Mankind’s Legacy of Countless Divine Names

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        The following text is extracted and adapted from an article of Dr. Umar Faruq Abdullah.

        In the Qur’anic conception of the world everything in the heavens and on earth is imbued with knowledge of God and proclaims his glory; similarly instinctive knowledge of the Supreme Being is embedded in each human soul as an inborn part of human nature.

From Qur’an:

59.22

Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god;- Who knows (all things) both secret and open; He, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. (Surat al Hashr[59]:22)

59.23
Allah is He, than Whom there is no other god;- the Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Peace (and Perfection), the Guardian of Faith, the Preserver of Safety, the Exalted in Might, the Irresistible, the Supreme: Glory to Allah! (High is He) above the partners they attribute to Him. (Surat al Hashr[59]:23)

59.24
He is Allah, the Creator, the Evolver, the Bestower of Forms (or Colours). To Him belong the Most Beautiful Names: whatever is in the heavens and on earth, doth declare His Praises and Glory: and He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise. (Surat al Hashr[59]:24)

30.30

So set thou thy face steadily and truly to the Faith: (establish) Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which He has made mankind: no change (let there be) in the work (wrought) by Allah: that is the standard Religion: but most among mankind understand not. (Surat al Rum[30]:30)

 

       Moreover, all peoples on earth have received divine messengers at some time in the course of human history or pre-history.

From Qur’an:

35.24

Verily We have sent thee in truth, as a bearer of glad tidings, and as a warner: and there never was a people, without a warner having lived among them (in the past). (Surat fatir[35]:24)

        Consequently, God and his names are part of a universal human legacy. They are hardly unique to anyone, nor are the Abrahamic religions the sole residuaries of divine names expressing the Creator’s perfection and glory.

      The world’s many micro-religions (i.e., primitive religions) contain hundreds of names for God, bearing witness to his oneness, preexistence, eternity, omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence, goodness, and justice. There is an observable pattern in the micro-religions to regard the Supreme Being as the source of all vital knowledge, moral norms, and essential social conventions. Like pre-Islamic Arab paganism, micro-religions associate deified human beings, lesser spirits, and intermediaries with God, although they consistently lack the full-blown pantheons typical of the polytheistic religions of many ancient civilizations. Numerous micro-religions commemorate a primeval time of the “old religion,” when harmony existed between the Supreme Being and their forebears, an age of pristine happiness which was brought to an end through wrongdoing, estrangement, and alienation.¹

       The micro-religions reflect instinctive commonsensical knowledge of God without the intricate metaphysical theologies of civilized peoples. As with the pre-Islamic Arab cult of Allah, micro-religions refrain uniformly from associating the Creator God with idols, images, or pictures, for they insist that he cannot be seen with physical eyes nor touched by human hands. The Nilotic tribes of southern Sudan, for instance, share an ancient belief in “the Great God, who created humankind,” and, although they associate intermediaries with him, they acknowledge that he is eternal, without origin or likeness, all-knowing and all-powerful, upholding the moral order.

        Around 1906, a European anthropologist studied the Shilluk, one of these Nilotic tribes, and once asked a six-year old boy from the tribe who had created him. Without hesitation, the little boy answered, “Dywok (God) created me.” The anthropologist pressed further, asking what Dywok was like and where he came from. With childlike self-assurance, the boy quickly replied that he did not know, but his father surely would. To his astonishment, neither his father nor immediate kin had an answer, but the child kept inquiring until he finally brought the question before his tribal elders. They replied:

        Dywok, we only know that he exists. We know he made the sky that you see above, the stars, all the animals, and even people—both black and white—but who Dywok actually is, no one in Shilluk can say. For no one has seen him. What we know is this: Dywok is there and made everything. Even if you cannot see him, yet he is there…like the breeze that blows. Even if no one can see the breeze, yet it blows. No one has doubts about that.²

      The micro-religions are filled with telling names of God. “Creator” and “Maker” are virtually universal. Native Americans had many names for God. The Cheyenne called him “Creator of the universe” and “Lord of the entire heaven and earth.” The Californian Maidu called him “Ruler of the world.” The Fox called him “the Guide” and “the Good Spirit.” The Lenape called him “Our Creator,” “You to whom we pray,” “Pure Spirit,” and “You to whom we belong.” Some South African Bushmen and the pygmies of Gabon called him “the Lord of all things.” The Siberian Samoyeds knew him as “the Creator of life.” The Ainu of Japan called him “the Divine Maker of the worlds,” “the Divine Lord of heaven,” “the Inspirer,” and “the Protector.” The Wirdyuri of Australia called him “the Eternal,” and several Aboriginal tribes designated him as “the Great Builder” and “the Great Maker,” although certain Aborigines and African Bushmen held the Creator’s name to be inviolable (taboo) and imparted it only to adult male initiates,
while concealing it from women, children, and outsiders.

      Ancient civilizations also bear witness to a primordial knowledge of the One. Although the pharaonic Egyptians were highly polytheistic, their language contained abundant names and attributions for the Supreme Being distinct from the personified
gods of their pantheon. Ancient Egyptian was replete with seemingly endless synonyms for God (Neter, Sha‘, Khabkhab, Hephep, Shesa, Sedga, Saj, Nethraj, Nekhbaj, Khetraj, Itnuw, and so forth). There were names for “the Creator” (Kewen, Kun, Nehef), “Creation’s God” (Nebirut), and “the Giver of forms” (Nebi). They invoked “the High God” (Neter ‘A), “the Lord” (Nebu), “the Divinity from preexistence” (Nun, Hahu), “the Divinely Merciful” (Hetefi), “the Divine Destroyer” (Hetem), “the God of truth and balance” (Sema Ma‘at), “the God of humankind” (Itmu), and “the Lord of all” (Neberdher). ³

      The ancient Chinese worshipped a personalized “Creator” (Tsao wu chê), “the Ruler of heaven” (Shang Ti), “Heaven’s Lord” (Ti’en Ti), and “the Lord” (Ti), although “Heaven” (Ti’en) later became the most common Chinese name for God and sometimes reflected astral beliefs. But an ancient Chinese dictionary says of “Heaven” (Ti’en): “The exalted in the highest of his exaltation. His ideogram combines two symbols, which mean ‘the One, who is the most great.’” Some ancient Chinese scholars wrote that “Heaven” (T’ien) had been substituted for “the Ruler of heaven” (Shang Ti) in the ancient past, because “it is not permissible that the name Shang Ti be taken lightly. Therefore, we call him by the name of the place where he abides, which is ‘heaven,’ that is, ti’en on the analogy that ‘the court’ signifies ‘the emperor.’”

         The Sanskrit Vedas of ancient India contain a notable vocabulary for the Supreme Being: “the Creator” (Dhâtr), “the Lord of the creatures” (Prjâpati), “the Maker of all things” (Vishvakarman), “the Regulator of things” (Vidhâtr), “the Manifest One” (Dhartr), “the Protector” (Trâtr), “the Guide” (Netr), “the Giver of forms” (Tvashtr), and “the Animator” or “Reviver” (Savitr). One of his names was simply “Who” (Ka), signifying the one who is ultimately unfathomable and beyond finite description. In later times, Ka was frequently used to designate the Supreme Being.


1- references to the micro-religions are taken primarily from Wilhelm Schmidt, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee, 12
vols., (Münster i. W.: Aschendorffsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, 1949).
2- Wilhelm Schmidt, Der Ursprung der Gottesidee, 8:193- 194.
3- See Adolf Ermann and Hermann Grapow, Wörterbuch der aegyptischen Sprache, 13 vols., (Berlin: Akademie Verlag,-1971). In all, I was able to collect over one hundred and twenty Old Egyptian names and attributions for God, the Creator, from this dictionary.

 

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