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Learning to Be Merciful and Loving When You Don’t Want To

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15-November-2017

All of being is an act of mercy from God. Mercy is internalized through outward practice, and by doing so we become in the image of God.

All of being is an act of mercy from God. Mercy is internalized through outward practice, and by doing so we become in the image of God.

By Rayhan al-Safawi

There is a common misconception that raḥmah (usually translated as mercy) is simply in reference to God’s forgiveness of humans. We beseech mercy because of our sins and through God’s forgiveness fall again into His good graces. He either forgives us or overlooks our sins; that’s what we think raḥmah is about. But the Islamic conception of raḥmah is far more than just mercy. The word comes from the root word raḥim, which refers to the womb of a mother.

Mercy is only one derivative of it, yet a more general meaning is compassionate love and unwarranted grace. Raḥmah is both special and unwarranted compassionate love and grace. A special form of it is given to those who tread the special path to God (sayr wa sulūk) but also to all of creation. Raḥmah is the reason why anything exists at all; everything proceeds from raḥmah. The water we drink, the gravity we walk on, the air we breadth, the food in our fridge, or the blood running through our veins, our children, friends or even death and pain comes from Allah’s raḥmah.

As Imam Ali (as) said in Duʿā Kumayl:

اللهم إني أسألك برحمتك التي وسعت كل شيء

Oh My Sustainer, I ask Thee by Your raḥmah which encompasses all of creation

The name Raḥmān (the bestower of unmerited grace and compassionate love) is God’s most prominent name in the Qur’an. A person approaches God only by becoming in His image. We become in His image by adopting His qualities, the highest of which is raḥmah. When we are loving, graceful and compassionate to those around us we do the will of God. By enacting this attribute of God, our hearts become eligible to be transformed by the all-encompassing Light of the divine. This is obviously more difficult than said. There are plenty of people whom we do not feel like loving or who in our perception are not deserving of it.

Although on some grounds some of these thoughts can be justified, we should still act as if we are compassionate and loving. This is not hypocrisy, it is the Aristotelian virtue of habitus whereby an outward virtue (even if it is not in sync with our interior mindset and feelings) eventually gets internalized through regular outward repetition. This is the secret of practical compassion: if we regularly behave as if we love someone, we will eventually end up loving them. Since compassion, mercy and love come together, the more mercy and compassion we show to people the more we will come to love them and eventually we will become what God originally wanted us to be: creatures who were created in His Image.

Rayhan al-Safawi is a blogger at the World Shia Forum. He lives with his family in the West Coast, United States.

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