It had been a long time since I had been greeted with a smile from a stranger.
I felt as if I had been constantly trudging through scowls and negative attitudes.
I could see in the faces of the sour strangers surrounding me that life was wearing them down.
It seemed as if everyone I came across just didn’t have any kindness to offer.
And it started wearing on me.
Then a beautiful older woman beamed the warmest smile and I nearly cried out of gratitude for her small kindness. It was just the bright spot I needed to remind me, during a rough day, week, and month, that good still exists.
Sometimes it does feel like there is no kindness left in the world.
I have seen with my own eyes people go out of their way to make things harder on others even though being kind and generous would have been easier. It’s an ugly reality and it is also a contagious one.
When you have been harmed or spoken to harshly, it changes your mood and makes you more likely to act in that same harsh way to someone else. We’ve all been there.
It takes true strength to be able to let go and return the evil with good. But the truth of the matter is that there is no antidote to ugliness like a kind word or even a smile from a caring stranger.
I still think about that kind lady and her smile even though it has been more than a year since she showed me that kindness.
We all crave to be treated with kindness. Sometimes we need it so desperately that it cannot even be put into words.
When we can’t find compassion, we can just look to the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him), who showed kindness and compassion even in his darkest days.
When we can’t find a good and kind person to show us compassion, we can follow the example of the Prophet and be that person.
Compassion for Children
The Prophet (peace be upon him) kissed his grandson Al-Hasan ibn Ali. Aqr’a ibn Habis, who was with him at the time said:
“I have ten sons and have never kissed any of them”.
The Prophet looked at him and said:
“He who has no compassion will receive none.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
You can almost sense that Aqr’a ibn Habis was trying to be self-congratulatory on what he perceived as strength and toughness. But the Prophet (peace be upon him) shot that idea down in the most succinct and perfect way.
“He who has no compassion will receive none.” Making it known that not having compassion is not a strength, and it will also not be shown to those who are bereft of it.
If we really think about this, it is a scary premise because there will come a time when we need, desperately need compassion and kindness from others including our children, and most importantly from our Lord.
Kindness in Speech
In a day and age when it is so, so easy to say anything that comes to mind to millions of people through social media, it is more important now more than ever to considered if our words are kind or necessary. The Prophet said:
“He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must speak beneficently or keep quiet.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Our words have the power to hurt people, far and wide. It is so important that we take this advice from the Prophet Muhammad in our written and spoken words.
Kindness online is just as contagious as offline. And hurt feelings happen in cyberspace just as much as they do on firm ground.
Kindness to our Neighbors
The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us in many ways how to think globally act locally. When we think about how much ugliness happens in the world outside or our reach, it can seem impossible to help make a change.
But the Prophet had a solution. Start being kind and taking care of those closest to you. And that compassion will spread and have an impact in the greater community and beyond.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
“[…] and whoever believes in Allah and the Last Day, should be good to his neighbor.” (Muslim)
If each person makes sure his or her neighbor is provided for, smiles and treats him/her with respect, and asks how he/she is doing, think of the impact this good treatment could have. We just have reach out literally to those nearest to us, then those people will reach out to those nearest to them, and so on.
Showing Compassion to the Weak in Society
Being kind to our neighbors may seem obvious, because they can return the favor. But when we are kind to those who we think will never be able to return the favor, we will start to see real change in society.
We learn from the teachings of the Prophet that sometimes we are only given wealth from Allah because of those around us who need our generosity. A companion by the name of Sa’ad once had a notion that he was superior to those who were not so well off as he was. The Prophet, seeing this in Sa’ad, told him:
“You are helped and are provided for because of the weak and poor ones among you.” [emphasis added] (Bukhari)
When we show compassion for those who have nothing, no one, and nothing to offer in return, we will see the best of this life and the next. The Prophet said:
“He who takes care of an orphan and me will be like this in Paradise,” and he raised his forefinger and middle finger by way of illustration. (Bukhari)
Compassion for All Living Things
Kindness and compassion is not just something we reserve for our fellow human beings.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) taught us that even animals and plants deserve our good treatment.
Once, the Prophet of Mercy spoke of God’s forgiveness due to the humane treatment of animals. He said:
“A man felt very thirsty while he was on the way, there he came across a well. He went down the well, quenched his thirst and came out.
Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. He said to himself:
“This dog is suffering from thirst as I did.” So, he went down the well again and filled his shoe with water and watered it.
Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him. The people said:
“O Allah’s Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?”
“Yes, there is a reward for serving any animate (living being).”
A world with kindness starts with each of us. The Prophet (peace be upon him) started the chain reaction of kindness that we are still feeling the effects of today. It is now up to us to keep it going, to keep showing compassion to all of Allah’s creation.
We have the example. We just have to ask Allah for the strength.
(First Published: November 2016)