I remember dad walking us up the steps, my brother, my sister, and me. We had moved from Canada and everything was new. Everything is always new for a young boy of five. The office was just left of the main entrance, and there we met the Principal, Mr. Menghini, a big bear of man with thinning hair and soft, sad eyes that twinkled at the same, and a gentle smile given to teasing. He heard my name was “Imy” and with that said, “Imy, meeny, miny, mo!” He won me for life.
At school, there was a boy named Todd. Todd was autistic/developmentally disabled and was older than me. And much bigger too. He seemed to me a looming giant. He never spoke and had a slow, loping gait, a lyrical saunter as if listening to some hidden melody. He would constantly dangle a pencil, twirling, on a rubber band in front of his heavy-framed eyes. He was an inexplicable presence, and I very much feared him. One day, I was maybe seven or eight, I ran to the stairwell. As I turned and looked down, I stopped with a start. Down below, on the landing, filling the narrow space and coming up, was Todd. I swallowed hard, didn’t know what to do, and then continued. A step or two before we passed, I squeaked a nervous “Hi Todd,” and he reacted. He turned on me with a roaring and a rage and stabbed his pencil at my neck. I fell with a shriek in my mind; whether I actually screamed I do not know. In those seconds of alarm I remember next a loud man’s voice yell “TODD!” and then Mr. Novara, a teacher, throwing him off of me. He may have saved my life. The stab at my neck was a glancing blow–I was very lucky–and drew little, if any blood. But to this day I have not a scar, but a mark, a spot on my neck where the tip penetrated and the skin still weeps. The spot is by my left jugular vein and common carotid artery. I was very lucky. I do not remember seeing Todd again.
The memory of Todd came to me today because, I think, of the events of the day, these days. Something about me provoked him, and though I meant him no harm, was incapable of doing him harm, he attacked me. In his mind he thought he was right. And this is how I see him. I have compassion for him. Moreover, decades gone by, he has made my memory of my childhood, of my innocence, more vivid, more affecting, more not a memory but a “living-ness,” a presence, alive and in me. How can I not see him as a gift? And here I am, writing to you…
Today, Muslims are feeling threatened. And non-Muslims are feeling threatened. And, I think, non-Muslims are feeling annoyed by the Muslims feeling threatened. And so forth. It becomes a sad play of act, react, victim, play the victim, cynicism, lashing out, injury, hatred, and bigotry and so forth. Dancing puppets and loss of humanity, inside us and all around. I wish it would end. Events will continue but we don’t have to dance, dance fiddle to the tune. I’m a Muslim. My role, my duty, is to tamp down the fire from my side. From my side for all of us; fire respects no boundary.
There is a sura (chapter) in the Qur’an known as Sura Al-Kafirun, The Disbelievers. The words of the sura are,
In the name of God, the Lord of Mercy, the Giver of Mercy
Say [Prophet], ‘Disbelievers: I do not worship what you worship, you do not worship what I worship, I will never worship what you worship, you will never worship what I worship:* you have your religion and I have mine.”
[*If you keep to your present gods]
The back and forth rhythm and forceful brevity is apparent in English, and more so in Arabic, when recited in Arabic. I don’t know many suras by heart, but this is one of them, and I recite it many times a day, in the course of my five daily prayers. It is a very powerful thing to say, to tell oneself when one is feeling threatened for one’s faith. I am not referring to the spiritual power of the words, though I do believe in such a thing. I am talking about simple human psychology. If you tell yourself something over and over again, it sinks in you. Some weeks ago, while reciting Al-Kafirun, I realized a thing that transformed it and me. I realized that if I was saying “you do not worship what I worship,” “you will never worship what I worship,” and “you have your religion,” without a feeling of sorrow in my heart, without a feeling of compassion, without a feeling of mercy for those who cannot see what I see, I was not saying it right. I was walling off the words, the reinforcing in me, of mercy. It’s what I want all people to see. Even in our time of trial, of persecution, and I do fear worse will come, looming on the landing, rising and inexorable, we must have compassion. We must have mercy. Because they don’t see. Say Sura Al-Kafirun for strength. Say Al-Kafirun with mercy.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “When Allah decreed the creation, he wrote in his Book with him on his Throne: My mercy prevails over my wrath.”
Source: Sahih Bukhari 3022, Sahih Muslim 2751
Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi (authenticity agreed upon) according to Al-Bukhari and Muslim
Sura Al-Kafirun is chapter 109 in the Qur’an. The translation used is that by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem and published by Oxford University Press. It is highly regarded.
The hadith above was retrieved from the following link on 23 December 2015: http://dailyhadith.abuaminaelias.com/2012/03/08/hadith-on-mercy-allahs-mercy-prevails-over-his-wrath/