is derived from the root “Aliha” meaning “to seek refuge”, thus the Arabs would say “Aliha ilaihi” in reference to a person who escapes to and seeks protection (“Aliha”) in someone. Thus, when one says “Lā ilāha ilalLāh”, it means “There is no escape but to Allāh”, one of the most comforting realities of life.
Who forgives sins other than Allāh?
Who amends broken hearts other than Him?
Who holds the cure to ill souls but Him?
Who can guard the believer from the harassment of Shaytān other than Him?
Who compensates people for lost opportunities other than Him?
He is Allāh, the eternal escape for the believer and his greatest refuge.
Having recognised this meaning more than anyone else, the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would be heard saying on every evening before falling asleep:
اللَّهُمَّ أسْلَمْتُ نفسي إلَيْكَ، وَوَجَّهْتُ وَجْهِي إلَيْكَ، وَفَوَّضْتُ أَمْرِي إلَيْكَ، وَألْجَأتُ ظَهْرِي إلَيْك، رَغْبَةً وَرَهْبَةً إلَيْكَ، لاَ مَلْجَأ وَلاَ مَنْجا مِنْكَ إِلاَّ إلَيكَ، آمَنْتُ بكِتَابِكَ الَّذِي أنْزَلْتَ، وَنَبِيِّكَ الَّذِي أرْسَلْتَ
“O Allāh! I have submitted myself to You. I have turned my face to You, entrusted my affairs to You and relied completely on You. My desire and fear are for you. There is no escape and no refuge from You except in You. I believe in the Book which You have revealed, and in Your Prophet whom You have sent.”
Even those who argue that their independence from God and lack of need for Him, Allāh asks them:
قُلْ أَرَأَيْتَكُمْ إِنْ أَتَاكُمْ عَذَابُ اللَّهِ أَوْ أَتَتْكُمُ السَّاعَةُ أَغَيْرَ اللَّهِ تَدْعُونَ إِنْ كُنْتُمْ صَادِقِينَ (40) بَلْ إِيَّاهُ تَدْعُونَ فَيَكْشِفُ مَا تَدْعُونَ إِلَيْهِ إِنْ شَاءَ وَتَنْسَوْنَ مَا تُشْرِكُونَ
“Say, ‘Have you considered: if there came to you the punishment of Allāh or there came to you the Hour – is there other than Allāh whom you would call upon? Reply if you should be truthful! No, it is Him [alone] you would call upon, and He would remove the distress for which you called upon Him if He willed, and you would forget what you associate [with Him]. “
This is precisely why, at times, Allāh unleashes difficulties upon a person – to refresh his worn-out appreciation of this majestic Name. This is a moment where one realises that every other rope in life had been cut, and that the only remaining rope was that of Allāh’s. He grabs onto it, begs for aid and relief, implores for forgiveness for having turned to other than Him, and it is at this phenomenal moment where he finally experiences a brand new level of Īmān, warmth, and an unprecedented attachment to Allāh, all of which become dearer to him than the removal of the difficulty itself. This is what Allāh wanted the entire time – a renewed relationship with His servant – whilst the trial was simply a means for it.
6. An adoration of Allāh
An opinion was recalled earlier, namely that the name “Allāh” is derived from the word
“Al-Ilāh”, meaning “Alladhi Ta’lahuhul Qulūb” or “He whom the hearts adore”.
The closer one is to a person and the longer their companionship, the lower the levels of awe usually are. The exception to this rule is Allāh; the more He is realised, the more He is adored, and this is an infinite pattern.
Furthermore, people are loved for things that they do or qualities that they may acquire. As for Allāh, He is adored and worshipped for who He is. He is adored for His limitless mercy, His unbreakable might, His unrivalled ownership, His infinite richness, His never-ending kindness, and His all-encompassing knowledge. He is adored as creation cannot do without Him, and He is singled out in worship because life is death without it. He is adored and so His servants obey Him willingly and lovingly whilst resisting the prohibitions, again, both willingly and lovingly.
When Allāh is truly adored, several matters come into immediate effect:
– When in a state of worship, one’s entire focus is on His Magnificence. He stands before him, whether in units of prayer, a portion of Qur’ān that is recited, or any other matter.
– When alone, the opportunity is seized to call upon Him in ways which would have been more challenging in the public domain, craving those lone moments with Allāh.
– When using social media or making any public appearance of some sort, one will ensure that one never plays a role in snatching away adoration or obsession from Allāh for oneself. For example they will not purposely present themselves in a seductive way, as they would hate to be the reason why eyes and hearts would be taken away from Allāh and redirected to them instead. He who recognises Allāh and adores Him will find himself utilising every opportunity to cast attention away from himself and to direct it to where it belongs – Allāh. Such a person has experienced the joy of adoring Allāh, and thus wants others to do so as well.
– When disobedience takes places in front of him, his heart tears in pain and sheer confusion at how Allāh was not glorified and adored at that moment, just as the Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) once said to a man who had accidently spoken inappropriately about Allāh:
ويحك ، أتدري ما الله
“Woe to you! Do you know what Allāh is?!”
The result of knowing that Allāh is The Adored One is a realisation that one is by Allāh, for Allāh, and to Allāh. “By Allāh” because the origins of existence were through Him; “For Allāh”, because existence is for Him; and “to Allāh” as the final return will be to Him. The truest couplet of poetry that has ever been uttered by any mortal was, according to the Prophet Mohammad (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam), the words of Labīd, who said:
ألا كل شيء ما خلا الله باطل
“Indeed, everything other than Allāh is false.”
 As was mentioned by Al-Qurtubi
 Al-Qur’ān, 9:65
 Al-Qur’ān, 59:23
 Al-Qur’ān, 12:30
 See Ibn al-Qayyim’s “Badā’i al-Fawā’id”
 Sunan al-Bayhaqi
 Which was the opinion of many scholars, include the linguist Sībaawayh, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Jarīr al-Tabari
 Jalā’ul Afhām
 Al-Qur’ān, 22:18
 Al-Qur’ān, 13:5
 Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Abū Dharr
 As was mentioned by Ibn al-Qayyim
 Al-Qur’ān, 37:99
 Al-Qur’ān, 33:1-3
 Al-Qur’ān, 39:29
 Al-Tirmidhi, on the authority of Imran b. Husain
 Al-Qur’ān, 20:110
 Al-Qur’ān, 6:103
 Al-Nihāya fī Gharīb al-Hadīth
 Bukhāri, on the authority of Al-Barā
 Al-Qur’ān, 6:40-41
 Which was the opinion of many scholars, including the linguist Sībaawayh, Ibn al-Qayyim, Ibn Jarīr Al-Tabari
 Sunan Abī Dāwūd, on the authority of Jubair b. Mut’im
 Muslim, on the authority of Abū Huraira
Shaykh Ali Ihsan Hammuda is Islam21c’s Tarbiya Editor. 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. Shaykh Ali is the author of several books including ‘The Daily Revivals’, ‘The Ten Lanterns’ and ‘The Friday Reminder’. He delivers sermons, lectures and regular classes across the country.