In the hadith literature there is a category called musalsal (continuous). A musalsal hadith is such that all its narrations over the centuries shared a common attribute. Some of these ahadith include gestures. For example Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported a hadith about the hand-shake of the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam,, Allah's blessings and peace on him. "Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam's hand was softer than silk," he reported. But the report was accompanied by an actual hand-shake, just like the original. There are people living today who have received this hadith, along with the hand-shake, through an unbroken chain that goes back to the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. This is hadith musalsal bil masafaha (continuous with hand shake).
It is a fascinating subject. There is no other human being whose words and even gestures have been transmitted through the centuries with such love, devotion, and care. There are so many musalsalat that Shah Waliullah has compiled them in a book. Leading the group of musalsalat is the hadith known as musalsal bil Awwaliat, (continuously first). It is because for centuries, whenever a teacher of ahadith started a new class anywhere in the Muslim world, he always began with this hadith. The practice continues to date in many Islamic universities. It is always the first hadith in a new hadith class.
We know that unlike the Qur'an, the order in which ahadith are presented or read, is dependent only on the choice of the compiler, teacher, or reader. There is no command that they must be studied in a particular order. So the first hadith, became first not because of an explicit injunction, but purely by the choice of those involved in the study. Here is that hadith: "Abdullah bin Umro bin Aas, may Allah be pleased with him, reports that the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said: Those who have mercy will receive the mercy of the Most Merciful. Have mercy on those who are on earth, the One in heavens will have mercy on you." (Tirmidhi ).
This is the message from the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, who was declared by Allah to be "Mercy to the entire world." It is just appropriate that his ummah chose that hadith to be the first for its study. There is no other call for mercy that is more universal or more inspiring. Have mercy on all the people. And do it because you yourself need the mercy of Allah. Be merciful to the other creations so the Creator will have mercy on you. Your mercy should see no bounds. It should reach all human beings. Another hadith in Bukhari and Muslim states: "Those who have no mercy on other human beings, will not receive the mercy of Allah." It is important to note that in this second hadith the word used is nas, that is people, not just believers.
And not just human beings. But also animals. For "those on earth" include all living things. Once the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, told the story of a person who had fed water to a thirsty dog by climbing down a well and bringing water in his shoe, and attained salvation for that act. When asked if there is any reward for nice treatment to the animals, he answered that there is reward in being kind to all vertebrates, a classification that practically only leaves out insects.
Sometimes people say that Islam taught kindness to animals 1400 years ago while the modern civilization has learnt the lesson only now. Only the first part of this statement is true, since the modern civilization has not yet learnt the lesson. Its penchant for show biz has resulted in many displays of kindness to animals but they only camouflage the unprecedented cruelty to them. Consider the practice of vivisection, in which live animals are put through torture in the name of medical research. Live and conscious animals are burnt or cut up or tortured in all ways imaginable to see what will happen. The practice was invented by this civilization. It continues today.
When it comes to human beings, the modern civilization decidedly values them less than the animals. That is why there are more people concerned about saving the whales and exotic animals than have been concerned about the Muslims in Bosnia. That is why seemingly educated people can painlessly present arguments that the dropping of nuclear bombs on civilians was a good thing. That is why the starving to death of nearly half a million people in Iraq, through economic sanctions, does not raise any serious objections in the "civilized" world. Of course the modern civilization's ruthlessness to other human beings, of different color, or religion, exceeds its cruelty to animals. It kills, maims, tortures, and starves to death, other human beings because they are "others."
Can this civilization even imagine the outlook and mental make up of a nation that for centuries has begun the study of the traditions of its Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, by recalling this message of universal mercy. Kindness, love, mercy. These are among the most important defining words for the collective personality of this ummah. Our ummah. We begin every act in the name of Allah who is Most Beneficent and Merciful. We invite the entire world to the mercy of their Creator. We show mercy to all the creation. And by doing all that we seek mercy of Allah.
We also show our love for the Creator by being kind to His creations. That is the foundation of real mercy. Our mercy is not a public relationing ploy or a propaganda tool. It is not driven by a love of headlines. Such motivations can only create a show of mercy. But the real mercy requires sincerely and a more solid foundation.
In a way mercy is an attribute of power. A helpless, powerless person cannot have mercy on others; he can only ask for mercy. When Muslims had power, the world benefited from their mercy. When they lost it, the world became full of ruthlessness and injustice. That is the world we live in today. It is calling for the return of those who can bring kindness and mercy back. Are we those people? Are we the people who have been informed and inspired by the hadith musalsal bil Awwaliya?