OK, so I've managed to keep this going into week two and, as a bonus, I am looking at 2 of Allah's (swt) Names at the same time. Why? Well, these two often come as a pair and it would be rude to welcome in one guest and leave the other at the door. Also, if I deal with the Names one at a time, at this rate it will take 2 years and I hope to be in Paradise by then already!
So, the next two Names are at the start of all-but-one of the chapters of the Qur'an, and in fact, they are both mentioned twice in the first 3 verses of the Qur'an! What's more we're told that we should recite them out loud before doing something good, and even before eating. (If you're reading this during Ramadan then I apologise for bringing up food. Well, not 'bringing up' food as in making a mess all over your carpet but.... oh never mind).
May I turn your attention to the interesting squiggle at the top of the page. Well, just like the bit in 13th Warrior when Antonio Banderas "draws sounds in the sand", that squiggle actually represents something. "In the Name of Allah, Ar-Rahmanir-Raheem" to be precise.
Well, not that precise, I switched languages halfway through. Let's be more precise:
The oldest English translation (Pikthall's) translates Ar-Rahmanir-Raheem as "the Beneficent, the Merciful". Unfortunately, I (and anyone else under the age of 160) has no idea what the word 'Beneficent' means. I'm not sure it even comes up in my spellchecker. My aim of all this was to get closer to understanding the meaning of the Names, and that's actually taken me further away.
Let's use the handy Revival Qur'an thingy: [qs:1:3].
Aha. That seems to make a bit more sense. The 'rahm' part of the word is related to Mercy, clearly. I'm still a bit confused that He (swt) would be called Merciful and Most Merciful. Surely being the 'most merciful' kinda suggests that He is merciful in the first place. There must still be something missing from the meaning. The more simple a translation looks, the more confusing it actually is.
So I'm going to turn to my personal favorite translation, which is by Saheeh International (I promise they're not sponsoring me!), which translates them as
"the Entirely Merciful, the Especially Merciful."
This ties in with the other things I've read about the two names (yeah, I actually did do some research even if that isn't so clear by reading this), in that both the Names DO relate to Mercy. But whereas 'Ar-Rahman' means Mercy in its pure, undiluted, touching-everything, non-escapable entirety, 'Ar-Raheem' is talking about Mercy in its specific, intense, lazer-powered, selective sense.
Another thing I think worth mentioning is that 'Rahman' is a property of Allah (swt) alone, whereas 'Raheem' is a property that humans can (although not always do) possess. That is why you can name your kids 'Raheem' but you shouldn't name them 'Rahman' unless its 'Abdul Rahman' (although my suggestion is don't give all your children the same name as each other because shouting at them could get confusing).
So in one way, 'Ar-Rahman' can be seen as meaning the 'Most Merciful', and in another 'Ar-Raheem' could mean the 'Most Merciful' too. It has been said that 'Rahman' refers to the Mercy that Allah (swt) gives to all His creation and 'Ar-Raheem' is reserved only for the believers. Whether this is the case or not, as believers we can certainly claim to be the recipients of His Rahmah. Only some of which blessings are mentioned in the Surah titled ar-Rahman:
Clearly this is not the place and I am not the one to give an extensive (or even simple) tafsir of the Qur'an. If you want one, this looks quite good and, er, detailed. It's might well be worth reading because it is a very beautiful surah.
So that seems just about all I can say on the matter. A good way for me to remember the difference is that ar-Rahman is like a big cosy duvet cover keeping us warm on a chilly night, and ar-Raheem is like a hot water bottle that can be moved around our body to the bit that needs it the most. But Allah is both of them together (as well as the comfy pillow and vibrating mattress but that's a whole other kettle of metaphors).