Four Basic Attributes Of Allah
All types of perfect and true praise belong to Allah alone, the Creator and Nourisher to perfection (Rabb) of all the worlds, the Most Gracious (Rahman), the Ever Merciful (Rahim), Master (Malik) of the Day of Requital. (1:1-4, 2:163)
The Holy Qur'an begins with the name of Allah and the name Allah appears in the very beginning of the opening chapter (al-Fatihah) of the Holy Qur’an. This is followed by Rabb; no other attribute of Allah is mentioned so frequently. Next to Rabb are the attributes Rahman and Rahim and finally Malik. The name Allah is found in the Holy Book some 2697 times, the name Rabb occurs 978 times, the name Rahman and Rahim 376 times.
Rabb al alamin - Creator, Sustainer, Nourisher
Rabb al alamin is the first attribute of Allah. He is not Abb (Father), rather Rabb of the nations, creations, worlds and all kinds of created beings and things and their classes collectively (- al alamin as the Holy Qur'an says). According to Lisan al-‘Arab, Taj al-Urus and Mufradat-i-Raghib, the three most authentic lexicons, the Arabic word Rabb has many connotations, as Master, Chief, Determiner, Provider, Sustainer, Rewarder, Perfecter, Ruler, Creator, Maintainer, Reposer of Properties in things of nature, Developer, Framer of Rules and Laws of the Growth of Things, Regulizer, Foster of things in such a manner as to make them attain one condition after another until they reach their goal of perfection and completion, Arranger of different stages through which they have to pass on their way to completion, Author of all existence Who has sole title to it with no one having any share in it. Thus the word Rabb signifies dozens of processes which a thing passes through in the course of creation and evolution before it reaches its final development. These meanings have not been forced on this word Rabb. All standard lexicons of the Arabic language speak of all of them when they give the meaning of the root Raba. In English the word Rabb is generally translated as Lord, but this word can not at all convey the real significance of the original Arabic word Rabb. The process of creation embodied in the word Rabb covers, of course, with the exception of the Creator Himself, every existing thing whether in the realm of spirit or in the realm of bodies, whether of earthly creation or other celestial objects.
As Rabb al alamin He has provided all the material means for the physical requirements of all kinds for all creatures collectively and without discrimination, as food, grains, air, water, light and so many other things: Would you really disbelieve in Him (- the Rabb) Who created the earth in two aeons? And do you set up compeers with Him? This is the Lord (- the Rabb) of the worlds. He placed therein (- in the earth) firm mountains rising above (its surface) and showered it with His blessings and placed in it various provisions according to a set measure, (provisions to which) all those who require them have equal rights, (and all this He created) in four aeons. (41:9-10)
All creation bears His signature. He is the Rabb of the world of elements and command, since elements preceded from command and compounds are fashioned: Then He directed Himself towards the space. Behold! It was (like) a mass of gas. And He ( - The Lord, Rabb) said to it (- the space) and to the earth, ‘Come both of you (in obedience to Me) willingly or unwillingly.’ They said, ‘We obey you with all our will.’ (41:11)
He commands not only the formation of compounds from elements, but also commands the reversal of process, commanding the formation of elements from compounds. Do those who disbelieve not see that the heavens and the earth were (once) one mass all closed up, then We rent them apart. And it is from water that We created all life. Will they not believe? And We have made firm mountains on the earth so that they may be a source of benefit and provision for the people and lest it should quake with them. And We made on it wide pathways that people may find right guidance to reach the goal. And We have made the heaven a roof, well protected, still they turn away paying no heed to its (heavenly) signs. And it is He Who created the night and the day, the sun and the moon. They are all gliding along smoothly in (their respective) orbits. (21:30-33)
Thus the word Rabb al alamin conveys not only the idea of creation but also that of regulating, completing and accomplishing, that is of the evolution of things from the crudest state to that of the highest perfection: The word Rabb al alamin also signifies the fostering of a thing in such a manner as to make it attain one condition after another until it reaches its goal of perfection and completion. Hence the Rabb is not only the Author of all existence, Who has not only given to the whole creation its means of nourishment (41:9-10), but has also beforehand ordained for each a sphere of capacity and within that sphere provided the means by which it continues to attain gradually its goal of perfection: We create a human being from an extract of clay; then We reduce him to a drop of sperm (and place him) in a safe depository; then We form the sperm into a clot; then We develop the clot into a lump of flesh; then We fashion bones out of this lump of flesh, then We clothe the bones with flesh, thereafter We evolve him into another being. Therefore blessed be Allah the Best of Creators. Then as you have passed (these seven stages of physical and spiritual stages) you are heading towards death. Then (after death) you will certainly be raised up to life (for another never ending progress) on the Day of Resurrection (23:12-16).
The Holy Qur'an in the above verses is drawing our attention to the principle of evolution at work in the creation of all non-living and living things in their sphere. It establishes the working of a grand scheme under the ever vigilant eye of Rabb al alamin through hundreds and thousands of years in some cases, in order to bring things to their final perfection.
The progressive development of things makes creation all the more marvellous and Allah becomes all the more deserving of praise and worship. This evolution is prevalent not only in the physical world but also in the spiritual world, and as well as in Revelations (Wahi and Ilham) from God. As things grow, develop and change, they do not do so by themselves, they are all undergoing progressive development by stages, so is the case with the spiritual development. All spiritual life is subjective to Allah’s Lordship and He is constantly providing means through revelation (Wahi, Ilham) for the spiritual advancement of mankind. This is because Allah has created human beings for unlimited progress, and beyond every stage of their evolution there is another in a never-ending process as we read: It is He Who has evolved you from one living entity, then (He has provided for you) a permanent abode (starting after death to the final everlasting abode of paradise) and a temporary lodging (from birth to the grave). Verily We have explained (Our) signs in detail for a people who would understand. (6:98)
Some people deny His Providence and say that whatever they receive is the consequence of their actions. The believers in Tanasukh or incarnation and some of the followers of the Hindu religion think, that if some of them had not sinned in a particular fashion and not been born as cows and buffaloes in a previous incarnation there would have been no milk. They also allege that whatever we receive in this life is the fruit of action of some people in their previous incarnation. Such image-worshippers believe their idols to be Divine personification. These people have lost the track, and the very opening verses of the Holy Qur'an reject such concepts and tell us that all types of perfect and true praise belongs to Allah alone, the Lord of all the worlds.
The announcement that Allah is Rabb al alamin also clearly opposes those who seek to confine the Providence and grace of God to their own country and people, believing that other communities or peoples of other lands or ages were not created by God or that after creating them, God rejected them or forgot them. They may also believe that all Prophets and Messengers were raised from among the children of Israel and that Allah was so angry with other peoples that He did not take the least pity on them even when He found them in error or in a state of unawareness, or that Divine revelation and Divine speech always remained restricted within the frontiers of India or Israel. These people do not accept Allah as Rabb, the Lord of Universal Providence. When He is the Lord of Universal Providence and not only the Lord of Israel or the Lord of Bharat and Arya Varta, why should He attach Himself permanently to a particular people and a particular age? That is partiality and favoritism. The Holy Qur’an denounces such notions and expounds in diverse ways that Allah has made provisions for the material welfare of the people of all different lands and He has made provisions for the spiritual sustenance of every people: There has been no people without a Warner and a Prophet (35:24)
This is so that no people may have cause to complain that Allah was gracious only towards some nation and not towards another, or that particular people were given a book so that they may be guided therewith and others were not, or that He manifested Himself through His words and revelations and signs in a certain age but remained hidden and silent in another age. That is why the Holy Qur'an says: (We have sent this revelation) lest you should say, ‘The Book has only been revealed to two communities (- the Jews and the Christians) before us, and (as for us) we remained unaware of what those (Books) read.’ Or lest you should say, ‘Had the Book been revealed to us we would surely have been better guided than they. (6:156-157)
By extending His Providence universally He disposed all such objections and exercised such universal benevolence that no people or age was denied the beneficence of His material and spiritual grace. As Rabb al alamin He is the source of all grace and every capacity proceeds from Him, and everything that exists is sustained by Him. He is the support of every creature. His grace comprehends all people and all epochs.
And indeed We have already sent (Our) Messengers before you. There are some of them whom We have mentioned to you and of them there are some whom We have not mentioned to you. (40:78)
This creates a sense of respect and honour for all the prophets that have appeared among the various nations of the world and by accepting that all as having been sent by Allah paves the way for the unity among the nations and peace through religion. These words also tell us that Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam and all such faiths are but different aspects of one and the same religion, which in their original purity conveyed the same message of the Unity of God. Their religion was the submission to the will of One God and to make peace with their Creator and creation: And We sent no Messenger before you but We revealed to him, (saying), ‘The truth is that there is no other, cannot be and will never be One worthy of worship but I, therefore worship Me (alone).’ (21:25)
Therefore we should believe in all those prophets, as this is the foundation of a universal brotherhood. This lays down the sound basis of peace and harmony among the religions of the world. Thus the source of all Divine Scriptures, Bible, Vedas or other similarly claimed Holy Books is the same. Divine revelations or Allah’s communion with human beings, men and women, is a necessary factor in the evolution of humanity. This Divine gift is bestowed upon all the nations of the world. He raised His Prophets not only in the Land of Palestine but in all continents. It was from India that Rishis, Prophets and saints like Buddha, Rama, Krishna and Guru Nanak were chosen and where the Holy Scriptures, the Vedas were revealed in Sanskrit several thousand years ago.
Allah being Rabb al alamin abolishes all individual and racial distinctions and tells that the noblest among us in the sight of Allah is he who guards against evil, and who is most righteous (2:177); and thus opens a door of dialogue among the religions of the world, and establishes a vast brotherhood between all races, tribes and nations. No body is to be deprived of any right on the score of race, language, colour or sex, and no one of us is a believer in Allah until he not only recognizes the truth of all the previous Prophets but also believes in the Divine origin of their teachings (2:4; 2:136; 3:84). We can understand differences of opinion arising from differences of temperament. They may lead to the existence of several schools of thought, but they cannot affect the real and basic faith, so far as the cardinal principles are concerned in their pure integrity. That is why we are told: Surely, those who (profess to) believe (in Islam), and those who follow the Jewish faith, the Christians and the Sabians, whosoever (of these truly) believes in Allah and the Last Day and acts righteously shall have their reward with their Lord, and shall have nothing to fear, nor shall they grieve. (2:62)
Rahman - the Most Gracious
Rahman is the second attribute of Allah. Allah says: Call upon Him Allah or call upon Him al-Rahman, call upon Him whichever name you like, for all beautiful Names belong to Him (17:110)
The difference between Rabb and Al-Rahman is that Rabb is an all-embracing providence by means of which the entire universe came into being and continues to be sustained and nourished whereas the attribute Al-Rahman, - the Most Gracious, is a special eternal grace which extends only to the living realm without reference to any merit or right of any of them in relation to their respective requirements, and not being a recompense of any action on their part. The special concern of Rabb for the entire living realm has been called al-Rahman. It is because of this attribute that everything capable of sensation and consciousness is alive, works, eats, drinks, feels, secures against affliction and has his needs fulfilled.
Rahim - the Ever Merciful
Rahim, the Ever Merciful, is the third basic attribute of Allah. The distinction between Rahim and Rahman is that the Rahman grants of His own accord out of pure grace and beneficence without reference to any deed or request, while Rahim, on the other hand, means Who causes good results to follow on good deeds, and would not nullify anyone’s work and labour. Allah is Rahman in the sense that He grants a pure nature to human beings, without the taint of sin, in the finest make and the best proportions with enormous capabilities for an all-round advancement and for the purpose of seeking God, and He is Rahim in the sense that when he makes use of his faculties He blesses his efforts with goodly results.
The Arabic words Rahman and Rahim translated as Most Gracious and Ever Merciful are derived from the same root Rahm signifying love, tenderness, grace, mercy, pity, forgiveness, goodness, all required for exercising beneficence. Both al-Rahman and al-Rahim are active participle nouns of different measures denoting extensiveness of significance. An Arabic intensive is more suited to express God’s attributes than the superlative degree. It is wrong to think that Rahman and Rahim are the repetition of one and the same attribute and they are narrated in the first chapter of the Holy Qur'an one after another for the sake of emphasis alone (as Allama Moududi explains in his translations and interpretations of the Holy Qur'an). The fact is that these are two different attributes of Allah. Rahman is in the measure of Fa‘lan which conveys the idea of fullness and extensiveness and indicates the greatest preponderance of the quality of mercy which comprehends the entire universe without regard to the effort and asking. It circumscribes the quality of abounding grace inherent in and inseparable from Him. Rahim is in the measure of Fa‘il. This measure denotes the idea of constant repetition and giving of liberal reward again and again to those who ask for it and deserve it. It is on account of this attribute that it is said that he who seeks finds and he who asks is given. It is on account of this grace that Allah hears the prayers of supplicants when He says: “Call on Me! I will answer your Prayer" (40:60)
Striving is essential for achieving good results and invoking this grace. For this special benevolence, effort, exertion, hard work, purification of the heart and supplications are necessary conditions. Those who exert in the direction of Allah and those who do not care cannot be the same. In the Holy Qur'an there are dozens of verses which remind us of this Attribute of Allah. The Attribute of al-Rahim is almost always in association with other Attributes of Him. His Attribute of being the Most Gracious (al-Rahman), Oft-Returning (al-Tawwab), Most Loving (al-Wadud), the All-Mighty (al-Aziz), the Most Beneficent (al-Barr), the Great Protector (al-Ghafur), the Ever Loving (al-Rauf) are to be found together with al-Rahim. Seek protection of your Lord and turn to Him. Surely, my Lord is Ever Merciful, Most Loving (11:90). Take Allah as your shield, surely Allah is Oft-Returning with Compassion and Ever Merciful (49:12)
The attributes of Rahman and Rahim rule out the doctrine of Atonement and Transmigration of souls in this very world. According to a saying of the Holy Prophet the attribute of Rahman generally pertains to this life while the attributes of Rahim generally pertains to the life to come, (Muhit, Zamakhshari) as this world is mostly the world of actions and the next a world where actions will be particularly rewarded. The attribute of Rahman provides us with what we need for our deeds in this life, whereas the attribute of Rahim brings about in the hereafter rewards and blessings after using those resources.
Malik e Youm al-Din - Master of the Day of Requital
Malik e Yaum al-Din: This is the fourth basic attribute of Allah. Allah is called Malik e yaum al-din - the Master of the Day of Requital. The translation of the word Malik is not King, as most English translations have adopted. Malik (- Master) and Malik (- king) are two different words from the same root Malak. According to the rules of forming derivations in the Arabic language, the larger the number of letters added to the root word, as the alif in Malik the more intensive or more extensive does the meaning become (Muhit, Zamakhshari). Hence a Malik or Master is one who possesses the right of ownership over a thing and has the power to deal with it as one likes. It is more than malik or king or ruler (Lane). It shows that the Almighty is not unjust if He forgives His servants, or gives more of their dues, as He is not like a king or a judge who is bound to give his judgment strictly in accordance with the prescribed law, but being Master He can forgive or give more than the due and show love and mercy wherever and in whatever manner He may like. He dominates and rules over every particle of the universe. To punish every sin is incompatible with the Divine attributes of forgiveness and forbearance.
As Malik, He has full authority to dispense reward and punishment. It is obvious that no one can be truly called Master unless he has the power to pardon or punish as he may like and determine. He does as He will. There is no room for anyone to find fault with that which He does. The use of the word Malik serves a twofold purpose. On one hand it gives courage, hope, and confidence to a person who has in a moment of weakness committed some wrong or sin, not to lose hope as the beneficent Allah being his Master has the power to forgive or give more. On the other hand it serves as a warning of taking undue advantage of the graciousness and beneficence of Allah. Both these things are essential for human beings’ spiritual progress and advancement.
The Divine Attribute Malike yaum al-din is a link between the attributes Rabb - the Nourisher to perfection, Rahman - the Most Gracious and Rahim - the Ever Merciful. This attribute shows the process of development of great and continuous mercy. The life after is also a creation of the Almighty, so His attributes of Nourishing, Graciousness, and Ever Compassionate Mercy will continue to operate in that life as well, thus effort and action and therefore progress will continue forever. The mentioning of the attributes of fostering and nourishing to perfection, graciousness, and compassionate mercy and love bear a subtle indication that Allah’s supreme Lordship is not due to domination by violence or subjugation but to the two forms of compassion, the general form (Rahmaniyyat) and the particular form (Rahimiyyat). He combines all kinds of glorification in His being and is unique in all His beauties and bounties. He is sublime, perfect, glorious and subject to no limitation. To Him is due all praise in the beginning and in the end through eternity. All excellencies belong to Him as a matter of right. No other shares in it.
The word yaum translated as 'Day' also means time, absolutely short or long, day and night (Taj). This word is used in the terminology of Qur'an refering to any period of time from a moment (5:28) to fifty thousand years (70:4). Although the process of reckoning is already going on in this life up to some extent, the last and the perfect reckoning will take place on the Day of Requital, the Day of greatest dispensation. There is continuous judgment and requital in this life as well but only in small measure. Award is reward and punishment is in His hands alone. A thief may escape once or twice but he is sure to be caught in the end or to be punished some other day in a different way. He who does evil suffers evil.
The Divine Attribute Malik e yaum al-din refutes those who do not believe in the Hereafter. The difference between this Divine attribute and Rahim is that Rahim opens the path to progress and success through good deeds, supplication and worship, whereby a reward is earned and through the attribute of Rahim attribute that reward is conferred. Those who do not believe in the Divine attribute of Rahim are indifferent towards good deeds, as the atheists say there is no reward and no punishment and thus deny the very existence of God and thereby deliberately neglect good actions. Under the attribute of Rahim and through good actions and prayer one is deemed worthy of grace, but it is through the attribute of Malik e yaum al-din that the grace is bestowed. Malik also indicates that He has not withdrawn Himself from the governance of the universe, committing it to some vicegerent with all authority to award recompense here and Hereafter. He alone is the complete Master and Owner.
In the category of Malik e yaum al-din it could be asked why Allah called Himself Master and not Judge? The answer is that the concept of justice does not emerge until after the establishment of right and no one has any right against the Lord. Salvation in the Hereafter is a bounty from Allah. The Christian concept of vicarious atonement lacks such forbearance, forgiveness and mercy. On the other hand, the contemplation of these four Divine attributes creates in human beings an irresistible longing for seeing his Creator, an intense desire to offer his wholehearted devotion to Him and an irresistible feeling of love. This imperfect, dim, dense, narrow world of limited capacity is not suited to serve as stage for the magnificent manifestation of these attributes. An altogether different realm is needed for its demonstration. Through its mild reflection and forecast we can see in this life of those who 'die in the path of Allah' before death overtakes them and though they subsist in this world they have their being in the Hereafter, Allah manifests His light to them in a manner which is not manifested to others except after death. The heart of such a perfect man is a reflection of these four attributes.