Being Blessed With Mercy

If you want to please me,

Do not forget that it depends on pleasing people.

Rumi

The first fruit of true faith is mercy. A heart without mercy is not alive. The formula of Basmala[1], which is uttered prior to all actions, and the Fatiha, the first chapter of the Holy Qur’an, mention the divine attributes of Rahman (the Most Merciful) and Rahim (the Most Compassionate). The life stories of the prophets and the saints are full of anecdotes pertaining to mercy.

The best way to cultivate these dual divine qualities to the point of integrating them into our character is to nurture universal love in our hearts. Rumi, quddisa sirruh, has exemplified in the following stanzas that the ultimate truth of all acts of worship, particularly the pilgrimage, is unveiled solely through spiritual mercy:

Bayazid, the sheikh of the community, was hurrying to Mecca for the greater pilgrimage (hajj) and the lesser pilgrimage (‘umra).

In every city he visited, he would first search for the presence of venerable saints.

He would roam about, asking, “Who is there in this city that relies on spiritual insight?”

Allah has said, “Whithersoever thou goest in thy travels, thou must first seek after a holy man.”

Search thou for a true treasure, for worldly profit and loss come second: regard them as but the branch, not as the root.

Whosoever sows is in quest of wheat; the chaff comes to him indeed, but only secondarily.

If you sow chaff, no wheat will come up; seek a man, seek a man, a man!

When it is the season of pilgrimage, go in quest of the Ka’aba; when you have gone for that purpose, Mecca will also be seen.

In the Mi’raj or ascension of the Prophet, his quest was for a vision of the Beloved; it was but secondary that the empyrean and the angels were also seen.

Bayazid, in the course of his journey to the Ka’aba, dearly sought to find the Khizr of his time.

He espied an old man with a stature bent like that of a crescent moon; he saw in him the majesty and lofty speech of holy men;

His eyes were sightless but his heart was illumined like the sun: like an elephant dreaming of India.

With closed eyes, asleep, he beholds a hundred delights: when he opens his eyes, he sees not those delights– oh it is wonderful!

Many a wonder is made manifest in sleep: in sleep the heart becomes a window.

One that is awake and dreams fair dreams, he is the knower of Allah; smear your eyes with his dust.

Bayazid sat down before him and asked him about his condition; he found him to be a dervish and also a family man.

The old man said, “Where are you bound to go, O Bayazid?” To what place would you take the baggage of travel through a strange land?”

Bayazid answered, “I start for the Ka’aba at daybreak.” “Eh,” cried the other, “What have you as provisions for the road?”

“I have two hundred silver dirhams,” said he; “look, they are tied fast in the corner of my cloak.”

He said, “Make a circuit round me seven times, and reckon this to be better than the circumambulation of the Ka’aba in the pilgrimage;

And lay those dirhams before me, O generous one. Know that you have made the greater pilgrimage and that your desire has been achieved;

That you have also performed the lesser pilgrimage and gained the life everlasting; that you have become pure (saf) and have sped up the hill of purity (Safa).

By the truth of the Truth (Allah) whom your soul has seen, I swear that He has chosen me above His House.

Albeit the Ka’aba is the house of His religious service, my form too, in which I was created, is the house of His inmost consciousness.

Since Allah made the Ka’aba, he has never gone into it, but none but the Living (Allah) has ever gone into this house of mine.

When you have seen me, you have seen Allah: you have circled round the Ka’aba of Sincerity.

To serve me is to obey and glorify Allah: beware to not think that Allah is separate from me.

Open your eyes well and look on me, that you may behold the Light of Allah in man.”

Bayazid gave heed to his mystical sayings, and put them in his ear as a golden ring.

Through him (the old man), Bayazid grew to be more spiritually endowed; the adept at last attained unto the end.

***

The reason why Rumi used the example of pilgrimage in this story is that it is a very profound form of worship. For instance, many things that might otherwise be lawful are not permitted during the pilgrimage. Furthermore, it reflects the spectacle of the Day of Resurrection. Idle talk (rafas) is also strictly prohibited during the pilgrimage. For this reason, one must be spiritually prepared before embarking on this journey.

As there are supererogatory (nafilah) forms of salat and fasting, so too is there a voluntary pilgrimage beyond the obligatory one. Being critical of those who perform voluntary forms of worship is extremely dangerous and may even result in one uttering misguided remarks which might eventually carry one to the point of disbelief. Such remarks have their origin in ignorance surrounding the sheer pleasure of worship.

The non-obligatory prayers and other forms of worship have been practiced as an expression of the joy of faith since the time of the Prophet (pbuh). The voluntary prayers, performed with excitement and passion, draw the believer closer to his Creator. They purify the soul and cultivate the qualities of mercy and generosity. As this spiritual transformation deepens, one’s sight and hearing grow to fall completely under the control of Allah. In other words, one sees and hears the presence of the divine reflected in everything experienced.

Such an elevated spiritual station can only be achieved through the regular performance of voluntary forms of worship side by side with an ongoing effort to serve all of creation. As an example, it is useful to point out that Abu Hanifa performed pilgrimage fifty five times.

***

The following is a story from Tazkirat’ul-Awliya about the place of humans in the sight of Allah:

Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak was a scholar from the generation of the Successors (al-Tabi’un). This generation of Muslims immediately followed the generation of the companions. Historically, he is well known as a Sufi and Muhaddith. In one story pertaining to his life, he went to Mecca to perform pilgrimage. After he completed the pilgrimage, while still standing near the Ka’aba, he had a vision in which two angels were speaking to each other. One of the angels said to the other:

– This year six hundred thousand people performed pilgrimage. Their pilgrimages have been accepted for the sake of a cobbler in Damascus named Ali ibn Muwaffaq. He had intended to go on pilgrimage but could not. Because of a good deed he performed, the pilgrimages of all the pilgrims have been accepted.

After it was over, Abdullah ibn Mubarak became very surprised by this experience. He went to Damascus with a caravan returning to that city. He searched until he found the cobbler and asked him:

– What kind of good deed did you perform, although you were subsequently unable to go on pilgrimage?

When Ali ibn Muwaffaq learned that a great scholar like Abdullah ibn Mubarak came to ask him such a question, he fainted. When his consciousness returned, he replied as follows:

– I have been trying to go on pilgrimage for the last thirty years. I managed to save three hundred dirhams through the repair of shoes during this time period and after judging it sufficient I made my intention to go on pilgrimage this year. One day my pregnant wife asked me for some meat. She said:

– The smell of meat is coming from the neighbor. Bring me some meat.

I went to my neighbor and explained to him the situation. My neighbor cried and exclaimed:

– For the past seven days, my children have been hungry. I found a dead animal on the street and cut a piece from it. Now, I am boiling it to keep my children from feeling their hunger. If I cannot find lawful food, I will feed my children with this meat instead. If you want, I can give the meat to you too, but it is unlawful for you although it is lawful for the children because they are at the verge of death due to their hunger.

Ali ibn Muwaffaq continued as follows:

– After I heard his remarks, my heart shattered into pieces. I donated the three hundred dirhams that I had been saving for the last thirty years and then I prayed to Allah, “O Allah, accept my intention to perform the pilgrimage.”

Abdullah ibn Mubarak said to him:

– In a vision I had while on the pilgrimage, the Lord showed me the truth of what you have said.

This magnificent incident is symbolic of the significance of mercy in our spiritual lives. Let us be successful in taking the lesson we need from it so that our lives may too be touched by the blessings of the Lord’s boundless mercy.

From another perspective, the pilgrimage metaphorically represents a journey away from bodily form coupled with a serious effort to distance oneself from the winds of sensual desires. Yunus Emre, who had a very sensitive heart, expressed it as follows:

An old scholar with a white beard,
Yet he does not know his spiritual state,
He should not waste his time and energy,
if he would break a heart.

The heart is the throne of Allah,
For, the Almighty looks at the heart.
The loser in both worlds
is the one who breaks a heart.

***

The following story about Bayazid Bistami is well known for illustrating that one cannot reach high levels of spiritual attainment only by virtue of externally improving oneself.

One day, one of the disciples of Bayazid asked him:

– Will you give a piece of your coat so that I can carry it with me to gain blessing?

Bayazid responded:

– O my son, if you do not improve yourself until you become a perfect person, it is not going to help you even if you cover your entire body with my skin.

***

Bayazid Bistami, may Allah be pleased with him, was on a trip. He rested briefly under a tree before continuing his journey.

After resuming his trip, he saw some ants on his bag. He felt sorry for having separated the ants from their home and families. He was so deeply moved by the thought of their separation that he returned to the tree under which he had rested and returned them to the very point his bag had been sitting.

Junayd Baghdadi, quddisa sirruh, fell asleep one morning on his cloak before departing for the mosque for the morning prayer. Shortly thereafter, a cat lied down beside him and fell asleep. On seeing the situation, he decided not to disturb the cat’s sleep. Instead, he contemplated performing the prayer without his mantle, but ultimately decided it was inappropriate. Finally, he elected to slowly cut off the piece where the cat was resting so as to not wake it up, put the cloak on and then proceeded to the mosque. While walking to the mosque, the cat continued to sleep comfortably.

These incidents, borne of boundless love for the Creator, demonstrate unconditional love for the creatures of the earth and serve to illustrate the fathomless depth of heart that exists in a believer who is close to Allah.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “A careless woman who caused the death of her cat by not feeding it will be punished in the Hellfire. On the contrary, a sinful woman, who gave water to a thirsty dog, is to be forgiven by Allah.”

In another tradition, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: “Treat those on earth with mercy, so that the One in the Heavens treats you with mercy.”

Bayazid Bistami, quddisa sirruh, narrated:

“There were thousands of saints in our time. Their leader  was a blacksmith. I went to his shop to learn his secret. I perceived that he was in great sorrow and asked the reason. He said:

– Is there a concern greater than mine? Is there anyone else whose pain is greater than mine? My grief arises from thinking what is to befall all these servants of Allah on the Day of Judgment.

Then he began to cry, which caused me cry too. My curiosity drove me to ask him the following question:

– Why are you so distressed about the punishment of other people?

Abu Hafs replied:

– The fabric of my nature is composed solely of mercy and compassion. If the entire punishment to be meted out to the people destined for Hell could but be given to me so that they would be saved from His wrath, I would be happy.

I realized that Abu Hafs was not someone prone to bemoan his own misery. Instead, it was his nature to cry out “O my community! O my community!” as was the case of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who was known for the same trait. I stayed with him for a while. I was teaching him the recitation of some chapters of the Qur’an, but in reality, he was demonstrating to me how to put them into practice. He unveiled many points that I had been unable to understand for the duration of my life through the study of rational sciences. Through this association with him, my heart was filled with divinely inspired knowledge. I came to perceive directly that one can’t become the leader of the saints (i.e. the qutb) solely through mere knowledge and prayer, but rather it arises through putting that knowledge into practice and ultimately through being blessed with inner knowledge only accessible by virtue of the direct assistance of Allah. The reason why Abu Hafs was given this knowledge was because mercy and compassion became his second nature.

This mercy and compassion is best symbolized after the Prophet (pbuh)by Abu Bakr, may Allah be pleased with him. He used to pray meticulously for the salvation of the entirety of humanity on the Day of Judgment.

There were many manifestations of Abu Bakr’s mercy. One of them may be seen in the way he bought Bilal, the slave of Umeyye ibn Khalaf, and set him free. This act of compassion brought him the praise of the Prophet (pbuh).

In the Mathnawi, Rumi narrates this story as a poem. The following is a long excerpt from it.

***

When Mustafa (Muhammad) returned to earth after the Ascension, since he had heard the sound of the footsteps of Bilal in the heavens he pronounced on him the blessing: “May Allah bless  you!, May Allah bless  you!”

On hearing this ecstatic utterance from Bilal, in whose speech there was no guile, the Siddiq (Abu Bakr) washed his hands of urging him to repent.

Afterwards, the Siddiq related to Mustafa the plight of the faithful Bilal,

Saying, “That Heaven-surveying nimble (spirit) of blessed wing is at this time in love with you and in your net.

The owls are tormenting the sultan’s falcon, that grand treasure is buried in filth.

The owls are doing violence to the falcon: they are tearing out his plums and feathers though he is innocent.

They are crucifying him (Bilal), his face to the east, and flogging his naked body with a thorny branch.

The blood is spurting from his body in a hundred places, (while) he is crying “One!” and bowing his head (in resignation).

Mustafa (the Prophet) said to him, “Now what is the remedy?” He (the Siddiq) replied, “This servant of Allah is going to buy him.

I will buy him at whatever price the owner may name: I will not regard the apparent loss of money and the extortion;

For he is Allah’s captive on the earth, and he has become subjected to the anger of Allah’s enemy.”

Mustafa said to him, “O seeker of spiritual fortune, I will be your partner in this enterprise.

Be my agent, buy a half share in him on my account, and receive the payment from me.”

He replied, “I will do my utmost to serve you.” Then he went to the house of the merciless owner.

He said to himself, “From the hands of children one can buy pearls very cheaply, O father.”

From these foolish children the ghoul-like Devil is buying their reason and faith in exchange for the kingdom of this world.

He knocked the door-ring, and when the owner opened the door he (the Siddiq) went into his house, beside himself with indignation.

He sat down, beside himself and furious and full of fire: from his mouth leaped many bitter words–

“Why are you beating this friend of Allah? What hatred is this, O enemy of the Light?

If you are steadfast in your own religion, how is your heart consenting to maltreat him who is steadfast (in his religion)?

O you effeminate in your religion, who does not impute this same effeminacy to a spiritual prince!

Do not view all things in the distorting mirror of your selfhood, O you who are banned with an everlasting curse!

He (the owner) said, “If you are feeling pity for him, give me gold and take him in exchange, O man of generous disposition.

Since your heart is burning with sympathy, ransom him from me: your difficulty will not be solved without expense.”

He offered him in addition a nisab (two hundred dirhams) of silver, so that the owner’s cupidity was satisfied.

The stonyhearted owner guffawed jeeringly and mockingly in malice and spite.

The Siddiq said to him, “Why this laughter?” In reply to the question, he laughed more loudly.

And said, “Had it not been for the extraordinary earnestness and ardour shown by you in the purchase of this black slave,

I would not have wrangled excitedly: indeed I would have sold him for a tenth of this sum.

For in my opinion he is not worth half a dang; (but) you made his price heavy by your clamor.”

Then the Siddiq answered him, “O simpleton, you have given away a pearl in exchange for a walnut, like a silly boy;

For in my opinion he is worth the two worlds: I am regarding his spirit, you his color.

He is red gold that has been made like black polished iron on account of the enviousness of this abode of fools.

You gave him up easily because you got him cheap; you did not see the pearl, you did not split the casket.

Rumi, quddisa sirruh, through the actions he has recorded in this story, gives us a true taste for genuine mercy and compassion. Furthermore, he has explicitly described how the value of a human being is beyond measurement. Everything in this world is of no value beside the value of a spirit that has risen to the horizons of boundlessness.

My teacher Yaman Dede used to be an Orthodox Christian. He found guidance through the fruits of Rumi’s Mathnawi. His heart was so sensitive and full of fire with love for Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)that he completely internalized the manners of the Prophet (pbuh)and his companions. The following incident suffices to illustrate his spiritual state:

One day, a student in class asked him:

– Teacher, would you prefer to commit a sin or to suffer from leprosy.

Yaman Dede answered:

– I would prefer being burned to dust rather than falling away through carelessness, even for a brief moment, from my bond to the Prophet (pbuh)and the spiritual worlds of the friends of Allah!

What clearer expression of the endless mercy and love embodied by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)could there be?

O Allah, may Your mercy become the endless treasure of our hearts.

Amen!

[1].      Basmala is to say “Bismillahirrahmanirrahim” which means “In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate.” To utter this formula with the purpose of remembering the name of Allah prior to the undertaking of a task was the habit of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Muslims continue today to follow the example of their Prophet (pbuh) and they utter the Basmala prior to all actions.

Osman Nuri Topbas from the book of  “Tears of the Heart”