There are a lot of conflicting narrations on God’s great – or greatest – name, which, if it is invoked in supplication, God answers the supplication of those who have asked. However many of the hadith are weak, leading to much confusion on the subject. Many scholars denied that God has a ‘Greatest Name,’ stating that ‘Greatest’ should be understood to mean ‘Great,’ while others proposed more than fourteen Divine Names as God’s Greatest Name.
Of all the narrations on this subject, Imam Bukhari chose only one in his book al-Adab al-Mufrad, in the section on supplications, which shows that he believed this to be the only, or at least most, authentic narration on the subject. Imam Nasa’i, who was the greatest of the collectors of the ‘Six Books’ after Bukhari and Muslim in knowledge of hadith criticism and in strictness of criteria for authenticity, chose only two narrations, putting the one that Imam Bukhari chose as the first, thus giving it preference and indicating that it is the most authentic. This is the hadith:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ قَالَ كُنْتُ مَعَ رَسُولِ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم جَالِسًا يَعْنِى وَرَجُلٌ قَائِمٌ يُصَلِّى فَلَمَّا رَكَعَ وَسَجَدَ وَتَشَهَّدَ دَعَا فَقَالَ فِى دُعَائِهِ
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّى أَسْأَلُكَ بِأَنَّ لَكَ الْحَمْدَ لاَ إِلَهَ إِلاَّ أَنْتَ الْمَنَّانُ بَدِيعُ السَّمَوَاتِ وَالأَرْضِ يَا ذَا الْجَلاَلِ وَالإِكْرَامِ يَا حَىُّ يَا قَيُّومُ إِنِّى أَسْأَلُكَ
فَقَالَ النَّبِىُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم لأَصْحَابِهِ تَدْرُونَ بِمَا دَعَا قَالُوا اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ قَالَ وَالَّذِى نَفْسِى بِيَدِهِ لَقَدْ دَعَا اللَّهَ بِاسْمِهِ الْعَظِيمِ الَّذِى إِذَا دُعِىَ بِهِ أَجَابَ وَإِذَا سُئِلَ بِهِ أَعْطَى
Narrated Anas ibn Malik: I was sitting with the Messenger of Allah صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم and a man was offering Prayer. He then made supplication: ‘O Allah, I ask You by virtue of the fact that praise is due to You, there is none worthy of worship but You, the Benefactor, the Originator of the Heavens and the Earth, O Lord of Majesty and Splendour, O Living One, O Eternal One, I ask you….’
The Prophet صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم then said: ‘He has supplicated Allah using His Great Name which if He is called upon by He answers, and if He is asked by it He gives.’
(Al-Bukhari’s al-Adab al-Mufrad, al-Nasa’is Sunan, Abu Dawud’s Sunan).
However, attention was usually diverted away from this hadith in favour of another one, because the hadith scholars Abu l-Hasan al-Maqdisi and Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani believed it was the most authentic one on the subject (perhaps they didn’t reflect on, or notice, Imam Bukhari and Nasa’is subtle indications). This hadith is narrated by Nasa’i, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. However, as Imam Bukhari and Nasa’i indicated through their choices and arrangement, the hadith above is actually more authentic, and that is because of a hidden fault in this second one, which is that the chain of transmitters and the wording of the hadith differs greatly between one chain and the other.
This hadith comes from Abdullah ibn Burayda. Now here is Nasa’is version, which is the most authentic:
عَنِ ابْنِ بُرَيْدَةَ قَالَ حَدَّثَنِى حَنْظَلَةُ بْنُ عَلِىٍّ أَنَّ مِحْجَنَ بْنَ الأَدْرَعِ حَدَّثَهُ أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم دَخَلَ الْمَسْجِدَ إِذَا رَجُلٌ قَدْ قَضَى صَلاَتَهُ وَهُوَ يَتَشَهَّدُ فَقَالَ اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّى أَسْأَلُكَ يَا اللَّهُ بِأَنَّكَ الْوَاحِدُ الأَحَدُ الصَّمَدُ الَّذِى لَمْ يَلِدْ وَلَمْ يُولَدْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ كُفُوًا أَحَدٌ أَنْ تَغْفِرَ لِى ذُنُوبِى إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَدْ غُفِرَ لَهُ ثَلاَثًا
Abdullah ibn Burayda said: Hanzala ibn Ali said that Mihjan ibn al-Adra’ narrated to him that:
The Messenger of Allah (s) once entered the Masjid and found a man who was finishing his Salat Prayer, and then he said: ‘O Allah, I ask You O Allah, by virtue of the fact that You are the One, the Unique, the Samad, who neither begot nor was begotten, and does not have an equal, to forgive me my sins, for you, you are the All-Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’
The Prophet صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم then said: ‘He has been forgiven’ three times.
This is the wording of this version of the hadith as chosen by Imam Nasa’i. It does not mention anything about God’s Great/Greatest Name because of which He answers prayers. It simply states, ‘He has been forgiven.’ Furthermore, in this version, Abdullah ibn Burayda narrated this hadith from Hanzala who narrated it from Mihjan, from the Prophet (s). In the version in Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi, there is a mistake in this chain, as they have it as coming from Abdullah ibn Burayda from his father Burayda, from the Messenger of Allah (s). As Abdullah ibn Burayda narrated a great deal of hadiths from his father Burayda, one of the narrators of this hadith made the mistake of making the chain go back to Abdullah ibn Burayda’s father and then the Prophet (s), when in fact between Abdullah ibn Burayda and the Prophet (s) were two intermediaries, not just one, and Burayda was not one of them. This was the first hidden fault of this hadith as found in the versions in Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi. The second fault is the wording, because in Abu Dawud and Tirmidhi’s version, the Prophet’s remark was different. There he said: ‘He has asked Allah by His Greatest Name which, if He is called upon with He answers, and if He is asked with, He gives.’ (This is Tirmidhi’s narration, in Abu Dawud the Prophet (s) addressed the man himself directly instead, saying ‘You have asked Allah…’). Here we see that the wording of the hadith of Anas above was mistakenly inserted into this one instead of the real remark which is in Nasa’is version; then, to add mistake upon mistake, the word ‘Great’ was changed to ‘Greatest.’ In fact Tirmidhi himself had indicated that this version is weak because he classified it as Hasan Gharib. This is not the place to discuss what Imam Tirmidhi means by these terms, but to summarise it indicates that this hadith is very weak, though in general meaning has corroboration elsewhere.(1)
The version of Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud was the most popular, and in that version there is mention of God’s Greatest Name, leading to all the discussions about the existence of a Greatest Name of God. Ibn Hajar and others thought this was the most authentic hadith on the subject, not noticing that Nasa’i had a different version with a more correct chain and wording, and in his version there is no mention of God’s Great or Greatest Name at all (Abu Dawud himself also had the same correct version as Nasa’i in another place in his work). This oversight led to the popularisation of this hadith as one of the two main contenders for the best hadith on the subject of God’s Great/Greatest Name, when in fact this hadith is not relevant at all. Bukhari and Nasa’i had realised the hidden faults in this hadith, which is why they preferred Anas’ hadith.
Therefore, the most authentic hadith available on God’s Great Name through which He answers prayers is the hadith of Anas quoted above. Furthermore, this hadith, in the versions in Nasa’i and Abu Dawud, does not use the wording ‘Greatest’ (a’zam) but rather ‘Great’ (adhim), although there are other versions of this hadith from collections outside the ‘Six’ which use the word ‘Greatest’ instead of ‘Great,’ while others have neither ‘Great’ nor ‘Greatest.’
Therefore there is no authentic hadith stating that God has a name which is the Greatest Name, although some versions of the hadith of Anas have such wording, but this wording is not fully established.(2) This does not deny that there is a hidden Greatest Name as many of the pious have concluded through experience, only that no mention of such a Name is in the authentic hadith literature. Second, this solves the problem in that many scholars and pious men insisted that the name ‘Allah’ must be God’s greatest Name. What we see here is that in the authentic hadith of Anas, we have a Great Name of Allah which, when He is called upon He answers, and when asked by He gives. Therefore this hadith is telling us that there is a Great Name which is the best for the acceptance of one’s supplications, even though the name ‘Allah’ maybe greater than that name in other respects. And Allah ta’ala knows best.
1) The difference between the version in Nasa’i (and Abu Dawud) of the hadith of Abdullah ibn Burayda and the popular version in Tirmidhi and Abu Dawud, happens with those who took the hadith from Abdullah ibn Burayda. All of the narrations of the suspect version of the hadith go back to Malik ibn Mighwal from Abdullah ibn Burayda, and all of the narrations of the correct version go back to Husayn al-Mu’allim from Abdullah ibn Burayda. Therefore these mistakes appear to come from Malik ibn Mighwal.
2) Bonus: Imam Bukhari abridged the wording of the hadith of Anas in his book al-Adab al-Mufrad. Imam Bukhari sometimes only quoted the parts of a hadith that were well established, and avoided words that were doubtful, and this could be the reason why. For example, he even removed the word “great” from “His great name” and kept only, “He called upon Allah by His Name which, if He is called upon with, He answers.” Sometimes Imam Bukhari abridged a hadith keeping only the part he felt was most relevant. Imam Bukhari’s wording of the dua is this:
يَا بَدِيعُ السَّمَوَاتِ يَا حَىُّ يَا قَيُّومُ إِنِّى أَسْأَلُكَ
Imam Dia’ al-Din al-Maqdisi in his book al-Udda li l-karbi wa l-shidda, at first narrated the full version that is found in Nasa’i and Abu Dawud. He then followed it with other narrations in which the du’a was shorter, but some of these narrations included more details about the circumstances of the du’a, such as the name of the Companion who made the du’a, and in one case, why he made the du’a.
Here is a version via Tabarani:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ، قَالَ : ” مَرَّ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ بِأَبِي عَيَّاشٍ زَيْدِ بْنِ الصَّامِتِ أَحَدِ بَنِي زُرَيْقٍ ، وَقَدْ جَلَسَ ، وَقَالَ : اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ بِأَنَّ لَكَ الْحَمْدَ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ ، يَا مَنَّانُ ، يَا بَدِيعَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ، ذَا الْجَلَالِ ، فَقَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ لِنَفَرٍ مَعَهُ مِنْ أَصْحَابِهِ : ” هَلْ تَدْرُونَ مَاذَا دَعَا بِهِ الرَّجُلُ ؟ ” ، قَالُوا : اللَّهُ وَرَسُولُهُ أَعْلَمُ . قَالَ : ” لَقَدْ دَعَا اللَّهَ بِاسْمِهِ الْأَعْظَمِ الَّذِي إِذَا دُعِيَ بِهِ أَجَابَ ، وَإِذَا سُئِلَ بِهِ أَعْطَى “
And a version via al-Hakim:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ، قَالَ : سَمِعَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ رَجُلًا يَدْعُو ، فَقَالَ : اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ بِأَنَّ لَكَ الْحَمْدَ ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ وَحْدَكَ لَا شَرِيكَ لَكَ ، أَنْتَ الْمَنَّانُ بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ، ذُو الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ . فَقَالَ نَبِيُّ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ : ” دَعَا اللَّهَ بِاسْمِهِ الْأَعْظَمِ الَّذِي إِذَا دُعِيَ بِهِ أَجَابَ “
And a final one via Qadi Abu Bakr Muhammad ibn Abd al-Baqi al-Ansari, which goes back to the Companion Abu l-Darda instead of Anas, and provides more context:
عَنْ أَبِي الدَّرْدَاءِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ، قَالَ : صَلَّى بِنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ الْعَصْرَ ، فَمَرَّ بِنَا كَلْبٌ ، فَمَا بَلَغَتْ يَدُهُ رِجْلَهُ حَتَّى مَاتَ ، فَانْصَرَفَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ ، فَقَالَ : ” مَنِ الدَّاعِي عَلَى هَذَا الْكَلْبِ آنِفًا ؟ ” فَقَالَ رَجُلٌ مِنَ الْقَوْمِ : أَنَا يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ ، قَالَ : ” لَقَدْ دَعَوْتَ اللَّهَ بِاسْمِهِ الَّذِي إِذَا دُعِيَ بِهِ أَجَابَ ، وَإِذَا سُئِلَ بِهِ أَعْطَى ، وَلَوْ دَعَوْتَ لِجَمِيعِ أُمَّةِ مُحَمَّدٍ أَنْ يَغْفِرَ لَهُمْ لَغَفَرَ لَهُمْ ، كَيْفَ دَعَوْتَ ؟ ” ، قَالَ : قُلْتُ : اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَسْأَلُكَ بِأَنَّ لَكَ الْحَمْدَ ، لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ الْمَنَّانُ ، بَدِيعُ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ ، يَا ذَا الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ ، اكْفِنَا هَذَا الْكَلْبَ بِمَا شِئْتَ وَكَيْفَ شِئْتَ ، فَمَا بَرِحَ حَتَّى مَاتَ “
All of these three versions are missing Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum.
Futhermore Abu Ya’la narrates in his Musnad with a chain of trustworthy narrators to the hadith master al-Sari ibn Yahya, that a man from the tribe of Tayy whom al-Sari praised very highly, said to him:
I used to keep asking Allah (azza wa jall) to show me the Name which, if He is called upon with He answers. I then saw the following written with stars in the Sky:
يَا بَدِيعَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ يَا ذَا الْجَلَالِ وَالْإِكْرَامِ
Yet Imam Bukhari kept only the first part, Ya Badee’ al-Samaawati wa l-Ard, and Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum. Of course ‘Ya Hayyu Ya Qayyum’ does exist in the most authentic versions of this hadith and is one of the strongest contenders for the Great Name referred to in the hadith above, and there is evidence for it elsewhere in the hadith literature. However, why the combination of these two without for example Ya Dha l-Jalali wa l-Ikram which is not missing in any of the versions, is not clear, and could be down to Imam Bukhari’s own conviction about the Name, and Allah ta’ala knows best.
Written May 2019