Let us start our journey of understanding and experiencing the most influential human being to have set on this earth by gaining a deeper appreciation of the word that describes him best, namely mercy. There are various definitions for this word that are available to us. This includes providing compassionate treatment especially to those who are under one’s authority. Mercy extends to alleviating distress, sorrow and suffering of individuals and their families. The term mercy also means to be kind, tolerant and forgiving, which in turn requires a sense of understanding and awareness for the feelings of others.
Mercy in fact manifests a series of attributes which when combined can result in the condition of being merciful. The act of being merciful and compassionate, however, is something that is not unique to just creatures living on this earth. We have been created by a supreme being who is All-Powerful and All-Merciful – ALLAH subhana-wata’ala, God Almighty. His compassion is unimaginable and has no limits. The Arabic words Rahmaan and Raheem are used to signify this fact. Our Creator continuously showers His creatures with His mercy. This takes various shapes and forms: the way we have been fashioned, been given intelligence and a number of senses to think, reflect and to act. The ultimate mercy that God Almighty has provided for us is that He has presented to us the way to gain eternal salvation. By doing so, our Creator has shown us the way to love Him and to love all His other creatures. In fact, the human act of being kind and considerate is a behaviour pattern that brings us closer to the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate.
Since life itself is a blessing, we need to value and employ it in a manner which moves us nearer to other people and to our Creator. This life has an ending, but the life hereafter is eternal. This makes it paramount that we utilise the blessings of life in accordance to the Most-Merciful. God Almighty has extended His mercy to us through scriptures, books and chosen people. All of these have served a uniform aim of bringing humanity out of the depths of darkness (selfishness, self-indulgence, immorality, etc) and into a system whereby everyone has the same position in front of the one and only Creator. Indeed, if we were to differentiate between people then it can be only done on the basis of the level of closeness to God Almighty. This in turn is measured in terms of how much love there is for the divine guidance and how much love there is in caring and accommodating for the needs of other creatures. In short, love of God Almighty can be quantified in the level of mercy expressed to fellow human beings.
To illuminate the world with kindness and compassion, our Creator provided us with role models. These are rightly known as messengers and prophets. Their task was quite simple and that is to seek acceptance of the mercy of God Almighty and to work towards eliminating pain and suffering of their people through social cohesion and mutual love. This task by no means was as straightforward as it may sound. Prophets had to endure significant affliction to get this simple message across to their folks and rulers. The torment sometimes took the form of being thrown in a fire, sometimes it was that stones were used as body strikes – causing injury and bleeding and sometimes it took the form of economic boycott whereby no trade or food was allowed with non-other than the very people who were promoting the call of the All-Merciful. It is difficult to imagine that such difficulties confronted those whose only goal was to shower fellow humans with love and compassion. Although faced with such odds, the prophets did not dither with their goal and indeed made even greater effort to gain acceptance of the All-Compassionate.
Over time, many people were chosen by God-Almighty to be role models of mercy. This includes Noah, Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David, Solomon, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad (May peace and blessings be upon all of them). Some were chosen to enlighten their immediate families and relatives, some their neighbours and those living in the same town, and some their fellow country people or a particular group of people. The goal in each case did not vary, but the scope in which this was delivered was applied according to the needs of the people. The message of mercy would also need to be refreshed from time to time and as such our Creator chose further role models. This same message has been presented to people in the form of scriptures and books. For example, Abraham was given a series of scriptures, David was presented with Zabur (Psalms), Moses with Toraat (Torah) and Jesus with Injeel (Holy Bible). The purpose of these was to make humanity more God loving and adopt a life of co-existence with fellow human beings that represents mutual respect and care.
We are now living in a time where the role model for us is the last Messenger of God, namely Muhammad. His influence during his presence on earth and since has been well documented by both Muslim and non-Muslim commentators. There are over one billion (1000 million) people living today and residing in all parts of the world who accept him as their role model, even though he lived more than 1400 years ago and no one today who follows him has actually seen him in physical form. His goal of the acceptance of the All-Merciful has illuminated, as we will see, thousands of people during his life and billions of others after his departure. His example of mercy has touched countless lives and continues to shine even greater today.
In fact, his role does not go without recognition by those who research and author work in the area of acceptability and influence. This is true for Muslims, as well as for non-Muslim writers. Michael Hart, for example, in his book “The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History” puts Muhammad at the top of his list.