Allah is unknowable, ungraspable. The only way we can know Allah is through His Names, His Qualities. If the Reality of God was a brilliant gemstone, it would have 99 facets, and each facet would be a unique quality of God. This is one way of perceiving the Qualities or Names of God.
What Are the 99 Names of Allah?
The 99 Qualities make up all things, animate and inanimate. The group of qualities that come together to form an oak tree will be different then the group of qualities that come together to form a butterfly. In reality, there are far more than 99, but nonetheless you will find lists and charts of 99 Names or Qualities.
Each list of 99 Names can vary slightly, but for the most part the 99 Names were revealed in the Qur’an. The Name “ar-Rahman” means the Most Merciful. The Name “ar-Rahim” means the Compassionate, The Name “al-Quddus” translates as the Holy, “Al-Kabir” is the Vast. “Al-Matin” is the Firm, “As-Salam” means the Peace. These are a few of the Divine Names.
Don’t Be Deceived
Each Name is usually given a one or two word translation, but these brief, literal translations can be very deceiving. In truth, each Name is very deep and has an energetic nature that cannot truly be captured in a few words, or even a few pages. Each Name is a multifaceted gem. The Sufi spends time contemplating these Names, asking the Beloved to reveal more and more of the secrets contained in each.
How Sufis Use the Divine Names
Often, Sidi or another spiritual teacher will prescribe specific Names for a seeker to recite as medicine for that person. Each Name contains very specific healing qualities and wisdom. When the seeker recites a Name and opens to receive the medicine contained within it, he or she is healed. For instance, if the root cause of your affliction is guilt or shame from the past, you may be prescribed the Name “al-Ghaffār,” the Forgiver or “at-Tawwāb,” the Acceptor of Repentance, in order to help you heal and be clean of the shame/guilt.
Allah says in His Holy Book, “We created the human being in order to worship/know Me.” Contemplating and studying the Names is one practice the Sufi uses in order to fulfill this command to “know God.”
There are many books that discuss the 99 Names. Sidi published one small book that is good. Recently one of his longtime students, working with Sidi, published a newer book that goes into more detail and is a beautiful read. See the book Divine Names by Rosina-Fawzia al-Rawim. Below is a chart containing one list of 99 Names.