Gentleness and compassion in service

To look at human beings within the limits of Islamic principles requires looking at and esteeming their pure essence not their states contaminated by sins. A real believer regards a sinner like a bird with a broken wing, which needs attention and compassion. He feels the weight of appeasing and healing the sinner’s soul in crisis. For showing compassion and mercy to all of creation for the sake of The Creator is the most effective agent, which takes the faithful to perfection and grace.

Islam has accepted moderation as its main principle in educating and guiding mankind. And this can be realized through gentleness in behavior. Starting from the Prophet’s life, the Companions’ and righteous believers’ lives are teeming with examples of the most gentle methods for approaching to the sinners.

Abu al-Darda, one of the Companions of the Prophet (pbuh) was a judge in Damascus. On one occasion he heard people reproaching a sinner. He asked them:

“What would you do if you saw a man fall into a well?”

They replied: “We would lower a rope and try to rescue him,” Then Abud al-Darda said: “Why don’t you think to help this poor guy who fell in to the well of sins?” People were surprised: “Don’t you hate sins?” Abu al-Darda gave them the following sapient answer: “I hate his sins not him.”

In this example, there are several sapient lessons, which Abu al-Darda aims to place in believing hearts. These lessons are lofty gleams reflecting from the orders and contentment of Allah the Almighty and His Messenger’s distinguished morality. Throughout Islamic history, these lessons have become manifestations of maturity and became a rooted approach of guidance.

This approach does not suffocate a sinner in his sins; on the contrary it aims to save him in the sea of repentance by mercy, compassion, forgiveness and love. The Prophet (pbuh) politely approached even the most furious polytheists, such as Abu Jahl, and he (pbuh) did not occupy himself with their sins. He just invited them to purify themselves in faith’s sea of salvation. It is stated in the following verse after that after a person’s conversion past sins will be erased; they will even be exchanged with rewards.

إِلَّا مَنْ تَابَ وَآمَنَ وَعَمِلَ عَمَلًا صَالِحًا فَأُوْلَئِكَ
يُبَدِّلُ اللّٰهُ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ حَسَنَاتٍ
وَكَانَ اللّٰهُ غَفُورًا رَّحِيمًا

“Except him who repents and believes and does a good deed; so these are they of whom Allah changes the evil deeds to good ones; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”(25; 70)

Those who do not have a share from this noble clemency are the enemy of both themselves and all mankind. Those heedless people know nothing about mercy and compassion. On the other hand, friends of Allah like Jalal al-Din Rumi and Yunus Emre, who have reached the very source of mercy, were loved not only by human beings but even by other creation and animals. They are like the roses of Paradise with their smiling faces and benevolent appearances. Even under very difficult circumstances, they continued to spread goodness in the world and healing the wounded. Maintaining a smiling face and a benevolent nature is important in this world; in other words, spreading goodness no matter what the circumstances are. How nicely Rumi expresses this issue:

“Because moon was not frightened and did not escape from the darkness, it got brightened up and the rose got its sweet scent for it got on well with the prickles.”

“Listen to this truth from the rose. Hear what it says: Why should I feel sad, why should I let myself down for being with the prickle; I attained my ability to smile for enduring my togetherness with the prickle, and because of enduring it, I got the capability to disperse beauty and emit sweet scent to the world.”

Eşrefoğlu Rûmî summarizes the required approach to reach this state in his following verse:

For the sake of friends

Poisons should be swallowed like a candy

One of the Companions cursed a very alcoholic man who had been punished several times. When the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) heard this, he said,

“Do not curse him, for by Allah, I know for he loves Allah and His Apostle.”(Bukhari, Kitab al-Hudud, 5)

After having a depression, one of the disciples of the late Ramazanoğlu Mahmûd Sâmî (q.s.) got drunk and came to his teacher’s door. When the man who opened the door reproached him saying:

“What is the matter with you? Do you know where you are?”

The poor man said:

“Is there any other door which can embrace me with compassion?”

When Mahmud Sami heard the conversation, he came to the door and invited his disciple inside, and appeased his broken heart. Upon his teacher’s delicate approach, the man repented and joined the righteous believers.

“Being able to look at creation through the eyes of the Creator” is expressed in the following narration of the Prophet (pbuh):

“By Allah, you cannot enter Paradise unless you show mercy to each other.”

When the Companions said:

“O Messenger of Allah! We all are merciful.” He (pbuh) responded:

“(I do not mean) a mercy just for each other, but a mercy which comprises the entire creation, (yes) a mercy which comprises the entire creation.”(Hakim, Mustadrak, IV, 185)

No matter how far a person is away from the aim of his creation, he still has the high dignity of being a “human.” His sinking into sins because of his unawareness of the nobility in his essence is similar to the Black Stone’s fall from the Ka’bah’s wall and getting dirty. Even in such a state, believers would not stop respecting it. They would immediately pick it up and race with each other to place it to its lofty place. They would think its original place in Heaven and its value in essence. Humans are like Black Stone fell from the Heaven, and no matter how deep he sank into the sins, his essential value remains.

On the other hand no competent doctor would get upset his patient since why he got sick. Even if his sickness was his own fault, the doctor would consider it as a result of his patient’s weakness. And instead of questioning him for his faults, the doctor would immediately start his treatment in order to ease his patient’s pains. He would consider himself responsible for the treatment of his patient. A Sufi would feel the similar feelings of the doctor, and these feelings are like a life buoy for those who went astray.

Holding a life buoy out to a sinner and saving him from sinking more into his sins is a very cause for eternal happiness. The Prophet’s (pbuh) warning to Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) during the Khaybar battle attracts our attention:

“O Ali! By Allah! If a single person embraces Islam at your hands (i.e. through you), that will be better for you than the red camels.”(Bukhari, Kitab al-Jihad, 143)

Same reality is expressed in the following verse:

وَمَنْ أَحْيَاهَا فَكَأَنَّمَا أَحْيَا النَّاسَ جَمِيعًا

“…and whoever keeps a soul alive, it is as though he kept alive all men;…”(5; 32)

This is a matter of faith. Of course disbelief is the most serious flaw of human feelings and thoughts. Because the chance to be saved from this greatest sin is much higher with gentle speaking, Allah the Almighty ordered Moses to use “qawl layyin or gentle talk” when He sent Moses to Pharaoh to deliver His message. Because the success in the invitation to the message of Islam is a very important pious deed which is a bridge to eternal happiness, as it is mentioned above. Allah the Almighty certainly knew the harshness of Pharaoh’s disbelief. Therefore we should follow a gentle approach even for the harshest disbelievers instead of reproaches, threats and emotional rampage. Rumi exemplifies this beautifully:

“Understand well Allah’s saying: “O Moses in presence of the Pharaoh you must speak softly with mild words.”

“If you put water into boiling oil, you will destroy the trivet and the kettle …”[1]

Allah the Almighty states this reality in the following verse:

فَبِمَا رَحْمَةٍ مِّنَ اللّٰهِ لِنْتَ لَهُمْ وَلَوْ كُنْتَ فَظًّا
غَلِيظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنْفَضُّواْ مِنْ حَوْلِكَ
فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَاسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ

“Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hard hearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon for them, and take counsel with them in the affair; so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust.”(3; 159)

This approach is required not just towards unbelievers or sinners but it is also essential in approaching those Muslims who live according to Islam but sometimes make mistakes. Harsh talks and breaking hearts would produce results contrary to the expected, because people could be intolerant even towards their own parents. In such situations even telling the truth might make a blade effect and lose its value and attractiveness. Rumi states:

“When your father scolds you for your faults, even he looks to you like an attacking and ferocious beast…”

“This is the effect of your father’s cruelty and reprimand. In other words even though your father’s warning is for your own benefit, its cruelty and reproach make your father’s mercy and compassion looked like a beast to you.”

We should remember this side of human psychology and no matter how deep he sinks into sins, we should approach him/her bearing his/her value in essence in mind. That is why the Prophet (pbuh) said:

“For a Muslim, it is enough as a sin that he should look down upon his brother.” (Muslim, Kitab al-Birr, 32)

Bezmiâlem Vâlide Sultan’s endowment in Damascus to compensate the damages caused by the servants is a nice reflection of this Prophetic saying in the history of Islam. A believer who is concious of this delicate manner should “direct questioning to himself and tolerance to others.” For Allah the Almighty expresses:

“O you who believe! avoid most of suspicion, for surely suspicion in some cases is a sin, and do not spy nor let some of you backbite others. Does one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? But you abhor it; and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, surely Allah is Oft-returning (to mercy), Merciful.”(49; 12)

In a Prophetic saying, it is stated that:

“A believer cannot be a person who slanders, curses and displays obnoxious behavior towards others.”(Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Birr, 48)

Ideal Muslims who follow these principles in their lives become heroic figures of Islamic ethics and merits. Even if the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) knew that someone had committed a sin, he would not tell his name openly to warn the others. Instead he used to say:

“What is it that I saw you doing such and such…”[2]in this wayhe was attributing himself that he had seen wrong.

This manner of not hurting the feelings of the faulty and not looking down upon them is the common characteristic of those who understand Sufism well; because the path to Allah is not through breaking hearts, but appeasing them. Yunus Emre expresses this clearly in the following lines:

Heart is the throne of Allah

Allah looks into the heart

Miserable of the two worlds

The one who breaks a heart

As a matter of fact several souls who had been lost because of banishment and harsh treatment have been saved by the blessing of this way of thinking.

According to a narration Junayd al-Baghdadi had a disciple. One day the disciple got caught committing a sin. He became so ashamed that he left the convent and did not come back. After a while, Junayd al-Baghdadi ran into him while walking in the market. When the disciple saw his teacher, he felt ashamed and walked quickly away. Junayd (may Allah bless his soul) turned to the people with him and said:

“You should go, I have a bird escaped from home” then he went after his disciple. When the disciple recognized his teacher was following, he started to walk faster. But he hastily went into a dead end and accidentally hit his head. When he saw his teacher before him, he shyly lowered his head. Junayd (may Allah bless his soul) said:

“O My son! Where are you going? From whom are you running away? A teacher should help his disciple especially in such difficult times.” Then he took his disciple to the convent. The disciple asked his teacher’s forgiveness and repented.  This state is one of the blessed results of spiritual maturity in guiding people to the true path of Islam.

On the other hand being able to go beyond forgiving the faults and reciprocate evil with goodness and even being able to pray for guidance and amelioration of someone who had done harm should be the distinctive characteristic of a Muslim. Instead of cursing, the Prophet’s (pbuh) prayer for the guidance of the people of Taif who threw stones at him is enough as an example of this lofty characteristic. Again the Prophet’s (pbuh) prayer for the goodness of the people of Mecca caused numerous unbelievers to find the right path.

In a saying of the Prophet (pbuh), it is stated that:

“It is not a merit to respond with goodness to someone who had done goodness and respond with harm to someone who had done misdoing. The real virtue is to respond with goodness to someone who had done harm to you.”(Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Birr, 63)

Because if the person who has been responded with goodness was an enemy, he becomes a friend; if he was in the middle, he comes closer and his love intensifies. This is the reason why contemporary people, who are in spiritual crisis under the ruthless sovereignty of materialism, incline towards mystical trendstherefore using the methods of Sufism in delivering the message of Islam is bound to be successful. Today most of the Western people who have chosen Islam appeal to the works of great Sufis, such as Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi and Ibn Arabi. In other words, books related to Sufism are the most read books about Islam in the West. We strongly need an all-embracing heart as described in the following lines of Rumi:

“Come, come whatever you are,

It does not matter whether you are an infidel, an idolater or a fire-worshiper,

Come, our convent is not a place of despair.

Come, even if you violated your swear A hundred times,

Come again.”

In such a tolerant invitation, Rumi’s aim was to introduce humans with their Divine essence and to honor them with Islam by saving them from their faults. Otherwise his invitation does not mean to accept people in Islam without changing their old life styles. The object is to fix a person’s spiritual world. If something is broken, then it needs to be taken to a repairman. Sufi teachers’ hearts are similar to a repair shop, where they help people fix their previous mistakes. So it is normal that Rumi directs his invitation to people who had made some mistakes.

It is necessary to approach people with altruism, mercy and tolerance especially during times when religious feelings have weakened and people are commiting sins left and right, without feeling any remorse. This approach would increase the possibility of saving them.

However, we should mention that tolerance to the sinner is restricted to personal matters. Otherwise faults and oppressions violating the rights of others and subverting the peace and tranquility of the society cannot be forgiven and tolerated. In addition, it is also understandable that those who superficially live Islam would get upset when they see someone committing a sin. For them, it is necessary to stay away from sins and the sinners to protect themselves from their harmful effects; because sins, like a nice piece of music, can easily attract those who live their lives in heedlessness. That is why to underestimate the sins of a sinner is very dangerous for the society, for it may lead to disdain Divine regulations and it may also cause the hearts to be infected with them. In other words, tolerance should be for the sinner not for the sins; and the enmity should be for the sins not for the sinners.

Above all, we can conclude this section with the following saying of our beloved Prophet (pbuh):

“Facilitate things to people (concerning religious matters), and do not make it hard for them and give them good tidings and do not make them run away (from Islam).”(Bukhari, Kitab al-‘Ilm, 11)

Dear Lord! Bless us by filling our days with wisdom and making us real lovers! Enlighten us with the secrets of two worlds! Make our hearts a source of mercy for all creation for the sake of their Creator! Exchange our faults and sins with rewards and goodness!


[1].      Vol. IV, verses 3815-16

[2].      See Bukhari, Manakib, 25; Muslim, Kitab al-salat, 119.