The Meaning of Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim

These are two descriptions of Allah, Exalted is He, and two of the Names from amongst His Beautiful names derived from ar-Rahma (mercy) in a way to express intense meanings…

Ibn al-Qayyim said, ‘Al-Rahman points to an Attribute that is existent in Him, Transcendent is He, and al-Rahim points to its interaction with the recipient of mercy. If you wish to understand this, ponder carefully His saying, “He is Most Merciful [ar-Rahim] to the believers.” (al-Ahzab 33:43) “The All-Merciful [ar-Rahman] rose over the Throne.” (Ta Ha 20:5) for not once is it mentioned that he is Rahman with them. This proves that ar-Rahman refers to one who is described with mercy whereas ar-Rahim is One who shows mercy.’ (Ibn al-Qayim, Badai al-Fawaid, vol 1, p24)

Others said that ar-Rahman was more intense than ar-Rahim in meaning. (Abu Hayyan, vol 1, p128) Ar-Rahman is the one endowed with Mercy that extends to all of the creations in this world and to the believers in the Hereafter. Ar-Rahim on the other hand is the One endowed with mercy that extends to only the believers on the Day of Judgement – this being the understanding of the majority of the scholars. The narration reported from Isa, as mentioned by ibn Kathir and others, also indicates this – that he said, ‘Ar-Rahman: the One who shows mercy in this world and the Hereafter. Ar-Rahim: the One who shows mercy in the Hereafter.’ (at-Tabari, vol 1, p84)

Allah, the Exalted also points to what we have mentioned when he said, “Then He rose over the Throne, ar-Rahman” (al-Furqan 25:59) “Ar-Rahman rose over the Throne” (Ta Ha 20:5) So He mentioned the istawa (Rising over the Throne) with His Name, ar-Rahman, so as to embrace the whole of His creation with His mercy as was stated by ibn Kathir. Likewise is His saying, “Do they not see the birds above them, spreading out their wings and folding them in? None upholds them except ar-Rahman” (al-Mulk 67:19) Meaning: from His mercy to His creation is His kindness to the birds and His holding them in the sky while they are spreading out their wings and folding them in. From the clearest evidences pertaining to this is His saying, “Ar-Rahman. He taught the Qur’an… so which of the favours of your Lord will you deny?” (ar-Rahman 55:1-13)

Allah, Exalted is He says, “…and He is Ever Most Merciful (rahim) to the believers” (al-Ahzab 33:43) and hence particularised His name ar-Rahim to them… The evidence that He is rahim to the believers in this world as well as the Hereafter is that this is the literal meaning of His, the Exalted’s saying, “He is the One who sends His blessings (talah) upon you, and His Angels so as to lead you out of the darkness to the light, and he is ever Most-Merciful (rahim) to the believers.” (al-Ahzab 33:43) because His salah upon them, the salah of his Angels and His leading them out of the darkness to the light is mercy to them in this world, even though it be the cause for mercy in the Hereafter as well. Similar to this in meaning is His saying, “Allah has forgiven the Prophet, the Muhajirun and the Ansar who followed him in the time of distress after the hearts of a group of them had nearly deviated [from the Right Path], but He accepted their repentance. Certainly He is Full of Kindness to them, Most Merciful (rahim)” (at-Tawbah 9:117) for the mercy mentioned here is in connection to the event that befell the Prophet, the Muhajirun and the Ansar; moreover His forgiving them was mercy in this world even though it will be the cause for mercy in the in the Hereafter as well. The knowledge of what is correct lies with Allah. (ash-Shanqiti, vol 1, p31-32)

The Name, ar-Rahman, is one of the names unique to Allah and it is not permissible to name any other with it. It is for this reason that Allah, Exalted is He says, “Say, Call on Allah or call on the All-Merciful, whichever you call upon, the Most Beautiful Names are His.” (al-Isra 17:110) “Ask those we sent before you as Our Messengers: Have We ever designated any gods to be worshipped besides the All-Merciful?” (az-Zukhruf 43:45) (al-Qurtubi, vol 1, p75)

The Spiritual Cure: An Explanation of Surah Al-Fatihah prepared and translated by Abu Rumaysah Pages 86-92