IMAM DR ABDUR RASHIED OMAR
In the above verse of the Glorious Qur’an, Allah, the Most-High, describes the raison d’être of Prophet Muhammad’s mission as rahmatan lil ‘alamin, a source of compassion, mercy and tenderness to the world and everything that exists.
In bearing witness to the Islamic message of rahmah the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) spoke so much about compassion and mercy that his companions felt compelled to respond by saying: ‘but we are compassionate and merciful to our spouses and children.’ The Prophet (pbuh) clarified what he meant by saying: ‘What I mean is rahmah in an absolute sense, towards each and everything – including the entire universe (the animals, the plants and the environment).’
To further underscore this core teaching of Islam the Prophet (pbuh) once told an anecdote of a sinful man who was forgiven by God for showing compassion and mercy to a thirsty dog by providing him with water. When the Prophet Muhammad’s companions heard the story, they were astonished at the radical nature of this teaching on compassion and so to make doubly sure that they had understood his message clearly, they inquired: ‘O Messenger of God, will we be rewarded for being compassionate to animals?’ He said: ‘Yes, there is a reward for showing goodness and compassion to every living creature.’ (This hadith can be found in the collection of Imam Bukhari)
The early scholars of Islam understood the all-embracing nature of compassion and mercy in Islam clearly. They taught that compassion and mercy emanates from a healthy heart that is spiritually alive. An utter lack of compassion and mercy, on the other hand, reflects a heart that is spiritually dead. The implication is profound: compassion and spirituality do not cohabit hearts where hatred and disregard for others reign.
Classical Muslim scholars of prophetic traditions (hadith), such as Imam al- Nawawi (d.1278), further clarified that the compassion and mercy Muslims are commanded to show is not exclusively for themselves or the righteous among them. It extends to all human beings: Jews, Christians, people of faith or none, the righteous and the immoral.
Building on this profound teaching of compassion a contemporary scholar, Shaikh Dr Umar Faruq Abd-Allah, likens the Islamic teaching on compassion and mercy to that of the karma law of universal reciprocity by which God shows compassion and mercy to the compassionate and merciful and withholds it from those who hold it back from others (Mercy, The Stamp of Creation, A Nawawi Foundation Paper by Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah: 2004). Such a karmic perspective of compassion and mercy in Islam is supported by the following prophetic tradition (hadith) narrated by the companion Abdullah bin Amr (may Allah be pleased with him):
This hadith can be found in the collection of Abu Dawud and al-Tirmidhi both of whom classified it as authentic (sahih).
In light of the centrality of rahmah, compassion, mercy and tenderness in Islam I argue that it should be the key ethico-moral value guiding and informing our response to the highly contagious and deadly Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. From a rahmah (compassionate) lens instead of viewing the COVID-19 pandemic as a curse or punishment from Allah, the Lord of Compassion and Mercy, it should be seen as a ‘season of gratitude’ or shukr.
Amidst the trauma all of us have experienced during this time, through illness, loss of loved ones and loss of livelihoods, we should show gratitude first and foremost for having survived three deadly waves of the pandemic. Our survival has only been through the Mercy of Allah.
We should see this Mercy bestowed on us as an opportunity for us in turn to amplify our Gratitude and Thanksgiving for all of the immeasurable blessings in our lives that we have in ‘so-called’ normal times taken for granted – like the simple yet profound gift of being able to breathe in fresh air or enjoy each other’s company. Moreover, this pandemic has brought home a greater awareness of death and the transient nature of our lives, so this is an opportunity, a Mercy that we should not squander. We should use it to draw closer to Allah by embodying the teachings of mercy and compassion.
This more positive and compassionate view of the COVID-19 pandemic is supported by contemporary research which argues that trauma does not inevitably result in stress and gloom but may also engender positive growth. A Stanford University based Psychologist, Dr. Jamil Zaki, has, for example, proposed that we should harness the spontaneous outpouring of compassion and charity that we have witnessed during the pandemic, what he has called ‘catastrophe compassion’, to activate a more compassionate post-Covid world.
The opportunity for fashioning such a compassionate, caring and just post-Covid world is a real possibility. Much, however, is going to depend on how we manage this critical stage of the pandemic.
Here again it should be rahmah – Compassion and Mercy and not selfish choices that should guide and inform our response to the COVID-19 vaccines. It is our view (guided and informed by a lens of rahmah/ compassion) that all Muslims and indeed all responsible citizens should take the COVID-19 vaccine and see its embracing as an act of sadaqah, that is, an act of charity intended to save lives and reduce the immense human suffering caused by the Coronavirus pandemic. For taking the vaccine is not merely an act of self-preservation but also an act of love and compassion for others.
I strongly urge and encourage everyone to get vaccinated if you have not already done so. The overwhelming majority of Muslim scholars and institutions have proclaimed the taking of the COVID-19 vaccines as ja-iz and mandub (permissible and highly recommended).
Over the past few days we have also witnessed some COVID-19 protocols such as social distancing and standing apart in the congregational prayers suspended in al-Masjid al-Haram in Makkah al-Mukarrama and al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Madina al-Munawwara. Wearing of masks is still required while praying inside the masjid but is not required in outside areas. These changes were made possible because only pilgrims and residents who are vaccinated are allowed into the Haramain in Makkah and Madina.
The scientific evidence is unequivocal that people who are vaccinated are much less likely to spread the virus and that fully vaccinated people stand a much greater chance of fully recovering in isolated cases of so-called ‘break-through’ infection. Unvaccinated people maintain the threat of this pandemic circulating in our communities, causing more deaths, critically ill patients which overwhelms our health services and forcing the cycle of lockdowns to continue in order to mitigate the spread of the virus. Having the majority of people vaccinated is the safest way we can live with this virus – it offers protection not only to ourselves, but all those around us.
There is no doubt that all of us yearn for our daily lives to be more ‘normal’, to be able to gather safely with our family and friends and indeed, it is my earnest prayer and hope that the Claremont Main Road Masjid will be able to re-open soon within such a safe environment, Insha’Allah. We should view the vaccines as yet another Mercy from Allah for which we should give thanks. It is paving a way for us to live more safely with the virus and take on this great amanah to fashion a more compassionate and just world.
On this blessed occasion of the celebration of Milad al-Nabi al-Rahmah we beseech Allah, the Lord of Compassion, to shower our congregation with rahmah and to Guide us to the best of decisions.
- Dr A Rashied Omar delivered this talk on Monday October 18, 2021 / 12 Rabi-ul-Awwal 1443, on the occasion of Moulood-un-Nabi, at Claremont Main Road Masjid, where is the officiating Imam.