An essential feature of the Islamic religion is its all encompassing radical monotheism. The reverence for God as the greatest supreme being, an incomparable creator force and guide, is exemplified in the recognition of God’s many facets and roles in the universe. The “ninety-nine names of God” are a collection of names that describe the purpose and power of God in the universe and in the lives of human-beings.
One of the most essential examples of a “name of God” is “The Creator.” God’s role in the universe is primarily and ultimately as the creator and source of everything. He is the divine origin point of all creation in Islam, and He serves a very similar role as in the Genesis account of creation. He is the architect of the heavens and the earth, and He creates humanity in the form of Adam and Eve. This shared creation myth demonstrates the deep connections between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions in regards to God, and it is one of the more significant overlap points between the two traditions.
Another name of God that plays an important role in Muslim tradition is “The Just.” This name, along with “The Judge,” “The Merciful,” and “The Accepter of Repentance” shows God’s role as an even-handed judge for the universe. Both just and merciful, He gives out judgements to each human-being based on what they deserve, and on what they can handle. God passes judgement on sinners, but is never willing to fully turn away from them. The nature of sin in Islam tends to differ slightly from the Christian sense in that God is even more willing to accept the repentant sinner than in most faiths. On of the essential facets of His personality is the acceptance of this repentance.
As a counterpoint to His mercy, God’s role as “The Abaser,” “The Harming,” “The Degrading,” “The Life-Taker,” and “The Vanquisher” represents the ultimately challenging and humbling nature of the universe and of God. God’s purpose is not just to guide his creation gently along the way, but to place obstacles in the way of men in order to humble them and eventually bring order and tranquility. God vanquishes evil, but he also abases and degrades righteous men in order to put them in their places. Islam does not deny the essential nature of suffering, and they see it as part of the grand plan of God. Predestination is present in Islam in full recognition of the difficulties of life and the problems of suffering and evil.
The most fascinating of the names of God is “The Real.” It emphasizes the ultimate truth of not just God’s existence, but of His law, His creation, and His other names and facets. God is seen as being the ultimate expression of what is real because He is the creator and sustainer of those things. God is not just real in a transcendent sense, independent of His creation; but also as an immanent force that penetrates and surround creation. That is why this name of God is so essential: without it, the others would cease to have purpose.
God is a complex figure in Islam. This complexity highlights the monotheism of the Islamic faith, and it sustains it as a workable model for the world. The ninety-nine names of God are human expressions of the complexity of the universe and of the human mind. These are really only ideas of what God truly is within a Muslim understanding, but they serve to guide the work with the Qur’an and the other texts in understanding God’s will for both the individual and for mankind.