Islam, July - Sept 2011

God’s Mercy to All

By Imam Yusuf Rios


God Almighty says in the 107 verse of the 21st chapter of the Qur’an

“And we have not sent you except as a mercy to all of Creation”

A Thematic Introduction to the Verse

Theme One: Islam Is Peace And Justice For All

This verse of the Holy Qur’an, defines the reality of the person of Muhammad (May the Peace and Blessings of God be Upon him) emphasizing him as primarily characterized by mercy. The most prominent feature describing the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (PBUH) besides his comprehensiveness is just this -his being a mercy to humanity not to mention to the whole of creation. The mission of the Prophet (PBUH) then is to communicate the mercy of Almighty God to the whole of humanity without restriction. This message is to be communicated by mercy and not by force based upon the well-known verse

“there is no compulsion in religion.” (Qur’an 2:256)

This then can be said to be the first unique characteristic of Islam, that it is a divine message rooted in unrestricted mercy and this is defined by its universality and its invitation to the brotherhood of humanity based on a life of justice and spirituality both of which are marks of mercy.
Theme Two: Islam Caters To The Life Of The Soul As Well As The Body

Islam is a way of life aimed at catering to and facilitating the needs of life whether they are material or spiritual. Islam looks to preserve the life of the Soul, Intellect, Family, as well as the Economic life in addition to protecting the Physical life of the individual, which is highly valued in Islam. It is these five arenas that Islam looks to develop and create the conditions for growth and well being because these are the essential arenas, which support and sustain living. So it was a demonstration of God’s all-encompassing mercy that the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) was sent to teach Islam and how Islam facilitates the needs of all facets of life and how we may achieve eternal peace with our creator. So humanity is not left unto itself without guidance, but rather it is aided in the process of life and assured in time of hardship that life is more than just material existence it also has a spiritual component that transcends death. The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) teaches humanity what is the purpose of life and how to establish justice in the process of realizing the needs and demands of daily life without forgetting or neglecting the demands of the heart, soul and intellect.

Theme Three: Islam And The Environment

The role of the Prophet (PBUH) according to the above verse is that of servant and educator. The Prophet (PBUH) is characterized as a vehicle of Divine Mercy that is expressed to humanity in specific and all creation in general. The Prophet (PBUH) taught humanity how to live in the most productive and meaningful way. He taught that human beings are not just responsible for being just to one another but also to other life forms. It is in establishing the justice that Islam preaches that business and science is conducted in an environmentally friendly manner because the ethics of Islam demand that the human being be charitable and not greedy, that he be considerate and not indifferent, and that his action promotes life and does not reduce or stifle life. In fact, the role of the human being, in relation to the creation, according to Islam, is one of stewardship, stewardship that is bound by self-accountability in this life and the next.

The problems of today when we look to the environmental crisis are rooted in a lack of consciousness of the real role of humanity which is clear in Islam.

Likewise, much of the environmental crisis is because of the greed and corruption run rampant in business dealings and the management of the world’s resources. Islam teaches that all creation is “Muslim” in a state of submission to the Creator. So from the lens of Islam all of creation, including human beings, are servants and guests of Almighty God as long as they remain in existence. Therefore, humanity is obliged to act responsibly and not arrogantly, to act wisely and not hastily, to act sincerely and not hypocritically, and to act in frugally and not extravagantly.

Theme Four:

Even in the time of war, Muslims are obligated not to kill women, children, monks and priests, or even to destroy trees or animal life. So what is to be said of a time of peace? Islam commanded in the time of war for non-human life to be regarded because it serves life and to destroy it is an encroachment on the right of others to live. The teachings of Islam order its adherents when camping or out in the desert or forest regions for example, not to relieve themselves on the road people travel on nor under trees which people may seek shade under or on things of value. All these injunctions are aimed at instilling a character that is concerned with others and we see in these injunctions that we are to act in the environment in a way that promotes a high standard of living free of pollution caused by irresponsible action. Because living involves cooperating with others the Muslim is obliged to act responsibly and justly.

Theme Five: Reaffirming the Identity of the Prophet Muhammad

The uniqueness of person of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) is that history has left us with a very accurate and detailed record of his doings, sayings and life history all which indicate to the reality of his mission and life. As an educator he was occupied and concerned with the affairs of human life and how to teach humanity to realize that life is meaningful when informed by the worship of The One God who created us. The power of Islam lies in this teaching that the human being was created to worship or to serve his Maker with sincere devotion. This worship is the purpose of our existence in that we must submit in gratitude to our Creator worshipping Him alone while seeking his guidance and forgiveness. The test of life is about realizing this truth thereby attaining serenity, hope, and fulfillment which inspires life filling it with hope of a greater sense that gives meaning to death.

So he or she who wishes to understand what Islam is and who was the person of the Prophet Muhammad {PBUH} is not restricted to imagination, emotion, and/or scanty records as a basis for drawing up an understanding of who he was and yet with this overabundance of information we have the Qur’an testify to who he was and what was his purpose. The single verse mentioned above illustrates in detail his mission and identity.

The Arabic version of this verse is much richer in meaning as it is the original language by which the final message of God was revealed. Arabic is the language of the revelation and the oldest living language on the earth. There are other tongues like Sanskrit older than Arabic but they are all dead languages, no longer spoken. Given this reality we wish to expound upon this verse from its original language so that the most meaning can be derived from it. Let us begin to ponder the meaning of the verse as it is traditionally done in the Arabic language.

An Analytical View of the Verse

“And we have not sent you except as a mercy to all of Creation”

1. And We:

In these two words the message related is that it is the one and only God, the Exalted who commissioned the Prophet so that the origin of the Prophetic effort and message is not the wisdom of a wise man or an ascetic, but rather it is Divine.

In addition His speaking in the singular first person “I”, in many places in the Qur’an God talks in the “royal” we. In many languages there is a mechanism for one to speak in the plural giving the meaning of elevated status. For example a chief of an Arab tribe might address his people as “We” when talking to them. Of course after the Qur’an and the conversion of Arabia to Islam this became restricted to the Qur’an since by Islam people were generally humbled.

2. Have not sent you except as a mercy:

This part of the verse is very profound and deserves the most attention possible in that its meaning becomes apparent with reflection. Here Almighty God is declaring why He commissioned the Prophet (PBUH). The Arabic reflects a restrictive meaning so that it reads as such- the Prophet was sent for no other purpose except to be a means for humankind to realize and attain God’s Mercy. There is an emphasis on the role of the Prophet as a vehicle of mercy sent from God in addition to the point that this mercy is to be shared with all of humanity.

The mission with which God sent the Prophet (PBUH) is not restricted to a particular audience but rather it is an inclusive message; it is a message to all of humanity. In other words Islam is a message for all of humanity. It is comprehensively characterized by mercy for all of humanity and all of creation thereby inclusive of the eco-system. This Mercy even applies to those who choose not to believe in it, of course with the exception of those who attack it or its adherents. Even then, as mentioned above, the rules of war are merciful to non-combatants.

To understand on a much more profound level what this small verse contains it is necessary to key in on the notion of “Mercy” in this verse. Mercy here means that God sent the Prophet (PBUH) with “guidance to a meaningful existence”. He was sent to teach humankind the path to a communal and social life which is pleasing to God. It teaches respect and love in a way that grants all the right to co-exist and lead a full life. This understanding of mercy is a path to a peaceful existence in this world and a path to a blissful eternity after death can only be understood in the context of God having created the human being to lead a purposeful life, a life of worship, a life in which the purpose of existence is fulfilled by living a committed and profound relationship with the Creator, to live in commune with action and spirit. It is the Prophet (PBUH) who guides us to understand the nature of our purpose in life and teaches us the path to self-fulfillment and how to be humane not only to fellow human beings but also to fellow creatures and this wasn’t merely done by wise sayings it was through his lived example. The thousands of authentic narrations related about his life (known as Hadith) were either; statements he made, actions someone saw him doing or silent approvals which he passed by something and didn’t prohibit it. The large majority of these narrations start and so and so saw the Prophet do this or that.

3. To all of Creation:

This part of the verse makes clear that the message of Islam is universal and directed at all peoples of all walks of life and backgrounds no one is discriminated against with regard to participating in the mercy of living a full life of not being left to a life of despair and misdirection, left to be bewildered as to what is the aim of life and what is the best means to live the most joyful and peaceful existence possible. Neither is anyone left alone to make sense of the aim of death and its meaning.

In fact this part of the verse is a declaration that Islam calls humanity to brotherhood and cooperation and rejects tribal, nationalistic and racist thinking. Islam considers all humanity brothers, but demands that humanity work to cultivate that brotherhood by doing good deeds and cooperating on a moral basis and especially in the worship of the One who created all of humanity. Islam declares that the unity of humanity lies in recognizing God’s Mercy as presented by all Prophets. The noble Prophets of God all taught that even though life is not without hardship that life has meaning and that existence is not haphazard. The aim of life is to contemplate our origin and our end and to reflect on the deeper order of Creation which indicates to the existence of purpose in the Universe and from here Islam enjoins humanity not only to accept the message of all the Prophet’s but rather enjoins humanity to reflect upon creation utilizing the intellect to see that all things point to order and purpose. It is through this intellectual objective reflection upon the life of the Prophet that the reality of Muhammad’s being sent as “a mercy to mankind” can be more firmly grasped and better understood.

The following are a list of authentic narrations of the Mercy propounded by Almighty God by means of the Prophet Muhammad for all of mankind to embrace-

The Prophet only invoked God against a few people who went to extreme inhuman measures to assasinate him, curse him and the divine message he was sent with, and torturing and killing the other beleivers. In each one of these cases a miracle took place as to their demise. Besides these few men there were hundreds of enemies to the Prophet and they did many horrible tings to the beleivers. But when asked by his companions to invoke God against them the Prophet (PBUH) said-

“I was not sent to curse people. In reality the main purpose I was sent as a Mercy from God.”(Muslim)

It is also well known that the Arabs were harsh hearted and that the men rarely ever interacted with their children much less show love to them. Once a man came to the Prophet (PBUH) and saw that He (PBUH) was holding his grandson Husain and that He (PBUH) even kissed him. The man said to the Prophet “I have ten kids and I have never kissed one of them”. The Prophet said

“Whoever is not Loving and Merciful will not recieve Love and Mercy (in the Hereafter).”(Bukhari)

The Prophet tells us a Parable-

“A man was walking through the desert dying of thirst when he suddenly saw a well. So he crawled down and drank (there was no bucket). When He emerged from the well he saw a dog lapping foaming at the mouth of thirst. He said to himself- that dog is in the state I just was- so he took off his shoe went down and scooped some water for the dog until its thirst was quenched. Almighty God was pleased with this and forgave the man his sins. Then one of the Prophet’s companions “Are we rewarded for being good to animals?” The Prophet replied “There is a reward for being good to all living beings”(Bukhari)

he also said

“A woman went to Hell becasue she caged a cat and didn’t feed it until it died.”(Bukhari)

It is also well known that the Arabs used to view their women and servants as lesser than human and they would often beat them in a fit of anger. The wife of the Prophet (PBUH) and beloved mother of the beleivers said about her husband-

“He never hit a women or a servant.”(Bukhari)

It was also narrated that he said

“I would come to prayer sometimes intending to read a long portion of the Qur’an. Then I would hear a baby crying and I would shorten the prayer so his mother who wishes to leave the prayer can attend to him.”(Bukhari)

The Prophet was even Merciful and Compassionate when in war. He commanded his companions-

“Do not kill women, old men, children, or religious monks and priests. Do not cut or burn down trees.”(Tirmidhi and Bukhari)