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A GLIMPSE OF THE DIVINE NAMES, THE MERCIFUL AND THE COMPASSIONATE

In His Name, Glory be to Him. There is nothing that does not glorify Him with praise.

There are many reasons why the Divine Names, al-Rahman (the Merciful) and al-Rahim (the Compassionate) were included in the basmala, the formula uttered at the outset of every good deed and intention: In the Name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. I hope to be able to explain some of these reasons later. For the time being, I will talk about one of the impressions they make upon me:

The Divine Names, al-Rahman and al-Rahim seem to me, my dear brother, to own a light so comprehensive and splendid that it envelops the whole universe, and is enough to satisfy anyone’s needs for ever and to secure them against all kinds of hostility. One can be enlightened to these two greatest of the Divine Names through a grasp of his poverty and helplessness vis-à-vis the riches and power of God, and, in return, through thanksgiving to God for His limitless compassion and mercy. This is, in fact, the way of sincere devotion to God and humility. On this point, I would like to emphasize, in opposition to some people of research and discernment and even to Imam Rabbani, whom I regard to be my master in most subjects, that it was deep affection, not love, which the Prophet Ya‘qub (Jacob), upon him be peace, felt towards his son, the Prophet Yusuf (Joseph), upon him be peace. Affection is keener, purer and more sublime than love and, accordingly, more suited to the exalted rank of prophethood, whereas love does not seem to me to be suited to it, particularly when deeply felt for mortal beings.

This means that it was deep affection, so wonderfully described in the Quran, which the Prophet Ya‘qub felt for Yusuf, and it is again affection which enables one to be the object of manifestation of the Divine Name, al-Rahim. As for love, which can make one the object of manifestation of the Divine Name, al-Wadud, the All-Loving, when directed to the real Beloved One instead of to mortal beings, it is the kind of feeling that the wife of the ‘Aziz of Egypt (called Potiphar in the Bible) cherished for Yusuf. Compared with love, affection is more sublime and profound to the extent that the Quran regards the feelings of Ya‘qub as more exalted than the feelings of Zulayha, the wife of the ‘Aziz.

Imam Rabbani rightly understood that the prophets felt no love for mortal beings, so, according to him, Ya‘qub’s love for Yusuf was not a flaw, for what he loved was the spiritual beauties of Yusuf, not his mortal person. However, I should point out that this great Imam gave himself trouble to interpret it. The truth is that what Ya‘qub felt towards Yusuf was affection, which is a hundred times as bright, pure, and sublime as love. Indeed, affection is graceful and deeply felt, whereas love is such that, in most cases, we should not lower ourselves to it.

In addition, affection is so comprehensive a feeling that one, through affection for his own children, feels some affection for all other children and even for all living beings. He can become a comprehensive mirror where the manifestations of the Divine Name, al-Rahim are reflected, whereas love is restricted to the beloved one, and causes the lover to diminish others in order to prefer his beloved. For example, a lover is reported to have said: ‘The sun feels ashamed because of the beauty of my beloved and veils itself behind the cloud in order not be seen.’ And what gives this lover the right to have the sun ashamed, which so brightly manifests eight of the Great Names of God?

Furthermore, affection is felt sincerely without any ulterior motive and, accordingly, asks for no return, whereas love demands repayment. The tears caused by love mean to ask for a return, whilst sincere affection, even of the lowest degree, felt by animals for their young, proves that affection does not demand return.

In conclusion, the affection of Ya‘qub for Yusuf, which is the finest aspect of the Quranic sura Yusuf, directs us to the Divine Names, al-Rahman and al-Rahim, and demonstrates that the way of affection leads to the Divine Compassion. The remedy for the ailments of affection is the truth expressed by the verse, God is the best guardian, and He is the most Merciful of the Merciful. (12:64)

Last Updated on November 13, 2000

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