Shaykh XYZ gave a talk stressing the importance of seeking sacred knowledge and then asked for a copy of the Qur’an and when it was handed to him, he turned to a few verses prior to the famous ayah of “wa maa arsalnaaka illaa rahmat lil-`aalameen“, and began to provide commentary. Upon reaching this famous verse, he said that one should know that this title, “rahmat lil-`aalameen“, is NOT “khaass” for the Prophet, Sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam. He said that those who are familiar with advanced grammar, such as books like mukhtasar al-ma`aani, will know this to be true.
I wish to ask you of your wise opinion on this isolated commentary of this famous and most beautiful verse. Is it correct for one to say that such an appellation is not khaass for the Prophet (Sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallam)
He is correct in two senses:
(i) Grammatically rahmatan as a maf`ul li-ajlih (out of mercy) or a hal (as a mercy in yourself) is not phrased as an attribute exclusive to the direct object (the pronoun kaf in arsalnaka, which refers to the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace), but rather as an attribute that is exclusive to the act of sending (arsalnaka), in the sense that “We sent you out of/as a mercy and for no other reason”, even if it can be also rendered as “We sent you to be a mercy and nothing else.” That is the meaning of exclusivity ma… illa (nothing but) in the verse, as opposed to the sense “We sent you and no one else to be a mercy to the worlds.” A confirmation is that Allah Most High said of the Prophet wa-ma arsalnaka illa mubashshiran wa-nadhiran (17:105) but He also said the Prophet Nuh (upon him peace) identified himself as a Nadhir to his people (11:25), and there were others (cf. 34:34, 35:24). Therefore the expression wa-ma arsalnaka illa mubashshiran wa-nadhiran followed by an attribute does not necessitate exclusive restriction of that attribute to the direct object.
(ii) Since the Prophet’s inheritors also receive the attribute of being a mercy to the worlds, they can also be described figuratively or by derivation (taba`an) as rahmatan lil-`alamin such as the major awliya sometimes described as Ghawth al-Anam, al-Ghawth al-A`zam, Qutb, and so forth.
However, at the same time, there is no doubt in the Muslim’s `aqida that the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) is the one and only Rahmatan lil-`alamin in two senses:
(i) He is the only one of the Prophets and Messengers with a universal message that applies to all humanity and even to all other Prophets and Messengers and their communities, i.e. to all mankind from the beginning of creation to the Day of Judgment, and to all jinn as well, including all believers and unbelievers, and to angels as well according to one of two positions, as stated in the Khasa’is Sughra of Imam al-Suyuti. In this sense it is incorrect to say that rahmatan lil-`alamin can apply to someone else as well.
(ii) He is the greatest mercy ever sent.
This is why Ibn Dihya, al-Barizi, al-Suyuti, and others in their books of khasa’is considered Rahmatan lil-`alamin to be among the exclusive attributes (khasa’is) of the Prophet, upon him blessings and peace, based not on the grammar of a single verse taken in a vacuum, but based on the whole Qur’an and Sunna, and Allah knows best.
Hajj Gibril Haddad