When we think about mercy, perhaps the first image that enters our mind is that of a mother with her baby. Mercy is an interesting concept. It’s defined as compassion or forgiveness that’s shown towards someone or something, even though that object is within one’s power to punish or harm. It is also something to be grateful for because it does one of two things: The first is that it prevents something harmful, and the second is that it relieves suffering.
Keeping in mind this definition, we can see that day in and day out, we are all constant recipients of mercy and always will be because our very existence is a mercy from Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He). No matter in what state we are in, we are always receiving mercy in some form or other, even if it passes us by without our recognition. If our situation is pleasant, than that is from the Mercy of Allah (swt), and if it is not so great, it is still a mercy from Him because it could have been much worse.
This is important to keep in mind because it allows us to become more aware of ourselves and our lives and the constant blessings we enjoy as a result of Allah (swt)’s mercy on us. From small things that we overlook, such as our breathing that happens naturally or our heartbeat, to more significant instances of mercy such as being guided to Islam, faith, and being from the nation of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him).
All of this stems from Allah (swt)—and one of His Names is Ar-Rahman—the most Merciful. Rahman denotes completeness, extensiveness, and prevalence of the attribute of mercy. Therefore, it makes sense that one of the oft-repeated names of Allah (swt) is Ar-Rahman. Allah (swt) says,
“Say, ‘Call upon Allah (swt) or call upon the Most Merciful. Whichever [name] you call – to Him belong the best names.’” [Qur’an 17:110]
This name occurs very often in the Qur’an, and we recite it every day in our prayers when we recite the Opening chapter. In the chapter named after this Name of Allah (swt), Ar-Rahman, Allah (swt) speaks about His Mercy and gives many examples of it to the reader. We are reminded of our creation, our language and ability to communicate, the food which sustains us, the water which quenches our thirst, and more. Yet, the most interesting thing here is that preceding all of these examples of mercy, immediately at the beginning of the chapter, right after mentioning Himself as the Most Merciful, Allah (swt) mentions the greatest and foremost example of His Mercy. He says,
“The Most Merciful taught the Qur’an,” [Qur’an 55:1-2]
Before even mentioning that He created us, He gives the greatest example of His Mercy: that He taught us the Qur’an. This mercy is greater than anything else because in this act of mercy of teaching us the Qur’an, the entire scope of mercy is captured. The Qur’an is a form of compassion because it guides us to our success in this life and the Hereafter. It is something to be grateful for as it gives us the opportunity to protect ourselves from harm. It is a cause for thanks because it relieves the hearts from suffering and anxiety. The one who recognizes this and takes it as a guide is the one who will be successful like Allah (swt) says,
“Indeed, this Qur’an guides to that which is most suitable and gives good tidings to the believers who do righteous deeds that they will have a great reward.” [Qur’an 17:9]
The very next verse says, “He created the human being.” – This raises an interesting question: to teach the Qur’an, humans need to have been created first because they are the ones being taught the Qur’an. Why mention us second then? If we think about it, isn’t it possible that Allah (swt) could have, if He wished, created us and left us to do as we wished without giving us guidance? He could have; and as humans we gravitate towards our desires, and they would have consumed us and lead us to the Fire. By mentioning the Qur’an first, Allah (swt) is highlighting that giving us the tool that would guide us and enlighten us to the purpose of our creation is more of a mercy than creating us and leaving us without guidance.
It is very interesting to note that Allah (swt) does not say in Surah al-Rahman that He ‘gave’ us the Qur’an or that He ‘revealed’ or ‘sent down’ the Qur’an as He does in other places. Rather, He says that He ‘taught’ it. This gives some deep implications. The first is the constant relationship between the Qur’an and Allah (swt)—meaning that we are always dependent upon Allah (swt) when it comes to the Qur’an. Knowledge of it isn’t something that we can gain on our own but it if we learn anything from it, then it is a direct consequence of His Mercy on us. The teacher we study Qur’an from, whether it is recitation, grammatical analysis, or commentary, learned it from his teacher who learned from his teacher. This chain continues back to the Companions, who learned from the Prophet ﷺ, who was taught by the Angel Jibreel who received the Qur’an from Allah (swt)—the source of knowledge will always be Allah (swt).
The second is that when one teaches another, there are two roles automatically being assumed, that of the teacher and that of the student. By saying He taught us the Qur’an, Allah (swt) is putting Himself in the role of the teacher and we are the students. A student is to recognize his role, his lack of knowledge and humble himself before his teacher—this is how Allah (swt) wants us to approach the Qur’an, with humility and an open mind eager to learn. He is teaching us the Qur’an out of His Mercy so that we can learn how to protect ourselves from the Fire and enter Paradise. Receiving guidance is a direct consequence of the manner and attitude of the one approaching the Qur’an. Humility in approaching it leads to guidance and arrogance to misguidance.
Another implication is that, if we choose to become students of the Qur’an, we are in for a journey that lasts a lifetime. We will constantly be learning. The source of all knowledge is the Qur’an and everything revolves around it. We should try and adopt this attitude of making our days a constant journey of learning the Qur’an in order to actualize the greatest of Allah (swt)’s Mercy within our lives.
It is important that we seek to secure parts of this mercy everyday so that we can illuminate our life with guidance. By becoming students of the Qur’an we are taking advantage of the greatest mercy that Allah (swt) has honored us with. If we want to become from the best of people, then the recipe is very simple, given to us by the Messenger ﷺ:
‘The best among you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it.’ [Bukhaari]