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On the concept of compassion in Islam

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[The following is a transcript of a talk delivered by Samina Sundas, founder of American Muslim Voice, on October 12, at an interfaith gathering at San Jose Convension Center]

 San Jose, CA — COMPASSION represents the true spirit of Islam and compassion is far more vital to Islamic teachings than any thing else. It is secondary to the concepts of unity of God and Muhammad being the last Messenger. It is as central to Buddhism.


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).

Our prophet Muhammad is known as Rehmatul Lil Aalimeen, the Mercy of the Worlds. Thus the Prophet of Islam also represents universal mercy.

I would share a story of my beloved Prophet Mohammad with you.A woman threw trash at Prophet Mohammad every day when he walked past her house. She did not throw trash at him for a few days so he inquired about her from a neighbor and learned that she is ill. He went to her house and prayed for her to heal. After getting better she accepted Islam.

The Qur’an shows its compassion for the weaker sections of the society in which it includes, among others, the orphans, the widows, the poor and the exploited, the slaves and other politically or socially and economically oppressed people. It emphasizes different ways of helping them. This is all on the grounds of compassion. Compassion really means sensitivity to others suffering. A person cannot be compassionate unless he/she is sensitive to others suffering. And this suffering includes, as we will show, not only human beings but also animals and plants.

The Qur’an shows great compassion to orphans, the widows, the poor and the slaves. It wants to liberate these poorer and oppressed sections from their situation. Zakah, a toll tax, has been made obligatory on all believing Muslims, men or women to help these sections. Thus the Qur’an says, “(Zakat) charity is only for the poor and the needy and those employed to administer it, and those whose hearts are made to incline, and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allah and for the wayfarer – an ordinance from Allah. And Allah is Knowing, Wise.” (9:60) 

Not only that the Qur’an wants to remove those who are arrogant because of their wealth and power and empower the weak so that there is no suffering in the world. It says clearly and unambiguously “And We desired to bestow a favour upon those who were deemed weak in the land, and to make them the leaders, and to make them the inheritors.” (28:5) Thus the Qur’an favours the mustad`ifin (the weaker sections) to the mustakbirin (those powerful and arrogant).

Chapters 104 and 107 are devoted to denunciation of accumulation of wealth and not helping the poor and sufferers. Thus compassion becomes quite an important concept in all these verses. It is important to note that suffering could be both spiritual and material. Spiritual suffering certainly follows material suffering.

Even fasting during the month of Ramadan can be interpreted both spiritually and materially. Fasting in spiritual sense is a form of `ibadah — i.e., a form of prayer and an attempt to shun consumerism for cultivating one's spiritual potentialities. But it also helps make one sensitive to other’s pangs of hunger and develop sensitivity to others suffering and this develops compassion towards the poor.

The Prophet not only asked people to treat their slaves in a humane way and give them to eat what they eat and give them to wear what they themselves wear but also encouraged them to liberate them and set example by liberating his own slave Zaid and adopted him as his son and treated him most affectionately. Zaid became so attached to him that when his father came to take him away after the Prophet liberated him he refused to go with him and chose, instead, to stay with the Prophet.

It was his compassion for the weaker sections of society that he gave a freed slave, Bilal Habashi, the highest honor of giving azan — i.e., calling the faithfuls to prayer five times. This honor was denied even to his closest colleagues who intensely desired it.

Compassion is one of the best qualities we can have towards others, particularly towards other human beings, animals and plants.

“Allah loves doers of good who spend in ease as well as in adversity and those who restrain their anger and pardon men."(3:133). 

I encourage all of you to take Mr. Houston Smith’s advice to learn about Islam and Muslims. American Muslim Voice is challenging all Americans to move from fear to friendship by replacing the culture of despair, division and violence with a culture of hope, inclusion and peace. American Muslim Voice Foundation’s mission is to foster friendships among all Americans by bridging the cultural and religious gap. We are walking on the path Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. paved for us. We are committed to build an inclusive, beloved and peaceful nation. Please visit our website to learn more about us and join hands with us.

 


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