God Most Merciful
What Islam teaches us about the Mercy of God
To believe in God is also to believe in His Mercy, an inestimable, incomparable, infinite Mercy that encompasses all Creation. This Mercy we see all around us, in the love of mother for her child, in the kindness man and beast show to their kind and in the beauty and balance of our world, though we hardly notice it, taking it for granted as it were. We see this mercy in the good things in life we are blessed with to satisfy our needs – food to satisfy our hunger, drink to satiate our thirst and clothing to cover our nakedness. And not just us, even the tiniest creatures are blessed with these things. Humans have been given bare skin and so have been provided clothes, but cats have fur that serve as a natural coat and birds have feathers and down that protect them from the outside environment.
Our skins though not providing the kind of cover animals are blessed with still serve a purpose, clothing our internals like the case of a clock and giving us external forms pleasing to the eye. But that’s not all, it’s a natural thermostat since its pores open out when the heat is on and contract when it is cold. When the pores open you sweat and reduce your body temperature and when they close you maintain your temperature to survive the cold. But hold on, there’s more to it. Your skin’s also an alarm siren. It is fitted with pain receptors to sense pain so that you can avoid harm to your body. Imagine you didn’t feel pain? You could be bitten by a scorpion and not know a thing about it, until it takes its toll on you. And yet it’s an alarm that knows when to stop. Just in case you’re being eaten alive by a tiger and can’t take the pain, your body goes into shock so that you feel no pain till you pass out or pass away!
Then take your eyes, your window to the world. Its not just a lens by which you find your way in this physical world, but so much more, a kaleidoscope that lets you savour the beauty of creation in all its colour and splendour, its tints and tones and wondrous shapes that move before you like a perennial panorama. And yet there’s so much more to it than meets the eye, for it knows how to take just enough light to make it all possible, reducing its iris and expanding its pupil to let in maximum light in dim light and expanding its iris and reducing its pupil to prevent excessive light flooding the organ and harming its light sensitive cells. It’s that well designed, like a dam in a hydropower plant that takes in enough water to drive its turbines and light our homes, but keeps the rest at bay.
Think of it, would you part with your two eyes for all the wealth in the world? Certainly not. That is the worth of your eyes. But still you take it for granted. Now suppose you were a King, and you found yourself in a barren land dying of thirst. Somebody comes to you with a bowl of water and in exchange for it asks you to write away your kingdom to him. Won’t you? That is the worth of a little water. It’s worth more than a kingdom because your very life depends on it. And still we take it all for granted. Indeed the very air we breath that keeps us alive is from His Mercy and we take it for granted, giving little thanks to God. Has it ever struck you that the most important things in life – like air and water- are free while it is those things we can do without – like gold and diamonds – that come with a big price.
The Source of Mercy
It is sad that many of us in our blindness do not even realize what the source of all this mercy is. If only we were to give it some thought we would realize that there has to be a source, a wellspring from which all this universal mercy arises. We don’t have far to look. God our Creator Lord clearly tells us:
My Mercy extends to all things. That (Mercy) I shall ordain for those who do right, and practice regular charity and who believe in Our Signs
His Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) explains this All-encompassing Mercy in the following vein:
God has divided Mercy into one hundred parts, and He kept ninety-nine parts with Him and sent down one part on the earth, and because of that one single part, His creatures are merciful to each other, so that even the mare lifts up
its hoof away from its baby animal, lest it should trample on it
So here we have the explanation for a beautiful and reassuring trait that even the theory of evolution with its emphasis on the ‘Survival of the Fittest’ cannot explain – a mother’s love, compassion for one’s kind and even for those that are not. A trait that ensures that the infant, the most helpless creature on earth, survives and grows to his or her full years by God’s Grace, a trait that ensures that man survives even when he cannot earn a living when advanced in years when others who are near and dear to him shoulder that responsibility. It is only when you become a parent will you really understand how great this love is.
A wise man from the west once said: “Before I had children of my own I knew God would not forget me; when I had children I knew He cannot forget me”. This is how a pious man once expressed how strong God’s love for man was, and what he experienced as a parent was only a fraction of that love God has for His Creation. So all this mercy and compassion we see in the world around us is simply a reflection of the outpourings of God’s unending Mercy.
Mercy in Creation
Pondering thus we discover a God whose All Embracing Mercy is reflected in our worldly life, an ever so intimate mercy encompassing all aspects of our lives from cradle to grave. Take the case of the Sun He created for us. It floods the sky with its light and so we have day to see our surroundings and get on with our lives. Its rays with its range of seven hues enables us to distinguish colour in its different combinations. It also provides plants with energy, so that through photosynthesis they get their nourishment, forming the basis of the food chain that ensures the survival of every other living creature including us humans. By its rising and setting it gives us a count of our days so that we can measure time. In like manner the fire we kindle gives us heat to cook our meals and light our hearths when nipped by the winter’s cold. The trees around us give us food and shade while plants and minerals give us the medicines we need to fight the ills that affect us, as if it were all in-built in nature.
Then take the case of a human baby, perhaps the most helpless creature on earth. Consider how it gets its sustenance even before its birth by means of the umbilical cord and after birth how it gets milk from its mother who has only to hold it to her breast. As soon as the growing child needs better nourishment through solid food, it starts getting its teeth as if by some miracle and the mother’s milk disappears, again as if some unseen force had taken it away. And as if that were not enough, the lactating mother is provided with a natural mechanism of birth control so long as she nurses her infant, ensuring her births are spaced and as importantly the nursling is not deprived of its due share of milk by an untimely sibling competing for the milk it so badly needs to nourish itself. Can evolution explain this? Come to think of it, can evolution even explain the love and care the mother gives her child, a unique bond that none can sunder?
Then take the making of man; how each and every cell in his body works in complete harmony like bees in a beehive, busily going about doing their jobs while we enjoy our days,, building damaged tissue and staving off invaders. When we bleed, our blood clots and skin heals, when a germ gets in to our bodies our white cells fight and gobble it down like little mechanics fixing a fault as soon as it’s detected.
Each knows its function; each knows its purpose; each knows its part in the great drama of life. How can we even count our blessings, even those blessings we so often take for granted like that wonderful faculty known as memory which gives us our very identity or those organs which we cannot do without like eyes to see with, nose to smell with and mouth to eat with, all so perfectly placed in relation to one another to ensure we live life with ease? And even if that were not enough, how can we thank God even for the little mercies He has given us, like putting taste buds on our tongues to ensure we enjoy our meals so heartily!
It is this same wonder of creation that the Prophet Job expressed many thousands of years ago:
Did you not pour me out as milk, and thicken me like cheese?
With skin and flesh you clothed me, with bones and sinews knit me together
Grace and favour you granted me and Your Providence has preserved my spirit
(Job 10: 10-12)
And the same that Jane Montgomery Campbell expressed when she penned those beautiful lines:
We plough the fields and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God Almighty’s Hand
He sends the snow in winter, the Warmth to swell the grain
The breezes and the sunshine and the soft refreshing rain
Yes, God’s Mercy is seen everywhere, in the sun and the seasons it brings and the wind and the rain it scatters. It is seen when the sun, the clouds and the wind all keep busy so that we have our daily bread and the saltless water we drink. It is seen in every aspect of creation, from the beasts of the land to the birds in the sky and fish in the sea. Each creature has its own unique set of faculties which help it survive. The owl has sharp vision even at night while the bat has little or no vision, though it has in its place a unique sonar system, a combination of their high pitched voices and hearing that operates like a radar, enabling them to find their way in the darkest recesses of caves and other haunts. The tarsier, a lemur-like mammal has eyes that cannot turn in their sockets, so that they have to stare straight ahead, but it is adequately compensated by its flexible neck that lets it turn its head 180 degrees either way, added to its other faculties like its paper-thin ears that can furl and turn to pick up even the faintest sounds. The fox has its scent and the lion its fangs, each equipped for its own survival.
These faculties are in-built into these creatures. This is why birds migrate thousands of miles to warmer climes when winter approaches and food becomes scarce. Something in them tells them it’s time to take off on their long flights to continents thousands of miles away and when the season is over and spring approaches, to return to their native land, very often to their very same nests. All this without any landmark whatsoever as they fly over sea where there are no landmarks and at night when they cannot be seen even on land. This is why baby turtles as soon as they hatch out of their eggs, fan out to reach the seas so that they will not easily fall victims to predators, and if that were not enough, after spending almost a lifetime in the waters they return to the very spot they were born to lay their eggs, as if a homing device had been implanted in them at birth.
This is why European eels on maturity migrate en masse from lakes and rivers everywhere in Europe across thousands of miles of deep ocean bound for the same abysmal depths near Bermuda in the Atlantic where they breed and die. Their young, with no evident means of knowing anything except that they are in a wilderness of water, will find their way not only to the very shores whence their parents came but even to the same rivers and lakes. More remarkable is the fact that the maturity of these eels is delayed by a year or so to make up for their longer journey. So I ask you, who put this inborn instinct into them? Who else but God, who brings home all his creatures.
Yes, God’s Hand we see everywhere, guiding the course of life, colouring and perfuming flowers and giving taste to fruits, teaching birds to sing their melodious songs and insects to cry out their mating calls, spiders to spin their webs to hunt their prey and bees to go in search of nectar to feed their young.
Who gave human mothers a pair of breasts overflowing with milk to feed a babe or two and cats and dogs several more teats to feed their large litters? Who gave the birds their wings to fly thousands of miles over ocean waters to warmer climes with the approach of the cold season? Who gave the fish in the deepest and darkest depths of the oceans their bioluminescence to light the way, flashing away their colours to rival our lamplit streets in the dead of night? Who gave spiders their threads and bees their homing skills. Who else but God who is the Lord of the Bee as He is of Man:
And your Lord taught the bee to build its cells in hills, on trees and in (men’s) habitations. Then to eat of all the produce (of the earth) and find with skill the spacious paths of its Lord. There issues from within their bodies
a drink of varying colours wherein is healing for men
– Verily in this is a Sign for those who give thought
(The Bee: 68-69)
Mercy of the Creation
We see God’s Merciful Hand everywhere, but refuse to acknowledge it. Contrary to what evolutionists would have us believe, nature is not a battleground where only the fittest survive in the law of the jungle. It is full of love and compassion, from the kindness a mother shows her child to the kindness creatures show to their own kind or even other kinds. It is simply not a case of the selfish gene perpetuating itself at the expense of others.
If we are to go by Darwin’s theory, every being fights for its own survival and the continuation of its species. Helping other creatures might even decrease its own chances of surviving, and therefore, evolution, if at all it took place, should have eliminated this type of behavior long ago. Why indeed do living beings help one another? Why is altruism so evident everywhere in nature from a colony of ants to a hive of bees, and in birds and higher forms of life ? Evolutionists cannot rationally explain such behaviour because according to their flawed logic, nature is a ruthless order where only the fittest survive. But Islam can. They are all simply reflections of the boundless mercy of the Almighty.
It once happened that one of the prophet’s daughters sent a messenger calling him to visit her and see her son who was on his deathbed. He sat with the child and its eyes froze in their places like stones. Seeing this, the Prophet wept. His companion asked him: “What is this, O Prophet of God?”. He said: “This is a mercy that God the Exalted places in the hearts of His Slaves. Truly God is Merciful to those who are merciful to others” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari). In the Qur’an we read of Jacob telling his sons: “Truly no one despairs of God’s Soothing Mercy, except those who have no faith” (Joseph: 87).
To believe in God is also to believe in His Mercy. As God Himself tells us:
Your Lord is Full of Mercy. All Embracing
If you were to count the favours of God, you would not be able to number them
God Himself tells us of some of the Mercies He has given us:
And out of His mercy He made for you the night and the day that you may rest therein and (by day) seek from his bounty and (that) perhaps you will be grateful
This is why we are constantly reminded in the Qur’an of God’s Mercy. All but one chapter of the Qur’an (Chapter of Repentance) begin with the words: Bismillahi ar-Rahman ar-Rahim – In the name of God, The Most Merciful, The Dispenser of Mercy. Even the Opening Chapter of the Holy Book Al-Fatiha contains these attributes in its very body “Praise be to God, the Lord of All the Worlds; the Most Merciful, the Dispenser of Mercy”. Though both these twin titles of God Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim are derived from the Arabic root r-h-m meaning ‘mercy’, ‘compassion’ ‘loving kindness’ there is a subtle difference between the two, Ar-Rahman describes God’s nature of being All-Merciful, while Ar-Raheem describes His acts of mercy dispensed to His creation. Both these attributes nevertheless demonstrate His All-Encompassing Mercy enveloping every aspect of creation; saturating man and nature with the light and warmth of His Affection, Benevolence and Compassion.
Islam- Religion of Mercy
This is why we Muslims view Islam as a religion of mercy and our Beloved Prophet as God’s gift of Mercy to all humanity, to sustain the human spirit and put man on the path to salvation by His Divine Grace. As God Almighty Himself says:
And We have sent you (O Prophet) as a Mercy to all the worlds
In like manner the prophets God sent to the nations in former times were also sent as a mercy. This was especially true of Jesus (Peace Be Upon Him) of whom God says:
And that We may make him a symbol unto mankind and an act of Mercy from Us
Despite all this the Bible does not even once mention God’s name as The Merciful One!
Indeed, God is more merciful toward us than our own mothers. It so happened that some prisoners of war were brought before the prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) and behold, a woman amongst them, her breast full of milk, found her baby amongst the captives, whereupon she took him to her breast and nursed him. The Prophet asked his companions, “Do you think that this lady would throw her baby boy in the fire?” They replied, “No, if she has the power not to throw him in the fire” The prophet said, “God is more merciful to His servants than this lady to her son” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
He also once told his followers:
When God created the heavens and the earth, he created one hundred mercies, each one can cover what is between the earth and the heaven. He allocated to the earth only one, with which the mother is compassionate with her child; the beast and the bird are compassionate with their babies. When the Day of Judgement comes,God will complete His mercy
Thus it is simply unimaginable that the mercy one creature shows another, however intense that mercy, could ever supersede the Mercy of God which is like a bottomless ocean, boundless like a shoreless sea. Yes, we wallow in the Sea of God’s Mercy, we bask in the Sun of His Mercy. When we accustom our minds to this kind of reasoning, that God’s Mercy is All-Encompassing we will see spirituality blossoming in every little mundane thing. We see God’s Mercy pervading all things, we see it mirrored in all of creation, in the rose that blooms in summer, in the nightingale that sings in the spring, in the leaves that take on enchanting colours in autumn and in the ants that busily gather provisions for the long winter.
Indeed, God is even merciful to sinners, so long as they repent of their sins. As He says in His Word, the Qur’an:
O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Do not despair of the Mercy of God: for God forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful
He has inscribed for Himself (the rule of) Mercy. That He will gather you together for the Day of Judgement, there is no doubt whatever. It is they who have lost their own souls, that will not believe
The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) made this very clear when he stressed on the importance of repentance to earn God’s Mercy:
If a disbeliever knows of all the mercy which is in the hand of God,
he would not lose hope of entering Paradise
God extends His Hand at night to accept the repentance of one who has sinned during the day, and He extends His Hand during the day to accept
the repentance of one who has sinned during the night –
until (the day comes when) the sun rises from the West
God is more delighted with the repentance of His slave when he repents, than any of you would be if (he found his) camel, which he had been riding in a barren desert, after it had escaped from him carrying his food and drink. After he despaired of it, he came to a tree and laid down in its shade. Then while he was despairing of it, the camel came and stood by his side, and he seized its reins and cried out in joy, ‘O God, You are my servant and I am your Lord!’
– making this mistake (in wording) out of his excessive joy
Besides sincere repentance another way to earn God’s Mercy is to show mercy to one’s fellow creatures. See how beautifully our Prophet (peace be upon him) explains this:
The Most Merciful will have mercy on those who show mercy to people.
Show mercy to those who are on earth and the One above the Heavens
will have mercy upon you
Indeed God is so merciful that He gives those who accept Islam the opportunity to be forgiven of all their previous sins, however grave they may have been, so that they enter Islam with a clean slate, so to speak. Some people once asked the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him): “O Messenger of God! Will we be held responsible for what we did during the days of ignorance before accepting Islam?” He replied: “Whoever accepts Islam purely for God will not be held to account” (Saheeh Muslim).
Human Suffering is not absence of God’s Mercy, but a Test
Many are those who think human suffering shows that either God does not exist or He does not care? However, let us bear in mind that suffering is only a test from God. We are so used to wallowing in God’s Mercy that whatever little Every one of us is tested in this world; some with poverty, some with sickness and some with hardship. In fact there is nobody on the face of this wide world who has not undergone some sort of suffering. But even then remember that whatever burden God places on us it can never really be unbearable. God Himself says in His Word:
On no soul doth God place a burden greater than it can bear. It gets every good that it earns, and it suffers every ill that it earns
Whatever the burden God chooses to test us with, we must bear it with patience and pray to Him for relief, for there is nobody else who can answer our prayers. It once happened that one of the daughters of Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy of God be upon him, sent him the news of his ailing son. He reminded her that God is the One who gives and the One who takes, and that everyone has an appointed term. He reminded her to be patient.
Besides Islam teaches us that whatever suffering we undergo, it is not a punishment from God, but rather a chance for cleansing oneself of sin. It is in this vein that our beloved Prophet said:
No Muslim is afflicted with any harm but that God removes his/her sins
as the leaves of a tree fall down
How beautiful a palliative this is when compared to the now commonly accepted Christian teaching that man suffers because of the sins of his first parents in disobeying God when they ate of the forbidden fruit, or the Hindu and Buddhist idea that seeks to explain human suffering on the basis of the law of cause and effect, where one suffers as a result of sins committed in a previous life, which only adds insult to injury to the victim, not only psychologically affecting him, but also determining how the larger society brought up in this mould of thinking looks upon him or her.