Academic Article

Loving Compassion in Islam and Buddhism: Rahma and Karuna

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared in Religions: A Scholarly Journal. No.1, 2010, pp.43-56. Doha International Centre for Interfaith Dialogue.

In this article the author intends to show ways in which the Islamic conception of Rahma can be seen to serve a function similar to compassion in Mahayana Buddhism, which comes to play a determinative role, elevated as the very principle, cosmological and not simply ethical, which motivates the Buddhas and BodhisattvasThe author analyses how Islam and Buddhism are not so far apart from each other as regards the role of this quality of compassionate love. Despite their very different conceptual starting-points, both traditions stress this human quality as a key ethical trait; and for both traditions, this human quality is inseparable from the Absolute—from Allah in Islam, and the Dharma, or the Void (Shunya) or Nirvana in Buddhism.

  • Introduction
  • Rahma; A Quality of Being
  • Oneness and Compassion
  • Rahma as Creator
  • Conclusion

Key words: comparative study, rahma, Buddhism, Islam, compassion, metta, maitri-karuna, loving compassion, Qur’aninfo-icon, tawhidinfo-icon, al-Ghazali, Divine Mercy, Hadithinfo-icon


Compassion, even on the human plane, is not just a sentiment, it is an existential quality. This existential quality presupposes a concrete sense of participation in the suffering of others, as is expressed by the etymology of the word: com-passion means to ‘suffer with’ another. The metaphysics of tawhid finds its most appropriate ethical expression in this quality, for when the illusion of separation is overcome, the suffering of the ‘other’ cannot be separated from oneself; the virtues of compassion and mercy, generosity and love thus become the hallmarks of the character of one who has truly realised Unity.

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