4/7/2016 9:00:00 AM PERSPECTIVE Allah bestowed mercy in my life anyway
'I NEED MERCY' SERIES: This occasional series in The Evangelist for the Year of Mercy highlights personal experiences of mercy by people from across the Diocese. Read previous installments in the series at www.evangelist.org.
BY DR. FAREED Z. MUNIR
(Editor's note: Dr. Munir is a professor of religious studies and Islamic studies at Siena College in Loudonville.)
The mercy of Allah (God) "extend[s] to all," says Abdullah Yusef Ali in "The Meaning of the Holy Qur'an," and it encompasses this world and the next.
Human beings yearn for the mercy of God, even when they are unaware of the need for it in their lives. When I reflect back on my life as a younger man between the ages of 16 and 21, I didn't know that my life was tied to God's mercy. I was not aware that I needed mercy, nor how to ask for it.
Consequently, it was not until later that I became aware that God provided me His mercy anyway, despite the fact that I was resistant. I've been appreciative through the way I live my life as a Muslim (believer) since that time. Hence, I write here that God graciously bestowed mercy in my life "anyway," and because of its sustenance, I am a fortunate person.
The Qur'an, the Muslim holy book, reminds Muslims that God "has prescribed for [even] Himself [the rule of] rahma [mercy]." Part of the rule of mercy is for God's will to pardon our wrongs.
An awareness of God's pattern, then, should humble us, because it is the "clearest expression of merciful love...an imperative [in our lives] from which we cannot excuse ourselves." Pope Francis wrote that in announcing the Catholic Church's holy Year of Mercy.
In other words, God's inexhaustible mercy provides us the capability to forgive even ourselves.
This brings me to my earliest community model, who has contributed to my identity as a Muslim for more than 40 years: Malcolm X (or al-Hajj Malik Shabazz). In fact, I learned of Shabazz's journey before that of Muhammad Ibn Abdullah's (570-632 CE), the prophet of Islam. I make this point because, according to the Qur'an, the prophet represents "a beautiful pattern [of conduct]," and he also is "a mercy to the worlds." Consequently, strong role models aid Muslims.
It was "The Autobiography of Malcolm X" that aided me to realize that God's mercy had already been extended to me in my al-Jahiliyya (period of darkness) in the early 1970s. Malcolm X was a model for me in my journey to the example of Prophet Muhammad and a more fulfilling Islamic life.
As I saw it, my life mirrored Shabazz's. Moreover, I could identify with aspects of his Islamic model for young African-American men like me. He was able to grow beyond the social and cultural conditions that taught him ignorance and self-hatred.
Shabazz was raised during the civil rights era; racism was the order of his day. He was denied opportunity from his earliest years. With less than a ninth-grade education, a life of emptiness was practically inevitable for people like Shabazz. It was my contention that I had inherited his world, although there existed a 28-year difference between our lives and circumstances.
I began reading diverse literature. I developed a love for helping people. Before I knew it, I had visited the same religious community in 1970 that Shabazz had joined in 1952, the Nation of Islam (NOI).
The Nation of Islam was a majority African-American community that began in 1930. It spread mainly in urban areas. It was approximately six years after Shabazz's death at the hands of an assassin's bullet in 1965 when I started my journey to a more comprehensive view of Islam.
Prior to his death, Shabazz renamed himself al-Hajj Malik Shabazz - a sign for me that he, too, had been visited by God's mercy; that God could provide anyone His mercy, even Shabazz, who had rejected it before he came into the religion of Islam.
I internalized the NOI's indigenous Islamic views, a mixture of the Islamic religion and African-American indigenous religion and culture. Subsequently, I, too, became an Imam (leader). I would hold a similar position to that of Shabazz: the Representative of the national Council of Imams, from 1984-86.
Beginning in 1975, the group changed its name several times and matured beyond a greater expression of its indigenous roots. It transitioned to become a Sunni Islamic community, practicing the Qur'an and the traditions of the prophet.
The most merciful God had guided me once again through the NOI. In fact, those words, "the Most Merciful," are at the beginning of each chapter of the Qur'an (except chapter nine, although they are in that chapter). In total, "the Most Merciful" is stated 114 times in the Qur'an.
Those words entered my heart and were the basis for my inspiration. I was able to consciously introduce myself to Him, although He had always known and protected me. Now that I had an obvious relationship with God, I could see clearly His mercy working in the life of my wife, family and community.