Questioning the Quran #1:1

Allah’s mercy is not mercy as we know it!

بِسْمِ ٱللَّهِ ٱلرَّحْمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

(Surah 1:1)

The above quotation, translated as ‘In the name of Allah, the most compassionate, the most merciful’, is a common refrain throughout the Qur’an, and it is this attribute of mercy that is one of the most often spoken of in connection with Allah, especially if a Muslim is asked about their eternal future.

Both these words – l-rahmani (the most compassionate) and l-rahimi (the most merciful) – come from the same triliteral root R-H-M. This root occurs 339 times in the Qur’an, and other than the noun ‘womb’ or ‘family relationship’ (12 occurrences), the meanings all refer to compassion, grace or mercy.

When we turn to the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, we find the same triliteral root (R-H-M) 132 times, with the same range of meanings: womb, compassion, mercy, grace. More interestingly, the word turns up eleven times in the same type of descriptive refrain that the Qur’an begins with, ‘merciful and gracious’. An examination of these 11 verses show that this is not describing the mercy of a judge towards a guilty sinner, but the compassion of a Father to an erring child, at times followed by the phrase ‘He will not forsake you’.

This is a lovely thought, and is the descriptive of the Biblical relationship created man can have with his Creator, Yahweh, calling Him ‘Father’.

However, in Islam itself, there is no allowance for a familial relationship with Allah as ‘Father’, as Islamicweb confirms: ‘Naming Allah a ‘Spiritual Father’ is an imitation of the Christians and the Prophet (pbuh) forbade us from imitating them as he said: “He is not one of us he who imitates non-Muslims, do not imitate the Jews and the Christians.” [At-Tirmithi]’.

Therefore, Muslims are left with an inconsistent message as they consider a divine judge, who has no fatherly relationship with his creatures, acting towards guilty sinners with a fatherly ‘mercy’ or ‘compassion’. This error undermines any sense of a righteous or just Judgement, and lures millions into a false sense of security when in reality, they are in grave danger of Gehenna, for the Scriptures plainly teach: “all the world … guilty before God” (Romans 3:19).

Now, in the Hebrew Bible there is no inconsistency. Not only is Yahweh being described as a Father when displaying a fatherly ‘mercy’ upon His children, but a separate word – ‘kaphar’ – is used when referring to the righteous mercy shown by a Just Judge who wills to pardon the guilty once the demands of the law have been satisfied.

This is most clearly seen in the ‘mercy seat’ that was, in effect, the lid to the Ark of the Covenant. This was the place where the people of Israel, through the High Priest, were able to come before Holy God, have their sins pardoned and be brought into close relationship with God as their Father.

Leviticus 16 details for us the conditions required from the people before righteous mercy could be dispensed. The list of conditions is long, but at the heart of it is blood sacrifice: ‘And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and shall make atonement for himself, and for his house’ … ‘Then shall he kill the goat of the sin offering, that is for the people, and bring the blood within the vail, and do with that blood as he did with the blood of the bullock, and sprinkle it upon the mercy seat, and before the mercy seat.’ (Lev 16:6,15)

It is this ‘mercy on the basis of sacrifice’ that the sinful publican of Luke 18 is referring to when he cries out: “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). In this parable, Jesus Christ tells us that “this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other” (v14). The other being the religious Pharisee who sought God’s mercy on the basis of his fasting, giving and prayers.

Of course, animal sacrifices are no righteous or equal substitute for human life, and therefore in themselves ‘it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins’ (Hebrews 10:4), but as part of the Mosaic Law they were required for they pointed forward to a greater, a better sacrifice; to the sacrifice of one who is both human, and more than human – Jesus Christ, the Son of God – who came to ‘put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself’ (Hebrews 9:26).

Now, He is the ‘propitiation for our sins’ (1 John 2:2) – ‘propitiation’ meaning ‘the mercy seat’ or place where we can find righteous mercy from the just Judge, our Holy God. He will declare us righteous, and we will be brought into relationship with God as our Heavenly Father, to enjoy His eternal compassion, mercy and grace.

On the other hand, if we continue to seek God’s mercy without accepting the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and His shed blood as the only way to appease God’s righteous demands, then there will be no mercy for us – divine judgement will fall and we will hear His Words: “I never knew you: depart from me, you that work iniquity” (Matt 7:23).

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