Attributes of Allah

According to the Shi’ah Ithna ‘asharis, attributes of Allah can be put in two distinct groups: First, those attributes which denote His person; second, those attributes which denote His actions.

Ash-Shaykh as-Saduq says:

”For example, we say that Allah was forever 'Hearing, Seeing, Omniscient, Wise, Omnipotent, Having power, Living, Self-existent; One and Eternal. These are His personal attributes;.

"And we do not say that He was from ever Creating, Doing, Intending, pleased, displeased, Giving sustenance, Speaking; because these virtues describe His actions; and they are not eternal; it is not allowed to say that Allah was doing all these actions from eternity. The reason for this distinction is obvious. Actions need an object. If, for example, we say that Allah was giving sustenance since forever, we will have to admit the existence of sustained things since forever.

In other words, we will have to admit that the world has always existed. But it is against our belief that nothing except God is Eternal.”

It appears that the Sunnis have no clear view of this distinction. They say that all His attributes are Eternal. And that was the actual cause of their belief that the Qur'an, being the kalam (speech) of God, is Eternal, not created. Because they said that He has always been mutakallim. “The Hanbalites so far have said that ‘not only were the words and sounds of the Qur'an eternal, so that even its recital was uncreated, but its parchment and binding shared the same qualities . . . In the so called Testament of Abu Hanifah . . . a more moderate view is expressed: ‘We confess that the Qur’an is the speech of Allah, uncreated, His inspiration, and revelation, not He, yet not other than He, but His real quality, written in the copies, recited by the tongues . . . The ink, the paper, the writing are created, for they are the work of man’”. 1

But as we, the Shi'ah Ithna ‘asharis, distinguish between His personal virtues and His actions, we say:

“Our belief about the Qur'an is that it is the speech of God. It has been sent by Him - it is His revelation, His book and His word. All is its Creator, Sender and Guardian...” 2

The bitter quarrels among two groups of the Sunnis (Mu’tazilites and Ash’arites) on this subject are well-known, and there is no need to relieve them.

  • 1. A. J. Arberry, Revelation and Reason in Islam, pp. 26 – 27.
  • 2. Al-I’tiqadat.