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Moral Teachings of Islam – Compassion

According to the Quran mercy or compassion as a divine attribute is one of the most notable and highly emphasized of the divine attributes. It suffices to say that when one opens the Quran the first line before any of the chapters even begin says “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” This same phrase is found in the beginning of all Surhas save one. Also this same phrase is repeated by Muslims before any act (work, study or any other activity).

In Arabic the phrase is Bismi Allah ArahmanAraheem which is translated to In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Both words Arahman and Araheem come from the same Arabic root which is rahman which means compassion. Araheem means the kind, merciful and the compassionate. This trait can apply to any human being.

Arahman, however, doesn’t really have a word equivalent in English, as it means the absolute source of mercy. Thus, it is erroneous to describe a person as being rahman. We can however say that a person is raheem which means he is kind, merciful and compassionate but not the source of these attributes. In the Quran in (7:156) is says “My mercy extends to all things. That (mercy) I shall ordain for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs.” The Quran also mentions compassion as a divine attribute when it talks about the angels prayers on behalf of the believers in (40:7) when they say “Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire!

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) described this divine attribute in moving way. According to Bukhari the Prophet said that he saw a woman in captivity who was looking among the people till she found a little infant whom she took in and started compassionately nursing him. He turned to his companions and asked “Would that mother deliberately throw her infant in the fire?” The companions replied “No!” He then replied “You should know that God is more compassionate towards you than that mother is towards her infant.” This is a divine attribute that has been emphasized in the Quran unlike what some may believe.

The mercy and compassion of God are there for the taking. There are two basic conditions in order to deserve and receive mercy. One is the correct belief in God and to accept to be a servant of God. Second, is to do good deeds in ones way of life. Doing good deeds can be implemented in one’s way of life in aspects of family, social, political and economic life. When a human being becomes so puffed up with pride becoming arrogant and haughty to the point that they refuse to believe in God then the person is just being unfair to himself. In many places in the Quran it describes many acts which deviate from the truth and it says that the person who does them is being unfair to himself. In other places in the Quran it says “Do not be unfair to yourself.” For example if one lays down on rail road tracks and a train comes and hits him, the train cannot be blamed for his actions. Islam believes strongly in individual responsibility.

Of course none of us are perfect and we all make mistakes. But if a person sincerely believes and tries their best to implement the will of God in their life when they do make a mistake the door of repentance will always be open. The Quran says in (23:118) “So say: “O my Lord! grant Thou forgiveness and mercy for Thou art the Best of those who show mercy!” In Prophetic sayings we also find a reference to this. One saying is reported in Muslim and is a Hadith Qudsi (word of God through the Prophet) “My mercy overcomes my anger.” Thus, there can be mercy and justice at the same time and if the person is trying their best then the mercy of God will outweigh the punishment or strict justice.

The same point was emphasizes by Prophet Muhammd (PBUH). In Bukhari he was quoted to have said “All of my followers will enter Paradise except for those who refuse.” People wondered if anyone would refuse to go to Paradise and he replied “Whoever obeys me (in following the teachings revealed by God) will enter Paradise and whoever disobeys me refuses to go to Paradise.” The question is not reconciling justice with mercy but rather that we are being unfair to ourselves when we reject God and the right path. As a human trait mercy is basically sensitivity towards others. This sensitivity is not only for their pain and suffering but also sensitivity for a person’s own spiritual well being. It is not just the physical suffering but also the psychological suffering of those who have been misguided from the path of God that we should have sensitivity towards. The Quran indicates that compassion in its broader sense is the very essence of the message of all prophets throughout history. The Quran describes Prophet Muhammad’s message in (21:107) “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures.” This mercy partly operates by guiding people to the right path and taking them away from false man made doctrines. It is also a mercy because it relieves the suffering of the oppressed and those who are neglected in society. It is a mercy because it stops human tyranny and exploitation of the rich and powerful.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) made a clear connection between belief in God and compassion. In a saying of the Prophet narrated in Al Tabarani he said “You won’t be true believers unless you have compassion.” When people heard him say this people said “Oh Prophet, we are all merciful.” He replied “I am not referring to the mercy that one of you would have towards his companion or close friend but I am referring to mercy or compassion to all.”” In one of his sayings the Prophet indicated that it is important for one to be compassionate towards other fellow beings in order to receive the compassion and mercy of God. Again in Al Tabrani the Prophet says “Whoever does not show mercy to those on earth will not receive the mercy of He who is in the Heavens.”

In another saying narrated in Al Turmithi the Prophet said that “The farthest people from God are the people who are cruel in their hearts.” Cruelty takes a person farther away from God. The Prophet even said that we should be merciful even with our enemies. An example of this is found in the collection of Muslim which narrates that some people came to the Prophet (PBUH) who were complaining about persecution of the unbelievers and were asking the Prophet to invoke God’s curse against the unbelievers. The Prophet answered “I was sent as mercy and not as a curser.”
Another example is when the Prophet (PBUH) and the early followers were being persecuted the Prophet went to Al Taif where people received him very badly by sending their children and others to throw stones at him. His feet were bleeding and while he was being stoned he did not invoke any type of curse on the people. All he said was “Oh my Lord, guide my people to the right path for they know not what they are doing.” This is the kind of attitude which does not limit mercy to a certain category but rather extends it to all mankind.

Since people should show compassion to all there is no contradiction in showing extra compassion to certain categories of people. There are several categories that are emphasized in the Quran. The first category includes compassion towards parents. For example (17:23-24) “Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” We notice in this verse that kindness to parents was mentioned after the decree to worship God alone which shows its significance and importance.