Mercy, Forgiveness, and Liberation from the prison of hellfire:
Ramadan is the model and the blueprint for Mercy, Forgiveness, and Liberation as Prophet Mohammad described it: The first part is mercy, the middle is forgiveness, and the last is liberation from hellfire.
Fasting the month of Ramadan, like other rituals in Islam must be viewed as a symbol signifying a meaning. The rituals in Islam are not merely there and happened to be. They have a meaning, and because of that meaning they happened. We do not pray for the sake of prayer, and we do not fast for the sake of fasting. The search for meaning is dynamic and must not stop. These rituals have been ordained to us by Allah and have reached their perfection with Prophet Mohammad. They have been formulated to us in order to perfect our lives. They have been made for us and we have not been made for them. It is reported that Prophet Jesus continuously reminded his people that the Sabbath was made for them and they were not made for the Sabbath.
This is the difference between religiousness and religious-mindedness. In the former, we are held by the religion; and in the latter, we hold onto the religion. Quran recorded and universalized this important message in the du’a of Abraham and Ishmael: “And show us our rituals.” [2:128]
Show us our rituals, not your rituals. Allah does not need them, we need them for guidance. They are like the blueprints that guide engineers to build homes, dams, and bridges. The job of fasting the month of Ramadan is to bring the internal fusion between this amalgam of mercy, forgiveness, and liberation as our world view; and the temper, tone and character that these virtues insinuate into our everyday life.
Now, I’d like to ask you this rhetorical question:
Can you imagine a successful and peaceful society without mercy, forgiveness, and liberation from all the traits and characteristics of hellfire and its victims?
Mercy is the sin qui non of Islam. It is the virtue of all virtues. Love between spouses, love between parents and children, and love among members of a community is always coupled with mercy:
“And He has put love and mercy between them.” [30:21]
“And that you be kind and loving to parents…… and lower to them the wing of mercy and say: My Lord! Bestow on them your mercy as they raised and cherished me in childhood.” [17:23,24]
“Compassionate among each other.” [48:29]
Prophet Mohammad said: “The believers in their mutual love, mercy, and compassion are like one body; if one of its parts complains of pain the entire body responds in sleeplessness and fever.”
What is the secret that connects the diverse components of a family: a father, a mother, and their children? What connects the diverse members of a society? In the physical world, we do not see the gravitational forces. But no one can deny their presence or dare not to respect them. Similarly, in social life, and inside the family in particular, there is this electric current, or a nervous system, that connects between a husband and a wife and later branches to connect them with their children. The same nervous system operates in the society at large to connect among its diverse members. Ibn Khaldun, the celebrated philosopher of history, calls this social force aasabiyya, a very interesting term derived from the Arabic word aasab or “nerve” in English. This social force manifests itself at its highest quality as tranquility, love, mercy, forgiveness, and peace.
Peace, the human pursuit and quest, is always coupled with mercy: “Say: Peace be on you. Your Lord has inscribed for Himself mercy.” [6:54]
This concept has been popularized and universalized by incorporating it into our daily greetings: Peace and Mercy be upon you.
How do we perceive and understand Mercy? Practice! Practice! Practice! Action is our only means to realize abstract meanings in this life and be able to assess, measure, and monitor their outcomes. By practicing mercy, forgiveness, peace and other virtues, we understand them, have a glimpse of who is the God that we worship through prayer or fasting, and actualize the Beautiful Names of Allah in our individual and social life.
Forgiveness is transcendence. It is not only to wipe the previous shortcomings, but to cross and take ourselves to the next higher spiritual and moral state.
After we pray and practice charity we are urged to ask for forgiveness: “And establish prayer and give in charity and loan to Allah a beautiful loan. And whatever good you send forth for your souls, you shall find it in Allah’s presence- better and greater in reward and seek Allah’s forgiveness.” [73:20]
After pilgrims go down from Arafa, they are also urged to ask Allah for forgiveness: “Then pass on at quick pace from the place whence it is usual for the multitude to do, ask for Allah’s forgiveness.” [2:199]
But there is no mention of asking for forgiveness in the context of fasting. Why? Because the fasting believers are in the heart of forgiveness in the heart of Ramadan. We need forgiving citizens the same way we need merciful ones. Allah’s forgiveness is materialized best when we forgive others at home, in the workplace, in school, in college, in traffic, and it goes without saying in mosques and other places of worship: “Let them forgive and forget. Do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? [24:22]
Observing the month of Ramadan in prayer, fasting, charity; practicing mercy, peace, forgiveness, and other virtues will undoubtedly elevate us into higher levels and liberate us from hellfire that symbolizes Satan and his entourage. We are told they are chained during the month of Ramadan. If we pass the test of Ramadan successfully, they will have no control on us even after they are released: “As for my worshippers, no authority shall you have over them.” [17:65]
We are then following the footsteps of Prophet Abraham who was thrown into fire and was not burnt by it. On the contrary, it was cool and peaceful for him in his state transcending the burning effect of fire: “We said: O fire! Be cool and peaceful for Abraham.” [21:69]
Ramadan must give meaning to our life. Ramadan must be viewed as the roadmap for a prosperous life. The high values of mercy, peace, tolerance, and forgiveness are the milestones towards the emancipation from the suffering of the hellfire. This is how we all like to conclude our life. Quran clearly tells us that we succeed in the hereafter the moment we are pushed away from the hellfire: “Only the one who is nudged away from the Fire and admitted to paradise will have attained prosperity.” [3:185]
By Dr Walid Khayr