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How Merciful is Allah?
Moiz Amjad


The author has written this article in response to a criticism on the Qur’ān by Mr. Jochen Katz . (Editor)

One of Mr Jochen Katz’s criticisms1 on the Qur’ān can be summarised thus: ‘The Almighty has prescribed mercy for himself (6:12), yet he does not guide some, even though he could (6:35, 14:4).’

According to Mr. Katz, if God really is as merciful as the Qur’ān says, then He should have guided all of mankind to the right path and thereby allowed them the everlasting bliss of the life of Paradise. But, the Qur’ān says that this is not the case. It says that even though Allah could have guided all of mankind to the path of His liking, but He still did it not. Instead, the Qur’ān says that, rather than guiding all of mankind to the right path, He guided whom He pleased and the rest He led astray. If it is Allah’s will that some perish, if it is His will that some are not guided as 6:35 clearly says, how can 6:12 be true which says that He has prescribed mercy for Himself? Is it merciful to lead astray...

In the following paragraphs, I shall try to briefly present my point of view regarding the verses and the concepts that Mr. Katz seems to have misunderstood, because of which he believes that the referred verses contradict each other.

Analysis of the Referred Verses

Let us, first of all, take a look at the three verses which form the basis of Mr. Katz’s article. The first among these verses may be translated as:

Ask them: Whose is it that is between the heavens and the earth? Say: It is Allah’s. He has decreed mercy for Himself, [thus] He shall definitely gather you all to the Day of Resurrection, in the coming of which there is no doubt. Indeed, those who have lost their souls shall not believe [in it]. (6:12)

The second verse reads as:

If it is hard for you to bear their aversion [from the truth] seek if you can a chasm in the earth or a ladder to the sky by which you can bring them a sign [for We are not going to show them any signs to make them believe]. Had God pleased, He would have guided them all [to the right path]. So, do not be carried away by your desire [to guide them]. (6:35)

The third verse reads as:

Each messenger that We sent, spoke only in the language of his own people so that he may clarify [Our commandments] to them. Allah leads astray whom He pleases and guides whom He pleases. He is the Mighty, the Wise. (14:4)

These are the three verses on the basis of which Mr. Katz has pointed out the said contradiction in the Qur’ān. These three verses, as is quite obvious, deal with two separate phenomena. One is the obvious corollary of Allah’s Mercy (the first verse), and the other is the wisdom behind the Allah’s law regarding guidance of the human soul in the life of this world (the second and the third verse). Now, obviously, being merciful does not automatically imply lack of wisdom. What it does imply is that the wisdom should not negate mercy in anyway. As shall be seen in the following paragraphs, the two (wisdom and mercy) go hand in hand, and are in no way mutually exclusive or contradictory.

God’s Mercy -- As Introduced by the Qur’ān

The Qur’ān says that God is most the merciful. He is Rahmān and Rahīm. Rahmān means that He abounds in mercy. While Rahīm means that this level of His mercy extends forever, it shall never reduce.

According to the Qur’ān, some of the signs of God's Mercy are:

--- His Providence and His blessings in the life of this world, are not limited to those who submit to His commands. He is the Provider for everyone, whether a person is faithful to Him or whether he rejects His call;

--- He does not punish the sinners for their sins immediately, He gives them respite and time to correct their behaviour;

--- When a sinner turns to Him and asks His forgiveness with an honest heart and a sincere resolve for correction, He not only forgives his sins but also converts his bad deeds into good ones;

--- When a person calls Him with a sincere and an honest heart and asks for His guidance, He opens the doors of His guidance for such a person;

--- He does not put a man in such a situation where he is forced to lose his faith in Him;

--- He does not hold man responsible for something that is against the commands of Allah, if man is forced to do such evil by external conditions;

--- He does not hold man responsible for something that is against the commands of Allah, if such evil is done in ignorance;

--- He sent His prophets and messengers for man’s guidance to the path of His liking;

--- He rewards man for his intention of doing good, even though man is not able to carry out his intention;

I am sure if a person looks at and around himself, he shall find innumerable things that are a sign of God’s infinite Mercy. If our eyes see and our ears hear and our touch feels, and our tongue tastes and our hearts beat, it is only because of His infinite Mercy. He has provided everything that was not only essential for our subsistence on this earth but also that which makes our stay on the earth comfortable and enjoyable. He has filled the heart of parents with the love that a child needs. He has provided water with the ability to quench the thirst of a dry mouth. He has bestowed trees with a cool shadow to provide the wayfarer a respite from the burning sun. He has given us our senses, He has bestowed on us the faculty of reason and, most of all, He has given us this life -- A life which we never want to let go.

The Qur’ān also tells us that one of the obvious corollaries of God’s Mercy is justice. Thus, the Day of Judgement -- the day on which good and evil shall be separated and duly rewarded -- according to the Qur’ān is an essential requirement of God’s infinite Mercy.

A few words now about the law of guidance mentioned in the Qur’ān:

The Law of Guidance of the Human Soul

The first part of the law of guidance of the human soul pertains to the freedom of choice that God has given man in a particular sphere. The Qur’ān tells us that the life of this world is a test. Man is given this life and is bestowed with all the good things in life not because he earned these good things, but to be tested as to how he uses these things. The good times and the bad times in this life are generally distributed among individuals not as a reward or a punishment for their deeds, but to test them regarding whether they are thankful in good times and whether they remain steadfast in the way of their Lord, when bad times come. The Qur’ān tells us that for the purpose of this test man is given freedom to choose in a particular sphere -- especially the sphere in which he is tested. Thus, man may, if he chooses, may turn away from the right path or he may submit to its demands. God Himself gave man this freedom.

If God had so wanted, He could have made all men follow the right path. But that would effectively have meant that man was not given any freedom to choose. And without this freedom the human soul could not have been tested. In such a case, all men would have been good, not by choice but by default. Reward or punishment would then become meaningless. Thus, even though God could have guided all men to the right path, He did not so that man could be tested effectively and so that his good and bad deeds be truly called his own and so that he be rewarded for opting for good and punished for opting for evil. This is exactly what the following verse means:

Had God pleased, He would have guided them all [to the right path].... (6:35)

The second part of the law of guidance of the human soul is that God opens His doors for guidance only to those who prove themselves worthy of this favour. If man honestly searches for the truth, God shall guide him to the right path. But if man is wary of the truth, God shall only increase his hatred for it. This law of guidance of the human soul has been explained by Dr. Khalid Zaheer, in one of his articles titled ‘The Qur’ānic Law of Guidance’, in the following words:

According to the details available in the Qur’ān on the nature of the law, each individual who has been put through the test of this worldly life has been provided with adequate abilities to distinguish right from wrong, truth from untruth. However, since the this-worldly part of man’s life was meant to be only a trial in God Almighty’s plan to decide as to who from amongst the human beings are going to be found deserving the privilege of entry into Paradise and who are not, wrong and untruth were allowed to be shrouded under tempting, attractive appearances. Thus, to tell a lie in many worldly situations accompanies some immediate material gains, while to tell a truth, requires the truthful to make sacrifices in doing so. However, those who are declining to follow the right behaviour for worldly gains have been provided with enough abilities to know from within their souls that what they are doing is in fact hideous. Therefore, an individual’s act of lying, for example, may bring some immediate worldly benefits for him on the one hand, but would also be accompanied by a feeling of guilt in his conscience on the other. This voice of the conscience continues to condemn if the individual continues to defy its verdicts, although each subsequent stroke of conscience-pricking if ignored is likely to be less pronounced than the earlier ones. In other words, the facility of self-correction from within is not available to individuals unconditionally and endlessly. If the voice of the conscience is valued by the individual through his positive responses to its calls, it grows in strength. If it is ignored, it gets weaker until such time that it finally disappears into extinction.

Likewise, if an individual demonstrates his willingness to respond to the calls of his conscience, no matter what the consequences, and as a result even when he commits a crime against its verdict, he earnestly regrets and corrects himself, this inner facility not only survives but grows from strength to strength. For such people the path of truth and righteousness is not only familiar but extremely pleasing. Thus, whenever the ultimate truth in the form of the message of a prophet of Allah approaches them, they find no hesitation in recognising and acknowledging it. They, in fact, find it so familiar that they do not notice any variance between their inner conscience and the contents of the message. Accordingly, the message appears to them most convincing and appealing.

Thus when Allah’s message is presented before individuals, their responses are in direct correlation with the state of their conscience. There are some who give an immediately positive response. Such are the people who had preserved the sanctity of their conscience by always respecting the truth and nobility. Since they were always accustomed to acknowledging and respecting the truth, when the clearest manifestation of truth is presented to them, it is no wonder that they unhesitatingly incline towards it. It is an inviolable law which is enforced through subtle manipulations in the human feelings ultimately affecting the behavioural pattern of individuals. The application of the positive aspect of the law in an individual not only helps him in realising the veracity of the truth, it furthermore leads him to the higher levels of achievement of it. Thus their life in this world is a spiritual journey made easier enabling them to be taken from the darkness of relative untruth towards the ever-brightening light of truth.

But for those who have been consistently ignoring the truth in its different manifestations, they do not get the privilege of welcoming the message of Allah, the highest level of truth. It is as if when a student fails at a lower grade examination, he cannot be expected to make it to success at a higher one. They are not only deprived of acknowledging the truth, but are furthermore allowed to plunge into the ever-deepening darkness of ignorance.

However, it seems that not every one belongs to the category of people who possess the highest level of nobility of heart. There are many others who despite having duly respected verdicts of their conscience on many occasions, do show a tendency of going on the wrong side as well to fall into the trap of doing acts that were not acceptable to the conscience. Thus their inner souls are not as unmistakably clean as of those belonging to the first category. At the time when they are confronted with the message of truth, they are not as immediately clear about its veracity as is the case of those belonging to the first category. They might, therefore, hesitate, to begin with, in accepting it, even to the extent of apparently denying it. However, on later reconsideration, they realise that their earlier decision was incorrect. Thus they too ultimately get the privilege of acknowledging and valuing the truth. The Qur’ān says:

And there are others who have confessed their faults. They mixed good works with others that are evil. It may be that Allah will turn to them with compassion. Surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.(9:102)

As for those who have lost the true sifting ability of their souls as a consequence of their persistently wrong behaviour, since their inner realisation has perished, they do not find themselves able to appreciate the purity of the message that comes from Allah. The Qur’ān mentions the description of a group of such people belonging to the tribe of Quraysh thus:

So comply not with the wishes of those who reject [the Truth]. They wish that you should compromise so that they may also compromise. Do not pay heed to any mean swearer, backbiter, one who goes about slandering, forbidder of good, transgressor, sinful, crude, and above all mean and infamous. Only because he possesses riches and children. When Our signs are recited before him, he says ‘Tales of the ancient.’ (68:8-15)

On another occasion it is mentioned thus:

Ah woe that day be for those who deny, who call the day of judgement a lie! None denies it but the wicked, the transgressor. When Our revelations are recited before him, he says: ‘Fables of long ago.’ No. In fact what they have been doing has rusted their hearts. (83:10-14)

Even if people belonging to this category apparently accept the truth, it is only for worldly benefits and not for genuine consideration of acknowledging the voice of the truth. The Qur’ān says:

When the hypocrites come to you, they say: ‘We confirm that you are the messenger of Allah.’ Allah indeed knows you are His messenger. Allah bears witness that hypocrites are indeed liars. They have made their oaths a shield, thus they obstruct others from the way of Allah. It is certainly evil what they do. That is because they came to believe, and then disbelieved, so their hearts were sealed and now they do not understand. (63:1-3)

Those who deny the message of the prophets, they still get the opportunity from God to consider accepting it for a while. On persistent denial, however, the inner conscience begins to lose its God-given ability and when their intransigence goes beyond a certain divinely established limit, the inner damage is rendered irreparable. It is an inflexible aspect of the law of guidance in the case of such people that, as the Qur’ān informs us, Allah seals their hearts, their ears and their eyes, such that they do not get any further opportunity from Him of acknowledging the truth. All attempts to bring them close to faith fail, because the inner ability that could enable them to acquire it has disappeared for ever. As a consequence the Qur’ān  informs us that Allah has:

... raised a barrier in front of them and a barrier behind them, and have covered them over so that they are not able to see [the truth]. Whether you warn them or do not warn them, it is all the same; they will not believe. (36:9-10)

They are described by the Qur’ān as worse than beasts (7:179, 25:44, and 8:22) since they have allowed themselves to remain deaf, dumb and blind to the ultimate truth despite being blessed with such faculties which, if they were properly used, could have lead them to appreciating it.2

This is the basic outline of the law of guidance of the human soul. God gives guidance to man or leads him astray on the basis of this law. No one, even if he be a prophet of God, can influence Him in the implementation of this law. This is exactly what the verses, like the third cited verse (14:4) mean.

In the particular environment in which the Qur’ān was revealed, there were at least two groups who believed that they were the chosen ones’ of God. One was the Banī-Isrā’il --- the Jews -- and the other was leaders of the Quraysh. Both these classes of people tried to convince their followers by saying that if Muhammad’s (sws) message was really a blessing of God, then no one could have surpassed them in accepting it. If God had chosen them to be the leaders over others during the past many centuries, then how could anyone -- especially the poor and the homeless -- surpass them in this case. It is primarily as a reply to such idiosyncrasies of the two groups that the Qur’ān has stressed that no one has a monopoly over God’s guidance. God guides and leads people astray, according to His own laws, and in the implementation of His laws, no one can have any influence on Him. He cannot, in anyway be bound by the liking of others. He is completely free in this implementation and does exactly how He pleases. It is to signify this fact that these verses in a number of instances are followed by the following attributes of God:

 --- Wāsi‘and ‘Alīm, (as in 3:73) meaning ‘Liberal’ or ‘One whose mercy is not limited’ or ‘Munificent’ and ‘All Knowing’ or ‘Omniscient’.

--- Dhu’l-fadhl al-‘Azīm, (as in 3:74) meaning ‘One with infinite or abounding grace’;

--- ‘Alīm and Hakīm, (as in 76:30) meaning ‘All Knowing’ or ‘Omniscient’ and ‘All Wise’; and

--- ‘Azīz and Hakīm, (as in 14:4) meaning ‘Mighty’ and ‘All Wise’.

The first set of attributes at the end of such a verse signifies that God’s mercy is not limited to a particular people (as the Jews and the leaders of the Quraysh would like it to be). He is All Knowing, He guides whom He, according to His absolute Knowledge, knows to be deserving of this favour. The second attribute at the end of such a verse signifies the same meaning as Wāsi‘. The third set of attributes at the end of such verses signifies that God knows who is deserving of His favours and that all His laws and decisions are based on infinite wisdom. While the fourth set of attributes at the end of such verses signifies that God is absolutely independent of any influence in the implementation of His laws. He is the Mighty. And all His laws and decisions are based on infinite wisdom.

In the light of the explanation given above, we can say that the contradiction pointed out by Mr. Katz is actually based on an incorrect understanding of the cited verses. Because these verses relate to separate phenomena, therefore there does not arise the question of any contradiction(s).

Courtesy: ‘Understanding Islam’  (







1. A full text of Mr Jochen Katz’s article can be read at:



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