Al Rahman Al Raheem
By Ibrahim Ezghair
(Based on a class Saturday after fajr)
The Names al Rahman and al Raheem both originated from the root verb “rhm”, which means to have mercy on (someone or something). Both names have been derived from that root word, on the forms “fa’lan” and “fa’eel” consecutively. These forms are two of the many forms that are termed as forms of intensity. Most adjectives derived from three-letter verbs can be conjugated into these forms to give higher levels of intensity of the adjective. “Fa’laan” is higher in intensity than “fa’eel”. Therefore Al Rahman is of a higher degree than Al Raheem.
The early Arabs knew this name, as Allah indicated in the Quran in one of the verses in which Allah was quoting the pagan Arabs making an excuse for their worship of the idol as saying: “if the Al Rahman so had wished we would not have worshipped them.” This verse shows that they were aware of the name al Rahman being a Name of Allah.
Both names are related to Allah’s attribute “mercy”. In several English translations, Al Rahman is translated into The Most Compassionate, The Most Beneficent, and the Most Gracious. Al Raheem is translated into “The Most Merciful”. Even though both names are linked to the attribute of mercy, the two names do not mean the same and are not used in the Quran in the same way. They have been mentioned together in many verses of the Quran, such as in Surat al Fatiha, which indicates that they are not the same. The scholars came up with three differences that shed some light on how these two names are used and presented in the Quran.
Al Rahman is mentioned to indicate Allah’s Mercy as it relates to Allah’s thaat (entity and essence). Whereas, Al Raheem represents Allah’s Mercy in connection with its subjects (i.e.: those who are subject to Allah’s Mercy such as humans, animals, etc.). In other words, Al Rahman is related to Allah’s most comprehensive and encompassing mercy and His Eternal Mercy while al Raheem indicates Allah’s practical Mercy.
Al Rahman is His eternal Name that describes His Eternal Mercy upon all of His Creation especially in this life and in the Hereafter, but Al Raheem is related to Allah’s Mercy in the Hereafter which is only restricted to the believers. Allah says: “…and with the believers, He (Allah) is Merciful.”
The name Al-Rahman, like the name Allah, is an exclusive name for Allah alone. No human being can claim this name, and it is forbidden for Muslims to name themselves by it, except with the prefix “Abd”, which means the slave and servant of. On the other hand, human beings can be described as raheem. Allah described the Prophet (saws) as “with the believers he is ra’uf raheem (compassionate and merciful).”
Al-Rahman is sometimes mentioned in the Quran in the same context as “al Arsh”, the throne. Allah described his “Kursi” which is below the throne as encompassing the heavens and the earth. Likewise, the name Al Rahman encompasses all levels and meanings of Mercy, in this life and in the Hereafter. His mercy encompasses and touches everything in the Universe, humans, jinn, animals, and all forms of life in the sea and on land. The Messenger of Allah narrated a hadith that is attributed to Allah (hadith Qudsi) as saying: “When Allah decreed to create the Creation, He wrote a statement on a document (a record) that is preserved there on the ‘Arsh’. This statement is quoting Allah as saying: “My Mercy has and will prevail over My Anger.”
Mercy is an attribute of Allah. Some people and theologians have failed to understand many of Allah’s attributes and therefore misinterpreted them. Their failure to construe the reality of Allah’s attribute stems from their conception of these attributes as they relate to human beings. Mercy as a human attribute is was created to trigger feelings and physical response, such as softness in the heart, crying, and perhaps the feeling of vulnerability. The same cannot be said about Allah. Allah’s Mercy is befitting His majesty, and like all of his Names and Attributes cannot be grasped by our limited minds. We can only observe and perceive their effects on us. Therefore, the way of the Salaf was that they believed in all of these attributes as described in the Quran and Sunnah without seeking to know the nature of these attributes, by comparing them to the human attributes. The same group resorted to declining these attributes and misinterpreting them to mean something else, such as in the case of Mercy they said it was Allah’s grace and bounties.
The Created Mercy
Allah’s mercy is his attribute and it is not created. However, Allah created mercy and placed it in his creation. The Prophet (saws) said, “Allah divided His Mercy (attributed to Allah as a created mercy which is an effect of Allah’s Eternal Mercy that is not created) into 100 parts. He bestowed one part upon His Creation, humans, jinn, animals, insects and reptiles; they share it and treat one another with it. Even the beast has Mercy when looking after her cubs. He kept 99 parts for the hereafter to be bestowed upon the believers.”
Allah also described his Jannah to be His Mercy, which He will bestow upon the believers.
The Mercy of Allah is of two types:
1. General Mercy, which He has bestowed upon His creation; humans, jinn, animals, etc. This Mercy emanates from Allah’s being Al Rahman. This mercy is all encompassing. It touches even the nonbelievers. The fact that all of His creation live in peace and harmony, are provided for, their sickness cured, and their needs are met. This proves that this mercy does not differentiate between a believer and a nonbeliever.
2. Allah’s special Mercy is directed towards the believers in this life and in the hereafter. Allah’s Great Mercy for the believers is manifested in the guidance and peace Allah has given the believers that lead to an honorable, pure and wholesome life on earth and His Great reward in the Hereafter. Allah says: “to whomever does righteous deeds be it a male or female, while believing in Allah, Allah will give a life of purity and honor…” . When one contemplates the great value of being a believer, and the life that those who have faith in Allah live, one will never fail to recognize that life lived by a believer is more worthy and honorable than that lived by one who does not believe nor has faith in Allah.
Allah says in the Quran as a part of a prayer the angels make for the believers: “Our Lord, you have encompassed everything in your mercy and knowledge….” This means that whatever Allah’s knowledge has reached and encompassed, and indeed He knows and is aware of everything, has indeed been touched encompassed by Allah’s Mercy.