The Positive and Negative Attributes of God

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The Positive and Negative Attributes of God
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The Attributes of God

There are many attributes which are a must for God, while there are others which are beneath His dignity and, therefore, cannot be found in Him.

The attributes of God, therefore, have been grouped into “positive” and “negative”: the former reflects the attributes that exist in Him, whereas the latter reflect the attributes that cannot be found in Him. The positive attributes of God are known as as-sifāt ath-thubutiyyah; whereas the attributes that cannot be found in God are known as as-sifāt as-salbiyyah.

There are many attributes which are a must for God, while there are others which are beneath His dignity and, therefore, cannot be found in Him. The attributes of God, therefore, have been grouped into “positive” and “negative”: the former reflects the attributes that exist in Him, whereas the latter reflect the attributes that cannot be found in Him.

(A) The Positive Attributes (As-Sifāt Ath-Thubutiyyah)

There are many attributes which are befitting Allāh, but only eight are usually mentioned because of their importance. The eight as-sifāt ath-thubutiyyah are as follows:
1. Eternal (al-Qadīm): God has neither a beginning nor an end.

2. Omnipotent (al-Qādir): God is Omnipotent; He has power over every thing and every affair.

3. Omniscient (al-`Alīm): God is Omniscient; He knows every thing. Even our unspoken intentions and unexpressed desires are not hidden from Him.

4. Living (al-Hayy): God is always Alive and will remain Alive for ever.

5. Will Power (al-Murīd): God has His own will and discretion in all affairs. He does not do anything under compulsion.

6. All-Perceiving (al-Mudrik): God is All-Hearing and All-Seeing; He can see and hear everything without any need of eyes and ears.

7. Master of Speech (al-Mutakallim): God can create speech in anything, as He did in a tree for Prophet Musa (a.s.) and in the curtain of light for our holy Prophet (a.s.).

8. Truthful (as-Sādiq): God is always true in His words and promises.

It is impossible to fix any limit to the attributes of God. This list is not exhaustive but is essential to understand the glory of Allāh. These attributes are not acquired but are inherent in the concept of Divinity.

(B) The Negative Attributes (As-Sifāt As-Salbiyyah)

The term “negative attributes” means those attributes which cannot be found in God because they are incompatible with the concept of Divinity. Similar to the positive attributes, the negatives attributes are also many but only eight are normally listed because of their importance. The eight as-sifāt as-salbiyyah are as follows:

1. Partner (as-Sharīk): God has no partner or colleague.

2. Compound (al-Murakkab): God is neither made nor composed of any material. He cannot be divided even in imagination.

3. Place (al-Makān): God has neither a center nor a place because He has no body; and He is everywhere because His power and knowledge is magnificently apparent everywhere.

4. Incarnation (al-Hulūl): God does not enter into anything or any person, nor does anything enter Him. Therefore, the belief in incarnation is incompatible with the concept of Divinity.

5. Change (Mahall-e Hawādith): God is not subject to change.

6. Visible (al-Mar'i): God is not visible; He has not been seen, is not seen, and will never be seen.

7. Need (Ihtiyāj): God is not deficient in any virtue, so He does not need anything. He is free from want.

8. `Acquired Attribute' (Sifat-e Zā'id): The attributes of Allāh are not separate from His person. When we say that God is Omnipotent and Merciful, we do not mean that his power and mercy are something different from His person.

To understand the concept of `additional quality' or `acquired attribute' more clearly, read the following two sentences: “Tea is sweet” and “Sugar is sweet”. In the first example, sweetness is an additional quality for tea; the tea was not sweet when it was made, it became sweet after sugar was added to it. But in the second example, sweetness is an essential quality not an added quality for sugar; the sugar was sweet from the day it became a sugar; a “sugar” which is not sweet is not sugar at all. The positive attributes of God are like sweetness is to sugar; they are not additional to the person of God. Power, mercy, knowledge, justice, virtue, truth, etc. were never separate from His person.

To understand the concept of `additional quality' or `acquired attribute' more clearly, read the following two sentences: “Tea is sweet” and “Sugar is sweet”. In the first example, sweetness is an additional quality for tea; the tea was not sweet when it was made, it became sweet after sugar was added to it. But in the second example, sweetness is an essential quality not an added quality for sugar; the sugar was sweet from the day it became a sugar; a “sugar” which is not sweet is not sugar at all. The positive attributes of God are like sweetness is to sugar; they are not additional to the person of God. Power, mercy, knowledge, justice, virtue, truth, etc. were never separate from His person.

Islam: Faith, Practice & History. By Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi

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Daily Hadith
الإخْوانُ في اللّهِ تعالى تَدُومُ مَودّتُهُم، لِدَوامِ سَبَبِها.
Brothers [whose brotherhood is] for the sake of Allah, enjoy an enduring Amity, due to the firmness of its foundation