Jun 11, 2010 - islam op-eds    5 Comments

Compassion and Mercy


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.


"Show Mercy So That You May Be Shown Mercy"


  • Sister Jannah,
    You really set up high ideals :-)

    The story (about mercy) that I like to remember when faced with inequity and injustice is that of Ali, during the battle of the Ditch (I think).

    During the fight, Ali was able to overcome his opponent. Ali was about to kill him when he, suddenly aware of his fate, the enemy soldier spit on Ali’s face. Ali immediately got up and left him alone. The man went running after Ali and asked, “You had a chance to kill me as I was defeated; why did you not use your sword?” Ali said, “I have no personal animosity towards you. I was fighting you because of your disbelief, on behalf of God. If I had killed you after you spat on my face, then it would have become my personal revenge which I do not wish to take.”

    May Almighty Allah gave us the strength and hikmat to do what is right at the time when we are most sorely tested.

    Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) took this decision at a point of extreme danger, when it would have appeared prudent for him to not leave an enemy behind (who could be a threat to him or to others). It was difficult to justify the act of mercy at that point (at least it would have been to most of us). However, he practiced a very advanced level of self-reflection, which most of us can only aspire to.

    We face much simpler tests; the odd rude remark, someone cutting us off in traffic, the refusal of a well-deserved application, a client refusing to pay for services already rendered etc etc.

    Most of the so-called injustices we face are based on our own assumptions and preconceived notions of what is fair and deserved.

    Mercy is an ideal that we can only achieve when we stop living for our nafs, and judge every action, thought and utterance based on whether they will please our Creator and Cherisher, or anger Him.

    A difficult, but yet attainable standard.

    Thank you for the beautiful reminder.

  • walaikum salaam bro,

    Indeed sooo true!! Jazaks for the story, totally forgot about that one and it’s a perfect illustration of Islamic morals and ethics! Thanks for ur comments.

  • Great concise post Sis J. Indeed, we often are overtaken by our anger and then, later regret what we did or said (at least in most cases).
    Wonderful reminder Br. Shahzad – in fact, my mother was just recalling this incident to me the other day.
    Insha’allah, hope to keep this in mind; that we should really think about our actions and reactions in our daily lives. Another gem of a post Sis J – Jazak’Allahu Khairan.

  • Jazak Allah khair

  • Peace be upon to all muslim