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 | Part LVI | Part LVII| Part LVIII | Part LIX | Part LX | Part LXI | Part LXII | Part LXIII
“There are two statements which are light on the tongue, heavy on the scales [on the Day of Judgment], and beloved by the Most Merciful: ‘Subḥān Allahi wa biḥamdih, subḥāna Rabby al-`Aẓeem’ (exalted is Allah, and praise be to Him; exalted is my Lord, the Most Great).”
– hadith (tradition) of the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) narrated by Muslim.
In a previous article, we talked about how Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is the Knower of the Unseen and the Witnessed. We exist and function in the realm of the witnessed – the physical world that we can perceive with our senses and faculties – and we are also aware that there is an unseen realm that we cannot access using those same senses. Some things from that realm have been revealed to us, such as the fact that when we pray and recite Surat al-Fatiha (the Opening), it is a conversation between Allah (swt) and us, because He responds to our words.
Despite knowing this, we often forget, and behave in a way that assumes this is all there is – that the world of the ‘witnessed’ is the only thing that exists. When that happens, our priorities get mixed up and we fail to see things as they really are, but rather only as they appear. Things that are seemingly ‘great’ easily impress us, and we elevate those things.
So we elevate money and status, but the Prophet ﷺ reminds us that what is underneath is what truly matters. We seek approval from people and society, forgetting that it is Allah’s (swt) approval that matters most. We raise things up to stations that they truly do not deserve. Empires founded on injustice have been called ‘great’, and people who have committed massacres have also been referred to as ‘great’. Fame, too, becomes a standard for greatness; we pursue and elevate it, and we see people as great just because they are famous. Alternatively, we view ourselves as great because the standards of this world tell us that we are: for our beauty, our educational achievement, our ethnicity and skin tone, or our wealth.
And so Allah (swt) reminds us that He is al-`Aliyy, al-`Aẓeem – the Most High, the Most Great. It is a reminder for us not to be duped by the standards of this world for greatness. Allah’s Name al-`Aliyy is from the root ‘a-l-w (و – ل – ع) which means ‘to be high and exalted’, while al-`Aẓeem means ‘to be imposing and great’. These Names are general enough that, as Ibn Al-Qayyim says, they encompass all kinds of greatness and all sorts of elevation. And so these Names of Allah (swt) shift our attention: do not be distracted by the shiny lights, and do not forget that the real standards for greatness are those set by Allah (swt).
Qarun was of the people of Moses `alayhi as-salaam (peace be upon him), and he was given great wealth, but he tyrannized his people. Allah (swt) tells us that “he came out before his people in his adornment. Those who desired the worldly life said, ‘Oh, would that we had like what was given to Qarun. Indeed, he is one of great (`aẓeem) fortune,’” (Qur’an, 28:79). Despite his tyranny, they saw that he was great because of his wealth. But Allah (swt) “caused the earth to swallow him and his home. And there was for him no company to aid him other than Allah, nor was he of those who [could] defend themselves,” (Qur’an, 28:81). Allah (swt) reminds us:
“That home of the Hereafter We assign to those who do not desire exaltedness (`uluwwan) upon the earth or corruption. And the [best] outcome is for the righteous.” (Qur’an, 28:83)
So when you begin to be overtaken by worldly standards of greatness, remember who is truly Great and Most High, and derive your standards from Him. He tells us that the best outcome is for those who are righteous, so honor the things that He honors. Allah (swt) tells us:
“And whoever honors (yu`aẓẓim) the symbols of Allah—indeed, it is from the piety of hearts.” (22:32)
That is when you can be, in a human sense, ‘great’. We all remember the boxer Muhammad Ali’s famous words about being the greatest, but we forget that he also said:
“Allah is the Greatest. I’m just the greatest boxer.”
Rukoo` (bowing) and Sujood (prostration): Reminders
سبحان ربي العظيم
“How Perfect is my Lord, al-`Aẓeem” (Ahmad, Abu Dawud)
We bring together the physical act of bowing to the Most Great, with a verbal reminder of who He is, in the hope that our hearts also bow in awe of Him. This happens even more so when we prostrate to Him: we are at our physically lowest point, but we are praising He who is far elevated above everything. We say:
سبحان ربي الأعلى
“How Perfect is my Lord, al-A`lā [the Highest]”
The Prophet ﷺ also taught us that:
إن أمتي يومئذ غر من السجود محجلون من الوضوء
“My ummah (community) on that day [the Day of Judgment] will surely have bright faces because of sujood […]” (Ahmad)
As these meanings permeate in our hearts, we have to then remember that our hearts should not bow or prostrate except to Him: al-`Aliyy, al-`Aẓeem. This is why prayer is so important. We not only take the time out to connect to Allah (swt), but we are also reminded of His attributes at least five times a day, and thus reminded of true reality.
Connecting to Allah al-`Aliyy, al-`Aẓeem
- Check yourself
A recurring lesson for us is to always check our ego. Whenever you feel that you are ‘great’ or ‘higher’ than other people because of worldly standards, remember that it is only Allah (swt) who is Great and High. Accordingly, He raises people and abases others. The Prophet ﷺ told us:
من تواضع رفعه الله
“Whoever humbles himself to God, Allah will raise him.” (Muslim)
This does not conflict with feeling a sense of accomplishment when you achieve something, or feeling pleased when you do something good. The Prophet ﷺ taught us: “When a good deed becomes a source of pleasure for you and an evil deed becomes a source of disgust, then you are a believer,” (Tirmidhi). These things should cause us to return to Allah (swt) and thank Him for what He has enabled us to do. The Prophet ﷺ defined arrogance as “rejecting the truth and looking down on people” (Muslim). Indeed, the latest research shows that humility is one of four critical leadership factors.
Remember that Allah (swt) loves great character, so work on yourself for Him.
- Re-orient your standards
When we view something as great, our natural inclination is to elevate it, desire it and even emulate it. Do not elevate things more than they are, and do not be deceived by worldly standards. More and more, we are being sold on impossible beauty standards, making money no matter what the means, and flaunting what we have. The Most Great is the One who defines for us the meaning of greatness. A person can be ‘great’ according to human standards. A person can be great and elevated through their ethics, character and manners. The best way to be great in the Eyes of Allah (swt) is to follow His beloved Messenger ﷺ.
- Be reminded through your prayers
The prayer is a world unto itself. In the Sweetness of Prayer series, we tried to understand in depth the meaning behind all of our actions. The prayer is a sanctuary because through it we turn completely to Allah (swt) and remember our purpose. It reminds us of His attributes, and when we truly reflect, gives us insight into the world around us.