By Babatunde Jose

Prophet Muhammad said: “You see the believers as regards their being merciful among themselves and showing love among themselves and being kind, resembling one body, so that, if any part of the body is not well then the whole body shares the sleeplessness (insomnia) and fever with it.” (Al-Bukhari)

We want others to put themselves in our shoes and view the world from our perspective. That is empathy – putting oneself in someone else’s shoes. We feel close to the person who is empathetic to us, find it easy to share our thoughts with them, go to him or her when we’re in problem and seek solace. Each of us has a natural sense of empathy through which we connect to others.

There are two aspects of empathy: cognitive and affective. Cognitive empathy is about understanding another person’s point of view, their emotions and needs at the intellectual level. Affective empathy is about actually feeling an emotion that another person is experiencing.

If only our leaders would empathise with the suffering multitude, they would do the needful and set the country on the path of sustained development. But they would not. These are stone-hearted people who are bereft of the milk of human kindness. The Prophet attested to this when he said: “None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.” (Al-Bukhari) A man without empathy will therefore be devoid of faith.

This hadith necessitates cognitive empathy. You have to firstly imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes and think from their perspective in order to understand what you would do in his situation.

A believer who has achieved excellence of faith will feel this special love for other believers. This is affective empathy.

The Quran stresses that righteousness is not in precise observance of the rituals but in acts of compassion and kindness. It says that the litmus test for true belief and genuine worship is that it leads to compassionate living:

Goodness does not consist in turning your face towards East or West. The truly good are those who believe in God and the Last Day, in the angels, the Scripture, and the prophets; who give away some of their wealth, however much they cherish it, to their relatives, to orphans, the needy, travellers and beggars and to liberate those in debt and bondage; those who keep up the prayers and pay the prescribed alms; who keep pledges whenever they make them; who are steadfast in misfortune, adversity and times of danger. These are the ones who are true, and it is they who are aware of God.  (Quran 2:178)

This verse talks about a set of beliefs and then a set of good deeds, the intricate relationship between the two escapes many if not most.

Every Friday in the second part of the sermon, Muslims all over the world hear a verse, which stresses, justice, kindness and natural mutual love as among the closest blood relatives:

Indeed, Allah enjoins justice, and the doing of good to others; and giving like kindred; and forbids indecency, and manifest evil, and wrongful transgression. He admonished you that you may take heed. (Quran 16:91)

He makes His relationship or His Providence to the common man, conditional to common human compassion, by claiming that those, who wish to find Him, will succeed only if they are kind and compassionate to the common people:

Fasting cleanses your soul and makes you appreciate all your blessings. Fasting humbles you; it makes you feel compassion for the poor who experience that type of hunger ev­ery day. At the end of the day, however, we have a big dinner; the poor don’t have that luxury. That is why Muslims are required to give zakat on an annual basis. Many choose to do this during Ramadan. This money is either given personally or through a charity. The main thing is that it must be paid.

We are taught to not only fast from food and drink but to try to refrain from conflict, anger and mean words. Our prophet (peace be upon him) says, “Saying a nice word is like giving to charity.” And he also said, “To smile in the face of your brother is like giving to charity.” We are to be kind and loving to each other. We are to be forgiving, not only in this month but in every month. But for some reason, this month brings out the best in everyone.

During this holy month, we spend a lot of time reading our Quran: We also spend a lot of time praying, trying to help those who are less fortunate and performing good deeds, which in turn cleanses our hearts and souls. For one month, we truly do become less selfish, less self-cantered and more focused on what really matters in the world.

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, in sharing his wishes, for all observing the holy month of Ramadan, urged action on behalf of millions of forcibly displaced people worldwide. “Through our reflection, we come to recognize that while words may reassure, it is only through action that we can truly see tangible change,” he said. “We continue to live in extremely complex times where violence is multiplied, conflicts are protracted and tens of millions of people are forcibly uprooted or on the move. This has created unprecedented levels of human suffering and desperation. “Millions of people like you and I are living in a constant state of conflict, insecurity and persecution: Their loved ones torn from them under inexplicable circumstances. Think of civilians in Syria or Yemen. Think of the plight of the Rohingyas in Myanmar, Bangladesh and the other countries to which they have fled”. And I urge you to also think of the castrated and emasculated people of Palestine: Pray for them and remember them. May Allah make it easy for us; Ameen.

Barka Juma’at and Ramadan Karim

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