Prophet Muhammad said: “Allah has ninety-nine names, one hundred less one; whoever comprehends them all will enter Paradise.” [Sahih al-Bukhari (2737) and Sahīh Muslim (2677)]Does this mean that Allah has exactly 99 names? If so, how do we know what they are?
Up to 81 names of Allah have been identified in the Quran. As for the 99 mentioned in various ahadith, these are merely a fraction of His names which have a special significance attached to them. There are, however, countless names the knowledge of which Allah has withheld for Himself.
We cannot place a limit on Allah’s names.
The various modes of Allah’s praise, and all the numerous aspects of His glory, perfection, greatness, might, and power, are beyond human comprehension.
Our minds can never conceive a limit to His nature.
Therefore, we should not understand this hadith to be limiting Allah’s names to 99.
More Than 99
There is decisive proof in the sunnah of Prophet Muhammad that Allah has more names than those He revealed to us in the scriptures.
It is authentically related from Ibn Masood that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, while supplicating his Lord:
I beseech You by every name You have, by which You have named Yourself, or have revealed in Your Book, or taught any of Your creatures, or preserved in the knowledge of the unseen that is with You… [Musnad Ahmad (3712, 4318), Sahih Ibn Hibban (972) and Mustadrak al-Hakim (1/507)]
Likewise, in a hadith describing the Prophet’s intercession on the Day of Judgment, the Prophet (peace be upon him) foretells that he will prostrate beneath the Throne, and then Allah will reveal to him words of praise that had never before been taught to anyone. [Sahih al-Bukhari(7410) and Sahih Muslim (193)]
Also, Allah says in the Quran:
Say: If the ocean were ink (wherewith to write out) the words of my Lord, the ocean would be used up before the words of my Lord would be exhausted, even if we added another ocean like it to help us. (Quran 18:109)
Allah also says what means:
And if all the trees in the earth were pens, and the sea, with seven more seas to help it, (were ink), the words of Allah could not be exhausted. Lo! Allah is Mighty, Wise. (Quran 31:27)
Many of His Names Are Secret
Our Lord has names that He has he has revealed in His Books and to His Prophets, like those that are mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah.
There are, however, countless names the knowledge of which Allah has withheld for Himself, names He has taught to no one.
This is because Allah cannot be fathomed by His creatures.
There are an infinite number of glorious meanings which we as His creatures simply cannot comprehend.
His truth is absolute, and His majesty is boundless.
His beauty, power, and perfection are without limit.
As a consequence, only He can comprehend all of the meanings and names that apply to Him.
Names Specifically Mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah
As for the ninety-nine names mentioned by thehadith, these are merely a fraction of His names which have a special significance attached to them.
Among what is special about them is that “whoever comprehends them all will enter Paradise.”
As for determining which ninety-nine names these are, they are to be taken from the Quran and authentic Sunnah.
Up to 81 names of Allah have been identified in the Quran.
A number of scholars have made efforts to deduce these names from the Quran and authenticSunnah and to enumerate them.
These scholars include al-Zajjaj, Ibn Mandah, Ibn Hazm, al-Ghazali, Ibn al-`Arabi, and al-Qurtubi.
Among contemporary scholars who have tried to enumerate them are Muhammad ibn Salih al-`Uthaymin and `Umar al-Ashqar.
There is no definitive list of the 99 names
In some narrations of the hadith “Allah has ninety-nine names…”, there is a list of names enumerated as follows:
He is Allah besides whom there is no God: the Beneficent, the Merciful, the Sovereign, the Holy…”
… until 99 names are listed.
However, this additional text, which is found in Sunan al-Tirmidhi and Sunan Ibn Majah with different chains of transmission, is a later addition to the text. Scholars of hadith are agreed that this addition is not from the words of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).
And Allah knows best.