As Muslims around the world celebrate Eid Al Fitr and the end of the 2020 Ramadan season, I share with you an essay I wrote about a month ago. It was submitted to the Council on American-Islamic Relations branch in Pittsburgh.
It was selected as the winning entry for that week’s adult competition.
As a non-Muslim who admires the strength of faith displayed daily by my Muslim friends, I’m grateful for this essay competition; it provides me a means of better understanding Islam. If I become a better ally to my friends by living the words I write, then I’ll be thankful.
That feeling of contentment is one example of mercy. Mercy is evident in the gifts we possess; they give us the chance to live the fullest life possible. Our mind allows us to take in knowledge. Our eyes allow us to see the beauty in people and in nature. Our ears allow us to hear inspiring works of music, to be moved by a great speaker, and to learn even more about what’s happening in our world. These God-given gifts make us whole and make us human, but they also make demands of us.
Mercy also is the gift that allows us, perhaps it’s better to say requires us, to not only forgive a person for his or her sins but to also offer that person grace and strength to carry on. In effect, we’re saying, “We want you to be stronger than you were so that you might be able to fight off that sin the next time it calls to you.”
No person, no matter his or her faith, is perfect. We grapple with temptations; they may be related to sex, money, drugs, fame or power. The urge to turn to these and see them as saving or empowering is easy; the necessity to turn away from them is more difficult. It’s the same with hate and love: Hate is easy: You’re different from me; therefore, I don’t trust or like you. Love is hard; I see in you someone who might make my life even better, and I hope you’ll share my journey with me. Hate rejects; love accepts. Mercy rejects hate and accepts love.
As a non-Muslim, I don’t believe it’s appropriate for me to pick examples of mercy from the Holy Quran and include them in this essay. The contextual roots of why Allah spoke about mercy in a particular situation aren’t known to me; I’d be guilty of inserting a reference merely to appear to know that holy book. The gift of mercy here is evident: I ask you to accept my lack of knowledge and to not hold it against me.
However, I can state with confidence that honest, humble Muslims demonstrate mercy each day.
As but one example, a dear friend of ours, whenever she hears that a member of my family is ill, will prepare hot soup or other meal and bring it to our home. She asks for nothing in return; in fact, she’s quick to remind us that if she makes our burden a little lighter, then she, too, has received a gift.
It’s a cliché to say “now more than ever,” but those words certainly have been said in recent weeks as the world’s 7-billion people grapple with coronavirus. Now more than ever, world leaders who allow mercy to influence what they do will be admired. Consider how many people positively responded to New Zealand’s prime minister when she told the children of her country that the Easter Bunny was an essential worker and who would do all it took to bring toys to them during that holiday time. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern demonstrated a fundamental element of mercy: Use your talents to improve someone’s condition. Self-absorbed world leaders would never be able to say what Ms. Ardern said or demonstrate her grace and humility.
And yet the mercy given to us requires we pray that God sustains that humility in Prime Minister Ardern and finds a way to instill it in other leaders who remain resolute in their arrogance.
All of us, whether we’re the head of a family, a corporation, a mosque or a nation, are guided by the values we choose to accept. We’d be wise to remember Islam, and the world’s other great religions, provides as examples of positive role models people and stories that, if emulated, could ensure mercy reigns all over the world. My faith tells me that we have free will to accept or reject gifts from God. Right now, as a pandemic gnaws away at our confidence, we’re wise to fully embrace and share the gift of mercy.