Difference Between The Merciful (Ar-Rahman) and The Compassionate (Ar-Raheem)

The Second Station of the Fourteenth Flash (Part 2)

NOTE: The quoted passages are from Ustadh Bediuzzaman’s book and the commentaries below them are my own.

The second is the great stamp of divine mercy (rahmah) appearing in the resemblance, conformity, order, harmony, grace, and mercy in the planning, nurturing, and management of plants and animals on the face of the earth; بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ “In the name of Allah, the Merciful” looks to this.

As mentioned in part one, the name Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) means the One Who is benevolent to all of His living creation, including the animals and the non-believers. Since mercy and benevolence are shown to living beings and since living beings primarily exist on our planet, the name Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) is manifested on the earth. In other words, just as the name “Allah” corresponds to the universe in its totality, the name “Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful)” in addition to “Allah” corresponds to our planet. The food that is given to living beings, for instance, allows us to comprehend what it means for God to be Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful).

Then is the most high compassion appearing in the beauty of tenderness, the details of affection, and the rays of divine clemency (marhamah) on the face of the human being’s comprehensive nature. الرَّحِيمِ  “The Compassionate in بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ  “In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate” looks to this.

In order to comprehend the above passage, one needs to study the names “Ar-Rahman” and “Ar-Raheem” to see the difference between them.

Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) is the One who is benevolent to all of His creation. In other words, Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) is the One who is Merciful or Benevolent in the general sense.  Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate), on the other hand, is the One who is benevolent in a particular sense.[1]

In order to clarify the difference, let us first observe the following figure,

Untitled drawing

There are 20 small I’s arranged in the shape of a larger I. In other words, there are two different ways to read the letter “I” by looking at the figure: either by looking at a single small I or by reading the larger I. Now imagine that the small I’s are as big as a house and imagine standing next to them. Suppose somebody asks us what the larger letter is. In order to see the larger I, we would need to look from above, right? But what if this was not possible? It would not be an issue, as we can easily read the smaller I’s and we already know that the larger letter is the same.

The difference between the names Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) and Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) is somewhat similar to this analogy. We can see God’s mercy and benevolence either by looking at our planet as a whole or by looking at particular beings living on the planet. When looking at the planet as a whole, we see “the resemblance, conformity, order, harmony, grace, and mercy in the planning, nurturing, and management of plants and animals on the face of the earth”. To think about the vast earth in this manner, however, is not always effortless for the limited human mind. For this reason, God manifests His benevolence in every particular being as well. The following are examples for the manifestations of the name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate).

Example One: The fact that a pony has a pair of eyes and ears; the fact that they are given a mother and a family are all manifestations of Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate).

Example Two: Recall the mutual relationship between gray squirrels and oak trees. The fact that God creates food via oak trees is a benevolence to the squirrels; and the fact that squirrels play a key role in the seed dispersal of these trees is a benevolence to the oak trees.

As seen from the above examples, Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) is the One Who gives special favors to particular beings on the earth (by giving eyes to ponies, squirrels to oak trees, and oak trees to the squirrels). The name Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful), on the other hand, is the One who takes care of the world as a whole. Notice that favors from the name Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) is inclusive of all the living beings (eg. every being benefits from the harmony and order in the world); while favors from the name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) is specific for particular beings and are not inclusive (not every living being has eyes, not everyone eats from oak trees…etc). Since humans are given superlative favors (eg. intelligence) compared to other beings, the name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) is seen in its greatest form in the humankind.

Finally, there is another difference between Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) and Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate). Ar-Rahman (The All-Merciful) does not distinguish between the living beings, or between Muslims and non-Muslims when it comes to humans. Everybody, as mentioned above, benefits from this name. The name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate), on the other hand, does distinguish between them, as favors that come from this name are not inclusive. In other words, He individually takes care of all the beings, and every individual being is given their own personal/specific needs. If the being chooses to obey God and acts under His command, He gives them special favors which other beings may not get. When it comes to humans, for instance, the name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) gives special favors to the Muslims as a result of their faith and submission: He gives them spiritual comfort in this world and rewards them in the afterlife for their actions and deeds. In conclusion, manifestations of the name Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) appear in its greatest form in humans; and among the humans appears mostly in Muslims. It is for this reason that Ar-Raheem (The All-Compassionate) is usually said to apply primarily to the believers.

Notice that the author prefers the word “human” over the word “believer”, the reason being that believing is both the ideal and the natural state for humanity. This is apparent in the following hadith,

حَدَّثَنَا حَاجِبُ بْنُ الْوَلِيدِ، حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ حَرْبٍ، عَنِ الزُّبَيْدِيِّ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، أَخْبَرَنِي سَعِيدُ بْنُ الْمُسَيَّبِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّهُ كَانَ يَقُولُ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏”‏ مَا مِنْ مَوْلُودٍ إِلاَّ يُولَدُ عَلَى الْفِطْرَةِ فَأَبَوَاهُ يُهَوِّدَانِهِ وَيُنَصِّرَانِهِ وَيُمَجِّسَانِهِ كَمَا تُنْتَجُ الْبَهِيمَةُ بَهِيمَةً جَمْعَاءَ هَلْ تُحِسُّونَ فِيهَا مِنْ جَدْعَاءَ ‏”‏ ‏.‏ ثُمَّ يَقُولُ أَبُو هُرَيْرَةَ وَاقْرَءُوا إِنْ شِئْتُمْ ‏{‏ فِطْرَةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا لاَ تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ‏}‏ الآيَةَ ‏.‏

There is none born but is created to his true nature (Islam). It is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian or a Magian quite as beasts produce their young with their limbs perfect. Do you see anything deficient in them? Then he quoted the Qur’an., The nature made by Allah in which He has created men there is no altering of Allah’s creation; that is the right religion” (ar-Rum:30)[2]

This means that بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate” is a holy title and a powerful cord and a luminous script of the three stamps of Divine Unity (Al-Wahidiyyah), forming a glowing line on the page of the world. That is to say, by descending from above, the endpoint of بِسْمِ اللهِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِيمِ “In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate” rests on the human being, the fruit of the universe and a miniature sample of the world. It bonds the throne to the earth [and] becomes a path for ascending to the human throne.

The author refers to humans as a “miniature copy of the world”, since all the names of God appearing in the universe appear in humans as well. This is one reason why humans are considered to be the fruit of this universe. While the nature of these manifestations was explained in both the previous post and in Appendix A, we will provide it once more through the author’s own words,

First Note: A human being is a mirror to the Divine names in three aspects.

First Aspect: Just as the darkness of night points to light. So too, a human being through his weakness and impotence, poverty and needs, deficiency and flaws, reveals the power, strength, wealth, [and] mercy of a Powerful One of Glory, and in this way acts as a mirror to many such divine attributes. Moreover, by looking for a point of support against his limitless enemies in his limitless impotence and endless weakness, the conscience continuously looks to the Necessarily Existent One. Also since he is obliged to search, with his endless poverty, for a point of aid against his endless needs [and] endless ambitions; the conscience continuously relies on the door of the Wealthy Beneficent One from that respect. [And] opens its hand with prayer. This means that in every conscience, from the position of this point of support and the point of aid, there are two small windows which open to the presence of divine mercy [belonging to] the Powerful Beneficent One; they may be looked through at any time.


The second aspect of mirroring: With the types of samples given to the human being such as the miniscule knowledge, power, sight, hearing, ownership, authority and the like of such miniscule [models]; [the human] acts as a mirror to the knowledge and power, sight, hearing, [and] Godhead authority of the Owner of the universe; [he] understands them, and makes them known. For instance [he says] “Just as I made this house and know how to make it and [just as I] see it and am the owner of it and control it. So too, this vast palace of this universe has a Maker. That Maker knows, sees, makes, [and] controls it” and so on…


The third aspect of mirroring: A human being acts as a mirror to the Divine names, designs of which are visible on himself. There are more than seventy names whose designs are visible in the comprehensive nature of the human being, as explained briefly in the beginning of the third stopping-place of the thirty second word. For instance, [he shows] the names Maker (Sani’) [and] Creator (Khaliq) by his creation, the names Merciful (Rahman) and Beneficent (Raheem) by the beauty of his creation (husn at-taqweem) and the names Generous (Kareem) and Affectionate (Lateef) by the beauty of his nurture, and so on…With all his limbs and apparatus, equipment and organs, senses and spirituality, sensibilities and feelings, [he] shows the various designs of the various names [of God]. This means that just as there is a greatest (A’dham) name [among] the names [of God]; so also there is a greatest design [among] the designs of those names, that which is the human being.

Oh man who knows himself to be a human! Read yourself. Otherwise, there is a likelihood to become a human equivalent to an animal or to an inert being. (Thrity Third Word, Thirty First Window)

The fact that “[In the Name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate] … bonds the throne to the earth [and] becomes a path for ascending to the human throne” will be discussed in the next post.

[1] Abdulbaki from http://www.risaleforum.com/islami-konular-ve-iman-hakikatleri/30220-rahman-ve-rahim-esmasinin-aralarindaki-farklar-nedir-tecelli-farkliliklari-nelerdir.html

[2] Sahih Muslim 2658 b. Book 46, Hadith 34

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