In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful
We start our actions with pure intentions, by taking the name of God and therein we remind ourselves of His traits as merciful, gracious and compassionate. We begin the Qur’an by proclaiming God’s mercy, not just with the basmala, but again in verse three of Al Fatiha “the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful” [Qur’an 1:3]. In the beginning of Ramadan, we fast through the ten days of mercy, and are encouraged to pray for God’s forgiveness and mercy, “My Lord, forgive and have Mercy, and You are the Most Merciful.” [Qur’an 23:118].
There is much written about these two attributes of God, the lexical root, the difference in meaning and its manifestation. Al Rahman is said to refer to God’s universal mercy. He is All-Merciful. His mercy is immense, all-encompassing, unwavering. It is permanent and complete. His mercy is perfect. Whereas Al Raheem refers to God’s specific, and constant manifestation of mercy. He is the Most Merciful, “Limitless is your Lord in His mercy…” [Qur’an 6:147]. He bestows His mercy in different ways, upon different people.
What is mercy?
According to the Oxford Dictionary, mercy is “a kind and forgiving attitude toward someone over whom you have the power to harm or right to punish”, as well as “an event or a situation to be grateful for, usually because it stops something unpleasant.” Mercy is therefore to show empathy and compassion, but it is also to be grateful.
In Arabic, the word rahma (mercy) is derived from the same root as rahm (womb). Mercy is a mother’s attitude toward the fruit of her womb; the close connection between mercy and motherhood is recorded in many sayings of the Prophet, Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH). It is narrated that upon seeing a mother nurse the children among prisoners, he asked his companions “Do you think this woman would throw her child into the fire?” They said, “No, not if she was able to stop it.” The Prophet said, “Allah is more merciful to His servants than this mother is to her child.”
The way in which a mother takes care of her child when he cannot take care of himself, and beyond, God takes care of us. God showers us daily with His mercy, in more ways than we can count and for that we show gratitude, for to be merciful is to be grateful. We are merciful by being grateful for God’s mercy, a blessing that is not enjoyed by Muslims alone. The Prophet (PBUH) once said that God has divided his mercy into 100 parts, and reserved 99 of them for the hereafter. The remaining part was divided among all of His creation, allowing them to treat each other with compassion.
When we think of God’s perfect and permanent mercy, we notice that it encompasses many more of His attributes, the most compassionate, forgiving, benevolent, generous, patient – to name but a few.
Patience in the process to progress
Mercy is often metaphorically linked to rain, and this is not exclusive to Islam. In Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, Portia begins her monologue with “The quality of mercy is not strained. It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven”.
Rain is said to be the mercy of Allah, a metaphor that shows the active nature of mercy. Rain is an active process of water descending down upon us from the skies. To draw this metaphor out further, it is the primary constituent – water – that enables things to grow; after planting a seedling, it is then watered, and time transpires before the plant grows, and bares fruit. It is a process that takes time, and thus requires patience.
In the same way water nurtures plants, patience nurtures humanity. Patience through being merciful is an important, if not the most important factor to growth, as true transformation takes time. Rain is akin to mercy as it takes time for it to truly be a means for the seed to mature into a plant; patience comes from mercy as it takes time to reap the benefits from the seeds we plant for positive change. Mercy is active, for God showers his mercy upon us. Mercy is active, for we make the decision to be patient and merciful when treating others with compassion, and working for change.
The spread of Islam itself took a lifetime, the lifetime of the Prophet (PBUH).
Mercy and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
“And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” [Quran 21:107].
There are countless examples of mercy in the life of the prophet (PBUH), and it is the greatest trait of all of his traits. He (PBUH) had mercy for his loved ones, for his enemies, for the oppressed, for women, for children, for animals – for all.
Take the example of his treatment of Ikrima, the son of one of the worst enemies of Islam, Abu Jahal. Abu Jahal and Ikrima harmed the Prophet and his companions in multiple ways for a long time. After Makkah was won over by the Muslims once again, Abu Jahal had passed and Ikrima fled. His wife accepted Islam and approached the Prophet, asking him to grant her husband protection. She returned to her husband saying “I have come to you from the best of people, he has granted your security”, so Ikrima returned. As he approached Makkah, the Prophet said to his companions that Ikrima will become Muslim, he will return to the city as a believer. He told them not to curse his father, “for cursing someone who has passed hurts those who are living”. When Ikrima returned, he took the shahada at the hand of the Prophet, and lowered his head in modesty. The Prophet asked Ikrima to request anything he should want. He asked the Prophet to seek forgiveness for him, for all of the enmity he had shown towards him, his companions and Islam, and such the Prophet sought Allah’s forgiveness for him.
Mercy was the spirit of the Prophet, and is one of the core messages of Islam. We are encouraged as Muslims to follow the sunnah, and such we are encouraged to show mercy.
God asks for us to be merciful
The Prophet (PBUH) said “You can never be [true] believers until you show mercy to one another… It is not the compassion that any one of you shows to his friend. It is the compassion and mercy that you show the people in general [that I mean].”
Showing mercy is a sign of strength and strong faith, and a means to strengthen our faith and become closer to Allah; while mercy is a brittleness in the hearth that triggers an act of benevolence, or good upon others, it is a strength to show mercy, and it must be at the heart of all that we do. Showing mercy requires courage, and patience. In order to nurture and incite change, and forgive ourselves and others, we must be patient to reap the seeds of goodness we are sowing. To truly be merciful, we must always think about the bigger picture; we must remember that we are accountable for our actions, we will meet God one day, and to be merciful not only pleases Him, but incites His mercy.
How to incite God’s mercy
Show mercy, to yourself and others: The Prophet (PBUH) said: “Allah will show mercy to those who show mercy to people. Show mercy to those who are on earth – the One who is in Heaven will show mercy to you.”
Follow the sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH): Allow his example to inspire us to be people of mercy. Think about how we can internalize this trait? How can we exemplify and show this mercy, so we too become sources of mercy?
Remember God and the righteous: Ibn Al-Jawzi mentions that it is critical to keep spiritual company and bathe the soul in the stories of the righteous – to stop the heart from becoming spiritually hard and dry. One of Islam’s enduring wisdoms states “On mentioning the righteous, mercy descends.”
Prayer and charity: “Keep up prayer and pay the compulsory charity and obey the Messenger, so that mercy may be shown to you.” [Quran 24:56]
Do good: “Surely, the mercy of Allah is nigh unto those who do good” [Qur’an 7:56]
Mercy is the spirit of Islam for our Creator is the Most Merciful
God’s mercy is all encompassing, limitless and permanent, and supersedes the immense mercy a mother has for her child. As humans, perhaps we can look at two of the 99 names of Allah and embody mercy in our own lives, as it can pave the path to progress and positive change. To be merciful is a practice that was constantly exemplified by the Prophet (PBUH), and has been asked of us by God, the Most Compassionate.
As we enter Ramadan, let us make the firm intention to incite God’s mercy by becoming sources of mercy ourselves. Let us cherish and nurture our relationships. Let us build bridges, not burn them. Let us take a moment to breathe and think before speaking. Let us do good onto ourselves and others. Let us pray to God for mercy, forgiveness, and goodness.
O Allah, “You are our Protector, so forgive us and have mercy on us. You are the Best of those who forgive. Grant us good things in this world and in the life to come.” [Quran 7:155-156].