The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
لما خلق اللهُ آدمَ ونفخ فيه الروحَ ؛ عطس، فقال : الحمدُ للهِ، فحمد اللهَ بإذنهِ، فقال له ربُّه : يرحمُك اللهُ يا آدمُ!
“When Allah created Adam and blew within him the soul, Adam sneezed. He said, “Alhamdulillah” so His Lord said, “O Ādam, Allah has mercy upon you.” These were the first words which the ears of man heard from Allah.” [Miskaatul Masaabeeh, Abū Huraira, Saḥīḥ, Albany]
The name of Allah, ArRaḥman (The Most Merciful), must occupy a special status within the heart of every Muslim since it clearly occupies a special status in the Qur’an. We have been given knowledge of no less than 99 names of Allah, all of which are majestic, perfect and glorious. The name “ArRaḥman” however is particularly unique to every other name, so unique that the only other name which it can be placed side by side with is the greatest of all of these names – “Allāh”. [Tahawi, IbnulQayyim]
This name, ArRaḥman has characteristics which are not shared by any other name of our Creator except Allah. What follows are six examples of its uniqueness and special status.
1 – The name ArRaḥman never appears in the Qur’an in the indefinite form (lam ya’ti munakkaran qatt), whilst other names of Allah appear in both the definite and indefinite form. We find Al-Azīz (definite) and Azīz (indefinite), Al-Ghafūr and Ghafūr. The exception to this rule is the name “Allah” and another; “ArRaḥman” .
There is no “Rahman”.
2 – The name ArRaḥman never comes as a follower of another name (lam ya’ti taabi;an lismin aakhar). We find “ArRaḥmān ArRaḥīm” “Wa ilāhukum ilāhun wāhid”. There is no “ArRaḥīm ArRaḥmān”, or “Al-Ghafūr Ar-Raḥmān”. There is only one other name which has this characteristic – “Allah”.
3 – When Allah speaks about his Istiwā’ (ascension) over His Throne, the only name that is used is “Allah”. He says: إِنَّ رَبَّكُمُ اللَّهُ الَّذِي خَلَقَ السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضَ فِي سِتَّةِ أَيَّامٍ ثُمَّ اسْتَوَى
There is one exception to this rule. The only other name used in the Qur’an when speaking about this is “ArRaḥman”. Allāh says, الرَّحْمَنُ عَلَى الْعَرْشِ اسْتَوَى
4 – When speaking about the revelation of the Qur’an, the name “Allah” is used. He says, اللَّهُ الَّذِي أَنْزَلَ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ
There is one other name that is used in the Qur’an when speaking about its revelation. That name is “ArRaḥman”. Allah says, “ArRaḥmān. ʿalamal Qur’ān”
5 – When doing Istiʿātha (seeking refuge from Shayṭān) we use the name “Allah”
قَالَ أَعُوذُ بِاللَّهِ أَنْ أَكُونَ مِنَ الْجَاهِلِينَ (67)
There is one other name however that is used in the Qur’an when speaking about Istiʿātha. That name is ArRaḥman. Allah says, قَالَتْ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِالرَّحْمَنِ مِنْكَ إِنْ كُنْتَ تَقِيًّا
6 – When Allah speaks about Shafāʿa (intercession) on the Day of Judgement, all the Ayāt in this regard use the name “Allah”. Allah says, قُلْ لِلَّهِ الشَّفَاعَةُ جَمِيعًا
There is one other name that is used when speaking about Shafāʿa. That name is ArRaḥman. Allah says, يَوْمَئِذٍ لَا تَنْفَعُ الشَّفَاعَةُ إِلَّا مَنْ أَذِنَ لَهُ الرَّحْمَنُ وَرَضِيَ لَهُ قَوْلًا
These are just a few examples indicating that the name “AR Rahman” occupies a status of its own. Thus Allah said, قُلِ ادْعُوا اللَّهَ أَوِ ادْعُوا الرَّحْمَنَ أَيًّا مَا تَدْعُوا فَلَهُ الْأَسْمَاءُ الْحُسْنَى
And thus our Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) would teach us that the two most beloved names to Allah which one could name his children with are “Abdullah” and “ʿAbdurRaḥmān”
Who is ArRaḥmān?
What are the implications of this name on our lives?
Both ArRaḥman and ArRaḥīm are taken from the root word: Raḥma (mercy).
Ibn Manthūr defines arRaḥma as: الرِّقَّةُ والتَّعَطُّفُ “a weakness in one’s heart and compassion”. Now, we have a problem here, for we can apply this definition to us human beings but can we apply it to Allah? We cannot, because Allah is not touched by any weakness and our Creator is not controlled by emotions like we are at times.
When we see a child suffering our hearts are torn to pieces and our eyes flood with tears. It is this feeling of sorrow which then pushes us to assist the child at hand. This is our Raḥma as humans, but can we say the exact same thing about Allah? Of course not.
A second difference between our mercy and that of Allah’s is that when we show mercy, it is a two-way benefit. You benefit the subject of mercy by assisting and benefit yourself by easing your sense of guilt and sorrow. As for Allah’s mercy, it is most certainly not a two way benefit.
Therefore, though Allāh is “ArRaḥmān”, coming from the root word “mercy” and though there is resemblance in that sense, the definition of Allāh’s mercy is most definitely different to ours.
Ibnul Qayyim solves the riddle and says, defining the mercy of Allah and showing the difference between the two:
الرحمة صفة تقتضي إيصال المنافع والمصالح إلى العبد، وإنْ كرهتها نفسه، وشقَّتْ عليها
“The Raḥma of Allah is a characteristic which entails that Allah provides His servant with bounties and benefits even if He does not want it and hates it.” [Igāthat alLahfān]
To bring the meaning closer, a parent may force his child to revise for an exam and thus ban him temporarily from seeing friends. The child hates this but the parent sees this as mercy and it surely is.
A mother may shout at her child and use harsh terms should her child cross the road without looking. Despite her harsh words, this is from her mercy. Similarly, Allah may warn us using the toughest of words, but it is only for our welfare, not His (subḥānahu wa taʿālā). Thus, Allāh says, وَيُحَذِّرُكُمُ اللَّهُ نَفْسَهُ وَاللَّهُ رَءُوفٌ بِالْعِبَاد
Why is this definition given by Imām Ibnu Qayyim so important? We may hear people complaining for not having attained what they had planned for and blaming Allah for missing out on things which they aspired for. This only happens when the individual in question has failed to understand the nature of Allah’s mercy. Allah knows that your pursuit for x,y or z would have harmed you. Thus the mercy of Allah intervenes but, due to our short-sightedness, we blame Ar-Raḥmān.
Just as the poet once said,
وصدق من قال: فَلَرُبَّمَا كَانَ الدُّخُولُ إِلَى العُلا وَالْمَجْدِ مِنْ بَوَّابَةِ الأَحْزَانِ
“The entrance to success and distinction is sometimes through the doors of sadness and pain.”
What does the Raḥma of Allah actually offer me?
We often hear Imāms in their Duʿā’ imploring Allah with heavy weeping for His mercy. We hear our teachers strongly encouraging us to beg Allah for His mercy, and in our conversations we always hear people saying, “Allāh! Have mercy on us!”
Although we know what mercy means as a term, in all honesty, many of us are pestered with a question which we are too shy to vocalize, namely: “If Allah has mercy on me, what does that mean?”
Consider the following carefully, for you will never see the Raḥma of Allah the same way again.
1: When you beg Allah, saying “Have mercy on me!” you are asking Allah to give you knowledge of the Qur’an. Allah says,
الرَّحْمَنُ – عَلَّمَ الْقُرْآنَ – خَلَقَ الْإِنْسَانَ – عَلَّمَهُ الْبَيَانَ
“Ar-Raḥmān. He taught the Qur’ān. He created man. He taught Him clear speech”.
Imām Ibnul Qayyim comments on this (الصواعق المرسلة):
تأمل كَيْفَ جَعَلَ الْخَلْقَ وَالتَّعْلِيمَ نَاشِئًا عَنْ صِفَةِ الرَّحْمَةِ مُتَعَلِّقًا بِاسْمِ الرَّحْمَنِ
“Ponder over how Allah made one’s creation and his teaching a product of Allah’s mercy, connected to His name, Ar-Raḥmān.”
2: When you cry for Allah’s mercy, you are also asking Him to make you a successful Dā’iya (caller to Islām). Allah says to His messenger (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam),
فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ لِنْتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنْتَ فَظًّا غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لَانْفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ
“It was by the mercy of Allah that you were gentle with them and had you been stern and harsh-hearted they would have dispersed from around you”
Are you tired of being a normal Muslim and crave for the day when people turn to Allah through you? For homes in Paradise to be built because of you? Do you not long for the skills needed to unlock the highest grades in Jannah? Then beg Allah for His Raḥma,
3: You are also asking him to erase your sins, both the ones which you remember and the ones which you have forgotten about.
Allah says, كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَى نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ أَنَّهُ مَنْ عَمِلَ مِنْكُمْ سُوءًا بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ تَابَ مِنْ بَعْدِهِ وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَنَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
“Your Lord has decreed upon Himself mercy: that any of you who does wrong out of ignorance and then repents after that and corrects himself – indeed, He is Forgiving and Merciful.”
If the mercy of Allah touches you, your sins will forsake you.
4: When you ask for His mercy, you are asking for the easing and removal of every one of your difficulties in life. With the Raḥma of Allāh life becomes a dream come true and, without it, life becomes a long lasting nightmare. By Allah, one may be sleeping on the softest of silk and eating from the finest of food, but if Allah’s Raḥma is not existant, that silk will seem like thorns and that food will seem like poison. On the other hand, one may be sleeping on thorns and his income may be minimal, but if the Raḥma of Allah is with him, those thorns will be made to seem softer than silk, his poverty will seem to be affluence and trauma will seem to be bliss.
This was the Raḥma which Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhi al-Salām) experienced when he was in the fire. It became bliss. This was the Raḥma which Yūsuf (ʿalayhi al-Salām) experienced in the well and in the prison. It became bliss. This was the Raḥma which Mūsā (ʿalayhi al-Salām) experienced as he grew up in the care of a tyrant. It became bliss. This was the Raḥma which Yunus (ʿalayhi al-Salām) experienced as he sat in the belly of the whale, it became bliss. This was the Raḥma which the youth of the cave experienced in a dark and dingy cave, it became bliss. This is the mercy which, if it touches any human being after begging Allah for it, his pain becomes happiness, his sorrow becomes joy and the trial becomes a garden of bliss and contentment.
Should Allah accept your Duʿā’ for His Raḥma, you will be the happiest person in the world and no one can take away this Raḥma from you ever again. Allah says,
ما يفتح اللَّهُ لِلنَّاسِ مِن رَّحْمَةٍ فَلَا مُمْسِكَ لَهَا وَمَا يُمْسِكْ فَلَا مُرْسِلَ لَهُ مِن بَعْدِهِ وَهُوَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ
“Whatever Allah grants to people of mercy – none can withhold it; and whatever He withholds – none can release it thereafter. And He is the Exalted in Might, the Wise.”
5: Focus on this last one carefully: When you ask Allah to give you from His Raḥma, you are asking Him to allow you to walk into Paradise. Our deeds cannot and will not give us access to Jannah on their own, for even the deeds of the Prophets do not qualify them for a moment in Paradise. People will only enter by Allāh’s Raḥma. The Prophet (sall Allāhu ʿalayhi wa sallam) said,
قَارِبُوا وَسَدِّدُوا ، وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّهُ لَنْ يَنْجُوَ أَحَدٌ مِنْكُمْ بعَمَلِهِ قالُوا : وَلا أَنْتَ يَا رَسُول الله ؟ قَالَ : وَلاَ أنا إلاَّ أنْ يَتَغَمَّدَني الله برَحمَةٍ مِنهُ وَفَضْلٍ
“Do your best in doing good deeds and come as close as you can to perfection, but know that none of you will enter paradise through his good deeds.” The companions asked: “Not even you, O messenger of Allāh?!” He said: “Not even me, unless Allāh showers me with His mercy and His kindness.” [Muslim, Abū Huraira]
Beware of blocking yourself from Allāh’s mercy
There are still people, however, who block themselves from Allah’s mercy; people who think wishfully, not knowing that Allah’s mercy has missed them, simply because they did not expose themselves to His mercy. They do not realize that His mercy requires hard work, tears, effort and sacrifice. They did not read the Āyāt in which Allah describes those who will earn His Raḥma. Allah says
وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ فَسَأَكْتُبُهَا لِلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَالَّذِينَ هُمْ بِآيَاتِنَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
“My mercy encompasses all things.” So I will write it for those who fear Me and give Zakāh and those who believe in Our verses.”
أَمَّنْ هُوَ قَانِتٌ آنَاءَ اللَّيْلِ سَاجِداً وَقَائِماً يَحْذَرُ الْآخِرَةَ وَيَرْجُو رَحْمَةَ رَبِّهِ الزمر
“What about he who is devoutly obedient during periods of the night, prostrating and standing in prayer, fearing the Hereafter and hoping for the mercy of his Lord?”
قال يا قوم لم تستعجلون بالسيئة قبل الحسنة لولا تستغفرون الله لعلكم ترحمون
“He (Sāliḥ) said, “O my people, why are you impatient for evil instead of good? Why do you not seek forgiveness of Allāh that you may receive mercy?”
وأقيموا الصلاة وآتوا الزكاة وأطيعوا الرسول لعلكم ترحمون
“Establish prayer, give Zakāh and obey the messenger so that you may receive mercy.”
ادْعُوهُ خَوْفًا وَطَمَعًا إِنَّ رَحْمَتَ اللَّهِ قَرِيبٌ مِنَ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
“Call upon Him in fear and aspiration. The mercy of Allah is near to the doers of good.”
Access to this Raḥma is not through mere hopes and wishful thinking, it is through work, planning, giving up of sinful cravings. When Allah sees that effort from you, even if it is small, His Raḥma will take you the full length.
So, expose yourself to the Raḥma of Allah and do not deprive yourself from it. How can we expect the Raḥma of Allah to fall upon us as we sit in the club or inhale at the Shisha lounge? How can we expect the Raḥma of Allah to fall upon us as we lend our eyes and ears to the filthiest of TV and internet scenes or the vilest of music? How can we expect His Raḥma to touch us whilst, despite our age, we still have not prepared a strategy for our Hereafter? How can we expect the Raḥma of Allah to fall upon us if we abuse ourselves with sin?
Every one of us must have a cave which we retreat to, escaping both the environments and people of Ḥarām. For some, this is a literal cave, just as the youth of the cave said to one another after having found themselves surrounded by sin:
فَأْوُوا إِلَى الْكَهْفِ يَنْشُرْ لَكُمْ رَبُّكُمْ مِنْ رَحْمَتِهِ وَيُهَيِّئْ لَكُمْ مِنْ أَمْرِكُمْ مِرفَقًا
“Seek refuge in the cave; your Lord will open a way for you from His Mercy and will make easy for you your affair”
It was uncomfortable, lonely and dark, but they were certain that Allaāh’s Raḥma would be there and it was.
For others, the cave which they escape to is not a literal one, but figurative. Their cave is in their heartfelt Tawbah (repentance), their cave is finding pious companionship once and for all. Their cave is a portion of Qur’an that they read and contemplate on a daily basis. Their cave is the Masājid, the houses of Allah which they retreat to. Just as the youth of the cave found the mercy of Allah in their place of refuge, the Raḥma of Allah will be waiting in your place of refuge.