Thursday, September 23, 2010

The Name and the Names of God

There is a Jewish practice and a Muslim practice of naming God that together teach us a deep truth about the One.
Jews carry the tradition of the Name that cannot be spoken.  It is the name the high priest once spoke once a year, on Yom Kippur, in the Holy of Holies in the temple in Jerusalem, as he was pleading for God to draw near in mercy.  After the temple was destroyed in 70 AD, the pronunciation of the Name was lost.  Only the letters remain, Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh.  These four, the Tetragrammaton, stand as mute witness to the Ineffability of God, the Unity of God that transcends all thought and speech and calls into question all our thought and speech about God.  In daily practice Jews have two ways of  remembering this pointer to the Ineffability of God.  When the letters Yud, Heh, Vav, Heh appear in the Torah, we say “Adonai,” Lord—at once giving God a name while remembering that we do not possess the Name of God.  When one wants to refer to God in daily speech, to thank or bless or reflect on the One, one says “HaShem, “the Name.” The startling paradox of naming God “The Name” is a potent reminder that we do not have power over the One, nor can we limit the Limitless One (the Ein Sof of the Kabbalists). for to name is to limit, saying, You have these qualities and not others; you have this aspect of being and not others. The practice of The Name focuses our attention on the Light Beyond, that light in which we see light
Muslims carry the tradition of the 99 beautiful names, based on the Qur’an. 
"He is Allah, the Creator, the Originator, The Fashioner, to Him belong the most beautiful names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, do declare His praises and glory. And He is the Exalted in Might, The Wise. (Qur’an 59:24)
"The most beautiful names belong to God: so call on Him by them;..." (7:180)
The beauty and truth of this tradition is the invitation to all people to call upon the One by the many names, names that do two things simultaneously: point us to the complexity and omnipresence of God, which requires the use of many names rather than a single name; and focus our attention on particular attributes or qualities of the One as they relate to our personal experience in the moment. Again, as with the Jewish practice of the Name, the Islamic practice of the 99 beautiful names embodies a paradox: speaking one or two of the beautiful names while aware that these names are only one of the ways to speak of or name God’s presence.  Thus, the practice of the 99 names keeps before one the transcendence of the One beyond all names, the inability to contain the One in a single name, while offering the faithful a way to approach the Limitless through the qualities of the One as they are refracted in the world, the One light, appearing in many colors through the prism of the world. 
Sufis chant these names in varying combinations during communal dhikr, the remembrance of God, and individual retreats.  All Muslims use these names in their daily devotion to pull their hearts toward the One in the way that they need at that moment.  One woman may call upon Al-Azeez, the Undefeated, while another meditates on Al-Wahhaab, the Bestower. One man may call upon Ar-Rahmaan, the Compassionate, while another may remember the One as Al-Fattah, the Opener, or Al-Sabur, the Patient.  One year a person may draw near to the One as Al-Kareem, the Generous One, another year as Al- Haseeb, the Reckoner. The practice is a celebration of the limitless ways the One is present among us and of the compassion of the One in drawing near to us in the way that our spirit uniquely needs. 
The names of the One are not limited to 99.  There are slight variations in the lists from one tradition and theologian to the next, but here is one version:
  1. Allah
    • Allah, He who has the Godhood which is the power to create the entities.
  2. Ar-Rahmaan
    • The Compassionate, The Beneficent, The One abundant in mercy for the believers and the blasphemers in this world
  3. Ar-Raheem
    • The Merciful, The One who has plenty of mercy for the believers
  4. Al-Malik
    • The King, The Sovereign Lord, The One with the complete Dominion, the One Whose Dominion is free from imperfection
  5. Al-Quddoos
    • The Holy, The One who is pure from any imperfection and clear from children and adversaries.
  6. As-Salaam
    • The Source of Peace, The One who is free from every imperfection
  7. Al-Mu'min
    • Guardian of Faith
  8. Al-Muhaimin
    • The Protector, The One who witnesses the saying and deeds of His creatures.
  9. Al-^Azeez
    • The Mighty, The Strong, The Defeater who is not defeated
  10. Al-Jabbaar
    • The Compeller, The One that nothing happens in His Dominion except that which He willed
  11. Al-Mutakabbir
    • The Majestic, The One who is clear from the attributes of the creatures and from resembling them
  12. Al-Khaaliq
    • The Creator, The One who brings everything from non-existence to existence
  13. Al-Bari'
    • The Evolver, The Maker, The Creator who has the Power to turn the entities
  14. Al-Musawwir
    • The Fashioner, The One who forms His creatures in different pictures
  15. Al-Ghaffaar
    • The Great Forgiver, The Forgiver, The One who forgives the sins of His slaves time and time again
  16. Al-Qahhaar
    • The Subduer, The Dominant, The One who has the perfect Power and is not unable over anything
  17. Al-Wahhaab
    • The Bestower, The One who is Generous in giving plenty without any return
  18. Al-Razzaaq
    • The Sustainer, The Provider.
  19. Al-Fattaah
    • The Opener, The Reliever, The Judge, The One who opens for His slaves the closed worldy and religious matters.
  20. Al-^Aleem
    • The All-knowing, The Knowledgeable; The One nothing is absent from His knowledge.
  21. Al-Qaabid
    • The Constrictor, The Retainer, The Withholder, The One who constricts the sustenance by His wisdom and expands and widens it with His Generosity and Mercy
  22. Al-Baasit
    • The Expander, The Enlarger, The One who constricts the sustenance by His wisdom and expands and widens it with His Generosity and Mercy
  23. Al-Khaafid
    • The Abaser, The One who lowers whomever He wills by His Destruction and raises whomever He wills by His Endowment
  24. Ar-Raafi^
    • The Exalter, The Elevator
  25. Al-Mu^iz
    • The Honorer
  26. Al-Muthil
    • The Dishonorer, The Humiliator
  27. As-Samee^
    • The All-Hearing, The Hearer
  28. Al-Baseer
    • The All-Seeing
  29. Al-Hakam
    • The Judge, He is the Ruler and His judgment is His Word
  30. Al-^Adl
    • The Just, The One who is entitled to do what He does
  31. Al-Lateef
    • The Subtle One, The Gracious
  32. Al-Khabeer
    • The Aware, The One who knows the truth of things.
  33. Al-Haleem
    • The Forebearing, The Clement
  34. Al-^Azeem
    • The Great One, The Mighty, The Perfection
  35. Al-Ghafoor
    • The All-Forgiving, The Forgiving
  36. Ash-Shakoor
    • The Grateful, The Appreciative
  37. Al-^Aliyy
    • The Most High, The Sublime
  38. Al-Kabeer
    • The Most Great, The Great
  39. Al-Hafeez
    • The Preserver, The Protector
  40. Al-Muqeet
    • The Maintainer, The Guardian, The Feeder, The Sustainer
  41. Al-Haseeb
    • The Reckoner
  42. Aj-Jaleel
    • The Sublime One, The Beneficent
  43. Al-Kareem
    • The Generous One, The Bountiful, The Gracious
  44. Ar-Raqeeb
    • The Watcher, The Watchful, The One that nothing is absent from Him
  45. Al-Mujeeb
    • The Responsive, The Hearkener
  46. Al-Wasi^
    • The Vast, The All-Embracing, The Knowledgeable
  47. Al-Hakeem
    • The Wise, The Judge of Judges, The One who is correct in His doings
  48. Al-Wadood
    • The Loving
  49. Al-Majeed
    • The Most Glorious One, The Glorious, The One who is with perfect Power, High Status, Compassion, Generosity and Kindness
  50. Al-Ba^ith
    • The Resurrector, The Raiser (from death)
  51. Ash-Shaheed
    • The Witness, The One who nothing is absent from Him
  52. Al-Haqq
    • The Truth, The True, The One who truly exists
  53. Al-Wakeel
    • The Trustee, The One who gives the satisfaction and is relied upon
  54. Al-Qawiyy
    • The Most Strong, The Strong, The One with the complete Power
  55. Al-Mateen
    • The Firm One
  56. Al-Waliyy
    • The Protecting Friend, The Supporter.
  57. Al-Hameed
    • The Praiseworthy
  58. Al-Muhsee
    • The Counter, The Reckoner
  59. Al-Mubdi'
    • The Originator
  60. Al-Mu^eed
    • The Reproducer, The One who brings back the creatures after death
  61. Al-Muhyi
    • The Restorer, The Giver of Life
  62. Al-Mumeet
    • The Creator of Death, The Destroyer, The One who renders the living dead
  63. Al-Hayy
    • The Alive
  64. Al-Qayyoom
    • The Self-Subsisting, The One who remains and does not end.
  65. Al-Waajid
    • The Perceiver, The Finder, The Rich who is never poor
  66. Al-Waahid
    • The Unique, The One, The One without a partner
  67. Al-Ahad
    • The One.
  68. As-Samad
    • The Eternal, The Independent, The Master who is relied upon in matters and reverted to in one’s needs
  69. Al-Qaadir
    • The Able, The Capable
  70. Al-Muqtadir
    • The Powerful, The Dominant, The One with the perfect Power that nothing is withheld from Him
  71. Al-Muqaddim
    • The Expediter, The Promoter, The One who puts things in their right places
  72. Al-Mu'akh-khir
    • The Delayer, the Retarder, The One who puts things in their right places
  73. Al-'Awwal
    • The First, The One whose Existence is without a beginning
  74. Al-'Akhir
    • The Last, The One whose Existence is without an end
  75. Az-Zaahir
    • The Manifest, The One whom nothing is above and nothing is underneath
  76. Al-Baatin
    • The Hidden
  77. Al-Walee
    • The Governor
  78. Al-Muta^ali
    • The Most Exalted, The High Exalted, The One who is free from the attributes of the creation
  79. Al-Barr
    • The Source of All Goodness, The Righteous, The One who is kind to His creatures, who covers them with His sustenance and specifies whomever He wills among them by His support, protection, and special mercy
  80. At-Tawwaab
    • The Acceptor of Repentance, The Relenting
  81. Al-Muntaqim
    • The Avenger, The One who victoriously prevails over His enemies and punishes them for their sins
  82. Al-^Afuww
    • The Pardoner, The Forgiver, The One with wide forgiveness
  83. Ar-Ra'uf
    • The Compassionate, The One with extreme Mercy
  84. Malik Al-Mulk
    • The Eternal Owner of Sovereignty
  85. Thul-Jalali wal-Ikram
    • The Lord of Majesty and Bounty
  86. Al-Muqsit
    • The Equitable, The One who is Just in His judgment.
  87. Aj-Jaami^
    • The Gatherer, The One who gathers the creatures on  the Day of Judgment
  88. Al-Ghaniyy
    • The Self-Sufficient
  89. Al-Mughni
    • The Enricher, The One who satisfies the necessities of the creatures
  90. Al-Maani^
    • The Preventer, The Withholder
  91. Ad-Daarr
    • The Distresser, The One who makes harm reach to whomever He wills and benefit to whomever He wills
  92. An-Nafi^
    • The Propitious, The One who makes harm reach to whomever He wills and benefit to whomever He wills
  93. An-Noor
    • The Light
  94. Al-Haadi
    • The Guide
  95. Al-Badi^
    • The Incomparable, The One who created the creation and formed it without any precedent or example
  96. Al-Baaqi
    • The Everlasting, The One for whom the state of non-existence is impossible
  97. Al-Waarith
    • The Supreme Inheritor, The Heir, The One whose Existence remains
  98. Ar-Rasheed
    • The Guide to the Right Path, The One who guides
  99. As-Saboor
    • The Patient, The One who does not quickly punish the sinners.
The Name and the 99 names--both practices are powerful and life-giving.  We might be tempted to say that the Jewish practice of the Name points us more toward the transcendence of the One, the Islamic practice points us more toward the immanence.  This is misleading, for it ignores the wide variety of names for God in Jewish prayer—Father, Shepherd, Judge, Lover, King, Compassionate One, The Patient One, Bestower of Gifts Resurrector--and it ignores the many names in the list of 99 that point specifically to the One’s transcendence—Al-Muta-ali, Al-Haqq, Al-Ghaniyy, Al-Baaqi.  Both the Jewish and the Muslim traditions point to the transcendence and immanence of God equally.  This is a graceful balancing act both traditions have mastered: when pointing to the transcendence of the One, never to be far from the glories of the One’s immanence; and when pointing to the manifold glories of God’s presence in the world, never to forget that the One exists beyond all human limitation.

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