Names and attributes of God — an Islamic point of view

Updated 25 January 2013

Names and attributes of God — an Islamic point of view

Prior to the modern age very few people disputed the fact that the world has a creator. This fact was for them as obvious as a logical truth or an observed phenomenon. They only differed about the nature of this creator and about the appropriate attitude people should have toward Him. But now the very existence of a creator is disputed. Why? This is not an easy question to answer.
However, I tend to agree with those contemporary writers who trace the origins of modern atheism in the West to the ideas of some influential Western philosophers, some of whom were themselves believers. But these ‘believers’ argued in such a way as to make people at least doubt, if not reject, some of the facts belief in which used to be considered of the essence of being rational. Good reasons for belief in the Creator, whether they be strictly rational or otherwise, used to be related to those facts.
Belief in God was based on the fact that there was something in our nature and in the nature of the world which points to a transcendent Creator whom we should worship. The claim of the new thinking was that our world is in every respect a closed system that cannot therefore point to anything outside itself.
The first step toward this separation of heaven and earth was perhaps Descartes’ mechanistic conception of the world in which it is claimed that it is possible to explain natural phenomena by reference to matter and motion and their laws. Hume widened the distance between heaven and earth by claiming that the causal principle by which we make such explanation of natural phenomena was nothing but observed regular succession. God cannot therefore be a cause since His creation or effect is not observed to occur after Him.
Kant took the final step by arguing that the concept of causation cannot apply to anything outside the world of our experience. This atheistic philosophy then became, as it were, the official philosophy of science. And since ordinary people, and even many scientists, do not see the distinction between the facts which science establishes and the philosophies which scientists adopt, especially when such philosophies become popular among great scientists, this atheistic philosophy was believed by the public to be the philosophy which science demands or even the philosophy whose truth it has establish.
Many believers accepted the atheistic assumptions of this philosophy but nevertheless maintained their belief in God hoping to find a place for Him in the realms which science could not yet conquer. But the atheists argued, with some strength, that since science was rapidly progressing in giving us “rational” explanations of phenomena which we used to believe to the works of God, it was only a matter of time before everything would be so explained, thus driving God completely out of our world.
The severance of the relation between God and the world was thus, on the one hand, a result of a new conception of the nature of our world. But on the other hand it led some believers to a new conception of the nature of God. God, as a result of this new thinking became more and more of an abstract idea rather than a living person. But this in its turn strengthened the atheistic trend. Who is interested in a God that is a mere idea, who has no active role to play either on the level of our intellects and behavior or on the level of nature?
But the idea that our world is a closed system, that it does not point to transcendent creator, has received a serious blow from the big bang theory, which is being more and more accepted by scientists as the most plausible scientific cosmological theory. According to this theory our natural world had a definite beginning. And if so it would not be illegitimate to ask: Who started it? But this means that the world itself is telling us that it is not self-sufficient, i.e., it is pointing to something beyond itself. But this fact, as we said earlier, was taken for granted by early thinkers. They did not have to wait for a twentieth-century scientific theory to prove it. Almost everything around them pointed to the fact our world had a beginning, and could not therefore be self-sufficient.
I think that it will soon be obvious that those who denied the existence of the Creator cannot support their claim by any scientific facts. But mere belief in the existence of a creator is not of much consequence. We need to know who this creator is so that we can establish appropriate relations with Him, relations that would make a difference in our life.
It is to this end that thinking believers should henceforth direct their energies. We must overcome the pre Big Bang complex which induced many of us to think of God as an abstract idea, and start expounding and defending the ordinary believer’s conception of Him as a living and loving Person. (By person I do not of course mean that God is a human or like a human person. Person is used here in the general sense of an actual existent with definite characteristics in contraditiction to an abstract idea. Allah is described in some ahadith of the Prophet as being that and as having a shakhs, or personality.)
I believe that there is much in the writings of early Muslim theologians from which all those who believe in the existence of the Creator can benefit in this respect. And it is toward this end that I shall attempt to give contemporary believers an idea about the way early Muslim theologians thought about an issue in which we are still interested, namely, the nature of God and His attributes.

To be continued next week
Courtesy of

Gospels lead us to the Qur’an

Updated 23 September 2016

Gospels lead us to the Qur’an

Brandon Yusuf Toropov gives a vivid account of his personal quest to study the most authentic verses of the Bible — the Q verses — and his coming into the fold of Islam. Thhis is the concluding part of his story.

I WAS interested in the research being done that indicated that the oldest strata of the Gospels reflected an extremely early oral source known as Q (the Q source: Q from German, Quelle, meaning ‘source,’ is a hypothetical written collection of Jesus’s sayings) and that each of the individual sayings of Jesus (may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him) needed to be evaluated on its own merits, and not as part of the narrative material that surrounded it. This is because that narrative material was added many years later.

Wresting with the doctrine of the Trinity: The more I looked at these sayings, the more impossible it became for me to reconcile the notion of the Trinity with that which seemed most authentic to me in the Gospels. I found myself face-to-face with some very difficult questions. Where in the Gospels did Jesus use the word “Trinity”? If Jesus was God, as the doctrine of the Trinity claims, why did he worship God? And, if Jesus was God, why in the world would he say something like the following? “Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God.” (Mark, 10:18) Did he somehow forget that he himself was God when he said this?

The Holy Qur’an: In November of 2002, I began to read a translation of the Qur’an. I had never read an English translation of the entire text of the Qur’an before. I had only read summaries of the Qur’an written by non-Muslims. (And very misleading summaries at that.)
Words do not adequately describe the extraordinary effect that this book had on me. Suffice to say that the very same magnetism that had drawn me to the Gospels at the age of 11 was present in a new and deeply imperative form. This book was telling me, just as I could tell Jesus had been telling me, about matters of ultimate concern. The Qur’an was offering authoritative guidance and compelling responses to the questions I had been asking for years about the Gospels.
“It is not (possible) for any human being to whom God has given the Book and wisdom and prophethood to say to the people: ‘Be my worshippers rather than God’s.’ On the contrary, (he would say): ‘Be devoted worshippers of your Lord, because you are teaching the Book and you are studying it.’ Nor would he order you to take angels and prophets for lords. Would he order you to disbelieve after you have submitted to God’s will?” (Qur’an, 3:79-80)
The Qur’an drew me to its message because it so powerfully confirmed the sayings of Jesus that I felt in my heart had to be authentic. Below, you will find just a few examples of the parallels that made my heart pliant to the worship of God. Each Gospel verse comes from the reconstructed text known as Q, a text that today’s scholars believe represents the earliest surviving strata of the teachings of the Messiah. Note how close this material is to the Qur’anic message.

On monotheism: In Q, Jesus endorses a rigorous monotheism. “Get thee behind me, Satan: For it is written, ‘Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.’” (Luke, 4:8) Compare: “Children of Adam, did We not command you not to worship Satan? He was your sworn enemy. Did We not command you to worship Me and tell you that this is the straight path?” (Qur’an, 36:60-61)

On Aqaba: Q identifies a right path that is often difficult, a path that unbelievers will choose not to follow. “Enter ye in through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate, and broad is the way that leadeth to destruction and many there are who go in there. Narrow is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” (Matthew, 7:13-14) Compare: “The worldly life is made to seem attractive to the disbelievers who scoff at the faithful, but the pious, in the life Hereafter, will have a position far above them…” (Qur’an, 2:212)

On Taqwa: Q warns us to fear only the judgment of God. “And I say unto you, my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear. Fear Him, which after He hath killed, hath the power to cast into Hell. Yea, I say unto you, fear Him!” (Luke, 12:4-5) Compare: “To Him belongs all that is in the heavens and the earth. God’s retribution is severe. Should you then have fear of anyone other than God?” (Qur’an, 16:52)

Earthly life: In Q, Jesus warns humanity plainly that earthly advantages and pleasures should not be the goal of our lives: “Woe unto you that are rich! For you have received your consolation. Woe unto you who are full! You shall be hungry. Woe unto you who laugh now! You shall weep and mourn.” (Luke, 6:24) Compare: “The desire to have increase of worldly gains has preoccupied you so much (that you have neglected the obligation of remembering God) – until you come to your graves! You shall know. You shall certainly know (about the consequences of your deeds.) You will certainly have the knowledge of your deeds beyond all doubt. You will be shown hell, and you will see it with your own eyes. Then, on that day, you shall be questioned about the bounties (of God).” (Qur’an, 102:1-8)

Crucifixion: We are left then with an amazing early Gospel, a Gospel that (non-Muslim) scholars believe is historically closest to Jesus, a Gospel that has the following characteristics: Agreement with the Qur’an’s uncompromising message of God’s Oneness; agreement with the Qur’an’s message of an afterlife of salvation or hellfire ... based on our earthly deeds; agreement with the Qur’an’s warning not to be misled by dunya, the attractions and pleasures of worldly life. A complete absence of any reference to Christ’s death on the cross, resurrection, or sacrifice for humanity! This is the Gospel that today’s most advanced non-Muslim scholars have identified for us ... and this Gospel is pointing us, if only we will listen to it, in precisely the same direction as the Qur’an! I became a Muslim on March 20, 2003. It became obvious to me that I had to share this message with as many thoughtful Christians as I could.