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Allah is Infinite: How Can Human Minds Comprehend Him?

Questioner

Jason Weigand

Reply Date

Jul 31, 2017

Question

About Islam, Would you be able to point me to some good Islamic works on the Doctrine of Allah, if indeed such exist, or maybe works that would explain why it wouldn’t?To provide you with context of the question: within the Eastern Orthodox Church there isn’t a Doctrine of God, per se, because of God’s infiniteness any attempt at a theology on God would be inadequate. This sounds to me a lot like how I understand Islam views God too. Eastern Orthodox view of God is defined as Apophatic, wherein the descriptions we can muster about God would be defining him in terms that He is not. John of Damascus describes it this way, “God, then, is infinite and incomprehensible, and all that is comprehensible about Him is His infinity and incomprehensibility. All that we say about god cataphatically does not show forth His nature but the things that are related to His nature.” (John of Damascus On IconsI).Any author or original source material of translated texts from earlier Islamic theologians would be helpful in this pursuit.Sincerely, Jason Weigand

Consultant

Answer


comprehend Allah

Peace be upon you, Jason,

Thank you, sincerely, for this insightful question. Most people today are not as invested in understanding these deep philosophical questions.

The True Tao Cannot Be Spoken

My first thoughts when I read your question took me back to my college days.

My World Religions 101 professor broke with tradition and took us outside one day. He said we would be learning about Taoism that day, and that being out in nature would create the best learning atmosphere.

It was a beautiful Autumn day wherein he explained that the next 45 minutes of speaking would be utterly pointless from the Taoist perspective because “The True Tao is the Tao that cannot be described.”

His statement came from a long poem, written by Lao Tzu in his book Tao Te Ching, wherein he says:

The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao. The name that can be named is not the eternal Name. The unnamable is the eternally real.

This idea that we cannot comprehend the Ultimate Reality, weak, finite humans that we are, is powerful.

However, from an Islamic perspective, God reaches out to our weak and feeble minds and describes Himself to us. He invites us to know Him so that we may draw near to Him and experience His Love.

The Quran: God’s Own Words

Yes, at the end of the day, God is truly beyond full human comprehension. His knowledge and His Own Self is far above and beyond what any man could write. He tells us in the Quran:

…If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, sooner would the ocean be exhausted than would the words of my Lord, even if we added another ocean like it, for its aid. (Quran 18:109)

Most notably, Allah is Uniquely Himself:

“There is to Him no equivalent, and He is the All-Hearing, the All-Seeing” (42:11)

However, we are taught that God has some particular character qualities and some particular names and attributes. In this way, He makes His Infinite, Eternal Self known to us weak humans.

Allah’s Names

Allah has more than 99 names, and among these is Al-Lateef, or The Subtle One. This name comes from Allah’s description of Himself in the Quran:

The Inexpressible, Unfathomable. Such is God, your sustainer: there is no deity save Him, the Creator of everything. Worship, then, Him alone –for it is He who has everything in His care. No human vision can encompass Him, whereas He encompasses all human vision, for He alone is Unfathomable, All-aware. (Quran 6:101-103)

Allah also describes Himself as Al-Batin, or the Hidden, Unmanifest One. Regarding this name, Jalal al-Din Muhammad Balkhi–also known as Rumi–said the following:

God created pain and sorrow that happiness might show itself by contrast. For hidden things are made manifest by means of their opposites: since God has no opposite, He is hidden. [Al-Mathnawi 1:1130-1]

In regards this question of Allah creating everything with its opposite, He Himself has no opposite, but He encompasses the full balance of qualities.

While He is the Subtle and the Hidden, He is also The Manifest One (Al-Zaahir).

Being able to know and call Allah by His many names is one way in which He invites us to be near to Him:

Allah’s are the Most Beautiful names, so invoke Him by them. [Qur’an, 7:180]

Allah’s Attributes

He is Near

Allah tells us exactly what to tell people when they ask about His Character:

And when My servants ask you concerning Me, indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me [by obedience] and believe in Me that they may be [rightly] guided. [Qur’an, 2:186]

Allah is Merciful

Regarding Allah’s attribute of being Merciful, Prophet Muhammad said:

Allah has one hundred mercies, of which He has sent down a single mercy amongst the jinn, humans, animals and venomous creatures, so by means of it do they show compassion and mercy to one another, and by means of it does a female animal show mercy to its offspring. Allah has deferred ninety-nine mercies to show mercy to His servants on the Day of Resurrection. [Muslim, Bukhari]

Prophet Muhammad once saw a woman running around searching for her lost child. She eventually found it, grabbed it, held it close to her, and breast-fed it. The Prophet told his companions,

Surely, Allah is more merciful to His servants than this [woman] to her child. [Bukhari, Muslim]

Because Allah is The Most Merciful, we are encouraged to be merciful to others if we hope for His mercy. Abdullah ibn Amr reported that The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said,

Those who are merciful will be shown mercy by the Most Merciful. Be merciful to those on the earth and the One in the heavens will have mercy upon you. [Sunan al-Tirmidhī 1924]

Allah is Just

Although Allah is far beyond being held accountable, He has promised to be just and fair with everyone. The Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) said in a hadith qudsi that Allah has said,

O my servants! I have prohibited injustice upon myself, and [also] made it prohibited for you among yourselves, so be not unjust to one another. [Muslim]

In this way, He instructs us to be Just because He Himself is The Most Just.

Resources To Learn More

It’s great that you want to know more about how Islam views God and how we try to comprehend His Infinite Self.

I recommend checking out KnowingAllah.com for a simple breakdown.

I’d also recommend reading Rumi’s Mathnawi, or Masnavi, if you’d like a more mystical approach.

Lastly, I’d recommend “Allah’s Names and Attributes” by Imam Al-Bayhaqi if you’d like a more scholarly approach.

I leave you with this great quote by Sheikh Abd Al-Rahman ibn as-Sa’di:

Believing in, and knowing the most beautiful names of Allah includes three types of Tawhid: Tawhid al Rububiyyah (unity of Divine Lordship), Tawhid al Uluhiyyah (unity of Divine Nature) and Tawhid al Asma wa’l safaat (unity of Divine Names and Attributes). These three types of Tawhid form the essence and joy of faith (joy here implying peace and relief from stress), and this knowledge is the basis and purpose of faith. The more a person learns about the Names and Attributes of Allah, the more his faith increases and the stronger his conviction becomes.

I hope this helps to answer your question.


Satisfy your curiosity and check out these other helpful links:

My Mercy Prevails Over My Wrath – God Says

 

Want to Be Closer to Allah, But Don’t Know How!

 

Why Glorify Allah’s Name, Not Allah Himself

 

Beautiful Names of Allah: Explanation of the Name Allah




About Kaighla Um Dayo

Kaighla Um Dayo is the Ask About Islam editor. She is also a regular contributor at islamwich.com, where she ruminates on life as a Muslim American. Her favorite things are meditation, painting, drinking tea, and being outside in nature.

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