Knowing Allah through His Beautiful Names: Al Latif
Every name of Allah has its own unique reflection and divine light. The name Al Latif has been mentioned in the Quran seven times. It has been translated variously as Benevolent, The Kind One and The Subtle One depending on the context.
In Surat al Anam, Allah says:
لَّا تُدْرِكُهُ ٱلْأَبْصَـٰرُ وَهُوَ يُدْرِكُ ٱلْأَبْصَـٰرَ ۖ وَهُوَ ٱللَّطِيفُ ٱلْخَبِيرُ ١٠٣
No vision can encompass Him, but He encompasses all vision. For He is the Most Subtle, All-Aware. [6:103]
In Surat Yusuf, Allah says:
ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّى لَطِيفٌۭ لِّمَا يَشَآءُ ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلْعَلِيمُ ٱلْحَكِيمُ
Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise. [12:100]
After the ordeal and suffering experienced by Yaqoob, and the accusations endured by Yusuf, Allah Almighty points out that despite all the challenges and obstacles, there was a happy ending.
The third time Allah Almighty mentioned this name is in Surat al-Hajj.
اَلَمۡ تَرَ اَنَّ اللّٰهَ اَنۡزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَآءِ مَآءً فَتُصۡبِحُ الۡاَرۡضُ مُخۡضَرَّة ً ؕاِنَّ اللّٰهَ لَطِيۡفٌ خَبِيۡرٌ ۚ
Do you not see that Allah sends down water from the sky whereby the earth turns green? Verily Allah is Subtle, All-Aware. [22:63]
Imam Ghazali and Qushayri and others have noted that this ayah shows that Allah is the One who gives rizq in a subtle way. Thus the name Al Latif is related to subtlety and hidden things. Latif implies that Allah fulfills His designs in such fine ways that it is difficult to understand them till they become real and apparent.
In Surat Luqman, Allah Almighty states:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلنَّاسُ ٱتَّقُواْ رَبَّكُمۡ وَٱخۡشَوۡاْ يَوۡمٗا لَّا يَجۡزِي وَالِدٌ عَن وَلَدِهِۦ وَلَا مَوۡلُودٌ هُوَ جَازٍ عَن وَالِدِهِۦ شَيۡـًٔاۚ إِنَّ وَعۡدَ ٱللَّهِ حَقّٞۖ فَلَا تَغُرَّنَّكُمُ ٱلۡحَيَوٰةُ ٱلدُّنۡيَا وَلَا يَغُرَّنَّكُم بِٱللَّهِ ٱلۡغَرُورُ
O mankind, fear your Lord and fear a Day when no father will avail his son, nor will a son avail his father at all. Indeed, the promise of Allah is truth, so let not the worldly life delude you and be not deceived about Allah by the Deceiver. [31:33]
Luqman gives ten commands to his son, which are deep and show us how to shape a new generation. They summarise the etiquettes, the belief, the actions, and the purity they should aim to have. When he says ‘Ya Bunay’, he is talking to his son. We have some disagreement among the scholars whether Luqman was a prophet or not. Some scholars say he was a prophet, but all scholars agree that he was one of the awliya, people of Allah Almighty. He said ‘Ya Bunay (O my son) even if it were the mustard seed in a rock or in the skies or on Earth, Allah Almighty will bring it to light. Allah Almighty is All-Kind, All-Aware’ – Latifun khabeer.
In Surat al-Ahzab, Allah Almighty says:
Settle in your homes, and do not display yourselves as women did in the days of ˹pre-Islamic˺ ignorance. Establish prayer, pay alms-tax, and obey Allah and His Messenger. Allah only intends to keep ˹the causes of˺ evil away from you and purify you completely, O members of the ˹Prophet’s˺ family! [33:34]
Allah Almighty is reminding the wives of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), may Allah Almighty be pleased with them, that it is a great privilege to receive the barakah of the revelation. The first thing they lost after the death of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was the blessings and the barakah of the revelation. Allah Almighty is reminding them that these subtle things, which often we do not see, we only recognise when we lose them.
This is why we recite the dua:
‘O Allah make us recognise your favours by keeping them amongst us, and do not let us recognise your favours when we lose them’.
This is not a hadith but it’s a beautiful supplication.
Al Latif is so kind, so merciful and benevolent.
In Surat ash-Shura, Allah Almighty says:
ٱللَّهُ لَطِيفُۢ بِعِبَادِهِۦ يَرۡزُقُ مَن يَشَآءُۖ وَهُوَ ٱلۡقَوِيُّ ٱلۡعَزِيزُ
Allah is Subtle with His servants; He gives provisions to whom He wills. And He is the Powerful, the Exalted in Might. [42:19]
Al Latif is a combination of meanings which we see coming together and this will help us to understand and reflect upon more.
In Surat Al-Mulk, Allah says:
أَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ ٱللَّطِيفُ ٱلْخَبِيرُ ١٤
How could He not know His Own creation? For He ˹alone˺ is the Most Subtle, All-Aware. [67:14]
Al Latif – a combination of special qualities
The name Al Latif is a combination of special properties. Imam al-Ghazali mentioned in his book Asmaullaahi wal Husna, Al Maqsid ul Husna, that Al Latif is the Benevolent, the One deserving of this name, who knows the subtleties of things. It means that He has a special knowledge about detailed and hidden things. No one has this knowledge except Allah Almighty. This is why He is the Benevolent or Al Latif.
The Knower of subtle meanings
The majority of scholars say that the name Al Latif has mainly two great meanings. The first is the One who has the knowledge of the subtle meanings and details. Accordingly, He is fully aware of what’s in our hearts and what’s in our minds and He deals with us accordingly. There are many circumstances we face in our life, which we don’t understand until later. Scholars mention that it is out of Allah’s lutf. Because He is Latif, He sends impediments which protect us from something, or facilitate somethings out of His lutf – His knowledge about detailed things, subtle things, and kindness.
The One who provides
The second great meaning of the name Al Latif is the One who provide for His servants from ways which they did not expect. Provisions doesn’t always mean physical provisions like food and drink etc. Provisions can be definitely physical provisions but can also be meanings and knowledge and openings and so on. For instance Allah Almighty may facilitate your path to seek knowledge, making it easy for you to acquire it. He may guide someone from the darkness of disobedience to the light of obedience out of His lutf, kindness.
The foetus in the womb
Ghazali gives some examples to explain the name Al Latif in practical terms. For instance, Allah Almighty created the foetus in the womb of his mother in three layers of darkness, as Allah Almighty stated in the Qur’an
He creates you in the wombs of your mothers, creation after creation, within three darknesses. [39:6]
These three darknesses could refer to the abdominal wall, the uterine wall, and the amniotic membrane, which protect the developing foetus. Out of Allah Almighty’s lutf, care and kindness, He placed the foetus in a protective environment and nourishes it through the umbilical cord.
The chick in the egg
Similarly Ghazali mentions the chick inside the egg. Allah Almighty facilitate this powerless chick in to break its shell and emerge. He taught the newborn baby to suckle from his mother, without any training, without any prior knowledge or training how to do this. Thus He eased the way for this baby to survive. This is Al Latif, the One who is looking after the baby, looking after the mother and all of creation.
Another example is how Allah Almighty created our teeth – delaying their emergence until we need them, and creating different kinds of teeth – incisors, canines and molars for their different functions. If we explored this name, it would fill many volumes and we would not be able to give it what it deserves. The only one who knows the details fully is Allah Almighty. But we try to reflect upon these names and understand some of these meanings.
The One who provides more than we need
Al Latif is also the One who gives us beyond our needs. Yet He asked to do less than we our ability. This means He does not overburden us with commands. They are not beyond our capacity. Praise be to Him, that He gave us more than we need. The majority of us have more than our basic necessities.
The One who enabled us to attain Jannah
He eased the way for us to attain everlasting bliss in the Akhirah in a very limited frame of actions, in a very limited period of time. If we were to compare the eternity to how many years we live on Earth, even if it was a hundred years, in comparison to infinity, it’s nothing. Allah Almighty facilitated eternal life for us, for performing some very limited tasks in a very limited time, with extra reward for doing what you were commanded to do.
Pearls, gold, silver and precious stones
Another example of lutf is that we extract pearls from the shells, gold and silver and precious stones from the Earth, and silk from worms. These are just some examples that show us the name Al Latif. Imam Qushayri in At-Tahbeer said that Al Latif is the One who is bestows provisions in a beneficial and subtle way.
The One who sends tests that make us grow
Although sometimes we might see this is a test, and feel it is so difficult, these tests make us stronger. Think of Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him). If he had never been thrown in the well, he would have stayed with his father and been bullied by his brothers. But his journey from the well, though he suffered led him to become the honourable ruler of Egypt. These tests prepared him to become that person.
فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَىٰ يُوسُفَ ءَاوَىٰٓ إِلَيۡهِ أَبَوَيۡهِ وَقَالَ ٱدۡخُلُواْ مِصۡرَ إِن شَآءَ ٱللَّهُ ءَامِنِينَ
وَرَفَعَ أَبَوَيۡهِ عَلَى ٱلۡعَرۡشِ وَخَرُّواْ لَهُۥ سُجَّدٗاۖ وَقَالَ يَـٰٓأَبَتِ هَٰذَا تَأۡوِيلُ رُءۡيَٰيَ مِن قَبۡلُ قَدۡ جَعَلَهَا رَبِّي حَقّٗاۖ وَقَدۡ أَحۡسَنَ بِيٓ إِذۡ أَخۡرَجَنِي مِنَ ٱلسِّجۡنِ وَجَآءَ بِكُم مِّنَ ٱلۡبَدۡوِ مِنۢ بَعۡدِ أَن نَّزَغَ ٱلشَّيۡطَٰنُ بَيۡنِي وَبَيۡنَ إِخۡوَتِيٓۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٞ لِّمَا يَشَآءُۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلۡعَلِيمُ ٱلۡحَكِيمُ
And when they entered upon Joseph, he took his parents to himself and said, “Enter Egypt, Allah willing, safe [and secure].” And he raised his parents upon the throne, and they bowed to him in prostration. And he said, “O my father, this is the explanation of my vision of before. My Lord has made it reality. And He was certainly good to me when He took me out of prison and brought you [here] from bedouin life after Satan had induced [estrangement] between me and my brothers. Indeed, my Lord is Subtle in what He wills. Indeed, it is He who is the Knowing, the Wise. [12:99-100]
We see that not only was Yusuf honoured but he elevated his parents on the throne and the people fell down before him bowing. It was the fulfilment of his vision long ago. Allah Almighty made it come true. He released him from prison and brought him out of the wilderness after shaytaan has sowed conflict between him and his brothers. He brought Yusuf to this destiny. If you look at your own self, you will see the journey that Allah Almighty took you through. It wouldn’t have been easy but it would be for your betterment. All these tests in our life are for our betterment.
The One who grants openings
The name Al Latif can shine in different ways. He can grant us openings and provisions, look after us in ways we do not even fathom. Though we cannot understand why we are going through something, be assured that it is for our betterment because He is Al Latif. Whether it is a tough scenario you are going through or blockages, or painful difficulties and losses, Allah Almighty is Latif and we need to feel this, not just to know it.
The inward and outward provisions
Imam Qushayri also mentioned some beautiful and reflections that there are two main provisions – the outward provisions which we see, we touch, we feel and there are the inward provisions which we have no idea about. This is why in the Quran Allah Almighty said
أَلَمۡ تَرَوۡا۟ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ سَخَّرَ لَكُم مَّا فِی ٱلسَّمَـٰوَ ٰتِ وَمَا فِی ٱلۡأَرۡضِ وَأَسۡبَغَ عَلَیۡكُمۡ نِعَمَهُۥ ظَـٰهِرَةࣰ وَبَاطِنَةࣰۗ وَمِنَ ٱلنَّاسِ مَن یُجَـٰدِلُ فِی ٱللَّهِ بِغَیۡرِ عِلۡمࣲ وَلَا هُدࣰى وَلَا كِتَـٰبࣲ مُّنِیرࣲ﴿ ٢٠ ﴾
Have you not seen that Allah has subjugated for you what is in the heavens and what is on the earth, and has perfected His blessings on you, both outward and inward? But among people there are those who debate about Allah with no knowledge, no guidance and no book to enlighten. [31:20]
The lutf of the Prophet (peace be upon him)
The beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was himself, the reflection of the name Al Latif. His interactions with others were characterised by ease and grace. In line with his teachings, the Prophet (peace be upon him) urged his companions to adopt a similar approach, encouraging them to make matters easy and uncomplicated for people within the bounds of permissibility. He delivered words good news spreading joy and optimism, rather bad news that would cause distress.
Anas bin Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
حَدَّثَنَا آدَمُ، حَدَّثَنَا شُعْبَةُ، عَنْ أَبِي التَّيَّاحِ، قَالَ سَمِعْتُ أَنَسَ بْنَ مَالِكٍ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ قَالَ قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ يَسِّرُوا وَلاَ تُعَسِّرُوا، وَسَكِّنُوا وَلاَ تُنَفِّرُوا ”.
“Make things easy for the people, and do not make it difficult for them, and make them calm (with glad tidings) and do not repulse (them). [Bukhari]
The five salawat
Imam Qushayri then observed that it is out of Allah Almighty’s lutf that He spread the five salawat through the day and did not ask us to do pray them all in one go. Yet He divided them into different timings and different rakah.
Imam Ghazali said look at the morsel which you chew in your mouth, be it a bread or something like that, how many people and factors were involved in bringing it to you – the farmer, the water, the sun, the wind and the bees, the workers in the farm, the factory and mill, just for you to eat that one morsel of bread! This was put at your service by Al Latif.
The One who does not deprive us of knowledge
Another example of Allah’s lutf is that when we sin, He does not remove knowledge from our heart. Imagine if every time we did something wrong, Allah Almighty take this knowledge out from our heart, and we had to re-seek it. What if we had to re-learn the alphabet, or how to put the words and sentences together. Yet when we do something bad, He doesn’t take this knowledge from your heart, or imaan. Although when we are in the state of ghafla, heedlessness, we are not fully focused, this knowledge might be in the recesses of our mind, like an app running in the background, but at any time, we can double click it and bring it back, undeleted. This is out of Allah Almighty’s lutf.
The One who makes it easy to remember and return to Him
Imam al Qushayri finished his chapter by saying that Al Latif made it easy for us to remember Him, to come back to Him at any time, to repent and to supplicate and to keep asking Him, whenever you want, whatever you want. Even if you’re immersed in wrongdoing and sins, you just come to Him, raise your hands with sincerity and Allah Almighty will forgive you. The door of Al Latif is always open.
Ibn al-Qayyim said in His poem, Al Kaafiya ash Shaafiya, said lutf is of two kinds. Firstly knowing the subtleties of meanings and kindness when He provides for us.
We can emulate the qualities of Al Latif by showing kindness towards others. When you deal with people, when you call them to Allah Almighty, when you guide them, do not look down at them, or harsh or argumentative or rigid. He said the best way to attract people towards the truth is through your good actions and your good character and your good deeds. Let your actions speak more than your tongue. They will reach people’s minds and hearts more deeply that your words.
We ask Al Latif, the One who is looking after us, providing for us, and easing our way, to enable us to reflect and to live by His name. Ameen.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – 10th Oct 2023 Transcribed S Jawaid
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