Human beings have always lived with troubles and hardships. It is the kind of troubles they face that changes, not the fact that they face them. Therefore, people in every age have looked for relief and deliverance. For all the material comforts that some people enjoy in this age, their need for deliverance, relief, and peace of mind and heart, is no less. Material comforts do not, they cannot, rid us of all frustrations. And, as ever, the road to peace is marked by certain moral values which all human beings understand and should strive to express in their lives. Compassion and mercy are among those values. To feel compassion and mercy is to desire for the other creatures of God what is best for them, to love them and to want and intend to help them.
God Himself is the Most Compassionate of the compassionate (A‘raf, 7,15: Yusuf 12.64,92) and the best of those who forgive (Mu’minun, 23.109,118). This means that compassion is an emotion whose source and original is the Divine attributes, the Compassionate and the Merciful. Our beloved Prophet, upon him be peace, explains how even animals have compassion: ‘God divided His Mercy into a hundred portions. He held back with Himself ninety-nine portions and sent the other one down to earth. It is out of that one portion that living creatures find compassion for each other. Even an animal is careful with its leg so that its young are not hurt’ (Bukhari, Adab, 19; Muslim, Tawba, 17). The reason why compassion is a noble quality is that it is a portion of God’s infinite compassion.
Bearing this in mind Muslims are inspired to help one other and other living creatures, and treat them with mercy, as a religious and moral duty. Those who fail in this duty, who do not have compassion for others, are believed to remain deprived of God’s compassion and people’s forgiveness. The Prophet said: ‘The one who does not forgive is not forgiven’ (Bukhari, Adab, 106: Muslim, Fada’il, 65); ‘God does not forgive the one who has no mercy (Muslim, Fada’il, 66; Tirmidhi, Birr, 16).
We all know that Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace, always treated children, the elderly and the sick, women, widows and orphans, indeed all people who might be in need, and even animals, with tolerance and mercy. Once he said: ‘Often I start my prayer intending to prolong it. However, when I hear a baby crying I feel myself urged to cut it short in order to ease the mother’s distress’ (Bukhari, Adhan, 163). He also instructed Muslims who lead prayers to keep the prayers short in order not to distress or tire the sick or the weak and elderly in the congregation (Bukhari, Ahkam, 13).
In Islam, compassion and mercy are a universal duty. The Prophet said: ‘God forgives those who forgive. You should have mercy for those on earth so that those in heaven shall have mercy for you’ (Abu Dawud, Adab, 58). Therefore, a Muslim must treat all people- Muslim or non-Muslim-and all living creatures with mercy and tolerance. The saying of the Prophet that a sinful woman obtained God’s pardon because she felt pity for a dog dying of thirst and troubled herself to draw water from a well and give it to the dog, is a clear message to people that they should have mercy for all creatures.
Once a man accompanied by a child came to the Prophet. When the man started to kiss and caress the child, the Prophet asked: ‘Do you feel mercy for the child?’ The man said, ‘Yes’. The Prophet said:
‘Because of your mercy for the child you also deserve God’s mercy, since He is the Most Compassionate of the compassionate.’
Mercy means a love that includes feelings of protection and guardianship. The saying of the Prophet just cited tells us that he loved children and instructed believers to treat children with care and mercy. We should remember that the Prophet used to greet children, give them food, hug and caress them, and let them ride on his camel. He also cherished non- Muslim children. When some children were killed by both sides in a battle, the Prophet became very sad. Some people tried to console him and said that he should not be so distressed for non-Muslim children. He replied: ‘These children, even though they are non-Muslims, are better than you [because they are sinless]. Be careful not to kill children. Do not kill children!’
During the caliphate of ‘Umar, the great Caliph was discussing the duties of a man he was about to appoint as governor. During their discussions a small boy came in. Caliph ‘Umar was merciful towards children. He took the boy on his lap and kissed him. The man was so struck by ‘Umar’s behaviour with the boy that he asked if he was the Caliph’s son. ‘Umar said: ‘No, he is an orphan of a man who was martyred in a battle.’ The man said:
‘O Commander of the Believers! You show such love for another man’s child, hugging and kissing him! I have three children and have never done the same with them.’ On hearing this, it was ‘Umar’s turn to be astonished. He said to the man: ‘The one who lacks love and mercy for his own children cannot have those feelings for other people. Therefore I have changed my mind and will not appoint you to that post.’ ‘Umar recognized that love and mercy are among our religious obligations and a means of spiritual nourishment. If we do not treat children with love and mercy, particularly orphans, their emotional and psychological growth may be stunted and their spiritual life damaged-lack of love can harden the human heart.
Love, compassion and mercy are three golden keys to deliverance and peace of mind and heart. We hope that humanity will regain their commitment to these values which are and always have been of the highest relevance and importance for our well-being.