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Aspects of Mercy

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The Sealed Nectar

 The Sealed Nectar by Shaykh Safi ur-Rahman

Aspects of Mercy

Dr. Adam began her sixth lecture by greeting the audience and thanking them for coming and said , “I am pleased to continue my exposition of the manifestations of the Prophet’s mercy towards his followers, as there are important aspects that I have not yet dealt with. These are connected with the application of mercy in the performance of acts of worship and their effects on those same acts of worship, which we have talked about in the previous lecture.In this lecture, however, I intend to expand on these examples in order to show that this mercy has always been associated with the acts of worship. I shall move on, then, to talk on the close association between imperative justice and imperative mercy. Thus, in addition to the obvious manifestations of this mercy, such as the gradual revelation of the religious provisions and the amendments of some of them in certain cases on account of an exceptional circumstance, and in addition to the fact that the Prophet, pbuh, in indicating those legislations, was aware of human nature and the needs hereof – despite all that, the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, was not confined to those aspects, but extended to others as well.Thus it extended beyond that to include the application of mercy with a view to implanting in human souls that mercy is not a mere word, or feeling, that human beings experience, but is rather a practice and a reality that is reflected by tangible exponents.

It is well known that the thing that was most dearly loved by the Prophet, pbuh, was prayer and communication with God Almighty. But strangely enough, he used to shorten the prayer when leading the congregation in prayer, and would inform people why he had shortened his prayer, saying, “I would embark on prayer desiring to dwell on it, but when I hear a child cry, while I am praying, I would recite short surahs and light surahs, in consideration of his mother’s anxiety when he cries.[1]This was not an isolated case, but was an established practice, as confirmed by his servant, Anas, who kept him close company, who said, “When the Prophet hears a baby cry, while he is praying, he would reciteshort surahs and light surahs.[2] Thus in payers performed by hundreds of his companions, all of whom desire, just as the Prophet, pbuh, desires, to lengthen it, the crying of a baby whose mother is participating in the prayer, prompts the Prophet, pbuh, to shorten it, by way of mercy towards the mother, as he is aware of her tender feelings and pity towards her baby, and towards the crying baby, as he is too pitiful to hear a baby cries.

Another case in point is reported of the Prophet, pbuh, who, when passing by the dwelling of his daughter, Fatimah, and hearing Hussein crying, said to Fatimah, “You know very well that his crying hurts me.”[3] It is a practical lesson in mercy that the Prophet, pbuh, is keen on implanting in his companions.In another episode, he was informed that one of his companions would lengthen his prayer when leading a group of men, he admonished him and said, “Do not alienate people. He who leads others in prayer should lighten his prayer, as there may be among them those who are sick, weak or pressed.”[4] It is the mercy of the Prophet that has prompted the Prophet, pbuh, to make this classification and to require those who lead prayers not to lengthen the prayer, to take into consideration the conditions of the categories he has enumerated.While talking, Dr. Adam noticed a member of the audience turn to his neighbor and whisper something in his ear and they both smiled. At this point, she paused and they looked at her. He smiled in her turn and asked whether there was something which the whole audience could share with them. One of them said that he frankly told his friend that the Prophet, pbuh, could have told the mother and her baby and those who have special circumstances not to attend the prayer, so that he  might pray with his companions as they wished, and would not have to say or do what he did.

Dr. Adam turned to the audience and asked them for their opinion of what they had heard. But only one said, “this is, in any case, a matter of opinion, but wee not aware of the conditions and the circumstances at that time.”    Dr Adam thanked those who had expressed their opinion and said, “I am glad to hear this point of view, because it has given me the opportunity to clarify an important matter, namely, that we sometimes judge, amylase and  form an opinion with regard thereto in light of our contemporary culture, being affected by our environment and its successive events and consecutive positions. This is called the impressionistic approach and the projective approach.There have spread amongst us statements that are often deprived of mercy, such as the interest of the community has precedence over that of the individual, and that exceptional cases are irrelevant and should be ignored, and that the individual is the fuel of the community and is a mere wheel in its cart.The implications of this culture make us wonder as to the practices of the Propher, pbuh, which are in fact a reflection of his greatness and a symbol of mercy for both the individual and the community.

The mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, has encompassed individuals, as such, as well as the interest of the community. Thus the interest of the community is well taken care of, but the interest of the individual is also important. Thus it is important to make sure that, in the protection of the interests and the practice of mercy, no right should encroach on any other right.The view we have already heard, which was the reason why we have made this digression is a sign that there are negative aspects for those who resort to them, and I am definitely not addressing those who have pointed out to this minor point, but rather refer to those who make this a way of life and who deal with people in terms thereof. This is because it involves a defective approach and a failure to encompass all followers and all the loved ones, and means that this symbol, or paragon, or saint, has come to be confined to a category to the exclusion of another.The fact is that all humanity is in a dire need for this merciful approach. What we witness today in the real world abounds in cases where the individual is ignored for the sake of the community, on the basis of feeble arguments. But the Prophet of Mercy, pbuh, offers to all humanity balanced types in which the interests of both individuals and communities are realized.I would like to remind you that we have touched on an aspect of this talk in a previous lecture and that we considered this to be a faulty practice because it lacks balance and universality.

In brief, I have shown that it is inconceivable, in light of what we have discussed, that the Prophet of Mercy, pbuh, should make any one of his followers feel that he is deprived of his attention and that it is not possible for him to act in such a manner as to deprive anyone of them from his mercy.The Prophet, pbuh, possesses such munificent attributes as to enable him to accomplish what he wishes to accomplish without this being at the expense of anyone of those who surround him. In this context, I venture to say that I have not found in the life story of any great figures such attribute, which I do not tire of reiterating and say that it is one of the most salient of the manifestations of the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh.I can adduce further anecdotes that reflect the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, which, like before, occurred in the course of prayers. Thus it happened that a companion by the name of Ma’awyah As-Slami has prayed with the Prophet and, during the prayer, he spoke to one next to him.  Thereupon, the other companions looked disapprovingly at him. So he said, “Why do you look at me like that? But they signaled to me to keep silent, which I did. When the Messenger of God finished praying, he neither blamed me nor admonished me, but merely said, ‘This prayer is not suitable for people’s talk; it is but glorification, exaltation and recital of the Qur’an.’ I have never seen before or after him a better teacher!.”

The Prophet, pbuh, has been merciful to this companion and spoke to him gently although he had disturbed the prayer of the congregation. Thus this companion has been made to feel the mercy of the Prophet, pbuh, which feeling never left him thereafter, and justified his statement that he has never nor will ever see a better teacher.There goes a practical lesson for educators, for every time and place. It is a lesson for them to be merciful towards the ignorant and to guide them gently. While modern educational theories advocate this approach in teaching and education, the Prophet of Mercy has exemplified them in practice hundreds of years ago.Thus, while the Prophet, pbuh, would be in the process of performing acts of worship, which meant so much to him, he was never oblivious of his companions, and was alert to spare them any difficulties or embarrassment, out of mercy for them.Another case in point is reported by Lady Aishah, the Prophet’s spouse. She reported that he used to observe night prayers, during the month of Ramadan, what is known as the tarawiH prayer. He kept leading the congregation in prayer for days and then stopped going out to pray with them. When asked for the reason, he said, “I was afraid it would be imposed on them as an obligatory duty,” which is a clear gesture of mercy towards them.[5]

More obvious is the statement of Aishah, who said, “The Prophet used to avoid doing things which he liked doing, lest people would do likewise and lest they would be considered an obligatory duty.[6]The Prophet, pbuh, did not abuse his companion’s love for him and their keenness on emulating him and perform difficult actions in their presence for them to imitate him. This was not the approach of the Prophet, pbuh, but was that of his predecessors – the saints, some of whom used to fast for days and abstain from sleep night after night - as this would be a strain on their followers, if any.There is a great difference between him who looks behind him when walking to assure himself of their condition individually as they follow him, and show them great tenderness while they follow him, to make sure he does not go too far beyond them or alienate them by way of his mercy towards them, just like a father who looks after his children, and him who is oblivious and unconscious of them and singly proceeds on his way in order to achieve for himself greatness and immortal fame, in his single-handedness, as he deludes himself, seemingly thinking that he who is strong let him follow me and he who has energy let him endure.He told them openly: “I am like a father to you.” A father treats his children mercifully and tenderly and does not cause them hardships.

Thank you for your patient listening. I propose a short break and then we shall continue, as usual.Dr. Adam entered the hall to resume the Sixth lecture. She had disordered papers. It seems she was reading them before entering the hall. She welcomed the audience saying, “Welcome to you all in the second half of this lecture, which I have reserved for elucidating an important matter, namely, the position of mercy among other moral virtues, and for indicating its relation to other virtues and legitimate laws.I can sum up these phrases by one word, which I put in the form of a question: Did Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, exemplify the dictum “Mercy First” in all his forms of behavior?  I have deliberately delayed this matter to the Sixth Lecture in order to make it easy for the dear audience to recall attitudes and events that we have considered. These contribute to the answering of this question, which should not be raised in the abstract.

Dear audience,

In order to answer this question, an introduction is necessary, which I hope will not be boring. Prophet Muhammad, pbuh, was sent for the purpose of completing human innate character, to coexist therewith and to preserve it. He was not sent in order to alienate people from it and change it. This means he used to invoke the nature of the human soul, its needs and emotions. We have adduced many situations that clearly confirm this.Allow me now to make a short digression in this respect. I wish to mention to you that humanity today is suffering greatly on account of going against the soul’s natural disposition and its attempt to annihilate it through many actions which we hear about and see in many areas that are devoid from mercy in all its aspects. This is because mercy can never exist except when there is a sound disposition.In light of what sociologists term “social empathy”, which means being conscious of the feeling of others and the respect of their rights and the adoption of a behavior that reflects this awareness, it is imperative that such rules and systems be established that would control the behavior of individuals and take for them from society and take from them for society.[7]

In such cases, there inevitably arise the rights and duties and impose themselves. Thus justice is a duty, and the restitution of rights to their owners is necessary, and the individual has the right to have his interests preserved. These are clear grounds which have been confirmed by Shari’ah provisions and translated by the Prophet’s practices. Thus it has been firmly established in people’s minds that justice is a duty, but what must be appreciated and immediately recalled is that mercy is also a duty and not a condescendence from the Islamic viewpoint.Let me illustrate. If a person borrows a sum of money, then he is obligated to repay the money to the lender, which is only fair. But if the borrower is unable to repay the debt on time because he is insolvent, then justice also requires the lender to give the borrower a respite, out of mercy towards the borrower.But in this case, the Qur’an provides another guidance, namely that the lender forgoes his money, if he can afford that, which is a case of mercy in all its manifestations. In this respect, the Qur’an says, “If the debtor is in difficulty, give him time till it is easy for him to repay. But if you remit it by way of charity, that is best for you, if ye only knew” (Al-Baqarah, 280).

This Divine offer involves an exchange of mercy with mercy, so to speak. Thus giving one’s funds in charity by way of mercy on the part of the creditor, is rewarded with mercy by God Almighty. The Prophet, pbuh, has encouraged people to make use of this offer, saying, “Have mercy on those who are on earth, and you will be rewarded by mercy by Him Who is in Heaven.”To further encourage people to benefit from this mercy that is associated with such duty, the Prophet related the story of a man who used to practice this type of mercy and was rewarded by being admitted to Paradise. He said, “A merchant used to sell people on credit. Whenever he saw anyone in financial difficulty, he would tell his assistants to be easy on him, in the hope that God would be easy on them, and God was easy on him.”[8]In another context, the Qur’an stresses the duty of punishment: “O, ye who believe, just retribution is ordained for you in cases of killing: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is remitted to a guilty person… this remission shall be adhered to with fairness, and restitution to his fellow-man (the aggrieved party) shall be made in a goodly manner. This is an alleviation from your Lord and an act of mercy. And for him who, none the less, willfully transgresses the bounds of what is right, there is grievous suffering in store.”” (al-Baqarah, 178).

Thus God has first established the right of retribution to the relatives of the killed, and then he mentioned mercy. In another context, God has made retribution in kind a right to the aggrieved party, but at the same time, He made the showing of mercy to and  pardoning of the aggressor an act of charity and an atonement for the aggrieved party: “And We ordained therein (The Torah),a life for a life, an eye for an eye and a nose for a nose, and an ear for an ear, and a tooth for a tooth and a (similar) retribution fro wounds. But if any one remits the retaliation by way of charity, it is an atonement for himself. But if any fail to judge by what God has revealed, they are wrong-doers.” (Al-Ma’idah, 45).In short, dear Audience…

Thus while establishing the right of retribution, the Prophet of Mercy, pbuh, in addition, mentions the duty of mercy just as justice is a duty. It is no exaggeration to say that a close look at the texts would make us feel that it seems as though there was a plan that aims at narrowing the scope of justice to make way for the practice of mercy.This is clearly evident in the rewards God has promised to those who give precedence to mercy over justice and forgive and excuse. Some of the conditions and stipulations whose details have been expounded by the merciful Prophet, pbuh, in the application of punishments and retribution will be dealt with below, soon.Modern civilization has excelled in the establishment and enactment of laws and the application thereof, but it has failed in devising the mercy which must be associated with these laws, in such a manner that rights are not neglected or lost while applying such mercy. This, the Prophet of mercy is offering to humanity today, just as he has done before.To revert to our previous question, it can be said that the priority of  mercy was a prominent feature of the behavior and verdicts of Muhammad, pbuh, as he has always had in mind the Qudsi (Holy/Divine) Tradition, “My (God’s) mercy precedes my wrath.” Following are some events, which will further elucidate and clarify this matter.

A companion by the name of “Maez” once came to the Prophet, pbuh, and confessed that he had committed adultery and requested the Prophet, pbuh, to punish him for his sin and thereby purify him. In this instance, the Prophet exercised the role of a judge and of a lawyer, simultaneously. Thus he tried to dissuade the man from admission of his guilt and suggested to him arguments that would exempt him from punishment. Thus he put it to the man that he might not have committed adultery, but that he rather did so and so (short of committing adultery). The Prophet, pbuh, even went as far as asking his other companions to make sure the man was not out of his mind, being anxious to hear something of the sort, which would relieve the man from punishment.[9]This, I believe, is a practical lesson in the exercising of mercy in the society of the Prophet, pbuh. But lest some may think that such behavior is restricted to the Prophet, pbuh, it must be pointed out that, he would follow his statement with action, and remind people on several occasions of the importance of showung mercy to every single individual of the community, or others.

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