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General Principles Regarding the Names and Attributes of Allāh

Shaykh ʿAlawī ibn ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Saqqāf

A comprehensive article outlining twenty principles regarding how we are to understand the Names and Attributes of Allāh.

To deny for Allāh everything which He has denied for Himself in His Book, or which His Messenger denied for Him; along with believing that its fully-perfect opposite is confirmed for Allāh – the Most High.

Shaykh ʿAlawī ibn ʿAbd al-Qādir al-Saqqāf

The First Principle

‘‘Affirmation of everything that Allāh affirmed for Himself in His Book, or which His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) affirmed for him; without taḥrīf (distorting the wording or the meaning of the Attributes), without taʿtīl (denying them), without takyīf (asking how the Attributes are), and without tamthīl (making any resemblance of them to the creation).’’ 2 This is because Allāh knows better about Himself than anyone else, and His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) knows better than the rest of creation about his Lord.

The Second Principle

‘‘To deny for Allāh everything which He has denied for Himself in His Book, or which His Messenger denied for Him; along with believing that its fully-perfect opposite is confirmed for Allāh – the Most High.’’ 3 This is because Allāh knows better about Himself than His creation, and His Messenger out of all the people is the one who knows best about his Lord. So denying death for Allāh includes affirmation of His perfect Life; and denying oppression for Him includes affirmation of His perfect Justice, and denying sleep for Him includes affirmation of His perfect charge and control over everything.

The Third Principle

‘‘The Sifāt of Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic – are tawqīfiyyah (i.e. only to be spoken of in accordance with a text). Thus, nothing is affirmed for Allāh, except that which Allāh affirmed for Himself, or was affirmed for Him by His Messenger. Likewise, nothing is denied for Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic – except that which He denied for Himself, or was denied for Him by His Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam).’’ 4 This is because no one knows better about Allāh, than Allāh – the Most High Himself, and there is no one of the creation who knows better about the Creator than Allāh’s Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam).

The Fourth Principle

‘‘To halt with regards to vague terms which are not found to be affirmed or denied textually; in wording or meaning. So further explanation is sought. Then, if something false is meant by it, then we declare Allāh free of that and reject it. If, however, it is something that is true and something that is not to be denied for Allāh, then it is accepted and the correct terminology – as found in the Book and the Sunnah – is to be made clear. One should call for the usage of the correct terminology, in place of this vague and newly-introduced wording.’’5 An example of this is the term jihah (direction). We halt – neither immediately affirming, nor denying it, and we ask the one who says it: What do you me by the term jihah (direction) for Allāh? If he says that he means a place which contains Him, then we say that this is something false and rejected, and Allāh is to be declared free from this. But if he says that it means that Allāh is unrestrictedly above, then we say that this is true; and it is not to be denied for Allāh. So we accept the meaning from him, but we say that it is more befitting that it be said: Allāh is above the heavens, or that he is above. Since these wordings occur in the authentic texts. But as for the term jihah (direction), then it is vague and is a novelty, so it is better to leave it.

The Fifth Principle

‘‘Every Attribute that is established by an authentic report most definitely agrees with the sound ʿaql (intellect).’ 6

The Sixth Principle

‘‘To cut off any hope in reaching the reality of how the attributes are; as Allāh – the Most High – said:

‘‘And they will never encompass anything of His Knowledge.’’
[Sūrah TaHa 20:110]’’ 7

The Seventh Principle

‘‘The Sifāt of Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic – are affirmed specifically and in detail; whereas denial is done in general.’’ 8 Example of detailed and specific affirmation is like affirming Hearing and Seeing, for Him and the rest of the Attributes. An example of generalized denial is like denying for Him any likeness; as in His saying:

‘‘There is nothing like Him.’’
[Sūrah Shooraa 42:11]

The Eighth Principle

‘‘Every Name confirmed for Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic – is inclusive of an Attribute, but he opposite is not the case.’’ [9] For example, Allāh’s Name al-Raḥmān (the Most Merciful) incorporates the attribute of mercy; al-Karīm (the Munificent) incorporates the attribute of munificence; and al-Lateef (the Most Gentle, the All-Perceiving) incorporates the attribute of being gentle and All-Perceiving; and so on. However, as for His Attributes; such as His Irādah (Will), His Majī (Coming), His Istawá (Ascending) – then names are not to be derived from them, such as the One Who Wills, The Comer, the One Who Ascends; etc.

The Ninth Principle

‘‘The Attributes of Allāh – the Most High – are perfect, containing no deficiency in any sense at all.’’ 10

The Tenth Principle

‘‘Attributes of Allāh are Dhātiyyah (those pertaining to His Self), and Fiʿliyyah (those pertaining to His Actions). And there is no limit or end to His Actions.’’ 11 Since Allāh says:

‘‘And Allāh does whatever He chooses.’’
[Sūrah Ibrāhīm 14:27]

The Eleventh Principle

‘‘The proof from the Book and the Sunnah for establishing an Attribute is either by clearly stating it, or by its being incorporated by the Name, or by clear statement of an action or description proving it.’’ 12 Examples of the first: Mercy, Might, Power, His face, His Hands, His Fingers; etc. Examples of the second: al-Baseer (the all-Seeing) incorporates the Attribute of sight, and as-Samee’ (the all-Hearing) incorporates the attribute of hearing; etc. Examples of the third:

‘‘The Most Merciful made istawá (ascended) over the Throne.’’
[Sūrah Ṭā Hā 20:5]

This proves His having ascended. And: ‘‘Indeed I will extract retribution from the criminals.’’
[Sūrah al-Sajdah 32:22].

This proves that He extracts retribution.

The Twelfth Principle

‘‘One may seek refuge with Allāh – the Mighty and Magnificent’s – Attributes, and swear an oath by them.’’ 13 From this is his (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) saying: ‘‘I seek refuge in Your Pleasure from Your Wrath, and of Your granting safety from Your Punishment.’’ 14 Therefore Imām al-Bukhārī headed a chapter heading in the Book of Oaths and Vows: ‘‘Chapter: Swearing an oath by the Might of Allāh and His Attributes and His Word.’’

The Thirteenth Principle

‘‘Speech concerning the Sifāt (Attributes) is like speech concerning the Dhāt (Self).’’ 15 Since, just as His Dhāt (Self) is real and does not resemble that of other than Him, then likewise, it is characterized by real Attributes which also do not resemble the attributes of others. And just as an affirmation of His Dhāt is an affirmation of existence, but not of how He exists, then the same is true for the Attributes.

The Fourteenth Principle

‘‘Speech concerning some of the Attributes is like speech concerning the rest of them.’’ 16 So whosoever affirms the Attributes of Allāh; like Hearing Seeing and Will, must therefore affirm Allāh’s Loving, being Pleased, His Anger and His Hating. Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymīyyah said: ‘‘Whosoever differentiates between one Attribute and another, despite their being the same with regards to reasons for their being literal or metaphorical, then he is contraḍīcting himself, erroneous in his position, and resembling those who believed in a part of the Book whilst disbelieving in other parts.’’

The Fifteenth Principle

‘‘Whatever is attributed to Allāh and is not something separate from Him, then it is an Attribute of His and is not something created. And everything that is attributed to Allāh, but is something separate from Him, then it is something created. So not everything that is attributed to Allāh is necessarily an Attribute of His.’’ 17 Examples of the first: Allāh’s Hearing, seeing, being Pleased and Wrath. Examples of the second: The House of Allāh, the She-Camel of Allāh.

The Sixteenth Principle

‘‘The Attributes of Allāh – the Mighty and Majestic – and all other matters of ʿaqīdah (belief) are established by whatever is [authentically] established from Allāh’s Messenger (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam), even if it is an Āhād narration.’’ 18

The Seventeeth Principle

‘‘The meaning of Allāh’s Attributes which are established in the Book and the Sunnah, are known and are explained with their dhāhir (apparent and literal) meaning, never with their majāz (metaphorical or figurative) meaning. But as for their kayfiyyah (how they are), then that is unknown.’’ 19

The Eighteenth Principle

‘‘Whatever occurs in the Book and the Sunnah, then it is ibnding upon every Believer to hold what it entails as his saying and to believe in it; even if he does not understand its meaning.’’ 20

The Nineteenth Principle

‘‘The domain of the reports [about Allāh and His Actions] is wider than that of the Attributes. So things related about Allāh are not necessarily dependant upon a text; such as Allāh is the pre-existing, that He is a thing, that He exists; etc.’’ 21

The Twentieth Principle

‘‘No analogy is made regarding the Attributes of Allāh.’’22 So no analogy is made between His Sakhaa (liberty) and His Jū d (Generosity), nor between His Jalad (Strength) and His Quwwah (Might), nor between His Istitaa’ah (Capability) and His Qudrah (Power), nor between His Riqqah (Compassion) and His Raḥmah (Mercy). This is because, with regards to Allāh’s Attributes, then we cannot go beyond the principle of halting until a text is found; as was explained in the third principle.

The Twenty-First Principle

‘‘The Attributes of Allāh – the Mighty and Magnificent – cannot be enumerated, since every Name of Allāh comprises an Attribute, and Allāh’s Names cannot be enumerated; since from them are those which Allāh has retained with Himself in the Knowledge of the Unseen.’’ 23 The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ʿalayhi wa-sallam) said: ‘‘No pre-occupying concern, nor grief inflicts a servant whereupon he says: O Allāh, I am your slave, the son of your slave, the son of your female slave. My forelock is in Your Hands; Your judgement is continually being carried out upon me; Your decree upon me is just. I ask you with every Name that is Yours, with which You have named Yourself, or sent down in Your book, or taught to any of Your creation, or have kept for Yourself in the hidden knowledge which is with You…’’24


[1] From the introduction to Sifātullāh ’Azza wa Jallul-Wāridah fil-Kitāb wa-al-Sunnah.
[2] ʿAqīdahtus-Salaf wa Aṣḥāb al-Ḥadīth (p. 4) of al-Sābūnī and Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (3/3, 4/182, 5/26, 6/38) of Shaykh al-Islām Ibn Taymīyyah.
[3] al-ʿAqīdahtut-Tadmuriyyah (p. 58) and al-Jawābus-Ṣaḥīḥ (3/139) both by Ibn Taymīyyah.
[4] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/26)
[5] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/299, 6/36) and at-Tadmuriyyah (p. 65)
[6] Mukhtasarus-Sawaa’iqul-Mursalah (1/141, 253)
[7] Manhaj wa Diraasaat li Āyātil-Asmāʾa wa-al-Ṣifāt (p. 25) of al-’Allāmah Muḥammad al-Amīn al-Shanqītī
[8] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (6/37, 6/515)
[9] Badaa‘i’ul-Fawaa‘id (1/162) of Ibn al-Qayyim and also al-Qawaa’idul-Muthlā fī Sifaatillāhi wa Asmāʾa‘il-Husnaa (p. 30) of Ibn al-ʿUthaymīn
[10] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/206) and Badaa‘i’ul-Fawaa‘id (1/168)
[11] al-Qawaa’idul-Muthlā (p. 30)
[12] al-Qawaa’idul-Muthlā (p. 38)
[13] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (6/143, 229) and refer also to Sharḥ al-Sunnah (1/185-187) of al-Baghawī.
[14] Related by Muslim (no. 486)
[15] al-Kʿalám ’alas-Sifaat (p. 20) of al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, al-Ḥujjah fī Bayānil-Maḥajjah (1/173) of al-Aṣbahānī, and Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/330, 6/355)
[16] at-Tadmuriyyah (p. 31) and Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/212)
[17] al-Jawaabus-Ṣaḥīḥ (3/145), Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (9/290) and also Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá wa Rasaa‘il (1/166) of Ibn al-ʿUthaymīn
[18] Mukhtasar Sawaa’iqul-Mursalah (2/332, 412, 433)
[19] at-Tadmuriyyah (pp. 43-44) and Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/36-42). For a full reply to the doubts refer to ar-Risaalatut-Tadmuriyyah, Munaadharatul-’ʿAqīdahtil-Waasitiyyah, ar-Risaalatul-Hamawiyyatil-Kubraa and ar-Risaalatul-Murraakashiyyah – all within Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá in order (3/1-128), (3/160-194), (5/5-121) and (5/153-193)
[20] at-Tadmuriyyah (p. 65) and Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/298)
[21] Badaa‘i’ul-al-Fawāʾid (1/162)
[22] Sha‘nud-Duʿāʾ (p. 111) of al-Khaṭṭābī
[23] Majmūʿ al-Fatāwá (5/176)
[24] Ṣaḥīḥ: Related by Aḥmad (1/391). It was authenticated by al-Albānī in Ṣaḥīḥ Kalimut-Tayyib(no. 102)

Published: May 22, 2007
Edited: August 8, 2022

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