Has anyone ever thought about what differentiates us from animals? Like really thought about it? They eat, we eat. They sleep, we sleep. They have relationships, so do we. Is it that we think? That we have complex societies? But so do they. So what makes us different? We worship Allah but so do they (better than us).
What makes us different is our choices. We have the choice of going against our Nafs (self). Instead of following our lower instincts, emotions and base needs, we can choose not to follow them. We can rise above and try to emulate more ‘divine’ qualities. This is what makes us superior to other creatures.
When someone hurts us or does wrong to us, our first instinct is to hate or for revenge. But to rise above it, turn against those instincts and choose to forgive or show mercy truly takes struggle and exertion. It takes our true humanity coming through. Can you see a lion standing over a baby gazelle saying, “Awww poor thing I guess I won’t eat it!”? Never happens. But humans, what makes us different is our ability to go against ourselves and show this compassion and mercy.
A Hadith says “Show mercy so that you may be shown mercy, forgive and Allah will forgive you.” The Quran asks us “Do you not love that Allah should forgive you?” [Quran 24:22]
The reason I say all this is that I’ve witnessed people not showing compassion and mercy in certain circumstances. And Yes they may have the right NOT to, having gone through a great injustice, but I can’t describe how absolutely cold and ugly it is. It is animalistic and base. It is not human. Not being able to show mercy just puts us back on par with animals.
And when is the time to show mercy? When things are all great and we are rich and we deign to drop a penny in a bum’s cup on our way into Macy’s? No, it’s in those greatest times and trials where we are tested the most. When we don’t WANT to forgive. When our rights have been trampled upon. When we have been hurt the most. When our instinct is to hurt and hate back and punish. We stand over the gazelle with the knife in our hand, hatred in our eyes, but then we stop. We breathe, we look away, we drop the knife and walk away. We even force ourselves to make sure the gazelle is ok. We realize that it is we who were wrong. That we are human beings created in the best of moulds. That we must strive towards compassion and mercy if we are to expect any ourselves.
It is hard, yes. So is giving Zakat in hard times, so is fasting when we’re hungry. What was all that about? Allah trying to teach us to give up our earthly desires and strive for something better. To train us to be above our Nafs, to become more than animals, to become the best of creation.
I leave you to think about this the next time such a circumstances comes your way when you really don’t want to forgive or show mercy.