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Compassion in Islam

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Compassion in Islam

This article is also posted under Philosophy>Ethics

According to Islamic theology, Islam as brought by the prophet Muhammad is not a new religion; it is continuation of religious messages sent to mankind from the time immemorial.

Allah gave humans freedom of choice – albeit a limited one. The freedom – to follow the way of life prescribed by Allah (God; or the divine Being) or to reject it; the freedom to chose good over evil or vice versa; the freedom to acquire beautiful attributes of God, the freedom to become as good as god, or to submit himself to base passions and evil desires; to the deeds which put animals to shame; freedom to lead a virtuous life, or to adopt wicked life style – has been granted to the human beings.

Allah – who has been beneficent in taking care of every single need of human being, for example by providing air in abundance, water, sunshine, etc. – cannot disregard the basic urge of man to have knowledge about himself, his creator or origin, nature of divinity, what stuff the universe made of, values, standards, beliefs, how he should lead individual and collective life. According to Islamic thought, Allah started sending messages right from the first man, (Adam), who himself was also a human being, but equipped to receive the message of God for transmission to humanity. Prophets or divine teachers were sent to all the countries at all times. Around 124,000 messengers are said to have appeared before humankind. They were all men in flesh and blood with no supernatural powers – except those granted by Allah (when of use). This process of transmission of the message from the beginner of this universe through the apostles to humanity is called revelation or, in Arabic, wahi-e-ilah. The revelations were sent in the languages of the communities, races and civilizations for which they were meant in the first place. Allah’s unlimited love towards his creation made him send the messages whenever the previous message got distorted or corrupted and twisted, and when men went astray from the original path.

The revelation sent to mankind more than 1500 years ago exists in the form of the book known as Quran. This book, Muslims believe, is a word of Allah. It discusses metaphysics, the nature of divinity, history, cosmology, morality, a legal code for individual and collective human life, the pre-life and the after-life of humankind, in short, every aspect of human life.

The Quran starts with the following opening sentence:

In the name of Allah, the most Merciful, the most Compassionate. (The Quran, chapter 1, verse1).

To make human beings clearly comprehend the nature of divinity, Allah has described his 99 attributes in the Quran. The first two qualities of divinity with which the book of the creator of the universe starts, are the Merciful, the Compassionate. His limitless mercy and unbridled compassion are elucidated in almost all chapters of the Quran. Out of the ninety-nine attributes, a majority is an elucidation of the first two qualities of God, viz. the most Merciful, the most Compassionate. Mankind is enjoined to internalize many of these qualities of God mentioned in the holy Quran.

God’s mercy towards man is reflected in sending the prophet Muhammad. This prophet was the most merciful gift to the humanity and he had real love for all people. He explained his mission as “perfection of love and perfection of morality.” He described his goal by the example that humanity was rushing towards an abyss and that he was there to hold them back. Hence The Quran describes him as the Messenger of Mercy for the humanity (Rahamatul lil alamin). A cursory study of his sayings and his life history will convince the reader how was his mercy for humankind.

Influenced by the teachings of the Quran as well as the sayings of Prophet Muhammad, Islamic mystics (Sufis) developed training methods for spiritual development. They have laid down three stages for the development of the soul, each stage becoming a starting point for the next. The first stage consists in the service to humanity. At this step the trainee must love others more than he loves himself. He must devote himself to the service of God’s creatures (i.e. all living beings). In the words of the Prophet: “A believer is he whom other people trust in regard to their person and property.” The second stage consists in keeping a watch over one’s heart. It means that every person who deserves to be one with Allah must purify his heart from all the evil thoughts; he must avoid temptations and overcome all mean passions. The third stage is engaging one’s heart with Allah alone.

A glimpse of the teachings of Islam on compassion drawn from The Quran, the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad and other noble souls is presented below:

They gave them in preference over themselves even though poverty was their lot.

The Quran, chapter 59, verse 9

The compassionate are near to God, near to men, near to paradise and far from hell.

– Prophet Muhammad

God Most High attends to the needs of a servant as long as the servant attends to the needs of his brother.

– Prophet Muhammad

Describing the effect of teachings of Prophet Muhammad on his companions, one of the companions, Hazrat Jafer, said this:


He (Muhammad) invited us to Islam, taught us to give up idol worship, speak truth, refrain from bloodshed, not to misappropriate the property of orphans, give comforts to neighbors, not to defame chaste women, offer prayers, keep fasts and give charity.

The Prophet Muhammad was so moved by the plight of human beings that he went to different places for preaching. At a place known as Taif he was abused, street urchins pelted stones at him, and he became unconscious due to loss of blood. One of his companions, Zaid bin Harisa who carried him on his shoulder and asked the Prophet to curse the people of Taif. The Prophet replied: “Why should I curse them? If they have not accepted Islam, their further generations will accept it.”

None among you will believe until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself.

– Prophet Muhammad

He is not a believer. He is not a believer. He is not a believer, who slept with a full stomach knowing that his neighbor is hungry.

– Prophet Muhammad

And they feed, for the love of Allah, the indigent, the orphan and the captive saying: “We feed you for the sake of Allah alone no reward do we desire from you or thanks.”

The Quran, chapter 76, verses 8 & 9)

Be merciful with those on the earth, you have the mercy of Allah.

– Prophet Muhammad

A woman will be punished in hell-fire because she confined a cat. She neither fed it, nor did she allow it to roam on the land in search of food.

 – Prophet Muhammad

 When asked whether helping an animal is rewarded in Islam, Prophet Muhammad replied: “There is reward in helping every living soul”.

A pious person declared: “I do not like to turn away anyone who approaches one with a request, if he is noble, I allow him to retain his nobility, and if he is lowly, he allows me to retain my dignity.”

Another noble used to be clever in his ways of showing kindness to his nearest companions. He would leave a lot of money with them and say: “Keep this for me until I come back” Later he would write to them, “The money is yours.”

It is said that a good person used to buy all his goods from the neighborhood vendors. Somebody said: “You would save money if you would go to the main market.” He replied: “These vendors have come to our neighborhood hoping to sell goods to us.”

The teachings of Islam have been converted to eastern aesthetics in the subcontinent by Islamic preachers, saints, Urdu poets, Urdu writers, film lyricists, film makers, folk lore story makers to present a beautiful bouquet to Indian society. The indelible impact they have created on the society is evident to any keen observer of Indian culture.

Paper presented at the National Seminar 13-14 February 2009, University of Madras, Chennai, India, on Non-Violence, Compassion and Instrumentality – A Jaina Perspective.

– Dr. Mohammed Galib Hussain

Doctorate in Commerce and Head of the Department of Corporate Secretaryship,

Islamia College, Vaniyambadi.

Deeply interested in studying Islamic principles

and their application to various aspects

of business and management.

Email : drmdghalib@yahoo.com

(slightly edited for this website)