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Allah's Names - 1

March 29, 2018




With this, we start a series of contributions on Allah’s Names less familiar to the Muslim public than His 99 Most Beautiful Names.

We will use as our reference Imām al-Qurtubī’s lovely text Al-Asnā fī Sharh Asmā’illāh al-Husnā, suitably edited to make it flow in a way approximating the current taste and understanding.


  1. Shay’ (شَيْءٌ)


Literally, “a Thing”.

Inter alia Ibn Fūrak, the great Ash`arī mutakallim, said: “Know that the first of His Attributes, glory to Him, is “Shay’”. That is so since the first degree of the first Attributes of affirmation is “Shay’”, meaning that He is existent. That is in fact the reality of a thing with us (= Ashā`irah). The Book has named Him a Thing in His statement, may He be Exalted: «Say: ‘What thing (Ayyu shay’in) is greatest as a witness?’ Say: ‘Allah. He is Witness between me and you’» (Sūrah al-An`ām: 19). The learned exegetes have stated that the associationists (mushrikūn) asked the Prophet, Sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-Sallam, ‘Who is going to testify in your favour that you are indeed the Messenger of Allah?’, whereupon the said āyah came down. Its meaning is: Allah is the Greatest in giving testimony, i.e. His exclusive possession of Lordship and the establishment of clear proofs pointing to His Oneness are the most potent and extensive testimony. He is the Witness between me and you that I have in fact conveyed the Message and spoken the truth in whatever I said and claimed concerning my Messengership.


This is a Name the savants have not disagreed about as regards its traceability to Him. It is simply not listed among His Names because it is not one of the Names you beseech Him by.

Ahl as-Sunnah who have mentioned it include Abu’l-Hasan al-Ash`arī, Judge Abū Bakr Muhammad b. at-Tayyib al-Bāqillānī, Ibn Fūrak as we have seen and Judge Abū Bakr b. al-‘Arabī.

Al-Bukhārī has mentioned it in his Sahīh. Those who have taken the opposite view are Jahm b. Safwān (the leader of the Jahmiyyah) and his partisans, who said it was impermissible to call Allah a thing (shay`an), replicating in that respect the view of a group of philosophers. Theirs is a view to pay no heed to, since had the Originator not been a Thing, and had it been impermissible for Him to be named thus, it would be legitimate to state that He is not anything, whereupon it would be likewise legitimate to affirm that He is not existent. This is however impossible, as we unanimously agree to describe Him affirmatively.

Should these opponents contend that, if we name Him a thing, that would lead us to assert the existence of likeness between Him and His creation (tashbīh), although we have agreed to negate His resemblance to the Attributes of creatures, we would reply that, by the same token, the Originator could not be named One or even Existent, since other than Him share with Him the status of being one and existence. Given that no anthropomorphism or the like of it derives from such instances of naming shared with other than Him, the same holds true of our statement “Shay’”.


The savants have disagreed as to whether His Name “Shay’” is derived from a linguistic root or not:

  • It is a Name without linguistic derivation, coined for affirmation and existence. We say “shay’” to mean “existent” (mawjūd) just as we say “no thing (lā shay’)” to mean “non-existent”.
  • Shay’ is linguistically derived, though they differ as to where it is derived from, two views having been propounded:
  • Its morphological form is fa`lun, with the sukūn of the middle letter (the ‘ayn of the word), being the original (masdar) of the verb shā’a yashā’u shay’an. He is therefore named by the masdar, just as a person drinking is called sharāb and a person writing kitāb.
  • It is in the morphological form of fa`īl. Its root is thus shuyay’. Use of the world in speech abounded to such an extent that the joining of two yā’ along with the kasrah was hard on the tongue, so one of the two yā’ was dropped. Here, the form fa`īl has the meaning of the passive (maf`ūl), like jarīh meaning “wounded” (majrūh) or qatīl meaning “killed” (maqtūl). ‘We only said that because we noticed that its plural (ashyā’) was an invariable noun. Had its morphological form being in fact fa`lun with the sukūn of the ‘ayn, and its plural af`āl, such a plural would be a varied noun (munsarif), exactly like aklāb (dogs) and ashyākh (elders and learned teachers/guides).
  • It occurs sometimes as a linguistically derived noun and other times as a proper noun (‘alam) indicating existence.


Judge Abū Bakr b. al-‘Arabī stated that for him the view of its linguistic derivation was more ostensibly correct.


Allah has not exclusively claimed this Name for Himself, i.e., it is not one of the Names none but He can legitimately be named by.

The word shay’ applies to both a lot of and a few things. Its diminutive is shuyayy or shiyayy, with the dammah or the kasrah, as well as shuwayy, a variant I heard from our learned teacher Abu’l-‘Alā’ Idrīs b. Mūsā al-Ansārī the Cordovan Grammarian (d. 647 AH in Ceuta, where he eventually settled and taught), may Allah have mercy on him.



Next time: His Name the Existent (al-Mawjūd).

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