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Last Updated: 2012/05/21
Summary of question
When we say Almighty Allah, does it account for all attributes or only for the power and might of Allah?
When we say Almighty Allah, does it account for all attributes or only for the power and might of Allah?
Concise answer

At the level of His essence, when we say He is the Almighty, it accounts for all of His attributes. That is, there is no difference which attribute we use to refer to His essence. On the other hand our minds have no understanding of God's attributes of essence, because these attributes (for instance, power, hearing, etc.) merely enter our minds through the perception of these attributes in ourselves or other creatures, whereas God transcends any similarity to His creation.

Detailed Answer

Abū Baṣīr narrates from Imam Sadiq  (A.S.): "God, the Almighty and the Glorious, was our Lord even at a time when Knowledge was His Essence and there was no knowable, Hearing was His Essence and there was no audible [thing], seeing was His Essence and there was no visible [thing], and Power was His essence and there was nothing subject to power. Thus when He created things and the knowable came into being, His knowledge pertained to the known thing, His Hearing to that which is audible, and His Sight to that which is visible, and His Power to that which is subject to power. Abū Baṣīr says: I asked him, in that case God has been ever-moving and ever-changing? He replied: Exalted is God above that! Indeed movement is an attribute that came into existence (muḥdath) by His action. Abu Basir says, I asked him, so is it true that God has been ever-speaking? He replied: Speech is a quality that comes into existence and is not pre-eternal, this is while God existed and there existed no speaker.[1]

This tradition demonstrates that attributes such as knowledge, power, hearing, etc. can be divided into three groups.

1. Contingent attributes (The same attributes we witness in the creations of God that cannot be attributed to Allah).

2. Pre-eternal attributes that are confined to Allah. These attributes are His very essence.

3. Attributes that are passed down to creation (after being created), by God.

There is no difference between the confined attributes of God, whether it is power, knowledge, hearing etc., all of these attributes point to the same truth, which is the unknown essence of God. Referring to God through any of these attributes signifies the same entity. Thus, our minds don't have the least knowledge about these attributes. For instance, we don't have the slightest understanding of the divine attribute of seeing, that is hearing as well, or knowledge that is the same as power. Our comprehension of seeing and hearing is characterized by what is heard or seen, which creates the differences and distinctions.

Therefore, at the level of His essence, when we say He is the Almighty, it accounts for all of His attributes. That is, there is no difference which attribute we use to refer to His essence because there is no conception by the mind as to what God's essence is. For instance, power is merely known by our minds as a result of witnessing it in ourselves or other creations, whereas God is exalted above any similarity.

This was a summarized explanation of what the traditions say about the attributes of God.

Therefore, all of the attributes we relate to God in our minds, are all names and considerations, thus making God the named entity for these considerations rather than Him being united and inseparable with them. As Imam Sadiq says: "Allah is a name and the name is always different than what is named. Thus whoever worships the named rather than the meaning [who the name stands for] has become a kafir and has actually worshipped nothing. And whoever worships the meaning and the names together has also become a kafir because he has worshipped duality. And whoever worships the meaning rather than the names, this is in fact the unity of God."[2]

We must point out that the unity of God's attributes and His essence isn't a type of combination to be imagined and understood in our minds, it is actually the opposite. We assign attributes to an unknown entity based on His effects and indications retrieved from His behalf and name each and every one of them with considerations which are familiar and understandable to our minds, whereas He is essentially, exalted above all imagination. Hence, we are inspired to let go of our imagination and the mind's narrow method of perception in order to acquire tawhid "التوحید أن لا تتوهم".[3]

This is why we read in other traditions that God is glorified of all attributes,[4] because every attribute we perceive relates to contingents and are different and distinct from each other, which doesn't comply with and apply to God's essence and the doctrine of Tawhid. Therefore, understanding God's essence through these attributes is idolatry and true divine unity lies within the negation of attributes.[5]


[1] "عَنْ أَبِی بَصِیرٍ قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع یَقُولُ لَمْ یَزَلِ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ رَبَّنَا وَ الْعِلْمُ ذَاتُهُ وَ لَا مَعْلُومَ وَ السَّمْعُ ذَاتُهُ وَ لَا مَسْمُوعَ وَ الْبَصَرُ ذَاتُهُ وَ لَا مُبْصَرَ وَ الْقُدْرَةُ ذَاتُهُ وَ لَا مَقْدُورَ فَلَمَّا أَحْدَثَ الْأَشْیَاءَ وَ کَانَ الْمَعْلُومُ وَقَعَ الْعِلْمُ مِنْهُ عَلَى الْمَعْلُومِ وَ السَّمْعُ عَلَى الْمَسْمُوعِ وَ الْبَصَرُ عَلَى الْمُبْصَرِ وَ الْقُدْرَةُ عَلَى الْمَقْدُورِ قَالَ قُلْتُ فَلَمْ یَزَلِ اللَّهُ مُتَحَرِّکاً قَالَ فَقَالَ تَعَالَى اللَّهُ عَنْ ذَلِکَ إِنَّ الْحَرَکَةَ صِفَةٌ مُحْدَثَةٌ بِالْفِعْلِ قَالَ قُلْتُ فَلَمْ یَزَلِ اللَّهُ مُتَکَلِّماً قَالَ فَقَالَ إِنَّ الْکَلَامَ صِفَةٌ مُحْدَثَةٌ لَیْسَتْ بِأَزَلِیَّةٍ کَانَ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ وَ لَا مُتَکَلِّمَ ". Kulayni, Al-Kāfī, vol.1 , p. 107, Daar al-Kutub al-Islamiyyah, Tehran, 1365 (solar).

[2] "اللَّهُ مُشْتَقٌّ مِنْ إِلَهٍ وَ الْإِلَهُ یَقْتَضِی مَأْلُوهاً وَ الِاسْمُ غَیْرُ الْمُسَمَّى فَمَنْ عَبَدَ الِاسْمَ دُونَ الْمَعْنَى فَقَدْ کَفَرَ وَ لَمْ یَعْبُدْ شَیْئاً وَ مَنْ عَبَدَ الِاسْمَ وَ الْمَعْنَى فَقَدْ کَفَرَ وَ عَبَدَ اثْنَیْنِ وَ مَنْ عَبَدَ الْمَعْنَى دُونَ الِاسْمِ فَذَاکَ التَّوْحِید".

[3] Amidi Tamimi, Ghurar al-Hikam wa Durar al-Kalim, p. 82, The Office of Islamic Propagation Press, Qum.

[4] "إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَا یُوصَفُ بِمَحْدُودِیَّةٍ عَظُمَ رَبُّنَا عَنِ الصِّفَةِ فَکَیْفَ یُوصَفُ بِمَحْدُودِیَّةٍ مَنْ لَا یُحَدُّ ". Kulayni, Al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 100; "کَتَبَ أَبُو الْحَسَنِ مُوسَى بْنُ جَعْفَرٍ ع إِلَى أَبِی أَنَّ اللَّهَ أَعْلَى وَ أَجَلُّ وَ أَعْظَمُ مِنْ أَنْ یُبْلَغَ کُنْهُ صِفَتِهِ فَصِفُوهُ بِمَا وَصَفَ بِهِ نَفْسَهُ وَ کُفُّوا عَمَّا سِوَى ذَلِکَ " Ibid, p. 102.

[5] "کَمَالُ تَوْحِیدِهِ الْإِخْلَاصُ لَهُ وَ کَمَالُ الْإِخْلَاصِ لَهُ نَفْیُ الصِّفَاتِ عَنْهُ لِشَهَادَةِ کُلِّ صِفَةٍ أَنَّهَا غَیْرُ الْمَوْصُوفِ وَ شَهَادَةِ کُلِّ مَوْصُوفٍ أَنَّهُ غَیْرُ الصِّفَة", Nahjul-Balaghah, p. 39, Daar al-Hijrah Press.


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