INTERNALIZING ALLAH’S BEAUTIFUL NAME: AL-LATEEF (THE SUBLIMELY SUBTLE)

Does He who created not know, while He is Al Lateef (the Subtle), al-Khabīr (the Acquainted)? (Holy Qur’an 67:14)

Al Lateef is from Allah’s names of beauty and grace, which feeds the souls who contemplate it with a heightened recognition of His omniscience and sublime compassion. Stemming from the trilateral verb la-ṭa-fa which means to be subtle or undetectable, Al Lateef is one of the Divine’s names that reflects His subtle nature in two respects:

  1. a) His extensive knowledge, namely Him being fully aware of the most hidden secrets, and the most elusive intricacies.
  2. b) His delicate finesse in dispensing mercy to His creation, delivering to them His kindness in the gentlest ways.

Imam al-Ghazāli (d. 505 AH, Allah grant him mercy) writes in his al-Maqṣad al-asná fiī sharḥ maʿānī asmāʾ Allāh al-ḥusná, “None deserves this name but the One who can identify the ultra-fine, indistinct, unapparent interests [of a creature]. And then can deliver them in a gentle, unaggressive way to those who would benefit from them. Hence, it is only when gentleness in action and nuance in knowledge come together that the concept of Al Lateef is realized. It is unimaginable for such perfection in knowledge and actions to exist except with Allah, the Glorified and Exalted.”

In most places where the Qur’an mentions Allah’s name al-Laṭeef, it does so in conjunction with His name al-Khabīr (the Acquainted). This pairing is a profound catalyst for generating awe of God in a believer’s heart. It stimulates a lifetime of reflections on how the closest people to us do not know what Allah knows about our struggles and pain. It also armours us against forgetting the many who thought they knew the help we needed, yet harmed us inadvertently by offering or imposing that help. It reminds us that people are all very much like that friendly grizzly bear in the children’s fable; the one who killed its dear owner as he slept, by swatting the mosquito on his nose with its lethal claws. Only Allah is both Laṭeef (Most Subtle) and Khabīr (Best Acquainted); only He knows our dark past and how to guarantee it will not impact our future; only He is privy to both the diagnosis and how to provide relief upon those ‘unreachable’ sectors within us; only He transcends our hasty tendency to dismiss significant details as irrelevant minutiae, and only He does not fall into oversimplifying solutions in the many reckless ways that we do.

Even those inconspicuous anxieties murmuring deep within the chambers of your heart, which you do not understand, nor are you able to properly express them – your Lord, al-Lateef, is fully aware of them. In fact, it is He who tucked them in there, for wonderful wisdoms you may soon discover. Abd al-Raḥmān al-Saʿdī, (d. 1376 AH, Allah grant him mercy) writes in his Tawḍīḥ al-kāfiyah al-shāfiyah, “Al Lateef is the One whose knowledge is so subtle that it perceives the indiscernible and the hidden, and every [secret] the heart contains, and all that hides underground of grains. He [also] acts with luṭf towards His allies and distinguished [servants], easing them towards ease and distancing them from difficulty; He eased for them every path leading to His pleasure and honourable reward and guarded them against every path leading to His wrath – in ways they realize, and in ways they do not realize. He decreed on them what they dislike, in order to grant them what they love. He exhibited luṭf towards them in their personal lives, by regularizing for them His beautiful favours and gracious offerings, and exhibited luṭf towards them through external factors that facilitate for them every form of good, welfare, and prosperity. Hence, Al Lateef is adjacent in meaning to the implications of al-Khabīr (the Acquainted), al-Raʾūf (the Affectionate), and al-Karīm (the Generous).”

AL LATEEF AND OUR EXISTENCE

Sights cannot encompass Him, though He encompasses [all] sights; and He is Al Lateef (the Subtle), al-Khabīr (the Acquainted). (Holy Qur’an 6:103)

In this verse, Allah teaches us that due to His supreme luṭf in knowledge, His transcendence does not hinder Him from being fully acquainted (khabīr) with all that exists. Down to the quickest glances of His creatures, and the silent debates within every last child’s heart, Al Lateef witnesses the faintest details with His pervasive vision, and accounts for every dimension with His omnipresent knowledge. As Allah says, “And We have indeed created man, and know what his soul whispers to him, and We are closer to him than [his] jugular vein” (Holy Qur’an 50:16). Pondering over these sacred truths rehabilitates a believer’s worldview, and neutralizes heart-wrenching worries about the Creator disowning His creation. When asked, “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?,” the Qur’anically enlightened responds, “No leaf falls except that He knows it. And no grain is there within the darknesses of the earth, nor a single moist or dry [thing], except that it is [written] in a clear record” (Holy Qur’an 6:59). Similarly, Al Lateef sees and acknowledges every tear that falls and every silent supplication you make.

Major exegetes of the Holy Qur’an suggest another possibility for why Al Lateef appears at the conclusion of this verse: to denote the supreme luṭf of Allah in His very existence. In other words, He cannot be seen due to Him being Laṭeef, just as He can see everything due to being Khabīr. But does it not intrigue you how al-ʿAẓīm (the Greatest) could also be al-Laṭeef – the most discreet being? It is seldom appreciated that Allah veiling Himself from creation in this life is an act of kindness and endearment towards them. By doing so, He protects our fragile nature from being overwhelmed by His magnificence. The Qur’an tells us that when the Lord of Might spoke to Moses (Peace be upon him), he said, “My Lord, allow me to look at You.” Allah said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in its place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, it was instantly reduced to rubble, and Moses fell unconscious (Holy Qur’an 7:143). Similarly, the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “His veil is light. Were He to remove it, the glory of His Face would incinerate everything that His sight reaches.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 1:161, no. 179). And since something not being visible, and overlooked acts of kindness, are both meanings of the term laṭeef in Arabic, one marvels at the succinct eloquence of Allah identifying Himself as Al Lateef in this particular context, calling our attention to both His discreteness and kindness simultaneously.

The laṭeef nature of Allah does not only shield us from seeing Him, which would annihilate us were we to experience it in our earthly forms. It also insulates us from the coexistent phenomena that surround us, which would render life unbearable for us to experience. It is Al Lateef who causes them to seem subtle in relation to us, when in reality their existence could be inseparable from ours, or could totally eclipse ours. Consider the vast spectrum of sounds, for instance. What if Al Lateef had not made our breathing and heartbeats largely unheard by us? What if Al Lateef had not made the sounds of roaring plane engines above us, or the deafening sound of planets orbiting above them, beyond the range of our hearing? What if Al Lateef had not spared us from being able to hear the insects chewing, or the enemies plotting, or the wicked among the dead screaming? As the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Were it not for [fear] that you would no longer bury one another, I would have asked Allah to enable you to hear from the torment of the grave what I hear.” (Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, 4:2199, no. 2867).

Consider the vast unseen world or just those sentinel angels who document our deeds around the clock. What if Al Lateef had not limited your awareness of their presence to a conviction at heart? We often hear that celebrities are suffocated by the necessity of personal bodyguards that dictate strict protocols on them at every turn. In all of these examples, it is the luṭf of Allah in action that relegates them as less evident phenomena in our perception, as if our existences are primary and most entitled to not being crowded or infringed upon.

AL LATEEF AND OUR ACHIEVEMENTS

The grandest events often start with imperceptible beginnings, just as al Lateef hid for Yūsuf (as) the glory of kingdom in the garbs of captivity. With every new scene in the story, his childhood dream appears to become increasingly distant but then suddenly and without warning, all these scattered pieces reveal their role and incredibly assume their place in seamless fashion. From the moment this story begins, a multitude of factors compound the unlikelihood of Yūsuf (as) being prostrated to by his parents and brothers; they are his parents, one of them is a prophet, his brothers are older than him, they despise him, they threw him down a well, and they had him abducted to remote lands as a slave. From there, the plot only thickened; he is framed by lustful women as a treacherous miscreant, which demoted him from a palace servant to a dungeon prisoner, making the dream even more of an impossibility. Eventually, the decades of difficulty begin to subside, Yūsuf (as) finds himself in the audience of the king, is entrusted with the most sensitive state office during the drought, and this sends his family to his feet in utter desperation. “This is the outcome of my dream from before; my Lord has certainly made it a reality” he proclaimed to his father, then signed his testimony by saying, “Indeed, my Lord is Laṭeef towards whomever He wishes. Indeed, He truly is the All-Knowing, the Most Wise” (Holy Qur’an 7:100). Imagine the flood of memories that must have raced to Yūsuf (as), sending him into deep reflection over how any small step missing from this journey would have prevented it from culminating as it did and from Yūsuf (as) being shaped into the hero he became. He must have replayed all those scenes in his head, but now with the hidden hand of Al Lateef in mind, who was actually using every single rock Yūsuf stumbled on as a building block towards his unpredictable finale:

What if Al Lateef had not inspired my brother to suggest casting me into the well, to dissuade them from murdering me or deserting me in the killer sun? What if Al Lateef had not relocated me to Egypt, to protect me from what my parents could not, and to protect the world from the ensuing famine? What if Al Lateef had not allowed for a scandal that sent me to prison, to meet the king’s butler, exhibit my forte in dream-interpretation, and win his favour? What if Al Lateef had not caused the butler to forget me once he left prison, to ensure that the king only heard of me at his moment of greatest need for me, so I could demand that my innocence surface from the highest authority?

Dr ‘Ali al-Fīfi writes in his Li-Annak Allāh, “When Allah wished to extract Yūsuf from prison, He did not make the prison walls collapse, nor did He send an angel to pluck the souls of the tyrants, nor a lightning bolt from the sky to explode the iron locks off the cage. He simply caused the king to see a dream as he slept, and deemed that laṭeef event sufficient to rescue Yūsuf al-Ṣiddīq from the shackles of oppression.”

Every achievement we enjoy is choreographed by His luṭf. There were thousands of invisible strands that converged to produce that picturesque conclusion. Al Lateef only disclosed a few of these strands to us, thereby allowing us to feel accomplished as weavers of our own success story when it was purely His tapestry throughout. And for a privileged group, Al Lateef discloses some additional details, thereby allowing them to notice that nothing short of a miracle has just fallen into their laps, one that their power and might are for certain unable to bring to fruition. So their hearts melt, their gazes rise to the sky, and they find themselves whispering, “Allah is laṭeef with His servants; He extends provisions to whomever He wills. And He is the Powerful, the Exalted in Might” (Holy Qur’an 42:19). Or they may just smile, lower their eyes in humility as they well up with tears, and think, “He is so amazing; He works in such mysterious ways.” (To be continued next week in sha Allah).