Subhan Allah ― A brief study of its meanings
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The term tasbīh usually refers to the phrase: Subhān Allāh. It is a phrase which Allāh has approved for Himself, and has inspired His angels to say, and guided the most excellent of His creation to declare.
Subhān Allāh is commonly translated as ‘Glory be to Allāh.’ This translation falls short in conveying a fuller meaning of the tasbīh.
The tasbīh is composed of two words: Subhāna and Allāh.
Linguistically, the word subhāna comes from the word sabh, which means distance, remoteness. Accordingly, ibn ‘Abbās explained the tasbīh as the purity and absolving of Allāh above every evil or unbefitting matter. In other words, Allāh is forever far away and eternally high above from every wrongdoing, deficiency, shortcoming and inappropriateness.
The tasbīh denotes a collection of meanings including nafiyy (negation), ta‘ajjub (amazement, surprise), t‘azīm (exaltation) and tamjīd (majestic, royal praise). In other words, it is because of His High, Exalted Nature and His Majestic, Praiseworthy Actions that ta‘ajjub arises when and if an unbefitting characteristic is ascribed to Him, and subsequently it is distanced and negated from Him.
This understanding of the tasbīh has occurred in the Qur’ān in order to negate inappropriate and incompatible descriptions attributed to Allāh, “No son (or offspring) did Allāh beget, nor is there any ilāh (god) along with Him. (If there had been many gods), certainly, each god would have taken away what he had created, and some would have tried to overcome others! Subhān Allāhi ‘ammā yasifūn (Allāh is far from and high above what they have attributed to Him).” [23:91] The tasbīh in this verse negates a false accusation against Allāh.
A single tasbīh suffices to negate every flaw or lie attributed to Allāh in every place and every time by any or all creation. Thus, Allāh refutes numerous lies attributed to Him with a single tasbīh, “Now ask thsem, ‘Does your Lord have daughters while they have sons? Or did We create the angels as females while they were witnesses?" Unquestionably, it is out of their (invented) falsehood that they say, ‘Allāh has begotten (offspring)’ and indeed, they are liars. Has He chosen daughters over sons? What is (wrong) with you? How do you make judgement? Then will you not be reminded? Or do you have a clear authority? Produce your scripture, if you should be truthful. And they have claimed between Him and the jinn a lineage, but the jinn know well that they have indeed to appear (before Him). Subhān Allāhi ‘ammā yaifūn (Allāh is far from and high above what they have attributed to Him).” [37:149-159]
There is a principle in the ‘aqīdah (creed) of the Muslims, which states that everything the Book (Qur’ān) and the Sunnah has negated from Allāh entails the affirmation of its opposite. In fact, the purpose of the negation is so that its opposite is affirmed. For example, if the Book negates ignorance from Allāh then the Muslim negates ignorance and in turn affirms the opposite for Allāh, which is all-encompassing knowledge. If the Sunnah negates miserliness from Allāh then the Muslim negates miserliness and in turn affirms the opposite for Allāh, which is immense generosity.
The tasbīh is essentially a negation (of wrongdoing, deficiencies, and corrupt/false ideas) and therefore entails the affirmation of the opposite, which is beautiful existence, perfect conduct and utmost truth. At times the opposite is general (not specifying any particular Perfect Attribute) whilst at other times it is specific.
This is an intrinsic feature of the tasbīh, whereby it negates and affirms synchronously.
The famous principle states: al-jazā-u min jinsil-‘amal (the compensation is in accordance to the deed). Just as the slave through these two words exalts Allāh from (falsely attributed) flaws and wrongdoings and affirms for Him goodness and excellence, Allāh in turn exalts the slave from flaws and wrongdoings and affirms for Him goodness and excellence. The Prophet of Allāh sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa sallam asked, “Is one of you incapable of earning a thousand good deeds in a single day?” They asked, “And who can achieve that?” He replied, “He who makes tasbīh one hundred times, Allāh will write for him a thousand good deeds and erase from him a thousand bad deeds.” [Ahmad]
In closing, the tasbīh eternally negates wrongdoing, deficiencies, lies, corrupt and incompatible ideas from Allāh. This is because of His Exalted, Majestic and Beautiful Being and Wise, Gentle and Caring Actions. The negation (or distancing) entails exaltation, praise and the affirmation of its opposite in the most magnificent and beautiful manner. It causes the heart of the slave to be filled with the flawless majesty and beauty that is befitting for Allāh and which He alone deserves. And the tasbīh serves as a means of the slave’s own exaltation and praise.
والحمد لله رب العالمين
وصلى الله وسلم على نبينا محمد