Al- Latif is one of the ‘names’ of God that I most love. It is another word hard to translate into English. I have a very beautiful Arabic-English dictionary of the Holy Quran (linked for your reference) that is essential for any one from an English language background hoping to read and understand the original Arabic of the Quran. And indeed, we Muslims believe the Quran is the word of God. It has been preserved without a single change since its revelation to that most blessed of Messengers, Muhammed (peace be upon him). BTW on this I recently realized most people are not aware of how Muslims view prophets or messengers, peace be upon them all. Briefly we do not elevate them to divinity, believing they are human beings, but neither do we consider them ordinary people, rather we consider them the best of mankind, who were great lights upon the earth, who had the most beautiful comportment, manners and daily transactions – and this for all of them, without reservation or question, peace be upon them all. The Quran is very clear in this and addresses this special noble people in the most beautiful salutary terms. Surah (=chapter) 21 in the Quran, is called ‘The prophets’ and gives the stories of some of them. It is one among many other places in the Quran they are mentioned. I am going off on a tangent so I will stop, but inshAllah (God willing) I will post about this more later on. I actually had no idea people could think badly of any of them (peace be upon them all), i.e., that they would commit major sins such as tell lies etc. until recently and that was shocking to me.
To get back to my topic, so I opened the dictionary to look up the best way to translate this word for you, my dear readers, and found something very special that I will share further down. Especially my Muslim brothers and sisters who are reading this, I think if you did not know it, you will feel happy to know it. The word ‘latif’ comes from the root ‘latufa’ meaning to be delicate, graceful, elegant, gentle, kind, fine. ‘Lateef’ means to be Gracious, Kind, Gentle, Subtle, Sharp-sighted, Acute (the dictionary capitalized each word so I am doing the same, I think this is on the intensive form of the word so that is why). As the name of God, ‘Al-Latif’ = The ‘Latif’, it means roughly, ‘The All Subtle Being’, ‘Unfathomable’, ‘Incomprehensible’, ‘The Gentle’ and so on. We say the Arabic can never really be translated, only interpreted. Actually Muslims don’t consider the Quran in any other language other than the Arabic as the Quran. That is, while we are obligated to be in a state of purity, having taken wudu (see here for a description of this ritual washing) before touching the Arabic Quran, this rule does not apply to it in any other language. This is what I specially wanted to share about what I found in the dictionary;- The word that appears at the very middle of the Quran (and remember when I say Quran, I am talking about it in Arabic) is ‘Walyatalattaf’ (this is a complex form derived from ‘latif’, in arabic you can get a whole sentence just by using the rules of derivation upon a triliteral root word). It means ‘And let him be courteous, let him behave with great care, conduct himself with caution’. In Arabic, there are 8 letters to this word, exactly 4 belong to the first half and the rest to the second half! Isn’t that amazing! Subhahanallah (=exalted is God). It comes in ayat 19 of sura 18. As if a central admonition to us Muslims is to be gentle!
I just looked up Surah 18, it is actually Surah ‘Kahf’ (=the cave). And the passage is about the sleepers in the cave. I am not sure, but I think the Bible has this story as well? BTW I got to visit this cave which is in present day Amman, Jordan. InshAllah I will share more about that later on. Surah Kahf is a surah the prophet peace be upon him, used to recite every Friday and told us to recite every Friday too. My Muslim readers will know the specialness of this surah. It contains many stories, in addition to the ‘sleepers in the cave’ full of wise meanings and messages.
I wanted to write about this word, ‘latif’ as it denotes a trait I love. And Muhammed, peace be upon this most strong yet most gentle of human beings had many wise sayings about how to be gentle. I wanted to post because of these ahadith (saying, narration from the blessed prophet) that I love;-
“He who is deprived of gentleness is deprived of good.”
“Keep to gentleness and avoid harshness and coarseness. Gentleness is not found in anything without adorning it, and is not withdrawn from anything without shaming it.”
And on this note, here is a story from the traditions of the prophet peace be upon him, that I do love. It shows the gentleness of his approach toward teaching people religion. As you may know, during the month of Ramadan, Muslims fast. It is not just an external fasting (abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations) from dawn till dusk, it is also an internal one (abstaining from telling lies, gossip, backbiting, slander, being careful to not look at unlawful images etc). How much we are able to adhere to this is another story. But indeed the month is meant to train us and to help us regulate ourselves. It is like an annual cleanse you could say. A most special time (it’s only 4 months away! so excited looking forward to it. May Allah grant I have the felicity to meet another Ramadan!). I took this story from an article in the Baltimore Examiner, referenced here. However the story itself is well known and found in a many places, it is considered a very ‘authentic’ narration. The way ahadith (plural of hadith) are graded is a science itself, and there are Muslim scholars who specialize in this. Unfortunately these days due to the dearth of sound Muslim scholars, there are many deviant or fallacious ahadith floating around and many Muslims who don’t know a sound narration from a bad one, who would end up following the falsified ones. Before I go off on another tangent, albeit it is an important topic, here is the story. It is about this man who couldn’t keep his fast and came and confessed to the prophet (peace be upon him) and wanted to know what he could do to compensate –
“A man came to Allah’s Apostle and said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! I am ruined!’
The Prophet said, ‘Waihaka (May Allah be merciful to you)!’
The man said, ‘I have done sexual intercourse with my wife while fasting in Ramadan.’
The Prophet said, ‘Manumit a slave.’
The man said, ‘I cannot afford that.’
The Prophet said; ‘Then fast for two successive months.’
The man said, ‘I have no power to do so.’
The Prophet said, ‘Then feed sixty poor persons.’
The man said, ‘I have nothing (to feed sixty persons).’
Later a basket full of dates were brought to the Prophet and he said (to the man), ‘Take it and give it in charity.’
The man said, ‘O Allah’s Apostle! Shall I give it to people other than my family? By Him in Whose Hand my life is, there is nobody poorer than me in the whole city of Medina.’
The Prophet smiled till his premolar teeth became visible, and said, ‘Take it.’”
(Bukhari, Vol. 8, Bk. 73, No. 185)
Peace be upon you all my dear readers. Al-Latif be with you!