BY AFSHAN IQBAL
“And Allah’s names are the best names, so call on Him and leave those who violate the sanctity of His names. They shall be recompensed for what they did”
(Surah al-Araf, 180).
For as long as I can remember, I have known that Allah has 99 beautiful names (Asmaa ul Husna), each with an equally beautiful meaning. Sadly, and rather shamefully I could not tell you what all 99 names of Allah are or what they mean, bar a very small handful. And I mean very small handful…
In recent years, as I have embarked on a journey of spirituality and reconnecting with my faith as an adult, my lack of awareness of the Asmaa ul Husnaa has been increasingly playing on my mind. But you all know how it is; we get distracted by other things and suddenly it becomes less urgent again. It’s like attending a dhikr gathering/halaqa; you leave feeling so spiritually uplifted and can’t wait to attend the next one, but then you’re ‘busy’ for the next gathering and the next and the one after that and then BAM! a whole year has passed. Or you set a goal to get in shape, work out more, eat better etc… but then comes the dilemma of that last slice of carrot cake sitting on the counter all alone, it would be a shame to let it go to waste. After all, it contains carrots – one of my 5 a day, winning! So yes, I am comparing my spiritual journey with eating habits – one starts with the best intentions but can often struggle to stay on the wagon. Practicing my faith seems similar – I have highs and lows but really, more lows than highs. From the various conversations I have had about faith with friends and family, I realise I am not alone in experiencing this fluctuation.
Now back to learning the 99 names of Allah though, our reasons should be quite simple really; we pray to Allah daily, we ask for forgiveness, we thank Him and we ask Him to grant us things, no matter how big or small. There will, however, be a name most apt for whatever it is we are asking from Allah. So I find myself asking time and time again; Why not use the appropriate name and truly understand what it means, in order to amplify our Duas? See, it sounds so simple when you think about it. And more importantly, how can we embody the characteristics of each of these names? With Ramadan around the corner (yes, really just around the corner), I want to make a conscious effort to learn and understand some of the beautiful names of Allah and I would love for you all to join me on this journey! Let’s start small, just 3 names to begin with. So, here we go…
الْفَتَّاحُ – Al-Fattah
* The One who opens what is closed. The One by whose guidance that which was unclear is made clear. The One who lifts veils and opens the heart. The One who unties the knots and softens that which was hardened. The One who continually offers goodness and mercy. The One who holds the keys to victory and success. The One who reveals the solution to all problems.
For me, the biggest reminder with this name is that Allah, the Almighty is in control of our affairs. We may be knocking on a certain door for a period of time, with no joys of it opening or experiencing some form of difficulty but feel as though there is still no relief. Know that Allah has the solution and all will be revealed when He decides the timing is right. What I have learned over the years is that rather than fixating on what I don’t have/which prayer of mine doesn’t appear to have been answered – I can’t control any of that, but there are so many things I can control. For instance, being a good, kind human being, a good friend/sister/colleague, lending a friendly ear/shoulder to cry on if needed and trying to lift other women around me as best I can. If you know someone is struggling, reach out to them, offer your support or words of comfort. If you see a homeless person, why not buy them some food or a hot drink? Let’s open the doors of Hope for one another knowing that Allah’s doors of Mercy will always be open to us (whether we can see it or not). Who knows, perhaps helping others will be the means through which Allah will open more doors for us. The doors we have so desperately been trying to break through.
الرَّزَّاقُ – Al-Razzaq
The Sustainer. The Provider.
** The One who created the means of sustenance as well as those who are sustained. One who bestows all means of support and growth for the body, mind and spiritual life.
Imam Al-Ghazali describes sustenance as comprising of two parts – 1) the outward, which consists of nourishment/food for our outward being, i.e. the body and 2) the inward; things directed to our hearts. Again, for me this a reminder that all that is good in my life is from God and God alone. The copious amounts of food we have available to us on a daily basis (more than we actually need) and yet we still find a reason to complain about it or the amount of food we waste without a moment’s hesitation.
I spent the majority of my 20s toying with the idea of following my dreams of pursuing a Ph.D., but there was always one thing holding me back – money. How would I support myself as a student again and maintain the lifestyle I had become accustomed to? Every time I would seriously consider a change in direction, a new job offer or promotion would come my way, offering more money, so I would take it! Some 18 months or so ago, I did some serious soul-searching and concluded; life will pass me by and I will always be left wondering ‘what if’? I can make more money again, God-willing. So, off I went, researching and brainstorming ideas. One University application later came the offer of a fully-funded Ph.D. scholarship. Some months later I successfully negotiated a flexible working contract to fit around my studies and Alhamdulilah, a steady income stream. So what’s the lesson? That it’s all about timing. Allah makes provisions for us in the way He knows is best for us. Looking back, I now believe Allah delayed the Ph.D. for me until I had enough savings tucked away to support myself during my studies and well as mentally accepting the likelihood of a much-reduced income. Once I had accepted that possibility, it turned out that the one thing that held me back for years was something I needn’t have worried about. Allah has taken care of my financial affairs. Plus, mentally I was ready to take on the challenges that come with a Ph.D. I just needed to have faith in Him.
My point is that Al-Razzaq for me, is a great reminder of gratitude. Gratitude for all that I have and continue to receive. Gratitude that I just cannot express enough of. All I ask for is provisions that keep me self-sufficient. So, when you next get that promotion/pay rise or ace that Biology exam, yes you worked hard and of course deserve the success, but just remember that Allah made it happen. He is our provider and only He is in control of all our affairs.
اللَّطِيفُ – Al-Lateef
The Benevolent. The Subtle One.
** The One who is most subtle and gracious. The One whose nature is gentle, affectionate, courteous and refined. One whose actions are so subtle that they may be imperceptible beyond our comprehension.
According to Imam Al-Ghazali, the perfect meaning of ‘Benevolent’ is gentleness in action. Benevolence consists of subtleties and hidden aspects which are only exposed to His divine knowledge. Allah gives us more than we need, more than we are deserving and expects far less in return. So how can we try and embody ‘Benevolence’ in our own characters? The basic meaning of being benevolent is to be gentle, kind and caring. Arguably such characteristics we use to define a ‘decent’ human being. So with that in mind, let’s try and avoid harshness in our manners and speech and instead make a conscious effort to be gentle and gracious towards one another. After all, isn’t one of the basic morals in life to ‘treat others how you want to be treated yourself’?
The next time a friend texts you out of the blue, make an effort to reply in a timely manner, arrange to meet for a coffee or dinner and have a proper catch up in person rather than via a screen. Or better still, why not make the first move and reach out to old friends? Make the effort to maintain (and even rekindle) ties of kinship. Above all, be polite, courteous and considerate of others. We don’t know what difficulties anyone else is experiencing – why add to them?