Getting to Know Allah
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 (Appendix: Ninety-Nine Names of Allah).
Compassionate and Merciful are the 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 for the first surah, The Opening (also referred to as the Chapter of Prayer because it is repeated during every one of the five daily prayers) and the ninth, Repentance. The reader is reminded at least twice when reciting the short Chapter of Prayer (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.
In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful does not appear at all in Repentance; the surah being mainly about making war may explain its absence. 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.
A Conditional Type of Mercy
9:112 Those who repent, worship, praise, fast, kneel down, prostrate themselves, enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil and observe the ordinances of Allah – to [such] believers give the good tidings (that they shall be pardoned).
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.
16:97 Whoever does a good deed, whether male or female, while a believer, We shall make him live a good life; and We will give them a better reward than what they have done.
14:23 And those who believe and do good works shall be admitted to Gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever, by their Lord’s Leave; their greeting therein shall be: “Peace.”
Compassion and mercy are not qualities that most laypersons would associate with Allah as their reading takes them further into the Koran and the mindset of its Author. Only thirteen verses into Islam’s holiest scriptures (6,333 revelations to go) and it begins:
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, promising a painful punishment for those whose hearts He has sealed. If compassionate is defined as being aware of the suffering of another and wishing to relieve it, and merciful as being unconditionally kind and forgiving, then these are not virtues we would associate with the author of the following verses describing roasting a man over an open fire, with his wife, tethered like an animal, supplying the firewood that fuels the flames 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 Lahab spoke his mind when he was inconvenienced by Muhammad’s preaching? This is the reason for Allah promising to roast him with the compelled assistance of his beloved spouse, who had nothing to do with her husband calling His Messenger out for wasting his time.
Narrated Ibn Abbas:
When the Verse: 'And warn your tribe of near kindred.' (26.214) was revealed. Allah's Apostle went out, and when he had ascended As-Safa mountain, he shouted, "O Sabahah!"
The people said, "Who is that?"
Then they gathered around him, whereupon he said, "Do you see? If I inform you that cavalrymen are proceeding up the side of this mountain, will you believe me?"
They said, "We have never heard you telling a lie."
Then he said, "I am a plain warner to you of a coming severe punishment."
Abu Lahab said, "May you perish! You gathered us only for this reason?"
Then Abu Lahab went away. So the "Surat: ul-LAHAB" 'Perish the hands of Abu Lahab!' (111.1) was revealed.
If the treatment reserved for Abu Lahab and his wife was an exception to the definitions 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 Messengers which God 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—or is about to commit— a merciless, pitiless act of grandiose proportions.
Islamic tradition informs us that Allah showed only once what non-Muslims would consider compassion and mercy for unbelievers. He spared Muhammad’s parents the torment of Hell after His spokesman was seen weeping over the tomb of his mother. When asked by witnesses why he was crying, he replied that 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.
In another tradition, Muhammad was scolded by the angel Gabriel for being seen praying for a beloved, recently deceased uncle who had sheltered him, protected him from his enemies and been a father figure to the Prophet whose own father died before he was born. The angel, in no uncertain terms, told him that Allah did not want to see him praying for an unbeliever ever again (his uncle Abu Talib died an unbeliever). He reminded the griever it was all pointless, since unbelievers automatically go to Hell.
On Judgement Day, Abu Talib’s nephew will intercede with God, not to ask that his uncle be allowed into Paradise—that not being an option—but that his punishment be reduced.
Narrated Abu Said Al-Khudri:
I heard Allah's Apostles when his uncle, Abu Talib had been mentioned in his presence, saying, "Maybe my intercession will help him on the Day of Resurrection so that he may be put in a shallow place in the Fire, with fire reaching his ankles and causing his brain to boil."
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. To quote Virgil Gheorghiu: “The Christian Bible, the Old Testament portion, is mainly about hope; the New Testament is about love; the Koran is about neither! The Koran is all about loyalty, absolute, unquestioning, blind loyalty to one God.”
Those who intone In the Name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful are reminding Allah that the price of their loyalty is the compassion and mercy He has promised to those who remain loyal and die as Muslims. 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, as He says He does in one of the few revelations where Allah and “love” are literally associated.
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).
You fear and respect Allah for what He will do to you if you don’t. The punishment reserved for Abu Lahab and his wife one of the more graphic and cruel reminders of the price you will pay if you fail the loyalty test. When reading the Koran you must get used to the violent imagery that permeates the book, just like almost two billion Muslims around the world who must recite verses about Allah revelling in burning people alive as part of their daily prayers to the Compassionate.
Fire holds a mesmerizing fascination for Allah as an instrument of torture. In Fakhry’s translation of the Koran, whenever Hell’s fire is mentioned, it is written with a capital ‘F’. This may just be his way of showing respect for Allah’s beloved ‘Fire’. When talking about sending unbelievers into the Fire, Allah’s rationalisation is nearly always the same; they have it coming, they deserve to spend an eternity roasting in Hell for not believing in Me and My Messengers.
The opening surah of the Koran is not only uttered during 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, Revelations 1:1 and 1:3 mention Allah’s compassionate and merciful nature, every time a Muslim recites the seven verses that make up the Chapter of Prayer he is 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 promises to burn with His cherished Fire, which is fuelled by men and stones, those with whom He is displeased, such as anyone whom He challenges to produce a better Koran who fails to do so, as He knew they would.
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.
Just how much time will you spend being consumed by a fire that is fuelled by an assortment of people 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 that Muhammad 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 a cat that teases the mouse it will eventually eat for lunch, likes to have fun with some unbelievers, giving them a false sense of security before tossing them into Hell’s Fire. What follows is one revelation that gives a glimpse into God’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.
It is mostly a lack of patience with unbelievers that we come to associate with Allah. The punishment can’t come too soon for these wretched creatures, courtesy of a god who never tires of reminding the reader of His compassionate and merciful nature just after He has condemned unbelievers to an eternity in agony.
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.
2:163 Your God is one God. There is no God but He, The Compassionate, the Merciful.
Disagree that the Koran is the ultimate truth and risk an eternity of fire.
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.
Reading the Koran, you often get the impression that Allah is looking for any excuse to mix people and Fire, including putting His 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.
It’s only the second chapter of the Koran—one hundred and twelve to go—and the Compassionate is talking incessantly about roasting people. He will finally give it a rest more than six thousand verses later with the story of the hapless Abu Lahab roasting over an open fire stoked by wood that his wife is forced to provide.
Wood!? Didn’t Allah say in Verse 2:24 that He uses men and stones as combustibles? “Guard yourself against the Fire whose fuel is men and stones.” Yes, and in the very next surah He reiterates that people, children even, are the preferred fuel for His Fire.
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.
Abu Lahab may have been an exception to the rule. A woman in the depths of Hell may not have been up to the task of stoking the fire barbecuing her husband, 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”—even if Allah had piled the unbelievers she would need close by.
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.
(See The Islamic Hereafter: "Hell", Boreal Books for a comprehensive revelation-based description of the Compassionate’s self-sustaining inferno.)