Thursday, August 15, 2013

Ninety-Nine Most Beautiful Names of God

During the recent month of Ramadan, I found some of my textbooks about Islam and reread some chapters. In his book about Islam (which I've used in my world religions research for several years), Solomon Nignosian writes about the beautiful names of God (1):

“Submission to the will of God is, by its very nature, an acknowledgment of the mystery that surrounds God. Humans are finite beings and therefore cannot describe or characterize God in an absolute sense. However, indefinability does not preclude, especially in addressing God, the use of devotional forms of address expressed in human terms. Islamic theology provides one of the most comprehensive lists of devotional expressions about God. It consists of ninety-nine ‘most beautiful names’ (asma‘ al-husna) of God.” (p. 143). He mentions that Muslims recite these names “by running their fingers three times through a rosary consisting of thirty-three beads with a tassel,” and that they chose a name that’s closest to their particular petition. “The purpose of reciting the whole sequence of names is to make Muslims constantly aware of God’s sovereignty over all affairs. It is not intended as an intellectual exercise or test” (p. 144).

He provides a list of the beautiful names on page 143. I found several lists online, one here in the form of an exercise for home schoolers:

This Sufi site has the list, too:

And Wikipedia has a list that includes links to the Qur’an passages in which they appear.

For someone like me, learning about Islam and not an Arabic speaker, a good exercise is to print these lists and compare the differences in English translation, to think about the broad meanings of the Arabic words, and thus to think more deeply about the attributes of God revealed in the Qur'an and discussed in the Muslim tradition. An additional exercise would be to use that Wikipedia resource to look up the specific Qur'an passages. How are the names of God similar or different to a Christian theology about God?


1. Solomon Nigosian, Islam: The Way of Submission (Crucible, 1987).

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