On the attributes of Allah

Historically, there have been three major philosophical arguments to prove the existence of God. They are known as:

1) The Ontological Argument (From a priori reasoning)

2) The Teleological Argument (From Design)

3) The Cosmological Argument (From First Cause)

I do not propose to go into the details and/or critiques of these arguments, in this blog. There is already sufficient literature available about these arguments.

In this post, I’d rather like to focus on a problem that remains unresolved even if these arguments are accepted in toto. The problem basically pertains to the attributes of Allah as defined in Islam.

According to my understanding, these arguments take us only as far as proving the existence of fundamental power of creation that has created this cosmos. These arguments provide no evidence of the more humane and emotive attributes of God, which are a quintessential part of God’s being.

Just for arguments sake, let’s assume that the three traditional arguments for God’s existence are true. Even though we may conclude that there is a fundamental force that sustains and animates this cosmos, it is difficult to imagine what the true nature of such a force is. Specifically, we do not know if such a force is conscious of human existence and suffering. We do not know if the force truly has some advice to offer to humanity. We do not know if the force is just blind, indifferent to human condition. We do not know anything about such a force. It’s all metaphysical speculation at best.

Such a force, even if it is proved to exist, does not bear resemblance to the Allah as described in the Qu’ran. The Allah described in the Qu’ran is not only the Creator and Sustainer of this Universe but is also like a Supreme Consciousness that appears to have a lot to say to humanity on how humans ought to live their lives. Deriving a proof for the existence of such a God from rational arguments relying upon the experimental findings and mathematical models of contemporary science is no trivial task.

To rationally demonstrate the existence of Allah, one needs to essentially demonstrate the existence and unity of the 99 names of Allah as derived from the Qu’ran.

However, to begin with, we do not even know how to properly speak about the attributes of Allah in a language other than Arabic. For example, one of the attributes of Allah is Al-Bari. Now, different English translations of the Qu’ran translate this word differently. In Surah Hashr, Chapter 59, Verse 24, we find different translations of the word ‘Al-Bari.’ The following table provides various translations of the attribute ‘Al-Bari.’

Translator Translation
Sahih International The Inventor
Muhsin Khan the Inventor of all things
Pickthall the Shaper out of naught
Yusuf Ali the Evolver
Shakir the Maker
Dr. Ghali The Initiator

Even though these translation may seem somewhat similar, they appear different upon philosophic scrutiny. For instance, “the Shaper out of naught” seems to suggest creatio ex nihilo whereas “the Evolver” has more naturalistic flavor to it. It may well be possible that Allah creates out of nothing as well as evolves existing creations into different ones.

A well-crafted teleological argument may be able to prove the attributes of Allah pertaining to creation such as Al-Khaliq (The Creator), Al-Bari (The Evolver) and Al-Musawwir (The Fashioner).

However, using such an argument to demonstrate other attributes of Allah may be extremely difficult. For example, consider the two most well-known emotive attributes of Allah: Ar-Rahman (Most Beneficent) and Ar-Rahim (Most Merciful).

I have thought about it since quite sometime. How can a fundamental power that creates and sustains the entire cosmos, also be beneficent and merciful at the same time?

As a student of biology, we are taught that the forces driving evolution are blind. They are blind insofar as there is no consciousness inherent in those evolutionary forces. There is no evidence to suggest that selection, mutation, genetic drift and founder effects are driven by a conscious power that is beneficent and merciful. In fact, and on the contrary, the whole process of evolution as exemplified by the survival of the fittest comes nowhere close to being beneficent and merciful. It’s brutal and ruthless in weeding out the less fit individuals from the population.

Furthermore, beneficence and mercy are just two of the many other apparently anthropomorphic attributes of Allah. Allah is also Al-Alim (The All-Knowing) [7], As-Sami (The All Hearing) [8], Al-Basir (The All-Seeing) [9], Al-Khabir (The All-Aware) [10].

The theists who argue for the existence of Allah on the so-called “rational grounds” also have to prove that the Creative Power of the Universe they call Allah is also All-Knowing, All-Hearing, All-Seeing, All-Aware along with several other attributes. I wait to see what the New Age Muslims have to say about Allah.

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2 thoughts on “On the attributes of Allah

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