Emergent Islamic theology and the al-ism al-a`zam, ism Allāh al-a'ẓam, the Mightiest Name of God.
Stephen Lambden UCMerced.
In progress 1980s-2017.
Under revision and completion - last updated 20-02-2017.
Concepts of God and his mighty Name in the Qur’an and in Islamic theology.
The Mightiest Name of God concept.
That God has a supremely powerful Name is a concept especially rooted in biblical and expository texts foundational within lsraelite religion and pre-Christian Judaisms. This motif is pre-lslamic, predating both the time of Jesus (c. 6BCE- c. 33 CE) and birth of
Christianity or the onset of the common era (CE). The ilicit pronunciatioŗi of the divine Name was viewed as a sacreligious act by pious religionists who valued to so-called `Dead Sea Scrolls'. According to their Community Rule (Serek ha-yahad) members of the Qumran Jewish faction expelled a member of their group for pronouncing the divine Name inappropriately or frivolously , even if accidentally! (Vermes,70). There have apparently been times when the ineffable Name of God was pronounced in more recent times. lgnoring the Toraic injunction against את שם יהוה אלהיך, "taking the Name of the Lord in vain" (one of the ten commandments in Exodus 20:7) the 17th century messianic claimant Shabbetai Tzevi (d.1676), to the horror of his contemporaries, is said to have uttered the Name in Smyrna.
It should be noted that by the examination of ancient biblical and other manuscripts modem biblical scholars have fairly confidently reckoned Yahweh to have been an ancient pronunciation of the tetragrammaton. Traditionally such knowledge, however, was said to have been lost in antiquity.
Mention is made in lslamic literatures of a Mightiest or Greatest Name of God (Ar. al-ism Allāh al-a`zam; Per. ism-i a`zam). Closely paralleling Jewish traditions highlighting the power and sanctity of the tetragrammation (Y.H.W.H = Yahweh, trad.= Jehovah) and other elevated Names of God, lslamic traditions have it that the sanctified Divine Name was known only to God and such of the prophets and spiritual elite as he chose to communicate its secrets. Jewish and lslamic traditions reckon that lsraelite prophets and other worthies and sages of past times drew upon the supernatural power of the mightiest Name of God. Through knowledge of the Name they are believed to have performed miracles and wonders.
Both Sunni and Shīī writings contain traditions which either directly or indirectly purport to set forth forms of the "Greatest name of God". Details pertaining to its talismanic or diagrammatic form cannot be gone into here. It should be noted, however, that a dozen or more alphabetic, qabbalistic or cryptographic representations of the Greatest Name of God are found in esoteric lslamic, esoterica, magical-qabbaliatic and associated literatures (cf. Winckler, 1930).
The Names of God and his Mightiest Name in the Qur’an.
al-Asmā' al-Ḥusnā ("Most Beautiful Names") in the Qur'an.
أسماء الله الحسنى
There are four references in the Qur'an to the the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmā' al-ḥusnā) of God :
وَلِلَّهِ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ فَٱدْعُوهُ بِهَا َ
Unto God (Allah) belong the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmā' al-ḥusnā); so supplicate Him by means of them... (Q. 7:180a).
قُلِ ٱدْعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ أَوِ ٱدْعُوا۟ ٱلرَّحْمَٟنَ ۖ أَيًّۭا مَّا تَدْعُوا۟ فَلَهُ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ ۚ وَلَا تَجْهَرْ بِصَلَاتِكَ وَلَا تُخَافِتْ بِهَا وَٱبْتَغِ بَيْنَ ذَٟلِكَ سَبِيلًۭا
Say : Supplicate God God (Allāh) or supplicate the All-Merciful (al-rahmān): by whichever Name ye call upon Him [it suffices] for to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmā' al-ḥusnā) (Q. 17:110).
ٱللَّهُ لَآ إلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ لَهُ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ
God (Allah), No God is there except Him. To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmā' al-ḥusnā) (Q. 20:8).
هُوَ ٱللَّهُ ٱلۡخَـٰلِقُ ٱلۡبَارئُ ٱلۡمُصَوِّر لَهُ ٱلۡأَسۡمَآءُ ٱلۡحُسۡنَى يُسَبِّحُ لَهُ ۥ مَا فِى ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٲتِ وَٱلۡأَرۡض وَهُوَ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ
"He is God (Allah), the Creator (al-khāliq), the Originator (al-bāri'), the Fashioner (al-musawwir). His are the Most Beautiful Names (al-asmā' al-ḥusnā). All that is in the heavens and the earth glorifieth Him, and He is the Mighty (al-`Azīz), the Wise (al-Ḥakīm)" (Q. 59:24).
From the early Islamic centuries diverse lists of the Names and Attrubutes of God were set forth or compiled by Muslim exegetes, traditionalists, scholars and philosophers. The lists varied in number and content. Even the ninety-name Names of God were variously listed. Lists sometimes differed both within and without evolving Sunni and Shi`i sources.
In Islamic tradition God’s Names are variously listed, most famously in prophetic ḥadīth listing his much commented upon 99 al-asmā’ al-ḥusnā (The most beautiful Names) (Bihar2 4:184ff). A prophetic tradition cited by al-Fayḍ al-Kashānī in his Nawādir al-akhbār has it that God has 4,000 Names some of which are known only to himself. 1,000, furthermore, are known to God and the angels, another 1,000 to God, the angels and the prophets and the fourth 1,000 are known to the believers, 300 being in the Tawrāt, 300 in the Injīl, 300 in the Zabūr and 100 in the Q., 99 of these are evident (ẓāhir) and one of is "concealed" (makhtūm). Whosoever knows this latter hidden Name, the tradition continues, "will enter Paradise (al-jannat)" (cited Kashānī, Nawadir 110). The same source cites a tradition from Imā m Ja`far ™ādiq about his Mightiest Name (ismihi al-a`ẓam) which partly reflects Jewish traditions:
His Mightiest Name consist of 73 letters, 25 letters of which he gave to Adam, and 25 of which he gave to Noah. Abraham was given 8 letters and Moses four letters while Jesus was given two letters through which he revived the dead and cured the blind and the lame. Muhammad was given 72 letters. And he concealed one letter perchance he might know what is within himself and know what is in the selves of his servants (cited idem, Nawadir, 110 from a 3rd cent. AH source).
The 99 Names of God and the al-Asmā' al-Ḥusnā ("Most Beautiful Names").
From James Robson's translation of the Mishkat al Masabih Vol. 1 (= English translation with explanatory notes) Rep. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1990, Chap. 1 Book X, `God's Names', p. 483. I have modified the transliteration and added the 1-99 numbering of the Names as well as included a red asterisk indicating those Names not found in the Qur'ān. Alternative translations are sometimes placed in square brackets as spelled out on pp. 49-50 of the Burrell & Daher rendering of the Hadith from Abu Hurayra in their excellent 1992 translation of al-Ghazzali's al-Maqsad al-asnā (see bib. below). Occasionally I have added my own rendering...
From James Robson's translation of the Mishkat al Masabih Vol. 1 (= English translation with explanatory notes) Rep. Lahore: Sh. Muhammad Ashraf, 1990, Chap. 1 Book X, `God's Names', p. 483. I have modified the transliteration and added the 1-99 numbering of the Names as well as included a red asterisk indicating those Names not found in the Qur'ān. Alternative translations are sometimes placed in square brackets as spelled out on pp. 49-50 of the Burrell & Daher rendering of the Hadith from Abu Huraira in their excellent 1992 translation of al-Ghazzali's al-Maqsad al-asnā (see bib. below). Occasionally I have added my own rendering...
"Abu Hurayra reported God's messenger as saying,
"God, the Most High, has ninety-nine names. He who retains them in his memory will enter paradise. He is  God [Allāh] than whom there is no God,  the Compassionate (al-Rahman),  the Merciful (al-Raḥīm),  the King (al-Mālik),  the Holy (al-Quddūs),  the source of Peace [the Flawless] (al-Salām),  the Preserver of security [the Faithful] (al-Mu'min),  the Protector [Guardian] (al-Muhaymin),  the Mighty (al-'Azīz),  the Overpowering [Compeller] (al-Jabbār),  the Great in Majesty (al-Mutakabbir),  the Creator (al-Khāliq),  the Maker (al-Bāri'),  the Fashioner (al-Muṣawwir),  the Forgiver (al-Ghaffar),  the Dominant (al-Qahhār),  the Bestower (al-Wahhāb),  the Provider (al-Razzāq),  the Decider [Opener] (al-Fattāḥ),  the Knower [Omniscient] (al-'Alīm),  the Withholder [He Who contracts] (al-Qābiḍ),  the Plentiful Giver (al-Bāsit),  the Abaser (al-Khāfid),  the Exalter (al-Rāfi'),  the Honourer (al-Mu'izz),  the Humiliator (al-Muzill),  the Hearer (al-Samī`),  the Seer (al-Baṣīr),  the Judge (al-Ḥakam),  the Just (al-'Adl),  the Gracious [the Benevolent] (al-Laṭīf),  the Informed (al-Khabīr),  the Clement [the Mild] (al-Ḥalīm),  the Incomparably Great (al-'Azīm),  the Forgiving (al-Ghafūr),  the Rewarder [Grateful] (al-Shakūr),  the Most High (al-'Alī),  the Most Great (al-Kabīr),  the Preserver (al-Ḥafīẓ),  the Sustainer [Nourisher] (al-Muqīt),  the Reckoner (al-Ḥasīb),  the Majestic (al-Jalīl),  the Generous (al-Karīm),  the Watcher [All-Observant] (al-Raqīb),  the Answerer (al-Mujīb),  the Liberal [the Vast] (al-Wāsi'),  the Wise (al-Ḥakim),  the Loving (al-Wadūd),  the All-Glorious (al-Majīd),  the Raiser [the Resurrector] (al-Bā'ith),  the Witness (al-Shahīd),  the Real [the Truth] (al-Ḥaqq),  the Trustee (al-Wakīl),  the Strong (al-Qawī),  the Firm (al-Matīn),  the Patron (al-Walī),  the Praiseworthy (al-Ḥamīd),  the All-knowing (al-Muḥṣī),  the Originator (al-Mubdi'),  the Restorer to life (al-Mu'īd),  the Giver of life (al-Muḥyī),  the Giver of death (al-Mumīt),  the Living (al-Ḥayy),  the Eternal [Self-Subsusting] (al-Qayyūm),  the Self-Sufficient (al-Wājid),  the Grand [Magnificent] (al-Mājid),  the One (al-Wāḥid),  He to whom men repair [the Eternal] (al-Ṣamad),  the Powerful (al-Qādir),  the Prevailing (al-Muqtadir),  the Advancer [the Promoter] (al-Muqaddim),  the Delayer (al-Mu'akhkhir),  the First (al-Awwal),  the Last (al-Ākhir),  the Outward [Manifest] (al-Ẓāhir),  the Inward (al-Bāṭin),  the Governor [Ruler] (al-Wālī),  the Sublime (al-Muta'ālī),  the Ample Beneficent [Righteous] (al-Barr),  the Acceptor of Repentance (al-Tawwāb),  the Avenger (al-Muntaqim),  the Pardoner (al-'Afuw),  the Kindly (al-Ra'ūf),  the Ruler of Kingdom (Mālik al-Mulk),  the Lord of Majesty and Splendor (Dhu'l-Jalāl wa'l-Ikrām),  the Equitable (al-Muqsiṭ),  the Gatherer (al-Jāmi'),  the Independent [Rich] (al-Ghanī),  the Enricher (al-Mughnī),  The Depriver [Protector] (al-Māni'),  the Harmer [Punisher] (al-Ḍārr),  the Benefiter (al-Nāfi'),  the Light (al-Nur),  the Guide (al-Hādī),  the First Cause (al-Badī'),  the Enduring (al-Bāqī),  the Inheritor (al-Wārith),  the Director (al-Rashīd),  the Patient (al-Ṣabūr)."
The citation of the prophetic ḥadīth of the Ninety-Nine Names of God as relayed from the Prophet Muhammad by Abu Hurayra ( ) and contained in the al-Maqsad al-Asna, fi Sharh asma' Allah al-ḥusnā. the Commentary upon the Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful Names of God of `Abu Ḥamid al-Ghazali (d.555/1111) (= in Pt. II chapter one  pp. 49-51):
"On Explaining the Meanings of God's Ninety-Nine Names
THESE are the names comprised in the account of Abu Hurayra—may God be pleased with him—when he said: 'The Messenger of God—may God's blessing and peace be upon him—said: God—great and glorious—has ninety-nine names, one hundred minus one; single, He loves odd numbers, and whoever enumerates them will enter Paradise.
(1) Allah and there is no other god but He: (2) al-Raḥrnan (The Infinitely Good), (3) al-Raḥīm (The Merciful), (4) al-Malik (The King), (5) al-Quddūs (The Holy), (6) al-Salārn (The Flawless), (7) al-Mu'min (The Faithful), (8) al-Muhaymin (The Guardian), (9) ΑΙ-Άlī (The Eminent), (10) al-Jabbār (The Compeller)(11) al-Mutakabbir (The Proud), (12) al-Khāliq (The Creator), (13) AI-Bāri' (The Producer), (14) al-Muşawwir (The Fashioner), (15) al-Ghaffār (He who is full of forgiveness), (16) al-Qahhār (The Dominator), (17) al-Wahhāb (The Bestower), (18) al-Razzāq (The Provider), (19) al-Fattāḥ (The Opener), (20) al-`Alīm (The Omniscient), (21) al-Qābid (He who contracts), (22) al-Bāsiṭ (He who expands), (23) al-Khāfid (The Abaser), (24) al-Rāfi` (The Exalter), (25) Al֊ Μu`izz(The Honourer), (26) al-Mudhill (He who humbles), (27) al-Samī` (The All-Hearing), (28) al-Baṣīr (The All-Seeing), (29) al-Ḥakam (The Arbitrator), (30) al-`Adl (The Just), (31) al-Laṭīf (The Benevolent), (32) al-Khabīr (The Totally Aware), (33) al-Ḥalīm (The Mild), (34) al-`Azīm (The Tremendous), (35) al-Ghafūr (The All-Forgiving), (36) al-Shakūr (The Grateful), (37) al-`Alī (The Most High), (38) al-Kabīr (The Great), (39) al-Ḥafīẓ (The All-Preserver), (40) al-Muqīt (The Nourisher), (41) al-Ḥasīb (The Reckoner), (42) al-Jaīl (The Majestic), (43) al-Karīm (The Generous), (44) al-Raqïb (The All-Observant), (45) al-Mujīb (The Answerer of prayers), (46) al-Wāsi` (The Vast), (47) al-Hakīrn (The Wise), (48) al-Wadūd (The Lovingkind), (49) al-Majīd (The All-Glorious), (50) al-Bā`ith (The Raiser of the dead), (51) al-Shahīd (The Universal Witness), (52) al-Ḥaqq (The Truth), (53) al-Wakīl (The Guardian), (54) al-Qawī (The Strong), (55) al-Matīn (The Firm), (56) al-Walī (The Patron), (57) al-Ḥamīd (The Praised), (58) al-Muḥṣī (The Knower of each separate thing), (59) al-Mubdi' (The Beginner, The Cause), (60) al-Mu'īd (The Restorer), (61) al-Muḥyī (The Life-Giver), (62) al-Mumīt (The Slayer), (63) al-Ḥayy (The Living), (64) al-Qayyūm (The Self-Existing), (65) al-Wājid (The Resourceful), (66) al-Mājid (The Magnificent), (67) al-Wāḥid (The Unique), (68) al-Ṣamad (The Eternal), (69) al-Qādir (The All-Powerful), (70) al-Muqtadir (The All-Determiner), (71) al-Muqaddim (The Promoter), (72) al-Mu'akhkhir (The Postponer), (73) al-Awwal (The First), (74) al-Ākhir (The Last), (75) al-Ẓāhir (The Manifest), (76) al-Bāṭin (The Hidden), (77) Wālī (The Ruler), (78) al-Muta'ālī (The Exalted), (79) al-Barr (The Doer of Good), (80) At-Tawwāb (The Ever-relenting), (81) al-Muntaqim (The Avenger), (82) al-`Afū (The Effacer of sins), (83) al-Ra'ūf (The All-Pitying), (84) Mālik al-Mulk (The King of Absolute Sovereignty), (85) Dhū'l-Jalāl wa'l-lkrām (The Lord of Majesty and Generosity), (86) al-Muqsiṭ (The Equitable), 2 (87) al-Jāmi' (The Uniter), (88) al-Ghanī (The Rich), (89) al-Mughnī (The Enricher), (90) al-Māni` (The Protector), (91) al-Ḍārr (The Punisher), (92) AI-Nāfi` (He who benefits), (93) al-Nūr (Light), (94) al-Hādī (The Guide), (95) al-Badī` (The Absolute Cause), (96) al-Bāqī (The Everlasting), (97) aΙ-Wārìth (The Inheritor), (98) al-Rashīd (The Right in Guidance), (99) Al֊-Ṣabur (The Patient)."
- al-Ghazalī on the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God, trans. David B. Burrell and Nazih Daher, Islamic Text Society , 1993.
al-Ghazali on the Ninety-Nine Beautiful Names of God: al-Maqsad, al-Asna, Fi Sharh Asma', Allah al-Husna. Nakamura Hardcover / Islamic Text Society / March 1993.
Some Shi`i versions of the Ninety-Name names of God
A tradition similar to that transmitted by Abu Hurayra cited above is traced back in certain Shi`i sources to the first Shi`i Imam `Ali ibn Abi Ṭālib (d. 40/661), The list of the ninety-nine Names of God attributed to him is very similar to the Sunni Hadith of Abu Hurayra cited above. It can be found, for example, in the al-Miṣbāḥ fi al-Adu`iyya wa'l-ṣalawāt wa'l-ziyārāt wa'l-ajwāz wa'l-`awdhāt of the important Imami Shi`i expert on devotional literatures Shaykh Taqī al-Dīn al-Kaf`amī [al-`Āmilī] ( d. 900/1494-5) (see below). Within this bulky and important work several versions of the ninety-nine Names of God are spelled out as recorded in various Islamic literatures. Within the 32nd section of the al-Miṣbāḥ of al-Kaf`amī three versions are recorded. The first version is that recorded by Shaykh `Abu al-`Abbās Aḥmad ibn Muhammad ibn Fahd al-Hillī (fl. 9th cent AH = 15th-16th cent. CE) in his `Uddat al-Da`ī (“The Preparedness of the Supplicator”) where the tradition cited has a chain of transmission going back from the eighth Imam `Alī al-Riḍā' (d. 203/818) to the first Imam `Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib. Unique Names are emboldened and begin/end with a green asterisk indicative of Names not found in the Sunni transmitted Abu Hurayra list given above:
"God (Allāh) has ninety-nine Names (al-asmā'). Whosoever supplicates thereby will assuredly be answered and whoso is enumerates them will assuredly enter the Garden of Paradise (al-jannat). They are  God (Allāh);  the Unique (al-Wāḥid) [= 67];  the One (al-Aḥad);  the Eternal (al-Ṣamad);  the First (al-Awwal) [=73];  the Last (al-Ākhir) [=74];  the Hearer (al-Samī`) [= 27];  the Seer (al-Baṣīr) [=28];  the Powerful (al-Qadīr) [cf. 69];  the Wrathful [Victorious] (al-Qāhir), [=XX]; The Elevated (al-`Aliyy];  The Most Elevated (al- A`lā);  The Eternal (al-Bāqi);  The Wonderful [Revolutionary] (al-Badī`);  The Creator (al-Bāri');  The Most Generous (al-Akram);  The Manifest (al-Ẓāhir);  The Hidden (al-Bāṭin);  The Living One (al-Ḥayy);  The Wise (al-Ḥakīm);  The All-Knowing (al-`Alīm);  The Clement [the Mild] (al-Ḥalīm);  The Preserver (al-Ḥafīẓ);  The True One (al-Ḥaqq);  The Reckoner (al-Ḥasīb) [= 41];  The Praiseworthy (al-Ḥamīd) [= 41];  The Welcoming [Hospitable] (al-Ḥafiyy);  The Lord (al-Rabb);  the Compassionate (al-Rahman) [=2];  the Merciful (al-Raḥīm) [=3];  The Disperser (al-Dhari`)*;  The Provider (al-Razzāq);  The Watcher [All-Observant] (al-Raqīb) [= 44];  The Kindly (al-Ra'ūf) [=83];  The Seer (al-Rā'ī)*;  The Source of Peace [the Flawless] (al-Salām) [=6];  The Preserver of Security [the Faithful] (al-Mu'min) [=7];  The Protector [Guardian] (al-Muhaymin) [=8];  the Mighty (al-'Azīz) [=9];  The Overpowering [Compeller] (al-Jabbār) [=10];  The Great in Majesty (al-Mutakabbar) [=11];  The Master [Overlord] (al-Sayyid)*;  The Glorified (al-Subbūḥ)*);  The Witness (al-Shahīd);  The Truthful (al-Ṣādiq);  The (al-Ṣāni`)  The Purifier (al-Tāhir);  The Just (al-`Adl);  The Obliterator [Effacer of Sin] (al-`Afuww) [=82];  The Forgiver (al-Ghafūr) [=35];  The Wealthy [Rich] (al-Ghanī) [=88];  The Helper [Succorer] (al-Ghiyāth)*;  The Cleaver (al-Fāṭir);  The Single (al-Fard)*;  The Opener (al-Fattāḥ) [=19];  The Splitter [Dispeller](al-Fāliq)*;  The Pre-Existent [Ancient] (al-qadīm)*;  The Sovereign [King] (al-Malik) [cf. 4];  The Holy (al-Quddūs) [=5];  The Strong [Powerful] (al-Qawiyy) [= 54];  The Near One (al-Qarīb)*;  The Self-Subsisting (al-Qayyūm) [=64];  The Withholder [He Who contracts] (al-Qābiḍ) [=21]; The One Who expands (al-bāsiṭ) [=22];  The Judge (al-Qāḍī)*;  The Grand [Magnificent] (al-Majīd) [=66];  The Patron [Guardian] (al-Walī) [cf. 77];  The Munificent (al-Mannān)*;  The All-Encompassing (al-Muḥīṭ)*;  The Perspicuous [Evident] (al-Mubīn)*;  The Nourisher (al-Muqīt) [=40];  The Fashioner (al-muṣawwar) [=14];  The Generous (al-Karīm) [=43];  The Great (al-Kabīr) [=38];  the All-Sufficing (al-Kāfi)*;  the Discloser (al-Kashif)*,  The Injurer [Punisher] (al-Ḍurir)* [cf. 91],  The Uneven [Odd Number] (al-Witr)*;  The Light (al-Nūr)[=93];  The Bestower (al-Wahhāb) [=17];  The Victorious (al-Nāṣir)*;  The All-Encompassing [Vast] (al-Wāsi`);  The Loving One (al-Wadūd) [=48];  The Guide (al-Hādī) [=94];  The Trustworthy [Faithful] (al-Wafī)*;  The Trustee (al-Wakīl) [=53]  The Inheritor (al-Wārith) [=97];  The Doer of Good (al-Barr) [=79];  The Raiser of the Dead [Ressurrector] (al-Bā`ith) [=50];  The Ever-Relenting (al-Tawwāb) [=80];  The Majestic [Glorious] (al-Jalīl) [=42];  The Magnanimous [Generous] (al-Jawād)*;  The Wholly Aware (al-Khabīr) [=32];  the Creator (al-Khāliq) [=12];  The Best of the Victorious Ones (Khayr al-Nāṣirīn)*,  The Devout [Pious] (al-Dayyān)*,  The Grateful (al-Shakūr) [=36],  the Benevolent [Subtle] (al-Laṭīf) [=31],  The Healer (al-Shāfi)* " (as cited in al-Kaf`amī, al-Miṣbāḥ [Beirut: Mu`assat al-Tarikh al-`Arabiyya, 1425/2004], 399-400).