Love in the Holy Qur'an (3): CHAPTER 4: GOD AND LOVE

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God speaks of the great reality of love many times in the Holy Qur’an. He mentions those whom He loves, such as, for example, those who rely on Him:


And when you are resolved, rely on God; for God loves those who rely [upon Him]. (Aal ‘Imran, 3:159)


However, God’s Love is not merely one of God’s acts or actions, but one of God’s very Own Divine Qualities or Names. This can be seen by the many Divine Names in the Holy Qur’an which denote God’s loving qualities (such as: ‘the Gentle’—‘Al-Latif’; ‘the Kind’—‘Al-Raouf’; ‘the Generous’—‘Al-Kareem’; ‘the Forbearing’—‘Al-Haleem’; ‘the Absolutely Reliable’—‘Al-Wakil’; ‘the Friend’—‘Al-Wali’; ‘the Good’—‘Al-Barr’; ‘the Forgiving’—‘Al-Ghafur’; ‘the Forgiver’—‘Al-Ghaffar’; ‘the Granter and Accepter of Repentance’—‘Al-Tawwab’, and ‘the Pardoner’—‘Al-‘Afu’), and in particular by His Name ‘the Loving’ (‘Al-Wadud’), which occurs twice in the Holy Qur’an:


And ask forgiveness of your Lord, then repent to Him. Truly my Lord is Merciful, Loving. (Hud, 11:90)


And He is the Forgiving, the Loving. (Al-Buruj, 85:14)


Here we see the connection between love and mercy: the Divine Name ‘the Loving’ is mentioned alongside the Divine Names ‘the Merciful’ and ‘the Forgiving’ in the two Qur’anic verses (and never without them) indi- cating that God’s Love is inseparable from His Mercy.14 Thus Love comes with Mercy, and Mercy comes with Love.

Indeed, some of God’s other Divine Names that indicate the ‘gentle’ Divine Qualities—such as the Divine Name ‘the Kind’ (Al-Raouf), which occurs in the Holy Qur’an ten times,15  and other certain Names as previ- ously mentioned—also imply both God’s Love and His Mercy together. We may even say that Mercy engenders Love; for the word rahmah (‘mercy’) is derived from rahim (‘womb’), and God says in a ‘Hadith Qudsi’ (that is, a Hadith where the Messenger of God ! is quoting God Himself as Speaker):


“I am God (Allah), I am the Compassionate One (Al-Rah- man). I created the womb (‘rahim’) and named it after My Name. He who keeps its ties, I shall keep [my ties with] him;  and  he who cuts its ties, I shall cut him off [from Me].”16


Indeed, if we reflect on the womb, we will realize that the womb pro- duces mercy just as it produces children, because when a child is born from the womb he or she already naturally enjoys his or her mother’s love. This is a law of nature: mercy produces love, even though love has special qual- ities which mercy does not necessarily share.

The natural connection between love and mercy is not confined to the keeping of family ties alone, for God also alludes to the connection between affection—which is a form of love, as God willing we will see later—with mercy, in the following verse:


And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you might find peace by their side, and He or- dained between you affection (mawaddah) and mercy. Surely in that there are signs for a people who reflect. (Al- Rum, 30:21)




God equates His Name ‘the Compassionate’ (‘Al-Rahman’) with His Divine Name ‘God’ (‘Allah’) in His words:


Say: ‘Invoke God or invoke the Compassionate One; whichever you invoke, to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names’… (Al-Isra’, 17:110)


Since the Divine Name ‘Allah’ refers to the Divine Essence, this means that Divine Mercy is of the very Divine Essence—the Godhead or the Self—Itself, without and before any relation to any created being. This is also proved by God’s words:


…He  has   prescribed  for  Himself  [nafsihi—His   Self] mercy… (Al-An’am, 6:20)

And His words:

 …Your Lord has prescribed for Himself [nafsihi—His Self] mercy… (Al-An’am, 6:54)


Thus God has made mercy incumbent upon Himself or rather His Self—the Arabic word ‘nafsihi’ means both Himself (reflexively) and ‘His Self’ (thus referring to the Divine Essence or Self or Godhead)—which is to say that Divine Mercy is of the Divine Essence Itself. God’s Mercy is thus incumbent on God by His own very Being. Consequently, God is bound by Himself to be Merciful, and His Mercy embraces everything. This is affirmed by His words:


…My mercy embraces all things… (Al-A’raf, 7:156)


Moreover, this is what the angels affirm when they pray for forgiveness for the believers:


…Our Lord, You embrace all things in [Your] mercy and knowledge… (Ghafir, 40:7)


We must also mention that every one of the one hundred and fourteen chapters of the Holy Qur’an begins with the sacred formula ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’ (‘Bism Illah Al-Rahman Al- Rahim’) except the ninth (Surat Al-Tawbah)—albeit that Islamic scholars point out that the ‘missing’ basmallah of Surat Al-Tawbah reappears in Surat Al-Naml wherein God says:


…And lo! it is: In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful. (Al-Naml, 27:30)


Thus the fact that practically every chapter in the Holy Qur’an begins with ‘In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful’, further in- dicates the connection between the Divine Name ‘God’ (‘Allah’) and mercy.17

All of this allows us to say that since Divine Love, like Divine Mercy, is a Divine Quality; and since God’s Loving is inseparable from His Mercy; and since Divine Mercy is of the very Divine Essence Itself, then we can conclude that Divine Love, like Divine Mercy, is of the Divine Essence It- self, as well as being a Divine Quality. This is seen in the Ayat al-Kursi— which the Messenger of God ! called: ‘the greatest  verse in the Holy Qur’an’18—which  speaks of the Divine Essence, and of the Qualities of God in relation to His Creation. God says:


God, there is no god, except Him, the Living (Al-Hayy), the Eternal  Sustainer  (Al-Qayyum). Slumber does not seize Him, neither sleep; to Him belongs all that is in the heav- ens and the earth;  who is there, that shall intercede with Him save by His leave? He knows what lies before them, and what is after them; and they encompass nothing of His knowledge, save such as He wills. His throne embraces the heavens and the earth; the preserving of them wearies Him not;  He is the Sublime, the Tremendous.  (Al-Baqarah, 2:255)


After mentioning two of His Names (‘Al-Hayy’ and ‘Al-Qayyum’) and some of His Qualities, God says: who is there, that shall intercede with Him save by His leave?. Now intercession is evidently a function and a re- flection of mercy, so we understand from this sacred verse not only that Divine Mercy is of the Divine Essence, but also that all mercy—even the mercy of God’s creatures to each other—is ultimately from God, for it is by His leave. Indeed, God says:


And how many an angel there is in the heavens whose in- tercession cannot avail in any way except after God gives permission for whomever He wills, and He is satisfied. (Al- Najm, 53:26)


And warn therewith those who fear they shall be gathered to their Lord: apart from Him they have no protector and no intercessor so that they might fear [God]. (Al-An’am, 6:51)


God is He Who created the heavens and the earth  and whatever is between them in six days, then He presided upon the Throne. You do not have besides Him any protec- tor or intercessor. Will you not then remember? (Al-Sajdah, 32:4)


Or have they taken besides God intercessors? Say: ‘What! even though they have no power whatever and are unable to comprehend?’ / Say: ‘All intercession belongs [solely] to God. To Him belongs the kingdom of the heavens and the earth;  then to Him you will be brought  back’. (Al- Zumar, 39:43-44) 



 Muslim scholars and exegetes have disagreed about the exact differ- ences between ‘the Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘the Merciful’ (Al- Rahim), but they all affirm that the Divine Name ‘the Compassionate’ does not require an object, whilst the Divine Name ‘the Merciful’ does require an object to receive the mercy. This means that ‘the Compassionate’ is com- passionate in His Essence, and ‘the Merciful’ is merciful in His actions. However, since love comes with mercy, and since mercy exists in both the Divine Names ‘the Compassionate’ and ‘the Merciful’, then love too is im- plied in both the Divine Names ‘the Compassionate’ and ‘the Merciful’. Thus God’s Love is twice implied—along with the double mention of Di- vine Mercy—at the beginning of the Holy Qur’an itself and the beginning of every one of its one hundred and fourteen chapters except the ninth (which is later compensated for).19




Question:  Since God’s mercy embraces all things (My mercy em- braces all things); and since God has prescribed for Himself mercy; and since God’s mercy outstrips His wrath (according to the Hadith Qudsi which says: ‘My mercy outstrips My wrath’),  then how can God punish sinners with painful and severe punishment for their sins? God says:


The Jews and Christians say: ‘We are the sons of God and His beloved ones’. Say: ‘Why then does He chastise you for your sins? Nay; you are mortals from among those He cre- ated. He forgives whom He wills, and He chastises whom He wills’. For to God belongs the kingdom of the heavens and of the earth, and all that is between them; to Him is the journey’s end. (Al-Ma’idah, 5:18)


And whoever slays a believer deliberately, his requital  is Hell, abiding therein, and God is angry with him and has cursed him, and has prepared for him a mighty chastise- ment. (Al-Nisa’, 4:93)


Fakhr al-Din al-Razi says:

 ‘There are many opinions about His words ‘My mercy em- braces all things’. It is said that ‘My mercy embraces all things’ means that His mercy in the life of the lower world is granted universally to all, whilst in the Hereafter it is granted only to the believers. This is indicated by [proceeding] His words: ‘and so I shall prescribe it for those who are God- fearing’.’20


And Qurtubi says, commenting on this verse:


‘His words ‘My mercy embraces all things’ are universal, meaning infinite; meaning that it will not fail to reach all those to whom it applies. It is said that it means that [His mercy] embraces all in creation, in that even animals have mercy and affection for their young. Some exegetes say that all beings were given hope by this verse, even Iblis [Satan], who said, ‘I am a thing!’ But then God says: ‘and so I shall prescribe it for those who are God-fearing’.’21


In any case, God says: My mercy embraces all things, He does not say:

‘My tenderness embraces all things’, but rather (elsewhere): God is Tender with His servants. He provides for whomever He will. And He is the Strong, the Mighty (Al-Shura, 42:19). God, then, is tender with His servants in a general way, and He provides for whomever He will. This does not mean for all, and does not mean that His tenderness—and therefore gentle- ness—embraces all things all the time, otherwise there would never be any suffering or pain in the world. There is thus a big difference between mercy and tenderness. Indeed, we may have mercy on something by temporarily doing something harsh to it to save it from something even worse and more permanent (as, for example, does the surgeon or veterinarian who performs surgery); yet this mercy (or this surgery) might not be that gentle or involve any tenderness at all. God’s Mercy embracing all things thus does not mean that nothing will ever suffer, but that God will guide every existing thing to what will enable it to suffer the least, and God knows best.

(to be continued)


17 In his book Al-Insan al-kamil, the Muslim scholar ‘Abd al-Karim Jili (d. 805 AH) sug- gests that Mercy is the origin of God’s Names and Qualities, and that God’s Names proceed from the Quality of Mercy.

‘The Mercy from the Divine Essence (Al-Rahmaniyyah) is the manifestation of the realities of the Names and Qualities; it lies between His essential qualities, such as the Names of the Essence, and those qualities which are directed towards created beings, such as His being the Knower, the Om- nipotent, the All-Hearing, and the other Qualities which have a connection to temporal beings…. The Name which is directly derived from the level of Mercy from the Divine Essence (Al-Rahmaniyyah) is Al-Rahman, the Compassionate—a Name which refers to the Names of His Essence (al- Asma’ al-Dhatiyyah) and the Qualities of His Person (al-Awsaf al-Naf- siyyah), which are seven in number: life, knowledge, omnipotence, will, speech, hearing and seeing… This level [of Being] has this name because of how this all-enveloping mercy covers all the levels of Reality and cre- ation; and it was because of its manifestation in the levels of Reality that the levels of creation came into existence. Thus mercy became universally present in all beings, from the Merciful Presence.’ (Abd Al-Kareem al-Jili, Al-Insan al-Kamil, p. 73)

18 Muslim, Sahih, Hadith no. 810, Kitab salat al-musafirin wa qasraha, Bab fadl surat al- kahf wa ayat al-kursi.

19 God’s Names ‘the Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘the Merciful’ (Al-Rahim): Muslim scholars have said many things about the meaning of God’s Names ‘the Compas- sionate’ and ‘the Merciful’. The following are amongst the most pertinent:

Ibn Kathir says:

‘The Compassionate and the Merciful are two Divine Names derived from the word rahmah (‘mercy’); both are intensive morphological forms, but ‘the Compassionate’ is more intensive than ‘the Merciful’. It is related that Jesus $ said: “The Compassionate is Compassionate in this life and the next, while the Merciful is Merciful in the next life.” … Abu Ali Farisi said: “The Compassionate” is a universal name which encompasses all the forms of mercy, and only God may be called by this Name. ‘The Merciful’ refers solely to the mercy God shows the believers, as He says: …And He is Merciful to the believers. (Al-Ahzab, 33:43)” Ibn Abbas " said that: they are two gentle Names, one of which is gentler than the other: that is, suggestive of yet more mercy … Ibn Mubarak said that ‘the Compassion- ate’ is the One who gives when He is asked, whilst ‘the Merciful’ is the One who becomes wrathful when He is not asked; this is derived from a Hadith

…. The Messenger of God ! said:

“If one does not ask of God, He becomes angry with one.”

I heard ‘Azrami say of the Names ‘the Compassionate’, ‘the Merciful’ that God is Compassionate with all His creatures, and Merciful to the believers. They say that this is why God says: …Then [He] presided upon the Throne. The Compassionate One (Al-Furqan, 25:59), and says: The Com- passionate One presided upon the Throne (Taha, 20:5). God thus links His presiding [over the Throne] to His Name ‘the Compassionate’ to indicate how His mercy envelops all His creation; and He says: …And He is Mer- ciful to the believers. (Al-Ahzab, 33:43), singling them out with His Name ‘the Merciful’. They say that this implies that ‘the Compassionate’ denotes the higher degree of mercy because it applies in both worlds to all His crea- tures, whilst ‘the Merciful’ applies to the believers alone … And His Name

‘the Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) is for Him alone, and no one else may be called this … As for ‘the Merciful’, He describes another with this at- tribute when He says: Verily there has come to you a messenger from among yourselves for whom it is grievous that you should suffer; who is full of concern for you, to the believers full of pity, merciful (rahim). (Al- Tawbah, 9:128)” (Ibn Kathir, Tafsir al-Qur’an al-‘Athim, pp. 65-66)

Al-Ghazali says:

‘The Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘the Merciful’ (Al-Rahim) are both derived from the word ‘mercy’ (rahmah), and mercy requires an object, and the object of mercy must be needy. Someone who meets a needy per- son’s need unintentionally and without caring about the needy person is not called ‘merciful’. The one who wishes to meet the needy person’s need but does not do so when he is able to do is not called ‘merciful’, because if he really wanted to do it, he would. If he is unable to do so, he might be called ‘merciful’ because of his sympathy, but his mercy is incomplete. Perfect mercy means to shower the needy with goodness having the intention to take care of them. Universal mercy is that which is given to the deserving and the undeserving alike. God’s mercy is thus both perfect and universal; it is perfect in that He wishes to meet the needs of the needy, and does so; and it is universal in that it encompasses both the deserving and the unde- serving—in this lower world and in the Hereafter—and it meets both dire needs and ordinary needs, as well as additional matters beyond this. He is truly the Absolutely Merciful.’ (Ghazali, Al-Maqsad al-asna fi sharh ma‘ani asma’ Allah al-husna, p. 62)

Al-Razi says:

‘Which of them is more intensive: ‘the Compassionate’, or ‘the Merciful’? Abu Salih related that Ibn Abbas " said: “ ‘The Compassionate’ and ‘the Merciful’ are two gentle Names, one of which is gentler than the other”; yet he did not state which is the gentlest. But Husayn bin Fadl al-Balkhi said: “This is a mistake on the part of the narrator, for gentleness (riqqah) is not a divine Quality. The Prophet ! said:

‘God is Kind (rafiq), and He loves kindness,  and He gives for it that which He does not give for violence.’

Know that there is no doubt that both ‘The Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) and ‘the Merciful’ (Al-Rahim) are derived from the word ‘mercy’ (rahmah), and if one were not more intensive than the other they would be exact synonyms in every way without any distinction between them; and this is unlikely. Therefore we must understand that one of them is more in- tensive in meaning than the other. Beyond this, they differ: most say that ‘the Compassionate’ implies greater mercy than ‘the Merciful’, and they give several arguments to support this.’ (Al-Razi, Sharh asma’ Allah al- husna, p. 162)

The common elements between all these definitions are:

(1) that ‘The Compassionate’ (Al-Rahman) can only be used to describe God, whilst ‘Merciful’ (Al-Rahim) can be used to describe both God and human beings.

(2) that the Name ‘the Compassionate’ linguistically implies a greater ‘amount’ of mercy.

(3) that ‘the Merciful’ requires an object, whilst ‘the Compassionate’ does not require an object.

(4) that ‘the Compassionate’ always comes before ‘the Merciful’ whenever the two Names are mentioned together.

(5)  that  ‘the  Compassionate’  is  virtually  a  synonym  for  the  Name ‘God’(‘Allah’) for God says: Say: ‘Invoke God or invoke the Compassion- ate One, whichever you invoke, to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names’… (Al-Isra’, 17:110)

(6) and, finally, that since …He has prescribed for Himself mercy… (Al- An’am 6:20), and since ‘the Compassionate’ implies greater mercy than

‘the Merciful’ and does not require an object, this means that ‘the Com- passionate’ is one of the Names of God’s Essence, whilst ‘the Merciful’ is one of the Names of His Qualities. And God knows best.

20 Al-Razi, Al-Tafsir al-kabir, Mafatih al-ghayb, vol. 5 p. 379.

21 Al-Qurtubi, Tafsir al-Qurtubi, vol. 7 p. 261.


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