Sometimes there is that one moment when someone says something that you need to hear. Perhaps you are sad, and your friend texts you randomly saying, “You know, I really wish you the best,” for no apparent reason. Or you are going through a difficulty and attend a talk, and the sheikh says something that particularly resonates with you—”Sometimes Allah tests you so you will call on Him.” How did these people know to say these things, to remind you of Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala (may He be glorified and exalted), when they had no idea what you were feeling or going through?
That is Allah al-Lateef—He who is Benevolent, Gentle and Subtle with His servants. In Arabic, the word lateef comes from lutf or the three-letter root l-t-f. Al-Ghazali says about this Name of Allah:
“Al-Lateef, the Benevolent. One is deserving of this name if one knows the subtleties of those things which are beneficial, as well as their hidden aspects, along with what is subtle about them and what is benevolent.”
In the dictionary, it is frequently defined as gentleness and also as something that is too tiny or too subtle to feel.
So when we say that Allah (swt) is lateef with His slaves, it means that while He is always with us, and knows everything that goes on within us from thoughts and emotions, His protection and His presence with us are subtle. As Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi says, “His being with us is not heavy.” Combine this meaning of lateef with its other meaning of being Gentle and Kind, and you have the Lord who knows what is going on in your heart, and sends you what you need out of His Mercy and Kindness in the most subtle way.
You may believe it is your friend that is comforting you, but in reality, it is Allah (swt) who sent you that friend. Perhaps that one word was what you needed to uplift you. Perhaps your friend told you a joke that helped to get your mind off things. Perhaps that person who you met seemingly out of nowhere and recommended a certain class for you was what brought you closer to Allah (swt).
The subtleties and kindness are not simply to do with our emotions and worries, but also in Allah’s (swt) dealings with the universe. Look at Allah al-Jameel, the Most Beautiful and the Source of Beauty, as He beautifies the universe with stars and breezes and sunsets—a subtlety and a kindness we take for granted, but are nevertheless there for us, and scientifically proven to lift our spirits.
When we see the way Al-Lateef treats us with benevolence and gentleness, we cannot but try to be a source of gentleness for others, as a way of being grateful to God for His kindness to us. As the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) said:
“Show gentleness, for if gentleness is found in anything, it beautifies it and when it is taken out from anything it damages it.” (Abu Dawud)