Posted by: Dawud Israel | December 14, 2010

Mercy as the Divine Loophole

Bismillah, alhamdulilah, wa salat wa salam ala Rasulullah

Most Muslims have an absolute, black-white conception of Allah and His rules- where this person goes to heaven and hell and its already decided. This ‘mechanical’ view I feel, is off and somewhat incorrect. Yes, we do “hear and obey” but it does not stop there, just as there is much more that goes on before that in our hearts before we choose to hear, and to obey and even to disobey in between. It just isn’t proper to say God is reduced to simple knee-jerk reaction, but rather I say there is a dialogue. Hearing and obeying is not a mechanical act but it requires a great deal of thought and heart.

The Prophet said, “A slave sinned and said, ‘O God, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said, ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said, ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them.’ Then he sinned again and said, ‘O Lord, forgive me my sin.’ God, Blessed and Most High, said, ‘My servant sinned and knew that he has a Lord who forgives sins and punishes for them. Do what you wish, for I have forgiven you.’” (Sahih Muslim no. 7162, Kitab al-Tawbah)

Beyond that, we know Allah gave us  free-will, why? Its of God’s will that we interact with God- even challenge, in a way that is subtly mentioned in the hadith. There are many hadith that mention that when the believer forgives and shows mercy to those who wrong him on Yawmul Qiyamah, or even in this dunya, Allah breaks His ‘norms’ and forgives him something that perhaps He would not have forgiven him. In other words, mercy is a divine loophole- my showing mercy to others will open up a loophole in God’s system of justice that would not exist if we were say, angels or devils, robbed of free-will. Our capacity to show mercy would not exist if we had no free-will- in the widest sense, free-will is a priori to any and every moral virtue (discussion for another time).

God’s Messenger, upon him be peace, said: ‘I smile because of two men from
my nation, who shall kneel in the presence of the Lord of Power. One of them
says: ‘O my Lord, grant me retaliation for the wrong which my brother did to
me.’ And God says: ‘Give your brother that in which he was wronged.’ ‘O
Lord,’ he says, ‘none of my righteous works remain.’ Then God the Exalted
says to the man who made the demand: ‘What shall you do with your brother,
seeing that none of his righteous works remain?’ And he replies: ‘O my Lord!
Let him bear some of my burdens in my stead!’ And God’s Messenger wept, as
he said: ‘Truly, that shall be a fearsome Day, a Day when men have need of
others to bear their burdens.’ Then he said: ‘God shall say to one who made
the request: ‘Lift up your head, and look to the Gardens.’ This he does, and he
says: ‘O my Lord! I see high cities of silver, and golden palaces wreathed about
with pearls. For which Prophet shall they be, or which saint or martyr?’ And he said:
‘They belong to whomsoever pays me their price.’ ‘O my Lord,’ he
says, ‘And who possesses such a price?’ ‘You possess it,’ he replies. ‘And what
might it be?’ he asks, and He says: ‘Your forgiveness of your brother.’ ‘O my
Lord!’ he says, ‘I have forgiven him!’ Then God the Exalted says: ‘Take your
brother’s hand and bring him into Heaven.’ Then God’s Messenger recited His
word: ‘Fear God, and make reconciliation among yourselves.’ (Qur’an 8:1)
26 al-Hakim al-Nïsaburi, al-Mustadrak ‘ala al-sahihayn
(Hyderabad, Da’irat al-Ma‘arif al-‘Uthmaniyye, 1915), IV, 576.

(click to enlarge)

“Biography of the Hearts: Remembering or dhikr, me remembering Allah and He remembering me, is the ‘grammar’ of our relationship with Allah, it punctuates our time and space in a way that keeps (all) our experience(s) alive, coherent, orderly, meaningful — until patience emerges out of it, which then contemplates on the memory of God in those experiences of ours, until we find our courage, and with it ultimately reach our peak, and give birth to the fruits of compassion, sacrifice and virtues that are far greater than we could ever be, without dhikr and free-will to do dhikr. Raad allahu an taf’alu mukhtar- Allah has willed we act on the basis of choice/free-will.”

“Remember me and I shall Remember you,” says the Quran. Through remembering God, He remembers us; when we remember everything about Him, He remembers everything about us, and so it is through being reminded of God’s mercy, that we show mercy to others, and He, witnessing that mercy that we show to others, is reminded of His own mercy and thus, shows us more mercy than would normally be due. It’s a dialogue- that is the very idea and goal of prayer- dialogue grows, things change, it is not static- if prayer didn’t grow but caused things to remain still, it would die out. “A goodly word as like a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches towards the sky, giving its fruits at all times by the leave of its Lord. And Allah sets forth parables for mankind in order that they may remember. And the parable of an evil word is that of an evil tree uprooted from the surface of the earth, having no stability.” (Quran 14:24-26)

Similarly, today with secularism and humanism there is a lot of consternation to Islam about this, yet we need to remember Shariah is law, and law is a mediating arbitrator- it seeks maximum benefit for all, so it makes sense in terms of legal issues and rendering justice, that mercy is true justice.  Mercy must temper justice. Justice will always lack in someway, because justice seeks to put everything in its proper place, and we humans can never really do that though we may try- that is beyond our capabilities. Only Allah can render complete justice, but mercy is the honest function of our seeking that which we cannot accomplish through trying to be just- it compensates for justice. But of course, showing mercy to oppressors leads to robbing mercy from those who really deserve it. But justice also reflects a view that thinks that everything that could have been done is done, and that we have to deal with it as if it is closed off from the present. That’s not true- its not a closed experiment, and if we possess both free-will and time, which we do, then we can be present in the moment, show mercy and continue the story, and fix the ‘displacement’ rather than further it or becoming entrenched into our own worries. “And be not like those who forgot Allah so He made them forget themselves” (Quran 59:19) – the essence of humanity is in that free-will, and when we forget Allah, we fore go something of the reality of free-will, the ability to choose good when it is difficult- when it really counts- and eventually become stuck in fixed pattern of sin and our own debasement.

It only makes sense then, that Allah described Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam as a mercy to the worlds, that only through Muhammad’s character was this ummah granted so many blessings, and opportunities for forgiveness and reward (think about forgiveness attached to prayer, hajj, ramadan, nafila, etc.) If, we were of the community of Musa, who had become harsh and stern due to the stubbornness of Bani Israel, would Allah show the ummah of Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi wasalam) the blessings, mercy and favour that He showed us? That the Prophetic chain ends with mercy, not justice or blind un-differentiating love, tells us that our Prophet and our God, set the precedent that rahma means aql (intellect) and adl (justice) which historically is how the Shariah has been handled. And that he (salallahu alayhi wasalam) will intercede, as a cosmic lawyer of sorts, and to some accounts that the righteous will intercede and plead before God for others, suggests that, that day is the culmination of all our striving for virtue- it all reaches its pinnacle then, the fruit and result of it all- where, if we were righteous, will we really show how much compassion we are capable of, directly before God (along the lines of what the image above says).

I will have mercy on my laptop and stop writing here. 🙂

See also:

Shaykh Abdullah Adhami on questions of Shariah, Apostasy, Music and interacting with non-Muslim

Visiting the Messenger of Allah – Shaykh Muhammad al-Yaqoubi (on Muhammad salallahu alayhi wasalam being the gate to God’s mercy)


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