Dr. Peter Riddell delivered a lecture on the Nature of Allah during a CIU course. Here, Riddell presents the theme of the Nature of Allah found within the text of the Qur’an: per-Islamic Arabia, Muhammad’s view, the Qur’an, the Hadith, the Tafsir, seven attributes of God, theodicy, and apophatic theology. 


  Here starts the auto-generated transcription of Dr. Peter Riddell’s Lecture, The Nature of Allah:


Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re marking now upon the second part of this course. In the first part, we considered the textual materials of Islam. We surveyed the Quran itself, addressing issues of its text and translation with some of the great debates. We considered how the Hadith texts are used to explain the Quran.


We also looked at the vast collections of commentary writing on the Quran of all different styles. We also looked at the stories of the prophets, which are also used to explain the Quran. So up to this point, we focused very much on the texts of Islam, in a sense, the ingredients for understanding the Quran. What we’re going to do now in the second part of this course is to move from texts to themes. I’m going to take a selection of themes, and we will look at what the Quran has to say about these themes, and then we will look to see how the texts of Islam we’ve looked at up until now are used to explain those particular themes.


Now the first theme that we’re going to consider is the nature of Allah in Islam, the nature of Allah in the Quran and how that’s explained by the texts that we’ve discussed up to this point of the course. Let’s begin by considering Mohammed and the god concept that comes through the pages of the Quran. Now remember, Mohammed is central to the whole Quranic event. Muslims believe that Mohammed received the Quran from God. Non Muslims don’t accept that.


But whatever the case, Mohammed is clearly closely interrelated with the Quran in some way. What was his understanding of God coming through the pages of the Quran? Well, we get a window through the pages of the Quran into Arab beliefs and worship before Islam, a subject we discussed in the last lectures. There appears to have been a pantheon of gods and goddesses in pre Islamic Arabia. There are approximately, it seems, 300 and 60 idols established by pagans in pre Islamic Arabia.


And Allah existed, but he was worshiped as the chief deity, the master of all those other idols. Interestingly, it seems that the pre Islamic Arabs did not believe in resurrection and judgment. Now such was the case of the society that man Mohammed entered. And Mohammed served as a religious reformer in his society. He he served as a religious reformer in the same sort of way that Buddha did, in Hindu society.


Jesus reformed Judaism. Martin Luther came as a reformer. So Mohammed was a reformer in his particular society, and part of his calling was to prove a number of things. Firstly, the existence of Allah. So but he was redefining the Allah of pre pre Islam.


Mohammed sought to prove Allah’s existence, but also his uniqueness and oneness as sole creator. And that comes through very clearly in the pages of the Quran. But another, theme that Mohammed focused on in the in the Quran was resurrection and judgment and rewards and punishments, themes which apparently had not been prominent in pre Islamic Arabian society. Now how did Mohammed prove this? How did Mohammed prove those claims?


Well, he drew on a range of evidence, but he especially drew on the physical world. He drew on the heavens, on the earth, on the clouds, and on the rain and so forth. And if if you read the, pages of the Quran on this theme, on on what Mohammed had to say about Allah, you find regular references to the physical world. Now at the same time, Mohammed was preaching resurrection and judgment, And that is a very profound common heavily accented theme in the pages of the Quran. Now Muhammad emphasized Allah as independent from his creation.


The forces of nature were merely manifestations of Allah’s power, said Mohammed. And this idea of signs is especially recurrent in the Quran. The Quran indicates Allah made himself partly known, and I emphasize the partly, to mankind through signs, through works, through attributes and qualities. So Allah revealed himself partly to humankind through signs and works and attributes and qualities. But at the same time, Allah remains unknown and unknowable in his essential being, and that’s a significant difference clearly with Christianity.


As we go through these slides, as we think about the nature of Allah in Islam, I want you to be thinking from a Christian perspective. How is it different? How what parallels are there? How do you respond as a Christian to these ideas? You know, it’s it’s it’s important that we listen to Muslim voices on these themes well.


And in that context, I would like you to go to the Moodle page now and watch the filmed interview with on that’s available on YouTube with Sheikh Yousef Estes who’s a convert to Islam. Now this film is called the concept of God in Islam. It runs for 23 minutes. He’s very articulate. I want you to listen to, what he has to say.


I want you to take notes of his main points and his arguments, especially as they reveal the Islamic scriptural understanding of God. And I would also like you to be listening for his criticisms of Christian views as well and be asking yourself the question, how would I respond to that? Because so much of this course is about Christian responses. How would I, as a Christian, respond to the comments of this sheikh Yousef Estes? So let’s turn to the pages of the Quran, and let’s look at certain verses to get a sense as to the profile of Allah in the Islamic primary text and the commentaries.


And we’re beginning with the Quran, and we’ll have a look at other materials in subsequent lectures. The focus is on the theme of Allah, the nature of Allah. What does the Quran have to say? What can be known of the Allah of Islam from the Islamic sacred texts? Well, there is only one god that is emphasized again and again and again and again.


It’s a much accented theme. Allah has 99 names according to the Quran. Although when you look at the Hadith, there are many more than 99 names for Allah in the Hadith collections, but you can easily find little booklets in Islamic bookstores or go online where the 99 names are listed. Some sometimes the collections will be slightly different from each other. There’s the key reference to Allah having 99 names is found in the hadith, such as this account in Bukhari volume 3, book 50, number 894, which says narrated, Allah’s apostle said Allah has 99 names, I e 100 minus 1, and whoever knows them will go to paradise.


That’s interesting. That’s one of the reasons that you sometimes see Muslims with prayer beads counting off the prayer beads as they say a name of Allah because they believe that they will earn merit by doing so. How do you respond to that as a Christian? How would you approach that Muslim? Here are some of the 99 names.


The beneficent, the merciful, the sovereign lord, the holy, the mighty, the compeller, the creator, the forgiver, the subduer, the abaser, the honorer, the dishonorer, the all hearing, the all seeing, the judge, the reckoner, the creator of death, the avenger, the distressor, the guide to the right path, and there are many others as well. Go back and have a look at that slide again. Those two slides as well as other lists go online. Have a look at online lists of the 99 names of Allah and assess whether those names could also be used to apply to God in the Bible. How do you respond as a Christian to those names?


Which of those names would you be happy to attribute to the God of the Bible? Which of those names would you not be happy to do so with? Welcome back to understanding the Quran. We’re continuing on with the topic of the nature of Allah, looking at a range of texts, both from the Quran and commentaries on the Quran and other materials to understand this topic. Allah has 7 core attributes as I’ve listed them there on the screen, attributes of life, attributes of knowledge, will, power, hearing, seeing, and speech.


Now in fact, when you read the Islamic literature, you find that there are some quite extensive discussions of the attributes of Allah in the, literature. And on your Moodle page, I’ve, given a link to an important piece of writing on the attributes of Allah in Islam, a piece of writing that was written by Muhammad al Fad Ali al Shafi’i, who was a very prominent, Egyptian scholar associated with Al Azhar University in the early 1800. He wrote attract, addressing the issue of god’s attributes in Islam, and that tract has been translated by Andrew Ribbon and published, and you have a copy of that document available to you. So I do encourage you to read that, and we’ll be drawing on that more as we go through these slides. There are copious references, of course, to Allah in the Quran.


And, there are several verses mentioned on this slide, 2268, 1061, which point to Allah being all knowing, and chapter 6 verses 61 to 62, which point to Allah being all powerful. A key verse for, an Islamic portrayal of the nature of Allah is verse 255 of Surah 2, chapter 2 of the Quran, and it goes as follows. Allah, there is no god save him, the alive, the eternal. Neither slumber nor sleep overtaketh him. Unto him belongeth whatsoever is in the heavens and whatsoever is in the earth.


Who is he that intercede with him saved by his leave? He knoweth that which is in front of them and that which is behind them, while they encompass nothing of his knowledge save what he will. His throne included the heavens and the earth, and he is never weary of preserving them. He is the sublime, the tremendous. Now the English of this translation is a little archaic, somewhat Shakespearean, and translations of the Quran into English often choose Shakespearean language because it seems to the translators to be more appropriate to, to primary text.


Perhaps there’s some reference there to the King James version and the role that it’s played within, biblical history. But looking beyond the language, I would like you to look very closely at this verse. I’d like you to think about the descriptions, the adjectives after you make the list, just consider every, attribute or every description, every adjective for Allah given in this verse and ask yourself whether they the say those adjectives could be applied to the God of the Bible. Other verses in the Quran point to other features of Allah. Allah sees all things according to verse 20 of surah 40.


Allah is present everywhere according to surah 2 verse 115 and surah 7 verse 7. Allah created the heaven and the earth, the creator role for Allah. And you have a number of references provided there on the screen. And beyond the Quran itself, the attributes and activities of Allah are unpacked by the commentators and by the scholars. Al Qasimi is a classical scholar, and he suggests that the purposes of creation, of God’s creation of the world, of the heavens and the earth, were threefold.


Firstly, as a demonstration of his power. Secondly, as fulfillment of what he previously willed, and thirdly, as verification of his eternal word. How does that square with God’s creative act in the Bible? Why did God create the world? Zamach Shari, a commentator who we encountered in earlier lectures, died in 11/44, the great Mortazilite writer.


He writes, all creatures are created well even though they share variation with regard to the good and the better. One adjective which appears regularly within the Quran to describe Allah is mercy, merciful. And in close, on close inspection, it becomes clear that Allah is merciful to those who serve him. Allah is merciful to those who believe. Allah is merciful to the believers.


And that’s emphasized and reinforced in the Hadith accounts in Muslim and Bukhary, in the great collections of those 2 scholars, they quote Mohammed as saying that god is more merciful to his servants than this woman to her child. It’s merciful to his servants. To those who serve him, he is merciful. How does that square with the mercy of God in the Bible? Is the mercy of god conditional?


Is it directed especially to god’s servants and to believers? I’d like you to pause this presentation now, go back and carefully read all the verses that were referred to in the preceding slides in your copy of the Quran, making a list as you go along of the characteristics of God Allah as they come through in these verses, and list similarities and differences with God in the Bible so you have a clear sense as to the range of adjectives used for Allah in the Quran and associated literature, comparing it with the activities and the features of god in the bible. This brings us on to the issue of the sovereignty of god, the sovereignty of Allah in Islam. This is a topic which is a huge topic in, the Islamic literature, and Muslim scholars and ordinary Muslims still talk about the some of the tricky issues related to this topic in the modern day as well. Now we’re going to touch on this now, but we’ll come back to this in more detail in a later lecture.


The bottom line is that in Islam, Allah decrees all, and there is a sense of that in Surah 13 verse 27, which says, the unbelievers say, why is not a sign sent down to him from his lord? Say, truly Allah liveth to astray whom he will, but he guideeth to himself those who turn to him in penitence. I do encourage you to be thinking as we go through this how these sorts of messages square with a biblical teaching on the sovereignty of Allah. Apart from the Quran having a range of statements about, the question of preordination of god’s determining or decreeing or, There’s much on this in the Hadith as well. Here is one example from Sahih Muslim, book 33, number 6436.


And this is related from Aisha, Mohammed’s wife. Aisha said that Allah’s messenger was called to lead the funeral prayer of a child of the Ansar. I said, Allah’s messenger, there is happiness for this child for it committed no sin. He said, Aisha, peradventure, it may be otherwise because God created for paradise those who are fit for it while they were yet in their father’s loins and created for hell those who are to go to hell. He created them for hell while they were yet in their father’s loins.


You can sense how this is profoundly significant in terms of a contrast with teachings of Christianity. And as you engage with Muslims, it’s important to know this kind of textual context that Muslims are brought up with. Apart from the Quran and the Hadith, the commentators, of course, have something to say about this whole question of predestination. Tabari, the great commentator who died in 9 23 AD, in a sense, his was the watershed moment of early exegesis on the Quran. What does he say?


Well, he writes, there are people who consider predestination untrue, then they consider the Quran untrue. People merely carry out what is a foregone conclusion decided by predestination and written down by the pen, by the divine pen. So you see the message is coming through fairly clearly, and it’s reinforced by other scholarly writings coming back to al Qasimi. He writes, what he wills is, and what he did not will is not. And there is no one who may resist his command or make a change in his decision.


And, again, the early 19th century Egyptian scholar, Alfad Ali Ashaafani, who I referred to earlier as the author of the work on God’s attributes, he writes, he makes his creature act according to his wish or at any time according to or in spite of that creature’s character. It is by his will that he creates, destroys, changes anything at any time. As you can see, all of these quotes are weighted towards a predestinarian view away from free will being allocated to to humankind. Al Fad Ali Ashafi has more to say on this, attacking those who oppose a predestinarian view. He writes, the liberal theologians maintain that God will not fail to fulfill his obligation for that would be a short shortcoming.


The liberal theologians, may god shame them, teach incorrectly that humans create their own actions. People are not compelled nor do they create their own actions. God creates the actions which people perform, but at the same time, people have a free choice to act. Still weighted towards a predestinarian view while within the overarching framework of predestinarian thinking, Al Fadali is trying to leave the door open for some freedom of action by people. I’d like to leave this topic with you for now.


And as I say, we will return to it later and look at it in more detail. In in the meantime, I’d encourage you to search for other Quran and Hadith references relevant to the debate about free will versus predestination. Asking yourself the question, do the Islamic materials seem more weighted to advocating human free will or predestination? In fact, Islamic materials are weighted strongly one way, but there are there are other elements which give fuel to an argument on the other side as well as we will see. In this lecture, we’re continuing on with the topic of the nature of Allah in Islam.


An important question relates to the whole discussion of the theodicy, suffering. Why do people suffer? Why is there so much suffering in the world? Why does god allow suffering? Now these questions are by no means unique to to Islam and to Muslims.


These questions have been asked, by Christians down the ages, and they continue to be discussed. And so as we look in the next few slides of the question of Allah and theodicy, I would encourage you to be looking at the same time at Christian materials on this topic so that you’re equipped to respond to the Islamic perspectives that you encounter from a Christian viewpoint. Now material on this in the Islamic context is found, of course, in the Quran and in the associated literature that explains the Quran. Take, for example, verse 11 of Surah 64, which says, no kind of calamity can occur except by the leave of Allah. And if anyone believes in Allah, Allah guides his heart aright for Allah knows all things.


Again, of course, this relates to the whole question of God’s sovereignty. God is involved in all all things, all events guiding. And so commentators and other scholars interpret those kinds of verse references as in the way that we see from Alfa Daliyah Shafi’i. He writes, if you are healthy, it’s that God wishes you to be so. If you suffer, God wishes to test you.


And a context where this question arose with great impact was following the great Asian tsunami of Boxing Day 2004 when a massive earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, then the Indonesian island, led to a massive series of tsunami waves, which killed up to a quarter of a 1000000 people with vast numbers of them being killed in the north the Acehnese, the province of Aceh, the Indonesian province of Aceh, a predominantly Muslim and very devout Muslim province. Others were killed in Thailand. Buddhists were killed. Christians were killed. Hindus were killed in Sri Lanka on the shores of India and so forth.


But the greatest number of victims came from the Indonesian Islands from the area of Aceh, and they were Muslims. So it’s an inevitable question to ask, how do Muslims explain such a calamity that killed almost a quarter of a 1000000 people. How do Muslims explain that in the context of their belief in god and their belief in God’s sovereignty? Following the great Asian tsunami, there were a series of documentaries on the event and on the aftermath. And one of the documentaries, surveyed a number of survivors of the tsunami to ask for their views on how they explained it in terms of their belief in god.


And so the next few slides will give voice to those survivors to listen to their explanations, And we begin with, a survivor by the name of Fadil, an Acehnese Muslim who lost all his family in tsunami. He is just an ordinary Muslim, not a specialist, not a scholar, not a specifically trained religious scholar. He was an ordinary, Muslim living in society. How did he explain it? He said, I can’t be angry with my god because if god took my family, I think it’s the time for my family.


They must die. God is testing me, he said at another time in the interview. Now I have a link with god 100%. So in terms of popular perceptions of the role of god in such disasters, this man articulated a view that the tsunami was an act of god designed as a test, and those who survive are linked more closely to God because of it. Now he, of course, wasn’t the only Muslim who was surveyed after the great tragedy.


What did others have to say? Well, another group of Adjani’s, Muslims, were swept into a mosque. What did they say? They said, because of the power of God, we weren’t crushed by the rubble. We were swept into the mosque.


We prayed and prayed, glorifying Allah’s name. We feared judgment day was coming. God did this because he he loves us. It was a lesson to us. God didn’t want us to become complacent.


So, again, we we find this idea of the great, calamity being a a kind of lesson from god, a test from god, an an event that is actively triggered by god as a kind of test or a lesson. Now the Acehnese Muslims who have been interviewed in these slides so far were ordinary Muslims living their lives on a daily basis, not specific specialists in the study of Islam. The next person interviewed was a a man by the name of Yousef Al Qadadawi, and he was associated with the Islamic defenders front. Islamic defenders front is an activist militant, fairly radical group of, Islamic activists in Indonesia, and they were very quickly on the scene in Aceh. How did they explain the great tragedy of the tsunami?


Well, he said, Islam forbids people to wear tight clothes. It forbids young people to go off to quiet places on their own, going off on motorbikes with someone who is not your husband, things that are prohibited by Allah. So all this had to be cleansed. What has hit them is a lesson so that we don’t do it all again. So, again, we have this idea that the tsunami happened as a deliberate act by god to cleanse, to give a lesson.


So far, the message and the interpretation has been quite uniform, whether coming from ordinary Muslim members of the community who are not specifically trained in Islamic theology or coming from a more self consciously religious Muslim activist, such as this man from the Islamic defend defenders front. What about the specialists? How did the specialists explain that the Islamic seminarians, those who have studied theology in great detail, how do they explain it? Well, let’s listen to the explanation of professor Youssni Sabi from Shaquale University in Aceh. Anybody in the world can be tested.


What’s in the mind of god? We don’t know that. Men should be stronger and closer to God through testing if they pass. If they don’t pass, they may be farther from God. Because of this tragedy, they may even blame God.


We are being tested by God. This is the very meaning of suffering. If you pass, you are closer to God. If you don’t pass, you blame this, you blame that, maybe you’re going to hell. So the remarkable thing is that whether a less educated member of the community or a highly trained theologian in the case of professor Sabi, the message is essentially the same.


That for these Muslims, a a huge calamity in the form of the tsunami was in fact an act of god, a deliberate act of god, intended by god, triggered and carried out by god in order to teach a lesson and to test. I’d like you to stop the recording at this stage and just digest that. Just think about it in the context of Christian explanations. How would you explain huge calamities in the form of the tsunami or other such calamities within a Christian framework? How does the Bible go about explaining natural disasters?


As you answer those questions, think of not simply what the a Christian answer may be, but how you would transmit that answer to the Muslims who we’ve heard interviewed, who’ve we’ve heard explaining the tsunami in the way that they did. Continuing on, the nature of God in Islam is defined not only according to what God is and and to positive attributes and character of god. But in the literature, you often find that the nature of god is explained in terms of what god is not. If you look at the, reading, translated by Andrew Ripon available on the Moodle site of the reading by Al Fad Ali Ashaafi’i. He devotes the second half of that tract to a listing of the negative attributes of god, what god is not.


And as we look at it, we find that Allah is not a trinity but is 1. And such statements in such documents are, of course, intended as a rebuttal to those who claim that Allah is a trinity. In other words, Christianity. This theme of God not being a trinity, not being not having certain characteristics comes through quite clearly in certain parts of the Quran, such as in Suratul Ikhlas, surah 112. This is a much, recited surah among Muslims, one of the best known surahs in the Quran, and it goes as follows.


In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful, say he is Allah the one, Allah, the eternally besought of all. He begot it not nor was begotten, and there is none comparable to him. You see, in such statements, we find the negatives. God is not this. God is not that.


God was not begotten. None are comparable to him. Similarly, in the statement, the track by Alfred Ali Ashaver, there are statements about god not being created. No one has created him. Al Fad Ali Ashaqe writes, as god is uncreated, his existence has no beginning.


Allah does not depend on anyone. He has no needs. There is nothing like him. Nothing resembles him. Writes, nor does he resemble any created thing, nor any created thing resemble him.


And part of the framework for these negative statements of what Allah is not is that at the core, Allah remains unknown and unknowable in his essential being. This is an essential this is a key concept to understand in the context of Islamic theology and understanding the nature of God. As Ismail al Farooq, a very famous modern Islamic scholar writes, he writes, god does not reveal himself to anyone in any way. God reveals only his will. And similarly, the great classical theologian, one of the greatest thinkers who’s ever lived and who continues to exert a huge influence on modern modern Islamic thinkers, Al Khazali.


He writes, the end result of the knowledge of the adafine, that means those who have seek special knowledge. The end result of the knowledge of the art of the is their inability to know him. And their knowledge is, in truth, that they do not know him and that it is absolutely impossible for them to know him. So the that term, the that refers to those Muslims who divide devote themselves through a process of prayer and contemplation and withdrawal, seeking to to attain special knowledge. But even when they do that, says Ghazali, they do not know him, and it is absolutely impossible for them to know him.


Al Khazali goes on in another excerpt translated by Samuel Zwema. Allah is not a body endured with form nor a substance circumscribed with limits or determined by measure, neither does he resemble bodies as they are capable of being measured or divided. Neither is he a substance nor do substances exist in him, neither is he an accident, nor do accidents exist in him, neither is he like anything that exists, neither is anything like him. His nearness is not like the nearness of bodies, nor is his essence like the essence of bodies, neither does he exist in anything, nor does anything exist in him. It’s very far removed from the biblical teaching that humankind was created in the image of God.


The thrust of the biblical story is to build bridges to draw near to God in our understanding of him, to seek to know god, to seek to be like god as much as we can, to be Christ like. In Islam, there is so much weight on God’s difference from his creation. One of the greatest sins, one of the worst sins in Islam is the sin of shirk. That is it’s it’s it’s apostasy, but the kind of apostasy that involves associating others with God, associating others with God, not simply believing in one God, but believing in gods alongside God. And there are four forms of this great sin of shirk associating others with God and thereby apostasizing.


Shirkol, so that is apostasy of knowledge, associating others with god through knowledge. Apostasy of independent action. Apostasy of worship, mainly associating others with God in worship. Apostasy of liturgy liturgy associating others with God in liturgy. So this concept of shirk, associating others with god, is a great sin in Islam.


What I’d like you to do is to survey the materials that have been presented in these slides in the last three lectures and read more broadly. Ask yourself the question, do you feel that Christians and Muslims worship the same god? Now this is, of course, is a hot topic. Following on the very widely distributed and successful book by Miroslav Volf from Harvard Divinity School I’m sorry, from Yale Divinity School. His book was called Allah, and he addressed the whole question of Christians and Muslims worshiping the same god.


I’ve given on the Moodle site a link to one of his articles, which deals with the whole question of the trinity. Is the trinity something which is so far removed from the Islamic understanding of god? He addresses that question. I would encourage you to read that article in detail, but also look beyond, the Moodle site to access his book and read his book. I’ve also put on the website, on the Moodle page, a review by Mark Dury, doctor Mark Dury of Miroslav Volf’s book.


And doctor Dury takes a very different perspective on the question to professor Volf. So there’s a real debate there among Christians, both doc professor Volf and doctor Dury are believing and committed active Christians, but they reach very different conclusions on this key question as to whether Christians and Muslims worship the same god. I would encourage you to read their 2 pieces closely as you review the material presented in these slides and consider the big question yourself about Christians and Muslims worshiping. Do they worship the same god?