Clergy Corner

The Religion of Clemency and Mercy

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Ayatollah Nasir Makarem ShiraziThe Quran also encourages such kindness and benevolence through the miracle of the Holy Prophet, of being able to bring hearts together through kindness and soft-heartedness: “It was by the mercy of God that thou wast gentle to them; hadst thou been harsh and hard of heart, they would have scattered about from thee.” (3:159)

Ayatollah Nasir Makarem ShiraziThrough a brief study and reflection on some verses of the Holy Qur’an, one can find numerous examples of Islamic clemency and mercy in this Divine Book, which is the basis and foundation of Islam.

Islamic Clemency and Mercy in the Holy Qur’an

The Holy Quran consists of 114 Surahs, one hundred thirteen of which start with the phrase bismillahir rahmanir rahim (In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful) as the message of Islamic kindness, mercy and affection. Only one Surah does not begin with this phrase, and for a clear reason; this Surah (Tawbah) is a notice of war, battle and hate to the obstinate and stubborn enemies of Islam for whom guidance and correction there was no hope for. Clearly there is no room for talking about affection and mercy when fighting with the vindictive enemy.

Allah says: “Shall the recompense of goodness be other than goodness?” (55:60) This verse, which is full of affection, clemency and amity, is an Islamic motto for Muslims. Surprisingly, while studying other Qur’anic verses we find they not only instruct to recompense goodness with goodness, but also bid to reply evil with goodness! “Repel thou the evil with that which is fairer. We are well acquainted with the things they say.” (23:96)

“O Prophet! Although the dupe have wronged with you, but you let them return to Islam through kindness and affection.”

Islamic Clemency with Other Faiths

“Say unto those who believe, that they forgive those who do not look for the days of God, that He may recompense a people for that they have been earning.” (45:14) According to this verse, Islamic clemency and benevolence is not restricted to the Muslims and believers. Rather, God instructs His believers to be kind with those of other faiths also.

We read in the story of People of Lot that while they were one of the most sinful, tainted and dirty of the precedent nations and people, Abraham’s clemency and benevolence embraced them, going as far as attempting to spend his honor with God for them and intercede for the delay or alleviation of their chastisement.

The Quran also encourages such kindness and benevolence through the miracle of the Holy Prophet, of being able to bring hearts together through kindness and soft-heartedness: “It was by the mercy of God that thou wast gentle to them; hadst thou been harsh and hard of heart, they would have scattered about from thee.” (3:159)

Islamic Clemency and Mercy in Narrations

Islamic clemency and mercy has been reflected in the various and numerous narrations, to some of which we refer hereunder:

Imam Sadiq (peace be upon him) says, “Is religion anything save affection and mercy? The Almighty God says: If you love God, obey my instructions.” (Mizanul Hikmat) That is to say, the motive for obeying divine instructions is love and affection to God.

We read in another narration from Imam Baqir (peace be upon him), “Religion is affection, and affection is religion.” (Nurul Thaqalayn)

Sometimes intellectual reasoning is man’s motive for doing something, while other times it is love and affection. Are these two motives similar? God sets love between the spouses for continuation of human generation. If logic and intellectual reasoning served to be man’s motive to marry for survival of its generation, not many would successfully bear the numerous hardships, problems and failures of matrimony and breeding. However, the sexual attraction and love leads humans towards marriage despite of all its problems so that they accept and bear all hardships voluntarily, and rather, spend their entire life for their children to bring up them and help them to learn walking and talking. The motive of love and affection causes this strange and amazing power.

It is applicable to the religious programs too, and for this reason the above narrations have stressed on love and affection. If you are a lover, you will be led to divine obedience and will undertake its hardships. If you are a lover of Imam of Time (may Allah hasten his reappearance), it will be easy for you to obey his orders and fight with vices and evils. Islam is the religion and doctrine in which the motive of its followers is affection and love and introduces religion equal to love and affection.

Islamic Clemency and Mercy on the Battlefield

Islamic clemency and mercy extends even to the battlefield. Islam renders such importance to affection, benevolence and clemency that it recommends it to its followers even in the center of violence and harshness! On this account, we find remarkable points in this respect in the narrations concerned with manners and rules of warfare, one of which is referred to hereunder:

Imam Sadiq said,” When the Prophet decided to send soldiers to the battlefield, he called and reminded them the rules:

  • ‘Do not betray.’ – What is meant by this phrase? Three possible concepts could be understood. First: Do not betray when distributing war spoils. It has been also mentioned in some other Qur’anic verses to divide what belongs to the government and leadership, and what for the warriors shall be distributed among them fairly. Second: The previous warriors may have betrayed each other in some affairs others than spoils. Third: Not only do not betray your mate warriors, but also do not betray your enemies, and fight with them chivalrously.
  • ‘Do not mutilate’ – Do not mutilate the corpse of your enemy after killing him. It has been narrated from the Prophet, “Even if a wild dog attacked you, and you killed it. You are not authorized to mutilate it.” (Bihar al-Anwar)
  • ‘Do not deceive’ – If you agreed for peace with your enemy, and signed cease fire with him, respect your promise and contract, and do not violate it. A Muslim is one who is faithful even to the promise and contract he binds with his enemies. Imam Ali writes to his brave commander, Malek Ashtar: “If a contract and promise is concluded between you and your enemy, or you gave refuge to him, be faithful to your promise, and trustful to what you have undertaken (Nahjul Balagha, letter 53)
  • ‘Do not attack the weak and unable people who do not participate in the war, and do not kill the feeble old men, children and ladies.
  • ‘Do not cut trees, unless you have to!’

In these high rules and prudent and advanced instructions, one finds the magnificence of Islam and the scope of Islamic mercy.

Islamic Clemency and Mercy in the Practices of Religious Authorities

The practical manner and social behavior and associations of the religious authorities and Islamic leaders and Imams is also full of mercy, clemency and benevolence with their followers and even adversaries.

One example can be found in the attitude of Imam Ali regarding his slayer, Ibne Muljim. Following the religious instructions, he was so kind and merciful that even his enemy who attempted to kill him was not deprived and excluded from his mercy. He declared:

“My children! My slayer is Ibne Muljim. Beware! Do not let the self-seekers and opportunists to unsheathe their swords and kill the innocent people with the excuse of cooperation with Ali’s slayer for their own personal interests! My dears! Give my slayer the same food you prepare for me! My darlings! If I survive, I know what to do with him. If I die, you are authorized to retaliate, but as he struck me once with sword, you shall not exceed more than one! O Children of Prophet! Do not mutilate him after death!”

These are Ali’s recommendations about his slayer when he was dying. Which other authority throughout the world and during history has expressed such in favor of his slayer?

Editor’s Note: This article is an excerpt from the author’s book The Religion of Mercy.

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