The Merciful Heart

Have you heard of St. Isaac of Nineveh? He was born in Bet Qatraye, near present-day Bahrain, and was one of the early (Seventh Century) Saints of the Christian church. Just after the rise of Islam, George, the Patriarch of the East Syrian Nestorians (there were also West Syrian Monophysites and Chalcedonians), made him Bishop of Nineveh, but he resigned after only five months. The reasons for his resignation are hinted at in letters of the time. His view was much too extreme.

He loved mercy.

In his letters he constantly reminds us of the love one should have for mercy, which he believes is the foundation of adoration and humility. Here are his words:

And what is a merciful heart? It is the heart’s burning for all of creation, for men, for birds, for animals, even for demons.  

Even for demons.  Such mercy is unfathomable to most human beings. Isaac himself lived as an anchorite after his resignation as Bishop and eventually went to the monastery of Rabban Shabur in Iran, near the Persian Gulf. There he studied scripture so much he became blind and had to dictate his writings, many of which were on the stages of approaching communion with God. Such concepts are familiar to every darvish.

The Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) himself is said to have had a special fondness for East Syrian Christians, since it was apparently a Nestorian priest (Cyrus of Edessa) who had prophesized his mission.

Alhamdulillah, that such men existed.

I began this post with a question. I will ask another. Have you heard of anyone living today who is such a man or woman of mercy?

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8 Responses to The Merciful Heart

  1. saly says:

    Salaam Irving,

    I know you are the best person to whom I can request this – could you please post something like “an introduction to Sufism for dummies”? I’m a dummy on Sufism and would really like to know what it is all about from a living Sufi. It would be really helpful if you post on that.

    Thank you

  2. saly says:

    You know Irving, I recently wrote an essay outlining the predicament and misery of Satan. No, I don’t anyone today who can be called a person of mercy (although we do throw crumbs of mercy on people every now and then) but I strongly believe that Allah, the most merciful will not punish Satan like we suppose. I think I should post it soon and will refer to this post of yours.

    BTW, yesterday I read on a blog that a ‘great Muslim’ man killed a mouse to later realise that she had babies under a log. The man then proceeded to squash the baby mice because ‘he couldn’t just leave them to starve there without a mother.’ Did his heart really burn for all of God’s creation? Is that being merciful, Irving? What would a Darvish say? I’m asking because I had dreams about it all night and now I read your marvelous post on mercy.

  3. I have friends who saw a dead possum on the road and realized she had babies in her pouch. (Baby possums are born very undeveloped, and the mother carries them in a pouch for several months, similar to a kangaroo.) They rescued the babies and hand-fed them with a dropper until they were weaned, then gave them away as pets (I think they ended up keeping two themselves). Was that not more merciful than squashing them?

  4. Salaam Alaikum Dear Saly and Tiel Aisha Ansari:
    I will answer you Saly, in my next post, and Aisha, I had a nearly similiar experience with a possum that was hit by a car, and did the same thing. It was Easter Sunday many years ago, and it took hours to find someone from an animal shelter to come and rescue the baby that survived, clinging to her mother's body and squeeking her cry of pain and loss and need. Alhamdulillah, the baby was finally given to a women who raised orphaned animals and was eventually, when it was old enough, set free in the woods, or so I heard.

    Ya Haqq!

  5. Maliha says:

    Salaamat,
    hmmm… i did something similar with a wild bird once, that was hurt…taking it to a wild animal vet (who is a retired vet but dedicated his life to helping wild animals). I don’t think I did it out of Mercy, although I remember how awed I was by the old man (and his assistant wife) whose home was filled with wild animals of all varieties… in the process of being healed.

    i thought they were merciful.

    I have seen examples in my life of regular every day people, whose names/faces you may never recall, but who carry around such beautiful hearts…it makes you wonder and question: “what am i doing with *my* life…”

  6. saly says:

    So there is ray of hope if there are people like you Irving, and like Aisha’s friends. If only we all had hearts burning with mercy! But then there would be no variety – a colourful worldly mix of merciful and merciless, eh? Easter Sunday saved a possum’s life; perhaps the baby mice were killed on a Friday. I hope not. That would be fatally ironic.

    Thank you for an enlightening post, Irving. Like always you have made me think and pass on the thoughts to my growing children who are, at the moment, learning about the world through my heart and seeing it through my eyes. You are instructing two generations. Thank you!

  7. [...] As a Darvish’s writing would, his writings are full of thought provoking ideas, and insightful information. I particularly like ‘The Song of Love’, (that I plan to teach my students in September, Inshallah) which appears in his Sufi novel, ‘Master of the Jinn’, and more recently the post on ‘The Merciful Heart’. [...]

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