Qur’an Reflections: al-Rahman al-Raheem

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It’s that time of year again where my inner voice reminds me that I’m not doing a good a job in reading the Qur’an as I should. I read almost daily, but I don’t reflect on it as consistently. So this Ramadan, me and my siblings have begun (and hope to continue, with His grace) a mini “Qur’an Jammin'” discussion circle (halaqa) where we pick a small surah of the Qur’an and let it be the inspiration for discussion.

As an opening to these series, we appropriately chose Al-Fatihah (The Opening) of the Qur’an to be the focus of our first discussion.

Would you know that I have been reciting surat al-Fatiha all my life, multiple times a day. But it’s only when I sat down to analyze it that I realized how blindly I’d been reading it!

The first half of the small chapter is solely describing God. We must worship God, but it’s hard to worship One you don’t know, right? Knowledge is a prerequisite to love.

Ar-Rahman ar-Raheem… Lord of the Worlds. ar-Rahman ar-Raheem… Owner of the Day of Judgement…

It was like my first time reading this. I suddenly realised that in such short a space of lines, two of God’s names were emphasized twice: ar-Rahman and ar-Raheem. While I know that both words stem from the root word rahma, meaning mercy, the exact distinction between them was fuzzy in my mind. So I did a little research by listening to an insightful audio lecture by Sh. Rateb el-Nabulsy. Let me share with you what I learned. 🙂

Holy Qurans

Both “rahman” and “raheem” come from the word “rahma”, which means mercy. So already we know both these words describe God as being merciful.

كتب الله على نفسه الرحمة

The full verse (ayah) is #54 from surat al-An’am, and it specifically mentions al-Raheem:

anam ayah 54

So rahman, raheem… what’s the difference? Let’s compare them and dive just a little bit deeper!

  1. Who is this mercy for?

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

Mercy for ALL creation without exception.

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

Mercy reserved for specific people; the Believers who believe in Him and the last Messenger. Raheem is an exaggerated sense of راحم

2. Metaphor: Graduation Ceremony

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

It’s a high school graduation. Everyone gets the same high school diploma, regardless who did better overall or worse.

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

Everyone got their diplomas… but now special awards are given out to those most deserving, who put in the hardest work and it paid off.

3. Examples

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

Access to warmth from sun, light from moon, water to drink, a loving guardian’s care, etc.

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

Guidance to faith, baraka in time, enablement of good deeds through you or your offspring, etc.

4. What does it deal with?

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

Al-Rahman includes clear blessings that give us ease, but it also encompasses ta’deeb (discipline), in the form of disasters, pain, unfortunate circumstances. Sort of like a surgeon cutting someone open for a greater good.

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

As suggested above, al-Raheem deals with takreem (honouring).

5. Can humans have this quality?

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

Rahman is a quality unique to God. No one can claim to be as boundlessly merciful as the All-Merciful, All-Compassionate. So you are not allowed to name someone Rahman.

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

Raheem is a quality also accessible to man. We can be especially merciful to those we love more than those harming us! You are allowed to name someone Raheem.

6. Sayings

al-Rahman (الرحمن)

God says of Himself:

وسعت رحمتي كل شيء  (My Mercy encompasses all things)

al-Raheem (الرحيم)

  • سلام قوم من رب رحيم
  • Abu Bakr as-Siddique asked the Prophet, peace be upon him, about a du’a he can say in his prayers. اللهم اني ظلمت نفسي ظلما كثيرا ولا يغفر الذنوب الا انت فاغفر لي مغفرة من عندك وارحمني انك انت الغفور الرحيم

    Beginning of a Surah

    IN SUMMARY FOR THIS VERY BRIEF POST THAT DOUBTLESS DIDN’T DO JUSTICE ENOUGH TO THE TOPIC:

    Allah is al-Rahman towards all His creation, whether they worship Him or not.

    But he is additionally Raheem towards those who strive to please him.

    All of us would probably be evil if Allah’s mercy did not stop us from following our darkest desires. Here’s a perfect example from surat Yusuf, ayah 53, when al-Azeez’s wife confesses that she lied about Prophet Yusuf, peace be upon him, throwing himself on her:

    yusuf ayah 53

Perhaps the greatest mercy of all is getting to experience paradise twice through al-Raheem’s will. In surat al-Rahman, ayah 46, God tells us:

rahman ayat 46

The person who has taqwa, fears the awesome position of their Lord, receives two jannat (gardens). One is obviously the garden in Paradise, in the afterlife. The other garden is the paradise of this world.

I know what you’re thinking. Not all good-hearted and well-meaning people are living in heavenly bliss here!

But God doesn’t equate “paradise” in the dunya (world) the same way it is in the afterlife. In the afterlife, paradise will really be everything you desire and even more, because there is so much more pleasures there that the human mind cannot even comprehend or imagine. So the Jannah is guaranteed to be bliss in all categories: mind, soul, body, otherworldly sensations – you name it!

But the jannah (paradise) of this world is more on a metaphysical level. This is an inner paradise that anyone truly sincere in his religion can attain… even if they’re in a war zone, in terrible financial situations, stuck between a series of unfortunate events. There are some things simply beyond human control, like these factors. But one thing we have power to do, if we want to do it for our soul and not for show… is get closer to God. Know Him in whatever small capacity you can. Strive hard to be sincere and honest and humble. Through this, and with al-Raheem watching over you, you might attain sweet feelings of closeness with God and certainty in His message.

Imam Hasan al-Basri said, “If the kings and sons of kings knew what joy we experience through this knowledge, they would have fought us over with with swords!”

“يقول الحسن البصري: “لو يعلم الملوك وأبناء الملوك ما نحن فيه من النعيم لجالدونا عليه بالسيوف

May we all be among the blessed people who can experience paradise in this world, before seeing it in the next. Ameen, ameen, ameen!

And Allah knows Best.

A.S.

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