Q: How does the Quran describe compassion or mercy as a divine attribute?
A: According to the Quran mercy or compassion as a divine attribute is one of the most notable and highly emphasized of the divine attributes. It suffices to say that when one opens the Quran the first line before any of the chapters even begin says “In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.” This same phrase is found in the beginning of all Surhas save one. Also this same phrase is repeated by Muslims before any act (work, study or any other activity).
In Arabic the phrase is Bismi Allah Arahman Araheem which is translated to In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. Both words Arahman and Araheem come from the same Arabic root which is rahman which means compassion. Araheem means the kind, merciful and the compassionate. This trait can apply to any human being. Arahman, however, doesn’t really have a word equivalent in English, as it means the absolute source of mercy. Thus, it is erroneous to describe a person as being rahman. We can however say that a person is raheem which means he is kind, merciful and compassionate but not the source of these attributes. In the Quran in (7:156) is says “My mercy extends to all things. That (mercy) I shall ordain for those who do right, and practice regular charity, and those who believe in Our signs.” The Quran also mentions compassion as a divine attribute when it talks about the angels prayers on behalf of the believers in (40:7) when they say “Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in Repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire!
Prophet Muhammad (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) described this divine attribute in moving way. According to Bukhari the Prophet, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, said when he saw a woman in captivity who was looking among the people till she found a little infant whom she took in and started compassionately nursing him. He turned to his companions and asked:
“Would that mother deliberately throw her infant in the fire?”
The companions replied: “No!”
He, SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam, then replied:
“You should know that Allah is more compassionate towards you than that mother is towards her infant.”
This is a divine attribute that has been emphasized in the Quran unlike what some may believe.
Q: As a human quality, what should the nature of mercy be like?
A: As a human trait mercy is basically sensitivity towards others. This sensitivity is not only for their pain and suffering but also sensitivity for a person’s own spiritual well being. It is not just the physical suffering but also the psychological suffering of those who have been misguided from the path of God that we should have sensitivity towards. The Quran indicates that compassion in its broader sense is the very essence of the message of all prophets throughout history. The Quran describes Prophet Muhammad’s (SallAllahu Alayhi Wa Sallam) message in (21:107) “We sent thee not, but as a Mercy for all creatures.” This mercy partly operates by guiding people to the right path and taking them away from false man made doctrines. It is also a mercy because it relieves the suffering of the oppressed and those who are neglected in society. It is a mercy because it stops human tyranny and exploitation of the rich and powerful.