Peace Through Dialog 2007 - Dr. Levent Koç : Love, Mercy And Respect

Published: 27.12.2007
Updated: 09.01.2009

Jaina Convention
Federation of Jain Associations In North America

Love, Mercy And Respect

Dr. Levent Koç

Dr. Levent KOÇ is the Executive Director of the Interfaith Dialog Center (IDC), Carlstadt, New Jersey. IDC is a non-profit proactive interfaith organization established by Turkish Muslims to foster dialogue and understanding between faiths, and cultures.

Bismillah - irrahman-irrahim - (In the name of God the most Compassionate, the most Merciful). Muslims start every positive action by uttering this short verse from the Qur'an. This verse mentions two of God's names, which are derived from the word mercy. They are Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, which respectively mean "The Most Compassionate" and "The Most Merciful." All chapters except one in the Qur'an begin with this verse. It is also mentioned in the middle of one chapter. Consequently, it is repeated 1 14 times in the Qur'an. This phrase is a continuous reminder for the servants of God to contemplate on His endless mercy and great bounties. An entire chapter in the Qur'an is named after God's divine name 'Al-Rahman' or 'The Most Compassionate.' This chapter calls the reader to remember God's extensive and all-encompassing bounties and blessings upon humanity. Love, compassion, mercy, and similar names and attributes of God are mentioned frequently in the Qur'an and in the sayings (Hadith) of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and all the other Prophets). Frequent references to these qualities remind Muslims how to behave and interact with people of other faiths throughout their lives.

In fact, God wants us all to know and love each other, and to behave towards each other with virtue and honesty. The following verse asserts this meaning very well. "O Mankind: We created you from a male and a female; and made you into tribes and nations that you may get to know each other. And verily, most honored before God is the most virtuous/ righteous of you." Qur'an (49:13). The following Prophetic tradition carries a similar meaning: "An Arab is not more privileged than a non-Arab, nor a white than a black. Spiritual excellence and true piety is the only distinction amongst humans recognized by God."

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is telling a story to teach us to what extent we should be merciful: "A certain person had committed 99 murders. He went to a scholar and asked, is there any chance for me to be forgiven? He said no, you have committed too many crimes. The man killed that scholar too, but his heart was restless, so he went to another scholar and asked the same question. This scholar said yes, but he added, you must leave this town of bad people and go live in the next town in the company of good people. The man set out to another town. On the way he died. A man passing by saw two angels arguing over his dead body. The Angel from Hell said, 'His body belongs to me because he had not done any good in his entire life.' The Angel from Heaven said, 'His body belongs to me because he had repented and left his town to be with good people.' The man who was the passer-by said, 'Let's measure the distance of his body from the town he was coming and the town he was going to.' This was done. He was found to be nearer to the town he was going to. In another version, the earth was ordered by God to shrink and make the distance smaller, so that he was admitted to Heaven." Reward for kindness and compassion was also assured by the Prophet Muhammad: "The merciful are shown mercy by the All-Merciful. Show mercy to those on earth, and He Who is in heaven will show mercy unto you". Showing mercy to those on earth is an essential principle for all humanity. This Prophetic tradition does not distinguish between Muslims and people of other faiths as well as human beings and the rest of the creation, including animals and plants.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) practiced these qualities in his life. When he entered the city of Makkah in a complete peaceful manner, the Prophet (pbuh) had in front of him some of his staunchest enemies; those who fought him for many years, persecuted his companions, and killed many of them. Now he had full power to pay back and punish them for their crimes and for what they did to him and to the Muslims. Instead the Prophet (pbuh) asked them, "How do you expect me to treat you?" They replied, "You are a noble brother and the son of a noble brother! We expect nothing but goodness from you." Then the Prophet announced, "I speak to you in the same words as the Prophet Joseph spoke unto his brothers: "No reproach on you this day, God will forgive you, He is the Most Merciful of the Merciful" (Qur'an, 12:92). Go, for verily you are free." He forgave even Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind who had caused the murder of his uncle Hamzah -may God be pleased with him. After killing him she had his body mutilated and chewed his liver. The Prophet even forgave her. On this day, when tolerance and forgiveness were least expected, the Prophet set an example of mercy and forgiveness by releasing all the captives without ransom, and forgiving them for the persecution and brutal torture of the Muslims, which was continuous during the first 13 years of conveying the message of Islam. This kind of behavior is parallel to the following verse as well: "those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men; and God loves the doers of good (to others)" (Qur'an, 3:134). It is important to build bridges of dialogue under any condition, and the two crucial qualities of people of dialogue are restraining anger and forgiveness.

A group of Christians visited Prophet Muhammad in Medina. Long talks continued between Muslims and Christians for 3 days. They wanted to go back to their town for Sunday service. The Prophet told them they did not need to go back, that they might pray in the mosque. Muslims left the Mosque to Christians and re-entered after the Christians performed their prayers. They signed an agreement with the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). According to this agreement, ministers will continue to perform their ministry; freedom of religion will be granted to Christians; their churches shall not be demolished or not be taken over; ministers, priests, monks, and other clergymen shall not pay tax; no one will be forced to accept Islam; if a Muslim gets married to a Christian, he will not force her to accept Islam, he will help her worship according to her religion; if Christians need help to fix their churches, monasteries, Muslims shall help them as a sign of obedience to the Prophet and as charity/blessing of God. There are many such agreements and all of them secure lives, chastity, property, religion, and churches of Christians.

Successors of the Prophet showed the same respect to people of other faiths.

For example, when Caliph Omar conquered Jerusalem, he was offered to pray in a church. He rejected and said: "If I pray here, next generations may convert this church into a mosque." This instance teaches us all a universal principle: If we do not respect others, we have no right to expect others to show respect to our religion and/or culture.

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his successors rose such a merciful and loving generation that some remarkable people from the generation that followed the companions went to the Caliph of the time to inquire what their punishment would be if they accidentally stepped on a grasshopper. When we look at the outer walls of the mosques and minarets, we see tiny holes made for birds to nest in; this is an expression of the depth of love embedded in the hearts of the earlier Muslims. History is intertwined with such tremendously humane acts; acts that protected even animals and plants.

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