In the name of Allah, the most Merciful and most Compassionate.
The greatest name of Allah (al-Ism ul-A’zam) is said to be a name of Allah that will guarantee the acceptance of a dua that is asked with it.
This concept is not mentioned in the Quran. It is, however, referenced in some ahadith of varying levels of authenticity.
Does it exist?
Some scholars said there is no such thing as one name that is the greatest name of Allah. These scholars dealt with the ahadith about the name by either considering them weak or interpreting them in a different way. For example, they interpreted the Prophet saying al-Ism ul-A’zam as meaning “a great name of Allah” rather than “the greatest.”
Other scholars said any name of Allah that is said with enough humility, sincerity, and faith is considered the greatest name and Allah will respond to it. This view was narrated from Jafar as-Sadiq and Junaid.
But, other scholars accepted the existence of a greatest name of Allah. They differed: Is it known to us or unknown except to those Allah gave special revelation? Some of them said it is only for those Allah gave special revelation and it is not a normal name we can access. Others said it is from among the normal names we have the ability to access if we strived for it.
What is it?
Those who accepted its existence and said we can access it differed on what exactly the name is. The following is a list of some of the opinions (mostly taken from Ibn Hajr’s Fath al-Bāri):
- The name is hidden among all the names of Allah (al-Asmā al-Husnā), and we do not know exactly which one it is. It is especially likely to be in the 99 names of Allah.
The evidence for this opinion may be two things. Firstly, there is no clear authentic evidence for any specific name. Secondly, Aisha (RA) narrated:
[…] I said: “O Messenger of Allah, teach it (the greatest name) to me.”
The Prophet (SAW) said: “It is not appropriate for me to teach it to you. It is not appropriate that you ask for things from the world with it.”
So I got up, did wudhu, then prayed two rakahs, then said: “Allahumma (O Allah), I call upon You Allah, and I call upon You Ar-Rahmān, and I call upon You Al-Barr Ar-Rahīm, and I call upon You by all Your Beautiful Names (al-Asmā al-Husnā), those that I know and those that I do not know, (asking) that You forgive me and have mercy on me.”
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) smiled then said: “It is among the names you made dua with.'”Sunan Ibn Majah 3859, Grading: Dha’īf/Weak (Darussalam)
The chain of the hadith is weak according to Ibn Hajr. Al-Asmā al-Husnā (The Beautiful Names) may either refer specifically to the 99 names of Allah or to all the names of Allah.
This hadith does not directly support this opinion that it is one of the Beautiful Names since there are specific names mentioned in the hadith that the Prophet (SAW) may have been referring to.
This raises the interesting question: If we interpret the Prophet’s statement as referring to Aisha (RA)’s mention of the Beautiful Names, does it count as you having called Allah with the greatest name if you just say “O Allah, I call you with all your Beautiful Names” or “with all your names” or “with your greatest name”?
I would say: It does not count as if you called upon the name directly because there would be no use in searching for the name itself then, but it may hold some sort of benefit since the Prophet (SAW) smiles and approves in the hadith. Perhaps it makes the dua more likely to be accepted. Or perhaps Allah will treat it as if calling with the greatest name in some cases. But, Allah knows best.
This is the view of Abu Hanifah, Tahawi, and many of the scholars.
There are two evidences. Firstly, it is the main name of Allah that Allah uses for Himself all the time in the Quran and the Prophet used for Him in his life. Secondly, it is a name unique to Him and not a description while all the other names are descriptive.
If this view is taken, that means duas always being accepted when the greatest name is used does not mean something special but just means duas get accepted in the world or are rewarded in the hereafter. The incredible nature this greatest name seems to entail requires that it be somewhat hidden or rare in public use.
That is because it is known from experience that people make dua with the name of Allah yet their dua does not get accepted in the world. However, it may be argued their dua only does not get accepted if they lacked sincerity or faith or lost hope in the dua, so it is not proof that the name Allah is not the greatest name. But, Allah knows best.
- اللَّهُ الرَّحْمَنُ الرَّحِيمُ
(Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful)
The evidence is the aforementioned hadith of Aisha (RA) where she said “I call upon You Allah, and I call upon You Ar-Rahmān, and I call upon You Al-Barr Ar-Rahīm” and the Prophet (SAW) said the greatest name of Allah was in her dua. Perhaps الْبَرُّ can be included in it according to that narration.
- الرَّحْمَنُ الرَّحِيمُ الحَيُّ القَيُّومُ
(The Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful, The Ever-Living, the Sustainer)
The evidence is the following hadith:
The Prophet (SAW) said:
Allah’s greatest name is in these two verses: ⟪And your god is one God. There is no deity [worthy of worship] except Him, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful⟫ (2:163) and the opening of Āl-Imrān ⟪Alif. Lām. Mīm. Allah – there is no deity except Him, the Ever-Living, the Sustainer of existence.⟫ (3:1-2)Sunan Tirmidhi 3478, Hasan Sahih (Tirmidhi), Hasan (Darussalam)
Ibn Hajr says one of the narrators has doubt in him.
This hadith could also be used to support opinion 11.
- الحَيُّ القَيُّومُ
(The Ever-Living, the Sustainer)
The evidence is the following hadith:
The greatest name of Allah, the one that He will respond if called by, is in three Surah: Baqarah, Āl-Imrān, and Tā-Hā.Sunan Ibn Majah 3856
This depends on the hadith being understood to mean the greatest name is found in each of the three Surahs. But, it can be understood in another way: the greatest name is made by combining some of the names mentioned in these three Surahs.
- الحَنَّانُ المَنَّانُ بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ ذُو الجَلَالِ وَالإِكْرَامِ الحَيُّ القَيُّومُ
(The Most Kind, The Bestower, The Originator of the Heavens and the Earth, The Possessor of Majesty and Honor, The Ever-Living, The Sustainer)
Other versions include: الْمَنَّانُ بَدِيعُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ ذُو الْجَلاَلِ وَالإِكْرَامِ. The narrations differ slightly.
It is narrated that a man made dua to Allah with this phrase in front of the Prophet, and the Prophet (SAW) said he made dua with the greatest name. This is narrated in Sunan Ibn Majah, Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan at-Tirmidhi, and Sunan an-Nasa’i. The chain was graded authentic by Ibn Hibban and also by Al-Albani.
The hadith may either mean one of the names mentioned in this phrase is the greatest name or all of it together is the greatest name.
So, it is possible the greatest name is one of the following:
- بَدِيعُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ
- ذُو الْجَلاَلِ وَالإِكْرَامِ
Or it may be a combination of the above.
In support of ذُو الْجَلاَلِ وَالإِكْرَامِ is a narration where the Prophet (SAW) heard a man call Allah with this name and said “You have been responded to, so ask.” This is recorded in Sunan at-Tirmidhi, and Tirmidhi called the chain Hasan.
It is reported that some pious people saw in their dreams that بَدِيعُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ ذُو الْجَلاَلِ وَالإِكْرَامِ is the greatest name.
- اللَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ الأَحَدُ الصَّمَدُ الَّذِي لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ
(Allah, there is no deity except Him, the Only, the Eternal, who has not begotten, nor has been begotten, and there is none equal to Him)
Another version is: اللَّهُ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ الأَحَدُ الصَّمَدُ الَّذِي لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ
It is narrated that a man made dua to Allah with this phrase, and the Prophet (SAW) said he made dua with the greatest name. This is narrated in Sunan Abi Dawud, Sunan Ibn Majah, and Sunan at-Tirmidhi. This narration was considered Sahih by Ibn Hibban and Hasan by Tirmidhi. Ibn Hajr said it was the strongest narration about the greatest name.
It is also narrated that a man made dua to Allah to forgive him using this phrase and added at the end إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ (Indeed, you are the Most Forgiving, Most Merciful), and the Prophet (SAW) said three times “He has been forgiven.” This is narrated in Sunan Abi Dawud and Sunan an-Nasa’i with a good chain.
These ahadith seem to indicate that the greatest name is either this whole phrase (perhaps along with إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ) or it is one of the names mentioned in the phrase like الأَحَدُ or الصَّمَدُ.
- رَبِّ رَبِّ
(My Lord, My Lord)
Ibn Abbas and Abu Darda (RA) used to say this was the greatest name.
It is also narrated from Aisha (RA) in a weak report that either she said or she heard the Prophet (SAW) say:
When a servant says ‘Ya Rabbi, Ya Rabbi’, Allah says ‘I am here, my servant. Ask and you will be given.’Musnad Bazzār 90
- The dua of Yunus (AS): لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
(There is no deity except You; exalted are You. Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.)
It is narrated with a good chain that the Prophet (SAW) said:
Indeed no Muslim man supplicates with it (the dua of Yunus AS) for anything, ever, except Allah responds to him.Sunan at-Tirmidhi
That is the evidence used by some people to claim this is the greatest name of Allah.
However, this dua does not seem to be a name at all. In my view, it should be understood as an independently powerful dua for forgiveness that has nothing to do with the greatest name of Allah or making all duas answered.
Someone may ask: But, the hadith says “supplicates with it for anything.” Doesn’t that mean you can make any dua even unrelated to forgiveness with it?
I would say: Contextually, it makes more sense to say that this phrase “for anything” refers to the fact that this dua can forgive any sin. So, the hadith most likely means, “No Muslim makes this dua for the forgiveness of any sin except that Allah forgives him.” But, Allah knows best.
- اللَّهُ اللَّهُ اللَّهُ الَّذِي لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا هُوَ رَبُّ العَرْشِ العَظِيمِ
(Allah, Allah, Allah, who there is no deity except Him, the Lord of the Great Throne)
It is narrated that Zain al-Ābidīn saw in a dream that this is the greatest name.
- The statement of tawhīd: لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ
(There is no god except Allah)
An evidence can be the aforementioned hadith about the two verses that contain the greatest name of Allah. Both of the verses contain the statement of tawhīd.
However, I think this is a weak opinion because the phrase is not a name.
An evidence some people presented is that you refer to someone in third-person when you are being very respectful of them.
- The greatest name changes to a different name at different times
I have not seen anyone mention this last opinion, but I am applying the reasoning that some scholars mentioned about Lailat-ul-Qadr. They said it changes every year because of all the seemingly conflicting evidence for which night it is. Perhaps the same can be applied to the greatest name of Allah.
Why is it hidden?
Allah did not tell us about the greatest name so that we have an incentive to strive and ask Allah with many of His Beautiful names and earn reward in that way. It is similar to how the exact time of Lailat-ul-Qadr is hidden and how the exact time on Friday in which dua is accepted is also hidden.
And Allah knows best.