Issue 40 / October - December 2002
Universal Mercy and Education
M. Fethullah Gulen
The adage nowadays is that we all need love. So many people are talking about this. Islam teaches us that God's act of creating humanity was an act of mercy and compassion. Compassion represents the love between parents and children as well as that between children and parents. However, universal love can best be seen through all elements of the universe working together with each other for the benefit of all life.
Humanists proclaim that their philosophy is founded upon love. However, humanism does not encompass specific ethical values, is based upon personal interest or bias, and is far down the continuum toward insincerity. Humanism is abstract, out of balance, and sometimes appears to be working on the behalf of particular nations, languages, and belief systems. In reality, Prophets were ideal examples of love and mercy, for their approach to love and mercy was based on being balanced in this life and the Hereafter. Muhammad, the final Prophet, was sent by God's Mercy and, metaphorically, is like a spring of pure water in a hot desert. This spring, infused with the limitless resource of love, can quench any degree of thirst and purify and enlighten any drinker who pauses to drink from it.
The Prophet's compassion
Mercy and compassion is like a magic key that opens the hearts that were so hard that no one thought they would ever be opened. But the Prophet did even more than this: He lit the torch of belief in God within them. Believers, hypocrites, unbelievers, and all beings and creatures benefited from His mercy. Believers were rewarded because the Qur'an states: ...ardently anxious is he over you: to the Believers is he most kind and merciful (9/128) and: The Prophet has a greater claim on the believers than they have on their own selves (33:6).
This is true, because the Prophet, the representative of Divine compassion, is definitely nearer to us than we are to ourselves. Although the desires of the flesh may lead us astray, the Prophet always responds with mercy, kindness, and sympathy. For example, he said: 'Whoever leaves an inheritance, it belongs to his relations. Whoever dies with debt, it belongs to me'.(1) Can one imagine greater sympathy?
His compassion embraced hypocrites so that they would be shielded from worldly torment. He knew who the hypocrites were but never exposed them, for this would have deprived them of the full citizenship rights that their outward profession of faith and practice allowed them to enjoy. Living among Muslims, their rights to belong and believe differently were held in compassionate regard. This greatly reduced their anxieties about their assertions of unbelief in the Afterlife.
Even the unbelievers benefited from his compassion. God did not destroy the unbelievers, although He had done so in the past, for: God would never chastise them while you were among them (8:33). This verse refers to unbelievers of all times. God will not destroy people as long as believers are alive. In a related statement, he proclaimed: 'I was sent to people as a mercy, not to curse them.'(2) In other words, he came with mercy, not with condemnation and a desire to invoke calamity upon them.
The Prophet was particularly compassionate toward children. He played with them, would sit beside them when they were crying, and listened to them. He empathized with a mother's pain, saying: 'One without pity for others is not pitied.'(3) Once he told a man who boasted that he had never played with his children or showed them his love: 'What can I do for you if God has removed compassion from your heart?'.(4) His compassion even extended to animals. While in Mina, some Companions tried to kill a snake. Watching the activity from afar, the Prophet stated: 'It was saved from your evil, and you were saved from its evil.'(5) Even though the snake is a lowly reptile, it plays a vital role in the environmental balance. The Prophet further stated: ' A prostitute was guided by God's truth and ultimately went to paradise because she gave water to a dog dying of thirst in the desert.'(6)
Educating others is active compassion
The Prophet, fully aware that moving his people away from their idolatry and barbarism and toward Islam and success in both this life and the eternal afterlife, emphasized education and literacy. He understood what his contemporaries did not: The main duty and purpose of human life is to seek understanding. The effort of doing so, known as education, is a perfecting process through which we earn, in the spiritual, intellectual, and physical dimensions of our beings, the rank appointed for us as the perfect pattern of creation. Education through learning and a commendable way of life is a sublime duty that manifests the Divine Name Rabb (Upbringer and Sustainer). By fulfilling it, we attain the rank of true humanity and become a beneficial element of society.
Right decisions depend on having a sound mind and being capable of sound thought. Science and knowledge illuminate and develop the mind. For this reason, a mind deprived of science and knowledge cannot reach right decisions, is always exposed to deception, and is subject to being mislead.
We are only truly human if we learn, teach, and inspire others. It is difficult to regard those who are ignorant and without the desire to learn as truly human. It is also questionable whether learned people who do not renew and reform themselves in order to set an example for others are truly human. Status and merit acquired through knowledge and science are higher and more lasting than those obtained through other means.
Given the great importance of learning and teaching, we must determine what is to be learned and taught, and when and how to do so. Although knowledge is a value in itself, the purpose of learning is to make knowledge a guide in life and illuminate the road to human betterment. Thus, any knowledge not appropriated for the self is a burden to the learner, and a science that does not direct one toward sublime goals is a deception.