Al-Lateef comes from the root ل – ط- ف, which can have three linguistic meanings:
1) to be kind, gentle, mild, affectionate, and to bestow with kindness. It also means to be so kind to someone so much so that they do not notice. In the hadeeth of al-Ifk, A’ishah (radi Allahu anha) describes that she was sick and when the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) came to visit her, he only said salaam and asked how she was doing. She then said: “I did not see the lutf from the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) that I used to, so that made me doubtful.” Meaning, when she did not see the kindness that the Prophet alayhi salaatu wa salaam usually had with her, especially while she was sick, she knew something was wrong.
It is also said in Arabic: لطف الله بك (lattafa Allahu bika) meaning: May Allah graciously give you what is good for you.
2) something that is so small and hidden that it cannot be seen. To be imperceptible to the senses.
3) to cover or to hide, and to not perceive something. The Companions of the Cave (Ashaabul Kahf) say after they wake up to the one who is going to get food, “wal-yatalattaf”, meaning don’t be apparent, or draw attention to yourself while you are in the market.
So the meaning of Al-Lateef: the One who is knowledgeable (علم) of the most subtle and minuscule matters that will lead to a slaves well-being. He know how to guide him to this well-being, and He does so (فعل) with kindness and gentleness.
Proof for This Name
This Name appears 7 times in the Qur’an.
What does Al-Lateef mean?
He is the One who is kind and gentle with His servants, doing ihsaan (utmost good) upon them without them noticing that this kindness and goodness is from Allah. He bestows upon them through ways they could never imagine. Al-Lateef is the One who treats His slaves with kindness without them perceiving it. He bestows gifts that are finely suited to the needs of His creation. He is extraordinarily gracious and understanding.
He is the One who is Well-Aware of the most minute matters that are hidden from most of the people. H is Well-Aware of the situations of His servants, and nothing is hidden from Him of thoughts, hopes and secrets.
He gives His slaves what is most beneficial to them with kindness and in a loving way, even if the slave hates it. Allah may put a slave through tests and difficulties because they are good for him.
Ibn al-Qayyim (rahimahullah) summarizes the meanings of Al-Lateef in his poem an-Nooniyyah:
وهــو اللطيف بــعبده ولــعبده *** والـلـطف في أوصـافه نـوعـانِ
And He is al-Lateef to His slave and of His slave *** and His Lutf is of two kinds
إدراك أســرار الأمــور بخُـبره *** والـلـطف عند مواقع الإحـسـانِ
(Firstly) Awareness of the most intimate of matters with full knowledge *** and (secondly) His Lutf that manifests itself with utmost kindness
فيــُريك عزته ويُـبدي لطـــفه *** والعبد في الغفلات عن ذا الشانِ
Thus He shows you His Greatness and displays His Mercy *** While the slave has no perception of this matter.
He is al-Lateef TO His slave – meaning He is kind, gentle and merciful towards him.
He is al-Lateef OF His slave – meaning He is fully aware of his situation, his deeds, what is in his heart, his thoughts and desires.
Al-Lateef in the story of Yusuf (alayhi salaam)
After Yusuf (alayhi salaam) is reunited with his parents and family, he says:
وَقَدْ أَحْسَنَ بِي إِذْ أَخْرَجَنِي مِنَ السِّجْنِ وَجَاءَ بِكُم مِّنَ الْبَدْوِ مِن بَعْدِ أَن نَّزَغَ الشَّيْطَانُ بَيْنِي وَبَيْنَ إِخْوَتِي ۚ إِنَّ رَبِّي لَطِيفٌ لِّمَا يَشَاءُ ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْعَلِيمُ الْحَكِيمُ
“and He was indeed good to me, when He took me out of prison and brought you out of the desert after shaytan had sown enmity between me and my brothers. Certaintly my Lord is Lateef to who He wills. Truly, He Alone is the Most Knowing, Most Wise.” (12:100)
Yusuf (alayhi salaam) connects ihsaan (utmost good) and Lateef in this ayah, showing that he recognized the connection between Allah’s Lutf and His Ihsaan. Yusuf (alayhi salaam) went through many difficult trials, but he recognized that Allah was al-Lateef with him because Allah was good to him in a very discreet way. We would not think that those trials and difficulties were good for him, but they were. So, Allah will do ihsaan to someone without them realizing it, and He raises their status through ways they may dislike.
Imam al-Sa’di (may Allah have mercy on him) says concerning this ayah in his tafseer:
“From His beautiful and excellent Names is the Ever-Discreetly Gentle (Al-Lateef) He is the One who is discreet in His actions. He perceives what is in the lands of enclosed grains and seeds. He is Ever Gentle with His devoted slaves, and makes things easy for them. He protects them from anything that may lead to His Anger. This is through means that they may perceive as well as means they do not perceive. He also decrees matters for them that they dislike in order for them to be granted what they love.”
How is Allah “Al-Lateef”?
Allah is the Most Kind to His slaves, close to them, and He treats the believers with love, gentleness and ihsaan.
He calls those who disobey Him to repentance and forgiveness.
No secrets are hidden from Him. As Luqman said to his son:
يَا بُنَيَّ إِنَّهَا إِن تَكُ مِثْقَالَ حَبَّةٍ مِّنْ خَرْدَلٍ فَتَكُن فِي صَخْرَةٍ أَوْ فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ أَوْ فِي الْأَرْضِ يَأْتِ بِهَا اللَّهُ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَطِيفٌ خَبِيرٌ
My dear son, if there is anyhing equal to the weight of a grain of a mustard seed, and even if it is in a rock, or in the heavens or in the earth, Allah will bring it forth. Verily Allah is Subtle in bringing out that grain (Al-Lateef), Well-Aware of its place (Al-Khabeer). (31:16)
4. He makes matters easy for His slaves and He responds to their du’aas. He does good to them in ways the slaves do not perceive that it is from Him.
5. He cannot be seen in this dunya. Allah says:
لَّا تُدْرِكُهُ الْأَبْصَارُ وَهُوَ يُدْرِكُ الْأَبْصَارَ ۖ وَهُوَ اللَّطِيفُ الْخَبِيرُ
No vision can grasp Him, but He grasps all visions, and He is the Most Subtle (Al-Lateef), Well-Acquainted (Al-Khabeer). (6:103)
6. He provides for His creation through ways they cannot imagine. Allah says:
أَلَمْ تَرَ أَنَّ اللَّهَ أَنزَلَ مِنَ السَّمَاءِ مَاءً فَتُصْبِحُ الْأَرْضُ مُخْضَرَّةً ۗ إِنَّ اللَّهَ لَطِيفٌ خَبِيرٌ
Do you not see that Allah sends down water from the sky and then the earth becomes green? Verily Allah is the Most Kind and Courteous (Al-Lateef), Well-Acquainted with all things (Al-Khabeer). (22:63)
The seed that is in the depths of the earth, then Allah sends down rain, and the plans and grass become green. It is from His Mercy and His Kindness to us that He provides for us in this way.
Allah also says:
اللَّهُ لَطِيفٌ بِعِبَادِهِ يَرْزُقُ مَن يَشَاءُ ۖ وَهُوَ الْقَوِيُّ الْعَزِيزُ
Allah is Very Gracious (Al-Lateef) to His slaves, He gives provision to who He wills and He is Very Strong, All Powerful. (42:19)
He gives provision to who He chooses out of His wisdom and He knows what is best for each one of His servants.
Allah ends this ayah with two Names that show His power and strength, Al-Qawiyy and al-’Azeez, to show us that He is not Al-Lateef because of weakness, like a mother who cannot discipline her children because she is filled with mercy for them, rather Allah cannot be overpowered. We tend to tie mercy with weakness but Allah’s Mercy and Kindness only shows His Greatness.
7. Allah will give the believers an easy accounting on the Day of Judgment.
Combinations with this Name
This Name usually comes with al-Khabeer, for example:
أَلَا يَعْلَمُ مَنْ خَلَقَ وَهُوَ اللَّطِيفُ الْخَبِيرُ
Shouldn’t the One who created know (His creation)? And He is the Most Kind to His slaves (Al-Lateef), Well-Aware of everything (Al-Khabeer). (67:14)
Both of these Names show that Allah has complete and full knowledge of everything, and that He is fully aware of the most intimate and minute details.
Al-Khabeer is not just knowing, but it has the meaning of awareness of matters that aren’t even perceivable. Meaning, Allah knows what could have been if we were not in our present situation. This knowledge is something that we will never know, but He knows it.
So Allah is Al-Lateef and Al-Khabeer: He knows the most minute details and at the same time, when He ordains for His slave, He decrees what is best for them even if the slave does not understand it.
Du’aas with this Name
A duaa is related in Tirmidhi with a chain that is hasan (good). Although it does not mention Lutf or Al-Lateef explicitly, this duaa encompasses the meanings of Al-Lateef.
اللَّهُمَّ مَا رَزَقْتَنِي مِمَّا أُحِبُّ فَاجْعَلْهُ قُوَّةً لِي فِيمَا تُحِبُّ اللَّهُمَّ وَمَا زَوَيْتَ عَنِّي مِمَّا أُحِبُّ فَاجْعَلْهُ فَرَاغًا لِي فِيمَا تُحِبُّ
O Allah, from the blessings that I love that You have given me, strengthen me to use those blessings for things that You love. and from the beloved things that You have taken from me, replace it with what You love.
We learned that one of the meanings of this Name is that: Allah gives His slaves what is good for them, even if they may dislike it. So we may love something that is not good for us, and we may hate something that is good for us. In this du’aa, we ask Allah to give us what is good for us and what He loves.
How to act upon this Name
- To show kindness and mercy to the creation. If you want Allah to be Lateef to you, then you should be Lateef to others. Be gentle and loving to the weak, the poor, the orphans, the sick and those who are in need. The Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) said, Shall I tell you who is forbidden from the fire? The one who is gentle, kind, easy going, and easily accesible to the people. We mentioned in the beginning that A’ishah (radi Allahu anha) knew something was different with the Prophet (sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam) when he did not show her the lutf she would see from him. This shows us that the Prophet alayhi salaatu wa salaam was a kind, loving and gentle person and for him to not be this way caused his own wife to doubt.
- Have a smile on your face. Abdullah ibn al-Harith said, “I have never seen anyone smile more than the Messenger of Allah.”
- Reflect on the wisdom of Allah, on how He is al-Lateef with you, and how He has done ihsaan to you. It will increase your eman and awareness of Allah.
- Taking account of yourself and your deeds. We learned that Al-Lateef means Allah is aware of His slaves and He watches them. So we should be aware of His presence, that He sees what we are doing. He knows the big and small, hidden and secret. He will take account ouf our deeds and what we say, so take account of yourself before Allah takes account of you on the Day of Judgment.
- Love Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala and be grateful to Him. He has given you so much, and was kind to you in ways you didn’t even realize. He has given you what you love and what you need, and He has provided for you in a special way. Imam al-Sa’di says, “And how many a servant has sought to be honored by attaining something of the dunya – leadership, or status or anything that he may love – and Allah removed it from him out of His mercy so that it does not harm him in his deen. The slave then is persistent in his depression out of his ignorance and lack of awareness of His Rabb. If he only knew what was kept hidden from him, and that Allah only kept it from him for his own betterment, he would have praised Allah, and thanked Him – For Allah is Kind, Loving, and Gentle to His close servants.”
- Be patient when calamity strikes and be thankful whenever things are easy for you. Al-Lateef may put you through things that you may dislike, so be patient when this happens and when He gives you what you love, be thankful for it. Look to the example of Yusuf (alayhi salaam) who said: qad ahsana bi, He has done good (ihsaan) upon me.
And Allah the Most High Knows best