THE POSITIVE OR AFFIRMATIVE ATTRIBUTES

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The Attributes Whose existence is indispensable and mark God’s absolute Perfection have been called the Positive or Affirmative Attributes. God has Life, has perfect Knowledge of everything and an overwhelming Power over everything. He has also a Will Which determines whatever It wishes, however It wishes. In short, these Attributes make God known to us and describe Who He is through affirmative expressions. Like the Essential Attributes, the opposites of these Attributes cannot be conceived for the All-Holy Being, and all of these Attributes are eternal both in the past and in the future, for they are among the sacred Attributes that are inherent in or inseparable from the All-Majestic, All-Exalted Being with absolute perfection.

As discussed in books on Islamic creed, some of these Attributes such as Life, Knowledge, Power, and Will are in the infinitive form (in the Arabic), while others are in an adjectival form. Human beings, jinn, spirit beings, and angels also have these attributes, but when ascribed to the Divine Being, they are absolute, timeless (eternal in the past and in the future), and inherent in Him. Other beings have them as reflections of the same Attributes of God, and these attributes are restricted.

With the exception of the Attribute of Making Exist or Creation, for which there are different considerations, all of the Positive or Affirmative Attributes are veils before the Dignity and Grandeur of the Divine Being, Who has no beginning, is eternally permanent, and infinitely encompassing. They are Attributes of Majesty and Grace that are inherent in the All-Sacred Being, Which subsist by Him, but are not nominally identical to the Divine Being Himself. They are Life, Knowledge, Hearing, Sight, Will, Power, Speech, and Making Exist.

 

Hayah (Life)

Life is one of the eternal Divine Attributes of Glory and—provided we do not ignore that Life is an Attribute of the Being Whom It describes—the sole source of life for all the worlds of living beings. It is solely God Who gives life to and maintains everything in the heavens and on the earth, on land and in water, and in both the physical and metaphysical realms. Every existent thing and being in this world is favored with life by Him and will also be favored with a second life in the other world by Him.

Through the perpetual Divine Attribute of Life, every living being experiences its near and distant environment, builds relationships with these environments, and becomes as if a universal being while it is a particular. God bestows on everything a great profundity and every being gains a different expansion through this connection. While the Attribute of Life, Which is a veil for the All-Independent Being described by It, shows Itself with Its manifestations and reflections in all the worlds of living beings, It is never subjected to division or separation from the All-Sacred One Whom It describes. It is absolutely free from all such instances of exposure.

The Attribute of Life has priority to other Affirmative Attributes, for Attributes like Power, Will, and Knowledge cannot be conceived of without Life; it is not possible to think about these without considering Life. The manifest Qur’an draws the attention to that perpetual Life in many of its verses and reminds us of the reality, “He is All-Living, and never dies.” The spirit is a general manifestation of Life, and the state of being alive is Its reflection. In His Speech (the Qur’an), God calls attention to the celebrated Names the All-Living and the Giver of life as the background of life and He emphasizes that perpetual Life in different manners in connection with Prophets Adam and Jesus, and with all other living beings. The Ultimate Truth should be viewed through the telescope of life. Everyone who looks through belief can read on the face of life such truths as: “It is He Who causes to die, Who revives, and Who will restore everything to a new life in the other realm; it is also He Who will return the bones, rotten and mixed with earth, to life in a different fashion with their essential parts.”

 

Ilm (Knowledge)

On account of being related to everything the existence of which is either necessary, contingent or disallowed, Knowledge is the Attribute Whose area of comprehension is the broadest; it is also the origin of contingencies. Reminding us of this breadth, the manifest Qur’an declares:

With Him are the keys to the Unseen; none knows them but He. And He knows whatever is on land and in the sea; and not a leaf falls but He knows it; and neither is there a grain in the dark layers of earth, nor anything green or dry, but is (recorded) in a Manifest Book. (6:59)

Do you not consider that God knows whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth? There is not a secret counsel between three persons but He is the fourth among them, nor between five but He is the sixth among them, nor less than that, nor more, but He is with them wherever they may be. Thereafter, He will make them truly understand all that they do (and call them to account) on the Day of Resurrection. Surely God has full knowledge of everything. (58:7)

By reminding us of the infinite area of comprehension of Divine Knowledge, the Qur’an both stirs up our feelings of appreciation and admiration and calls us to self-possession and alertness.

Like other Attributes of Glory, the Divine Attribute of Knowledge never resembles the knowledge of angels, human beings, jinn, or spirit beings. God’s Knowledge encompasses everything and nothing is outside this limitless, all-encompassing circle. This Knowledge has also nothing to do with increase or decrease, development or perfection, or acquisition. Just as the Ultimate Truth knows Himself through this Knowledge that is inherent in Him, He also knows whatever has happened, whatever will happen, and whatever is disallowed to happen. However, God’s knowledge of what we call “contingent things or beings”—those whose external existence is not necessary, but possible—does not necessitate their existence. They owe their external existence to the Divine Will’s preference that they come into external existence to their remaining only in Knowledge; as a result of this preference the Divine Power brings them into existence.

Another point that indicates the broadness of the sphere which Divine Knowledge encompasses is the beauty, order, arrangement, harmony, wisdom, and observance of the maximum use and benefits that we observe throughout the universe. These are the outcomes of the determination of Knowledge and the truth-speaking witnesses of the All-Knowing, the All-Wise One. They originate from Him and proclaim Him most loudly.

God’s Knowledge relates to both eternity in the past and eternity in the future. However, His Knowledge being pre-eternal does not require the pre-eternity of the contents of this Knowledge. Knowledge is something, identification is something different, and the intermediary and ideal existence is different again, and the physical existence is completely different. God Almighty has absolute knowledge and dominion of everything, large or small, particular or universal, material or immaterial, with their types of existence in all these stages or dimensions.

 

Sam‘a (Hearing)

Through His transcendent Attribute of Hearing, God Almighty listens to and hears all sounds and voices, whether they be hidden or in the open, inward or articulate, whispered or expressed out loud, and answers those that He wills to answer. In relation to God, there is no difference at all between inward sighs and lamentations or resounding wailings and cries. Also, His hearing mil- lions of sounds or voices at the same instant does not prevent Him from hearing and answering millions of others. With whatever mouths billions of beings speak, He hears and answers all of them without the least confusion.

On numerous occasions, the Qur’an and the Sunna emphasize that God is the All-Hearing and the All-Seeing, but no explanations are offered concerning the nature of His hearing and seeing; rather the matter is referred to God Almighty, as are the other Attributes. Just as the true nature of the All-Holy Creator is beyond perception, so too are His Knowledge, Hearing, and Seeing or Sight imperceptible, and they will remain so. We see with our eyes, hear with our ears, and speak with our mouth, whereas God does not need any such organs to see, hear, or speak. He is absolutely free and exempt from anything implying personification or comparison.

 

Basar (Sight)

Sight is one of God’s Positive, or Affirmative, Attributes. Through this Attribute of Glory, God Almighty sees everything, large or small, mighty or insignificant, material or spiritual, earthly or heavenly, and protects and cares for whatever and whoever He wills, with nothing remaining hidden from Him. With the same clarity, He sees into the depths of the darkness and the illuminated heavens, He discerns the deepest, darkest corners of the strata of the earth, observes the microscopic, atomic and sub-atomic objects and beings, perceives the most hidden living beings and their most secreted parts, and has knowledge of everything, be it hidden or in the open.

The Attribute of Sight is not mentioned in the Qur’an in Its own, infinitive form, but is referred to with the Divine Name the All-Seeing. This Name is sometimes mentioned singly and sometimes together with the Name the All-Hearing. As with the other Divine Attributes, where this Attribute is mentioned It is mentioned in the affirmative and a warning is made against both the personification of God on one hand and the denial of the Attribute on the other.

The functions of seeing and hearing in human beings have been made dependent on many physical means, causes, and conditions, where as the Divine Being needs  neither physiological nor psychological means or causes, nor any other thing of a similar nature. He sees by Himself through the veil of certain Attributes, He also hears by Himself, and knows by Himself. Even though He sees, hears, and knows by Himself, His Knowledge, Hearing, and Sight are all different from one another. It is manifest misguidance to ascribe all these acts only to the Attribute of Knowledge and to ignore other sacred Attributes. The expressions of some Sufis implying this misguidance are due to certain spiritual states like absorption and spiritual intoxication, and are based on the doctrine of the Unity of Being. The final, decisive judgment in every matter always rests with the Qur’an, according to which

 God is the All-Knowing through (the veil of) His Knowledge, the All-Hearing through (the veil of) His Hearing, and the All-Seeing through (the veil of) His Sight.

 

Irada (Will)

Will is an Affirmative Attribute of God that is inherent in Him; Will determines what will be created and when, where, and how. Whatever God wills to be, whenever, wherever, and however He wills it to be, it is thus. He has certain instances of wisdom in or wise purposes for whatever He does and creates, but these instances of wisdom and purposes do not cause or compel Him to create or do anything. Ibrahim Haqqi of Erzurum says:

No one can ever compel Him to do something; Whatever He Himself wills to create, it comes into existence.

Mashi’a is another word which is sometimes used in place of Irada. Our master, upon him be the most perfect of blessings and peace, used this word in different forms in his morning and evening prayers, saying: “Whatever God wills is, whatever God does not will, is not.”66

It is apparently the Attribute of Will Which determines whether something will or will not be and if it will be, then when, where, and how it will be. The manifest Qur’an emphasizes God’s Attribute of Will in many of its verses, such as the following ones, and reminds us of Will’s encompassing area of manifestation:

To God belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth. He creates whatever He wills. He grants to whom He wills daughters, and grants to whom He wills sons. (42:49)

When God wills evil for a people, it cannot be averted, and apart from Him, they have no protector. (13:11)

Say: “Who is there that can hinder God from it, if He wills evil for you, or if He wills mercy for you?” They will not find for themselves, apart from God, either guardian or helper. (33:17)

When He wills a thing to be, He but says to it “Be!” and (in the selfsame instant,) it is. (36:82)

Say (to them): “Who is there that can intervene on your behalf with God if He wills harm for you or if He wills a benefit for you?” (48:11)

Say: “O God, absolute Master of all dominion! You give dominion to whom You will, and take away dominion from whom You will, and You exalt and honor whom You will, and abase whom You will; in Your hand is all good; surely You have full power over everything.” (3:26)

God’s Will concerns both the creation and operation of the universe and the worldly life of creatures, and the religious life of conscious beings. His Will concerning the creation, operation, and worldly life of creatures is the determining Attribute in the creation and life of creatures at a certain time and place and with certain qualities. As mentioned before, when God Almighty says to something “Be!” at a certain time and place and in the way He wills, it immediately is; while whatever He does not will to be remains in non-existence until He wills it to be. The expression, “‘Be!’ and it is,” which is mentioned many times in the Qur’an, acts as the cipher for a very important truth.

The Divine commands of the creation and operation of the universe that issue from the Divine Will are obeyed absolutely, but obedience to the Divine religious commands has been left to human free will. God orders belief, an Islamic life, and excellence in worship and conduct, showing people the way to being true human beings. If a human being displays an inclination in this direction, it is up to God whether He gives external existence to this inclination in accordance with His Wisdom or not. If He wills to give it external existence, He enables His servant to attain true humanity; if He does not, He manifests His wisdom in another way.

Due to the different benefits and purposes that are beyond human perception, the Divine Will that is related to the operation and life of the universe sometimes wills apparent evils alongside good, and harmful things alongside what is useful; however, His Will relating to religious commands and affairs always wills what is good, beautiful, and useful. However, the responsibility for the apparent evils in the Divine Will’s choice concerning human actions and the life of the universe belongs to those who cause them. Human free will, whether it be in the form of an inclination or putting that inclination into action, is a shadow of the Divine Will and is a potential ability to make choices with which human beings have been equipped. According to the Maturidis, what is called “the universal will” is this potential ability or capacity, while what they call “the particular will” is the inclination and determination to do or not do a particular thing. As for the Ash‘aris,67 they prefer calling God’s Will “the Universal Will,” and the inclination of human beings “the particular will.”

 

Qudra (Power)

Qudra is another of the Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty; Qudra means that God the All-Exalted is absolutely able to do anything He wills and that He has absolute power over everything. Incapacity, impotence, or powerlessness, all of which are the opposites to Power, cannot be conceived of in connection with the Divine Being. There is nothing over which He does not have absolute power. Everything, from the bottom of the earth to the highest heavens, has been and is being created through that all-overwhelming Power, and it is again through that Power that everything changes forms and states, develops and is perfected, thus undergoing ceaseless experiences. In many verses such as the following ones, the Qur’an reminds us of His infinite Power and calls us to turn to that All-Strong, All-Forceful, All-Powerful, All Omnipotent One:

And God’s is the sovereignty (absolute ownership and dominion) of the heavens and the earth, and God has full power over everything.  (3:189)

The matter of the Hour (of Doom) is but the twinkling of an eye, or even quicker. Surely God has full power over everything. (16:77).

And so, God is He Who is the Ultimate Truth (and Ever-Constant), and He gives life to the dead, and He has full power over everything. (22:6)

Say: “Go about on the earth and see how God originated creation. Then God will bring forth the other (second) creation (in the form of the Hereafter). Surely God has full power over everything.  (29:20)

Blessed and Supreme is He in Whose Hand is the Sovereignty; and He has full power over everything. (67:1)

By no means is God One Whom anything whatever in the heavens or on earth can frustrate (in His decrees). Surely He is All Knowing, All-Powerful. (35:44)

Despite insignificant differences of view concerning the relation of the Divine Power with things and events, all scholars of the Ahlu’s-Sunna are in agreement that Power is among the eternal, Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty.

 

Kalam (Speech)

Speech is another of the All-Exalted God’s Affirmative Attributes, Which marks His Perfection.  All religious commands and all decrees and directions that come on different wavelengths in the form of Revelation and inspiration, with their unique nature, have originated from that Attribute. In many verses like the following, the Qur’an not only presents the Attribute of Speech explicitly or implicitly, but also reminds us of the fact that all Divine Words that issued from His Attribute of Speech and Which were manifested in the form of Revelation were of the same basic nature for all Prophets:

Of those Messengers, some We have exalted above others (in some respects). Among them are those to whom God spoke (in a peculiar fashion), and He raised some others in degrees. (2:253)

It is not for any mortal that God should speak to him unless it be by Revelation or from behind a veil, or by sending a messenger (angel) to reveal, by His leave, whatever He wills (to reveal). Surely He is All-Exalted, All-Wise. (42:51)

And Messengers We have already told you of before, and Messengers We have not told you of; and God addressed Moses and spoke to Him. (4:164)

And He revealed to His servant what He revealed. (53:10)

We have revealed to you (O Messenger), as We revealed to Noah and the Prophets after him; and We revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob and the Prophets who were raised in the tribes among his progeny, and Jesus, Job, Jonah, Aaron, and Solomon; and We gave David the Psalms. (4:163).

And just so We reveal to you a Qur’an (a Recitation) in Arabic so that you may warn the mother-city and all those around it. (42:7)

The noble Qur’an is a manifestation of Divine Speech in keeping with the time from when it began to be revealed to the Day of Resurrection, and with the Prophet to whom it was ad dressed, and to the community to which it was sent. Divine Speech manifested Itself in the particular form of a Divine Book for each community in which It was revealed. Both the Attribute of Divine Speech, Which is the source of the Divine Books, and the Divine Books in their essence are eternal in the past. So, on account of their essence, which is described as “God’s speech to or in Himself,” none of the Divine Books are created. However, their written forms as books or their recitations are created. Their written forms and recitations are described as “the Speech in words.”

If there is a Divine Book Which originated from the Divine Attribute of Speech and has remained intact in its original form, it is the noble Qur’an. From the very first day when it began to be revealed, it has remained without undergoing the least change, thanks to God’s protection and the sincere efforts of its faithful followers. The richness of its contents, the conservation of its freshness as if it was being revealed anew in every age, and its power and profundity in solving all spiritual, emotional, mental, economic, social, administrational,  and political problems, are another guarantee for its indispensability. It is for this reason that what is meant and reminded of by the phrase “the Divine Word” has generally been the noble Qur’an.

 

Takwin (Making Exist)

Takwin, which means making or causing to exist, according to the Maturidis, is the eighth of the Affirmative Attributes of God Almighty.

God is the Creator of everything, and the Attribute of Making Exist is the Attribute of Glory that is the origin of this creation. The All-Exalted Creator, Who introduces Himself as the Creator of the heavens and the earth, prepares everything He creates for existence through His all-encompassing Knowledge, His all-embracing Will, Which determines what will be sent into the arena of existence and when, where, and with what characteristics, and His all-overwhelming Power, Which is all-able to do whatever His Will determines; and He finally refers this to the veil of His Attribute of Making Exist. The whole universe with whatever is in it, everything animate or inanimate, all with different designs, styles, and natures, comes into existence through His creation, invention, and origination. The sacred Attributes are veils before this Act of God Almighty, and the Attribute of Making Exist is another curtain before the Will and the Power. Everything of contingency is established within a broad frame by the Knowledge; the Will selects between many probabilities, while the Power marks  its possibility to be or to come into existence, and the Attribute of Making Exist manufactures it on Its own immaterial workbench, presenting what has been created to the View of the Eternal Witness.

Making Exist is, according to the Maturidis, among the independent, eternal, and substantial Affirmative Attributes. The Ash‘aris’ approach is slightly different; according to them, this At- tribute is of nominal or relative existence. For if something which the Divine Will has judged to exist is brought into existence through the Power and Will, there is no further need for Making Exist. The Ash‘aris have this same approach for other Attributes of actions that relate to Making Exist. They view them as Attributes that are not eternal in the past, but which emerged later; they explain every occurrence with the Power and Will. However, it is God Who knows best.

 

1     Abu Dawud, “Sunna” 6, “Adab” 101.

2     The Maturidis, the followers of Imam Muhammad ibn Muhammad Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), and Ash’aris, the followers of Imam Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 665), comprise the Ahlu’s-Sunna wa’l-Jama‘a, the overwhelming majority of Muslims. There are slight differences of opinion between these two branches of the Ahlu’s-Sunna. (Tr.)

 

Gulen, Fethullah. “The Emerald Hills of The Heart 4” Tughra Books Press. December 2011.