My Mercy overcomes My Anger
Mon 26 May 2008
Source: Usama Hasan / The Times Online (Credo)
"With the Name of God, All-Merciful, Most Merciful" - all but one of the 114 chapters of the Koran begin with this phrase. Millions of people around the world begin their daily activities - prayers, meals, journeys and meetings - with this statement. All divine revelation to humanity throughout history is summarised in this formula. Mercy is the essential divine quality, superior even to love. We are not only made in God's image, but in the image of the All-Merciful.
Both these names of God denoting mercy, al-Rahman and al-Rahim, are derived from the Arabic root rahm, which means "the womb". The Divine Mercy is thus feminine, all-encompassing, nurturing and nourishing. The world is a place where the names of God, numbering 99 in the Koran and infinity in reality, are manifested or reflected in created forms. Rain, bringing life, crops and food, is an obvious manifestation of mercy: "It is He who sends the winds, spreading the good news, heralding His Mercy," as is repeatedly said in the Koran. Or, as Portia expressed it in The Merchant of Venice: "The quality of mercy is not strain'd; / It droppeth as the gentle rain from Heaven / Upon the place beneath: it is twice bless'd; / It blesseth him that gives and him that takes."
But anger and wrath are also divine qualities: "for I am an angry God," we are told in the Old Testament, and "truly, your Lord is swift in reckoning . . . severe in punishment," in the Koran. Anger is related to justice, and this is manifested at the human level in the natural anger that we all feel at injustice and oppression, at news stories about war, terrorism, murder, rape and incest. Yet, there is a golden principle relating anger and mercy, woven into the very fabric of creation, as taught by the Prophet, peace be upon him: When God created the creation, He wrote beneath His throne: "My mercy overcomes my anger."
Natural disasters, such as hurricanes and earthquakes, despite being mediated via physical, scientifically measurable processes, are unmistakably manifestations of God's anger in the violence of nature. Yet there is always the hidden mercy behind human suffering, the silver lining to every cloud. I visited the earthquake-hit regions of Pakistan two years ago and saw the immense outpouring of human compassion from around the world in the shape of relief supplies and workers, and the limitless supply of human courage in the survivors. This effect had been even grander, of course, with the Indian Ocean tsunami a year earlier. More recently, I met a young lady in London who was once brutally assaulted, raped and left to die, and three young men who were imprisoned abroad for years and tortured, in three different countries. The mercy of God gave them the strength and endurance to recover fully from their ordeals.
"Angry young men" - how often do we hear that phrase! (Of course, women and old men get angry, too.) If they're angry about injustice, it's justified. But wouldn't the world be a much better place if, inspired by God, our mercy overcame our anger and we had more "merciful young men"? Or, to quote Portia again: "And earthly power doth then show likest God's / When mercy seasons justice."
The Prophet taught: "Show mercy to others: God will show mercy to you." He also once pointed to a loving mother who was hugging her child upon finding him again after having lost him for a while, and asked his companions, "Do you think that this mother would ever throw her child into fire?" They replied: "Of course not." He remarked: "God is even more merciful to humanity than this mother is to her child." He also taught that God divided His mercy into a hundred portions, and sent one portion down to Earth. This portion is divided among every loving family and tender relationship, every couple and every mother and child, throughout the animal and human kingdoms. The remaining 99 portions are reserved for God to shower upon humanity in the hereafter.
Thus, if all the tenderness and compassion in the world is but 1 per cent, so to speak, of the limitless mercy beyond, we can indeed face life and death with plenty of hope.
Dr Usama Hasan is an imam at Tawhid Mosque, Leyton, East London, and a senior lecturer at Middlesex University. He is also director of the City Circle