Many of us must have watched a video in which a mother antelope is sacrificing herself when she saw a crocodile was approaching from behind her fawns.
Such incidences in the animal kingdom draw our attention to the innate feeling of compassion in humans and its effects on other emotions. A human whose feeling of compassion has dried up cannot show the sacrifice that the antelope has shown to her little fawns—not toward others, not even to their offspring. Studies in the field of psychology have established important facts about compassion and its effect on other emotions, especially forgiveness. When internalized, the feeling of affection plays a central role and positively influences other feelings. When this feeling dries up, a person becomes more susceptible to evil or cruel acts. American psychologist Kristin Neff gives the example of a battery when describing compassion toward our beloved ones and friends. She asserts that acquiring this emotion is a way of emotionally recharging our batteries and says that compassion strengthens our tendencies to forgive the wrongdoings of our friends.
It is striking that Ms. Neff considers forgiveness and compassion from the point of one's close circle of friends. According to her, an internalized compassion makes forgiving easier and, to an extent, gives us the opportunity to heal the emotional wounds caused by others. However, by stressing that forgiving doesn't mean giving up defending our rights, Neff also points out the need to keep balance between compassion, forgiveness, and justice . When a criminal act is committed, a personal or public right is violated. People tried and found guilty by an independent, just, and impartial court must be penalized.
Source of bad intentions
Psychotherapist Beverly Engel, who has written books on emotions, draws attention to the complications that a lack of compassion can cause in human psychology. According to her, the source of every evil desire in individuals is a deficiency of compassion. Beverly Engel states that reinvigorating the feeling of compassion can help healing other emotions that have been damaged . For Tara Brach, to be compassionate means to be courageous—to love ourselves, each other, and the whole world .
Norwegian Theologians Einar Berg and Oddbjørn Leirvik, who conduct research about Islam, investigate the religious grounds that compassion can blossom upon and link this feeling with the Holy Qur'an and its unequalled representative Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Leirvik compares Prophet Muhammad's forgiveness to Prophet Joseph (peace be upon him); just like Joseph forgave his brothers who had treated him cruelly, Leirvik reminds us that Prophet Muhammad forgave his enemies when he conquered Mecca . According to Berg, compassion and forgiveness are what the Holy Qur'an often emphasizes . Berg sheds light on the feeling of compassion by highlighting the following verse: "Inform My servants that I am the Forgiver, the Merciful" (Surah Hijr - The Rock- verse 49).
As also mentioned by Berg, in Islam a great emphasis is placed on compassion and forgiveness – for forgiveness is a manifestation of compassion. God introduces Himself to us with His divine names al-Rahman (the Gracious) and al-Raheem (the Merciful). Many verses of the Qur'an mention God's blessed name, al-Rauf (the most Benevolent, most Compassionate) . Manifestations of these divine names can be seen to the utmost level in Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), who is described as "the Sun of Compassion" and "the Prophet of Mercy."
Al-Ragheb al-Isfahani and Al-Jawhari (two prominent Muslim scholars) state that compassion and mercy are the most significant attributes of our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). They explain that the word "Rahma" in the verse, "We did not send you except as mercy to mankind" (Surah Anbiya -The Prophets- verse 107), means deep affection and kindness which require being tender-hearted, forgiving, and beneficent . For this reason, Muslim scholars often refer to the following Hadith of Prophet Muhammad: "God the Gracious treats with mercy and kindness those who treat each other with feelings of mercy. (So) you act with mercy and kindness toward those on earth so that those in heavens shall show you mercy" .
Fudayl bin Iyadh, too, addresses forgiveness relating to close friends and says that real chivalry is to forgive the faults of one's companions. Wahb bin Munabbih mentions compassion together with benignity and states that, "Compassion is the twin sister of benignity" . According to Imam Ghazali, one believer forgiving another believer's mistakes is one of the rights of brotherhood .
In the teachings of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, compassion has an important place. For him, compassion is one of the “fastest and safest” ways leading us to truth, and it is also one of the principles among the laws established in nature. He states that compassion has an all-comprehensive truth and acts as a mirror for the divine name al-Rahim (The Merciful). A person whose senses and emotions have gained integrity and wholeness, begins showing affection, not only to his or her own offspring but to all innocent beings. Bediuzzaman draws attention to the point that compassion is a sincere, pure, and gratuitous feeling that does not expect any return, and shows animals' adorable and self-denying affection toward their little babies as evidence for this fact .
When we consider the mercy and compassion of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, we see that correctly and properly fulfilling the duty of conveying and instructing the divine message is strongly linked with earnest compassion and tender mercy. No matter when they live, it is absolutely fundamental for the conveyors of this divine message to never deviate from this path . Scholar Fethullah Gülen reminds that Islam advises forgiving by any means possible, not to surrender to the urges of grudge or hatred, and to never be possessed by the feeling of revenge .
- 1. Kristin Neff, Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself, 2011.
- Beverly Engel, It Wasn’t Your Fault, New Harbinger Publications. 2015.
- Tara Brach, Radical Compassion, New York: Viking, 2019.
- Oddbjørn Leirvik, Islams Etikk, Universitetsforlaget, 2002, p. 45.
- Einar Berg, Islam: Fra konfilikt til dialog, Universitetsforlaget, 1982.
- Nur 24:20; Nahl 16:47; Tawbah 9:128.
- ar-Ragib al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat, p. 191; al-Jawhari, as-Sihah, V, 1929; al-Munjid, “rhm,” p. 253. Bukhari, Janaiz 32, Ayman 9, Tawhid 25; Muslim, Janaiz 9, 11; Abu Dawud, Janaiz 24.
- Tirmidhi, Birr 16; Abu Dawud, Adab 58.
- Imam Ghazali, Ihya-i Ulumi’d-Din, Edited by: Dr. Mehmet Yavuz Şeker, Işık Yayınları. 2015.
- Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, Mektubat, Istanbul: Şahdamar Yayınları, 2014, p. 29.
- M. Fethullah Gülen, “İnanmış İnsanın Nitelikleri”, Çağlayan, Ağustos 2020.