Ar-Rahman – Ar-Rahim
Ar-Rahman: The Possessor of Vast Mercy, as Allah says:
قال الله تعالى: الرحمن على العرش استوى
The One with Vast Mercy ascended over His Throne.
Surah Ta-ha [20: 5]
Ar-Rahim: The Most Merciful, Who bestows His mercy to His believers, as Allah says:.
قال الله تعالى: وكان بالمؤمنين رحيما
And He is Ever Most Merciful to the believers.
Surah Al-Ahzhaab [33: 43]
Note in this ayah Allah did not say He is, “Ar-Rahman” with the believers but Allah said He is, “Ar-Rahim” with the believers.
So Ar-Rahman is an attribute of vast mercy and Ar-Rahim is an act of bestowing His Mercy to His slaves. So when we say Ar-Rahman, we mean this as a general mercy upon the whole of creation whereas Ar-Rahim is specific for the believers.
Imam Naasir As-Sadi says:
“These two names demonstrate the vastness and perfection of the mercy of Allah. Each and every act of mercy which happens in this Universe is a result of Allah’s Mercifulness. Each and every good thing that happens to you is a result of His mercy and each and every dangerous or evil thing you are protected from is a result of His mercy. His mercy precedes His anger. It shows in all His creation in a way no one can deny. It fills the entire heavens and the earth and it fills the hearts of His slaves such that it brings with it mercy towards one another. You will find even the beasts are tender and merciful with their newborns, although they do not seek any benefit or protection from punishment.
Allah shows His mercy vividly in His Shariah (Legislation). His Legislation is full of mercy, light and guidance. He legislated it with His mercy and it leads to the greatest honor, mercy and happiness. A Legislation which contains easiness and is free from any discomfort. All His prohibitions are also full of mercy; They were revealed to protect our religion, minds, bodies, character and wealth from any evil and harmfulness.” (1)
Now let us ponder on the words above of Imam Naasir As-Sadi:
The mercy of Allah is vividly shown in His commands. He commanded us to be merciful with one another and to be merciful in particular toward the weak. He encourages us to forgive those who have been unjust to us, by telling us that He will reward and compensate us for it. He commanded us to cooperate and support each other, not to disclose eachothers defects and to treat people the way we would like to be treated ourselves. He commanded us to be merciful with the enemy and even more so to be merciful with our own selves:
قال الله تعالى: قل يا عبادي الذين أسرفوا على أنفسهم لا تقنطوا من رحمة الله
Say: O ‘ My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins) Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
Surah Azh-Zhumar [39: 53]
In this verse Allah addresses directly the disobedient slave who is immersed in wrongful acts of disobedience. He urges him to have mercy with himself and to never despair from His mercy and forgiveness. This verse encourages us to always have hope in Allah’s mercy and as such encourages a form of mercy upon ourselves.
With this in mind, let us now consider the prohibitions Allah has set.
If you ponder upon what Allah has prohibited, you will see the clear effect of His mercy within the prohibition itself. You will see how the prohibitions protect us and benefits us.
It protects our belief and religion by prohibiting shirk (polytheism) and all that could lead to shirk. To protect the honor of women there is the Legislation forbidding the accusation of adultery upon the muslim woman unless with the testimony of four witnesses (to the act). Our bodies and souls are protected by the prohibition of killing innocent souls; A terrifying threat is made to those who break this.
It protects our money, by prohibiting theft, cheating, unfair dealings, loans with interest (riba) and gambling. It protects our minds by prohibiting alcohol. Even the dignity of the most in need in society is protected by prohibiting the one giving charity to hurt the feelings of the poor recipient in any circumstance.
The Legislation of Allah is filled with mercy and enlightenment. It is clear that a community living according to these Legislations will feel happiness, tranquility and security.
Applying the Legislation brings about a happy and secure life, because His Legislation contains mercy and by abiding to it, it will lead to the greatest mercy, honor and happiness. It leads to attaining Allah’s pleasure and to the greatest pleasure for us of seeing Allah (on the Day of Judgement) Whom we loved and worshipped in our lifetime. It leads also to an ultimate abode in Paradise.
As a result of His mercy this great religion is easy to practice. It is easy to do all what we are commanded to do and it is easy to leave what we are commanded to leave. In case any difficulty or hardship does appear due to a specific circumstance like for example, difficulty of praying while standing for the weak or sick person, then the Legsilation accomodates for this and brings ease for that scenario.
So it is facilitated for this person that he can pray while sitting or even lying down. This principle is according to Allah’s saying:
قول الله تعالى: وَمَا جَعَلَ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الدِّينِ مِنْ حَرَجٍ
And (He) has not laid upon you in religion any hardship.
Surah al-Hajj [22: 78]
Meaning any difficulty which may afflict a Muslim due to his performing an act of worship entitles him to a ruling which eases this difficulty by either dropping the requested worship or by easing some of its requirements. Another example is the ritual ablution (wudu) where we can make “tayammum” in case of lack of water or if having the water present causes hardship.
قال الله تعالى: كتب ربكم على نفسه الرحمة
Your Lord has written (prescribed) mercy for Himself.
Surah Al- An’aam [6: 54]
We need to know now, that Allah obliged Himself that His mercy precedes His anger as occurs in the sacred hadith where Allah says,
إن رحمتي سبقت غضبي
Certainly My mercy precedes My anger. (2)
So when someone commits a sin Allah will prefer to have mercy upon him, rather than to punish him. This kind of mercy shows us that Allah encourages us to seek His forgiveness and He promises to forgive even the greatest of sins if we sincerely repent and ask for His forgiveness. Accordingly, anyone who does not respond to Allah’s encouragement to repent certainly deserves to be punished. No one will lose out on Allah’s vast mercy except if his heart is too cruel and arrogant to respond to his Lord.
In an authentic hadith Allah was delighted with the repentance of His slaves despite being “Al-Ghani” (The Rich, Self-Sufficient). He does not need any of His creation and He is in no need of our obedience to Him, this happiness of Allah is a mere mercy to His slaves.
‘Anas ibn Malik al-Ansari, may Allah be pleased with him, the servant of the Messenger of Allah narrated that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, said, “Verily, Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His slave than a person who has his camel in a waterless desert carrying his provision of food and drink and it is lost. He, having lost all hopes (to get that back), lies down in shade and is disappointed about his camel; When all of a sudden he finds that camel standing before him. He takes hold of its reins and then out of boundless joy blurts out: ‘O Allah, You are my slave and I am Your Rubb’.He commits this mistake out of extreme joy.”(3)
Can you imagine this? Allah, the Lord of all creation, is happy and pleased with your repentance!
So this mercy is everywhere and in everything in this life, but on the Day of Resurrection Allah will bestow His mercy upon the believers (al-muʾminin) to the exclusion of all others. He will bestow it upon the people of لا إله إلا الله (laa ʾilaaha ʾillaa Allah- There is no deity worthy of worship in truth except Allah); These are the only ones who will share Allah’s mercy. On that Day Allah will treat His true worshippers with honor, forgiveness and a very special mercy only entitled to the people of Tawheed (Islamic monotheism).
So the more the slave is obedient to and worships Allah, the more he will have his share from this mercy.
قال الله تعالى: و هذا كتاب أنزلناه مبارك فاتبعوه لعلكم ترحمون
And this is a blessed Book, the Quran, which We have sent down, so follow it, and fear Allah, do not disobey His orders, that you may receive His mercy.
Surah Al-An’aam [6:155]
قال الله تعالى: و رحمتي وسعت كل شيء فسأكتبها للذين يتقون ويؤتون الزكاة والذين هم بئايتنا يؤمنون
And My mercy embraces all things. That (mercy) I shall ordain for those who are the muttaqun (pious), and give zakah (obligatory charity); And those who believe in Our ayaat (proofs, evidences, verses, lessons, signs and revelations, etc.).
Surah al-‘Araaf [7: 156]
So, according to these verses who will receive this mercy? Those who follow the Quran and its beautiful and complete rulings and believe in everything that it comes with will receive Allah’s mercy.
There is a very strong correlation between being pious and obedient to Allah and having His mercy. The more pious and obedient you are to Allah the more you will receive His mercy.
قال الله تعالى: إن رحمة الله قريب من المحسنين
Surely Allah’s mercy is close to those who obtain perfection and excellence in their acts of worship [people of al-ihsaan].
Surah Al-‘Araaf [7:56]
And what is ihsaan? Ihsaan is to try to perfect your acts of worship aiming the pleasure of Allah by doing more than what is obligated. It is to do al-mustahab, meaning to do all what Allah loves even if it is not obligated. One can do ’ihsaan to the people by forgiving them the debt they are unable to pay back to you. ihsaan with Allah is when you make your prayer correctly, concentrating, taking your time and pondering upon on the Quran being recited within it. This is an example of ihsaan. So, if you are from people of ihsaan you will be embraced by Allah’s mercy.
How can we know better about Allah’s mercy? How can we feel this mercy and how can you attain it?
Firstly we need to understand that each and every act of obedience [like praying, making adhkar (the remembrance), being truthful, etc] and each and every good act that you do, is a mercy from Allah. With these acts Allah gives you an opportunity to please Him, to be rewarded and to go to Paradise. Allah guided and enabled you to do this act of worship because He wants to reward you and thus each and every worship is a mercy from Allah.
Think how having good manners is a mercy from Allah. What about when you feel your heart is tranquil and happy? It’s a mercy from Allah. What about your health He has protected? It’s a mercy from Allah. If your children become pious to Allah and obedient to yourselves, it’s a mercy from Allah. If you are loved by the people, it’s a mercy from Allah. If you can supplicate to Allah and you whisper your needs to Him, this is a mercy from Allah and a lot of people are deprived from this special mercy.
When you repent to Allah, you repent only due to His mercy. He was merciful with you and this is why He gave you the opportunity to repent. This regret you feel for the sins you have committed is by His mercy.
So we need Allah’s mercy in each and every way. By his mercy we receive protection in our daily lives and good health. By His mercy He allows us to worship Him and gain tranquility within our hearts. By His mercy we have love for our children and we find people love us. By His mercy we are given the opportunity to invoke and supplicate to Him so we may ultimately reach Paradise. We need His mercy and we cannot live without it.
As such we must take great care never to lose this mercy. If you find a saying of the Prophet peace be upon him, stating: “La’an Allah” (Allah curses so and so) like for example:
لعن المتشبهين من الرجال بالنساء ، والمتشبهات من النساء بالرجال
Allah curses the men who act like women and the women who act like men. (4)
This curse means that they are expelled and deprived of His vast mercy.
How can we ever live without Allah’s mercy? How can we repent and go back to Him without His mercy? How can we live without His protection or guidance? So dear reader, be cautious of falling into deprivation from His mercy.
We have a constant need to ask Allah to have mercy upon us and when we ask Him for His mercy we need to know with our hearts what we are actually asking for.
We should not just utter words but rather in each and every second of our lives we need to feel in our hearts the great need we have for His mercy. For example when we make the supplication between the two prostrations in prayer saying:
اللَّهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِي، وَارْحَمْنِي، وَاهْدِنِي، وَعَافِنِي، وَارْزُقْنِي
O Allah, I ask you to forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, grant me wellness and provide for me. (5)
We need to feel the words with our heart in order to be truly asking Allah to have mercy with us.
Hammad ibn Salaamah one of the Taabiin said the following beautiful words:
On the Day of Resurrection if they allow me to choose between my own mother and father or Allah to decide my reckoning I will choose Allah. I will say: No, Allah is more merciful with me, than even my mother. (6)
Can you imagine the strength of the belief (Iman) in his heart when he said this? This man understood Allah’s mercy and this understanding created a strong faith and conviction in his heart.
Many of us may have said “of course I choose my mother”, in the same scenario, however if Allah blesses us with correct understanding about Him and a true belief in Him, it becomes clear that Allah is more merciful to us than our own mother. May Allah enlighten our hearts with knowing Him.
We conclude the explanation of these names with this beautiful hadith :
عن عمر بن الخطاب أنه قال قدم على رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم بسبي فإذا امرأة من السبي تبتغي إذا وجدت صبيا في السبي أخذته فألصقته ببطنها وأرضعته فقال لنا رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم أترون هذه المرأة طارحة ولدها في النار قلنا لا والله وهي تقدر على أن لا تطرحه فقال رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم لله أرحم بعباده من هذه بولدها
Narrated by Umar Ibn Al-Khattab:
“While we were sitting with the Prophet, peace be upon him, a group of war captives were brought to us. We saw a woman from this group searching desperately until suddenly, she found a baby boy within the crowd. So she picked him up and she held him close to her stomach and she gave him her breast. Then the Prophet peace be upon him told us: “Do you think this woman could ever throw her son in the fire?”.
We said: “No by Allah she would never do it as long as she can protect him from this”.
So the Prophet peace be upon him said: “Allah is more merciful with His slaves than this woman with her son.”
So if we say that the most merciful heart is the heart of the mother with her son then it can be said this mercy is nothing compared to Allah’s mercy.
We praise Allah in appreciation for His vast Mercy, and we ask Him to include us in His mercy which He wrote to His true believers.
Above is a transcription of a class given by teacher Zaynab El-Kateb.
1- Fath Ar-Rahim Al-Malik Al-‘Alaam by Imam Nasir As-Sadi
2- Collected by Al-Bukhari & Muslim
3- Al-Bukhari & Muslim
5 Abu Dawud, corrected by Shaikh Al-Albani
6- Siyar ‘A’laam Al-Nubalaa’ by Al-‘Imam Adh-Dhahabi
7- Collected by Al-Bukhari & Muslim