Kareem comes from the three-letter root ka-ra-ma. According to Lisan al-Arab, it encompasses all kinds of good, honor and virtues. As we will see, the concept of karam is more expansive than a superficial understanding of generosity.
For example, the Qur’an is described as Qur’an Kareem. This means that the Qur’an is full of benefit and virtues. Sh. Ratib an-Nabulsi uses the following ayah (verse) to illustrate, where the Queen of Sheba speaks of the letter than was given to her:
“She said, ‘O eminent ones, indeed, to me has been delivered a kareem letter.’” (Qur’an 27:29)
Imam al-Ghazali, in his explanation of Allah’s Names, stated that al-Kareem is “one who forgives if he has the power, follows through when he promises, and exceeds the limits one could hope for when he gives; nor is he concerned with how much he gives or to whom.”
Another meaning is also alluded to in Maqayees al-lugha, that karam can refer to something that intrinsically has honor in and of and itself. This meaning is important. Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says:
“And We have certainly honored the children of Adam and carried them on the land and sea and provided for them of the good things and preferred them over much of what We have created, with [definite] preference.” (Qur’an 17:70)
The word used for honored is karram-na, from the same root karam. Allah (swt) has given the human being a sense of honor and dignity in being human. He has preferred the human over other creation. Iblis (Satan) even recognizes this, saying:
“Do You see this one whom You have honored [karram-ta] above me? If You delay me until the Day of Resurrection, I will surely destroy his descendants, except for a few.” (Qur’an 17:62)
How does Iblis do this? By distracting us and causing us to stray from the path. When we follow him, we are putting ourselves in a lower state than we are supposed to be.
How is Allah al-Kareem?
What does it mean for Allah to be al-Kareem? Allah (swt) in His essence is Kareem because of His perfection, His Oneness and His uniqueness.
He is also Kareem in His dealings with His creation. As al-Ghazali’s definition shows, Allah (swt) always goes over and beyond what is needed, when He does not have to. He forgives, He follows through and He gives. Why? Because He is ultimately al-Kareem.
We can illustrate with a few examples, but I am sure you can think of more:
Prayers are fascinating. We were created to worship. We all know that worship includes many different acts, but at the very basic level, we all must pray. It is a compulsory act, and it would suffice that it is a command from Allah (swt). Yet Allah (swt) provides so many spiritual cures in prayers, and He makes it something that is beloved in the heart of the believers. When we pray, the veil between us and Allah (swt) is lifted, as the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) tells us:
“Allah faces the servant during prayer as long as he does not turn away.” (Abu Dawud)
Moreover, we are forgiven for sins, as we are told:
“When a slave stands and prays, all his sins are brought and placed on his head and shoulders. Every time he bows or prostrates, some of them fall from him.” (Bayhaqi, Saheeh al-Jami’)
And we are rewarded! We are rewarded even when we are waiting for prayer, as the Prophet ﷺ said:
“A person is considered in prayer as long as he is waiting for the prayer.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
And finally we are given the gift of du`a’ (supplication) when we are closest to Allah (swt), in sujood (prostration). The Prophet ﷺ tells us:
“The closest that a servant is to his Lord is when he is in prostration.”(Muslim)
All of this to exemplify this attribute of Allah (swt)—He gives and gives, for such a simple act in order to bring us closer.
We need certain nutrients. Our food could be bland and tasteless, and simply fulfill its function of helping us survive. But food is also a pleasure (sometimes too much of a pleasure for people ), and this is also from the generosity of Allah (swt).
Even in Allah’s forgiveness of our sins, His Generosity is manifest. When we spoke about Allah at-Tawwaab, we recounted how Allah (swt) not only cancels your sin, but that sin may even be turned into a good deed in your books. Yet Allah’s generosity knows no bounds. Sheikh Ratib an-Nabulsi, in explaining Allah’s Name al-Kareem, quotes the following:
“If a believer returns to Allah with true sincere repentance, Allah makes him, the angels and the whole world, forget his sins and misdeeds.”
Paradise is the ultimate manifestation of Allah’s generosity. Fairness may be in giving us a good life for whatever good we did (which is ultimately from His bounty!). But Paradise removes even the memory of whatever we were afflicted with. Paradise is a place that we cannot even imagine—where everyone will have what he wishes, and everyday is more fascinating than the previous. Take a minute to just imagine.
Firstly, recognize the worth that Allah (swt) has given you in being a human being, with intellect and a capacity to choose. This dignity was given by God; and as people, we must act in ways that are dignified. We dishonor ourselves by lying, cheating, being rude, and ignoring injustice.
Secondly, recognize Allah’s generosity in His dealings with you, and that everything good we have is a result of Allah’s generosity. Reflect upon how Allah’s generosity exceeds all expectations. It is important to contemplate over what we have, and realize that what we have is truly over and above our basic needs. All that is from the generosity of al-Kareem.
Thirdly, be generous to people, knowing that Allah (swt) compensates His servants because He is the ultimate in Generosity. Not simply in money, but in time and simple generosity in attitude. The Prophet ﷺ would never say “no” when he was asked for something [Agreed upon]. The Prophet ﷺ also said: “The generous one is close to Allah, close to people, far from the fire; a stingy person is far from Allah, far from people, far from Paradise; and the generous ignorant person is more beloved to Allah than a stingy worshipper.” (Tirmidhi)
Share the ways in which you have witnessed Allah’s Generosity!