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Does Allah Love Everyone?

Red heart shaped treePeople can mean quite different things when they speak of love. For some, love means desire, passion or lust: it is often used as a byword for self-gratification. To some, love is compassion, mercy, tenderness. To others, it is soppy, sugary, gooey sentimentality. For others still, it is devotion, longing and yearning.

Then there is passionate love and platonic love. There is love between friends; love of family; love among brothers in arms; and love for the family pet.

So the answer to whether or not God loves everyone, or only certain people, is tied to what we mean by “love”. The Qur’an speaks of two types of love, as it relates to God: a general, all-encompassing love; the other, a more exclusive love. The two types of love are expressed by the following Arabic terms respectively: rahmah and hubb.

One of God’s Names is al-Wadud – “the Loving”, “the Affectionate”. He is Forgiving, the Loving, states the Qur’an [85:14] From a general perspective, God loves everyone in the sense of rahmah – His loving mercy, care, kindness and compassion. Indeed, after the two Shahadahs – the two “Testimonies” of Faith – the formula most frequently on the lips of a Muslim is the Basmalah – “In the Name of God, All-Merciful (al-Rahman), the Compassionate (al-Rahim)” – and it is with this formula that every chapter or surah of the Qur’an (excepting one) commences. The Qur’an says about God: He has prescribed mercy upon Himself. [6:12] An almost identical expression of God inscribing mercy on Himself – kataba ‘ala nafsihi’l-rahmah – is repeated again later: Your Lord has prescribed mercy upon Himself. [6:54] That no other divine attribute has been described like this in the Qur’an is indeed revealing about God’s nature.

In Arabic, rahmah is formed from the three consonants r-h-m, which have the primary meaning of “womb”. This indicates the maternal nature of God’s mercy, as it were, in that it nurtures and protects the helpless human creature in its gentle embrace. Once, on seeing a mother frantically search for her lost child and then, on finding it, clasped the babe to her chest, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: ‘God is more merciful to His creation than that mother is to her child.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.5999; Muslim, no.2754]

Muslim exegists and theologians tell us that al-Rahman is an eternal attribute of God, and circumscribes the quality of mercy inherent in, and inseparable from, the Divine Essence. Al-Rahim, on the other hand, refers to an aspect of God’s acts, signifying the manifestation of that mercy in, and its effects upon, the entire creation.1

Painting it in more picturesque terms, it has been said that al-Rahman is like the clear blue sky, calm and peaceful and full of light, that stretches over us and over all things; while al-Rahim is like the warm rays of light coming from that sky, bathing the lives of individuals and events, and animating the earth and all life upon it. The sun shines for all; the rain falls for all. The rays of God’s loving compassion, kindness and care touch everything and everyone: Muslim and non-Muslim, saint and sinner. God says in the Qur’an: My mercy embraces all things. [7:156]

Further insight into the divine mercies offers itself in the following hadith: ‘God made mercy into one-hundred parts. He withheld ninety-nine parts and sent down one part to earth. It is because of that one part that creatures show mercy to one another, such that a mare will lift her hoof over her foal, for fear she may cause it harm.’ [Al-Bukhari, no.6000] In another narration: ‘God has kept back ninety-nine parts of this mercy for His worshippers on the Day of Resurrection.’ [Muslim, no.2752] Here again we find rahmah,  mercy, not in the sense of forgiveness shown to someone whom it is within one’s power to punish or harm (although that is one of its meanings), but as lovingness, kindness, compassion and protecting care – in other words, loving mercy. Interestingly, in Aramaic and Syriac, r-h-m as a root, and rahmah its derivative, signify love, rather than mercy.

The hadith concerning ninety-nine mercies reveals to us something else about the divine rahmah, which is that the greater part of it is reserved for believers (mu’minun) in the Afterlife. Going back to the Basmalah formula, our scholars have explained that Rahman and Rahim are both intensive forms of rahmah, with a distinction between the two. The first denotes comprehensive mercy which brings things into existence, then provides, protects and cares for them. While the second denotes selective mercy reaching those who accept faith and bring the will to worship God.2 Which brings us nicely on to the second type of love:

Not withstanding other words in the Qur’an that depict love (like mahabbah, wudd, rahmah, mawaddah and also lutf), the second type of love is hubb. God, as mentioned at the start, only has love, in terms of hubb, for the believers: Upon those who believe and work righteousness, the All-Merciful shall bestow love. [19:96] In contrast to such a comforting declaration, the Qur’an says: God loves not the disbelievers. [3:32] To be clear then, God’s love in terms of rahmah is impartial, universal and unconditional, while God’s specific love in the sense of hubb is conditional on faith in Him, love of Him and acceptance of His will.

Christians, and others beside, tend to assume that since Islam advocates inna’Llaha la yuhibbu’l-kafirin – that “God does not love the disbelievers” – this says something very unbecoming about God. For how can the One true God not love His creation. But as the post hopefully shows, the assumption is wrong and rests on not recognising the distinctions between the various shades of love embedded in the Quranic language. It seems to me that if we Muslims wish ourselves and our faith to be better understood, the critical question about God’s loves, as depicted by the Qur’an, must be articulated in a far better, nuanced and broader manner. Indeed, it is the right of non-Muslims to hear such nuances; and the call to Abrahamic monotheism demands from us nothing less. Wa’Llahu wali al-tawfiq.

1. See: al-Baghawi, Maalim al-Tanzil (Riyadh: Dar Taybah, 2010), 1:3.

2. Consult: al-Qurtubi, al-Jami‘ li Ahkam al-Qur’an (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyyah, 1996), 1:74.

God: the Ultimate Concern

amour-allahAt the heart of Islam stands the reality of God: Allah, the One, the Absolutely Perfect, Unique, Eternal, Beautiful, Loving, Infinitely Kind and Compassionate, All-Knowing, All-Hearing, All-Seeing, beyond what man can ever conceive, yet nearer to him than his jugular vein. [50:16]

Islam does not demand blind faith in God. The Qur’an tells us a great deal about Him. There it depicts God by certain “names” and “attributes” to help us understand something about His nature. In fact, in Islam, the most precious type of knowledge is that which lends itself to comprehending God’s names and attributes. This is the key to truly knowing God and becoming devoted to Him. The received wisdom here is: sharaf al-‘ilm bi sharaf al-ma‘lum – “The excellence of [any] knowledge depends upon what it is concerned with.”

‘The best knowledge is knowing God’s Names (asma), Attributes (sifat) and Acts (af‘al). This leads a servant to experiential knowledge (ma‘rifah) of Him; love of Him; awe and reverence of Him; devotion, trust and intimacy with Him; and to being occupied with Him to the exclusion of all else.’1

The Qur’an describes God as al-Haqq – “the Truth (the Real)”, and so to deny Him is to be far removed from truth at every level of reality. Living amidst delusions, the denier of truth is estranged from reality till the Day when, with his illusions stripped away, he comes face to face with al-Haqq; his hand empty, his past life meaningless.2

God is also al-Nur – “the Light”. For God is the light of the heavens and the earth. [24:80] Islam insists that the entire universe is a tajalli; a manifestation, of the divine names, attributes and acts by which God reveals Himself and makes Himself known. If He weren’t light, there would be no light anywhere; neither physical nor spiritual. When we look at the creation and take in its awe, beauty, enchantment and magnificence, it is but a reflection of God’s divine light and names.

He is al-Khaliq – “the Creator”, al-Bari – “the Producer”, al-Fatir – “the Maker” and al-Badi‘ – “the Originator” who, without resemblance, or anything external to Himself, creates and gives to every creature the light of existence by His command: “Be!”

He is also al-Musawwir – “the Fashioner” who shapes each creature according to the nature He wills it to have. Each creature has its purpose and is moulded to serve that purpose.

When we have been brought into existence, and fashioned as per that divine purpose, we aren’t forsaken, left to fend for ourselves. For God is al-Razzaq – “the Sustainer” who nourishes and nurtures us: mind, body and soul.

He is al-Rahman – “the Most-Merciful” and al-Rahim – “the Mercy-Giving”. The one describes God as He is in His eternal Essence and nature; while the other describes the outpourings of His mercy upon the entire creation.

Despite such outpourings we still sin and stray, for man was created weak. [4:28] But for God being al-Ghafur – “the Forgiving”, al-Tawwab – the Relenting” and al-‘Afuw – “the Effacer of Sins”, our situation might seem hopeless.

Sinning, however, has no clear meaning if God had not shown us “the Straight Path”. One of God’s Names is al-Hadi – “the Guider”, and we have been assured that He has never left any nation or people without sending to them a Messenger with a message of hope and guidance.

Ultimately He is al-Ahad – “the One”; Absolute Oneness. The One cannot be divided, nor diminished and nor can it be “humanised” via incarnation into any created form. God does not become His own creation. In fact, God does not become anything: He simply is (as He was and always will be). Lord of the heavens and the earth and all that is between. So worship Him and be constant in worship. Do you know of anyone similar to Him? [19:65]

He is God besides whom there is no other god; Knower of the seen and unseen; He is the
All-Merciful, Mercy-Giving. He is God besides whom there is no other god. The
Sovereign, the Holy One, the Source of Security, the Guardian, the August,
the Compeller, the Proud! Transcendent is He above what they
ascribe to Him. He is God, the Creator, the Producer, the
Fashioner. To Him belong the most beautiful names.
All that is in the heavens and the earth
glorifies Him. He is the
August, the Wise.

1. Ibn Rajab, ‘Warathat al-Anbiya’, in Majmu‘ Rasa’il al-Hafiz Ibn Rajab (Cairo: al-Faruq al-Khadathiyyah, 2002), 1:41.

2. This entire section is adapted from Gai Eaton, The Concept of God in Islam (Great Britain: The Islamic Foundation, 2004), 9-11.

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