Reinforcing Empathy in our Own Selves

Reinforcing Empathy in our Own Selves

As humans, it is natural to yearn for respect, compassion, justice, honesty and all other things which give us a sense of validation, but when it comes to giving, we do not realize how stingy we stand out to be. It is interesting to note that according to research, genetics plays a role in part of the story, but the remainder of our individuality is shaped by our environment, through the experiences that we live, and from what we learn.

The principles of empathy and compassion, are rooted in the fundamentals of Islam and establishing it as a religion of peace and tolerance. Every recitation of the Holy Quran begins with an invocation to Allah, the Compassionate (Al Rahman) and the Merciful (Al Rahim).In several places in the Quran, certain keywords associated with empathy - such as rahmah, ihsan, adl, and hikmah (compassion, benevolence, justice and wisdom) - are used repeatedly. Following this guidance and through the remembrance of Allah, a true believer can form a harmonious relationship with him/herself, others, and nature.

The life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) is ladened with examples of his empathy. Two hadiths or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) are worth noting,

“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)

“None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.” (Al-Bukhari)

Throughout his life, the Prophet himself demonstrated kindness, empathy, and mercy as a way of connecting with the community and his ummah. There are other references that are recorded in the Quran. 

On one occasion, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) was sitting with some of his companions when members of a certain tribe approached them. They had no shoes and their outwardly appearance was such that their skin was stuck to their bones due to hunger and starvation. The Prophet was instantly moved upon seeing them in such a state. He asked Bilal to give the call to prayer, which helped in gathering some more of his companions. After prayers, they initiated a collection for the tribe, in order to help them generously. (Source: Tafsir ibn Kathir)

In another instance, the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) gave his cloth as a shroud to the son of Abdullah Ibn Ubayy Ibn Salul, who was from amongst the hypocrites. Even though his father used to humiliate the Prophet and worked against the spreading of Islam, the Prophet felt the son's emotional suffering at the time and offered his own garment, to wrap the father, for the burial. (Source: Tafsir ibn Kathir)

Each one of us, in some capacity, possesses a natural sense of empathy. This usually shows up when we connect with our close friends, family members or pets at a deeper level of understanding. The connection may even be heightened during times of loss/grief or when a person is sick but it is important to differentiate between empathy and sympathy. Sympathy is feeling for someone; empathy is feeling with them.

Practical Ways To Build Up Empathy As A Muslim 

Parents must be the role models of empathy for their children. We may have to go through a process of unlearning and relearning when it comes to developing or adopting good habits in this area though. Here are five qualities that adults can work on in our own daily lives to help strengthen empathy and our iman or faith.

1. Learn to be more patient. 

How often is it that we really think before speaking, responding or reacting? The truth is, rarely. Most of the time, it is when we encounter situations which leave us baffled, frustrated or angered that we feel a strong urge to react and display strong emotions. Pause. Breathe. Take a moment to reflect on the background and sequence of events which led up to that situation. Be aware of external factors which also impact your state of mind and your ability to respond with patience such as getting a proper night's sleep, frustrations from something totally unrelated, misreading or misunderstanding, etc.   

 2. Agree to disagree, peacefully. 

As individuals, we have the right to have our own opinions. However, we must try and make a conscious effort to understand and take into consideration the other person’s point of view as well. It is okay, not to agree, but we must consider the other person's circumstances and point of view. We must put ourselves in their shoes to consider a different perspective and way of thinking.

3. Honor the rights of others. 

We must always try and practice recognizing and fulfilling our rights toward others - huqooq ul ibad (rights of Allah's creations). Not only does our religion stress fulfilling these rights, but they complete half of our faith. If a believer dies in a state whereby s/he has not fulfilled his obligatory rights toward any of Allah's creations and been forgiven for not doing so, s/he shall be held accountable for that on the Day of Judgement. Therefore, we must strive to honor, admire and respect others and learn to forgive often. 

4. Treat others as you would like to be treated. 

This goes in conjunction with the Hadith mentioned earlier - “None of you will have faith till he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he likes for himself.”  It would be safe to say that what we know as the law of karma or in Islamic terminology - makafat e amal, comes into effect only when we wish and do for others what we would never want for ourselves to experience. So again, make sure you practice what you preach or expect only when you are in a position to give.  

5. Practice active listening. 

Being an active listener involves being all ears. That means that you are not just listening for the sake of responding, but in order to understand the speaker. This reinforces the practice of  putting yourself in the other person’s shoes and really taking in their emotions, needs, and desires. 

6. Steer clear of judgments and biases. 

As humans, we are strongly opinionated beings. If you find yourself being involved in an issue concerning someone else, try to stay away from personal biases and judgment. Focus instead on the matter and how it can be resolved. Form your own opinions based on fact findings rather than falling prey to gossip. This takes a whole lot of greater awareness than we usually have, so the first and most important step is to guard your thoughts and try to notice when you’re being judgmental. This can be difficult, but not something which is impossible. As they say, practice makes perfect! Always remind yourself to observe first. 

In conclusion, we can agree how empathy is a powerful emotion that can really help bring about tranquility to this world, which is filled with so much hatred and animosity. Cultivating compassion towards others can not only have a profound effect on our community but also our own physical, emotional, and social wellbeing.

Umm Ahmed is an early childhood educator and writer who is passionate about seeking knowledge and passing it onto others. She and her husband are parents to three boys and are currently living in Abu Dhabi. 



I am grateful for the author of this article. As a new revert, I am seeking to learn as much as Allah is willing to share with me and, Mashallah, is God gracious! I am overflowing with His word through so many vehicles right now, amazing people, signs in my daily life, bearing witness to the atrocities happening to the beautiful people of Palestine. My heart is heavy and overflowing, I am humbled by Islam and the believers who have been so kind and welcoming. May Allah bless each and every one of you who have entered my heart through this faith 🤲



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