The first Hadith any student of the Islamic Tradition will learn is the Hadith of Mercy. In it the Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him gives us the recipe for receiving the Mercy of God by saying, “those who are merciful, the Merciful will have mercy upon them. Have mercy upon those inhabiting the Earth, and the Merciful will have mercy upon you.”
The message delivered by our Beloved peace be upon him has always been described as a message of mercy. Every Muslim knows the verse from Surah Al-Anbiya (21:107) that tells what was the essence and sole purpose of the message entrusted to Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him to deliver, “And We sent you [Prophet] only as a mercy to all people.” We’ve all heard about the numerous examples of the mercy displayed by the Beloved peace upon him to his family, his next of kin, his companions, and to children. His mercy even extended to the animals as it has come down in the tradition that he would rebuke camel owners for burdening their beasts with too much and feeding them too little. There’s even a tradition of a bird crying out for her young who were taken by one of the companions, and the Prophet peace be upon him asked about who has caused the bird to grieve her young, and told the companion who identified himself to return the young to their mother.
Books have been written on the mercy that Islam has brought forth, and countless lectures have been given. But surprisingly, even though the mercy of Islam has even reached animals, many Muslims have taken it upon themselves to stand in the way of this mercy from reaching anyone but themselves. Somehow, animals get this mercy, but the most ennobled creature, the human being, is to be thrown into the abyss of Hell Fire for eternity for not arriving to the right conclusions as they had. It’s really comforting to know that judgement will ultimately be with God and no one else. I really believe that the Day of Judgement will be full of surprises when it comes to who gets saved.
Given that many have heard enough about going to Hell, it’s about time we talk a little bit about mercy. God has asserted His attributes of mercy extensively in the Quran, and our Beloved peace be upon him emphasized it as well in the Hadith. As narrated by Imam Al Bukhari, when God completed creation, i.e. set it forth in its patterns, He decreed that “My mercy has overcome my wrath”. Another authentic narration relates that a man visited the Prophet peace be upon him and saw him kissing his grandson Al Hasan may God be pleased with him. The man said in amazement, “by God O Messenger of God, verily I have 10 sons and I never kissed a single one of them.” He peace be upon him responded, “who doesn’t have mercy will not receive mercy.”
As this strange age we’re living in goes forward, the increased literacy and ability to read various sources of information has led to many Muslims increasingly relying upon themselves to find information through Shaykh Google and Imam YouTube, and decreasingly getting connected with traditional teachers who will help them discern first what’s authentic in the Islamic Tradition from that which is not, and second how to properly understand what’s authentically part of this great Tradition. As a consequence, we now have 2 types of Muslims. First are ones who feel so self-righeous and have not even the slightest comprehension of what the word mercy actually means, and in turn allowing themselves to declare everyone and their dog to an eternity of damnation in Hell. The second type are those who find themselves troubled by what they come across and the rhetoric they hear from the first type. Unfortunately for the troubled ones, the self-righteous type are quoting Quran and Hadith that seems to support what they’re saying, which confirms their doubts about the mercy in Islam.
Let’s be honest with ourselves here and stop the “Kuffar” (disbelievers) rhetoric for a second. There are many Muslims, who find it incredibly troubling just from a human-to-human perspective that someone who sacrificed their entire life to serving God through serving humanity, suffered with the poor and destitute, fed the hungry, helped in healing the sick, will end up going to Hell for eternity because for whatever reason they were Christian or whatever else other than Muslim and didn’t have the right theology. On the other hand, unfair as it may seem, someone who could be the polar opposite of this saintly figure will eventually end up in Heaven just for being Muslim in spite of being one of the most foul human beings. Has all the talk about what Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him being “mercy to all people” been just talk? Thinking this way means a serious misunderstanding has taken place.
God says in the Quran in Surah Al-Anam (6:54) that, “your Lord has decreed it upon Himself to be Merciful”. However, the qualification for this is given in Surah An-Nisa’ (4:48) as He says, “God does not forgive the joining of partners with Him: anything less than that He forgives to whoever He wills, but anyone who joins partners with God has fabricated a tremendous sin.” What’s really interesting about this verse is the one that comes right after it, “do you see those who claim purity for themselves? No! God purifies whoever He will: no one will be wronged by as much as the husk of a date stone.” This is just to keep us all in check and not feel like we “deserve” anything. It’s God’s reminder to those who have that inclination to sentence everyone else into oblivion that at the end of the day, it’s God’s domain.
Interestingly, even polytheism has an exception and can in fact be excused. This can be understood when the Quran is taken in its entirety and the verses are kept in context. In Surah Al Baqarah (2:22) God says, “Do not, knowingly, set up rivals to God.” It’s this element of being made aware of what one is doing wrong that’s all too important to establish a proof against them. An example of many comes in Surah Al Isra’ (17:15), where God says, “Whoever accepts guidance does so for his own good; whoever strays does so at his own peril. No soul will bear another’s burden, nor do We punish until We have sent a messenger.” There’s much more to be brought forth that shows the caveats put in place for this issue of who is going to Hell. This is why it’s impermissible in Islam to declare anyone in specific to perish in the Hereafter. In fact, it’s impermissible to declare anyone to be going to Heaven either, as one (53:32) of the many verses on this issue states, “He has been fully aware of you from the time He produced you from the earth and from your hiding places in your mothers’ wombs, so do not assert your own goodness: He knows best who is mindful of Him.”
The fate of non-Muslims and whether they’ll definitely end up doomed for eternity troubles many Muslims because of the many wonderful non-Muslims they interact with, who might be wonderful human beings. In some cases they might feel that the non-Muslims they know are better human beings than themselves, and so it’s troubling to think of them tortured for eternity. The question to ask here is how did they “know” that they’re definitely going to Hell? From where did they get Revelation declaring them specifically to be doomed for eternity?
God has manifested many of His 99 attributes within us. For example, when you see oppression and want justice for the oppressed, that’s a manifestation of His name the Just. When you seek wisdom and recognize it, it’s a manifestation of His name the All Wise. When it comes to mercy, we’re taught that God has divided mercy into 100 parts, one of them was given to this world by which ALL creation shows mercy to each other in various ways (like when a mother has mercy for her child), and 99 parts were reserved for the Day of Judgement. That mercy you feel for people is in fact an insignificant inkling in comparison to God’s mercy. There’s a Hadith where a mother had lost her child during a battle, and she was looking for him fearing the worst. When she found him, she held him close and it was one of the most powerful scenes of love and mercy the companions have seen that they started to weep. Our Beloved peace be upon him said, “do you wonder at the mercy this mother had for her child? God is far more merciful to His servants than this mother is to her child!”
This is not to say that Hell becomes irrelevant and just a scare tactic used by God and in reality He won’t go through with it. Hell is real, and there will be some who will enter it for a period of time to be purified, whereas others will enter it and never leave. The point of all of this is to recognize that this matter is up to God, and anyone who forgets their place and starts making grandiose assertions about who’s going where, as if they’re standing at the gates of Heaven checking some list, they should remember what happened to the two brethren from the Children of Israel. One of them was a worshipping religious type, and the other was a profligate sinning type. After years of trying with his less virtuous brother, the religious one lost his patience and declared him to be doomed to Hell. At that point both of their souls were taken and God said, “who’s this one rivalling me in my role [as Judge]? Let the religious one go to Hell and the sinner go to Heaven!” (for those who are hyper-vigilant about the authenticity of this story, you’re missing the whole point of its sound meaning)
Imam Al Ghazali said that non-Muslims can be divided into 3 categories. The first are ones who have never heard of Islam, or Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him, or anything about the Final Message. Their judgement is based on the verse, “And We were not going to punish unless We sent a messenger”. The second are ones who have received the Final Message, in its entirety, presented as it should, have seen it in its proper manifestation, and still rejected it. Those are considered “active” disbelievers and based on what the Quran says, if they die in that state they’ll end up in Hell (this is when those verses about seeking other than Islam as a religion and the like would apply). The third category includes non-Muslims who have heard of Prophet Muhammad peace be upon him and of Islam, but what they heard was a complete distortion of everything to do with Islam. They were told there was a liar who called to a false religion in the Arabian desert, where they worship a moon God, pray to a black box, oppress women, kill non-believers for their wealth and enslave non-believing women for sexual gratification and their children for free labor. In other words, they got their information about Islam through something like Fox News, and it was disgusting enough for them to not want anything to do with it. Imam Al Ghazali said about this third category that they’re the same as those who have never heard anything about Islam, because in reality, given what lies they’ve been exposed to about it, they really haven’t.
To be raised up in an a particular environment, and indoctrinated into a tradition that one grows up all their life in is a powerful thing. What a lot of Muslims don’t seem to understand is that just like they believe Islam is the Truth, others such as Christians feel the very same thing about Christianity. If the finite, and insignificant in relation to God, capacity for mercy drives some Muslims to seek excuses for why someone might be a non-Muslim while recognizing their humanity, what does that say about God? Even when Heaven is described in the Quran, we’re told there are many of them and only one is vast as the whole universe. For some reason, some Muslims think of it as it’s some exclusive club for them and their family and close friends. It’s no wonder that Muslims who think like that are usually the ones who are also quick to excommunicate some of their own Muslims brethren and send them to Hell as well. Only those who don’t know what Hell is like can speak with such carelessness about humanity. Better yet, they don’t even know much about God let alone Hell.
God said in a Hadith Qudsi tradition something that gives hope about His Divine attribute of Mercy. The Arabic name for the attribute “All Merciful” (Ar’Rahman) had the Arabic word for womb (r’h’m) derived from it. In order for a womb to take up life and accommodate a growing baby, it must expand. This whole creation came from God’s mercy. It’s time Muslims recognize that and stop trying to constrict it and result in some form of “humanity abortion”.