The Holy Qur'an

Exegesis of al-Raḥmān and al-Raḥīm

The meanings of al-Ramānand al-Raīmhave already been given under the verse bismillāh. Some people object that both these attributes have already been mentioned in bismillāh, so why have they been repeated here? The reply to this is that the subject matter of bismillāhis complete in itself, and that it is the key to every sūrah. Hence, if these attributes are mentioned again within the context of a sūrah’ssubject matter, it cannot be called repetition. It is in light of this that the attributes are repeated here.  The subject matter of:

رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

[Lord of all the worlds]

signifies that God Almighty, having brought creation into existence, develops it gradually and stage by stage, enabling it to reach the heights of progress. The manner in which rubūbiyyah[divine providence] operates has been further elaborated in the words:

الرَّحْمَنِ الرَّحِيمِ

[The Most Gracious, the Ever Merciful], 

in the verse under discussion:

(1) Allah the Almighty is al-Ramān. For every type of creation, He has already provided the necessary resources that they would  need in order to make progress. He has ensured provisions for even the subtlest and most hidden qualities to be further developed. As such, He has created everything required to make  progress. Man, animals, plants, and inanimate objects are all influenced by their environment and are provided with the means of their existence and to achieve perfection within their spheres. 

(2) Allah the Almighty is al-Raīm. When any of His creation complies fully with their obligations, He appreciates this act of theirs and bestows on them His special favours, creating in them the desire to make further progress. And this process continues indefinitely.

Al-Ramānis an attribute that cannot be used for anyone else except Allah, unless it is used in the possessive case[i]. For example Ramānof Yamamah i.e. the gracious one of Yamamah, here Ramānhas been used as an Idhafah. For instance, Musailamah the Arch-Liar liked to be called the Ramānof Yamāmah. The meaning of this attribute, as has already been stated, is to show mercy without the expectation of receiving anything in return and without the recipient deserving it. 

And this particular meaning of al-Ramānprovides a refutation of [the Christian doctrine of] atonement, since atonement is based on the view that Almighty Allah cannot show mercy to anyone unless he or she deserves it. The Christians are so sensitive to this that even Christian Arabs, when writing the name of God Almighty in their books or correspondence, cite other attributes after bismillāhand never use the word al-Ramān, except for such Christian Arabs who have been influenced by Islamic culture. For instance, they would write:

بِسْمِ اللهِ الْكَرِيمِ الرَّحِيمِ

[In the name of Allah, the Most Generous, the Ever Merciful –  Bismillahil-Karimir-Rahim]

or some other attribute, but they would not use the word al-Ramān. This is because they believe in their heart of hearts that if God Almighty is al-Ramān, then it would not be at all difficult for Him to forgive the sins of His servants without waiting for the atonement of the Messiah. 

The attribute al-Raīmrefutes the concept of transmigration[ii]since its basis is the belief that limited action cannot earn unlimited reward. The attribute al-Raīmsignifies not that the reward of limited action is unlimited, but rather, that the hallmark of a good deed is that it is carried out repeatedly, and so it is also repeatedly rewarded. The word al-Raīmsignifies a recurring act of mercy; and showing mercy repeatedly does not mean that the one same deed is repeatedly rewarded. Rather, it means that a person who recognises the valueof good works does them repeatedly or, at the very least, repeatedly has the desire to do good deeds in his heart. Hence, every time a servant is rewarded for a good deed, his capacity and desire to do more good deeds increases, in response to which Allah Almighty again shows mercy to him. And then in turn, the believer’s desire to do good deeds increases and he does more good deeds. In this way mercy continuously and repeatedly descends on him. In other words, the Mercy of Allah the Almighty is not just confined to rewarding a particular action from the past, but rather, it also serves as a seed  for future good deeds. 

In fact, the Hindus came up with the idea of limited action [not being able to earn unlimited reward] as they believe heaven to be a place where one just sits idly, doing nothing. And they are justified in believing this, because according to them ‘salvation’ means Nirvana, i.e., to be free from all desires and labour. Thus, according to them, human action ends in this world, and is therefore limited. . And because it is limited, its reward, according to them, should also be limited. However, the tenet that Islam presents is the repeated Mercy of God and the repeated action of man, and Islam states that heaven is a place of action. Since God Almighty is:

رَبِّ الْعَالَمِينَ

[Lord of all the worlds],

then heaven too is a world, and there too there will be  continuous progress. Otherwise, He could not be called Lord of all the worlds.And when man continues to make progress there, then his taqwā[fear of God] and his love of God will necessarily increase. And when a person advances in this manner­­­­­­, Almighty Allah’s Mercy will also descend again. And if the interchange between mercy and action is continuous,, then how can the period ofsalvation be limited? The only difference between the actions of this world and those of the next is that while in this world there is the danger of slipping into error, in the next there will only be progress without deterioration. And so in the hereafter there will also be spiritual actions as well as spiritual progress. Thus the question of limited action and unlimited reward does not arise.

[i]The attribute of al-Ramāncannot be used on its own. That is why any name with this attribute is always used as a possessive, for example: Ataur Rahman (a Gift from the Gracious God) or Abdur Rahman (servant of the Gracious God). Similarly, Musailamah, the Arch-liar, was known by the title of Rahmanu Yamamah(the Gracious One of Yamamah), again in the possessive form. 

[ii]Transmigration (Tanasukh) means when a soul passes from one body to another