Subhan Allah Meaning: Arabic Tasbih For Glorifying God
- Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW
Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
One of the most important and oft-used Arabic expressions for Muslims is Subhan Allah (سبحان الله).
This term is used by every Muslim Arabic speaker and is also used by non-Arab Muslims as well.
Subhan Allah (or Sub7an Allah) essentially means “glory to Allah” in Arabic.
Read on and I’ll break this term down for you.
The meaning of Subhan Allah
Subhan Allah is commonly translated as “Glory be to Allah” or “Praise be to Allah.”
It’s an exclamation or interjection used by Muslims to express a range of emotions - usually surprise, awe or gratitude.
The phrase carries profound theological nuance.
When Muslims say Subhan Allah, they’re essentially expressing their acknowledgment of the perfection of Allah, distancing Him from any form of imperfection or inadequacy.
The expression therefore carries more than simple praise; it’s a statement of faith and recognition of divine transcendence.
Linguistic structure and etymology
Subhan Allah is composed of two words: Subhan and Allah.
- Subhan is a form of glorification or praise, often translated as ‘glory be’. It derives from the Arabic root S-B-H (سبح) which, as well as ‘praise’, is also the root word for ‘swim’ or ‘float’.
- Allah is the Arabic name for God, the supreme deity in Islam.
Saying Subhan Allah (which is referred to as tasbee7 (تسبيح)), you’re expressing the highest level of awe and admiration for Allah.
Different Arabic dialects may use the term with slight variations, but the core meaning remains the same.
Some variations and extensions include:
|سبحان الله||Glorified is God.|
|سبحانك اللهم||Glorified are you, O God.|
|سبحان الله وبحمده||Glorified is God and by His praise.|
|سبحان ربي العظيم وبحمده||Glorified is my Lord, the Great, and by His praise.|
|سبحان ربي الأعلى وبحمده||Glorified is my Lord, the Most High, and by His praise.|
|لا إله إلا أنت سبحانك إني كنت من الظالمين||There is no god except You, glorified are you! I have indeed been among the wrongdoers.|
Subhan Allah’s usage in Islam
Subhan Allah holds a significant place in Islamic belief and practice.
It’s a powerful reminder of the majesty and greatness of Allah, and is often used to express awe.
Subhan Allah appears is in the Quran itself.
It’s found in several verses, such as in Surat At-Tur (52:43):
أَمْ لَهُمْ إِلَٰهٌ غَيْرُ اللَّهِ ۚ سُبْحَانَ اللَّهِ عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
There’s also a shortened variation (سبحنه) found in Surah Al-Isra (17:43):
سُبْحَـٰنَهُۥ وَتَعَـٰلَىٰ عَمَّا يَقُولُونَ عُلُوًّا كَبِيرًا
And another verse in Surat Al-Isra (17:44) that features multiple verb forms:
تُسَبِّحُ لَهُ ٱلسَّمَـٰوَٰتُ ٱلسَّبْعُ وَٱلْأَرْضُ وَمَن فِيهِنَّ ۚ وَإِن مِّن شَىْءٍ إِلَّا يُسَبِّحُ بِحَمْدِهِۦ وَلَـٰكِن لَّا تَفْقَهُونَ تَسْبِيحَهُمْ ۗ إِنَّهُۥ كَانَ حَلِيمًا غَفُورًا
In daily prayers (Salah) and Dhikr (remembrance of Allah), Subhan Allah is frequently used.
This is tasbeeh (mentioned above) - a form of prayer where this expression is repeated in sets of 33 or 100 times, often after completing the five daily prayers.
Outside the religious context, Subhan Allah is commonly used in everyday Arabic.
It’s often used to express a sense of wonder or admiration, similar to “wow” in English. For instance, if someone sees a stunningly beautiful landscape, they might say Subhan Allah to express their amazement at the beauty of Allah’s creation.
The phrase can also be used to express surprise, shock, or even disapproval. Its usage, therefore, is quite diverse and can be adapted based on the context and tone of the conversation.
The exact usage of Subhan Allah can also vary depending on regional dialects and cultural customs, further demonstrating the depth and versatility of this expression.
Alternatives to Subhan Allah
Beyond Subhan Allah, there are numerous Arabic expressions that have a similar nuance.
Here are a few related expressions you’ve no doubt heard before:
|Alhamdulillah||All praise is due to Allah||Express gratitude for good fortune or in response to someone asking about one’s well-being|
|Allahu Akbar||Allah is the greatest||Express a variety of emotions, from joy to distress, and is also a key component of the Muslim prayer|
|Mashallah||What Allah has willed||Express admiration or joy for someone’s good fortune or achievements|
The expression Subhan Allah itself can also have variations depending on the context. For example, “Subhan Allah wa bihamdihi” (Glory be to Allah and all praise is His) and “Subhan Allahil Azim” (Glory be to Allah, the Most Great) are often recited in Dhikr and Salah.
Christian Arabic alternatives
Christian Arabs generally don’t use Subhan Allah, as it’s an Islamic expression.
There are numerous verses in the Bible where Sabahu ar-Rab is used (سبحوا الرب) as an admonition to praise God (e.g. Psalm 1:117). The same verb is used, but ar-Rab (the Lord) is used instead of Allah.
In addition to this you’ll often hear Christians say expressions like:
- Nushkur rabbina (نشكر ربنا) - “We thank our Lord”
- Ashkurak ya rab (أشكرك يارب) - “I thank you, Lord”
- Ya Yasoo3 (يا يسوع) - “Oh Jesus”
- Halleluya (هللويا) - “Halleluja”
- Al-hamd lilah (الحمد لله) - “Praise God”
It’s a good idea to learn expressions like Subhan Allah, even if you’re not a Muslim. You’ll encounter them constantly when traveling through the Middle East and other Islamic countries.
There are variations and alternatives (mentioned above), though this is not an exhaustive list (there are likely plenty of others which you can share in the comment section below).
Also remember that Christians (and probably Jews) have their own religious vernacular, though there is some common usage (e.g. Al-hamd lilah).
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