Her heart felt like it was being ripped apart. She looked around her and could not find him. She started breathing more heavily. Her eyes scanned her surroundings desperately, where she could see soldiers and captives, until suddenly, she caught a glimpse of his tiny body. She bolted towards and scooped him up as she wept, and then nursed him. Her whole body sighed in relief. Her baby was safe.
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) describes this scene in a famous hadith (narration) to give us a glimpse into God’s mercy. After witnessing this scene, the Prophet ﷺ asked the Companions, “Do you think that this woman would throw her child in the fire?” And they said, “No, by Allah she would not, if she is able not to.” He ﷺ then said, “Allah the Exalted is more merciful with His slave than this woman with her child.” (Bukhari)
This is a universal example, one that most people can understand- the mercy of a mother towards her child. And not just any mother, but a mother faced with that situation. Allah is more merciful to His creation than that mother.
The first words that begin the journey through the Qur’an are: “In the Name of God, the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful (ar-Rahman, ar-Raheem),” (1:1). We begin the journey of knowing God through His Mercy. This is the way in which God introduces Himself to us—not with the names that indicate majesty and strength. So in this journey of understanding Allah’s Names, it is only fitting that we speak of His all-encompassing mercy.
Rahman and Raheem both come from the same root of ra-haa-meem (ر-ح-م), which means “ar-riqqa wal-ta’atuf”—a combination of tenderness and compassion.
Ar-Rahman is the Entirely Merciful whose “All-inclusive mercy gives to both the worthy and unworthy. The mercy of God is perfect and all-inclusive. It is perfect in the sense that He not only wills the satisfaction of the needs of the needy but actually satisfies them. It is all-inclusive in that it includes the worthy and the unworthy, this life and that which is to come and encompasses the essentials, needs and advantages which go beyond them. Thus He is in truth the Compassionate absolutely,” (al-Ghazali).
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says in the Qur’an, “He who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days and then established Himself above the Throne – the Most Merciful (ar-Rahman), so ask about Him one well informed.” (Qur’an, 25:59)
We are all recipients of Allah’s Mercy every single day. The plants, animals and humans. Men and women. Young and old. Muslim and non-Muslim. These mercies come in the form of all of the blessings in our lives, from the earth itself to our loved ones. Allah tells us, “And out of His mercy He made for you the night and the day that you may rest therein and [by day] seek from His bounty and [that] perhaps you will be grateful,” (Qur’an, 28:73). These are the things that we don’t even realize, but we all benefit from. A cool breeze on a warm day. Rain after drought. The trees that purify the air for us. We are all recipients of this mercy.
Ar-Raheem is a more specific mercy towards the believers. For example, the mercy that descends during Ramadan is one only Muslims who believe in Ramadan can enjoy. And Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an, “It is He who confers blessing upon you, and His angels [ask Him to do so] that He may bring you out from darknesses into the light. And ever is He, to the believers, Merciful (Raheema)” (Qur’an, 33:43).
In order to understand this amazing mercy in the grand scheme of things, the Prophet ﷺ informs us that, “Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts, and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth one part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it,” (Al-Bukhari).
When your mom shows affection towards you, or when your spouse covers you with a blanket lest you feel cold, remember that this is only a fraction of the one mercy that Allah (swt) sent down to earth. So imagine the mercy He has saved for the Day of Judgment!
Ar-Ra’uf is “the One who has pity (on others), and pity is the intensification of mercy. Therefore it has the same meaning as rahim though in an intensified form, and the discussion of ar-rahim has already been presented,” (al-Ghazali).
So if Ra’uf is simply a more intensified form of mercy, what is the difference between Rahma and Ra’fa? Scholars have said that if a calamity hits you, one who is Merciful—Raheem—has mercy on you after that calamity. But Ra’uf is one who is so merciful, that his mercy extends before the calamity hits, and involves him taking care of you and warning you so that a calamity does not hit. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi gives an example of a father who is protective of his children, and especially during the winter when he dresses them in warm clothes so that they do not suffer from the cold. That is ra’fa. Whereas a father whose heart aches because his child has become sick, and does everything to get the medicine to ease his child’s pain, is merciful—raheem. Imam al-Qushayri states that ra’fa is the highest form of mercy, where Allah protects His servants by warning them of the deeds the necessitate punishment.
It’s almost like Allah does not want us to have an ounce of doubt about His mercy towards us. His mercy is not only all-encompassing, with a special kind reserved for the believers, but He is telling us that His warnings to us, and His withholding from us is from an intense mercy. He does not want us to go through the hurt and pain had He not warned us.
But I face so many difficulties in my life…
I have explored the issue of calamities in these two articles: Why am I tested? And Will you turn away? So I will be brief here.
The culmination of Allah’s mercy is in the Paradise that He created, which the Prophet ﷺ described as a place “no eye has seen and no ear has heard and neither has the thought occurred in any person’s heart” (Bukhari). It is this place that we strive to be, where we understand that this is what our struggle was for. Yet Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “But you prefer the worldly life, While the Hereafter is better and more enduring,” (Qur’an, 87:16-17).
We will face difficulties, and this does not contradict Allah’s mercy. Some difficulties are simply challenges we need to overcome. Others seem to have no explanation.
As to the first kind, these challenges are there to strengthen us. There are some lessons we would not have learned without them. An Olympic champion only reaches that level by being pushed by his trainer. A child might wonder why a mother forces him to go to school everyday. But it is only so we can become the best that we can be. There is light at the end of the tunnel. These challenges bring us closer to Allah (swt) because we then realize that He is the only One who can help us. And at the end of it all, we are not tested with more than we can bear.
As to the second kind, Allah’s ra’fa is in His instructing us on what is the best way to be in this world. When we are faced with things we cannot explain, or suffering that seems too great, it is our responsibility to act. And Allah tells us how to act as His vicegerents on this earth. Every suffering will have its end, as “Allah will bring about, after hardship, ease” (Qur’an, 65:7). We will only be asked about what we did in the face of it.
And in all cases of difficulty, remember that the Prophet ﷺ said, “No fatigue, nor disease, nor sorrow, nor sadness, nor hurt, nor distress befalls a Muslim, even if it were the prick he receives from a thorn, but that Allah expiates some of his sins for that,” (Bukhari).
Living with this Name
Have Mercy on Others
The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said, “Those who show mercy to their fellow beings will be shown mercy by the Merciful Lord. So, show mercy to those on the earth, and He Who is in the heavens will show mercy to you,” (Tirmidhi). Be merciful in your interactions with people, and do not be harsh.
Learn the Things that Bring About Allah’s Mercy
There are some ahadeeth (sayings of the Prophet ﷺ) where the Prophet ﷺ tells us what brings about Allah’s mercy:
“May Allah have mercy on a man who is kind when he buys, when he sells, and when he makes a demand,” (Bukhari) and, “May Allah have mercy on the man who gets up at night to pray and wakes up his wife to pray, and if she refuses, he sprinkles water in her face. And may Allah have mercy on the woman who gets up at night to pray, and wakes her husband up to pray, and if he refuses, she sprinkles water in his face,” (Abu Dawud).
Do Things that Increase the Mercy in Your Heart
Sometimes we can become numb to the suffering around us. We get so caught up in our lives that we lose the connection to other people, and therefore cannot empathize with their struggle. So, volunteer at a soup kitchen. Get involved with an organization that provides housing for the homeless. Give some of your time, energy and money to stand with people.
Follow the One who was Sent as a Mercy to the Worlds ﷺ
The best way to become a manifestation of Allah’s rahma is to study the life of the Prophet ﷺ and follow his example. The battle of Uhud was the most difficult battle for the Muslims. It was the battle in which they thought that they lost the Prophet ﷺ. In their panic and desperation, the companions asked the bleeding Prophet ﷺ to supplicate against their enemy. But he refused and said, “O Allah! Guide my people for they do not know!” These are lessons that we need to learn from.
Look at the Manifestations of Allah’s Mercy in your life, in Times When He has Given, and in Times When He has Withheld
Reflection is considered one of the greatest acts of worship. We are the benefactors of so many mercies, every day of our lives. Moreover, there are many times when something that is perceived as ‘bad’ turns out to be something good for us. So take the time to reflect on Allah’s mercy in your life—the times He protected you, the times He gave to you, and even the times He withheld from you.