The four-arched portal of Rahma

What do we do when encountering social rhetoric, verses, and hadith that seemingly violate the higher Qur'anic ethical principles of love, rahma, beauty, justice, and equity? Dr Ghazala Anwar offers this Qur'anic portal of Rahma to negotiate this apparent challenge to our faith.

The four-arched portal of Rahma
Photo by Jacob Aguilar-Friend / Unsplash

What do we do when encountering social rhetoric, Qur’an verses, and Prophetic hadith that seemingly violate the higher ethical principles of the Qur’an: love (muwaddah), rahma, beauty (insan), justice (‘adl), and equity (qist)? Our elder, Dr Ghazala Anwar offers the Qur’anic portal of Rahma to negotiate this apparent challenge to our faith.

The fourfold portal of Rahma is what Dr Ghazala refers to as the basic principles of Quranic engagement.

In conversation, she says she favours the term ‘engagement’ here over similar terms like ‘interpretation’ or ‘hermeneutics.’ “This is because ihsan is not something you give a lecture on, it’s something you embody, an engagement that informs us from the inside.” What I also find striking about Dr Ghazala’s approach to the Qur’an is her focus on the Arabic grammatical gender fluidity within each verse, and the potential that opens up to exploring gender fluidity in ourselves, since we are all composed of a ‘feminine’ nafs and ‘masculine’ insan. To that aspect of her work, she includes (f) and (m) in the verse translations below. My spiritual practice has been all the more better by encountering South Asian thought and culture, and I am grateful to Dr Ghazala for sharing her knowledge with us here in her own words.

The portal of rahma helps us engage with and evaluate Qur’an verses, hadiths, and other discourse as Muslims from a lens of kindness and compassion.

Rahman is used to refer to Allah throughout the Qur’an in a way that no other of Allah’s 99 Names (Asma ul-Husna) are used. Because rahma is foregrounded, when we consider their possible meanings, we must choose the ones that display the most Rahma, simply because these four elements are no accident. Inshaallah this portal can help inform your own engagement with faith, identity, and activism.

The Four Arched Portal of Rahma: The Meta-Ethic of Islam

Dr Ghazala Anwar

1. The Basmalah— The first invocation is Rahma

In the name of Allah(f), the Loving(m), the Kind(m) (al-Fatihah 1:1)

The basmallah, the very first and most recited Quranic verse is a declaration, invocation, commitment and goal.  It declares that Allah is widely and indiscriminately loving, kind and merciful to every individual life. It invokes this Rahma upon the reciter of the basmallah, it binds the reciter’s actions to this Rahma and it hopes for an outcome that is Rahma.  It brings Allah’s Rahmaniyyah to the front, out of which the world is created; and Allah’s Rahimiyya, through which each creature in this world is sustained and cared for through continuous and repeated acts of Rahma. Both Rahman and Rahim are rooted in ‘rahm’, the womb, the loving and nurturing source of life.

2. The Primordial Kitab Allah— Divine Self-Inscription is Rahma

كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ
He(m) wrote Rahma(f) upon him(m)Self(f)  (al-An’am 6:12, 6:54)

Allah, the Ahad (the One 112:1), wrote rahma upon Allah’s Self. This is the primordial and eternal Kitab Allah  (Allah’s kitab-writing) out of which all the scriptures revealed to all the Prophets ensue.  It is through the experience of Rahma that we comprehend Tawheed; and it is in the practice of Rahma that we practice Tawheed and it is with the eyes of Rahma that we see that any religion that teaches and prioritizes Rahma: loving kindness, compassion, empathy, sympathy, forgiveness, abstention from violence and cruelty, is upholding Tawheed, because Allah, the One wrote compassion upon Allah’s Self: Rahma is the identity and reference of Allah’s Oneness.  Allah’s inscription of Rahma upon Divine Self which has no form, elevates it over all other Divine attributes. Rahma is what defines Allah’s presence in this world and in the next, and in the inner orientation of all persons of faith.

3. The Qur'an is Rahma

وَنُنَزِّلُ مِنَ الْقُرْآنِ مَا هُوَ شِفَاءٌ وَرَحْمَةٌ لِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ ۙ وَلَا يَزِيدُ الظَّالِمِينَ إِلَّا خَسَارًا
We(incl) send down in the Quran(m) healing(m) and Rahma(f) for the faithful (m.incl) but it increases the wrongdoers (m.incl) only in loss(m)  (al-Isra 17:82)

Faith in Allah who has written Rahma upon Divine Self, is the pre-condition for accessing the Rahma from Allah’s Kitab.  Experiencing and practicing Rahma for the sake of Allah, is healing for us individually and for the entire creation except for the oppressors.  When we feel oppressed, let us find simple ways to practice Rahma upon ourselves and upon others- free a caged bird, or smile at a stranger, for the sake of Allah’s pleasure and it will heal our hearts and our breath, our emotions and our spirit ( 10:57) and make a way out of oppression for us.  Practice of Rahma entails developing our hearing and seeing so we can hear a plant that is thirsty and see that a caged bird longs to feel the wind under its open wings.

4. The Propheticﷺ  mission is Rahma

وَمَا أَرْسَلْنَاكَ إِلَّا رَحْمَةً لِلْعَالَمِينَ
And We(incl.) did not send you(m) except as Rahma(f) to all the worlds(m) (al-Anbiya 21:107)

The Prophet’s ﷺ mission in the world is Rahma and so the mission of Prophet’s ummah is Rahma. This reveals a shared connection between prophetic attributes, human attributes, and Divine attributes. It is in Rahma that all the hierarchies dissolve. While meditating on Allah we must foreground Rahma, while reading Allah’s book we must find or choose the understandings that foreground Rahma, while emulating the sunnah of the Prophet through reference to particular hadith we must determine if it is Rahma for all the realms of existence. While reciting the basmallah we must be aware that we are committing ourselves to Rahma.  The deeper this commitment the more profound its manifestation in our own life inshallah.

Exercise no.9

from the workbook The Signs In Ourselves


Let’s explore the context behind two of the Rahma portal’s elements. Since no translation is perfect, have multiple Qur’an translations on hand for this exercise.

  1. For the Divine Inscription of Rahma, explore 6:1 to 6:18, and 6:50 to 6:62. Muhammadﷺ’s early followers were rarely elites. They were those marginalised and rejected by society. How can you connect these reminder verses to affirm the faith of diverse Muslims who are often rejected by other Muslims?
  2. For Allah’s Kitab of Rahma, explore 17:78 to 17:100. What do you think is the connection between the strong language in the last few verses to the description of the people that came before? How do they differ from those who have the doubt that is essential to faith?

Collective discussion

Nominate verses, hadiths, or social rhetoric about God or Islam that have been barriers for you in your faith. Decide together which of those to evaluate through the portal of Rahma. Discuss all possible interpretations of your selection, then agree on the one that embodies the most Rahma.

If necessary, list as many non-Arabic translations of Rahma before you begin as a guide in the evaluation process.

This post is adapted from the workbook The Signs In Ourselves (pp.75-77), written by Liy Yusof, illustrated by Dhiyanah Hassan, published by CSBR in 2020.

The Signs In Ourselves

This post is part of a series of stories exploring queer Muslim courage.

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