The concept of compassion in Islam- i
By Asghar Ali Engineer

Is compassion central to Islam? Many people think jihad is more central to it than compassion. At least this is the general impression of people including of course Muslims. But this is not so. Compassion is far more central to Islam than jihad. It is certain happenings in history of Islam and also in contemporary world that this impression about jihad goes round.In fact compassion represents the true spirit of Islam and compassion is far more vital to Islamic teachings than any thing else. In fact compassion in Islam, after the concepts of unity of God (tawhid) and risalah (messengership of Muhammad) is as central to Islam as it is to Buddhism. We will throw light on compassion in Islam in the following passages.There are certain key words in the Qur’an which are greatly stressed of which four are very often repeated i.e. rahmah, ihsan ‘adl, and hikmah (compassion, benevolence, justice and wisdom). Rahmah (compassion, mercy) and its roots abound in the Holy Qur’an. Among Allah’s own names are Rahman and Rahim (compassionate and Merciful). A Muslim begins everything by reciting Bi Ism-i- Allah al-Rahman al-Rahim (i.e. begin in the name of Allah Who is Compassionate and Merciful). Thus a Muslim is supposed to invoke Allah the Compassionate and Merciful at every step. He does not invoke Allah’s other names (Allah has 99 names according to the Islamic belief) as he invokes Him as Merciful and Compassionate.Al-RahmanThe very first chapter of the Qur’an has the second verse as Al-Rehman al-Rahim (The Compassionate, the Merciful). The first verse too carries the sense of compassion when it describes Allah as Rabb al-‘Alamin (i.e. Sustainer of the whole world). The concept of sustenance of the whole world itself is based on His Mercy and Compassion for every thing He has created. In fact rahmah is so central to Allah’s existence that it embraces all that exists in the universe (wasi`at kulla shayin) see verse 40:7.ARRAHIM

In fact He sent His Messenger Muhammad also as the Mercy of the World (21:107). Thus the Prophet of Islam also represents universal mercy. As the Messenger of Allah he is representative of His Mercy and hence the Prophet himself is known as rahmatal lil `alamin (mercy of the worlds). Thus a true follower of the Prophet (PBUH) has to be merciful and compassionate to the extent humanly possible. Any one who is cruel and has no sensitivity towards sufferings of others cannot be Prophet’s true follower in any sense.

This is a great pity that Muslims themselves except the sufis and their followers have forgotten the emphasis of the Holy Qur’an on the quality of compassion. The Sufis lay tremendous stress on compassion. Their very fundamental doctrine is what is called sulh-i-kul i.e. peace with all which means no violence and no aggressiveness. The majority of Muslims of course follow sufi approach. It is only some frustrated fringe groups of Muslims who keep on talking of jihad and power. 

(excerpt from MG – THE MILLI GAZETTE)




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August 2009
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