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Last Updated: 2012/03/12
Summary of question
Why do we repeat “Subhan’allah” in prayers and emphasize on doing “hamd” along with it?
Firstly, I wish to know why we repeat “Subhan’allah” in prayers. We recite it more than 72 times a day and more interestingly we do hamd (praise) of Allah immediately thereafter. For instance, we say “subhanallah wal-hamdu lillah wa…” or “subhana rabbiyal azim wa behamdihi”? Secondly, what is meant by “Subhan’allah”? Why does God give so much importance to it?
Concise answer

Tasbhih or saying “Subhan’allah” in the time of prayer testifies one's removing any anthropomorphic elements or associations with God. It is a way of considering God, the Glorified, devoid and free of all kinds of evil attributes which the worshipper may think of. On the other hand, for many people who have not reached the position of Tawhid (belief in one God), Tasbih of Allah practically leads to “Ta’til” (lit. denial) of God’s existence or divesting God of His attributes. It is for the same reason that in order for a person not to reject God’s attributes or not to divest Him of His attributes, the Holy Quran time and again recommends that Tasbih be done together with hamd or praise of God’s attributes.

Detailed Answer

Generally speaking, Tasbih refers to a form of dhikr that involves the repetitive utterances of short sentences glorifying God.[1] In reality, it testifies one's removing any anthropomorphic elements or associations with God.[2] As well, when Imam Sadiq (as) was asked about the meaning of “Subhan’allah”, he, peace be upon him, said: “It means making God pure.[3] (It is bound to its original word (sabh, meaning void) as if he said, I verily absolve God from all evil.). Extolling the glory of God, glorifying and sanctifying Him have degrees the highest of which is to consider God devoid and free of all the attributes of possible beings and their implications, and to remove any imaginable anthropomorphic elements or associations with God.[4]

The Position of Tasbih in Prayers

The origin for the word is sabh (voidness) and tasbeeh literally means making something void. The word “subhana” is translated as "void of all evil". For example the Quran says; "SubhanAllahi ammaa yasifoon (37:159) - Void/Free is Allah from that (evil) which they ascribe (to Him)" and "SubhanAllah ammaa yushrikoon" (52:43) - Free is God from what they associate with him." When it comes to the application of the word “Tasbih” in prayer, we must define it in a way such that it is compatible with worshipping of God. Hence, Tasbih in prayer means negating and denying any partners for God, the Glorified or any polytheistic attributes. In practice, it means removing association with God. In other words, Tasbih in prayers means devotion to God free of any attributes, aims or benefits because worship of God with the intention of gaining any worldly or heavenly benefits means worshipping His attributes and its by itself considered to be a level of shirk (polytheism) but Tasbih means quite the opposite.

Thus, we see that the true worshippers and glorifiers glorify God when they are engaged cleaning themselves and absolving themselves of defects, illusions, imaginations and cravings which have formed an obstruction between them and God.

When asked to interpret “subhan’allah”, the Commander of Faithful, Ali (as) said:

"هُوَ تَعْظِيمُ جَلَالِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ وَ تَنْزِيهُهُ عَمَّا قَالَ فِيهِ كُلُّ مُشْرِك"

“Subhan’allah means revering God and divesting God of all those things which pagans ascribed to God.”[5]

That is because every polytheist considers God as having some attributes albeit within his polytheistic demands and expectations.

Having said that, the necessity of Tasbih (glorifying Allah) in prayers becomes clear in terms of achieving the main objective because the reality of prayer (or salat) is devotion or worship of God to the point of annihilation especially in the state of prostration and eventually meeting God after annihilation as the Holy Prophet said: “The Prayer is the Ascension of the believer.”[6]  Therefore, the prayer is meant to make you concentrate your attention on God and to worship Him for His sake and Him for Him. It is therefore clear that real glorification (Tasbih) is a very lofty and great position and it has many a number of degrees.

Tasbih together with Hamd

1. Divesting God of His Attributes and Likening

 For many people who do not have an intuitive knowledge of God, Tasbih on the one hand will lead to negation or denial of the existence of God. Divesting God of His attributes means that as a result of purification (tanzih), we despite believing in God disconnect God from His kingdom and consider no relationship between the Creator and Created. Contrary to Ta’til (divesting God of His attributes), Tashbih (likening) means considering God similar to creatures. It has been narrated that: Likening God to creatures (combination) is disbelief, denying any relationship between Him and creatures is Ta’til and a combination of the two is Tawhid (belief in one God).[7]

Therefore, the necessity of avoiding Ta’til in the position of Tasbih means that we should not deny His affirmative attributes in the realm of existence by gradually divesting any kind of attributes of Him. For this reason and in order to avoid such kind of Tasbih and Tanzih which practically lead to Ta’til, the Holy Quran has time and again recommended that Tasbih be accompanied with Hamd (praise of Allah).[8] That is because Hamd means praising the affirmative and beautiful names of God. In prayer, wherever there is glorification, there is praise of Allah too. Glorification accompanied with praise of Allah is the way between Tashbih and Ta’til.

2. Tasbih through Substantiation

Generally, glorification of Allah is possible from two aspects:

1. Tasbih with negation

2. Tasbih with substantiation (Tasbih with Hamd)

Tasbih with negation means that he who establishes prayer glorifies God and extols His glory by rejecting and denying any attribute of imperfection and deficiency. As for Tasbih with substantiation (Tasbih with Hamd), it has a very delicate meaning which has been emphasized in many verses of the Holy Quran. In prayer also, God has to be glorified in the same way. Tasbih with Hamd or with praise of Allah is opposed to Ta’til (divesting Allah of his attributes). Not only does it prove God’s attributes of perfection but it also involves extolling the glory of God in a way such that it considers every attribute as an effect and mirror of God without considering it to be God or likening God to those attributes. Therefore, the person who offers prayers truly and in the real sense, while being a true lover of the attributes of God, worships God as the origin and source of these attributes. Eventually, he will skip the attributes and get closer to the origin of those attributes. As we see, real love of God amounts to divesting him of His attributes and to annihilation of all tendencies. Moreover, a true worshipper does not get involved in worshipping anything or someone other than God.

The Commander of the Faithful, Ali (as) says about the relationship between Hamd and Tasbih and the importance of these two:

التسبیح نصف المیزان و الحمد لله یملاء المیزان

Tasbih is half of the balance and Al-Hamdu Lillah fills the balance.[9]

The practical and mystical materialization of this meaning of glorification and finding the right way to glorify Allah, without Ta’til and Tashbih, need strife in the way of love and worship of God. These words, when expressed, can make limited reference to the degrees and station of Tasbih, dhikr and salat.

In a nutshell, Tasbih (glorification) accompanied with Hamd (praise of God) can eventually help the wayfarer reach the position of mystical Tawhid.


[1]  Mustafavi, Hasan, Al-Tahqiqh fi Kalemaat al-Quran al-Karim, vol.5, p. 19, Center for Translation and Publication of Book, Tehran, 1360 (1981).

[2] - Ibn Arabi says that “Tasbih means absolving God of a partner, inability and imperfection…” Vide: Ibn Arabi, Tafsir Ibn Arabi, vol.1, p. 19, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi, Beirut, 1422 A.H.

[3] «سَأَلْتُ أَبَا عَبْدِ اللَّهِ ع عَنْ قَوْلِ اللَّهِ عَزَّ وَ جَلَّ سُبْحانَ اللَّهِ مَا يَعْنِي بِهِ قَالَ تَنْزِيهَهُ» Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol.1, p. 118, Dar al-Kitab al-Islamiyah, Tehran, Tehran, 1366.

[4] « التسبيح تنزيه الله عن الشريك و عن صفات النقص كالعجز و أمثاله، في حين أن التقديس تنزيه الله عما سبق و عن كل صفات الممكنات و لوازمها- حتى كمالاتها- و عن كل ما يتوهم و يتعقل في حقه تعالى من الأحكام الموجبة للتحديد و التقييد» Ibn Arabi, Fusus al-Hekam, p. 46, Al-Zahra Publications, 1370 (1991).

[5] Muhaddith Noori, Mustadrak al-Wasail, vol.5, Aalulbayt Institute, Qom, 1408 A.H.

[6] Majlisi, Behar al-Anwar, vol.81, p. 255, Al-Wafa Institute, Beirut, 1404 A.H.

[7] «ان الجمع بلا تفرقه زندقه و التفرقه بدون الجمع تعطیل و الجمع بینهما توحید» Amuli, Sayyid Haider, Jami’ al-Asrar wa Manba’ al-Anwar, p. 117, Cultural and Scientific Publications, 1368; Hasanzadeh Amuli,  Mamad al-Hemam, p. 109, Islamic Culture and Guidance Ministry, 1378 A.H. (1999).

[8] “Then pronounce the purity and praise of your Lord, and seek forgiveness from Him. Surely He is Ever-Relenting.” Al-Nasr: 3, Tasbih has been mentioned with Hamd in the Quran more than ten times.

[9] Kulayni, Al-Kafi, vol.2, p. 506, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, Tehran, 1365 (1986).


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