Allah introduces himself in Surah Fatiha as Ar-Rahman and Ar-Raheem, both. Both of these names derive their meaning from the word mercy (rahmah).
In classical Arabic, rahmah represents the mercy of a mother for her child. As the child grows, it causes the mother to be sick and weak; it eats nutrition from the mother; in the later trimesters, the child even stretches, punches, or kicks the mother’s ribs! But still, the mother cares for, takes care of, and protects the child.
Similarly, both of these names mean something merciful. They have a difference through.
The name Ar-Rahman means:
– Allah is extremely merciful
– Allah is not just merciful, but is being very merciful right now.
– Allah’s mercy is not permanent; it can leave you if you do wrong.
In contrast, the name Ar-Raheem means:
– Allah’s mercy is permanent
– Allah’s mercy is not necessarily happening right now
– Allah’s mercy is not the same level of extremely merciful
Ibn Abbas used to say that Ar-Raheem is only for believers, while Ar-Rahman is for all the creatures and everything on earth — because permanent mercy is what you need for Jannah, and that’s only for believers.
By combining these two names together, we get the total meaning of Allah being extremely and permanently merciful, both immediately (right now) and in the future!
And this is why we start with “Bismillahi Ar-Rahmaani Ar-Raheem” when we do something good; because we want Allah’s mercy and blessings (barakah) both immediately and in the future.
And this is how Allah introduces himself in Surah Fatiha, as Ar-Rahman Ar-Raheem. (But too much mercy can also lead people astray — they’ll do whatever they want — so Allah adds “Maalik al-yawm ad-deen” to keep us balanced between hope and fear.)
As a corollary of this, whenever Allah mentions only one of these names (eg. Ar-Rahman), He’s intentionally highlighting a very specific type of mercy — such as in Surat Ar-Rahmaan (Allah revealed the Qur’an right now to us).
May Allah allow us to understand and actualize His great names (ameen).
Source: Bayyinah – Qur’an: Cover to Cover, by ustadh Nouman Ali Khan. Videos for Surah Fatiha, parts 1d and 2. Retrieved February 18, 2016.