+ the Compassionate, the Merciful,
3 This verse repeats the two Divine Names, the Compassionate (al-Raḥmān) and
the Merciful (al-Raḥīm), that are recited in the basmalah at the opening of each sūrah, except for Sūrah 9, “Repentance” (al-Tawbah). Both Names are intensifications of the word raḥmah, meaning “Mercy” or “Loving-Mercy.” Al-Raḥmān, which is also the title of Sūrah 55, is considered to be more emphatic, embracing, and encompassing than al-Raḥīm (IK, Qu, Ṭ). It is one of the Divine Names that cannot be applied to anything other than God, either literally or figuratively, since it connotes the Loving-Mercy by which God brings forth existence. Al-Raḥīm indicates the blessing of nourishment (rizq) by which God sustains each particular existent thing. Thus it may apply figuratively to creatures, and the adjective raḥīm is in fact used to describe the Prophet in 9:128. As al-Raḥmān is more encompassing, it is closer to the highest Name of God, Allāh; 17:110 enjoins the Prophet to say, Call upon God, or call upon the Compassionate. Whichever you call upon, to Him belong the Most Beautiful Names. The relationship between them is thus presented as that of different levels or degrees of light: al-Raḥmān is like the light of the sun that illuminates the whole sky, and al-Raḥīm is like the particular ray of sunlight that touches a creature. In Islamic metaphysics and cosmology it is stated that it was by God breathing “the Breath of the Compassionate” (Nafas al-Raḥmān) upon the immutable essences (al-aʿyān al-thābitah), which are the archetypes of all things in Divine Knowledge, that the world was brought into being. From this perspective, the very existence of the world is in essence nothing but the breath of Divine Compassion.
Together these two Names refer to two aspects of the Divine Mercy (raḥmah): one essential and universal, the other attributive and particular. The first is that by which creation is brought forth, while the second is that by which God shows Mercy to those whom He will, as in 33:43: And He is Merciful (raḥīm) unto the believers. The essential and universal Mercy is that of the Compassionate, which God bestows upon all things through their very existence and is the Divine aspect referred to in 20:5: The Compassionate mounted the Throne; and 25:59: Then mounted the Throne, the Compassionate [is He]. The particular Mercy is that of the Merciful, through which each creature that exists is sustained and which varies in mode according to the manner in which this Divine Name or Attribute has become manifest. It is evident that Divine Names of beauty, such as “the Kind” (al-Laṭīf), “the Clement” (al-Ḥalīm), and “the Beautiful” (al-Jamāl), are manifestations of Mercy. But in Divine Names of rigor, such as “the Powerful” (al-Qādir), “the Avenger” (al-Muntaqim), and “the Abaser” (al-Mudhill), the manifestation of Divine Mercy is veiled by the inseparability of God’s Kindness from His Majesty and determinative power (qadar). God is thus said to be Compassionate toward all of creation and Merciful toward the believers (Ṭb).
Positioned between v. 2, which alludes to God being the Sovereign over all dimensions of space, both seen and unseen, and v. 4, which alludes to God being the
Master of all time, since all things end on the Day of Judgment, this verse indicates that God’s Mercy encompasses and interpenetrates all time and all space, as in 7:156: My Mercy encompasses all things.