THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD
THE attributes ascribed to God in the Qur'an and Traditions are commonly said to be eternal, and are popularly expressed in the famous ninety-nine names. Any study of the attributes, therefore, must include a consideration of the names which are used to set them forth. The essential name of God, or “Ismu'dh-dhat (اسم الذّات)” as it is called, is Allah. This name is, strange to say, not included in the list of ninety-nine. The latter are called “Asma' as-sifat (أسماء الجلالة)” or names of the attributes, and are divided into two classes called respectively the “Asma'u'l-jalaliyah (اسم الجلالة)” or glorious attributes, and the “Asma'u'l-jalaliyah (اسم الجلالة)” or terrible attributes. These names explain themselves; thus the name ar-Rahim, the Merciful naturally belongs to the first class, whilst the name al-Mustaqim, the Avenger just as naturally takes its place in the second. 10 It is difficult to exaggerate the importance of these names of God in the theology of Islam, for they reveal, as in a mirror, the Moslem conception of the character and attributes of the Supreme. So meritorious is the act of repeating that list that we are gravely assured in the Mishkat that, “مَنْ أحْصَاها دَخَل الْجَنَّة”, “Whoever repeats them will go to heaven”!
It has been truly remarked that most religious systems err, not so much in what they affirm of God, as in what they ignore or deny. The truth of this aphorism in its relation to Islam will be clearly demonstrated by a reference to the ninety-nine names. The reader is referred to Zwemer's “Moslem Doctrine of God,” pp. 47-49, for a detailed and careful analysis of this list. We must be content here, in the limited space at our disposal to simply note the fact that the “terrible” attributes are both more numerous and more strongly emphasized than the “glorious” attributes. In saying this we do not forget that at the head of every chapter but one of the Qur'an God is called “the Merciful,” and that His compassion in the forgiveness of sin is again and again referred to in the Qur'an; but the stern fact still remains that it is the power and absolute sovereignty of God which is the predominant note in all the Qur'anic descriptions of the Supreme, and it is the fear rather than the love of God which is the ruling motive to obedience. “There are four terms used which may be said in a special sense to refer to the moral or forensic in Deity, although we admit that the Merciful attributes are in a sense moral attributes. Of these, only two occur in the Qur'an, and both are of doubtful significance in Moslem theology. While we find that the “terrible” attributes of God's power occur again and again in the Qur'an, the net total of the moral attributes is found in two verses which mention that Allah is Holy and Truthful, i.e., in the Moslem sense of the words. What a contrast to the Bible! The Qur'an shows, and the Traditions illustrate, that Muhammad had, in a measure, a correct idea of the physical attributes (I use the word in a theological sense) of Deity, but he had a false conception of His moral attributes or no conception at all. He saw God's power in nature, but never had a glimpse of His holiness and justice.” 11
The Christian reader is startled, almost shocked, not to find the word “Father” amongst the ninety-nine names of God, and if he reads the Qur'an and Traditions with care he will be struck by the absence of anything corresponding to the repeated declarations of the Bible that God loves the world. A system which could not conceive of God as loving before the foundation of the world has little in it of God's love for the world after its creation. The very term “Islam” signifies complete surrender to the all-powerful will of God, and the relation between God and man is ever that of master and slave rather than of father and child.
Some of the attributes expressed by the names of God will be dealt with in later chapters of this little book, it simply remains for us in closing this brief review to point out how powerfully these names, with the ideas they connote, have influenced the Moslem world. Next to the Kalimah “There is no god but Allah,” no phrase is more upon the lips of Moslems than the cry “Allahu akbar” “God is great.” There is thus little in the Muhammadan idea of God to call forth the warm glow of personal affection, and lead the worshipper to a free and spontaneous obedience to the will of God. Servile subjection to an arbitrary law is the dominant feeling called forth by the Moslem idea of God, and just because of this there is great danger lest filial affection become weak. Muhammad rejected the sonship of Christ because he failed to interpret it in a spiritual manner, yet, as we shall see in our next chapter, his own portrait of the Supreme was essentially a physical one in which he pictured God as seated upon a material throne and writing with His own hand the decrees of good and evil. May we not rather say that it was just because of Muhammad's gross idea of a corporeal Deity that he was led into the fallacy of imagining the Christian doctrine of the Sonship of Christ to consist of a carnal conception through the Virgin Mary.
10. Hughes, “Dictionary of Islam,” p. 142.
11. Zwemer, “Moslem Doctrine of God,” p. 49.