When we meet someone new, we usually introduce ourselves with our name and a relevant role. “Hello, my name is Teresa. I’m Salem’s mother.”
Likewise, when God sent His message, the Quran, He began with an appropriate introduction: His name, His title and His role. “In the name of Allah, the Continually Merciful, the Especially Merciful. All praise is for Allah, Lord of the Universe, the Continually Merciful, the Especially Merciful.…”
People use many words to refer to Lord of the Universe such as God, the Great Spirit, the Divine, the Deity, the Higher Power, Nature, and so on; the list is endless if we consider the nomenclature for God in different languages. It may not be incorrect to use these words, but they are descriptions of Him – titles we humans have conceived to identify him. However, the Lord of the Universe introduced Himself with His name, getting quite personal with the reader. My name is Allah. And in case the reader is apprehensive about being addressed by the Lord of the Universe, He immediately adds “the Continually Merciful, the Especially Merciful.” Now the reader is at ease. Any images of an angry, vengeful or chastising Lord are overshadowed by His use of the word merciful four times in the first ten words of His message.
After introducing himself by His name and describing His prominent quality of ongoing and exceptional mercy, God shares with us His title: Lord of the Worlds. While the word lord in contemporary English denotes a superior ruler, leader or officer, its meaning in the Quranic context must be examined in light of the Arabic word used, Rabb, which is commonly translated as Lord. The word Rabb in the Semitic languages can mean nourisher, one who provides the means of sustenance, one who raises or teaches another, one who serves as master over another and, of course, God. In the Quranic context, the meaning combines these concepts to denote one who sustains and leads something through developmental stages so that it can attain its full stature or perfection. The title Allah uses for Himself is “Lord of the Worlds,” or of all beings, is followed again by the double qualifier — the Continually Merciful, the Especially Merciful. Not only is Allah He who nourishes, guides and develops us, He does so with continual and exceptional mercy.
The verses continue: “King (or Owner) of Judgment Day.” Just when we’re getting comfortable with the idea of a merciful Lord, Allah shares another of His titles with the reader. Suddenly the reader is jolted from a complacent existence under the provision and guidance of a continually and especially merciful Lord to a Day of Judgment, over which Allah, the King, will preside. The phrase implies not only an afterlife but also a trial. The reader becomes anxious. Judgment? How will we be judged? What is the criteria of success? What will happen next? The reader is dazed, or at least should be. At this point, there is a pause, and Allah invites the reader to respond. What should he say?
What does one say upon meeting the Lord of the Worlds and the King of Judgment Day? Common rules of etiquette between people do not necessarily apply. One would naturally be at a loss for words. So Allah provides the appropriate response: “It is You we worship and it is You we ask for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those upon whom You have bestowed favor, not of those who have evoked your anger or of those who are astray.”
With this suggested response from the reader, Allah indirectly makes few points. First, the reader should acknowledge Allah as the Lord, both in the sense of the only deity to be worshiped and of a benefactor whose assistance should be sought. Second, the appropriate request should be offered in the collective sense, not a personal one, which would smack of selfishness; we are responding to the Lord as a community. Third, it is on Judgment Day that the community will be divided into those who have been favored by Allah, those who have evoked His anger, and those who have been lost. Fourth, there is hope: there is a straight path that leads the envious position of being favored by Allah on Judgment Day. The suggested response is a request for guidance that, in turn, anticipates a reply.
It is given in the following verses. “This is the Book [of Allah]; there is no doubt about it. It is guidance for Godfearing (or God-conscious) people…” (2:2). Ever generous, the Lord sent 600 full pages of guidance, His message to the human community, which is known as the Quran. It thoroughly introduces the Creator to its reader and shows us how He manifests His love for us.
In response to that Divine Love, it befits us to behave in certain ways, and the Quran outlines how to express our love to Allah in return. Impossible to achieve by thought and emotion alone, showing love for Allah must be expressed more concretely in a particular context. The context, as we know, is life on earth, in communities, in daily interactions with others. As individuals and as a community, we express our love for God by acts of devotion to Him and by showing mercy to one another.
The Quran shows the path to love.