Getting to Know Allah
20:5 The Compassionate has sat upon the Throne.
20:6 To Him belongs what is in the heavens, and what is in the earth, and what is in between them, as well as what is beneath the ground.
20:7 If you speak aloud, He surely knows the secret and what is even more hidden.
20:8 Allah, there is no god but He. His are the Most Beautiful Names.
The Compassionate and the Merciful are two of the “Most Beautiful Names” of the official ninety-nine names of God. Compassionate and Merciful are the ostensibly laudable attributes of Allah most often mentioned in the Koran, and by a wide margin.
The flattering invocation “In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful” begins every chapter of the Koran except chapter 1, The Opening and chapter 9, Repentance. Nonetheless, the reader is reminded at least twice in the first chapter (only seven verses) of Allah’s merciful and compassionate nature.
1:1 In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful,
1:2 Praise be to Allah, the Lord of the Worlds,
1:3 The Compassionate, the Merciful,
1:4 Master of the Day of Judgement,
1:5 Only You do we worship, and only You do we implore for help.
1:6 Lead us to the right path,
1:7 The path of those You have favoured Not those who have incurred Your wrath or have gone astray.
The ubiquitous phrase begins every surah of the Koran except chapter 1 and chapter 9, Repentance. The reason put forward by some Islamic scholars why the phrase, In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful does not appear at all in chapter 9, Repentance, is because Repentance is mainly about making war. In war, Allah expects no mercy and compassion to be shown to those who will not submit to His will.
In any event, a compassionate and merciful god is not the impression that a first time reader of the Koran is left with. Quite the opposite! This is not to say that Allah is not a compassionate and merciful god, He is. But it is a conditional type of mercy and compassion.
A Conditional Type of Mercy
17:80 Say: “My Lord, make my entry a truthful one and my going out a truthful one, and grant me from you a supporting power.”
17:81 And say: “The truth has come and falsehood has perished. Falsehood is ever perishing.”
17:82 And We reveal of the Qur’an that which is healing and merciful to the believers, and it yields nothing but perdition for the wrongdoers.
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful is also the phrase that you hear Muslims repeating over and over during their daily prayers and almost every time the name Allah is mentioned in print or during a conversation. This phrase in particular leaves a lay reader of the Koran somewhat perplexed since these are not qualities, as mentioned previously, we associate with Allah as our reading takes us further and further into the Koran and the mindset of its Author.
Scholars, including the pre-imminent medieval erudite Abul Hasan al-Ash'ari (b. 873 - d. 941) have argued that the Koran has no author, that, like Allah, it is eternal; always was, always will be.
You’re only thirteen verses into the Koran (6,333 verses to go) and it starts, verse 2:7.
2:6 Those who have disbelieved, whether you warn them or not, they will not believe.
2:7 Allah has sealed their hearts and their hearing; their sight is dimmed and a terrible punishment awaits them.
2:8 There are some who say: “We believe in Allah and the Last Day;” but they are not real believers.
2:9 They seek to deceive Allah and the believers, but they deceive none other than themselves, though they are not aware of that.
2:10 In their hearts is a sickness; so Allah has increased their sickness. A painful punishment awaits them because of their lying.
More than six thousand verses later and Allah is still at it, talking about punishment and pain and burning people – men, women and children – in a raging fire.
If compassionate is defined as being aware of the suffering of an other and wishing to relieve it, and merciful as being unconditionally kind and forgiving then these are not the virtues we would associate with the author of the following verses about roasting a man over an open fire, with his wife, tethered like an animal, supplying the firewood that fuels the flame that is burning her husband.
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
111:1 Perish the hands of Abu Lahab, and may he perish too;
111:2 Neither his wealth nor what he has earned will avail him anything.
111:3 He will roast in a flaming fire,
111:4 And his wife will be a carrier of fire-wood,
111:5 She shall have a rope of fibre around her neck.
Does it matter that Abu Lahab and his wife were inveterate enemies of Islam in the early days?
If the treatment reserved for Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet, and his wife was an exception to the definition of mercy and compassion then perhaps the phrase most associated with Allah would not, for the non-believer, have such a hollow ring.
Roasting in Hell for an eternity is the fate Allah reserves for all who refuse to believe in Him and His Messenger; a fiery fate for all unbelievers which Allah never tires of reminding the readers of the Koran.
Often when you come across the many verses where Allah brags about His mercy and compassion, He has just committed a merciless, pitiless act of grandiose proportions, or is about to.
Islamic tradition informs us that Allah showed what non-Muslims would consider compassion and mercy for an unbeliever only once. He spared the Prophet Muhammad’s parents the torment of Hell after His Messenger was seen weeping over the tomb of his mother at Medina.
When asked by people who were near him at the time why he was crying, he replied, it was because he had just seen his parents burning in Hell. Allah would bring both parents, Abdullah and Amina, back to life temporarily so that they could become Muslim and enter Paradise.
Allah is adamant! His Messenger’s parents notwithstanding, all unbelievers – whether they are your children, your mother or your father – are to be shown no compassion or mercy.
Another Islamic tradition maintains that when God saw His Messenger praying for a beloved, recently deceased uncle who had sheltered him, protected him from his enemies, been a father to the young Muhammad, whose own father died before he was born, he was scolded by the angel Gabriel.
The angel, in no uncertain terms, informed the Prophet that Allah did not want to see His Messenger praying for an unbeliever ever again – his uncle Abu-Talib died an unbeliever. He reminded the Prophet that it was all pointless anyway, since unbelievers automatically go to Hell.
The Prophet will intervene with Allah on Judgement Day and obtain a reduced sentence for his uncle.
Narrated Al-Abbas bin 'Abdul Muttalib:
That he said to the Prophet "You have not been of any avail to your uncle (Abu-Talib) (though) by Allah, he used to protect you and used to become angry on your behalf."
The Prophet said, "He is in a shallow fire, and had It not been for me, he would have been in the bottom of the (Hell) Fire."
The further you get into the Koran the more you have difficulty accepting the contradiction of a god who claims to be compassionate and merciful while revelling in the pain He will cause you if you die an unbeliever. Then you remember; Islam is all about loyalty and the whole thing starts making sense … again.
Those who intone In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful during prayer and at other occasions are reminding their god that the price of their loyalty is the compassion and mercy he has promised to those who remain loyal and die believing in Him and Him only.
Allah will handsomely reward and forgive the sins of those who believe in Him and His Messenger and are ruthless with those who don't.
48:29 Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah and those who are with him are hard on the unbelievers, merciful towards each other. You will see them kneeling and prostrating themselves, seeking bounty and good pleasure from Allah; their mark is upon their faces, as a trace of their prostration. That is their likeness in the Torah and their likeness in the Gospels; just as a seed which puts forth its shoot, strengthens it and grows stout, then rises straight upon its stalks, delighting the sower, to vex thereby unbelievers. Allah has promised those who believe and do the righteous deeds forgiveness and a great wage.
Terrified Into Believing
You don’t necessarily remain loyal to Allah because you love Him and He loves you. You fear and respect Him for what he will do to you if you don’t.
A rare expression of affection for other than His Messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, followed by the ubiquitous boast from the All-Compassionate about generations He annihilated as a warning for generations to come.
19:96 Those who believe and do what is right, the Compassionate will favour them with love (His Love and that of their fellow creatures).
19:97 For We made it easy (the Qur’an) [to understand] in your own tongue, so as to announce the good news to the God-Fearing and warn trough it (the Meccan unbelievers).
19:98 And how many generations before them We have destroyed! Do you perceive any one of them or hear any sound of theirs?
The punishment reserved for Abu Lahab and his wife is just one of many graphic and cruel reminders scattered throughout the Koran of the price you will pay if you break your oath of loyalty to Allah. These horrific pitiless images forever etched in the mind of the believer, never letting him or her forget that this god does not fool around when it comes to those who would dare not to submit to His Will.
When reading the Koran you have to get used to the violent imagery, just like more than a billion Muslims around the world who must recite verses just as horrifying as the one about the fate of the Prophet’s uncle as part of their daily prayers to Allah.
Writer and Islamic scholar Yahiya Emerick estimates that twenty-five percent of the Koran is concerned with visions of heaven and hell, mostly hell. And in these visions of hell, Allah is almost always torturing some unfortunate unbeliever with His favourite instrument of torture: Fire.
Fire seems to hold a mesmerizing fascination for Allah, an almost Zoroastrian-like fascination. Maybe that is why, in Fakhry’s translation/interpretation of the Koran, whenever fire is mentioned, it is written with a capital “F”. The translator of this interpretation of the Muslim Holy Book must have known that this is what Allah would have wanted from someone writing about His beloved “Fire”.
When talking about sending unbelievers into the Fire, Allah's rationalization is nearly always the same; unbelievers have it coming, they deserve to spend an eternity roasting in Hell for not believing in Me and my Messenger.
The opening surah of the Koran is repeated in every one of the five daily prayers. It is also recited on occasions of any significance, and at the commencement of a Muslim’s daily activities. While two of the first three verses, verses 1:1 and 1:3 mention Allah’s compassionate and merciful nature, every time a Muslim recites the seven verses that make up the first surah, The Opening, he is also reminded by the seventh verse that unbelievers are not deserving of Allah’s compassion or mercy.
1:6 Lead us to the right path,
1:7 The path of those You have favoured Not those who have incurred Your wrath or have gone astray.
Allah promised “terrible punishment” for those with whom He is displeased. The description of the pain He will inflict as revealed in the Koran more than lives up to that promise.
Robert Redeker, a philosophy teacher, writing in Le Figaro described the Koran “as a book of incredible violence.” And it is. And the violence, more often than not, when it is Allah talking about what He will do to those who will not submit to His will, as mentioned earlier, usually involves fire
Allah first mentions fire as His favourite instrument for torturing unbelievers early on in chapter 2, The Cow, after daring anyone to produce better verses than Him.
2:23 If you are in doubt as to what We have revealed to Our Servant (the Prophet Muhammad), then produce a surah similar to it and call upon your witnesses other than Allah (that is, the gods you associate with Allah), if you are truthful.
2:24 If you do not do that, and surely you will not, then guard yourself against the Fire whose fuel is men and stones, prepared for the unbelievers.
And how much time will you spend being consumed by a fire that is fuelled by “men and stones”?
2:39 And [as to] those who have disbelieved and denied Our Revelations, they are the people of Hell, wherein they will dwell forever.
Even if the topic is not unbelievers, as in the following verse where Allah warns the faithful not to use an expression His Messenger dislikes because the Jews frequently used it as a term of reproach, He can’t resist mentioning what a painful punishment awaits the unbelievers. He does this all the time.
2:104 O believers, do not say (to our Messenger): Ra’ina [listen to us] but Unzurna [look at us] and listen.” And for the unbelievers a painful punishment is destined.
Allah, like the cat that teases the mouse it will eventually have for lunch, sometimes likes to have fun with the unbelievers, giving them a false sense of security, before tossing them into His Fire. A revelation that gives us a glimpse into Allah’s duplicitous, some would say, playful nature.
17:18 He who desires the transitory life, We hasten to him and to whomsoever We desire whatever We please. Later We consign him to Hell in which he will burn despised and rejected.
But it is mostly a lack of patience with unbelievers that we associate with Allah. The punishment can’t be too soon for these miserable souls.
2:161 Upon those who disbelieve and die as unbelievers is the Curse of Allah, the angels, and the whole of mankind.
2:162 They abide forever in it (Hell); their punishment will not be reduced, nor will they be given any respite.
This punishment is a courtesy from a god who never tires of reminding the reader of His compassionate and merciful side just after he has condemned an unbeliever to an eternity of agony.
2:163 Your God is one God. There is no God but He, The Compassionate, the Merciful.
Having believed in other gods won’t cut you any slack with Allah (revelation 2:167) after all He has done for you. It’s into the Fire with you, and saying you are sorry for backing the wrong god will only make Him angrier.
2:164 In the creation of the heavens and the earth; in the alternation of night and day; in the ships which sail in the sea with what profits mankind; in the water which Allah sends down from the sky in order to bring the earth back to life after its death and disperses over it every type of beast; in the continuous changing of winds; and in clouds which are driven between heaven and earth – surely in these are signs for people who understand.
In the Koran, the lowest level of the seven levels of Paradise is somewhere between the far side of the moon – which was thought to be much closer to the earth than it actually is – and the top of the clouds.
2:165 Yet, there are people who set up equals to Allah (false gods), whom they love as they love Allah. Those who believe, however, have greater love for Allah. If only the evil-doers could understand, upon seeing the punishment, that all power is Allah’s and that Allah is Stern in punishment.
2:166 Those who followed will disowned those who followed them when they will see the punishment and their relations with each other will be severed.
2:167 Those who were followed will say: "If only we could go back (to life on earth) we would disown them as they disowned us." Thus Allah will show them their works as sources of deep regret. And they will never come out of the Fire.
Both the false gods and those who worshipped them will have Hell for a permanent home.
Sometimes you get the impression that Allah is looking for any excuse to mix people and Fire. In the next verse, He puts Fire into people.
2:174 Those who conceal anything from the Book which Allah has revealed and sell it for a small price will swallow nothing but fire in their bellies. Allah will not speak to them on the Day of Resurrection, nor will He purify them (from their sins), and their punishment is very painful.
Some will burn for an eternity because they differed about what is in the Book.
2:175 It is those who prefer to commit error rather than seek guidance, and incur punishment in place of forgiveness. How bold they are in the face of the Fire!
2:176 That is because Allah has revealed the Book with the truth; and those who disagree about the Book are in great dissent.
And so it goes ... We are just a few verses into the second chapter of the Koran and already the Compassionate One is talking incessantly about roasting people. He will finally give it a rest more than one-hundred chapters later, more than six thousand verses later with the story of the hapless Abu Lahab roasting over an open fire with wood that his wife is forced to provide.
Wood!!! Didn’t Allah say in verse 2:24 that men and stones were his favourite combustibles: “… guard yourself against the Fire whose fuel is men and stones”? Yes, and in a subsequent verse he reiterates his preference for people as the ideal combustible to burn other people.
3:10 As to the unbelievers, neither their riches nor their children will avail them anything against Allah; in fact, they shall be the fuel of the Fire.
Maybe it was an act of kindness to Abu Lahab’s wife who may not have been up to the task of stoking the fire that was barbecuing her husband with unbelievers, or her children depending on your interpretation of “their children will avail them anything against Allah; in fact, they shall be the fuel of the Fire.” Or maybe, for Allah, wood and unbelievers are one and the same. Consider verse 8:37 where Allah talks about piling those who disbelieve like a cord of wood before casting them into the Fire.
8:36 Indeed, the unbelievers spend their wealth to bar [people] from Allah’s Path. They will continue to spend it, but it will become a source of anguish for them; then they will be vanquished. And those who disbelieve shall be gathered in Hell.
8:37 So that Allah might separate the foul from the fair and place the foul, one upon the other, piling them up all together and casting them into Hell. Those are truly the losers.
I think it is safe to assume that due to the frequency of calling unbelievers fuel for His Hell that it is people who are Allah’s favourite combustible.
Refuse to believe in Allah or His Messenger and you become a burnable piece of trash, a piece of wood, a log just waiting to be cast, without ceremony or remorse, into Hell’s Fire. A terrible dreadful place, Allah will remind us, where Satan himself would not want to spend any time.
You have to admire the genius of Allah in creating a Hell that is self-sustaining. People on fire burning other people and being burnt in return by other people being consumed by flames.
I must admit that the more I advanced into the Koran, the more I came to appreciate the Gospels with their quiet, subdued message about loving your neighbour and turning the other cheek, with only scattered references to punishment for sinners, as opposed to Allah’s constant, relentless, unremitting, cruel condemnation of anyone who won’t accept Islam, His “perfect religion”, as his or her religion.
In case you should forget about Allah’s favourite fuel you will be reminded again and again … and again.
Allah’s Way of Old
40:81 And He shows you His Signs. Which Signs of Allah will you then deny?
40:82 Have they not travelled in the land, then, to see what was the fate of those who preceded them? They were more numerous than they and had greater power and influence in the land. Yet what they used to earn availed them nothing.
40:83 Then, when their Messengers came to them with the clear proofs, they rejoiced in the knowledge they had and were afflicted with that which they used to mock at.
40:84 But when they saw Our Might, they said: “We believe in Allah alone and disbelieve in that we used to associate with Him.”
40:85 Yet, their belief, upon seeing Our Might, did not profit them. It is Allah’s Way of old regarding His servants; and the unbelievers shall be lost there and then.
Moududi on “Allah’s Way of old”:
"The standing Law of Allah": the Law that repentance and faith are beneficial only till the time man is not seized by the torment of Allah or death. Believing or repenting after the torment has arrived or the signs of death have appeared, is not acceptable to Allah.
Unbelievers Not by Choice
Numerous times, Allah, to shore up His favourite servant’s morale, will explain to him that, if some people refuse to believe and obey him, it has nothing to do with the superbly drafted message and the excellent delivery.
In Yâ Sîn, Allah will again remind His Messenger that those whom He does not want as believers, such as the arrogant, He causes to remain unbelievers. In “the heart of the Koran” Allah reveals, He has restrained the arrogant from becoming believers by placing “invisible shackles upon their necks down to their chins; and so their heads are held high”. And to be absolutely sure the arrogant never believe, He has “placed in front of them a barrier and behind them a barrier” and “covered their eyes so they do not see” and are, therefore, oblivious to His Signs.
36 YÂ SÎN
In the Name of Allah,
the Compassionate, the Merciful
36:1 Yâ - Sîn (came to be one of the Prophet’s names)
36:2 By the wise Qur’an.
36:3 You are truly one of the Messengers.
36:4 Upon a straight path.
36:5 It is the Revelation of the All-Mighty, the Merciful.
36:6 To warn a people, whose fathers were not warned and so they are heedless.
36:7 The sentence has been passed against most of them, for what they do not believe.
36:8 We have placed shackles upon their necks down to their chins; and so their heads are held high.
36:9 And We placed in front of them a barrier and behind them a barrier and We have covered their eyes so they do not see.
36:10 It is the same whether you warn them or do not warn them, they will not believe.
36:11 You only warn him who follows the Reminder and fears the All Compassionate though unseen. Announce to him, then, the good news of forgiveness and a generous wage.
The Prophet considered Yâ Sîn the Heart of the Koran.
It was narrated that Anas said:
“The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah (sic) be upon him) said: ‘Everything has a heart and the heart of the Qur’aan (sic) is Ya-Seen (sic). Whoever recites Ya-Seen, Allaah will record for him the reward of reading the Qur’an ten times.’”
In surah 10, The Cave, the “barrier” of Yâ Sîn becomes “coverings upon their hearts”, revelation 18:57.
18:56 We do not send Messengers except as bearer of good news and warners; yet the unbelievers dispute with falsehood, to refute the truth thereby; and they take My Revelations and what they were warned about as an object of mockery.
18:57 And who is more unjust than one who, upon being reminded of his Lord’s Revelations, turns away from them, and forgets what his hands have done? We have placed coverings upon their hearts lest they understand it (the Qur’an), and put a deafness in their ears. If you call them to the guidance they will never be guided.
18:58 And your Lord is All-Forgiving and Merciful. Were He to call them to account for what they have earned, He would have hastened their punishment. However, they have an appointment from which they will find no escape.
18:59 And those towns, We have destroyed them when they did wrong, and We set for their destruction an appointed time.
If only those Allah wishes to lead will be led, it only makes sense for Allah to tell His Messenger to preach, so to speak, to the choir in revelation 36:11 as He does in revelation 18:28.
18:27 Recite what was revealed to you from your Lord’s Book; no one can alter His Words, and from Him, you will find no refuge.
18:28 And confine yourself to those who call upon their Lord, morning and evening, desiring His Face. And let not your eyes wander away from them, desiring the finery of the present life. And do not obey him whose heart We have made heedless of Our Remembrance, he has followed his own desires, and his case has become hopeless.