Any and all activism that is bereft of merciful love or loving mercy is not Islamic and can never be, says Shaykh Riad Saloojee.
Why do Muslims, when asked whether God is love, respond with, “No. He is Merciful?” Rahmah in Arabic is not mercy. Rahmah has the meaning of merciful-love or loving-mercy. The word rahmah is derived from a root which denotes the womb.
We would never describe the mother’s relationship to her child as based on mercy, or mercy primarily, but rather a loving-mercy or merciful-love. As for Allah being love itself, He is – He is Al Wudud, or the Loving.
The Subtleties of Loving-Mercy
In the Qur’an, Allah introduces Himself firstly as Al Rahman and Al Rahim. Among the most common linguistic interpretations of the subtlety between these names – for both share in the root of rahmah, or loving-mercy – is that Al Rahman refers to the loving-mercy of the Divine for all creatures, without exception. And Al Rahim is a special mercy reserved for those who love and obey him.
Islam teaches that Allah’s loving-mercy encompasses all things (Qur’an 7:156). There is nothing existent that is deprived of the Divine manifestations of His loving-mercy. All are enveloped within it: believer, disbeliever, obedient, disobedient.
A famous Prophetic Tradition states that Allah declares: “Certainly, my mercy supersedes my anger” (Bukhari). We are not ruled exclusively or primarily through Allah’s Name, the Infinitely-Just (Al ‘Adl). If we were, if we were tasked with a standard of care befitting of Divine justice, we would be incapacitated and fail.
Activism as an Act of Love
None of our intentions, words or acts would meet the measure of Infinite Beauty or Majesty. Allah reminds us that if He would hold human beings to account for their injustice, He would spare none on this earth (Qur’an 16:61). But rather, He rules and administers through His loving mercy.
The Messenger, blessing and peace be upon him, is described in one verse as a loving-mercy to the worlds using the verbal noun rahmah and not an adjective – meaning, as an ultimate emphasis, that he was loving-mercy embodied (Qur’an 21:107).
Consequently, it must also be for the vicegerent of the Divine. Of the most principle Divine Names to be embodied, internalized and actualized are those pertaining to the Divine’s loving-mercy.
All activism is an act of love. A Muslim does not delight in the suffering of anyone, at any dimension of suffering, whether individual or collective, secular or spiritual. A Muslim is always desirous and solicitous of the welfare of others, and strives to provide relief to others, in both their here and Hereafter.
A Tempered Sense of Justice
Any activism bereft of mercy is not Islamic and can never be — no matter what the interpretation, legal justification or rationalization of justice. This last point is critical. For if our justice is not tempered and overseen by our loving-mercy, we will undoubtedly fall into injustice. An obsession with justice and only justice will eventually turn us tyrannical in ways that are imperceptible and inconspicuous. An eye for eye makes everyone blind.
How often does our activism rebound on us? History is replete with examples of victims who turned into victimizers, oppressed who became oppressors, and those who exacted justice, without or at the expense of mercy, and became mercenary.
When our inner character is imbued with the beauty of the Divine Names of loving-mercy, we never lose sight of our own histories: Imagine, if the Divine dealt with us with Infinite Justice, we would never have been given the respite to learn and change. Someone infinitely greater forgave our trespasses. And, we should too invest our optimistic hope in others, to the greatest extent possible.
About the Series
This written series will pair with a new, forthcoming podcast, Spiritual Activism by Shaykh Riad Saloojee. He will present a paradigm for a spiritually-inspired activism that is what it was always meant to be: a vehicle for nearness to the Divine through genuine individual and social ethical change.
This series will comprise of seven discussions that explore the foundations of Islamic spirituality, the spiritual ethos that is the basis of all activism, the ailments of activism unhinged from spirituality, and an application of how spirituality must inform true environmental activism.