Major Principles in Islam 10 Knowing Allah through His names Al Aleem, Al Baseer and Al Samee’
The vital role of understanding Allah in our lives
Our foremost obligation is to know Allah Almighty, and reflecting on His beautiful names helps us to do this. Before any other duty, gaining knowledge of Allah Almighty is incumbent upon us. The Quran emphasises this by stating,
فَاعْلَمْ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَٰهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ
“Know that there is no god but Allah.” (47:19)
Allah Almighty created us to know Him, and introduced us to His divine nature and infinite attributes. Thus, understanding Him is as crucial for all of us, as oxygen is for our existence.
Contemplating the vastness of the universe, especially with advanced technologies like the James Webb telescope, which cost ten billion Pounds, showcase the magnificence of Allah Almighty’s creation. Observing the grandeur and perfection of the universe reveal to us our insignificance in comparison. We are merely a tiny dot in the vast expanse of creation.
Pondering on our place in the universe leads us to wonder why Allah Almighty, the Originator, the Creator, the Provider, has chosen us to carry His message and listen to His word. It is a great honour to be addressed by Him. However, this honour also brings responsibility.
This humbles us and reminds us of our inability to fully comprehend Allah Almighty’s provisions, favours, and blessings. This is why the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to say,
“I cannot praise you enough O Allah as you deserve to be praised.” (Muslim)
In his statement the Prophet (peace be upon him) acknowledged the limitations of our knowledge and our inability to comprehend Allah Almighty.
Indeed the Quran reminds us that the knowledge we possess is minuscule. Allah Almighty says,
“Of all the knowledge which you have been given is little.” (17:85)
So all our scientific advancements, technology, and AI are nothing compared to the vastness of divine knowledge.
As you zoom out from our planet and our galaxy, and see the expanding universe it makes your mind boggle. We are less than a dot in the universe – a dot that Allah Almighty doesn’t even need. It is us who are in need of Him. As Allah Almighty stated in Surat Fatir,
“O Mankind, You are in need of Allah Almighty. Allah Almighty is free from all wants. He is all Praised. (35:15)
As no one knows Allah Almighty as He is but Allah Almighty Himself we can only increase what little knowledge we have of Him by learning of His attributes and actions, until Inshallah on the Day of Judgement we will all be admitted to paradise, and be able to see Him. Then our knowledge will change. But until then we need to acknowledge that we are very limited in our knowledge, whereas Allah Almighty is the One who has the comprehensive knowledge and this is why one of His names is Al-Aleem, the All Knowing.
All knowledge is from Allah Almighty
In Imam al-Ghazali’s commentary on the names of Allah Almighty in his book “Al-Maqsad Al-Asna Fi Sharh Asma’ Allah Al-Husna highlights three main differences between our knowledge and Allah’s knowledge:
1. Our knowledge is completely dependent on Allah Almighty’s knowledge, making our understanding of things reliant on His omniscience.
2. Our knowledge is limited, even when we comprehend something, whereas Allah Almighty’s knowledge is unlimited.
3. Allah Almighty’s knowledge is not dependent on what we know; instead, what we know depends on His knowledge for existence.
The example given by Al-Ghazali about the creator of chess, the knowledge of chess, and the chess game itself serves as an analogy to help understand the distinction between different forms of knowledge.
In this example, there are three aspects:
1. The creator of chess: This represents the entity or being who designed and brought into existence the game of chess. Before the game existed, this creator was independent and separate from it.
2. The knowledge of chess: This refers to the understanding and awareness of the rules, strategies, and intricacies of the game. This knowledge is possessed by those who learn and comprehend the game.
3. The chess game itself: This is the actual game with its rules, pieces, and moves that exist independently of the knowledge of individuals.
The analogy suggests that these three aspects are distinct and not the same. The creator of chess existed independently before the game was brought into existence, and the knowledge of chess exists independently in those who understand it. Similarly, the passage draws a parallel between this example and the difference between our limited human knowledge and the boundless knowledge of Allah Almighty, emphasizing that Allah’s knowledge is incomparable and beyond our comprehension.
Knowledge is compulsory
Ghazali finished this by saying that yashruful ilm bi sharafil ma’loom, so the knowledge you will be honoured as much as the subject you have knowledge of is honoured. Thus having knowledge about the science of vegetables will be less honoured than knowing the science of the spirit and the soul, which will be less than knowing about Allah Almighty Himself, His messengers, His word, and His Book. There is a clear correlation between honour and the subject of the knowledge. Knowledge related to Allah Almighty is the most honoured and most important knowledge.
As having knowledge is so important, Allah Almighty made seeking knowledge compulsory, and this is reflected by the fact that the very first ayah which Allah Almighty revealed is iqra – recite. ‘Iqra’ is the symbol of seeking knowledge. In Surat Taha, Allah Almighty says,
“O My Lord increase me in knowledge.” (20:114)
It is important to note that we don’t worship knowledge, we worship Allah Almighty. However knowledge should make us closer to Allah Almighty. The more we know, the closer we should be to Him. You can be a righteous person if you apply knowledge righteously or you can be an evil person if you apply this knowledge in an evil way.
Knowledge and humility
We see an important point demonstrated in the story of Musa (peace be upon him) and Al Khidr in Surat al-Kahf which we have been recommended to read every Friday as per the Sunnah, as it enlightens your week from Friday to Friday when you recite it. In the story of Musa (peace be upon him) and Al Khidr, the core lesson is about having humility about the knowledge we have. Allah Almighty wanted to teach Musa (peace be upon him) many lessons from Al Khidr, even though Musa (peace be upon him) was a messenger and Al Khidr was a prophet. Allah Almighty honoured Al Khidr and said
“We have given him mercy from Us, and We taught him from Our knowledge.” (18:65)
Allah Almighty specially highlighted these two attributes of Al Khidr- that he was given special mercy from Allah Almighty and he had also been given special knowledge from Allah Almighty.
Acquired and gifted knowledge
Knowledge is of two types. The first type is acquired knowledge or ilm kasbeeh, which is gained by studying. It is learned by seeking it, reading, asking questions and attending circles with the right intention.
The second type of knowledge is gifted knowledge or ilm wahbi. Gifted knowledge comes from Allah Almighty as inspiration. It comes to due to your sincerity. The more sincere you are, the more Allah Almighty will grant you this knowledge. It does not come directly from books but the more one demonstrates commitment and sincerity the more Allah Almighty provides insights.
This is why sincerity and intention is so important in our life and in our relationship with Allah Almighty, as it enables us to gain knowledge and reflect the name of Al-Aleem, the most Knowledgeable in our actions. It is incumbent on us that we act with knowledge and not ignorance.
Knowledge and accountability
Are we accountable for acting without knowledge? Yes. This is why we have to learn.
Anas ibn Malik reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said,
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ طَلَبُ الْعِلْمِ فَرِيضَةٌ عَلَى كُلِّ مُسْلِمٍ
“Seeking knowledge is an obligation upon every Muslim.” (Ibn Majah)
What is the obligation here? Is it knowing about salah and fasting and that’s it? i.e. the obligatory issues related to Allah Almighty, or is seeking knowledge in general obligatory as long as it is useful and beneficial. Of course it’s the latter. Any beneficial knowledge is important. Knowledge of Allah makes us closer to Him and knowing more His Messenger (peace be upon him) and His Words. We need the answers to questions like ‘What is the purpose of life?’ And ‘Why we are here?’, and ‘How do we navigate our way to the hereafter?’ We cannot just ignore them and conclude that everything happens to work by chance and coincidence and that the laws of nature govern the natural world independently.
Reflecting on and applying the name Al-Aleem in our life
To manifest the quality of the All Knowing in our life our choices and actions should be informed and based on knowledge rather than conjecture or disinterest or in a haphazard or apathetic fashion. For instance, if you bought a new device, which you’ve never used before, but it would be irresponsible not to read the manual and familiarise yourself with how to use it correctly, without understanding what will damage it and what will help it run smoothly. Allah Almighty did give us the manual for our life – the Quran and the Sunnah. It is not a coincidence that we here on this planet. The Big bang and evolution, do not explain why we are here. Rather the more we learn about Islam, the closer we are to Allah Almighty as we know what is required of us.
It is important that we seek knowledge for the right reasons, and we apply knowledge for the right reasons – the more we purify our intentions, the more Allah Almighty grants us gifted knowledge which in turn brings us closer to Him. As He stated in the Quran in Surat Fatir:
“It is only those who have knowledge among His slaves that fear Allah” [35:28]
It’s very clear that Allah Almighty is saying those who know Allah Almighty the most are those who fear Allah Almighty the most. This is why the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was in awe of Allah the most and then the awliyah.
Link to Allah Almighty’s name Al-Fattah
The name Al-Fattah, which is another one of Allah Almighty’s names is about the One who grants openings as Allah Almighty opens gates and channels for you. Through it you can see what you are not able to see without His opening. This is what we call ‘fath’ in Arabic. Many scholars have been granted openings from Allah Almighty. And accordingly they have called their books ‘the opening of the creator’ / ‘the opening of the Orginator’. The more Allah Almighty opens new windows and new gates for us to learn more about Him and more about our purpose.
Sincerity is key
Among the names of Allah Almighty is the name Ar-Razzaaq, the Provider. And knowledge is one of the provisions of Allah Almighty. He has given some people more knowledge that others. You find some have more in-depth knowledge while others only skim the surface. Some While some people go very deep in the ocean while others stay on the shore. The most important thing when we seek knowledge is the purity of our intention. even if you haven’t got a very strong memory or you can’t memorise that much, it doesn’t matter. As long as you have sincerity, Allah Almighty will increase it for you, and improve your memory. He will enable you to acquire deep knowledge rather than float on the surface or sit by the shore. It all depends on your intention. We need to continuously purify our intention and ask Allah Almighty to enable us to have sincerity, Ikhlas. It’s very easy to lose focus, very easy to become arrogant. Allah Almighty did mention in the Quran stories about those whom He gave knowledge but they pretended that it was all due to their own effort, their brain, their muscles, their hard work, and their sleepless nights, etc. Allah Almighty took away their knowledge, so be careful. As He has given this knowledge to you, He can easily take it from you.
Asking for beneficial knowledge as did our Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was always asking Allah Almighty for beneficial knowledge, He said
‘We ask you O Allah Almighty for useful the beneficial knowledge’. (Ibn Majah)
So concentrate your efforts on learning what is useful and beneficial. Of course the sciences of shariah are the most useful and beneficial subjects but anything that brings goodness to people is useful and beneficial and is incumbent to learn and to teach and to explore as well.
The importance of humility – what we don’t know is more than what we do know
Reflecting on the names of Allah Almighty gives us new dimensions in our life. Allah Almighty says in Surat al-Isra l‘of all the knowledge which you have been given is little’ so we need to invest time and effort in expanding your horizons by fusing our more. We need to have more exploration and develop new technology and so over more about our planet. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said ‘imagine if you have the ocean and you dipped in the ocean a cup’. Allah Almighty said that the knowledge which you have is like a drop. This reminds us that what we don’t know is more than what we know. This is a fact that probably some people will deny. But the more humble people discover the more they realise they don’t know.
Imam Shaafi’ (may Allah be pleased with him) used to say in a poem,
‘The more I seek knowledge, the more it shows how little I know and how ignorant I was.’
This is the sign of a true scholar – the one who realised how little He knows the more he finds out.
Al-Baseer – the All Seeing
One of the names of Allah Almighty is Al-Baseer, which is also related to knowledge, because He is the All Seeing, and All Hearing is As Sami’. So Allah Almighty is the One who sees us, and sees everything – including things which we can imagine and things which we cannot possibly imagine. In the Quran Allah Almighty mentioned His name Al-Baseer, many times, for instance ‘There is nothing like Him, and He is the All Hearing, the All Seeing’. This means nothing is beyond His knowledge or out of His sight. We as humans have limited vision – we can only see certain light (we can’t see in the dark, nor can we see UV light, only certain distances (even with telescopes), in a certain direction (even with our forward facing eyes and two eyes we only have a limited field of vision). Yet by contrast Allah Almighty’s vision is not limited and it’s beyond our comprehension. He can even perceive our thoughts, and what’s in our hearts as in the hadith reported by Abu Hurayah (may Allah be pleased with him):
عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه مرفوعاً: «إنَّ الله لا ينْظُرُ إِلى أجْسَامِكُمْ، ولا إِلى صُوَرِكمْ، وَلَكن ينْظُرُ إلى قُلُوبِكمْ وأعمالكم».
”Allah does not look at your bodies or at your forms, rather He looks at your hearts and deeds.” (Muslim)
One is embarrassed by the contents of one’s hearts. However Allah Almighty knows about them – the good things, which we feel proud of (though we shouldn’t be so proud because it might ruin our intention) as well as the bad things which we feel ashamed to share with anybody, even the closest people to us. He is Baseer – Arabic – in everything He has full knowledge about it. He has complete, comprehensive knowledge about what we are doing or what we are thinking or what we are planning.
Reflecting upon the name Al-Baseer
If you had to keep an eye on three children in a class and watch them 24/7 – make sure they didn’t do anything silly or dangerous it would be hard work. Now imagine it was 30 children you had to look after and keep safe, you would need an assistant. What if there were 300, or 30,000 or 3 million or 3 trillion or 3 gazillion, all under your sole supervision. Yet Allah Almighty’s creation are under His care – the humans on this earth and non-humans like jinn, like angels, like insects, animals, birds, fish, and even the creatures we haven’t discovered yet. All of them are watched by Allah Almighty who knows about them and can see them at the depths of the ocean or in the depths of the jungle or in the depths of the night. Go beyond our earth, and you have the stars, the galaxies, the black holes – He knows everything about them. He is watching everybody inside out. It’s very difficult to imagine this. Al-Baseer in our application gives us confidence that Allah Almighty is with us at all times, that He sees us. Without comparison it’s like the CCTV, if a manager wants their employees to be efficient in using their time and executing their tasks and stuff etc, the CCTV is not to spy on them, but to motivate them to do the right thing and not to waste their time.
So if we were to observe that Allah Almighty is watching us, He is Baseer with every single one of us, with every single action we do, with everything thought that passes in our kind and every glance we make and every plan that germinated in our mind and we carry to fruition. He knows when you have a good intention and He eases the way for you to achieve it and make it a good deed. And He knows when you have a bad intention, and He will put obstacles in your way not to do it, but unfortunately sometimes we see these obstacles and we try to avoid them and navigate our way and do that we will regret later.
If we were to live by this name, the Watchful, we would be aware that He is observing us, and He is with us then we would feel so attentive – it’s like the CCTV but on a bigger scale. On a majestic scale if you want. The CCTV can only see the outward actions, the CCTV cannot penetrate your heart. But Allah Almighty knows what’s in your hearts, knows your intentions, your ideas and your wishes. Knowing this helps us to become better servants of Allah Almighty, better worshippers, and better communicators. When you have a bad intention against someone and Allah Almighty knows that this intention is bad you know you need to change this bad intention to a good intention. Of course, I’m not saying we are accountable for our intentions, unless we execute them and translate them into an action. The good news here is that the good intention will be written it down for us as a good deed. However the bad intention will not be written unless it’s been executed in the form of an action, then it will be written as one bad deed. But the good intention will be written as 10 good deeds even if it’s not executed. Therefore if you have an intention, a very deep intention and very sincere intention, that if you were to be given good wealth you would build a mosque and a community centre and an orphanage and a hospital and some schools and colleges to benefit people, but you have no money, Allah Almighty will write it down for you as a good deed as if you have opened this university, or this mosque, or this college or this orphanage etc.
Reflecting on the name As-Samee’
As Samee’ is related to Al-Baseer, as He doesn’t only see you, but He hears you as well. He doesn’t only hear your voice, He hears your ideas and your intention which you have in your heart. He can hear your inner thoughts, He knows about this, so be careful. Make your heart engaged in good things. Make your intention engaged in good things. Make your body engaged in good things, because Allah Almighty is observing you, He is As-Samee’ Al-Baseer. He is the All Hearing and All Knowing and the Most Knowledgeable.
So I ask Allah Almighty to enable us to live by these names and to recognise these names in our application and make us better servants of Allah Almighty, ameen.
Shaykh Haytham Tamim – 18th July 2023
Transcribed by S Jawaid
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