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Rahman and rahim are both names of Allah, and frequently used.

Now I once heard in this video that:

Ar-Rahman = merciful to all
Ar-Rahim = merciful to beleivers

I fail to understand how this interpretation has come to exist. Though he explains syntax, he jumps to interpretation without reasoning, or at least I don't get it. Thus I searched and I couldn't find much linguistically presented analysis for the differences. For example, this video.

Where can I find factual linguistics data, and not opinions?

  • Would you like an explanation of Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim and why the said interpretations exist, or do you want to know sources to find "factual linguistics data" or perhaps both? – The Z Jun 12 at 7:58
  • Just grammatical analysis on why they mean what they mean. – Saeed Neamati Jun 12 at 17:01
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There are two pieces of evidence I found as to why the words Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem are interpreted the way you mentioned. The first is the word etymology itself, and the second is the linguistic use of both words.

Both Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem mean the one who has a lot of mercy.

Ar-Rahman comes in the pattern of "فَعْلَان" and this pattern is only said when you want to emphasize something greatly. For example, "غَضْبَان" (a form of "angry") is used for someone who is completely overcome and covered with anger. "عَطْشَان" (a form of "thirsty") is used when someone is completely overcome by thirst.

This form of word is always to emphasize the meaning. That is why Ar-Rahman is said to mean when someone's mercy completely covers everything. However, this form also implies temporariness. Obviously, no one remains extremely angry forever and likewise with extreme thirst.

Allah says in the Quran:

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ

[...] My mercy encompasses all things [...] (7:156)

That is why Ar-Rahman is for everyone, Muslim or Kafir, good or bad. Ar-Rahman is the one who created everyone and blesses everyone on Earth regardless of their religion with food, water, and everything for them to live.

The word form of Raheem follows the pattern of "فَعِيل." This is also a form of emphasis of the action (in this case of mercy), however "فَعِيل" is weaker than the previous form. It is also said to be weaker because it can be used both as the actor and the object of the action (i.e. Raheem can also be used sometimes as a word for the one upon whom mercy had come).

This means this form is not as strong as the previous one which can only ever be used for emphasizing the action of the actor. This form also implies a quality that is more permanent.

Regarding the linguistic usage of the two words, Rahman is not used except for God however Raheem (which means someone who has a lot of mercy) is used for other people (for example Prophet is described as merciful using Raheem in 9:128).

The reason Rahman is not used for other people is that no one other than Allah has the ability, motivation, or power to be merciful and giving in the extreme amount Allah can or to the amount of people Allah can. As humans, we only have the ability to be merciful to specific people or groups in limited amounts.

That is why Raheem is said to be specific in action towards a group because it is a word other people than Allah can also be described with. However, note that Raheem is still emphasized in meaning; it is simply not as emphasized as Rahman.

With those evidences, we have concluded that Rahman is more expansive and intensive in meaning than Raheem. But, Raheem is a more permanent and consistent in meaning.

At this point, you could point out verses in the Quran to decide what exactly the difference of one from the other is about.

For example, Allah usually uses Raheem in the context of believers and He even says very clearly:

وَكَانَ بِالْمُؤْمِنِينَ رَحِيمًا

[...] And ever is He, to the believers, Merciful (Raheem). (33:43)

On that basis, many scholars have concluded that Rahman is expansive in meaning to cover both believers and disbelievers while Raheem is specific to believers. Another way of saying it is that Rahman refers to the mercy in this world which is immense while Raheem is about the consistent mercy for believers in the world and Hereafter.


As for where to find "factual linguistic information," I looked at many tafasir, most of them in Arabic. Perhaps Arabic sources aren't that useful for you but the Tafsir of Ath-Tha'labi for 1:1 and I'rab Al-Quran wa Bayaanoh were useful to me in this case.

For an English source, you can look at the Lane Lexicon. You can find the page on "رحم" here. Although the language is slightly confusing, a lot of what I said in this answer is also present there in the entry for the word Ar-Rahman.

There is also an explanation by Nouman Ali Khan here.

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Ar-Rahman is the Entirely Merciful whose “All-inclusive mercy gives to both the worthy and unworthy. The mercy of God is perfect and all-inclusive. It is perfect in the sense that He not only wills the satisfaction of the needs of the needy but actually satisfies them. It is all-inclusive in that it includes the worthy and the unworthy, this life and that which is to come and encompasses the essentials, needs and advantages which go beyond them. Thus He is in truth the Compassionate absolutely,” (al-Ghazali).

Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) says in the Qur’an :

“He who created the heavens and the earth and what is between them in six days and then established Himself above the Throne – the Most Merciful (ar-Rahman), so ask about Him one well informed.” (Qur’an, 25:59)

Ar-Raheem is a more specific mercy towards the believers. For example, the mercy that descends during Ramadan is one only Muslims who believe in Ramadan can enjoy. And Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an :

“It is He who confers blessing upon you, and His angels [ask Him to do so] that He may bring you out from darknesses into the light. And ever is He, to the believers, Merciful (Raheema)” (Qur’an, 33:43).

In order to understand this mercy in the grand scheme of things, the Prophet ﷺ informs us that,

“Allah has divided mercy into 100 parts, and He retained with Him 99 parts, and sent down to earth one part. Through this one part creatures deal with one another with compassion, so much so that an animal lifts its hoof over its young lest it should hurt it,” (Al-Bukhari)

Reference : http://www.virtualmosque.com/personaldvlpt/overcoming-hardships/ar-rahman-ar-raheem-ar-rauf-the-entirely-merciful-the-especially-merciful-the-most-kind/

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  • So, basically you get the meaning of these words from other places of Quran, not from grammatical rules. Though that opened up a new door for me and I'm thankful for it. – Saeed Neamati Jun 12 at 17:00

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