Calling on Allah, by which name? (2)

Friday Khutba by Dr Zahid Aziz, for Lahore Ahmadiyya UK, 16 September 2022

“Say: Call on Allah or call on the Beneficent. By whatever (name) you call on Him, He has the best names. And do not be loud in your prayer nor be silent in it, and seek a way between these.” — ch. 17, v. 110

قُلِ ادۡعُوا اللّٰہَ  اَوِ ادۡعُوا الرَّحۡمٰنَ ؕ اَیًّامَّا تَدۡعُوۡا فَلَہُ  الۡاَسۡمَآءُ  الۡحُسۡنٰی ۚ وَ لَا تَجۡہَرۡ بِصَلَاتِکَ وَ لَا تُخَافِتۡ بِہَا وَ ابۡتَغِ بَیۡنَ ذٰلِکَ سَبِیۡلًا ﴿۱۱۰

“And Allah’s are the best names, so call on Him thereby and leave alone those who violate the sanctity of His names. They will be recompensed for what they do.” — ch. 7, v. 180

وَ لِلّٰہِ الۡاَسۡمَآءُ الۡحُسۡنٰی فَادۡعُوۡہُ بِہَا ۪ وَ ذَرُوا الَّذِیۡنَ یُلۡحِدُوۡنَ فِیۡۤ اَسۡمَآئِہٖ ؕ سَیُجۡزَوۡنَ مَا کَانُوۡا یَعۡمَلُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۰

Last week I began with the verses which I have just read, and I said that these verses clearly allow us to call upon Allah by any of His names which befit His attributes and dignity. I also mentioned that in the past few years the common practice among Urdu-speaking Muslims has changed from saying Khuda hafiz to Allah hafiz. This is due to the impression that we must not refer to Allah by a name which is not mentioned in the Quran or prescribed in the religion of Islam.


Many years ago there was an article on this topic in The Dawn newspaper of Karachi by the columnist Nadeem F. Paracha (May 24, 2009). He wrote that in 2002 banners appeared in Karachi advising the people of Pakistan to “to replace the term Khuda Hafiz with Allah Hafiz”. This was part of the attempt, he says, by some Muslim religious leaders to create a true Islamic society. He further writes: “They believed that Khuda can mean any God, whereas the Muslims’ God was Allah. Some observers suggest that since many non-Muslims residing in Pakistan too had started to use Khuda Hafiz, this incensed the crusaders [i.e., these particular Muslim preachers] who thought that non-Muslim Pakistanis were trying to adopt Islamic gestures only to pollute them.” He tells us that “the first time Allah Hafiz was used in public was in 1985”  by a TV host at the end of her shows, and that this only became a widespread practice among the public shortly after the year 2000. He writes that from that time onwards: “the term Allah Hafiz started being used as if Pakistanis had always said Allah Hafiz. So much so that today, if you are to bid farewell by saying Khuda Hafiz, you will either generate curious facial responses, or worse, get a short lecture on why you should always say Allah Hafiz instead.”


Leaving aside the question of this particular expression Khuda Hafiz, last week I gave some examples of the general use of the word Khuda for Allah by the greatest and the most eminent of Muslim writers and scholars of the Indian subcontinent in their Urdu writings. I will give a few more examples now. Maulana Shibli Naumani (d. 1914) was a great and famous religious scholar, author and researcher. His Urdu biography of the Holy Prophet Muhammad is very well known and respected. He also wrote a book in Urdu entitled ‘Ilm-ul-Kalām. It deals with the various doctrines and beliefs (what we call ‘aqāid) of Islamic theology, and the different inter­pretations given to them by various Muslim groups over the centuries. At one place he refers to a statement by Hazrat Aishah and he quotes her statement as follows: “Khuda to kehta hai” (i.e., Khuda says), followed by a verse of the Quran (p. 23). Shibli goes on to write: “Hazrat Ibn Abbas says that the Holy Prophet ne Mi‘rāj mein Khuda ko dekha (saw God during his Mi‘rāj).” Obviously, neither Hazrat Aishah nor Hazrat Ibn Abbas used the word Khuda, as it is not an Arabic word. They said “Allah”. But Maulana Shibli, when trans­lating their statements into Urdu, uses the word Khuda where they said Allah. His book is sprinkled throughout with the word Khuda when he is descri­bing the concept of God as taught by the Quran and the Holy Prophet Muhammad.


Let us now move forward in time to Maulana Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi (d. 1979), a prolific author on Islam in Urdu as well as founder of an Islamic political party. His Urdu translation of the Quran, Tafhim-ul-Quran, is a household name among Urdu-speaking Muslims of the world. Right at the beginning of this book, commenting on Sūrah Fātiḥa, he describes this Sūrah as: “a prayer which has been taught by Khuda to every person who starts to study His Book”. He adds that by placing this Sūrah at the beginning of the Quran the message is conveyed that: “if you really want to benefit from this Book, you must pray to the Khuda-wand of the world by this prayer”.


I may also mention the famous and widely-quoted verse of poetry by Dr Allama Sir Muhammad Iqbal (d. 1938), the great Islamic poet and philosopher:

خودی کو کر بلند اتنا کہ ہر تقدیر سے پہلے،

خدا بندے سے خود پوچھے بتا تیری رضا کیا ہے

This may be translated as: “Raise your inner self so high that before issuing any decree of fate (taqdīr), Khuda Himself may ask you what are your wishes” (i.e., “what do you want to happen”).


If we now turn to the great Persian literature produced by the topmost saints and scholars of Islam, the word Khuda is used by them commonly. For example, there is Maulana Rumi, who lived 800 years ago, and he is frequently quoted from his famous poem Masnavi. In that Persian poem he has used Khuda (as far as I can see) something like a hundred times. For example:

گر خدا خواهد نگفتند از بطر،

 پس خدا بنمودشان عجز بشر  

“In their arrogance they did not say, ‘If God will’; therefore God showed to them the weakness of man.”

Also: از خدا جوييم توفيق ادب — “Let us implore God to help us to adab (decent behaviour)”. In many of his verses, he calls upon God, for example: اى خدا اى فضل تو حاجت روا‏ — “O God, O You whose bounty (fazl) fulfils need”.


Data Ganj Bakhsh, Ali Hujwairi, was a great saint of Lahore who lived almost a thousand years ago. Neither his name nor his book Kashf al-Mahjub need any introduction from me. It is said to be the oldest and most ancient book in Persian on Islamic Sufiism. In his very first paragraph, introducing his book, Data sahib uses both the names Khuda and Allah. He writes: “Now I pray to God (Khuda-wand Ta‘ala) to aid and prosper me in its completion … It is Allah Who helps and gives success.” Then there is famous Persian verse about him which you see put up in various places all over Lahore, the first line of which is:
 گنج بخش فیض عالم مظہر نور خدا  — “He is the distributor of (spiritual) treasures, benefactor of the world, and a manifestation of the light of God”.


We have the world-famous Shah Waliullah of Delhi from about 300 years ago, who is regarded as the Mujaddid of his time. He wrote a large number of books and translated the Quran into Persian for the first time. In one of his books he writes the sentence: “No one says that alongside Khuda there is another Khuda who is His partner (sharīk)” (Al-Balāgh al-Mubīn, p. 16).


Of course, just because the greatest scholars of Islam, who were also masters of Urdu or Persian writing, have used the word Khuda, it does not prove that they could not have been wrong, and that we cannot change what they did. But it is an important factor to be taken into account, that how was it that it did not occur to all these most eminent persons of Islamic history that they should use Allah and not Khuda? And the Quran supports their usage because it allows people to call upon Allah by any name, providing that that name does not go against the concept of God taught in the Quran.


To preach to people to stop using Khuda, and only use Allah, is to deny the entire Muslim heritage of the Indian subcontinent. Just think: As Mr Nadeem Paracha informs us, it was at the say-so of a TV show host in Pakistan and then a political group in Karachi that people dropped using the word Khuda. No one realised that this was turning your back on a usage of the greatest Muslim figures ever to arise in the Indian subcontinent, without whom we today would most likely not be Muslims, because without their work our ancestors in the subcontinent would not have embraced Islam.


What is the meaning of the word Khuda? It is said that this word consists of the words khud, meaning ‘self’, and ā, which means ‘come’. So Khuda means the one who came into existence by himself, without being created or made by someone, or being born from someone. This is very similar to the attribute of Allah given in the Quran, Al-Qayyūm, which means ‘Self-subsisting by Whom all things subsist’.


Another point to note is that if a word has been used for things other than Allah, it doesn’t mean that it is forbidden to apply that word to Allah. In the story of Joseph in the Quran, the king sends a messenger to Joseph, and Joseph tells the messenger to “go back to your Lord (rabb)” with his reply to the king (12:50). The king is called the rabb of his message-bearer. Allah is also called Rabb very frequently in the Quran. Then there is a well-known prayer in the Quran, in which we say to Allah: anta Maula-na, meaning You are our Patron or Master (2:286). But in another place in the Quran the employer of a servant is called the servant’s maula (16:76). And, of course, Muslims give the title Maulana to religious scholars. And that is exactly how Muslim address Allah in the above prayer: anta Maula-na — “You are Maulana”.


To sum up, what matters is that the concept in our minds about our Creator is what is taught in the Quran and by the Holy Prophet. Let people use the name for Him which they wish, if that name expresses some attribute of Allah accepted in the Quran. To say Allah hafiz or Khuda hafiz is your choice — I can’t tell you to say one and not the other. What I can say is that no one become more Islamic by changing from saying Khuda hafiz to Allah hafiz.


So may Allah save us from gimmicks, cheap stunts and superficial thinking, and turns our minds towards the real substance of our religion — Ameen.