Brainstorm of an Ishmaelite

The 99 Names


Who is the God of Abraham? The names of God provide a preliminary answer to this question.

The Ineffable

The first step to understand God is that it’s ineffable¬†(ch. 112). Even atheists are idolaters who worship pseudonyms they invent (v. 53:23). The name ‘Allah’ is a placeholder that means “The God,” like Adonai (the Lord) and HaShem (the Holy Name) in Hebrew. Disrespecting the Holy Name–for instance, by uttering it for no reason–is blasphemy, which is traditionally punishable by stoning outside the city gates (Leviticus 24:13-16). God punishes anyone who takes its name in vain (Exodus 20:7). This is because the name of God is holy, and therefore set apart and to be feared as death (Genesis 3:4 & Bulugh al-Maram 16:1468). Believers shouldn’t swear to God, since they can’t guarantee anything on its behalf, and should repent of their oaths in its name (Matthew 5:34, v. 5:89 & Bulugh al-Maram 11:1281)


The Qur’an enjoins believers not to keep company with people who mock religion (v. 4:140) and to show respect for other religions, lest offending their followers causes them to act foolishly (vv. 6:108 & 49:11). The Hadith specify that Sharia doesn’t defend a person who persistently lies about or insults God or the Prophet (Abu Dawud 40:11,12). They basically fall outside its protection (i.e., God and the Prophet don’t protect them). Whatever happens to them is their fault. That doesn’t mean one can’t criticize the Prophet (or his successor) as many did with impunity (al-Adab al-Mufrad 33:21). In the aforementioned case of Abu Dawud 40:12, the Prophet wouldn’t have executed the slave who insulted and lied about him (Ibn Majah 21:2795 & Riyadh as-Salihin 1:644). However, since it was manslaughter with the intention to defend the Prophet’s honour, he couldn’t execute the guilty party.

The 99 Names

God can be known through¬†its names, which express fundamental realities and constitute the rudiments of knowledge. These names are impossible to fabricate and keys to paradise (Ibn Majah 1:244). The names of God are profound. One would be wise to achieve a humble understanding of even one of God’s names. God is the truth (v. 20:114) and its names are superlative (v. 20:8). For instance, if creation is great, God is the greatest; if creation is terrible, God is the most terrible (v. 13:6) etc.

“God taught Adam all the names” (v. 2:31) that is, all the names of God, which are written in Adam’s heart, though he forgets them or invents meaningless names out of ignorance (v. 53:23). For instance, Adam sins and realizes or remembers God “the Merciful” and repents (v. 2:37). Except for the odd name of God (allah) the even names are complementary, such as “The Honourer” and “The Humiliator.” The greatest or arrogant names of God are personal pronouns, such as huwa (who) and inni ana (I am) (v. 28:30 & Ibn Majah 34:29). Pharaoh, Korah, Aram and the devil were destroyed by the cardinal elements–water, earth, wind and fire–for using these names.

Secret Names

There are secret names of God besides the conventional ones. These names correspond to secret knowledge. Balaam, for instance, knew a name of God that if God was called by that name, it would always answer, like al-Ahad as-Samad: the One and Only and the Absolute (Abu Dawud 8:78). Korah knew a name that allowed him to turn raw materials into gold. Jezebel knew a name that enabled her to command armies of dogs. Balaam, Korah and Jezebel were unbelievers. The secret names they knew–that is, the secret knowledge they possessed–destroyed them. Many scientists are unbelievers, and many of them know secret names that give them great powers most people don’t possess. Their heresy is to attribute these powers to fictional entities like strings or bosons instead of God, whose power encompasses everything. Korah, for instance, was destroyed because he credited his power and wealth to his knowledge, instead of ascribing all of these attributes to God (v. 28:78). Jezebel, for her part, was eaten by dogs (2 Kings 9:36).

While Balaam’s knowledge may seem exceptional, God is generally as one imagines and answers as summoned. For instance, if you call upon “the Tyrant,” God will answer as the Tyrant (Muslim 48:25 & Tirmidhi 36:85).

The Etiquette of Prayer

The standard etiquette of prayer, or calling to God, is to repent to the “the Merciful” like Adam. Dangerous names include “the Grantor” of wishes, “the Avenger” and “the Just” since they can backfire. As the expression holds: “Be careful what you wish for,” or as the Chinese curse: “May you get what you wish for.”