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Last Updated: 2015/06/08
Summary of question
What is the meaning of ownership and kingdom of Allah, the Lord of the Universe? Why is said that God is the king?
Please explain God”s attribute of being the owner and master? Why is he described as "king"?
Concise answer
One of the attributes of Allah is "Mālik" which literally means "being powerful" and "having something in one's exclusive possession". This word has sometimes been translated into "king" in other languages including Farsi and English. If this term "king" is applied or ascribed to Allah, it definitely has a broader meaning consistent with God's essence. That is to say, God, the Exalted, is the real master and owner of beings and He is the One who contrives and sustains things. Mastership or kingdom is the result of God's being the creator and Lord of the universe. He who created the existents and beings and is in every instant bestowing His grace upon them, is definitely the real King and the real Master.
Detailed Answer
The attributes which signify God's absolute power and reign are Mālik, Malek, Maleek,  which are sometimes translated into "king". This word has at times been translated into "king" and "master" in other languages including Farsi and English which if  ascribed to Allah, have broader meanings consistent with God's essence.[1] To further clarify the point, the meaning of these words shall be explained according to etymology, Qur'an and tradition.
Etymology of Mālik, Malek and Maleek
The term Mālik (lit. owner) is an adjective of a doer or agent and Malek (ruler or master) is also an adjective and the term maleek (possessor) is an attribute showing possession of something with greater emphasis and exaggeration. Of course, all three words are derived from the root word "mulk" which signifies having power to do things and to having things under one's own discretion and exclusive possession.[2]
When it comes to the differences between these three words, some exegetes have said:  Since over times the words Malek and Maleek have been used to refer to "king" and ruler, they have considered "Mālik" to be possessor of some objective things whereas Malek and Maleek are used to refer to someone who contrives and plans.[3]
Mālik, Malek and Maleek in the Qur'an and Tradition
Some examples where the words Mālik, Malek and Maleek have been used in the Qur'an and prophetic traditions are the following:
«مَلِکِ النَّاسِ»[4]، «مالک یوم الدین»[5]، «عندَ مَلِیکٍ مُّقْتَدِر»[6]، «مَلِکُ الْآخِرَةِ وَ الدُّنْیَا»،[7] «مَلِکُ الْعَطَایَا»،[8] «مَلِکُ الْمَحْیَا وَ الْمَمَات‏»،[9] «مَلِکُ مَنْ فِی السَّمواتِ، وَ مَلِکُ مَنْ فِی الْأَرْض‏»،[10] «أنّ مَالِکَ الْمَوْتِ هُوَ مَالِکُ الْحَیَاة».[11]
In most cases where Malek and Mālik have been used, they refer to both objective realities and contrivances (management).  For example, "Malek al-Naas" can mean the possessor, ruler or king  of people as objective realities and it can also mean the real contriver of people's plan.  Similarly, Malek al-'Ataya can mean the owner of gifts and it can also mean the master of the contrivance of the gifts.[12]
Characteristics of Ownership and Kingdom of God
Ownership of contrivance or management requires real ownership of the object as well.  These two kinds of ownership are not separable. Since God is the real owner of all beings, He is also their master and contriver.  In other words, mastership and ownership are the result of creatorship and lordship. He Who has created the creatures and is nurturing them under His protection showering His grace and mercy upon them at every instant, is the ruler, king and real owner. When it comes to ownership with owners other than God, these two kinds of ownership are separable. Ownership is e'tibari (mentally-posited) and human beings can be owners of something but they may not have the permission to use it; similarly, they may be owners of managing something but they may not be owners of the object itself.[13] A king in his kingdom has only one thing under his discretion which is dominion and sovereignty whereas God is the Master of all things including people whom He rules.[14]
The Quran and traditions describe God's mastership and kingdom as under:
1. "Say: O Allah, Master of the Kingdom! Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever Thou pleasest and takest away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou pleasest, and Thou exaltest whom Thou pleasest and abasest whom Thou pleasest in Thine hand is the good; surety, Thou hast power over all things."[15]
2. "Allah's is the kingdom of the heavens and the earth and what is in them; and He has power over all things."[16]
3. "He is Allah, besides Whom there is no god; the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace, the Granter of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of every greatness."[17]
4. Gabriel taught a dua (supplication) to the Holy Prophet (S): "You are the ruler of whoever is in the heavens and the earth. There is no ruler other than you in the heavens and the earth."[18]
5. Imam Ali (AS) said about the names of God, the Exalted:  "…As for the names which God chose for Himself, He chose some of the best names and called Himself: "the King, the Holy, the Giver of peace, the Granter of security, Guardian over all, the Mighty, the Supreme, the Possessor of every greatness"[19] etc. Every name with which we address God has a reason. When he was called "Malek" He meant to create a name on the basis of wisdom and sagacity. So he created the creatures and commanded them to do or not to do things so that this name and mastership could be translated into action: "Our word for a thing when We intend it, is only that We say to it, Be, and it is.[20] This is the perfect power whose owner does not require direct contact with other things; rather He creates them as He wants and He does not need to think before He creates them; rather whenever He wants something to exist, then it comes into being with all wisdom in the same way as He wills …"[21]
6. Imam Baqir (AS):  God said to Adam (AS): I am the Powerful Ruler, I have the right to implement what I have decreed according to my contrivance and I have the right to change whatever I want in the same way I want and to give precedence to what I have given antecedence and to give antecedence to something which I have given precedence. I am God who does whatever He wills and I am not held accountable for what I do and I hold my creature responsible for what he does."[22]

[1] Sajjadi, Sayyid Ja'far, Glossary of Islamic Sciences, vol.1, p. 463, University of Tehran, third edition, 1373 (Persian calendar).
[2] Ibn Faris, Ahmad, Mu'jam Maqayes al-Lughah, vol.5, p. 351 – 352, Qom, Maktab al-I'lam al-Islami (Islamic Propagations Office), first edition, 1404 A.H; Ibn Manzur, Muihammad bin Mukram, Lesan al-'Arab, vol.10, p. 492, Beirut, Dar Sader Publications, fourth edition.
[3] Sheikh Tusi, Muhammad b. Hasan, al-Tebyan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol.1, p. 34, Beirut, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-Arabi (date missing); Tabarsi, Fazl bin Hasan, Majma' al-Bayan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol.1, p. 98, Tehran, Naser Khosro, third edition, 1372 (Persian calendar); Tabatabai, Sayed Muhammad Hussein, al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol.1, p. 21 – 22, Qom, Islamic Publications Office, fifth edition, 1417 A.H.
[4] Al-Naas, 3
[5] Al-Hamd, 4
[6] Al-Qamar, 55
[7] Sheikh Tusi, Muhammad bin Hasan, Mesbah al-Mujtahajjid wa Selah al-Muta'abbed, vol.2, p. 455, Tehran, al-Maktabah al-Islamiyyah, (date missing).
[8] Majlisi, Muhammad Baqir, Behar al-Anwar, vol.91, p. 93, Beirut, Dar Ihya al-Turath al-'Arabi, second edition, 1403 A.H.
[9] Ibn Tavus, Ali bin Musa, Al-Duru' al-Waqiyah, p. 90, Beirut, Aalulbayt Institute, first edition, 1415 A.H.
[10] Sayyid Ibn Tavus, Razi al-Din Ali, Al-Iqbal bil A'mal Hasanah, vol.1, p. 239, Qom, Publications of Islamic Propagations Office, second edition, 1404 A.H.
[11] Ibn Shu'abah Harrani, Hasan bin Ali, Tuhaf al-'Uqool 'An Aal-e Rasulillah (S), p. 72, Qom, Islamic Publications Office, second edition, 1404 A.H.
[12] Muhammadi Rey Shahri, Muahmmad, Berenjkar, Reza, Mohseni Nia, Muhammad Reza, Encyclopedia of Islamic Beliefs, vol,7, p. 35, Qom, Dar al-Hadith Printing and Publication Organization, first edition, 1385 (Persian Calendar).
[13] Vide: al-Mizan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an, vol.1, p. 21, Encyclopedia of Islamic Beliefs, vol.7, p. 35.
[14] Mudarresi, Sayyid Muhammad Taqi, Tafsir Hidayat, Mashad, vol.1, p. 92, Islamic Research Foundation of Astan Quds Razavi, first edition, 1377 (Persian Calendar).
[15] Aal-e Imran: 26
[16] Al-Maedah, 120.
[17] Al-Hashr, 23.
[18] Al-Iqbal bil A'mal al-Hasanah, vol.2, p. 217.
[19] Al-Hashr, 23.
[20] Nahl, 40.
[21] Behar al-Anwar, vol.90, p. 41-42.
[22] Kulayni, Muhammad bin Ya'qub, al-Kafi, vol.2, p. 10, Tehran, Dar al-Kutub al-Islamiyah, fourth edition, 1407 A.H.
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