“Mercy: Theological and philosophical approaches”
The concept paper:
The Center for Islamic Theology Münster (CIT) at the University of Münster has been working for years on an academic project that offers a new theoretical framework for understanding Islam, entitled “The theology of mercy”. In his 2012 book “Islam ist Barmherzigkeit: Grundzüge einer modernen Religion”, professor Mouhanad Khorchide laid out the concept of mercy theology, that is now circulating in Arab intellectual circles.
A. The project of mercy theology: The concept and its Qurʾānic roots
The “Theology of mercy”-project is founded, as elaborated by Mouhanad Khorchide, on the basic premise that Mercy is a fundamental purpose of the Qurʾānic text; therefore, Islam can only be understood by conjuring up the concept of Mercy, which formed a core focus and purpose around which all its teachings revolved as emphasized in Q 21:107 “and We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds”, i.e. not only to a certain category of people or believers, but to the whole world.
Based on the foregoing, this project attempts to trace the concept of mercy, as it is the origin and foundation of the Islamic faith, which will result in several things, the most important of which is our perception of God, His relationship with humans, humans’ perception of oneself and humans’ perception of the relationships with others. The project of the Mercy theology is an investigation of the ramifications of this concept of Mercy in dogmas, social relations and applied ethics.
Mercy, as described by the Qurʾān, is an attribute of the essence of God; this is one of the tenets of the project of the Mercy theology, and therefore it is absolute, unrestricted and unconditional. God described His mercy by saying in Q 7:156 “My mercy encompasses all things”, then God gave humans insurance by assuring that he had written mercy upon himself (Q 6:12, 54), as He equated the names “Allah” and “Rahman” in saying: “call upon Allah (God) or call upon the Most Merciful (Al-Rahman). Whichever (name) you call – to Him belong the best names” (Q 17:110). The fact that Mercy is an attribute of God means that His mercy is absolute.
“Al-Rahman” is a Syriac word of Aramaic origin that describes the essence of God, it means the loving God. This is expressed in the Qurʾān when describing God’s relationship with human beings as a loving relationship: “He loves them and they love Him” (Q 5:54). However, the law of love implies freedom, thus the love relationship can only be achieved if it is by choice and conviction rather than coercion, threat or fear. Consequently, for the relationship between God and human beings to be described as a loving one, God should have granted humans freedom.
The fact that God is the “most merciful” and the “most loving” requires that He is complete in his essence. The loving gives without seeking anything for himself; His giving and His love for humans is unconditional. Hence, the divine rejection of injustice and aggression can be well understood. The Qurʾān says for example “Allah does not love the aggressors” (Q 2:190). God does not like the act of abuse and rejects injustice, and humans always remain under the divine Mercy, which calls upon them without boredom or interruption to accept God’s love and mercy. It is not God who turns his back on humans; it is the person himself who turns his back on God by the injustice or envy towards the others. But what is the purpose behind loving God or even worshiping God while referring to a God who is complete in His essence and is in need of no one else?
The God who is complete in His essence gives but takes nothing for himself. This is the God of mercy and love that is manifested to us in the Qurʾān: “He loves them and they love Him” (Q 5:54). God started the latter verse referring to Himself, because His love comes first, waiting for humans to accept it through loving Him back. This is achieved when humans are merciful and loving through their actions, as the Prophet Muhammad said in a qudsi Hadith:
“O son of Adam, I fell ill and you visited Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I visit You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so had fallen ill and you visited him not? Did you not know that had you visited him you would have found Me with him? O son of Adam, I asked you for food and you fed Me not. He will say: O Lord, and how should I feed You when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: Did you not know that My servant So-and-so asked you for food and you fed him not? Did you not know that had you fed him you would surely have found that (the reward for doing so) with Me? O son of Adam, I asked you to give Me to drink and you gave Me not to drink. He will say: O Lord, how should I give You to drink when You are the Lord of the worlds? He will say: My servant So-and-so asked you to give him to drink and you gave him not to drink. Had you given him to drink you would have surely found that with Me” (Sahih Muslim 2569); the above can also remind us of the 25th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, in which there is a similar narration that confirms the same meaning: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25,40).
Starting from this discourse of love, which at the same time activates the role and responsibility of the human as a tool to achieve God’s love and mercy, is a step on the path to renewing religious discourse, because it corrects the image of God among many people, in addition to giving the Muslims the awareness that he is not just a negative creature who performs what he is ordered to do, but is responsible for changing his situation in a way that makes him able to write his history and the history of humanity. The Qurʾān emphasized this in the verse that says: "Verily never will Allah change the condition of a people until they change it themselves " (Surat al-Raad 11). Through this realization of the human’s ability, the understanding of worshiping expands, as it is not limited to rituals and rites but becomes a way of life in the service of the divine love and mercy.
B. Mercy and Sharia: Theological and jurisprudential issues
The common understanding of Sharia reduces the religion to a set of laws that should be respected and followed. The narrowness of this vision lies in limiting God as a legislator and limiting the concept of faith/believer in the reception of commandments and laws. Thus, dominates the canonical relationship between God and human beings, rather than the relationship of love, mercy and trust, that is the basis of the educational concept of faith.
Therefore, we need today to reconsider the methods of Islamic education and the teaching methods of Islam, since religion is above all, a relationship that must be committed to grow and flourish. This is an area of research in the theology of mercy from a practical point of view, which we invite researchers to write about it.
Here we underscore an important observation, which was referred to by Angelika Neuwirth, who concluded that the name of God “Al-Rahman” appeared for the first time in the Qurʾān in “Middle Mecca period”, and more specifically in Surat Mariam, which deals with the story of Mariam and Jesus. The divine name “Al-Rahman” has been repeated in this surah more than any other one, thus affirming the principle of mercy as a common origin between the messages of Muhammad and Jesus. The verse that speaks of God’s relationship with Humans as a relationship based on mercy and love, is contained in Surah Al-Maidah, which speaks of Jesus and The Last Supper, once again affirming that love and mercy are the origin of the heavenly religions and their axes, which are only achieved if every person devotes his/her life to receiving and existing through theme.
C. Mercy and freedom as a moral postulate and a field of philosophical research:
It is necessary to note the achievements of modern philosophical and theological research in this subject; freedom in this context is not merely intended to mean freedom of choice, i.e. to choose between two or more things, but the concept is a conscious choice of what is more reasonable. The definition of God’s relationship with humans as a relationship of love, and therefore as a relationship based on freedom on both sides, brings us to the depth of the German philosophical thinking about freedom, which extends from great philosophers such as Fichte and Schelling to Thomas Propper.
The modern German philosophical research into the concept of freedom allows us to reconcile God’s will with that of the human’s. The granting of freedom to human does not limit God’s freedom, it rather manifests God’s will. This is what we mean by the manifestations of God’s mercy.
It should be noted that this concept paper is not intended to determine the results, but to find other possibilities for establishing theological ideas within the limits of reason alone. This endeavor corresponds to the purpose of this winter school, which recalls the urgent need today to rethink the themes of Islamic theology.
Through this call for papers, we hope that the winter school will be an opportunity for interested researchers to study the subject of mercy from different theological and philosophical perspectives, and to participate through their research papers.
► The Winter School Program
The Winter School program aims to provide a critical reading of participants’ research on the subject of mercy theology, through sessions during which participants present their research and receive comments from a number of specialists in the field. The winter school days also include lectures by researchers from the center for Islamic theology and from abroad on the subject of mercy theology.
► Criteria for participation in the winter school
- The Winter School is open to researchers from majors in Islamic studies and philosophy as well as the field of social and human sciences.
- The Scientific Committee of the Winter School receives research proposals, which are characterized by the critical treatment of its subject, in accordance with the established academic research standards.
- The research proposal should include a summary of the research in the range of 700 to 1,000 words with the participant’s Curriculum vitae.
- The Scientific Committee will inform the applicants of the accepted summaries, to begin writing their research papers, in the range of 5,000 to 7,000 words.
All research proposals must be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org
The language of the research papers and the Winter School events Research papers can be written in Arabic and English, and the conference events are also presented in Arabic and English
► Important dates:
September 30, 2021: Deadline for sending summaries of the research papers.
October 10, 2021: Inform researchers whose summaries have been accepted, and invite them to write the full research papers.
November 30,2021: Deadline for sending the research papers.
December 17, 2021: Announcement of the list of accepted participants.
December 27, 2021: Winter school opening.