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What is the Most Gracious? – Join islam

The Qur’an uses the name “the Most Gracious” ( ar-Rahman / ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ) for God fifty-seven times in addition to the Bismillahs. This includes once by Abraham and Aaron and twice by Mary.

[19:44] [Abraham said] “O my father, do not worship the devil. The devil has rebelled against the Most Gracious.
[19:45] “O my father, I fear lest you incur retribution from the Most Gracious, then become an ally of the devil.”

 يَـٰٓأَبَتِ لَا تَعْبُدِ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ إِنَّ ٱلشَّيْطَـٰنَ كَانَ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ عَصِيًّا

 يَـٰٓأَبَتِ إِنِّىٓ أَخَافُ أَن يَمَسَّكَ عَذَابٌ مِّنَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ فَتَكُونَ لِلشَّيْطَـٰنِ وَلِيًّا

[20:90] And Aaron had told them, “O my people, this is a test for you. Your only Lord is the Most Gracious, so follow me, and obey my commands.”

 وَلَقَدْ قَالَ لَهُمْ هَـٰرُونُ مِن قَبْلُ يَـٰقَوْمِ إِنَّمَا فُتِنتُم بِهِۦ وَإِنَّ رَبَّكُمُ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ فَٱتَّبِعُونِى وَأَطِيعُوٓا۟ أَمْرِى

[19:18] (Mary) said, “I seek refuge in the Most Gracious, that you may be righteous.”

 قَالَتْ إِنِّىٓ أَعُوذُ بِٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ مِنكَ إِن كُنتَ تَقِيًّا

[19:26] “Eat and drink, and be happy. When you see anyone, say, ‘I (Mary) have made a vow of silence to the Most Gracious; I am not talking today to anyone.’ “

 فَكُلِى وَٱشْرَبِى وَقَرِّى عَيْنًا فَإِمَّا تَرَيِنَّ مِنَ ٱلْبَشَرِ أَحَدًا فَقُولِىٓ إِنِّى نَذَرْتُ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ صَوْمًا فَلَنْ أُكَلِّمَ ٱلْيَوْمَ إِنسِيًّا

This shows that the name “ar-Rahman” (the Most Gracious) has been used widely throughout history as a common name of God, including by Abraham, the father of the Arabs and our religion (22:78). Therefore, we would expect that the Arabs at the time of the revelation of the Quran would have been familiar with the name of God as the Most Gracious, except, in the following verse, they ask, “What is the Most Gracious?”

[25:60] When they are told, “Fall prostrate before the Most Gracious,” they say, “What is the Most Gracious? Shall we prostrate before what you advocate?” Thus, it only augments their aversion.

 وَإِذَا قِيلَ لَهُمُ ٱسْجُدُوا۟ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ قَالُوا۟ وَمَا ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ أَنَسْجُدُ لِمَا تَأْمُرُنَا وَزَادَهُمْ نُفُورًا

This seems contradictory to other verses of the Quran. For instance, in two other places in the Quran, the same people in opposition to the prophet acknowledge the Most Gracious.

[36:47] When they are told, “Give from GOD’s provisions to you,” those who disbelieve say to those who believe, “Why should we give to those whom GOD could feed, if He so willed? You are really far astray.” [36:48] They also challenge, “When will that promise come to pass, if you are truthful?” [36:49] All they see will be one blow that overwhelms them, while they dispute. [36:50] They will not even have time to make a will, nor will they be able to return to their people. [36:51] The horn will be blown, whereupon they will rise from the grave and go to their Lord.

[36:52] They will say, “Woe to us. Who resurrected us from our death? This is what the Most Gracious has promised. The messengers were right.”

 قَالُوا۟ يَـٰوَيْلَنَا مَنۢ بَعَثَنَا مِن مَّرْقَدِنَا هَـٰذَا مَا وَعَدَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ وَصَدَقَ ٱلْمُرْسَلُونَ

In the example above, one can say it isn’t conclusive that they knew what the Most Gracious was because their statement occurrs on the Day of Resurrection. Yet in the following verses, the disbelieving Arabs at the time of the prophet claim that “If the Most Gracious willed, we would not have worshiped them” in reference to their saying that the angels are the daughters of God. This clearly shows they knew full well about the Most Gracious.

[43:15] They even assigned for Him a share from His own creation! Surely, the human being is profoundly unappreciative. [43:16] Has He chosen from among His creations daughters for Himself, while blessing you with sons? [43:17] When one of them is given news (of a daughter) as they claimed for the Most Gracious, his face is darkened with misery and anger! [43:18] (They say,) “What is good about an offspring that is brought up to be beautiful, and cannot help in war?” [43:19] They claimed that the angels, who are servants of the Most Gracious, are females! Have they witnessed their creation? Their claims are recorded, and they will be asked.

[43:20] They even said, “If the Most Gracious willed, we would not have worshiped them.” They have no basis for such a claim; they only conjecture.

 وَقَالُوا۟ لَوْ شَآءَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ مَا عَبَدْنَـٰهُم مَّا لَهُم بِذَٰلِكَ مِنْ عِلْمٍ إِنْ هُمْ إِلَّا يَخْرُصُونَ

So, not only do the Arabs at the time of the Quranic revelation recognize the Most Gracious, but the Quran also acknowledges in the following verse that it has been a widely recognized name of God.

[17:110] Say, “Call Him GOD, or call Him Most Gracious; whichever name you use, to Him belongs the best names.” You shall not utter your Contact Prayers (Salat) too loudly, nor secretly; use a moderate tone.

قُلِ ٱدْعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ أَوِ ٱدْعُوا۟ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنَ أَيًّا مَّا تَدْعُوا۟ فَلَهُ ٱلْأَسْمَآءُ ٱلْحُسْنَىٰ وَلَا تَجْهَرْ بِصَلَاتِكَ وَلَا تُخَافِتْ بِهَا وَٱبْتَغِ بَيْنَ ذَٰلِكَ سَبِيلًا

So why would they ask, “What is the Most Gracious?”?

We see clues in the following two verses that the disbelieving Arabs at the time of the revelation of the Quran had a particular dislike of “the Most Gracious.”

[21:36] When those who disbelieve see you, they ridicule you: “Is this the one who challenges your gods?” And in the mention of the Most Gracious, they are disbelievers.

 وَإِذَا رَءَاكَ ٱلَّذِينَ كَفَرُوٓا۟ إِن يَتَّخِذُونَكَ إِلَّا هُزُوًا أَهَـٰذَا ٱلَّذِى يَذْكُرُ ءَالِهَتَكُمْ وَهُم بِذِكْرِ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ هُمْ كَـٰفِرُونَ

1 wa-idhā وَإِذَا And when
2 raāka رَءَاكَ you saw
3 alladhīna ٱلَّذِينَ those who
4 kafarū كَفَرُوٓا۟ [they] disbelieved
5 in إِن not
6 yattakhidhūnaka يَتَّخِذُونَكَ they take you
7 illā إِلَّا except
8 huzuwan هُزُوًا (in) ridicule,
9 ahādhā أَهَـٰذَا “Is this
10 alladhī ٱلَّذِى the one who
11 yadhkuru يَذْكُرُ he admonishes
12 ālihatakum ءَالِهَتَكُمْ your gods?”
13 wahum وَهُم And they
14 bidhik’ri بِذِكْرِ in (the) mention (of)
15 l-raḥmāni ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
16 hum هُمْ [they] (are)
17 kāfirūna كَـٰفِرُونَ disbelievers.

[43:36] Anyone who disregards the mention of the Most Gracious, we appoint a devil to be his constant companion.

 وَمَن يَعْشُ عَن ذِكْرِ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ نُقَيِّضْ لَهُۥ شَيْطَـٰنًا فَهُوَ لَهُۥ قَرِينٌ

1 waman وَمَن And whoever
2 yaʿshu يَعْشُ he forsakes / disregards
3 ʿan عَن from
4 dhik’ri ذِكْرِ (the) remembrance / message (of)
5 l-raḥmāni ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
6 nuqayyiḍ نُقَيِّضْ we appoint
7 lahu لَهُۥ for him
8 shayṭānan شَيْطَـٰنًا a devil,
9 fahuwa فَهُوَ then he (is)
10 lahu لَهُۥ to him
11 qarīnun قَرِينٌ a [joined] companion.

What could be behind their dislike for this name of God? A historical clue can be found in the work of Dr. Al-Jallad, who studies ancient inscriptions in the Arabian peninsula. From his findings, he determined that the term Rhman corresponded to the common name used for God in South Arabian inscriptions, while North Arabian inscriptions used “al-ilah,” a form close to the qur’anic name for God, “Allah.”

In Gabriel Said Reynolds’s Second Edition of “The Emergence of Islam, Classical Traditions in Contemporary Perspective,” he writes the following regarding the work by Dr. Ahmad Al-Jallad:

“…monotheism was widespread among Arabs at the dawn of Islam, even in the region close to Mecca and Medina.” – Preface

“As Ahmad al-Jallad has observed regarding South Arabian inscriptions, “By the fourth century CE, references to the pagan gods disappear almost entirely from the inscriptions, ushering in what scholars have termed the ‘monotheistic period.’ ” In South Arabia, one notices the rise in worship of God under the name rhmnn, meaning “the Merciful” and being closely related to the Qur’anic Arabic term for God al-rahman. – p. 4

“A similar trend toward monotheism is evident in inscriptions of North Arabia….The move to monotheism appears a bit later than it does in South Arabia, but it occurs definitively before Islam. “By the sixth century,” writes al-Jallad, “the pagan gods had completely disappeared from the inscriptions of North Arabia” (Al-Jallad, “Pre-Islamic Basmala,” 14). Instead, these inscriptions refer to one God, usually as al-ilah, a form close to the qur’anic name for God: Allah.” – p. 5

Interestingly, the Arabs in the Hijazi region (Mecca and Medina) preferred Allah at the time of the Quranic revelation. Therefore, it appears that the Hijazi people had a particular bias against the mention of “the Most Gracious” (ar-Rahman), as they most likely associated this name with Christian ideology.

The connection between the Most Gracious and Christianity can be seen in the following three verses in the Quran when it associates the claim of God having a son with the Most Gracious.

[19:88] They said, “The Most Gracious has begotten a son!”

 وَقَالُوا۟ ٱتَّخَذَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ وَلَدًا

[19:91] Because they claim that the Most Gracious has begotten a son.

 أَن دَعَوْا۟ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ وَلَدًا

[21:26] Yet, they said, “The Most Gracious has begotten a son!” Glory be to Him. All (messengers) are (His) honored servants.

 وَقَالُوا۟ ٱتَّخَذَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ وَلَدًا سُبْحَـٰنَهُۥ بَلْ عِبَادٌ مُّكْرَمُونَ

Another clue connecting the use of the Most Gracious with Christianity is that “the Most Gracious” is mentioned the most in Sura 19, Maryam, 16 times. These facts demonstrate that “the Most Gracious” was used predominantly by Christians, and it just happens that the prominent Christian presence at that time of the revelation of the Quran historically was the population in South Arabia, which is where we find the inscriptions referencing God as the Most Gracious (Rahman).

This indicates that the Arabs in the Hijazi region would have a cultural bias against using “the Most Gracious.” So their questioning of “What is the Most Gracious?” was not out of ignorance but defiance. Further proof of this can be seen in the following verses, which show that the objective of their statement was only to argue.

[43:57] When the son of Mary was cited as an example, your people disregarded it.

 وَلَمَّا ضُرِبَ ٱبْنُ مَرْيَمَ مَثَلًا إِذَا قَوْمُكَ مِنْهُ يَصِدُّونَ

[43:58] They said, “Is it better to worship our gods, or to worship him?” They said this only to argue with you. Indeed, they are people who have joined the opposition.

 وَقَالُوٓا۟ ءَأَـٰلِهَتُنَا خَيْرٌ أَمْ هُوَ مَا ضَرَبُوهُ لَكَ إِلَّا جَدَلًۢا بَلْ هُمْ قَوْمٌ خَصِمُونَ

Appendix

The word “l-raḥmāni” ( ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ), which translates to “Most Gracious” in its various forms, occurs 57 times in the Quran (19×3). This excludes the 112 occurrences in the non-numbered verses. It is also worth noting that the word nor the name “rahman” ( رَّحْمَـٰنِ ) never occurs in the Quran without the definitive article and that the bulk of the occurrences happens in only a few select Suras (19, 20, 21, 23, 25, 36, 43).

Count Sura Verse Word Arabic Translation
1 1 1 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ Most Gracious,
2 1 3 1 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ Most Gracious,
3 2 163 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ Most Gracious,
4 13 30 17 بِٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ in (the) Most Gracious.
5 17 110 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنَ (the) Most Gracious.
6 19 18 4 بِٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ in (the) Most Gracious
7 19 26 13 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ to (the) Most Gracious
8 19 44 8 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ to (the) Most Gracious
9 19 45 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
10 19 58 26 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
11 19 61 5 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
12 19 69 9 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
13 19 75 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
14 19 78 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
15 19 85 5 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
16 19 87 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
17 19 88 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
18 19 91 3 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ to (the) Most Gracious
19 19 92 3 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ for (the) Most Gracious
20 19 93 9 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (to the) Most Gracious
21 19 96 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
22 20 5 1 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (The) Most Gracious
23 20 90 13 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious,
24 20 108 9 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ for (the) Most Gracious,
25 20 109 9 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious,
26 21 26 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
27 21 36 15 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
28 21 42 7 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious?”
29 21 112 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ Most Gracious,
30 25 26 4 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ for (the) Most Gracious.
31 25 59 14 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (The) Most Gracious,
32 25 60 5 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ to (the) Most Gracious.”
33 25 60 8 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious?
34 25 63 2 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious (are)
35 26 5 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
36 27 30 7 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ Most Gracious,
37 36 11 7 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنَ (the) Most Gracious
38 36 15 9 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
39 36 23 7 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious
40 36 52 10 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious,
41 41 2 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
42 43 17 6 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ for (the) Most Gracious
43 43 19 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
44 43 20 4 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious,
45 43 33 10 بِٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ in (the) Most Gracious
46 43 36 5 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious,
47 43 45 11 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
48 43 81 4 لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ that (the) Most Gracious
49 50 33 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنَ (the) Most Gracious
50 55 1 1 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (The) Most Gracious
51 59 22 12 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ Most Gracious,
52 67 3 10 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious
53 67 19 11 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious.
54 67 20 10 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (the) Most Gracious?
55 67 29 3 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious;
56 78 37 6 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ (The) Most Gracious,
57 78 38 12 ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ (the) Most Gracious,

An intriguing point with the above references is that there appears to be a connection with the use of “the Most Gracious” in conjunction with associating offspring with God as it is used in reference to those who both claimed the Most Gracious had a son (19:88, 92, 21:26) or, in this case (43:15-20), daughters.

It is worth noting that both verses, 21:36 and 43:36, regarding being disbelievers in the “mention of the Most Gracious,” occur in verses 36, which happens to also be the Sura number of the un-named disbelieving community that mentions the Most Gracious.

[36:15] They said, “You are no more than human beings like us. The Most Gracious did not send down anything. You are liars.”

 قَالُوا۟ مَآ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا بَشَرٌ مِّثْلُنَا وَمَآ أَنزَلَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ مِن شَىْءٍ إِنْ أَنتُمْ إِلَّا تَكْذِبُونَ

[36:20] A man came from the other end of the city, saying, “O my people, follow the messengers. [36:21] “Follow those who do not ask you for any wage, and are guided. [36:22] “Why should I not worship the One who initiated me, and to Him is your ultimate return?

[36:23] “Shall I set up beside Him gods? If the Most Gracious willed any harm for me, their intercession cannot help me one bit, nor can they rescue me.

 ءَأَتَّخِذُ مِن دُونِهِۦٓ ءَالِهَةً إِن يُرِدْنِ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ بِضُرٍّ لَّا تُغْنِ عَنِّى شَفَـٰعَتُهُمْ شَيْـًٔا وَلَا يُنقِذُونِ

Additional noteworthy mentions of “the Most Gracious.”

[21:42] Say, “Who can protect you from the Most Gracious during the night or during the day?” Indeed, they are totally oblivious to the message of their Lord.

 قُلْ مَن يَكْلَؤُكُم بِٱلَّيْلِ وَٱلنَّهَارِ مِنَ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ بَلْ هُمْ عَن ذِكْرِ رَبِّهِم مُّعْرِضُونَ

[21:112] Say, “My Lord, Your judgment is the absolute justice. Our Lord is the Most Gracious; only His help is sought in the face of your claims.”

 قَـٰلَ رَبِّ ٱحْكُم بِٱلْحَقِّ وَرَبُّنَا ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنُ ٱلْمُسْتَعَانُ عَلَىٰ مَا تَصِفُونَ

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