Pondering the Mercy of Allah

Sam Shamoun

Bassam Zawadi takes a stab (*; *) at addressing my analysis of certain verses and Islamic reports which point to Allah being imperfect and mutable. Muhammad claimed that Allah created his own attribute of mercy and needs to perfect his light, all of which presupposes that Allah changes over time and is, therefore, imperfect.

Zawadi starts off by saying that:

My Response:

Sam seems to have a misunderstanding. Sam thinks that when Allah created Mercy that means that Allah was not merciful before that. That is not what it means. The hadith did not say that Allah became merciful at a certain point in time. Mercy is an attribute of God. However, what the Hadith were emphasizing is the act of mercy that God will implement on his creation. (Fathul Bari, Source) Let me try to clarify this up a bit.

Contrary to Zawadi’s wishful thinking, the hadiths DO teach that Allah wasn’t merciful at some point since he created mercy. Note the logic of the argument:

Zawadi then employs some very bad examples and logic to try to offset this inescapable fact:

One of the attributes of Allah is that he is ‘Al Khaliq’, meaning ‘the Creator’. Now before Allah created the pen (the first thing Allah created) Allah did not create anything, as there was nothing in existence. So does that mean that Allah was not The Creator because he did not create anything? Of course not.

Another attribute of Allah is that he is ‘Al Mussawir’, meaning ‘the Fashioner’. Now if there was no creation for Allah to fashion does that mean that he was not The Fashioner? No of course not.

Similarly just because there was no creation for Allah to bestow his mercy upon that does not mean that Allah was not the All Merciful. How could Allah have created mercy if He wasn’t the source of mercy in the first place?

In the first place, the narrations I quoted do not say that Allah bestowed mercy but that he created it, which is a major difference. Allah basically had to first create mercy in order to bestow it on his creation, which means that he didn’t have it to begin with! Zawadi is doing nothing more than attack a straw man at this point.

Furthermore, Zawadi’s examples help to establish my contention since he should have no problem seeing that the pen couldn’t have always existed if Allah created it. In a similar fashion, mercy couldn’t have always existed if Allah created that. Thus, much like the creation of the pen implies that it didn’t always exist Allah creating mercy, as expressly stated in the Islamic narratives, means that this attribute didn’t always exist either, showing clearly that Allah lacked mercy at some point.

Moreover, even though God not creating or fashioning implies that he didn’t function as Creator or Fashioner at some point, this has no relevance to our discussion. "Creator" and "Fashioner" are names of God that describe roles which he assumed at some time, but they are not eternal attributes. It makes no sense to call God the Creator before he has created anything.

The specific Divine attribute that God would need to become the Creator is power since the existence of creation is due to God being able to create.

To put it simply, God being Creator is the result of his creating which stems from his ability to bring things into being, on having the Divine attribute of power (along with his attributes of wisdom and understanding):

"But God made the earth by his power; he founded the world by his wisdom and stretched out the heavens by his understanding." Jeremiah 10:12 NIV – cf. 51:15

"For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse." Romans 1:20 NIV

Moreover, because God is all-powerful he is able to sustain and provide his creatures with everything they need:

"The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven." Hebrews 1:3 NIV

"His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness." 2 Peter 1:3 NIV

In fact, the preservation of believers and the resurrection of the dead are due to God having this eternal ability, this Divine attribute of power:

"By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also." 1 Corinthians 6:14 NIV

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." Philippians 3:20-21 NIV

"who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time." 1 Peter 1:5

The Quran agrees fully with God's true Word regarding this point:

Praise be to God, Who created (out of nothing) the heavens and the earth, Who made the angels, apostles with wings, - two, or three, or four (pairs): He adds to Creation as He pleases: for God has power over all things. S. 35:1

See they not that God, Who created the heavens and the earth, and never wearied with their creation, is able to give life to the dead? Yea, verily He has power over all things. S. 46:33

With power and skill did We construct the Firmament: for it is We Who create the vastness of space. S. 51:47

Hence, before God created anything and showed himself as the Creator he already had his attribute of power, the Divine ability to create anytime he chose to do so. However, just as God didn’t need to create his power since he always had this Divine attribute he would have no need to create mercy if he had that attribute from eternity. He would only need to exercise mercy after bringing creation into being (provided that he wanted to show mercy to begin with since God is not obligated to be merciful to anyone). But that is not what the hadiths say. They speak explicitly of the creation of his attribute of mercy, even on the very day that he created the heavens and the earth. It is a parallel act of creation. The same verb is used for both of them.

So to answer Bassam’s claim, God would not be the Creator before creation but would still be all-powerful even before creating since he has always existed with his attribute of power. Yet, God could not have always been merciful if he didn’t always have his attribute of mercy.

Zawadi is doing nothing more than to present false analogies.

Zawadi proceeds to quote some narrations which do absolutely nothing to refute my contention. In fact, two of them actually confirm my argument:

Lets try to understand the Quranic verses and hadith a bit better.

419. Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: I heard Messenger of Allah (PBUH) saying, "When Allah created the creatures, He wrote in the Book, which is with Him over His Throne: `Verily, My Mercy prevailed over My Wrath"
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim].

Another narration is: Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said, "Allah created one hundred units of mercy on the Day He created the heavens and the earth. Each one of them can contain all that is between the heaven and the earth. Of them, he put one on earth, through which a mother has compassion for her children and animals and birds have compassion for one another. On the Day of Resurrection, He will perfect and complete His Mercy". (That is He will use all the hundred units of mercy for his slaves on that Day).

Compare what these two hadiths are saying:

Allah CREATED the CREATURES,

Allah CREATED one hundred units of mercy on the Day He CREATED the heavens and the earth…

The foregoing clearly says that mercy, like creatures, the heavens and the earth, was created. Again, much like the heavens, the earth and creatures could not have always existed since they were created, by the same token Allah’s attribute of mercy could not have always existed since it was created also, at least according to Muhammad. All Zawadi is doing by quoting such reports is to simply make my case for me!

Here is how he deals with the Quran’s statements that Allah ordained mercy for himself:

As for God ordaining mercy on himself…

"God ordained on Himself mercy", means that God ordained that He will bestow mercy on his creation.

‘And he ordained mercy on himself" means that God promised it as a generous offering from Himself and for that he reminded mankind that it (His mercy) exists and ensure them of this promise.

He then concludes:

So basically all the Quranic verses and hadith show is that Allah is emphasizing His promise to His creation that He would bestow His mercy upon them (if they earn it that is) and is also emphasizing how much mercy He has.

Zawadi is committing the fallacy of appealing to authority since the ahadith do not merely say that Allah BESTOWS mercy, which would support his position. Rather, these reports plainly teach that Allah CREATED mercy. As it stands, Zawadi hasn’t provided any clear argument to refute this fact, nor do any of his sources address this point.

Zawadi next quotes a verse, specifically Q. 61:8 which says that Allah will perfect his light, to prove that Allah is perfect! The irony of this is that if Allah has to perfect his light then this actually proves that he is not perfect, or at least, that he was not perfect before he perfected his light, one of the very points raised in our article!

Zawadi cites Q. 6:34 and 10:64 to prove that Allah is unchangeable in his purposes and promises. Zawadi conveniently limits the meaning of these passages to Allah’s purpose and promise, since he knows that he cannot apply them to Allah’s written revelation. Yet other Muslims have no qualms applying these texts such as Q. 10:64 to Allah’s scriptures, specifically the Quran:

5. Why don't Muslims adapt the Quran to the needs of the modern age?

a.
The Quran states: there is no changing the words of God. (1) (GF Haddad, Frequent Questions About Islam And Religion; source; underline emphasis ours)

Haddad then quotes Q. 10:64 to prove his assertion:

1
Those who believe and guarded (against evil): They shall have good news in this world's life and in the hereafter; there is no changing the words of Allah; that is the mighty achievement.
Sura Yunus (10) verses 63/64 (Source)

In fact, other passages of the Quran directly connect Allah’s claim that there is no changing his words with his books, especially the Quran:

Say: "Shall I seek for judge other than God? - when He it is Who hath sent unto you the Book, explained in detail." They know full well, to whom We have given the Book, that it hath been sent down from thy Lord in truth. Never be then of those who doubt. The word of thy Lord doth find its fulfilment in truth and in justice: None can change His words: for He is the one who heareth and knoweth all. S. 6:114-115

And recite what has been revealed to you of the Book of your Lord, there is none who can alter His words; and you shall not find any refuge besides Him. S. 18:27

The contexts of both texts deal with the written scriptures, linking the unalterable nature of Allah’s words with his revealed books. Allah is basically claiming that his written words cannot be changed.

Here is how renowned Sunni exegete Ibn Kathir interpreted Q. 18:27:

The Command to recite the Qur’an and to patiently keep Company with the Believers

Commanding his Messenger to recite his Holy Book and convey it to mankind, Allah says,

<None can change His Words,> meaning, no one can alter them, distort them or misinterpret them. (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, (Abridged) (Surat Al-Isra’, verse 39 To the end of Surat Al-Mu’minun), abridged by a group of scholars under the supervision of Shaykh Safiur-Rahman Al-Mubarakpuri, [Darussalam Publishers & Distributors, Riyadh, Houston, New York, Lahore; First Edition, July 2000], Volume 6, p. 142; underline emphasis ours)

A commentary attributed to Ibn Abbas explains Q. 6:115 this way:

(Perfected is the Word of thy Lord) the Qur’an, detailing the commands and prohibitions (in truth) in His speech (and justice) from Him. (There is naught that can change His words) the Qur’an; it is also said that this means: the Word of your Lord has prescribed that His friends shall triumph. He is truthful in His speech and just in that which shall come. Nothing can change His words about His giving help to His friend. It is also said that this means: the religion of your Lord is now manifest, people truthfully believe that it is Allah’s religion. Allah’s command is just and nothing will ever change His religion. (He is the Hearer) of their speech, (the Knower) of them and their works. (Tanwr al-Miqbs min Tafsr Ibn ‘Abbs; source; bold and underline emphasis ours)

Another Muslim source states:

Described in the second verse (115), there are two more distinctive qualities of the Holy Qur’an sufficient to prove its being the Divine Word. It is said … (And the Word of your Lord is perfect in truth and justice. None is there to change His Word) … The sixth quality has been identified as … that is, there is no one who can change the words of Allah Ta’ala. One form in which such a change can take place is when someone proves a mistake in it because of which it has been changed; or, that some enemy changes it forcibly. The Word of Allah is pristinely pure and far beyond any such possibilities. He has Himself promised … that is, ‘We (only We) have revealed the Dhikr (the Qur’an) and, for it, We (only We) are the Protector’ – 15:9). When so, who can dare break through the protection of Allah and make any changes or alterations in it? For that matter, over fourteen hundred years have passed and there have been against it as compared in numbers, even in power, with those who have been believing it, but not one of them had the courage to introduce one tiny variance in even a vowel point of the Qur’an. Of course, possible there was a third form of bringing in a change, that is, it be changed through abrogation (naskh)[sic] by Allah Ta’ala Himself. Therefore, Sayyidna ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abbas said: ‘This verse indicates that the noble Prophet is the Last Prophet and the Qur’an, the Last Book. After this, there is no probability of an abrogation’- as it has been elucidated in other verses of the Qur’an. (Mufti Shafi’ Uthmani, Maariful Qur’an, Volume 3, pp. 444, 446-447; source; bold emphasis ours)

Apart from the purely wishful thinking on the part of the above writer that no one has introduced any changes or variations into the Quran, which is contrary to the established facts, he clearly sees how this specific text is referring to the unchanging nature of God’s inspired books. Yet he also sees the dilemma of Allah abrogating or changing the verses of the Quran, which happens to be mentioned in the Quran itself:

And for whatever verse we abrogate and cast into oblivion We bring a better or the like of it; knowest thou not that God is powerful over everything? S. 2:106

And when We exchange a verse in place of another verse -- and God knows very well what He is sending down -- they say, 'Thou art a mere forger!' Nay, but the most of them have no knowledge. S. 16:101

The foregoing introduces additional problems for Zawadi. How can Allah change or replace verses that are supposed to be unalterable? How can Allah erase eternal commandments if, as Muslims erroneously believe (*), the Quran is the uncreated speech of Allah? And doesn’t this again prove that Allah does change and is in fact a deceiver who cannot be trusted since he claims that his words never change but then goes ahead and alters them, thereby changing his mind?

Interestingly, some Muslims used Q. 18:27 as a basis to reject the doctrine of abrogation! The late Muhammad Asad referred to another outstanding Muslim commentator ar-Razi who said:

… According to Razi, it is on this passage, among others, that the great Qur’an-commentator Abu Muslim al-Isfahani based his rejection of the so-called ‘doctrine of abrogation’ discussed in my note 87 on 2:106. (Asad, Message of the Qur’an [Dar Al-Andalus Limited 3 Library Ramp, Gibraltar rpt. 1993], p. 443, fn. 35; source; bold emphasis ours)

This Muslim clearly saw the dilemma that abrogation places Allah in!

In conclusion we must say that Zawadi has done nothing to disprove that Allah is not perfect. In fact, some of his points helped to prove that his god is indeed imperfect and unreliable.


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