The Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) embraced a society that was engulfed in violence and injustice. Through his personal conduct, which radiated endless mercy and love, he transformed a society full of hatred and revenge into a loving and caring social system. Before his arrival, people were brought up to abuse the young and the weak, and to attack others for the pettiest reasons. However, after seeing the conduct of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) the people who had perpetrated these acts purified themselves and abandoned their cruel attitudes. These same people became the embodiment of mercy and love and developed the capacity to guide the rest of humanity by virtue of their example. Like stars that illuminate the world on dark nights, they reflected the beauty of Islam. The following story of Mus‘ab b. ‘Umayr is one of many such examples:
One day Mus‘ab and his friend As‘ad b. Zurāra went to the tribes of ‘Abd Ashhal and Zafar in order to invite them to Islam. The chieftains of these clans were Sa‘d b. Mu‘ādh and Usayd b. Hudayr. Sa‘d asked Usayd:“Why do you not prevent these individuals from coming here and cheating the poor and simple among our people”?
Upon this Usayd met Mus‘ab and Zurāra, and pointing his spear at them roared, “If you wish to stay alive, leave this place immediately!”
Instead of reacting angrily, Mus‘ab replied, “If you calm down and listen to me, I have a message for you. You are a man of high intelligence and wisdom. If you like what I have to tell you, you may accept; and if you do not, you may reject all that I have to say.”
Usayd agreed and put his spear away. After listening to Mus‘ab’s beautiful words about Islam, he himself accepted Islam. Then he went back to his friend Sa‘d and said, “I have listened to what they have had to say and have found nothing wrong with their words.”
Sa‘d was unhappy with his friend’s approval of the unwanted guests, and thereafter personally went to Mus‘ab, his sword half sheathed, and ordered them to leave. In the same manner as before, Mus‘ab did not reply with harsh words and instead brought peace to the situation with nice words, and spoke about the realities of Islam with deep wisdom. Like his friend Usayd, Sa‘d also accepted Islam under the influence of the divine attraction of the message he had just received.
This is an example of how the Arab people lost their aggressive character in the process of accepting Islam, and how they were transformed through the conduct of the Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace). The Arabs ultimately cultivated the highest states of patience and maturity. They understood that Islam had come to revive people and not to destroy them, and they engraved the following words in the pages of history: “Those who come to kill are in need of spiritual revival.”
Rūmī also notes that they knew that in the face of mercy and goodness, evil is powerless:
When the seas of mercy begin to surge, even stones drink the water of life,
The frail mote becomes stout and strong; the carpet of earth becomes satin and a cloth of gold,
He that has been dead a hundred years comes forth from the grave; the accursed devil becomes an object of envy to the houris on account of his beauty,
The whole face of this earth becomes verdant; the dry wood blooms and flourishes,
The wolf becomes the cup-companion of the lamb; the despairing become courageous and valiant”. (Mathnawī, V, 2282-85)
The Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) forgave many criminals who would have been executed. He even forgave Wahshī, who killed his beloved uncle Hamzah (may Allah be pleased with him). The Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) mercy and love for human beings always exceeded his anger. Many a wrathful person melted in the abundant love of the Prophet and they were transformed into rose‑gardens of mercy. A Turkish poet described the situation in Arab society before the time of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) thus: “If a human being had had no teeth, his own brothers would have gobbled him up.” By this is meant that people were merciless even towards those closest to them. Islam has saved humanity from such deep ignorance and brutality.
The cruel people of that society became so merciful that the following situation emerged in the battle of Yarmuk in which some of them were wounded. When the wounded were offered water before their last breath, each gave up his turn to the other and refused to be the one to drink the water first. As the opportunity to drink was passed from one to the other, all of them passed away before any one was actually able to quench his thirst.
The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) always led the caravan of love and mercy from the very front, and ceaselessly displayed moral conduct at its peak. As a result, friend and foe alike acknowledged his exemplary character. In the last century in The Hague, Holland, scholars and thinkers gathered to select the hundred most important people who had contributed to the betterment of humanity. They chose Prophet Muhammad (upon him blessings and peace) as the first and foremost person according to the principles they had chosen in making their selection. Interestingly enough, the selection committee consisted solely of Christians. It is also interesting to note that ninety percent of the Companions of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) accepted Islam because they had appreciated his high moral qualities. Even those who were extreme in their enmity towards him were unable to accuse him of being a liar or a despot, but rather were forced to praise him.
Those who have given their hearts to Islam and would like to serve the religion should know that Islam aims first and foremost at reviving humanity. Only those who can perceive the beauty of Allah’s creation in each human being, and who realize that Allah has created human beings as the most valuable objects of His creation can serve Islam and humanity in the way Allah wishes. In other words, the ideal of Islam is to facilitate the emergence of ideal human beings. This ideal may only be realized when the heart of the perceiver has been touched and reawakened, and the spiritual beauties hidden within it have begun to resurface.
As a result, Islam has always emphasised as its first priority the spiritual education of Muslims, and many great personalities have appeared in the history of the Ummah who were admired by all people regardless of their beliefs. Through the Prophet’s (upon him blessings and peace) example and teaching, those who had been under the control of their nafs and led a bestial life became angelic stars, dazzling eyes with their brightness. For example, ‘Umar b. Khattāb, who had before Islam buried his daughter alive, later became a source of mercy incapable of harming even an ant. Islam thus represents a spirit that embraces humanity with love and mercy. Through the seeds of this endless mercy it has sown into the hearts of man, human beings were raised up to exceed their limited and weak natures. They became able to reach towards eternal life.
Islam came to revive people. The emotions and feelings Islam teaches are the essence of humanity. The famous Turkish Sufi poet Yūnus Emre said:
Let us befriend one another
Let us make things easy
Let us love and earn the love of others
No one will remain in the world forever
Those who have not integrated their allotted share of divine love and mercy into their souls are the enemies of both humanity and their own souls. These merciless people have blocked their path to spiritual nourishment and fulfilment. On the other hand, the great friends of Allah who have arrived at the spring of mercy – such as Jalāl al-Dīn Rūmī and Yūnus Emre – are loved by all as the roses of Paradise. Even in the worst of conditions they have the capacity to spread hope and cure the wounds of society. The nature of the rose is the most important characteristic that all Muslims should have: it gives off its sweet scent among sharp thorns. Instead of embracing the characteristics of the thorn, the good believer should be like the roses that bloom after the long winter months. Rūmī said in reference to this: “He that sows the seed of thistles in the world, be warned not to look for him in the rose-garden” (Mathnawī, II, 153). Rūmī continues:
You are observing defects on the face of the moon – picking thorns in a Paradise!
Picker of thorns, if you go into Paradise, you will find there no thorn but yourself. (Mathnawi, II, 3347-48)
Our ancestors, the Ottomans, were very merciful to their captives after battle. A captive officer once said: “O mercy, you are such a tyrant that you make me love my enemy!”
It is unfortunate that nowadays some materialists and rejecters of faith have confused Islam with terrorism. This is one of the most terrible calamities that humanity has ever experienced. Terrorism is the result of a lack of love and mercy as the hearts of terrorists never lodge such sublime feelings. Islam is a religion of the heart and terrorists have nothing in this center since their hearts were hardened like rocks. Islam from its inception rejects all sorts of terrorism and anarchy. It commands the respect of the rights of both Muslims and non-Muslims without discrimination.
The Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) used to send teachers to the tribes who wanted to learn about Islam. Once in an incident called Bi’r Ma‘ūna the unbelievers trapped these teachers on their way to the tribe and killed them. After this, the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) always sent some soldiers to protect the teachers. He commanded these soldiers only to use their weapons for the protection of the teachers. However, once Khālid b. Walīd, who was the commander of such a battalion, used his weapon out of necessity and harmed some people and their possessions. Having heard of this incident, the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) said, “O my Allah I am innocent of what Khālid has done. I am not happy with what he has done.” He repeated these words three times. After this, he sent ‘Alī to pay compensation for everything, including the dogs of the tribe who had been harmed. (Islam Tarihi, I, 525-27)
The Ottomans too adopted the high morality of the Prophet (upon him blessings and peace) in their stance towards non-Muslims, and they never forced non‑Muslims to accept Islam. They never attempted to destroy other nations, or to change people’s cultures through imperialistic acts. Rather, they considered non-Muslims to be fellow human beings whose rights they were to protect. Because of such tolerance, the people in today’ Poland said: “We will never obtain freedom unless the Ottoman horses drink water from the Vistul river…”
Thus, the oppressed people of other nations preferred Ottoman rule to that of their own rulers. When the Ottomans besieged Constantinapole, some Byzantine noblemen suggested that they should ask for help from the Pope. It is interesting to note that one of the nobleman, a man named Notaras, said, “I would rather see Ottoman turbans than the miters of cardinals in Constantinople.”
Today in the Islamic world we need to adopt this traditional Islamic mentality in which we love people just for the sake of their Creator. This is not for political reasons, but rather to gain the pleasure of Allah.
The following story is a good example of the mercy Sufis showed to Allah’s creation. Once, during one of his travels, Abū Yazīd al-Bistāmī paused under a tree and ate some food. Then he continued on his way. After some time he saw an ant on his food bag. He realized that the ant had climbed on the bag when he paused under the tree. He felt very sad to think that he had removed the ant from his home. He went all the way back and returned the ant to its original home. He was aware that the rights of Allah’s creation, even an ant’s, needed to be respected even as much as those of a human. Islam engenders such a great heart in Muslims that even an ant is treated with the utmost mercy. Such a person will naturally protect the rights of his fellow human beings more than anything else. But such a way of life will only be possible if man develops his spiritual capacities, making him the envy of angels rather than feeding his nafs through which he may fall to a state even lower than that of beasts.
The world today is confronted by a great deal of injustice and the killing of innocent people. This is the consequence of a process in which human beings have followed their base desires and ignored their spiritual development. In the end this has resulted in the loss of those sublime feelings such as love and mercy for others. The solution for those who have thus lost themselves is to discover the truth and depth of Islam and surrender themselves to its call while understanding that the beauty and glamor of this world will not last forever.
This world is only a preparation for our everlasting life in the hereafter. The famous Turkish Sufi and lover of Allah, Yūnus Emre said in one of his famous poems: “Love the creation of Allah for the sake of its Creator.” Is not this all-encompassing verse the best cure for tyrants who are in need of mending their ways before entering the bliss of the hereafter? If those people were able to cultivate a small share of Yūnus Emre’s love for humanity, they would never be able to perpetrate the horrible crimes they have committed. If they were only able to heed this verse, they would instead be blessed with feelings of love and justice towards humanity rather than the enmity of the dark side of their nafs.
We must proclaim that Islam should not be abused for the political aims of some people. Hence, we should carefully separate the religious and pious people from those who use religion to attain their own evil ends. In Islamic history we have witnessed groups like the Khawārij, who killed innocent people in the name of Islam because their sole aim was to attain political power. We have also witnessed in the past some states who have used Islam to justify their evil aims. Evil people, in order to realize their unjust plans, use the valuable feelings and concepts of religion only to advance their personal desires and as a consequence defame both religion and religious people. However, as Rūmī has said, they will pay a high price for their evil acts:
Most people are like predators; put no trust in such people when they say “Peace to you.”
Their hearts are the house of the devil; do not listen to the chatter of devilish men.
He that swallows “lā hawla” from the breath of the devil, like the ass falls headlong in the fight. (Mathnawī, II, 251-53)
Rūmī continues to warn the pure hearts of innocent people from the dangers of such evil-doers:
He utters vain words to you who says, “O my beloved”, that he may strip the skin off his beloved like a butcher.
He gives vain words that he may strip off your skin; woe to him that tastes opium from enemies. (Mathnawī, II, 258-9)
Heartless terrorists use their humanity only as a mask to veil their merciless hearts which have never tasted divine love. If such people were ideologues, they would promulgate ideas that would only pollute people. If they were poets, they would poison the souls of others. If they were moralists, they would propagate immorality. Rūmī has revealed the real nature of this type of people in the following words:
If he takes a rose in his hand, it becomes a thistle;
and if he goes to a friend, he bites him like a snake. (Mathnawī, II, 154)
In short, such people are killers of souls. They take joy in blinding people’s eyes and paralysing their sensibility. By employing all sorts of inhuman methods such as drugs, they transform human beings into merciless beasts. Instead of cultivating genuine human logic and reason, they provoke only people’s feelings of revenge and their aggressive side. They have consistently been the worst enemies of humanity throughout history. Allah the Almighty describes the attitude of such people as follows: “When it is said to them: ‘Make not mischief on the earth.’ They say: ‘We are only the ones that put things right.’ Of a surety, they are the ones who make mischief, but they realise (it) not.” (Baqara, 2:11-12)
No one can claim that butchering civilians is a religious act and no one can confuse it with jihād. As a matter of fact, only those who use religion to justify their evil plans are the ones who have lost the pleasure of Allah. Allah the Almighty has explained the grave consequences of their actions in the following verse:
On that account We ordained for the children of Israel that if any one slew a person—unless it be for murder or for spreading mischief in the land—it would be as if he slew all people. And if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of all people. Then, although there came to them Our messengers with clear signs, yet, even after that, many of them continued to commit excesses in the land. (Mā’idah, 5:32)
The Holy Qur’an considers the killing of one innocent person to be equivalent to killing all of mankind, for such a killer in fact attacks the sacredness of human life itself. If one kills an innocent person this implies that he might kill all of humanity for his own personal pleasure. In such an act, he sets an example for others to do the same and thus encourages murder. Hence, killing innocent people is one of the biggest crimes in Islam, and those who commit such acts attract the wrath of Allah in the hereafter. On the other hand, if someone saves a life, prevents a crime or removes the causes that may lead to manslaughter, such a brave person is considered in principle to have saved all of humanity.
Rūmī likens Islam to the water of life and states that no one dies near the water of life: “None ever died in the presence of the water of life.” (Mathnawī, VI, 4218)
All the rules and principles of Islam aim at conserving and protecting human life in both physical and spiritual terms. In all instances, Islam guides humanity to correct belief and good conduct, and it cultivates in people feelings of mercy, love of service to humanity, love of wisdom, courtesy, kindness and respect for justice.
In particular during the holy month of Ramadan, Islam supports Muslims with a very special spiritual atmosphere. During this month Muslims are privileged to fast, to pray tarāwīh (extra night prayers), and give charity generously to the poor. Through fasting, the arteries which are blocked by the diseases of mercilessness are opened and cleaned, and hearts are inclined to the weak, needy and lonely people.
Ramadan is a month of mercy. In cultivating mercy, a Muslim can practice Islam with greater depth since he reins in his base desires as he strives to bring them under control. In this process, the soul is refined and becomes more sensitive to divine openings. The fruits of mercy are forgiveness, generosity, and modesty. As we serve others, we learn gradually to give up jealousy. All these difficult achievements are made easier during the holy month of Ramadan. Our souls exceed their limitations as we struggle to serve the divine command to extend our care to all humanity, and in this universal spirit of service the soul strives to reach the perfection of its Lord.
In short, achieving true felicity in Islam is dependent upon both faith in the oneness of Allah and undertaking meritorious acts. Good Muslims dedicate their hearts and minds to Allah as they dedicate their lives to the service of humanity and thereby learn to cultivate virtuous lives. Rūmī describes this attitude as follows:
Oh, happy is the ugly one to whom the beautiful one has become a companion, alas for one of rosy countenance with whom autumn consorts. (Mathnawī, II, 1341)
O my Lord! Make this and the next world a place of felicity through the beauties of Islam. Protect the Muslim ummah from all kinds of mischief and disaster.