If you had to summarize Islam with one word, what word would that be, asks Ustadh Ibrahim J. Long. What word can express for you the beauty of Islam and the comfort it brings to your heart?
For many, perhaps, that word is peace (salam). This is due, in part, to the peace in our heart that we are seeking as Muslims, but also to the fact that both islam and salam share the same Arabic tri-literal root (S-L-M).
For those who don’t know, most classical Arabic words are composed of three root letters from which we derive the primary meaning of the word. Because the words Islam and Salam are composed of a seen (S), lam (L) and meem (M), many draw a linguistic connection and say: “Islam is peace,” or “Islam means peace.” For this reason, peace (salam) may have been your chosen word. But, despite these reasons, peace is not the quality I find most striking about our faith.
When I read the ayat of the Glorious Qur’an something else stands out to me. It is something I also see when I read about the life of our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) and his Companions. It is something I also think about when I hear stories about the righteous women and men of Islam and when I interact with pious men and women within our community. This quality is mercy (rahma).
Consider when a student of hadith first sits with his or her teacher. It is customary that the first hadith they hear from the lips of their teacher, the first hadith that connects him or her through their teacher to an unbroken chain of narrators going back to the Messenger of God (peace be upon him) is:
The Messenger of God (peace be upon him) said:
“The merciful are shown mercy by the Most Merciful (al-Rahman). Be merciful on the earth, and you will be shown mercy from He that is above the heavens.”
My brother or sister, our Lord is the Most Merciful (al-Rahman) and His Messenger is the Messenger of Mercy (al-Rasul al-Rahma) and he has not been sent except as a mercy to all of the worlds.
But, how merciful are you and I?
If someone were to ask a friend about you, would they describe you as a merciful, understanding, or compassionate person?
What if someone were to ask your parents, your spouse, your children, your family, your neighbors, your class-mates, or your co-workers? Would they each describe you as a merciful person?
One of the miracles of the Prophet (peace be upon him) that we do not speak enough about is his constant state of mercy even when he experienced difficulty. Whereas many among us may attribute our poor behavior, lack of patience, or lack of mercy with each other to our “having a bad day,” the Prophet (peace be upon him) was always merciful even under the most dire of circumstances.
Even when mocked and stoned
After having been kicked out of Ta’if, the incident he later described as having been the most difficult experience he ever faced, and after having been mocked and had stones thrown at him so much that he bled, he was given permission by God to ask His angels to destroy the city. But, this was not the way of our Messenger (peace be upon him); he always had hope and mercy in his heart for others. Instead of being vengeful, he maintained hope that a generation of believers would arise from the very city that rejected him. And, his hope was not in vain; there has been a generation after generation of believers since.
Consider, as well, that during the Battle of Uhud a group of archers disobeyed the direct orders of the Prophet (peace be upon him); a mistake that contributed to the death of several Companions and the physical injury of the Prophet himself.
What would you have done?
How you would you feel in this situation if you had been in the Prophet’s place? How would you feel if you were risking your life along with your closest companions and family members and, just when it appears that you are victorious and that the battle is nearly over, the tables are quickly turned due to the actions of a few who disobeyed your instructions? How would you feel? What would you do?
Consider my brother or sister that Allah choose to reveal to our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) at this difficult time the following ayah:
“Out of mercy from God, you were gentle in your dealings with them—had you been harsh, or hard-hearted, they would have dispersed and left you—so pardon them and ask forgiveness for them. Consult them about matters, then, when you have decided on a course of action, put your trust in God: God loves those who put their trust in Him.” (Q3:159)
Our Prophet (peace be upon him) was gentle with them and was commanded by the Most Merciful to pardon them and even ask forgiveness for them. And, on top on this, Allah commanded the Prophet to even consult them regarding their advice on matters. This is an amazing request that only a true Messenger of the Most Merciful could have fulfilled. Not only did he forgive them, but he still requested and took into consideration their opinion and expertise in matters despite their past mistakes!
A greater degree of mercy
Now, let us be honest with ourselves. Forgiving others can be very difficult; especially if we have experienced personal, emotional, or physical injury. Though, I am sure there are those of us who have a greater potential to forgive, or to at least try. But, to even go beyond that and to seek advice from someone who might have caused us pain; that takes an even greater degree of mercy.
The Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) always kept in mind the bigger picture: that he was guiding a people who had not been guided before. They were going to make mistakes, but through mercy they could be guided to that which is best for them and the Ummah.
Mercy toward our young and old
My brother or sister, these are not the actions of a normal man. His merciful character is a miracle and example for us to strive to follow. But how are you and I in our dealings with others? And, in particular, how merciful are we with our youth who are also in need of guidance and who are also going to make mistakes? If our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) was gentle with his Companions “who would have dispersed and left” Islam if the Prophet had been “harsh, or hard-hearted” (Q3:159), how can we expect anything more from our youth?
My brother or sister, you and I are undoubtedly familiar with the hadith of our Messenger (peace be upon him) stating that, “He is not one of us who does not show respect to our elders” [Ahmad; al-Tirmidhi]. And, of course, our elders are deserving of our respect. But I would like to draw attention to a lesser quoted statement of our Beloved Messenger (peace be upon him), “He is not one of us who does not have mercy upon our young” [Ahmad; al-Tirmidhi].
As our elders have a right to our respect, especially given their age, wisdom and life-experiences, our youth also have a right to our mercy given their young age, still developing understanding of the world, and their limited life-experiences.
“Speak to people in a way they will understand”
With this in mind, we need to also consider the advice of ‘Ali (May God be well-pleased with him) who said, “Speak to people in a way they will understand.” To which we may further add: Speak to people in a way that brings about that which is good for them. My brother or sister, take into consideration your words, the way you say it, and even your body language when you are seeking to guide our youth. Are you expressing mercy and concern?
If we truly want to help our youth we need to show wisdom and mercy. And, this means that when we ask them to listen to us, we, too, need to listen to better understand them. For, how can we speak in a way they understand if we do not first understand where they are coming from?
My brother or sister, what if no one is there to listen to our youth? What if our young men and women never felt like they could confide in their parents the trouble and pressures that they were facing in life? Who is it that could help them?
The wrong tools, for the wrong time
Some of you may be thinking that perhaps the only way to care for our youth and our children is to be tough on them. I don’t deny that sometimes our youth need clearer guidance and boundaries. But, we cannot be like poor carpenters who only carry a hammer; using it to fix all the problems we see.
Every problem is not a nail and every solution is not a hammer. Sometimes it is, but the default in our religion is mercy and so even when the hammer is wielded, it is used in a way that brings stability to a structure, not in a way that causes it to weaken and crumble.
Take a moment, my brother or sister, and reflect upon the mercy you have been the recipients of in your own life. Perhaps you have been forgiven by someone you love who you hurt. Or, perhaps you have received assistance from others when you really needed it. Or, perhaps you have had someone in your life who you could always call on. Haven’t these events made you want to be a better person like those who have helped you? Doesn’t the mercy of others push you and I to want to be better people?
He was not sent to curse and neither were we
One day one of the Prophet’s companions was going through an immense difficulty and asked our Beloved Prophet (peace be upon him) to curse those who were making things difficult for him. In response the beloved Messenger of God said, “I have not been sent to curse people; I have been sent as mercy to mankind’” [Muslim; al-Bukhari in al-Adab al-Mufrad].
As followers of the Beloved (peace be upon him), how can we be a mercy to the world? As followers of the Messenger of Mercy (peace be upon him), how can we show mercy to our youth?
Ibrahim J. Long is a Muslim chaplain and educator. You can follow his blog at ibrahimlong.org