The phrase Rabb-al-Alamin occurs 42 times in the Quran and is translated as Lord of the Worlds. There are numerous explanations in tradition attempting to explain this translation. However, if the Quran by its own words is clear, distinct, and detailed, then why go to tradition for answers?
Here are a few of the explanations from hadith and tafsir of Al-Alamin: The Worlds:
- Every creation in this world and the hereafter (reference).
- Referring only to all that which possess an intellect: the world of humans, jinn, angels, and satan. (reference). — Note: Here they acknowledge the word involves the intellect, but continue to justify its role in the use of worlds.
- Lord of the entire universe, Lord of mankind…. and one in particular by A.L. Bilal Muhammad as “the Guardian Evolver of all systems of knowledge” (reference). Note: This last interpretation is the closest to the root definition of Al-Alamin الْعَالَمِينَ
The root word for Alamin is علم (ayn-lam-mim). It occurs a total of 854 times in Quran, of which 73 times as worlds.
Lanes Arabic-English Lexicon’s explanation of علم:
- to know/ learn something truly, certainly, soundly, thoroughly
- knowledge, cognizance, awareness,-understanding, consciousness
- to possess knowledge as a faculty firmly rooted in the mind
So how did knowledge evolve into worlds, this life and the hereafter, universe, or mankind?
To understand الْعَالَمِينَ (Al-Alamin) we first define its root word. Next we do a horizontal reading of all the verses that contain the root, which must remain consistent throughout the text. This shows if the word has been altered to fit a desired meaning, to give a particular narrative.
It is important to note that in the Quran the root meaning does not change according to the context. Instead, the context may change according to the root. As a result, you may read something very different from traditional interpretations.
Al- ال indicates a definite article and Alamin عَالَمِينَ is plural for علم (ilm). So if علم, based on the root definition, means knowledge then how did it become worlds in other verses?
Understanding the definition of knowledge is crucial:
- acquaintance with facts, truths, or principles, as from study or investigation; general erudition
- familiarity or conversant, as with a particular subject or branch of learning
- acquaintance or familiarity gained by sight, experience, or report
- the fact or state of knowing; the perception of fact or truth
- clear and certain mental apprehension
- awareness, as of a fact or circumstance
- something that is or may be known; information
- the body of truths or facts accumulated in the course of time
- the sum of what is known (to know- to comprehend, understand, grasp)
Al-Alamin الْعَالَمِينَ encompasses all knowledge, as defined above. This is important to recognize the definition of knowledge when studying Quran.
There is no reference in Al-Alamin to other worlds, the hereafter, universe, or worlds consisting of only intelligent beings. They are created to achieve a particular narrative.
Where did these ideas come from?
Perhaps from Jewish and Biblical sources, see Post 8. Eschatological literature (end of times) began to appear after the First Temple destruction in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, forecasting better times to come. After the Second Temple destruction in 70 CE, following many military defeats, Jewish thinkers gave up on immediate relief and preached a messianic future and life after death. (reference)
This introduced the notion of an afterlife as reward for all the suffering endured by the Jewish people.
Rabbi Ya’akov taught: This world is compared to an ante-chamber that leads to Olam Ha–Ba, (the World-to-Come)” (Pirkei Avot 4:21). That is, while a righteous person might suffer in this lifetime, he or she will certainly be rewarded in the next world, and that reward will be much greater.
In fact, in some cases, the rabbis claim that the righteous are made to suffer in this world so that their reward will be that much greater in the next (Leviticus Rabbah 27:1).
This led to theological claims of heaven, Garden of Eden, and hell, Gehinnom. The religion was evolving, with most ideas of the afterlife being post-biblical. (reference)
The Babylonian Talmud was written during the Sassanian Empire, influenced greatly by Zoroastrian theology and practices. Both Jewish and Zoroastrian ideas found their way into Islam following the Islamic conquest of Persia in the mid seventh century, where all three faiths intermixed.
To justify suffering in this life, tales of heaven were created. A life of eternal bliss for those who endured pain and torment in this life.
In Bart Erhman’s new book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, he discusses how the notion of the afterlife evolved over time from Greek origins. And how the old testament had no mention of heaven or hell.
ربب – the root word of rabb occurs in Quran 975 times, of which 970 times is translated as Lord.
Lanes Arabic-English Lexicon defines ربب as that which has possession, command, or authority over something.
RABB-AL-ALAMIN رَبِّ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ
Based on the root definitions, this phrase should read something like this: The entity which has command/authority/possession over thee knowledge (all the knowledge, comprehensive knowledge). The Rabb رب of All the ILM علم.
Logic would dictate that Allah would be this entity directing and redirecting through comprehensive knowledge. Comprehensive knowledge, as defined above, is attained through investigation, study, consciousness, perception of facts and truth…
Providing guidance through the mind, the intellect, mental grasping, mental apprehension, perception, information, and facts.
RABB AL-ALAMIN رَبِّ ٱلْعَٰلَمِينَ : The entity which has command, authority, possession of comprehensive knowledge
20:114 Rabbi zidni ilmaa.رَبِ زِدْنِي عِلْمً my Rabb increase me in my knowledge