Q: What has the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said about mercy as a moral virtue?
A: Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) made a clear connection between belief in Allah and compassion. In a saying of the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, narrated in Al Tabarani he said:
“You won’t be true believers unless you have compassion.”
When people heard him say this people said: “Oh Prophet, we are all merciful.”
“I am not referring to the mercy that one of you would have towards his companion or close friend but I am referring to mercy or compassion to all.””
In one of his sayings the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, indicated that it is important for one to be compassionate towards other fellow beings in order to receive the compassion and mercy of Allah. Again in Al Tabrani the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, says:
“Whoever does not show mercy to those on earth will not receive the mercy of He who is in the Heavens.”
In another saying narrated in Al Tirmithi the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said that:
“The farthest people from Allah are the people who are cruel in their hearts.”
Cruelty takes a person farther away from Allah. The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, even said that we should be merciful even with our enemies. An example of this is found in the collection of Muslim which narrates that some people came to the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) who were complaining about persecution of the unbelievers and were asking the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, to invoke Allah’s curse against the unbelievers. The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, answered:
“I was sent as mercy and not as a curser.”
Another example is when the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) and the early followers were being persecuted the Prophet went to Al Taif where people received him very badly by sending their children and others to throw stones at him. His feet were bleeding and while he was being stoned he did not invoke any type of curse on the people. All he, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said was:
“Oh my Lord, guide my people to the right path for they know not what they are doing.”
This is the kind of attitude which does not limit mercy to a certain category but rather extends it to all mankind.
Q: Is there a special category of people to whom more compassion should be shown?
A: Since people should show compassion to all there is no contradiction in showing extra compassion to certain categories of people. There are eight categories that are emphasized in the Quran. The first category includes compassion towards parents. For example (17:23-24)
“Thy Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And, out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: My Lord! bestow on them thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.”
We notice in this verse that kindness to parents was mentioned after the decree to worship Allah alone which shows its significance and importance.
The second category is compassion towards children. One time the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was sitting with some people and he kissed one of his grandchildren (Hassan or Hussein). One of the people sitting with him said:
“Do you kiss your children? I have ten of them and I never kissed anyone of them.”
The Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) responded:
“He who doesn’t show mercy shall not receive mercy.”
And in another version of this saying he told him:
“What can I do if Allah has taken mercy out of your heart.”
This shows that we should be kind and merciful towards children.
The third category is compassion towards one’s spouse. In Al Tirmithi the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) was reported to have said:
“The most perfect believers are those who are best in their character and the best of you are the best to their families.”
He particularly referred to being kind to one’s wife. This doesn’t mean that the wife is exempt from showing kindness and compassion to her husband.
The fourth category would be compassion towards relatives. There is a saying of the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) as narrated in Al Tirmithi where he says that blood relation is a network of connections which are granted and a blessing from the most Compassionate. Whoever tries to keep this network intact, Allah will keep his connection with him and whoever tries to break it, Allah will disassociates Himself from them. One has to perform his duty towards relatives even if they are not believers.
Another category would be compassion towards the orphans. In the Quran in (93:9)
“Therefore, treat not the orphan with harshness.”
On several occasions the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) indicated that the best actions is to put one’s hand kindly on the head of an orphan child. In the collection of Bukhari the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) said:
“Whoever looks after an orphan will be like this (he was referring to two of his fingers held out side by side) with me in Paradise.”
The sixth category would be compassion to those who are sick and suffering. There are several Hadiths that Allah regards a person’s visit to a sick person like visiting Allah himself. On one occasion the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) showed that this mercy should be shown towards people who are serving or helping one.
Once the Prophet (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) passed by a person who was beating his servant he, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said:
“No Abu Masud, No Abu Masud”
till the man turned his face;
“know that Allah is able to punish you more than your ability to punish that little boy (who was a slave at the time).”
Abu Masud said “I bear witness that he is free for the sake of Allah.”
The Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, responded:
“If you had not freed this slave by way of atonement the hell fire would have devoured you!”
In another situation the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, was asked,
“How many times should I forgive my servant?”
He, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, replied:
“Seventy times a day.”
The Quran also indicates that kindness is required to those who are not close to a person. In (4:36)
“Serve Allah, and join not any partners with Him; and do good- to parents, kinsfolk, orphans, those in need, neighbors who are near, neighbors who are strangers, the companion by your side, the wayfarer (ye meet), and what your right hands possess: For Allah loves not the arrogant, the vainglorious.”
May Allah, Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala, Guide us onto the path of Mercy and Compassion. Aameen!