First: The use of the singular
1- God speaks in the singular mode (I) or (He) to assert His absolute Oneness. The use of the singular is evident in such verses where the stress is on worshipping God alone and thus the emphasis on the Oneness of God is paramount. The following are examples:
God bears witness that there is no god except Him. Quran 3:18
I am God, there is no god except Me, therefore you shall worship Me and observe the Salat to commemorate Me. Quran 20:14
This is Me, God, Lord of the worlds. Quran 28:30
Such verses relate directly to the Oneness of God, as a result we will not find any verses which speak of the Oneness of God or of worshipping God alone that employ the plural WE.
2- We also note that verses which speak of God’s attributes and God’s beautiful names are always phrased in the singular.
These attributes and names belong exclusively to God and thus the singular is always employed:
Inform My servants that it is indeed I who is the Ghafoor (Forgiver), the Raheem (Merciful). Quran 15:49
God will suffice you against them; He is the Samee (Hearer), the Aleem (Knowledgeable). Quran 2:137
He is Qahir (Supreme) over His servants. He is the Hakeem (Wise), the Khabeer (All-Aware). Quran 6:18
To God belongs the sovereignty of the heavens and the earth, and what is in them; He is Qadeer (Capable) of all things. Quran 5:120
This is a proclamation for the people so that they may be warned with it, and for them to know that He is but Wahid (One) God, and for those who possess intelligence to take heed. Quran 14:52
Second: The use of the plural
In contrast, we find Quranic verses where God uses the plural (We) and (Us) to refer to Himself. This use of the plural is employed to express specific purposes.
1- One of the names of God used in the Quran is the name Al-Wasei which translates to The Vast or the Immense (see Quran 2:247, 2:261, 24:32). As a result, the plural is used to portray the grandeur and vastness of God.
– The subject in Quran 51:47 is the creation of the universe.
We read that God has created it with might and also that despite its enormous size God is expanding it continuously:
And the universe, We constructed it with might, and We are expanding it. Quran 51:47
The plurality here is not one of multiple gods but of the vastness of God and of God’s creation. This is in line with God’s name Al-Wasei.
2- The plural is also used in the Quran in a Royal sense, that is, to denote Majesty.
We have sent messengers before you to their people, and they came to them with clear proofs. Then We took revenge on those who committed crimes, and it is incumbent upon Us to support the believers. 30:47
In Quran 30:47 we read of three acts executed by God:
a- Messengers sent by God to guide the people.
b- The punishment God inflicts on the criminals.
c- The victory granted by God to the believers.
The three acts mentioned are not acts which take place between two equals, but they are all acts that are executed by a Supreme God to His servants. The plural here denotes the Royal and Majestic nature of these acts.
This is not any different from the use of the plural when a King issues a decree. This would be worded as: “We have decreed.”.
The plural in this case, as is the case in the Quran, denotes Majesty.
– In Quran 11:94 we witness the use of the plural to denote Majesty once again when the subject is a divine decree issued by God:
When Our command was issued, We saved Shu`aib and those who believed with him by mercy from Us. Quran 11:94
A command issued by God is a majestic command, thus the word ‘We’ is once again appropriate to denote Majesty.
The use of the plural is employed in the same manner in Quran 11:40, 11:58 and 11:66.
– In 16:40 we witness the use of the plural to denote God’s supreme majestic power and authority whenever God wishes for anything to come into existence:
Our word to anything We desire is merely to say to it, “Be” and it is. Quran 16:40
Third: The mismatch between God’s greatness and the limitations of a human language
The following glorious Quranic words speak of God’s greatness and how it can never be comprehended by the human being:
They did not value God according to His true worth. Quran 39: 67
It is not possible for our limited brains to comprehend God’s greatness. All we are able to do is to contemplate and marvel at His immense creation. By so doing, we get a mere glimpse of His greatness.
The greatness of God is of such immense incomprehensible proportions that it even poses problems to the language which we speak. Our language is limited by a finite vocabulary which can convey a limited number of recognised meanings which we are familiar with.
In concept, it is not possible to have words in any language which are able to describe matters that are beyond the understanding of the human reader of the language in the first place. It follows that there can never be any words in any language spoken by humans that are able to accurately or, adequately refer to God.
The inefficiency of the human language is also a reason behind the allegorical descriptions of Paradise and Hell in the Quran. There are simply no words accurate enough to describe what Paradise and Hell are really like, hence the use of allegory.
The singular (He) may adequately convey the fact that God is One. However, the singular represents that which is finite and thus is inappropriate to refer to God.
The plural (We) may offset the limitations of the singular (He) but is also problematic since the word (We) could be interpreted as a multiplicity of single entities rather than the infinite attribute.
Basically, any human language is limited between the ‘he’ and the ‘we’ for the speaker in the first person, but does not have a word to be used in the first person if the infinite is the speaker (so to speak)!
As a result, we find God alternating between the two words (He and We) perhaps to convey to us the fact that neither word is accurately representative since God is far greater than to be represented by any single word of any language.
This alternation between two alternatives (He and We), when neither is accurately representative, is not any different from the manner in which God employs the present tense, the past tense and the future tense when speaking about the same event.
As an example, God speaks in the Quran in the past tense about various events which are future events from our point of view, such as the end of the world or events on the Day of Judgement. The following are some examples of Quranic verses which speak about various events on the Day of Judgement:
The heaven was opened and became gateways. Quran 78:19
And the mountains were moved and became mirages. Quran 78:20
From our point of view, these events never happened yet, and so we would speak about such events in the future tense. Not so for God!
1- God is not subject to the concept of ‘Time’, which is no more than one of His creations. God is making this truth known to us through the deliberate use of the past tense in such verses.
2- Events that will take place on the Day of Judgement lie outside the physical universe we live in.Time is only a dimension of our physical universe
That being said, we also read about the same events, taking place on the Day of Judgement, spoken of in the present tense and also in the future tense.
They recline (present tense) therein on couches, never encountering scorching heat nor bitter cold. Quran 76:13
Silver vessels will be passed (future tense) around them as well as cups made of crystal, crystal of silver, which they determined its measure precisely. Quran 76:15-16
Why would God speak of the same event, sometimes in the future tense, and other times in the past tense or present tense?
This alternation between the tenses is not a grammatical error, but a declaration from God that none of the 3 tenses are applicable in an existence where there is no such thing as ‘Time’.
The alternation between the (I) and the (We) is for the same reason. Neither of these words adequately describes God.
It is worth mentioning that a number of translators of the Quran used the future tense when translating such verses as 78:19-20. This is incorrect for two reasons:
1- By changing the tense from the past tense of the Quranic words to the future tense in the translation they are indirectly implying that God made grammatical mistakes, which they are amending!
2- By changing the tense, they failed to understand the reason behind God’s deliberate use of the past tense and thus, they have deprived the reader of the scientific content of such verses.
Fourth: Why “We” in such verses does not include the angels?
1- Most importantly, the rule of not associating anyone with God deems it inappropriate that God in His Majesty would speak collectively of Himself together with the angels, or any others besides Him.
Let us consider the following example:
a- The name of the King is Richard, and the name of his servant is also Richard.
b- The name of the King and his servant is Richard.
Out of respect, sentence (b) is inappropriate because it refers to the “King” and his “servant” collectively.
If this applies to a King and his servant, what about the case of God Almighty and one of millions of creatures He created?
2- In principle, there can be no jobs that are carried out by God and the angels collectively. The angels are commissioned by God to carry out His commands. The notion that God would join them in executing a command is insulting to His Majesty, for it would imply that God on His own is not able to carry out the work and thus He is accompanied by the angels.
3- We are told in the Quran that when God wills any matter, He only says “Be” and it is (see Quran 16:40 above). In contrast, the angels do not possess that kind of authority. When they are commissioned to carry out a job, they work through the motions to execute that job.
If God merely says “Be” and it is, it would be hard to find justification for the angels to be part of any job with God, for that would mean that God would have to go at the pace of the angels in executing a job and not at the instantaneous attribute of “Be” and it is.
Almighty Allah is the highest and most knowledgeable, and the attribution of knowledge to him is the safest.
Right from Almighty Allah and wrong from me and Satan
Prepared by Mohamad Mostafa Nassar- Australia.
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Arrogance is not only a sign of insecurity, but also a sign of immaturity. Mature and fully realised persons can get their points across, even emphatically without demeaning or intimidating others.