Lord, have mercy.

This post is dedicated to my baby Rahma, the joy of my heart, light of my life, and queen of my kingdom,  owing to whom this site has not been updated for a while.

al-Salāmu ‘alaykum wa rahmatullāh,

Undoubtedly the most oft-repeated names of Allāh are al-Rahmān الرحمن and al-Rahīm الرحيم, due to them being present in the basmala [1] which is mentioned before every chapter in the Qur’ān and which muslims are instructed to repeat before beginning any task.

For two names to so constantly be mentioned alongside the name of Allāh alludes to their status and importance within the Islamic creed, and thus it is important to gain a thorough understanding of their meaning and significance.

Both al-Rahmān and al-Rahīm are derived from the root rā’ – hā’ – mīm (ر-ح-م) and mean to treat or regard someone with mercy, compassion or tenderness. From the same root  stems the word al-rahim الرَّحِم (the womb) for the womb itself can be seen to behave in a tender and compassionate manner towards the fetus which it carries.

While both words are derived from the same root, the difference in their meaning lies in their form. Rahmān is a hyperbolic form (sīghah mubālaghah) and conveys the meaning of extensiveness and endlessness. It is a quality that is inherent in and inseparable from Allāh. Rahīm is a permanent adjective (sifah mushabbahah) and conveys the meaning of constant renewal, and of a quality issued forth as necessitated by the actions and behaviour of the recipient.

In addition, the term al-Rahmān is applicable only to God – even in Pre-Islamic times the Arabs did not refer to a man as being al-Rahmān, but rahīm. The only recorded instance was that of Musaylimah the Liar who was dubbed Rahmān al-Yamamah, but even then not ‘Rahmān‘ alone.  On the other hand, rahīm can and always has been used to describe humans – the Prophet himself salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam – was described in the Qur’ān as being:

بالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَءُوفٌ رَّحِيمٌ

to the believers is kind and merciful.

But why are two words that denote similar meanings used together in the same clause? The answer may lie in how the sequence of Allāh’s Names in the basmala graduate in two opposing but harmonious ways;

  1. general to specific:  the absolute pinnacle of mercy in every form – conceivable or not – that is encompassed in the Name Allāh, followed by mercy being extended to everyone unconditionally (as denoted by al-Rahmān), followed by mercy being extended as a response and reward for specific actions (as denoted by al-Rahīm).
  2. specific to general: the application of the names themselves: Allāh is the Creator and can refer to none but Him – it cannot be used as a description but can only be described (one can not say, for example al-Rahmān, Allāh where al-Rahmān is the noun and is the adjective.  This is followed by al-Rahmān which is an adjective that can only be used to describe Allāh, followed by Rahīm which is an adjective that can also be used to describe people.

Perhaps if this angle is recalled when repeating the basmalah we would be able to more completely grasp the totality of mercy indicated in His saying,

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ

My mercy encompasses all things

[1] The basmala is an example of naht used to refer to the saying of bism Allāh al-Rahmān al-Rahīm (In the Name of Allāh, al-Rahmān, al-Rahīm)

26 Responses to Lord, have mercy.

  1. JKhair. Can you please add a widget, where people can add their email address (please check out my blog to see how it looks), and the new posts would go directly to their email address.

    Also, I am slightly confused abou the opposing and harmonious part. I thought, Rahman, since it is Mubalagha encompassess all of creation, and since Rahim, since it is SMushabaha, covers especially the believers. JKhairan.

  2. Wa iyyaakum. I will work on the widget in shaa’ Allaah.

    The opposing but harmonious refers to the order of sequence from general to specific in one sense and specific to general in the other. You are correct in your understanding of Rahman and Rahim.

  3. Jazakallah Khair! Very happy to see you and the site back!

  4. Salam ‘alaykum,

    I pray the best for this endeavor. I was truly happy to see an email relaunching the site. Allahumma ya’teekum ‘afiyyah wa imaan, wa ma tawfiqunaa illa billah.

    Comment Tags: du’a, happy
  5. Allah* ya’teekum

    I feel blasphemous making a grammatical mistake on your website.

  6. Welcome back and congratulations on being a mother and also on restarting this project. May Allah provide you success in this world and in the Hereafter!

    My own understanding of Rahman and Rahim is the same: Rahman, on the pattern of fu’laan, conveys the meaning of excessive-ness (for example, at’shaan means extremely thirsty ) whereas Rahim, on the pattern of fa’eel, conveys the meaning of being permanent.

    Just my cents!

  7. Assalaamu “alaikum

    Sister Ola, brothers and sisters: The respected Shaykh Dr. V. Abdur Rahim -HafiZahullaah – has mentioned the i”raab of the basmalah in his advancd Qur’aanic Arabic Course named:

    “Selections from the Glorious Qur’aan – With Lexical and Grammatical Notes” (with DVDs featuring the Shaykh teaching the course).

    The Shaykh gives a fascinating discussion on the i”raab of suurah faatiHah – and specifically “al-raHmaan”, al-raHiim” – which will provide interested students and teachers with a new , insightful angle into the analysis of this part of the suurah.

    please note that “al-raHmaan” and “al-raHiim” may be considered as proper nouns when looked at from one angle, and may be na”t (attributes) when looked at from another angle. In light of the angle considered, the i”raab will differ – as explained by the Shaykh on DVD1 of the course (it is a free course at : http://www.lqtoronto.com).

    Some exciting news for everyone: The author of the Madinah Arabic Course, the renowned Scholar of Arabic, Shaykh Dr. V. Abdur Rahim has launched his own web-site (Arabic-English) to teach the Arabic Sciences to students and teachers worldwide.

    The Shaykh has launched five programmes through which he is currently teaching the Sciences of Arabic, and this is through:

    Lessons in the Glorious Qur’aan
    Lessons in Hadiith
    Lessons in Arabic Poetry
    Lessons in Arabic Grammar
    Lessons in Arabic Language.

    The Shaykh is also answering questions on any of the Sciences of Arabic through the Q & A service being offered at the site.

    Please visit and benefit from the rich programme of lessons, from the free resources, books and courses and from the Shaykh’s Islaamic studies curriculum, benefit from the fascinating Q & As – and – inshaa’Allaah – benefit from the company of the respected Shaykh himself (may Allaah bless him) who is sharing his deep knowledge and expertise at this site:

    http://www.DrVaniya.com

    P.S. The Shaykh has been teaching Arabic as a foreign language now, for over half a century. The full profile is on the new site.

    Wassalaam
    (student of Arabic)

  8. For some reason I imagine an African American shrieking, Loooooordddddd Have Mercy!

  9. Salaam

    I have said it before and I shall say it again now, this is the best blog on the web. May Allah Most High you tawfeeq inshaAllah.

    abd

  10. Al-Afghani, thank you, wa iyyaakum!

    Yaser, ameen. Lol, to err is human, don’t worry about it! What happened to your blog?

    sheepoo, Ameen and thank you! :) Yes, that is a good understanding maa shaa’ Allaah. I realise that there is alot out there about the meanings of Rahman and Rahim, but what I really wanted to add through this post is the idea that the completeness of Allah’s mercy can also be seen through the sequencing of His names from general to specific AND specific to general in the same clause.

    English Rox – I had the same idea as soon as I wrote the title.

    abd al-Khaliq – that is extremely kind of you to say, jazakum Allaahu khayran.

    Mazhar, thank you for the link. Very informative.

  11. As salamu 3alaykum

    Happy to see your work again.
    Since few month I make semantic analysis of arabic word and its construction (sarf), and compare grammar.

    Yes :
    Rahman = the whole capacity of the word-roots (RHM)
    Rahym = selective application of the root on His creature. The Fa3YL express an action on time, selective and chosen. This wazn could be compared to the present participe (we have this kind in french).

    But we can go deeper, looking for root of this root. Analysing RHM we have both possibility : R+HM or RH+M.

    Rahim = womb. Here we have the concept of flesh, life and warn position : حَمّ. Juste amazing, cause we know that life it’s water and warn.

    RuH = here we have a very particular characteristic of human : spirit. The spirit enter in the flesh [surah sad 38.72].
    Etymologie : the letter M refere to life (ma’/water), a place to live, in the proto-hebrew and phenician. Even the graphic of the lettre keep this memory of its meaning : waves = m

    The rahm is a useful process for human, giving a kind of spirit, abstract meaning becoming effective in the body and spirit.
    The semitic languages are the oldest ones, and beeing soon scriptures, this languages kept a very good and coherent constrution. Wa Allahu A’3lam

    Sorry for my weak english. I make all these works usualy in french.

    Salam

  12. Wa alaykum as salaam,

    Jazakum Allaahu khayran brother Mansour, very useful insight. Please share with us some more of what you have discovered through your research bi idhnillaah!

  13. salaams,

    Can anyone tell me where I can purchase a good arabic-arabic dictionary?

  14. Oh, yeah… I closed it some time ago. It’s been quite a while so I don’t recall exactly when.

  15. Nice.
    I m waiting for your next post.

  16. Assallam alaikum sister arabic gems,
    Could you kindly explain the difference between rafagah(companion) and shareek(partner) using the linguistic tools of Arabic?

  17. Ya ukhty Ola! Why are you holding out on us? You specialized in ishtiqaaq, but you seldom comment on the ishtiqaaq kabeer or akbar!! are you at least going to announce a forthcoming book? LOL
    You may have already seen it, but there is a dissertation regarding the biliteral origins of proto-semitic roots published a couple years ago (i believe the author was a septuagenarian american lady). i believe we have only scratched the surface of semantic analyses on transposing the root positions: R-H-M vs. H-R-M >> H-R(R) or R-H(H).
    In other words, RaHiM and HaRaM can both be said to share all 3 root consonants. But the 2 root consonants H and R are fundamental. M is added to introduce some nuance. I know you know all this, but when are you going to explain it?!
    Jazaka Allah khayr. and I agree with the other post: Best blog online!

  18. Assalaamu Alaikum,
    Great to see u back sis and mabrook!

  19. Assalaamu “alaikum

    Please can any on tell me where I can find an indpth detailed study of the word Allah?

    Jazaka Allah khayr

  20. Mustafa abdur rahman

    Alhamdulillah, good knowledge

  21. Assalamualaikum.. Any blog update.. Very nice article..

  22. @ahmed – Salam Ilyas.
    I study specially morphology and etymology. You talk about إبدال (permutation). We can use a method to break down a word, a naked root. First look for etymon (Base 2) in a Base 3, ex.:
    R-HM or
    RH-M or
    RM -H ?
    If one of the etymon Base 2 is strongly express in the base 3 RHM, so we find its etymologic root.
    Other way to refine the understandinf of this word : use the meaning of each letter, it’s full deep etymology, base 1 concept.

    M = thing, beeing, place. When we call the Greatness of Allah, we say Allahumma, when a creature have passed his time, we say Mat. Etc… It’s the prefix expressing beeing/place in grammar and morphology.

    H = integrity, and HR means “Limit” so Haram (limit place -to not pass, reserved-).

    So we see that RHM and HRM have no etymon in common and neither sens, rather they have the same unit-meaning found in each letter. For now, i found only RH-M means Spirit in the beeing, cause etymon RH (Spirit).

    There is a special syntaxe within a word, and permutation prove it. The etymon base 2 works as Sub.Verb in a sentence, while the 3thrd letter is an extra-letter, as an Object in a sentence.
    والله أعلم

  23. @ilyas – Salam. Sorry, my previous message was for you Ilyas.

  24. salam..

    rahman is united from 2 rahim. mutsanna rahim.
    rahim (1) + rahim (2) = rahman.

    can be :
    1= rahim lahir and
    2= rahim bathin..

    if its’ correct.. hehe

    salam

  25. Assalamualaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuh

    I pray Allah makes her the coolness of your eyes, I pray Allah makes her the coolness of your eyes, I pray Allah makes her the coolness of your eyes. May Allah have mercy on rahma and make her a mercy.

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