99 Names of Allah

The Quran provides a very clear picture of God, but not in the style of the Bible. The Bible begins by saying that God made man in His image, that is, God looks like a human; whereas the Qur’an declares emphatically that God has no form we can comprehend and that He resembles nothing at all in creation. Like Judaism, Islam completely forbids making representations of God, such as paintings or statues. The Quran says, “He is not like anything you can imagine.” God is not a human, an animal, or a fuzzy spirit. The rule in Islam is that if you make a mental picture of what God looks like, then God does not look like that at all!

So if God has no form, how can we understand Him?

Are we doomed to endless reprimands of “It’s a mystery”? In Hinduism or Christianity, there are statues and paintings of God, but Islam says these are all false imagery. How does a Muslim imagine God then? Islam has a unique answer to this human need to rely on appearances. Instead of focusing on God’s physical form, we look to His qualities. What does God do? What is His nature? What is He like? These are called Allah’s Names and Attributes. We use adjectives to describe the nature of God, and through studying them and emulating them we come to a closer understanding of who God really is. The Muslim approach is not to passively look at pictures but to actively participate in knowing the Divine.

There is a famous listing called the Ninety-nine Names of Allah. The list includes such descriptions as the Merciful, the Strong, the Mighty, the Loving, the Everlasting, the Beginning, the Last, the Acceptor of Repentance, the Caring, the Bringer of Peace, the Avenger of Evil, the Living, the Faithful, and so n. Through these Names of Allah we get a feel for the essence of Allah, and thus we no longer have to worry about what He physically looks like. We can know Him by His qualities and actions. The Prophet Muhammad once said that whoever knows and lives by the Ninety-nine Names of Allah will go to Heaven. This is a way of saying that God’s qualities are the best ones to inculcate in yourself, for by doing so, you bring your life closer to His way.

Say, “Call upon Allah or call upon the Most Merciful. Whichever [name] you call – to Him belong the best names.”

Islam also teaches that God is neither male nor female. After all, if He has no form that we can understand, how can He have a gender? So why, you may ask, do we use the pronoun “He” when referring to God? In Arabic, as in Spanish or French, all nouns are either male or female in gender. A house is considered feminine but a chair is masculine. It’s just the way these languages work.

In Arabic there is no word for “it,” so the pronoun “He” is used to refer to God, with the full understanding that Allah is not a male. Interestingly enough, the base word Elah, which means a god, is a feminine word (the ah ending signifies femininity in Arabic); yet when you take the proper name Allah (the God) and use the masculine pronoun Hoowa (He is), you are canceling out both male and female genders. The phrase Hoowa Allah combines both genders and thus each negates the other. This is the closest thing to “it” that you can get in Arabic and applies to no other words in that language.

To summarize, God is a single entity with no divisions, partners, wives, or children. He has no beginning or end. He does not reveal Himself to people, and no human eye is strong enough to behold His power. He can do all that He wishes with no need of a helper. He is not male or female. He has no form we can comprehend. We can know what He is like only through the names He used to describe Himself in the Qur’an. He did not burden us with original sin nor does He ever need to die for any purpose. Idolatry is false. Allah is not a remote God, rather He is active in human affairs and is testing us in this life and giving us the chance to choose to surrender to Him

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