Ninety Nine Names of Allah
As I mentioned before, my daughter memorized all nintey nine names of Allah this past week. I personally love that Allah has many names. For one, it shows that God is not uni-dimensional, but is complex, with many characteristics, some seemingly in conflict with others -- a real person as it were. More importantly, the names demonstrate important things about God's nature.
The two most repeated names of Allah are Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem. They are mentioned literally hundreds of times in the Qur'an, and are repeated dozens of times in the daily prayers. What do they mean? The Merciful, the Compassionate. How beautiful that Allah's most weighty names are those of compassion and mercy, of love!
The next five in frequence of mention in the Qur'an include al-Malik -- the King; al-Quddus -- the Pure; and Al-Salam -- The Maker of Peace; Al-Mumin -- the Inspirer of Faith; Al-Muhaiymin -- the Protector.
What strikes me, again, in this list is the prevalence of caring virtues -- peace, inspiration, protection, purity (as in freedom from harming others and evil impulses). Only one refers to God's majesty. Clearly, in the Qur'an, God is telling us how much He cares for us.
After this there are some that refer to His strength, majesty, and power, and then we are back to creative, bringing of good, etc.
One of the things that I find most attractive about the names of God is that they include what are traditionally considered feminine characteristics -- nurturing, maternality, creativity, compassion, humility, peacefulness, receptiveness -- in balance with what have traditionally been considered masculine characteristics -- strength, power, majesty, authority. I don't particularly subscribe to those characteristics being either masculine or feminine, but I do think that the balance between the caring, loving side and the majestic side is important. God is not male, nor is God female, but all emcompassing, as the attributes mentioned in His names indicate.
One of the more fascinating things you find in the Qur'an are references to God with the pronoun "ma.
" Ma literally means "that which." Not the person who does x, y, or z, but the THING that does x, y, or z. This can be found in some of the shorter surahs, near the end of the Qur'an, Surah Duha for instance: "By the sun and her glorious rising, by the moon when she follows her, by the day as she reveals her, by the night as she conceals her, by the sky and that which raised her, the earth and that which spread her wide, the soul and that which formed her, and inspired her with knowledge of evil and righteousness."
Of course, this is a very accurate translation -- in most translations you will find the wording masculinized, reinforcing patriarchal notions -- such as Yusuf Ali's "By the sun and his glorious Splendor, by the moon as she follows him." It rather makes me boil that the translators take such liberties and reinforce notions that aren't present in the Qur'an, but what can you do? It's one major reason to learn Arabic -- whoever said reading the Qur'an in translation is not the same as reading it in the original was dead right.
Incidentally, I'm working on a series of poems based on the ninety-nine names. Some of them are reflections on the meaning of an individual name, others are more commentary on human nature. Hopefully they will be finished sooner or later and then accumulated into a chapbook.