This name comes from the root word رأف which means pity (a higher degree of mercy); it is mercy that does not come with any sort of difficulty attached with it. Mercy (رحمة) by itself does not negate the possibility of difficulties or hardship existing with it. For example, Allah sends punishments or trials as a form of expiation of our sins, which is a form of mercy towards His creation. Ra’fah, on the other hand, is a form of mercy which is not accompanied by any sort of hardship or difficulty. A good illustration of the difference between these two forms of mercy is in the ayah of Surah Nur-
The [unmarried] woman or [unmarried] man found guilty of sexual intercourse – lash each one of them with a hundred lashes, and do not be taken by pity for them in the religion of Allah, if you should believe in Allah and the Last Day. And let a group of the believers witness their punishment. [Surah Nur:2]
Allah’s mention of رأفة (ra’fah) here instead of رحمة drives home the point that رحمة would still come with harshness, punishment and difficulty, as opposed to رأفة. Our parents’ scolding of us, their punishment over our misdemeanors is a manifestation of their love and mercy towards us; mercy which is رحمة and not رأفة.
The question that now arises is- how does رأفة apply to Allah? Scholars have said that this aspect of Allah’s mercy comes into play before His slave commits a sin. It is from His رأفة (ra’fah) that He informs us of a sin, advises us against it and enlists the consequences that follow it. Once, however, a sin has been committed, it is only the رحمة of Allah that can save us from His anger.
It is Him, ar-Ra’uf, who takes care of you before a calamity hits you by warning you and leading you towards making adequate preparations to face said calamity; while it is Him, ar-Rahman ar-Raheem who encompasses you after it has struck, who carries you forward and who helps you move on.
Think back to when you heard of someone who faced a major calamity- a sickness, a death, a natural disaster. Now, think back to what you, or people comforting them, or they themselves may have said for comfort and assurance- “Alhamdulillah such and such happened that made you all financially independent”, “Alhamdulillah such and such happening made you transfer your money before disaster struck”, “Alhamdulillah so and so sorted out all this for you before Allah called him”. So many little things that we only realize in retrospect are naught but Allah’s intense mercy towards us. It makes my heart swell with love and my eyes, with tears, to realize how Allah, in so many little ways, day in and day out, envelopes us in His mercy. How many names and degrees for His Mercy He has that it is almost as though He is leaving no stone unturned in making His slaves understand that He is there for us. He is with us- before a calamity, during it, and after. He is with us- every second of every day. He will never let you out into the battlefield except that He has equipped you sufficiently to deal with that which is to come. At the end of it all, at every turn of our lives, it does us well to remember that He does not burden anyone with more than what they can bear, and that not one person in this life “has it easy”. Every single person is dealing with tests that, were you in their shoes, you would not be able to bear them simply because Allah equipped them to deal with their problems and you with yours.
A simple habit that we can work on cultivating in ourselves, which is also a form of worship, is tadabbur (contemplation). Reflect and introspect. Instead of lamenting over what has been, ponder over what Allah has saved you from. Instead of crying over what could be, marvel at how Allah brought so much ease with that one calamity, almost as though He was cushioning the blow. And always always remember-
Verily with hardship comes ease.
Ya Ra’uf, never turn us away from Your mercy for we could not survive a blink of an eye without it, and make us from among the people of understanding.