سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَىٰ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ عُلُوًّا كَبِيرًا
Subhānahu wa-ta‘ālā ‘ammā yaqūlūna ‘uluwwan kabīra
Glorified is He and high above what they say!
(Sūratul Isrā, No. 17, Āyat 43)
Human beings often attribute unworthy qualities to Almighty Allah. In the above verse, Allah refers to those who believed that angels were daughters of God. He asks how people can worship gods and associate partners with Him when there is no proof of them. Then in the above verse He declares that He is Glorified and free of all defects and limitations that human beings ascribe to Him. Nay, Allah is even higher than anything human beings can think of or imagine.
Tafsīr-e Namūne says that this short verse reminds human beings of the superior status of their Creator in four different ways;
1) Subhānahu – Allah is free of all they might attribute to Him. He is Immaculate and Flawless, and their attribution of anthropomorphic qualities are not worthy of Him. ‘My Lord is Glorified’ – subhāna rabbi is the phrase we pronounce in the bowing and prostrating of prayers.
2) Wa-ta‘ālā ‘ammā yaqūlūn – He is higher and greater than what they say; whatever they might say, or think, is still lower than what Allah is.
3) This fact is emphasized by the use of the word ‘uluwwan – He is higher and elevated with an elevation. In Arabic this is to make the statement more emphatic.
4) The last word kabīra is an adjective for the word before it. He is higher with a great elevation.
It is interesting to note that even those who praise and glorify the Almighty God cannot do so at the level He deserves. He is still higher and more elevated than what they say.
The reminder in this verse is to make human beings mindful of God’s greatness and understand their own lowliness. Their minds and power of speech fall short in understanding His glory. This creates the feeling of awe and servitude that helps them fulfill the true meaning of creation and purpose of human life. This understanding deters from pride and rebellion, in turn allowing human beings to lead natural and satisfactory lives. It is what eventually brings eternal happiness for the human soul.
Amīrul Mu’minīn Imam Ali (a) in Nahjul Balāgha says that a human being can never comprehend Allah’s greatness. He says: He is Powerful, such that when imagination shoots its arrows to comprehend the extremity of His power, and mind, making itself free of the dangers of evil thoughts, tries to find Him in the depth of His realm and hearts long to grasp realities of His attributes and openings of intelligence penetrate beyond description in order to secure knowledge about His Being, crossing the dark pitfalls of the unknown and concentrating towards Him, He would turn them back. They would return defeated admitting that the reality of His knowledge cannot be comprehended by such random efforts nor can an iota of the sublimity of His Honour enter the understanding of thinkers (Sermon No. 91)
Recite this verse to remind yourself of the greatness of the Almighty. When you recite the dhikr in Rukū‘and Sajdah of your prayers, let this Quranic verse come to your mind. No matter what others might say, or attribute to the Creator, He is much higher than they can ever imagine. Such is the God we worship, one deserving of our total submission and dedication.
Sources: Imam Ali (a), Nahjul Balāgha; Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirazi (ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūne;Āghā-e Muhsin Qarātī, Tafsīr-e Nūr