First Impressions

First Impressions: Al-Raḥmān

First impressions are the most important because they are almost impossible to remove or undo. They set the tone for the rest of the relationship. Therefore, everyone strives to make a good impression on the first day of work, school, or when meeting someone important. As an educator, the impression I give my students on the first day of class is extremely important and sets the tone for the rest of the semester. If I present myself as very strict, students are likely to be intimidated and that can negatively impact their learning. Conversely, if I present myself as too lenient students may not take me or the class seriously.

In Islam, God has ninety-nine names and attributes. God’s name al-Raḥmān is often mistranslated as mercy. Mercy implies that one can punish or inflict harm, but simply refrains from doing so. While mercy is certainly a part of the name al-Raḥmān, it is does not give a proper definition. A womb in Arabic is referred to as “raḥim”, and family relations are called arḥām. These terms stem from the same root as God’s name al-Rahman. The relationship a mother has with her child is not mercy, but unconditional love, compassion, and mercy. During the life of the Prophet, peace be upon him, a mother lost her child. When she found her child she quickly hugged him and began to nurse him. The Prophet, peace be upon him, asked his Companions “Do you think this woman could throw her child in the fire?” We said, “No, not if it was up to her.” The Prophet said, “Allah has more raḥma toward His servants than a mother has on her child.” (Bukhari).

The name Al-Raḥmān has a similar connotation. God unconditionally has raḥma on us. He provides for everyone, even those who reject His existence with life, sustenance, clothing, and shelter. This is not to say that God accepts and overlooks evil actions, but despite our evil God still has a level of raḥma on us. There is another category of love that God reserves for the good doers, which He calls ḥub. Ḥub is a level above raḥma and God reserves that for those who obey Him. In the Qurʾān, God never says that he hates (kurh or yakrah) sinners or wrong doers, rather He states that He does not have ḥub for them. Nevertheless, He still has raḥma towards them, God says in the Qurʾān, My raḥma has encompassed all things (Q. 7: 156).

What does this all have to do with first impressions? Despite God having ninety-nine names and attributes, He begins every chapter in the Qurʾān, apart from one, with His names Al-Raḥmān and Al-Raḥīm. Despite God having ninety-nine names, He chose to use these two each time to emphasize that His raḥma is vast and His door is always open. This is to remind the reader that no matter what one does, God in Islam is loving, compassionate, merciful, and will happily except all who turn to Him in repentance.

The proper terminology used, in Islam, for God is “Allah.” There are a number of reasons for having a special word for God. First of all, the term “Allah” means, in Arabic, the one and only universal God or Creator and Provider of the universe. Notice here I am emphasizing “the one and only.” So a Muslim would not simply say, “There is one God.” That would not be as accurate or as strong an expression as saying ‘the one and only God’.

Allah means The One God.

The main point to be emphasized here is that, unfortunately many of the writings that are found in various libraries in the West, which are not written from a Muslim standpoint or how Muslims understand Islam, depict Allah as if He is some type of a tribal Arabian God or even the ‘God of Muslims’. For example, they’d say Mohammed worshiped his Allah. Or Muslims worship Allah. Even if they use the term Allah they put it in such a way that leaves the reader or audience with the impression that maybe it is not exactly the same God.

The reason for considering the term Allah as more accurate, is that Allah is not only just a meaning of God it is also a personal name for God, both a reference to God and His personal name. This is beautiful in a sense. You don’t just say God but you can also say Lord but when you say Allah you’re invoking the name, the personal name, of God. It establishes a personal touch or a pull between the human being and the creator.

‘Allah’ represents purity of Islamic monotheism

The other thing, which I consider also relevant, is that the term Allah, in Arabic, is not subject to plurality. For example, in English you can say God and you can also say gods. In Arabic there is nothing that is equivalent to [the English term] Gods, nothing whatsoever. In other words, there is no Allahs for example. This emphasizes the purity of Islamic monotheism.

A third reason, which is quite interesting as well, the term Allah does not lend itself to any gender. In other words, there is no female or male gender for the term Allah. In English you can have god and goddess. In Arabic, this simply doesn’t exist, which shows that the term Allah is a lot more accurate than using the term God even if you are using a capital G. At least it is relatively more accurate in conveying the true nature of the Supreme Creator.