The Most Beautiful Names
Encountering the Asma al-Husna – the 99 Beautiful Names of Allah (God)
This compilation is a work in progress based on the books The Most Beautiful Names by Tosun Bayrak al-Jerrahi al-Halveti, The Sufi Book of Life by Saadi Neil Douglas Klotz, and Physicians of the Heart by Wali Ali Meyer, Bilal Hyde, Faisal Muqaddam and Shabda Khan (author’s sufi titles omitted). The short descriptions under Physicians of the Heart at the right were condensed by Karima from the “Brief Summaries” section of the book. Scroll down to go right to the table!
Some things to know:
- The Name Allah contains all the other Names. There are really more than 99 Divine Names (qualities or attributes) in the Qur’an and the ahadith (sayings of Muhammad, upon him be peace). Ninety-nine stands for an unlimited quantity. Also, there is some variation between different sources’ lists of the Names. For instance, Physicians of the Heart includes al ma-JEED (The Most Glorious), but not al MAA-jeed (The Noble), so from that point on the names in their list differ by one number from the other two lists used here. Also, some lists use Allah as the first name while others begin with ar-Rahman (the Merciful).
- Transliteration, putting the sounds from one alphabet into another, is not an exact science, and there may be different opinions about the best way to approximate any particular sound.
- In Arabic, “al” means “the”. It is attached to the word it follows and is not usually capitalized. When we list or discuss the Names, they are all proceded by “the” (the Truth, the Compassionate, the Loving, the Guide), but when we invoke them, calling out to God, we use “Oh”. “Oh Truth, Oh Compassionate, Oh Loving. (“One” can be added to some Names if that is helpful, e.g., the Subtle One.)
- Shamsia letters and kamaria letters (“sun” and “moon” letters). So, if all Names are preceded by “al”, why do we see “an-Nur, “ar-Rashid”, “as-Salaam”, “ash-Shakur”? Because before some letters the “l” disappears – in technical terms, is “elided”. The letters r, s, n and sh (one letter in Arabic) are among these.
- In the Arabic Transliteration used here, sounds not occurring in English are shown by a line under them in the phonetic spelling. Arabic sounds include (from an English-speaking perspective) two kinds of h’s; two kinds of k’s; two kinds each of s’s, d’s and t’s; an sh letter; voiced and unvoiced th’s (two different letters sounding like “this” (voiced) and “think” (unvoiced) and a third ‘heavy’ th; and a kh letter that sounds like the Scottish “loch.” The letters ayn, ghayn and hamza don’t correspond to English sounds at all. Ghayn is like the French r but more gutteral, ayn has been described as sounding like someone “strangling on spaghetti” and the hamza is a glottal stop. (You could search these online to hear them.) In English, the last two are both usually represented by an apostrophe, which can be confusing. Many of the 99 Names contain ayn, but only one that I know of contains a hamza: al-Mu’min (Say “moo”, stop for a moment, say “meen”.) Double letters are held twice as long as a single letter–you can hear people say “Muhammad” that way. English examples: “bookkeeper” and “funny yellow” (the last example is courtesy of Physicians).
- Trying to pronounce words ‘accurately’ can become counterproductive. Do it as much as it is helpful. The word “dhikr,” is often pronounced “zikr” (as it is in the Jerrahi and Chisti orders), and most non-native Arabic speakers use “Azeem” and “Zahir” rather than “Adheem” and “Dhahir”. The letter dh, is the more heavily voiced th mentioned above. What is shown as a short i has a touch of ee in it.
- Some Names are paired opposites including Expander and Constricter, Abaser and Exalter, Honorer and Dishonorer, Creator of Life and Creator of Death, Expediter and Delayer, First and Last, Avenger (Muntaqim) and Pardoner (‘Afuw). The idea is that all things come from Allah and that everything is balanced for the ultimate good according to his will. A hadith says that God’s mercy outreaches or overcomes his justice. It is greater, but both exist, as also reflected in the differentiation between jalil (strong) and jamil (beautiful) Names and in the two sides of the Tree of Life in Jewish mysticism.
Offered with love and respect as a small doorway into the infinite worlds of the Divine Names. Ya Hu! Oh Essence!
– Karima Vargas Bushnell, khalifa, Nur Ashki Jerrahi tariqa, June 2015