Answered by Ustadh Farid Dingle
Question: What Is The Difference Between God’s Will And His Love And Mercy?
Answer: Dear questioner,
Thank you kindly for your question, and may Allah increase you in light, knowledge and ambition.
Allah’s will is what we term one of Allah’s attributes [sifat], and its role is to specify how and when things come into existence. This is an attribute of His essence, and which He does not acquire by using it. He has always had a will.
His love and mercy, in technical terms, are simply a combination of His will and power when they result in something describable as loving or merciful from the slave’s point of view.
The use of theology (Ilm al Kalam)
Theology developed to clearly define exactly what we believe as Muslims, and to defend those beliefs. Because it is based on debate, it is purely academic, and puts aside much of the spiritual side of the Qur’an and its rhetoric. This is necessarily so because when things are not spelt out very pedantically, it defeats of the object of the science, which is precisely being very clear and pedantic.
This kind of approach is excellent when engaging in debate with a trinitarian, materialist, or agnostic, etc. : both sides define their terms, and work with some logical reasoning, and actually get somewhere. This is what Islamic theology does.
As such, the science of theology does not help us understand the nature of Allah’s love and mercy vis-a-vis our experience of it, because it is not the subject that it deals with.
Contextualising theology (Ilm al Kalam)
Since Islamic theology is just one among many traditional Islamic sciences, it is not necessary the only way to talk about Allah, nor it necessarily the more direct way to get to know Him in all His glory.
Reading the Quran and applying its teachings in one’s life — come weal or come woe — would probably be more helpful. (That’s not to say that there is anything un-Qur’anic about Islamic theology.) So too, losing a child, and working on one’s contentment with Allah’s will would teach things about Allah that no theologian could either put a definition to. Getting to know Allah on a spiritual level, is completely different knowing how to say certain very exacting things about Him in a technical way.
Islamic theology, like many other sciences such as grammar, hadith criticism, inheritance law, has a certain function in the preservation of the whole religion, and is not so useful outside of that function.
Dissecting the unfathomable
To make things very clear, the Muslim theologians breakdown Allah’s attributes into categories — with full knowledge that no one could ever understand His true reality.
They say that He has attributes that are eternal and that He never acquired. These describe His being. They are:
His self-substistance (not needing anything, place, time, or determiner)
His utter dissimilarity to other beings
(Jawharat al Tawhid, Laqqani)
Every other attribute or name of Allah can be categorised, technically speaking, into one or two of these attributes. So, for example, when we say and acknowledge tha Allah is forgiving: His forgiveness can be reduced to three attributes: knowledge, will, and power. He knew that the slave sinned, repented, and will enter Paradise; He willed that the slave sinned, repented, and will enter Paradise; and created the slave and his actions (the sin and the repentance) and entered him, by His omnipotent power, into Paradise.
Such attributes really describe what Allah does, and not what attributes He has. For this reason, they are called attributes of action.
So no one is claiming, or ever claimed, that Allah was not merciful or not loving, but it just served certain academic goals to reduce everything to the simplest level for our own human understanding.
Allah’s names and how He shows himself
Allah Most High says in the Qur’an, ‘And Allah’s are the most beautiful of names, so call on Him by them.’ (Qur’an, 7:180)
And the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘Verily Allah has ninety-nine names. Whoever grasps them, will enter Paradise.’ (Bukhari and Muslim) Hakim narrates the same hadith with two different chains that mention the ninety-nine names that we are all familiar with. For more detail, please see: Understanding the Most Beautiful Names: The 99 Names of Allah Explained in Detail
Contemplating upon these beautiful names, calling upon Him by them, and seeing and feeling them in one’s life, this is the really way to know Allah.
When you get you your paycheck, for example, and you thank Allah for providing you with a livelihood, He is showing you how he is al-Razzaq [the Ever-Providing]; when you see someone who does not worship Allah, He is showing you His names al-Khafid and al-Mani [the Abaser and the Withholder].
The more you recognise His names, the stronger this sense becomes, and you see that He is al-Qarib [the Close]. Even though you were not aware of Him, He was never unaware of you, and you feel the meaning of His name al-Wadud [the Loving-One].
‘Grasping’ Allah’s names has been explain by Abu Sulayman al-Khattabi his book on supplications to mean one of four things:
1. to recount the names so that one calls upon Him by each name.
2. to master them so that you ‘keep them in mind, and keep to their limits.’ meaning that one, for example calls upon Allah by His name al-Rahman [the Merciful One] bearing in mind that He is actually merciful, hoping for His mercy, and never giving up hope of his forgiveness.
3. to comprehend them and take them as a firm belief.
4. to recites the whole Qur’an thereby reading out each of Allah names. (Shan al-Dua, Khattabi)
All in all, the comprehension and internalisation of His beautiful names is not an academic process, but rather a journey of putting them into practice, and deeping one’s appreciation of who and what He is.
Allah the Loving
In his book, Khattabi explained what Allah’s name al-Wadud means. He said that is derived from al-wudd [love], and has been understood in two ways:
The first is that is that has the sense of the passive participle, in that Allah is ‘the object of love of those who are close to Him by dint of their unceasing receipt of kindness and benefits from Him.’
The second acceptation is that it has the sense of the active participle in that ‘He loves His righteous slaves, in as much as He is content with them and accepts their deeds.’ (Shan al-Dua, Khattabi)
Raghib in his work on Qur’anic vocabulary adds another side to His love: His care and nurture of them. He quotes unknown hadith qudsi in which Allah says to Musa (upon whom be peace), ‘Never am I heedless of the small just because they are small, nor am I heedless of the elderly because they are elderly: I am the Loving [al-Wadud] and the Appreciative.’ (Mufradat Alfadh al-Quran, Raghib)
Although we do not technically count Allah’s love and mercy as one of His attributes, both stem from His names, and He is most definitely Merciful and Loving.
Our experience and appreciation of the names grows by learning about them, and keeping to their practical and spiritual implications.
I pray this helps.
[Ustadh] Farid Dingle
Checked and Approved by Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Ustadh Farid Dingle has completed extensive years of study in the sciences of the Arabic language and the various Islamic Sciences. During his studies he also earned a CIFE Certificate in Islamic Finance. Over the years he has developed a masterful ability to crafts lessons that help non-Arabic speakers gain a deep understanding of the language. He currently teaches courses in the Arabic Language.