كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ
Kataba rabbukum ‘alā nafsihi al-rahmah
Your Lord has made mercy incumbent upon Himself
(Sūra al-An‘ām, No 6, Āyat 54)
This verse is part of a longer verse that talks about believers who had sinned and who came to the Prophet sallallāhu ‘alayhi wa-ālihi wasallam to acknowledge their many sins. The Prophet (s) was silent. Jibra’īl came down with this verse in which God sends salām to them and reminds them that His mercy is incumbent upon Him and so they should not lose hope in it. Having sinned unknowingly, if they repent and do good, He is all Forgiving and Merciful. This hope giving verse shows the kindness and love of God for those who truly believe in Him but have erred.
The quality of mercy is an inner state of compassion that awakens at the plight of another. In the human being it comes into existence when seeing a creature in need. The heart is affected and desires to help the creature. When that quality is attributed to God it means the effusion of existence to created beings and granting them that which is needed for their perfection.
There are two types of God’s mercy; the general mercy for all that includes existence, guidance, blessings, opportunities, etc. The second one is His special attention to those who seek Him and submit to Him. From the manifestations of this type of mercy are heaven in the hereafter and a hayatan tayyiba (good and pleasant life, Q 16:97) in this world.
The word rahma includes love, mercy, pity, forgiveness, show goodness, etc. It is the quality of God most frequently mentioned in the Quran. More than 300 verses of the Quran talk about God’s mercy. His mercy encompasses all things (Q 7:156), is all-embracing (Q 6:147), is very close to those who do good (Q 7:56) and is better than what people amass (Q 10:58).
The foundation of spirituality is understanding God’s mercy and being merciful to others. Dr. Mohammedali Shomali in his series of articles on the mercy of God says:
Indeed, the entire story of creation can be summarized in a few sentences: The Most merciful God wanted to show His mercy. Therefore, He created this world. He gave His mercy to human beings so that they would become His vicegerents on earth and become a means of His mercy. (http://messageofthaqalayn.
The word kataba in this verse means written. In many cases the word gives the connotation of ‘made obligatory’. An example is the verse on fasting where Allah says O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you . . . (Q 2:183). Allah makes mercy incumbent upon Himself, for to be otherwise is not worthy of Him.
We are presently in the month of mercy. The month of Ramadan, especially its first ten days, is a time when God’s mercy pours down abundantly on believers. The Prophet (s) says about it: It is a month the first part of it is mercy, the middle part is forgiveness, and the last part is acceptance and salvation from the fire (al-Kafi, 4:67, H. 4). Believers seek His mercy through fasting and through the supplications and worship at night. Let this verse remind you of the most important quality of Allah and help you seek it intensely during this holy time.
Sources: Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (Ed.), Tafsīr-e Namūneh