The Qur'anic Concept Of God's Mercy
By: Muhammad Iqbal KHAWAJA
How Is God Merciful?
Mercy is defined in the advanced learners dictionary as, "holding oneself back from punishing, or from causing suffering to somebody, whom one has the right or power to punish"
This is the human concept of mercy. Since God, (the God created by human imagination), has been created in man's own image, we therefore attribute human traits to Him. This concept of God's mercy is used to counter the earlier Christian invention of the Original Sin. It is a Christian concept that, a child is born in sin which cannot be washed away with any amount of good that he does, or may do throughout his life. The only way that this child or person will succeed in absolving himself of this "Sin" is through belief or having faith in Jesus (peace be upon him) being the son of God and in his crucifixion.
Allah (God) has declared humans to be born sinless. Contrary to the Christian belief, all children are born into this world with a clean slate. The Qur'an negates the concept of the "Original Sin". No child brings with him or her the sin of Adam and Eve because:
No person will bear the load of another person's deeds (Al-Qur'an 53:38)
Every person is accountable for his or her own actions (Al-Qur'an 53:39)
The Holy Messenger has further clarified, "No son or daughter will be punished for his or her parent's faults." Therefore according to Islamic teachings, a new born neither brings with him or her the stigma of a previous life (as in Hindu doctrine of re-incarnation) nor is he born tainted with anyone else's doings.
Scholars of the West have reached the same conclusion. F. R. Johnson writes "The Original Sin is the Original Evil. It keeps mankind disinclined from doing good and inclined towards doing evil. This belief impels man in Martin Luther's words to "Sin Hard but Believe Harder". He then asks rhetorically "If belief in Jesus dying on the cross for me will absolve me of my sins and grant me a license to do what I please, why wouldn't I adopt the easy, sinful path of lust and desire?." A. E. Taylor writes "I wish I could find the true religion that would save me from the fallacies of the Original Sin".
According to the Qur'an, man's growth, progress or the attainment of heights in the process of development, is achieved through one's own good deeds and actions. Man does not achieve this state of development out of God's grace or by developing the belief in Jesus being the son of God and his crucifixion. He achieves it on account of his own positive actions, and the resultant growth and development that takes place in his personality, I am-ness, sprit, or character is in accordance with God's inviolable Law of requital. Dr. Muhammad Iqbal (the poet philosopher of Pakistan) has mentioned this in one of his verses.
"There is no sense of achievement or pride in the life of Paradise granted by God, out of grace.
The Paradise earned on merit and by one's own actions and deeds is worth all the effort of the chase."
This is the basic difference in Islamic and Christian way of life. The Qur'an creates a people, who by virtue of their own actions and noble deeds win the paradise on merit and not as gratis.
The concept of mercy is un-Qur'anic. The Qur'anic terms usually translated into English as merciful and mercy are (Raheem and Rehm'an) and Rahmat respectively. Once translated as merciful and mercy, these Arabic terms assume the connotations of the human concepts of mercy. therby losing completely the concept carried by the original words in Arabic. (This proves with out a shadow of a doubt that the Qur'an can be explained but never translated.) Let us now examin the Qur'anic concept of God's mercy and how, it manifests itself.
Raheem and Rehm'an:
According to the Qur'an, these are attributes of Allah (God). According to the Arabic grammer, Raheem means one who provides nourishment in the normal course of growth and development and Rehm'am means one who provides nourishment in full force and in abundance in an emergency. In modern biological terms the former Raheem would mean, one who provides nourishment during Progressive evolution and the later, Rehm'an would mean one who provides nourishment during Emergent evolution. This needs further clarification. The Our'an says that everything in the universe looks towards God for its nourishment. And none of these things remain in one state.(Al-Qur'an 55:29). They are in a constant state of change, as growth and progress continues to take place all the while and there is indeed, wear and tear going on in the universe. However, He provides the required nourishment at every stage and in every situation whether it be normal state of growth or the accelerated form, so that every thing may reach it's ultimate destination as ordained. Whats more, this nourishment is provided absolutly free. Do you see how God's mercy manifests itself?
Rahmat is derived from the word Reham, which means a mother's womb, where a baby gets nourishment, (ready made, without any effort) and is kept safe and immune from outside influences. Do you see how God's mercy manifests itself?
Rahmat which is also one of God's attributes, means therefore, that gift which would fulfil or compensate one's short-comings, visible or invisible and which should be given according to the requirement of the reciepient. Just as in the mother's womb, the baby is provided nourishment and protection. After birth however, the baby is no longer so protected and is at the mercy of all the germs and bacteria flying around in the air. The mother's breast milk then provides the protection as it contains all the necessary nutrients and anti-bodies the baby requires. And as the baby grows and develops, the mother's breast milk changes according to the baby's changing requirements. Do you see how God's mercy manifests itself? (This is God's mercy)..
A gift also means, something which is given free. Rahmat is therefore that attribute of Allah (God) by which He provides sources of nourishment free of any charge. Sources that come out of rain such as fresh water, crops etc. Are also called Rahmat (mercy). The sea water can neither be drunk nor fed to the crops. Yet it is this same sea water that is lifted up by evaporation and convection and is carried away by clouds. When the clouds meet with the mountain tops the moisture freezes as snow and ice. And then when this snow and ice melts, rivers of fresh nourishing waters flow. We drink this water and irrigate the land with it, through which crops grow. This is also God's Rahmat (mercy).
One of the important attributes of Allah (God) is the Rabubiyyat, or providing nourishment to the body as well as to the Nafs (sprit, I am-ness, ego or personality) through the Divine laws which are given through Wahi (Revelation); Wahi is therefore also called Rahmat (mercy) (Al-Qur'an 2:105, 43:32) and Allah is Rabbul Alameen one who provides nourishment to the entire universe. He has therefore made it incumbent upon Himself the responsibility of providing nourishment (Al-Qur'an 6:54) In this way He has covered everything in the universe according to His law of Rabubiyyat (Al-Qur'an 40:7). This is the Qur'anic concept of Mercy. It is not "you do wrong and don't get punished for it." Put your finger in the fire and it will definitly burn. If God was to follow the human concept of mercy then by placing the finger in the fire, we would not feel the pain of the burning because God would exercise His mercy. But we do feel the pain because here God's law of requital is at work. God's mercy menifests itself in the fact that He has honoured us with the ability to learn and gain knowledge, by which we can manufacture medicines and creams from the materials that He has provided. When applied to the burnt finger, the cream or medicine heals it. This is the Qur'anic concept of God's mercy.
It is evident from what has been discussed above, that in human terms Mercy and Justice are diametrically opposed to each other. One cannot be merciful and Just at the same time. However, in the Qur'anic terms God is both Just (through His law of requital) and merciful (through His attributes of Raheem, Rehm'an and His Rahmat) and what is more, He is both, at the same time.