How is Mercy Defined in the Qur'an?
Then to be one of those who believe and urge each other
to patience and urge each other to mercifulness. Those are the Companions
of the Right. (Surat al-Balad: 17-18)
As expressed in the above verse, Allah commands His servants to "urge
each other to compassion" in order to attain His mercy, to enter the Garden
and to prosper on the Last Day. Believers, who devote their lives to gaining
Allah's approval, try to fulfil this order of Allah impeccably. Their
sincere faith in Allah underlies this very understanding of mercy. They
are aware that nothing occurs unless by the Will of Allah and realise
their need to have all His blessings bestowed upon them. Accordingly,
believers are humble, which is a consequence of such awareness. These
very attributes constitute the basis of their mercy.
One who is not humble in the real sense, cannot show real mercy. That
is because he thinks about himself alone, loves himself and gives importance
solely to his own wishes and interests. That is why he never considers
the needs of others. He deems other people worthless and unimportant.
Consequently, he fails to have feelings of compassion and affection.
Another reason why believers are committed to showing compassion is their
earnest desire to embody the morality deemed good by Allah. As explained
in numerous verses, Allah is "the Most Merciful
of the merciful". For that reason, believers strive to experience
compassion to the best of their ability.
As Allah revealed in the Qur'an, "If it had not
been for the favour of Allah upon you and His mercy, (you would have suffered
many difficult situations)." (Surat an-Nur: 20) The above verse
shows the extent to which believers are in need of the compassion and
mercy of Allah. Since they themselves seek to obtain Allah's Mercy, they
try to be as compassionate as possible towards other believers.
As is true of all other issues, the unique guide that sheds light on
the kind of mercy they have to show is the Qur'an. Thus, believers only
show mercy and compassion in situations deemed to be proper by Allah and
towards people specified by Allah.
Mercy as described in the Qur'an emerges as being quite distinct from
other kinds of mercy. But the majority of those who are distant from religion
possess a rather flawed understanding of the subject. Faced with untoward
happenings, they are seized by an ill-defined feeling of mercy and act
accordingly. This indeed shows a crude understanding of how they should
respond, because they act without knowing who is right or wrong, without
making a just and rational assessment and, more importantly, without considering
the commands of the Qur'an. Often, they tend to behave in a manner likely
to do harm both to themselves and to other people; their attempts to remedy
matters are abortive because they take ill-considered decisions. Their
understanding of compassion thus presents a structure uninspired by the
values of the Qur'an.
In relation to this subject, we need to dwell on another important point.
People sometimes harbour an understanding of mercy which may be wrong
according to the Qur'an. Since this kind of mercy does harm to people
rather than good, it may be considered as "evil compassion". In societies
which are indifferent to religion, people allow others to engage in any
act without considering its baneful result in the hereafter. For instance,
they allow them to behave immorally and turn a blind eye when they engage
in an act forbidden by Allah, or even encourage them.
The criteria believers adopt for themselves in this matter is that the
mercy shown to others must definitely make a positive impact in terms
of others' eternal life in the hereafter. In some cases, the love and
mercy they feel for believers may entail their interfering or criticising
them on some issues which may be hard on their lower selves (an-nafs).
Upon witnessing a wicked deed, they may criticise the perpetrator and
make strong pleas to deter him from such a deed. This is indeed true compassion.
That is because, at the risk of causing offence to the other party, they
put a stop to a conduct at variance with Qur'anic teaching and thus prevent
that person from engaging in an act that would incur eternal torment in
hell-a point of no return. For that reason, believers encourage others
to display the morality with which Allah will be pleased most, and which
will prepare them for a life in paradise. In so doing, they display the
most elevated form of mercy. One needs to keep in mind that the real cruelty
is not to consider the eternal life and to deliberately ignore mistakes
that would incur punishment.
In this respect, believers follow the Prophet Muhammad,
may Allah bless him and grant him peace, as their role model, who, in
the words of the Qur'an, was "truly vast in character". (Surat al-Qalam:
In another verse, Allah reveals the elevated morality of the Prophet,
may Allah bless him and grant him peace: "A Messenger
has come to you from among yourselves. Your suffering is distressing to
him; he is deeply concerned for you; he is gentle and merciful to the
believers." (Surat at-Tawba: 128) Thus, in compliance with Allah's
command, believers who adopt this morality behave compassionately and
mercifully towards believers by considering their rewards in the hereafter.