Important Principles concerning Allaah’s Names & Attributes : Imaam Ibn Uthaimeen

Author:Imaam Muhammad Ibn Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen
Source: Sharh Lum’atul-‘Itiqaad (pg. 20-27) with checking and notes from Ashraf Ibn ‘Abd-il-Maqsood [Dar Al-Istiqamah Printing]
Translator:isma’eel alarcon –

Before entering into the core of this book, I would first like to introduce some important principles related to Allaah’s Names and Attributes. [1]

The First Principle: What is obligatory from the texts of the Qur’aan and Sunnah regarding Allaah’s Names and Attributes

With regard to the texts of the Qur’aan and the Sunnah, it is obligatory (concerning Allaah’s Names and Attributes) to leave their proofs and implications upon their literal meanings, without changing them. This is because Allaah revealed the Qur’aan in a plain Arabic language and the Prophet (Sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) used to speak with the Arabic language. Therefore, it is obligatory to leave the implications of the words of Allaah and the words of the Messenger of Allaah (Sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) as they are, in that language. Also, changing it from its literal meaning is speaking about Allaah without knowledge and this is forbidden, due to the statement of Allaah:

“Say: ‘The things that my Lord has indeed forbidden are the great evil sins, whether committed openly or secretly, sins (of all kinds), unrighteous oppression, joining partners (in worship) with Allaah for which He has given no authority, and saying things about Allaah of which you have no knowledge.'” [Surat-ul-A’araaf (7): 33]

An example of this principle is found in the statement of Allaah: “Nay, both His hands are widely outstretched.” [Surat-ul-Maa’idah (5): 64]

Indeed, what is literally apparent from this ayah is that Allaah has two actual hands. Thus, affirming that is obligatory, due to this principle. So if someone were to say that the meaning of His hands is “power”, then we must say to him that this is changing the word from its literal meaning. And saying this is not permissible, for it is speaking about Allaah without knowledge.

The Second Principle: Concerning Allaah’s Names

There are several subdivisions included in this principle:

The first subdivision: All of Allaah’s Names are the best

This means that they all possess the highest extent of goodness. This is since they are comprised of perfect attributes. There are no deficiencies to be found in them in any way whatsoever, for Allaah says: “To Him belong the best of Names.” [Surah TaHa (20): 5-8]

An example of this is the name Ar-Rahmaan, which is one of the Names of Allaah, for it demonstrates a magnificent attribute – which is (His) vast mercy.

We know that Ad-Dahr (time) is not one of the Names of Allaah, for it does not possess a meaning that reaches the highest extent of goodness. As for the Prophet’s (Sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) statement: “Do not curse time, for indeed, Allaah is Ad-Dahr (time)”,[2] then its meaning is that He is the “Owner of time – the One who dispenses it”. This change occurs based on the evidence found in his (Sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa Sallam) statement in the second narration (of this hadeeth) in which Allaah said: “In My hand is the Command. I turn (in cycles) the night and the day.” [3]

The Second Subdivision: The Names of Allaah are not confined to a fixed and definite number

This is based on the famous hadeeth: “I ask You, O Allaah, by every one of Your Names by which You have named Yourself or revealed in Your Book. Or (those which You have) taught to one of Your creatures or appropriated for Yourself in the knowledge of the Ghaib (Unseen) that is with You.” [4]

Specifying and grasping whatever Allaah has appropriated for Himself in the knowledge of the Ghaib (Unseen) that is with Him, is impossible to attain.

The way to combine between this hadeeth and the other authentic hadeeth: “Verily, to Allaah belong ninety-nine names, (by which) whosoever takes account of them (i.e. memorizes, learns and supplicates by them), will enter Paradise “ [5] s that the meaning of this (latter) hadeeth is:

“Verily, from among all the names of Allaah are ninety-nine names by which if someone takes account of them, he will enter Paradise .”

It does not mean that Allaah’s names are restricted to this number (of 99).

The equivalent of this would be if one were to say: “I have one hundred dollars which I have counted out for the purpose of giving in charity.” This does not negate that he has other dollars in his possession, which he has counted out for a purpose other than charity.

The Third Subdivision: The Names of Allaah are not affirmed by the intellect – they can only be affirmed by Revelation

The Names of Allaah are based upon Revelation and as such, their affirmation is dependent upon what is reported in the revealed texts concerning them. Therefore, nothing can be added to them nor subtracted. This is because the intellect is not able to itself ascertain which names Allaah is most deserving of. So it is obligatory to depend upon the revealed texts for determining that. Also, naming Allaah with that which He did not name Himself or rejecting what He did name Himself with, is a crime against Him and a perpetration of His right. Thus, abiding by the proper etiquettes with regard to that is obligatory.

The Fourth Subdivision: The meaning of each of Allaah’s Names applies to 1) Allaah Himself, 2) the attribute that such a Name implies, and 3) the effect of such an attribute, if it is transitive.

Faith in Allaah’s names cannot be complete without affirming all of this.

An example of those names that are not transitive is the name Al-‘Adheem (The Most Great). One’s Faith is not complete until he believes that it is a name of Allaah whose meaning applies to Him Himself, as well as the attribute that it encompasses, which is His magnificence (‘adhamah). An example of a name that is transitive is Ar-Rahmaan (the Most Merciful). One’s Faith is not complete until he believes that it is a name of Allaah that applies to 1) Himself, 2) the attribute that it encompasses, which is his mercy, and 3) what results from that, which is that he grants mercy to whom He wills.

The Third Principle: Concerning Allaah’s Attributes

There are also subdivisions included in this principle:

The First Subdivision: All of Allaah’s Attributes are of the highest degree of perfection and praise possible. There is no deficiency found in them in any way whatsoever.

Some examples of these Attributes are: (His) living, knowledge, ability, hearing, seeing, wisdom, mercy, highness and other than these. This is based on His saying:

“And to Allaah belongs the highest description.” [Surat-un-Nahl (16): 60]

It is also because the Lord is absolutely perfect; thus His Attributes must be perfect.

If an attribute is deficient and imperfect, then it is restricted from Him, such as death, ignorance, inability, deafness, blindness, and other than that. This is because Allaah will punish those who describe Him with deficiencies and He has freed Himself from all the defects that they attribute to Him. Also, it is not possible for the Lord (Rabb) to have a defect due to the incompatibility of deficiency with the aspect of Lordship (Rububiyyah).

If an attribute is perfect in one way and deficient in another way, then it is not affirmed for Allaah nor is it restricted from Him in the absolute sense. Rather, a distinction between the two cases must be made. Thus, it is affirmed for Allaah in the circumstances when it is perfect and it is not possible to affirm it for Him in the condition when it is deficient. Examples of this are planning (Makr), plotting (Kaid), deception (Khadaa’) and so on. These three attributes are perfect when they are implemented as a response to their equals (being done by an opponent), since they indicate that the One who is doing it is not incapable of encountering His enemy with his same action. And it would be deficient in any other condition.

So it is affirmed for Allaah in the first condition and not in the second. Allaah says: “They (disbelievers) were planning and Allaah too was planning (i.e. makr). And Allaah is the best of those who plan.” [Surat-ul-Anfaal (8): 30]

“Verily, they are but scheming a plot. And I too am scheming a plot (i.e. kaid).” [Surat-ut-Taariq (86): 15-16]

“Verily, the hypocrites seek to deceive Allaah, but it is He who deceives (i.e. khadaa’) them.” [Surat-un-Nisaa (4): 142]

So if for instance, it is said: “Has Allaah attributed plotting to Himself?” Then do not say yes, and do not say no. Instead say: “He is plotting against those who are deserving of that, and Allaah knows best.”

The Second Subdivision: The Attributes of Allaah can be divided into two categories: Those that are affirmed (Thubootiyyah) and those that are negated (Salbiyyah).

Thubootiyyah: consists of the attributes that Allaah has affirmed for Himself, such as living, knowledge and ability. Affirming these for Allaah in a manner befitting to Him is obligatory. This is because Allaah has affirmed them for Himself and He is the most knowledgeable concerning His Attributes.

Salbiyyah: consists of the attributes that Allaah has negated for Himself, such as injustice. Negating these from Allaah is obligatory because Allaah has negated them from Himself. However, it is obligatory to believe in affirming their most perfect opposites, for Allaah, since a negation is not complete until it consists of an affirmation.

An example of this is Allaah’s statement: “And your Lord treats no one with injustice.” [Surat-ul-Kahf (18): 49]

Thus, it is obligatory to negate injustice from Allaah, while affirming (the opposite) – which is justice – for Him, based on its most perfect perspective.

The Third Subdivision: The Affirmed Attributes (Thubootiyyah) can further be divided into two categories:

Dhaatiyyah (Attributes of His Essence): They are the attributes that do not cease nor will ever cease to be descriptive of Him, such as hearing and seeing.

Fi’aliyyah (Attributes of His Actions): They are the attributes that are connected to His Will (Mashee’ah). If He wills, He will do it and if He wills, He will not do it, such as rising over the Throne and (His) coming.

It is possible that an attribute could be both Dhaatiyyah and Fi’aliyyah, according to each of the two, such as Speech. In regards to the origin of the attribute, it is an attribute of His Essence (Dhaatiyyah) because Allaah never stopped nor will stop speaking. And in regards to the units of Speech that are put forth, it is an attribute of the action (Fi’aliyyah), since Speech is connected to His Will. He speaks as He wills, when He wills.

The Fourth Subdivision: Each Attribute of Allaah should bring three questions to mind.

The first question: Is it real (as opposed to figurative) and why?

The second question: Is it permissible to say how it is and why?

The third question: Is it comparable to the attributes of creation and why?

The answer to the first question: Yes, it is real, because the foundation of speech concerning this subject is based on actuality (as opposed to symbolism). This may not be abandoned, unless there is authentic evidence that restricts it.

The second answer: No, it is not permissible to describe how an attribute is, due to Allaah’s statement: “But they will never encompass anything of His Knowledge.” [Surah TaHa (20): 110]

Also, the intellects are not able to comprehend the nature of how Allaah’s attributes are.

The third answer: It cannot be compared to the creation’s attributes, due to Allaah’s saying:

“There is nothing whatsoever like Him.” [Surat-ush-Shooraa (42): 11]

And also Allaah is worthy of the utmost perfection, therefore it is impossible for Him to be compared to the creation, since that is something deficient and imperfect.

The difference between takyeef (saying how it is) and tamtheel (saying it is like such and such) is that tamtheel is to describe the manner of an attribute by restricting it to a certain example, whereas takyeef is describing the manner of an attribute without restricting it to a certain example.

An example of tamtheel is if someone were to say the hand of Allaah is like the hand of a human being.

An example of takyeef is to imagine that the Hand of Allaah has a specific nature that has no comparison found in the hands of created beings. This type of imagining is not permissible.

The Fourth Principle: What may be used to refute those who commit ta’teel (rejection of Allaah’s Attributes).

The Mu’tilah (those who commit ta’teel) are the ones who reject anything from the Names and Attributes of Allaah and distort the texts from their literal meanings. They are also known as the ones who commit ta’weel (distorted interpretation). The fundamental principle by which we may refute them is to say that their statements:

1. Are in contradiction to what is literally apparent from the texts

2. Are in contradiction to the understanding of the Salaf

3. Do not have any authentic proof (to support them)

For some attributes, there may be a fourth perspective, or more than that.


[1] Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Saalih Al-‘Uthaimeen has a great book on the subject of Allaah’s Names and Attributes in which he states a number of important principles regarding this topic. We have provided a checking for it and it is called “Al-Qawaa’id Al-Muthlaa fee Sifaatillaahi wa Asmaa’ihi Al-Husnaa” (Ideal Principles concerning Allaah’s Attributes and His Beautiful Names). It deserves to be studied and devoted special attention to.

[2] Saheeh Muslim: Book of Words from Good Manners (no. 2246) from the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah. Al-Haafidh Ibn Hajr said in Al-Fath (10/565): “Ahmad has transmitted it from another path from the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah with the wording: ‘Do not curse time, for indeed Allaah has stated: ‘I am Ad-Dahr (Time). The days and the nights belong to Me. I will renew them, vanquish them and bring forth kings after kings.’ And its chain of narration is authentic.”

A Point of Benefit:

The great scholar Ibn Al-Qayyim said in Zaad Al-Ma’aad (2/355):

“Anyone that curses time is lingering between two states of which there is no doubt that he is from one of them. Either he has cursed Allaah Himself or he has ascribed a partner to him (Shirk). For indeed, if he believes that Allaah is the only one that did that and he curses whomsoever did it, then he has cursed Allaah.”

[3] Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: Book of Tawheed (no. 7491) and Saheeh Muslim: Book of Words from Good Manners (no. 2246) from the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah.

[4] Hadeeth Saheeh: This is a part from the hadeeth of Ibn Mas’ood t that has been reported by Ahmad (1/394, 452), Ibn Hibbaan (no. 2372 of the Mawaarid), and Al-Haakim (1/519). Al-Haafidh Ibn Al-Qayyim authenticated it in Shifaa-ul-‘Aleel (pg. 274). And he (ra) went in detail, clarifying the importance and benefits of this hadeeth in his book Al-Fawaa’id (pg. 24-29). It was also authenticated by Shaikh Ahmad Shaakir (rahimahullaah) in his notes to Al-Musnad (no. 3721), Al-Albaanee in As-Saheehah (no. 199) and Shu’aib Al-Arna’oot in his checking of Zaad Al-Ma’aad (4/198).

[5] Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: Book of Supplications (no. 6410) and Saheeh Muslim: Book of Remembrance and Supplication (no. 2677) from the hadeeth of Abu Hurairah (radi Allaahu anhu)

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