Names and Attributes vs. Essence
Islam encourages humans to ponder on the creation of God and His attributes. God is unlimited and hence it is impossible for a limited being to comprehend the Essence of God. Thus, Muslim theologians discuss the Names and the Attributes of God rather than His Essence.
Discussions about the Divine Names and Attributes are among the most important yet complicated theological discussions in Islamic theology, philosophy and ‘Irfan (mysticism). Thus, various opinions and theological sects have emerged.
The two main fundamental principles when discussing the Attributes of God is that God is:
1) Transcendent (beyond description; Tanzih) and hence none is like unto Him (no Tashbeeh).
2) Suspension (Ta’teel) of knowing the Divine Attributes is not permitted.
The noble Quran in various chapters states that all the Beautiful Names belong only to Allah. The Beautiful Names of Allah are numerous and they all belong to Him, the Almighty. Nonetheless, several Prophetic traditions state that the Names of Allah are 99 Names and whoever counts them (believingly) shall be admitted into Paradise.
The Divine Attributes are classified into two categories:
1) the Attributes of Essence
2) the Attributes of Acts
The Attributes of Essence are also divided into:
1a) Attributes of Beauty or affirmative Attributes – such as the Attributes of knowledge, might and life
1b) Attributes of Glory or the negating Attributes – from which we exalt God (e.g. ignorance, inability, physical, component, visible, occupying time or space, needy, changing and any other insufficiency).
The Attributes of Acts are Attributes that are related to God once His action takes place, such as the Creator and the Sustainer. All Divine Attributes stem from five major ones: Unity, Knowledge, Might, Perpetuity (without beginning; Azali) and Endlessness (Abadi).
His Attributes are not distinct from His Essence
As mentioned earlier, the division of the Divine Attributes does not mean God is a compound of different attributes and characters. Glory be to Allah. The above divisions are solely for us to understand the different aspects of God’s Unique and Simple Essence with our limited minds.