Mercy: The Heart of Islam and Humanity

“It is due to the mercy of God that you [O’ Muhammad] deal with people gently, for surely if you were aggressive and hard-hearted, they would have all turned away from you…” (Quran, 3:159).

“It is due to the mercy of God that you [O’ Muhammad] deal with people gently, for surely if you were aggressive and hard-hearted, they would have all turned away from you…” (Quran, 3:159).

In the opening of the Quranic chapters, God Almighty makes Himself known to us by His title of The Merciful. God has sought for the creation to be introduced to Him by His mercy before anything else. This is a profound reality deserving of thought, since God has many magnificent names which could have been alternatively used. It is clear that there is wisdom in the distinct selection of this grand title. Let’s explore how mercy is denoted as a foundational concept within Islam and how it plays a key role in the nurturing of humanity.  

On our journey of divine perfection, we must strive to emulate the attributes of God to the extent that is humanly possible. God has granted humanity the examples of Prophets and Messengers who personify divine traits in the most optimal way. Yet what is the foundation that brings life to these divine personalities? In a narration attributed to the Holy Prophet, he states,  

“God has created every single vicegerent of His with generosity as their natural disposition.” [1]  

All the purity, nobility, and knowledge that our Prophets and Messengers are known for, has been cultivated on the grounds of generosity – it is the nature of His vicegerents. God may have instead decreed to create His vicegerents with knowledge or piety as their natural disposition, but through His selection, we realize that knowledge and piety are derived from and secondary to generosity – this gives us a sense of what divine prioritization may look like.

If we seek to become people of knowledge or piety, then knowledge and pious acts must be seeded in a heart whose essence is driven by mercy. If we have not established a pure groundwork to adequately plant and harvest knowledge and acts of piety, then we will not internalize their nutrients – we need to first lay the correct blueprint for their growth.  

In another narration attributed to the Holy Prophet, he states: “Being amicable towards people is half of faith and being gentle and kind to them is half of life.”  [2]  

This puts into perspective how kindness is a foundational concept both in faith and humanity. But how can we subjugate our hearts to the nature of mercy and construct the right foundation for us to be people of true kindness?  

We first need to accept that we will be tested in anything we strive to achieve: 

…and every soul is rewarded by the extent that it strives.”

(Quran, 20:15)  

If we strive to be kind-hearted, then we will certainly be tested in the moments met with arrogance, impatience, and especially anger. In an attempt to be more tender, we will become more conscious of how easily one can slip into a state of harsh temperament. In an article by Psychology Today, author and clinical psychologist Laura Markham writes,  

“…every time you resist acting on your anger and instead restore yourself to calm, it gets easier. In fact, neurologists say you’re rewiring your brain to be calmer and more loving.” [3] 

We are able to turn our deficiencies into an opportunity of discipline and to regulate ourselves to reactions of peace. It may sound simple, yet it calls for much forbearance and selflessness to really mould this into our character, no matter the circumstance. This requires patience and persistent training to mentally normalize calm responses.

However, we can only harness these weaknesses to become invitations of growth if mindfulness is present. Being mindful allows us to navigate through daily life with the consciousness of our habits, innermost thoughts, and judgments that manifest into actions, and how they not only affect us but can vastly affect others. In a Twitter post shared by author Jason Garner, he writes,  

“In moments of conflict, mindfulness provides a buffer between our first reactionary thought and the action we ultimately choose to take. Within that moment of awareness, we have room to recognize our habitual triggers and to remember the humanity of the person in front of us.”  

Let us remember the humanity of others, both in real life and online settings. Underneath the emotion that often clouds our judgment, the robes of ego that attempt to mask our authenticity,  and all the labels that society conforms to, there exists the frail gentleness of our humanity. When we are faced with ill-manners, argumentative or defensive attitudes, let us aim to see through the flaws and recognize the spiritual bankruptcy that it comes from. By responding gently to a  hardened heart, it may soften them. It is written in the Quran,  

It is due to the mercy of God that you [O’ Muhammad] deal with people gently, for surely if you were aggressive and hard-hearted, they would have all turned away from you…”

(Quran, 3:159)

Here, it is evident that a journey as perfect and divine as the Prophets could not be achieved had it not been for his merciful nature, even in the face of those who wronged him.  

In another verse, God states to Prophet Moses: “Speak to the Pharaoh gently that perhaps he may be reminded, or fear God…” (Quran, 20:44).  

Through gentle speech lies the potential to shake arrogance even within someone like the Pharaoh, and to humble them in a way where they are reminded of God. This is the power that kindness carries. Had Moses responded to the Pharaoh with a sharp tongue, it would have worked against him as it would only contribute more to the existing hard-heartedness of the  Pharaoh.

Similarly, if we are met with arrogance or a lack of mannerism, choose to meet them with kindness – this may awaken their heart with humility. Take solace in knowing that mastery over our egoistic impulses will loosen the devil’s clasp from our hearts, and we will gradually rise above this world. We lose nothing by being kind.  

Imam Al Sadiq has said,  

“Certainly faith is ten levels, like the rungs of a ladder, where each rung is climbed one after the other. The one on the second rung cannot say to the one on the first: ‘You are nothing,’ until he completes the ten [levels]. Therefore do not knock the one below you down, lest the one above you knocks you down. And when you see one below you in rank, lift him up to your level with gentleness. And do not burden him with that which he cannot bear lest you break him, for  verily one who breaks a believer must put him back together again.” [4]  

It is worth noting that Imam Al Sadiq encourages us to lift those below us with gentleness. Not critique or vindictiveness, but gentleness. We must be conscious of the reality that every passerby is too on a journey of their own. If we can contribute to another’s journey in any way,  let it be through nurturing means. When we notice a deficiency in a person, fill their emptiness with your fullness. The effects of a gentle approach can be transformative, whereas a harsh approach will only contribute to the problem. As author Marvin J. Ashton beautifully said,  

“Be the one who nurtures and builds. Be the one who has an understanding and a forgiving heart one who looks for the best in people. Leave people better than you found them.”  

When we recognize our own innate need for God’s mercy, then we can better understand the importance of being a source of mercy for His creation. In a way, we can become a human manifestation of God’s love and mercy. Each day we live to see, there will come to you many empty-handed people that are silently seeking to be filled with your merciful acts – a kind word,  a smile, a helping hand – you are someone’s blessing.  

Let us be the ones to spread the charity of a smile. When we enter a public space only to see people making conscious efforts to avoid human interaction, be the one to smile and greet them. Remember the humanity of those in the workforce, behind the professional persona they uphold, ask them “how are you?”. When we see the disabled or the elderly, rush towards their aid. When we encounter passive attitudes, recognize that this may be a silent cry for hope – fortify them through kindness. As writer Robert G. Ingersoll said: “We rise by lifting others.”  

When our family members, friends, or strangers are in need of help, sacrifice your physical comfort for their sake – through this, you will find internal comfort. Turn daily-duties into divine service. Let all that you do be done through God’s love. When we learn to live beyond our self, then we live for God – in this, we live with infinite purpose. Let us not underestimate the ripple effect of kindness. A simple kind action has the power to occupy the greatest masses of someone’s heart. And a kind word may echo in someone’s mind eternally.  

“…race towards goodness” (Quran, 2:148).  

The Holy Prophet said, “Verily a servant will reach high ranks and honourable stations in the Hereafter, through his good nature, even if he is weak in worship.” [5]


[1] Kanz al-`Ummal, no. 16204.  

[2] Al-Kafi, v.2, p.117. 

[3] How To Stay Calm: Laura Markham – https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/peaceful-parents-happy-kids/ 201506/how-stay-calm-the-same-way-you-get-carnegie-hall 

[4] Al Kafi, v. 2, p. 45, no. 2.  

[5] Al Mahajjat Al Baydha, v. 5, p. 93.

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