Names of Allah Series: Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV | Part V | Part VI | Part VII | Part VIII | Part IX | Part X | Part XI | Part XII | Part XIII | Part XIV | Part XV | Part XVI | Part XVII | Part XVIII | Part XIX | Part XX | Part XXI | Part XXII | Part XXIII | Part XXIV | Part XXV | Part XXVI | Part XXVII | Part XXVIII | Part XXIX| Part XXX |Part XXXI | Part XXXII | Part XXXIII | Part XXXIV | Part XXXV | Part XXXVI |Part XXXVII | Part XXXVIII | Part XXXIX | Part XL|Part XLI |Part XLII | Part XLIII | Part XLIV | Part XLV | Part XLVI | Part XLVII | Part XLVIII | Part XLIX | Part L | Part LI | Part LII | Part LIII | Part LIV | Part LV
The youth destroyed all of the idols, bar one – the largest one. When his people came back from their celebrations, they were shocked to see that their idols were destroyed. They said, “Who has done this to our gods? Indeed, he is of the wrongdoers.” They had heard that a young man named Abraham had mentioned their idols, so they summoned him. Then they questioned him, but he told them to ask the remaining idol who had done this.
They replied to him, “You have already known that these do not speak!”
He said, “Then do you worship instead of Allah that which does not benefit you at all or harm you? [Qur’an, 58:65-66]
The Prophet Abraham `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him) did not only physically destroy their idols. He reminded them of something they already knew: that which they worshipped could not harm them or benefit them. Only Allah could.
We might think that we are far removed from this example. We do not bow down to concrete things we have made ourselves; that would be absurd. But in our own way, we do. We may worship money, status or our own desires, believing them to be the true sources of harm and benefit. And we favor them over Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He).
Yet the reality is that Allah is al-Ḍār, al-Nāfi`: The One who Harms, the One who Benefits.
There are two different aspects to these Names:
1- He is the Only One who can truly harm or benefit us.
This is an important point. Often we live our lives only seeing what is in front of us; that is, we might behave a certain way because we believe that this is the way that we will benefit in this world and avoid being harmed. It is natural for us to want to live the best lives we possibly can.
The problem is when we see what is in front of us as the source of benefit and harm and so we choose it over Allah (swt).
Take the example of Qarun. He was a rising star of Bani Israel (the tribe of Israel), and he became unbelievably wealthy. We are told in the Qur’an that the keys to his treasures were too much for people to carry, let alone the actual treasures themselves! His wealth started to get to him. His people tried to advise and remind him of the ultimate source of benefit and harm:
“…‘Do not exult. Indeed, Allah does not like the exultant. But seek, through that which Allah has given you, the home of the Hereafter; and [yet], do not forget your share of the world. And do good as Allah has done good to you. And desire not corruption in the land. Indeed, Allah does not like corrupters,’” (Qur’an, 28:76-77).
They reminded him that what he had was from Allah (swt), and that he should use it to do good. But Qarun did not listen. On the contrary, he attributed the good to himself and saw that money in and of itself was a source of benefit. He said, “…‘I was only given it because of knowledge I have,’” (Qur’an, 28:78).
Money can only benefit you if Allah (swt) blesses it. Qarun used his money for corruption and was arrogant in attributing the good to himself. Eventually he was swallowed by the earth. Allah (swt) then tells us:
“And those who had wished for his position the previous day began to say, ‘Oh, how Allah extends provision to whom He wills of His servants and restricts it! If not that Allah had conferred favor on us, He would have caused it to swallow us. Oh, how the disbelieversdo not succeed,’” (Qur’an, 28:82)
The people who thought that Qarun had it all because of his wealth realized that the material was never the source of benefit.
2- He Harms to Benefit
Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi made two important points with regards to these names of Allah (swt). Firstly, we know these names because they are mentioned in a very famous hadith that lists the names of Allah (swt), but this hadith is weak. Some have disagreed that Allah (swt)’s Name could be “al-Ḍār” because Allah never harms for the sake of harming, and that a superficial understanding of this name would be at odds with His attributes of mercy and justice. However, the meaning of these names could be correct if we understand it in the way mentioned above (that the ultimate benefit and harm is with Allah, and not creation).
Secondly, if we accept that these are indeed of His names, then these two must be mentioned together. We cannot just say al-Ḍār; it is al-Ḍār, an-Nāfi`. This is because if Allah (swt) decrees what appears to be harm, it is only to ultimately benefit and for a wisdom that He knows.
We have mentioned before in this series the story of the people of the garden, who plot to take all of the harvest from their garden and leave nothing for the poor. Their father had been a righteous man who allowed the poor and needy to take from the garden, and when he passed away, his sons intended to stop this practice. When Allah (swt) destroyed their garden, it caused them to return to Him. Had Allah (swt) allowed them to do what they intended, they may never have returned to Allah (swt). Indeed, it might have affirmed in their mind that what truly benefits them is having all of the fruit in the garden and denying the poor. They might have believed that ultimate good was in the material, no matter the cost of getting it. The ‘harm’ they went through brought them ultimate benefit: returning to Allah and rectifying their actions. They said in the end:
“‘O woe to us; indeed we were transgressors. Perhaps our Lord will substitute for us [one] better than it. Indeed, we are toward our Lord desirous,’” (Qur’an, 68:31-32)
How we can relate to these names
1- Make the right choice.
When making a choice, remember who is the ultimate Source of harm and benefit. Choosing an unethical path or a temporary pleasure because we believe that is what will benefit us means that we believe more in the promise of Shaytan (Satan) rather than in God’s promise. Shaytan promises us poverty and orders us to immorality. This immorality is what makes us in essence impoverished, though it may give us a temporary sense of benefit and pleasure. Even if we flourish financially, our spiritual light is extinguished. One thing leads to another, and the inner sight—the baseera—is affected. We are then unable to see beyond the material. Fear of people becomes greater than the fear of God. And then there is the downward spiral.
But Allah (swt) promises us forgiveness and true salvation in this life and the next. He promises that those in His path will be taken care of by Him. Indeed, He is the Source of Peace.
2- See beyond.
When Bilal radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) was being tortured for believing in One God, he was able to stay strong. He knew the torment was temporary, and that Allah (swt) was the ultimate source of benefit. He knew that in reality, they could not harm him, at least not in the long-term and most definitely not in the next life. And he was able to remain steadfast.
So even if it appears that you have you lost, remember that the ultimate benefit is Jannah (Paradise), which you are moving closer towards insha’Allah (God-willing), and the ultimate harm is the Hellfire. Whatever thing it seems you have lost, remember that you are actually moving closer Jannah when you make the right choice and see things as they are and not how they appear to be.