In honor of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, during which one abstains from food, water, and sex from sunrise to sunset, over the course of this month, I dedicate a new series of posts to the 99 names of Allah. As way of a brief introduction, these 99 names are understood as embodying various attributes of God and, as such, “describe interrelationships within the unity of existence….doors to a single essence, to Allah” (Meyer, Hyde, Muqaddam, and Kahn 8).
The primary source for my posts is a wonderful text called Physicians of the Heart: A Sufi View of the Ninety-Names of Allah in which the authors explore the rich depth of the names of Allah through exploring their etymologies and extending such root terms to other Arabic words to amplify its meaning, offering a textured understanding of each name, in order to understand its psychological/spiritual depth. As such, I consider my posts condensed versions of what can be found in this highly recommended book (website).
Prior to exploring the 99 Names themselves, the name of name of God in Islam (and for Christians who speak Arabic) is Allah, and natural starting point, for “all the divine Names…are contained in that one Name” (2). The root of Allah, according to many scholars, is waliha, which “combines the vast concepts of total love and being passionately beyond all constraints of mind” (2). Comprised of two syllables, “Al +lah”, “the name Allah is also a sound, and as a sound its real meaning is to directly evoke and point toward the unpronounceable essence behind all the Names” (2).
The first syllable, “al” is equivalent to the English “the” and as a definite article is an affirmation. “Lah,” on the other hand, is the word for no (2). Thus in Allah is both an affirmation and a negation: a “yes” and a “no.” In both affirming and negating then, Allah, not unlike a Zen koan, “points to something beyond reason” (2).
Furthermore, such leads one “to a still point that included and transcends both components. This still point is an entry into the divine” (2). The name Allah, in other words, transcends duality.
Breaking down the name into its individual components
The “A” in Allah is “the natural heart sound,” an “opening out into the universe, into the infinite” while the “L” is “a shimmering or a tingling of the heart” (4). The second “A” sound is then the relaxing of the heart (5).
The last sound, the letter “h” is something altogether different. An aspirant, or breath sound, “it is the breath of infinite compassion” and, “represented as a circle in Arabic,” symbolizes the infinite (5). A circle, it may be thought, circumscribes and empty point, or, a circle may be considered as a visual marker to indicate an absence (that which is within circle). As such, a circle is a maker or, like “Al+lah’s” affirmation and negation, a presence and an absence. The circle’s “inner absence” may be considered as well as a dot and of this dot I quote at length:
The Prophet Muhammad said, “All of the creation, all that there is, is included in the Qur’an. And all the Qur’an is summarized
in the opening chapter, al-Fatiha. All of al-Fatiha is summarized in Bismallah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim.” Sufis later said that this could all be condensed into the dot under the “B” in bismallah. All spiritual traditions have one thing in common: the universal unity of existence, and that is expressed by the dot. There is an infinite circle, but within the circle is the dot of absolute oneness. It contains everything. (6)
And thus the central statement of the Islamic faith, la ‘ilaha ‘illa allah, “there is no God but God,” is understood by many Sufis to mean there is “nothing but God.”
“There is no existence but God”
No existence but God.
Wujud, or existence, stems from the root W-J-D, which forms also the Arabic words for “ecstasy” and “to find” and thus the authors of Physicians of the Heart make the following affirmation:
Nothing exists except Allah, whose existence is pure ecstasy, and there is no ecstasy to be found except the unrestrained ecstasy of total yearning and love. (2)