By Muneeb Nasir
Say, “Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem - In The Name of God, the All Merciful, the Mercy-Giving before you do anything,” was the first lesson that our parents taught us.
“If you say ‘Bismillah’ you would not do anything wrong,” they reasoned with us.
These words, ‘In The Name of God, the All Merciful, the Mercy-Giving’ are central to the daily life of Muslims and occurs one hundred and fourteen times in the Qur’an - it consecrates every act for a Muslim and provides an etiquette of righteous beginnings, awakening one’s heart to the remembrance of God.
The 20th century Muslim scholar, Badiuzamman Said Nursi, gives the following parable to describe how these words can set us on the right course in our daily lives.
“Travelers in Arabian deserts must travel under a tribal chief’s name and protection, or else they will be bothered by bandits and unable to acquire what they need for the journey.
Two people, one humble and the other arrogant, set out on a journey.
The humble one obtained the name of a tribal chief; the arrogant one did not.
The humble one traveled everywhere in safety.
Whenever he met a bandit, he said: “I’m traveling in the name of such-and-such tribal chief,” and so he was left alone.
He was treated with respect wherever he went.
In contrast, the arrogant one suffered disaster and constant fear, for he had to struggle and beg for every need.
O arrogant soul! You are the traveler, and this world is the desert.
Your weakness and poverty are endless, and the enemies and privations to which you are exposed are beyond number.
Given this, invoke the name of the Eternal Owner and the Everlasting Ruler in this world, for only this can deliver you from such begging and fear.
Bismillah is a blessed treasure.
It transforms your boundless weakness and poverty, by binding you to the All-Powerful and the Merciful One’s infinite Power and Mercy.
When you say bismillah, you act in His name.”
In this invocation of consecration, God describes Himself with the two names "All-Merciful" (rahmān) and "Mercy-Giving" (rahīm) and is a perfect example of Islam’s fundamental ethos which promotes a doctrine of universal, all-embracing mercy.
One of the biggest misunderstandings about Islam is that it says little about mercy, compassion and love.
The God that Islam speaks of is usually portrayed as only a supreme law-giver who is outside of the world, a God who is only Majesty, never Emmanuel, God-with-us.
This portrayal presents a God that loves human beings by issuing commandments and human beings, in turn, love God by obeying Him. However, it would be more accurate to describe Islam as the religion of mercy.
Pope Francis in his ‘bull’ (official papal document) proclaiming the Jubilee Year of Mercy (2016) recognizes the centrality of mercy in Islam, noting that, ‘Among the privileged names that Islam attributes to the Creator are “Merciful and Kind”. This invocation is often on the lips of faithful Muslims who feel themselves accompanied and sustained by mercy in their daily weakness.’
The Qur’an states that God designs the universe and rules it in His aspect as the All-Merciful: ‘Your Lord has taken it on Himself to be merciful’ (Qur’an, 6:54).
In a Prophetic tradition, Muhammad, peace be upon him, reported that God said, ‘My mercy takes precedence over my wrath.’ (Hadith Qudsi, Sahih Al-Bukhari).
Muslims believe God’s mercy was expressed through messengers who conveyed His revelations to humanity.
The Qur’an proclaims the Qur’an as well as the Book of Moses to be ‘a guide and mercy?’ (Qur’an, 11:17).
Similarly, the Qur'an proclaims Muhammad to be ‘a mercy for the whole world’ (Qur’an, 21:107) and Jesus ‘...so will We make him a sign for humanity and a mercy from Us.’ (Qur’an, 19:21).
Therefore, we live in a world imprinted with God’s Mercy and sustained by God’s Mercy; we are blessed by God’s Mercy when we are merciful to each other all of which is so eloquently extolled by William Shakespeare’s Portia in the Merchant of Venice:
“The quality of mercy is not strained.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blessed:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.”
Every day, as we go out into the world, let us do so with the invocation, ‘Bismillah Hir Rahman Nir Raheem - In The Name of God, the All Merciful, the Mercy-Giving - attentively following these words will change our lives and set us always on the right course.
(Excerpt of a speech delivered by Muneeb Nasir at St. Michael’s College in the University of Toronto on March 3rd, 2016 at the ‘Christian-Muslim Relations in a Year of Mercy Symposium’; additional quotes added from a Friday Khutba).