When learning Allah’s Names, it is important to understand that Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is not just one attribute at a time. Just like if we describe our friend as firm and kind, it doesn’t mean that she is sometimes firm and sometimes kind. She is both at the same time. One attribute does not cancel out the other; rather they work in harmony. So it is important not to compartmentalize Allah’s Names and attributes in that way, but rather to understand Him in a holistic sense.
Today’s two Names are important in that regard, because we can truly better our relationship with Allah (swt) when we understand how these Names relate to His other Names.
The first Name is Al-`aleem- the All-Knowing: what is and what could be, what was and what could have been. Al-Ghazali says, “Its perfection lies in comprehending everything by knowledge—manifest and hidden, small and large, first and last, inception and outcome.”
Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi teaches that the difference between Allah’s knowledge and human knowledge is that we must necessarily acquire our knowledge by what we see and experience around us. On the other hand, Allah’s knowledge has no beginning or end, and is not based on trial and error. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an:
“And with Him are the keys of the unseen; none knows them except Him. And He knows what is on the land and in the sea. Not a leaf falls but that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth and no moist or dry [thing] but that it is [written] in a clear record,” (Qur’an, 6:59)
The all-Knower even knows every leaf that falls. He knows what our souls whisper to us and He is closer to us “than the jugular vein”. So He knows what you are going through, what you are feeling. Your Lord does not forget either; so do not think that anything you have done has gone to waste. He knows when you prevented yourself from doing bad for His sake, so just because you didn’t see the result of your choice immediately, don’t think that it went unnoticed. But some things need patience, and Allah (swt) teaches us with time. Allah (swt) tells us:
“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not.” (Qur’an, 2:216)
The second Name is al-Hakeem which is related to hakam, to judge. According to al-Ghazali, al-Hakeem is “the One who possesses wisdom, and wisdom consists of the knowledge of the most excellent things gathered through the instrumentality of the most excellent branch of knowledge.” Similarly in order to judge, you need to have the knowledge with which to do so.
One is knowing, and the other is acting with this knowledge. Allah (swt) is both the All-Knowing and the Most-Wise—He possesses all the knowledge, and as an-Nabulsi states, He “does the proper thing in the proper way in the proper place and the proper time.”
So crucially, we talk about Allah being al-Mujeeb (the One who responds), al-Wakeel (the Trustee) and al-Fattah (the Supreme Opener). So sometimes we work hard and have absolute certainty that the Possessor of these attributes will help us. Then, the result is not as we wanted. So some of us may come away with our faith shaken, others may feel betrayed or abandoned. But that is because we missed out on something—He is the Most-Wise, and He is the all-Knowing. He didn’t give it to you because He knows what is best for your dunya (this life) and your akhira (the hereafter). We sometimes think we know, but we do not possess all of the knowledge. And understanding that He knows what the best result should be is true tawakul (total trust in God).
Can we imagine being in the position of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him), when he seeks protection from the people of Ta’if? He must have thought, “Surely, Allah will respond.” And he goes to Ta’if, yet is rejected in a brutal, demeaning way. But he never doubts Allah (swt), not for a second. His du`a’ (supplication) consists of saying to Allah, “If you are not angry with me, then I do not care.” So he never doubts. He continues working. And it is because Medina was better for him—and the lesson for us is no matter what the people do to us, if we are on the path to truth, Allah (swt) is always with us.
So whenever things do not go our way or as we assumed they would, we need to put our trust in the One who truly knows what is best. I once prayed istikhara (prayer for guidance) for a job I really didn’t want to take, and everything was pushing me to take it. It was not a job I would want to do in the long term, but at that time it was the only thing available and all the signs seemed to be pointing for me to take it. I was not too happy, but tried to be content. Subhan’Allah (glory to God), it was through that job that the doors to what I actually wanted to do opened up—and I learned that truly Allah knows, and I do not. I’m sure that many of us have gone through this!
Coming Alive with Allah’s Names
The first lesson is that understanding these Names should increase our faith in Allah, and especially in His other Names and attributes. They are all related, and once we truly understand them and try to live by them, our faith in Allah (swt) should increase as we see the manifestations of His Name in our lives.
The second lesson is one of humility. When Abu Bakr radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) was praised, he would pray:
“O Allah! You know me more than I know myself; and I know myself more than they know me. O Allah! Make me better than they say, forgive me what they do not know about me, and do not take me to account for that which they say about me.” (Ibn Atheer)
We all know our faults better than others, and there are some faults that we do not notice that Allah (swt) knows. It is important to keep ourselves grounded, that no matter how good we become, Allah is All-Knowing and we can always improve. The du`a’ of the Angels in the Qur’an is beautiful in this regard:
“They said, “Exalted are You; we have no knowledge except what You have taught us. Indeed, it is You who is the Knowing, the Wise.” (Qur’an, 2:32)
It is important to always attribute the good to Allah (swt), because truly all good is from Him. And as we know, whoever is grateful, Allah (swt) increases them in favor.
Finally, the best knowledge is knowledge of Allah (swt). Al-Ghazali, says, “He who knows all things but fails to know Allah is not called ‘a wise person’.” We are encouraged to increase in knowledge, as Allah (swt) instructs us in the Qur’an:
“… and say, ‘My Lord, increase me in knowledge.’” (Qur’an, 20:114)
Moreover, knowledge is praised. Allah (swt) also tells us:
“… whoever is given wisdom is given a great good,” (Qur’an, 2:269)
So it is important to keep learning in general in order to better ourselves in this dunya, but it is equally if not more important to keep up our religious knowledge and knowledge of Allah (swt), because that also helps us to put this dunya into context.
We ask Allah to increase us in beneficial knowledge and in iman (faith).