“Whoever does not show mercy will not be shown mercy.” This is a saying of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ my Islamic school required my classmates and I to memorize growing up. Showing mercy isn’t the easiest thing to do at times; it may not even be expected of someone by society’s standards. Nevertheless, it is a gesture of beautiful forgiveness and a habit of the Prophet ﷺ and a characteristic my school tried to ingrain in its students.
We see this habit of forgiveness on full display at many times during the life of the Prophet ﷺ. After losing his beloved wife Khadija and his protective uncle Abu Talib, he traveled to a town neighboring Makkah called Ta’if. There, he hoped to spread the message of Islam to a new audience. Upon his arrival, however, the people tormented him to such a degree that his entire body bled. They kicked him out of the town and showed him zero mercy. All the while, he had done nothing wrong.
When he came to a safe place, the Prophet ﷺ called out to Allah and made a powerful supplication, citing his own weakness as the reason the people reacted so harshly. The Prophet ﷺ professed his desire of only pleasing His Lord. In this du’a, we witness the extraordinary humbleness with which the Prophet ﷺ lived. Because the people caused him such harm, Allah gave permission to the angels to destroy the town if the Prophet ﷺ wished. Instead of seeking revenge, the Prophet ﷺ let the people be, in case even one of their offspring accepted Islam. In Ta’if today, Muslims fill the population.
This is but one example of the immense forgiveness the Prophet ﷺ had in his heart. Had anyone else been in his situation, it is hard to imagine the reaction would match. But there are some rare gems who still walk on this earth, practicing that same forgiveness the Prophet ﷺ made such a huge part of his life. Dr. Abdul-Munim Sombat Jitmoud is one such person.
This is the man whose hug went viral. On April 19, 2015, Jitmoud’s son, pizza deliveryman Salahuddin, was about to make his last stop of the night. Upon entering the Kentucky apartment complex, the 22-year-old was robbed and stabbed to death. During the court hearing in November 2017, Jitmoud shocked everyone by turning to the man involved in his son’s murder, Trey Relford, and telling him that he forgave him. He even referred to him as his “nephew.”
“I want him to start a new chapter of life,” Jitmoud said. “When he spends time in confinement, think about Allah. Then try to do righteous deeds when you come out and keep good friends. This is what I whispered to him.”
Jitmoud said according to court protocol he wasn’t allowed to look at, talk to, or even be near Relford. He thought the judge would stop him, but she herself had tears in her eyes during the emotional moment. The family planned to verbalize their forgiveness for Relford in court, but the subsequent embrace and genuine words of advice—that Jitmoud said was Allah’s plan. Jitmoud’s past thirty-plus years of experience from being an Islamic school principal and educator came out during the hearing. He consoled many people in his office before, so handing over a tissue, comforting, and embracing a remorseful Relford came very naturally.
“It took us two years and seven months to come to this. I know I have a lot of pain and stress and despair and nightmares because of Salahuddin being murdered,” Jitmoud said. “But when I met the scholar, the learned Muslim, they said Salahuddin received the honor from Allah as a shaheed (martyr). People came to me, they saw the news and said, ‘Your son is shaheed.’ They didn’t even know me, but they saw me in the clip of the news. These things brought comfort to my mind and to my sons.”
After the hearing, Jitmoud explained why he showed mercy to a man who caused his family such heartache. He said, “God said in the Holy Qur’an…Allah, Almighty God, is the Most Forgiving and the Most Merciful. Now I say, my nephew, God is going to forgive you because He promised…provided I forgive you first. So I did forgive you. Now, it’s God’s turn to forgive you.”
The concern Jitmoud had for the wellbeing of a man who played a part in the murder of his son is extremely moving. It is the current day example of the forgiveness and care we learned from the Prophet ﷺ after he departed Ta’if with so much heartache.
“Everyone needs Islam so badly, including ourselves. Hidaya (guidance) from Allah is so crucial,” Jitmoud said. “It is our duty after RasulAllah ﷺ passed away that we carry the torch of taking the message forward in every possible way. Allah created us all, and everyone has a right to the perfect deen of Allah. It becomes your job and my job to convey the best we can with the help of Allah.”
A version of this article was published in the January/February 2018 issue of Islamic Horizons. This is the original article above.