By Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra
As a Muslim, I think of kindness and mercy interchangeably. I struggle to distinguish between the two.
In writing, it’s tempting to recount the kind of stereotypical kindness many of us have experienced when a stranger helps us out of difficulty. A Reverend colleague of mine and I were visiting West Sussex when we lost our way. Well, I guess you’d expect two men of the cloth to trust God more than a GPS device! After trying a few roundabouts, my colleague Andrew eventually pulled over in a lay-by, whereupon a road maintenance worker not only gave us directions, but kneeling down to draw us a map, patiently explained how we might find the University of Chichester. Yet this is not the story I really want to share with you. It is this one.
One evening, some months back, my wife and I were watching a fascinating wildlife documentary on the National Geographic channel. A lion waited patiently for a wildebeest to give birth before pouncing on her newly born calf. The mother tried in vain to rescue her baby. Grieving for her loss, she watched from a distance as the lion prepared to kill his prey. The little calf, dazed and soaked in the afterbirth was totally helpless. Anticipating the impending kill, I was relieved when my wife nipped into the kitchen to fix a cup of tea, thinking she would be spared the scene. The lion toyed with his prey, lightly striking it yet not causing any injury. I then quickly realised that this mighty king of the jungle was going soft. He was having second thoughts. And then to my utter astonishment and great relief, not only did the lion not kill his prey but he actually allowed the little calf to snuggle up to him and find comfort in the warmth of his body. Eventually, the lion let the vulnerable calf go free and my wife and I were delighted to see mother and calf re-united. Even a ferocious hungry predator managed to show kindness to a helpless creature.
Yet what has happened to man – the most intelligent of God’s creation? The act of kindness shown by the lion is what the Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him) referred to when he explained: “God has divided kindness into 100 parts and kept 99 parts for Himself and placed one part on the earth as a result of which all creatures show kindness to one another”. He encouraged people to be kind and merciful to everyone, “God is only merciful to those who show mercy to others”, he declared. In fact, he gave a direct command to all Muslims, “Be merciful to those on earth, so the One in the heavens will be merciful to you”. Adding, “He who is deprived of kindness is deprived of goodness”. When we are kind to others it is in our own interest for we are the first beneficiaries of that kindness.
Being kind is the hallmark of a believer. “The believer is kind and gracious, for there is no goodness in one who is neither kind nor gracious. The best of people are those who are most beneficial to people”, stated Muhammad. Being kind means helping the weak and those in trouble, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, consoling the grieved and forgiving others. Maybe we are not able to do all this, yet we can still be kind.
If we cannot do something good to others as an act of kindness, then the very least we can do is to ensure we do them no harm. We must make sure that we do not hurt the feelings of others by being nasty; nor inconvenience them by our behaviour; we do not deprive them by our selfishness, nor dishonor them by gossiping or by spreading rumours and much more. This is why I believe kindness is not only doing something good to others, but it is also not doing any wrong to others.
Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra serves as a community imam in Leicester and is the Muslim chaplain in Canary Wharf. He is engaged in national and international inter faith work and is a frequent contributor to the media.