How Merciful is Allah

Allah and the Year of Mercy

Mercy becomes the last resort when nothing can be made good from a human point of view.

Then the porter said to Peter: Aren't you also one of this man's disciples? He replied: No.

John 18:17

Palmyra, one of the wonders of the ancient world in the Syrian desert, has achieved notoriety. In August last year, the so-called Islamic State blew up its ancient temples. They had withstood the desert storms for two millennia before they turned into black mushrooms of smoke within a few seconds. One of these temples was dedicated to Baalschamin - the Lord of Heaven. In an inscription this god is called “merciful”. The Koran uses the same word to designate God at the very beginning: "Bismi (A) llah al-rachman al-rachim", "in the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Merciful."

This formula is ubiquitous in the everyday life of devout Muslims. In the eyes of Islam, God is first and foremost: merciful. This idea is fed by several traditions of pre-Islamic Arab religions and can be found in both ancient southern Arabia and northern Palmyra. The Lord of Heaven of Palmyra is one of the direct ancestors of the god of Islam. Whoever destroys his monuments robs Islam and Arab culture of their historical roots.

The mercy of God also plays a central role in the Bible. It is a specifically feminine trait of God, because the Hebrew word for mercy, rächäm, in its concrete meaning denotes the womb. It is also mothers who experience the feeling that emanates from there particularly strongly when their children are threatened.

When two mothers argue over a baby and the wise King Solomon suggests that they cut it in half so that each has a half, the real mother's “motherhood” becomes “hot” - Hebrew expresses emotions in physical images - and the woman wants to cede her baby to the liar in order to save his life.

But even men can have such deep feelings: Joseph's “motherhood” makes itself felt hotly when, after many years as a stranger and far from the family, he sees his youngest brother in Egypt. And even God has such deeply human feelings, especially when the lives of His people are threatened. “For a little moment I have left you, but with great motherliness I will gather you,” says God with the prophet Isaiah.

Jesus has to show some mercy for his hot-headed friend Peter. Peter claims three times that he has nothing to do with Jesus as he approaches his death. After the resurrection, Jesus will ask him three times if he really loves him; so he brings him back near him. Mercy becomes the last resort when nothing can be made good from a human point of view, when the chances of justice are wasted. Pope Francis has proclaimed a “Year of Mercy”. Mercy is perhaps one of those words that are critically endangered and yet vital to survival.

Bimail stands for Bible Mail, a weekly circular from the team around Father Georg Sporschill, addressed to executives. In it, teachings from the Bible are applied to life today.

("Die Presse", print edition, February 20, 2016)