The concept of ‘mercy’ in Surah Al-Fatiha

“Allah (swt) extends His immeasurable Mercy upon believers and non-believers.”

“Allah (swt) extends His immeasurable Mercy upon believers and non-believers.”

Following the introduction presented regarding the significance and characteristics of Surah Al-Fatiha, here we shall discuss the first verse of this chapter; ‘In the Name of Allah The Beneficent, The Merciful’.

All of the chapters in the Holy Qur’an except one[1] begin with this verse. This verse not only indicates the beginning of a new chapter[3] but it is also recited with the intention of beginning the specific chapter that is to be read following this verse.[4] In fact, not only should the believer start the recitation of the Qur’an in the name of his Lord, rather, every action to be performed should be in His Name, otherwise, it has no fruitful ending (Abtar) as narrated by the Holy Prophet (saw).[5] Listed below are a few of the reasons behind why it is recommended to begin what we do in the Name of God:

  1. Allah (swt) is the one who has gifted us everything, so we should recognise Him before the start of any action.
  1. By remembering Allah (swt), the individual purifies his intentions and ensures what he is about to do is an action which Allah (swt) is pleased with (Husn al-Fi’li) and that he also has the right intention (Husan al-Fa’ili).
  1. In order to make our actions eternal, we should connect them to the absolute who is everlasting, otherwise, they will perish. As the Qur’an states: “… Everything will perish except His Face…[6] ” (28:88).
  1. It is the practice of the divine Messengers and the Imams of the Ahlulbayt (as) to start everything in the Name of Allah (swt). This can be seen in the letter of Prophet Solomon to the Queen of Sheba as it begins in the Name of Allah the Beneficent, the Merciful[7].
  1. Some exegesis[8] holds that the ‘ba’ in Bismillah (In the Name of Allah), refers to Isti’ana (Seeking help), thus in reality, by beginning an action in His Name, we are seeking help from The Creator. Although, everything that happens is with the power and assistance of Allah (swt), regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge it or not.

We now come to analyse the meaning of this significant verse. As suggested above, one of the reasons behind the recitation of this verse is to seek help from Allah (swt), however, we may find the following question arising; why seek assistance and begin in the Name (Ism) of Allah (swt) and not His essence for example? Some of the reasons for this are mentioned below:

  1. There is no difference between the names of Allah (swt) and His essence. In theology we study that monotheism has different levels, one of them is monotheism in relation to the attributes of Allah (Tawhid fi al-Sifat), this means that the attributes of Allah are the same as His essence; they are inseparable from Him.
  1. The creation is not able to fully understand and comprehend the essence of Allah (swt), thus we interact and contemplate His names, attributes and signs as He mentions in the Qur’an: “We will show them our signs in the horizons and within themselves until it becomes clear that He is the Truth…” (41:53).

The Name ‘Allah’ (swt) is the most encompassing name of the Creator.

  • It includes all of His majestic and beatific attributes (Sifat al-Jalal wa al-Jamal)[9],[10] which are also attributes of perfection (Sifat al-Kamal).
  • This name has been mentioned in the Qur’an 2698 times and is made up from Al + Ilah.
  • Ilah (Deity) has been used in other places in the Qur’an[11],[12],[13] and one of its meaning refers to that which is worshipped (Ma’bood)[14].

An essence which perplexes and confuses the mind is also another meaning of the word Ilah. It denotes the fact that the essence of Allah (swt) is beyond the perception and comprehension of the human mind. However, over the excessive use of this term, the Name Allah (swt) has become a known and specific name (Ism al-khas/‘alam) which only refers to The Absolute, necessary existence. In summary, it could be said that Allah (swt) is the name of the essence (Ism al-Dhat), and the other names refer to the names of the attributes (Ism al-Sifat) of Allah (swt).

Al-Rahman and Al-Rahim are two main characteristics of Allah (swt) and they are both from the root word Al-Rahma (Mercy and Giving[15]). There is a subtle difference between the two names:

  • Al-Rahman is a general attribute (Sifat al-‘Am) and refers to the Mercy of Allah (swt) which encompasses the whole of creation (The material realm, vegetation, animals, humans and so on) as the Qur’an states: “… My Mercy encompasses everything…” (7:156).
  • Al-Rahim, on the other hand, is a specific attribute (Sifat al-Khas) which denotes the Mercy of Allah (swt) that is specific to the sincere believers[16] as the Qur’an states: “… and ever is He to the believers Merciful” (33:43).

Note that the specific Mercy of Allah (swt) is for those who have recognised and appreciated the general Mercy bestowed to them. They will then be able to benefit from a more special type of Mercy which is reserved for those who take an extra step towards moving to perfection and goodness.

As believers in The Creator, we also need to beautify our character with the attributes of perfection and take a lesson from these names. Human beings need to extend their mercy and kindness to the whole of creation, regardless of people’s race, religion or colour. Mercy is not only limited to the human being, rather it goes beyond that, hence the rights of the animals, trees and environment, in general, have been mentioned in the divine teachings of Islam. This verse alone is sufficient to illustrate the essence of the divine message found in the Qur’an and the holy prophet, which is filled with infinite love, mercy and compassion.

In conclusion, the same way that Allah (swt) extends His immeasurable Mercy upon believers and non-believers, we also need to do the same and to be merciful to the whole of creation as Ali ibn Abi Talib said: People are of two types, either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity”[17], which also highlights the specific and general type of mercy. Therefore all need to be respected and ones mercy needs to encompass everything and everyone.

by Mohammad Ehsan Rangiha for Voice of Unity.

[1] Surah al-Tawbah (Chapter 9)

[2] Tafsir al-Amthal, v 1, p 27

[3] Tafsir Noor al-Thaqalayn, v1, p 6

[4] Tafsir al-Tasnim, p.554

[5] Bihar al-Anwar, v 73, p 503.

[6] Note that this does not refer to the physical face and it is used as a metaphor.

[7] Qur’an 27: 29 – 30

[8] Majma’ al-Bayan, v 1, p 24

[9] Tafsir al-Tasnim, v1, p 554

[10] Qur’an 59: 24

[11] Qur’an 16: 51

[12] Qur’an 25: 43

[13] Qur’an 21: 62

[14] Tafsir al-Tasnim, v1, p 554

[15] Mufradat al-Ragheb

[16] Tafsir al-Amthal, v1, p 28

[17] Letter 3, Nahj al-Balagha

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