"With Allah's mercy you treated them gently. If you had been rough and hard-hearted, undoubtedly they would have dispersed from around you..." (Surat Al-i Imran, 159). The description in the Quran of the Prophet (pbuh)'s approach to people is: "With Allah's mercy you treated them gently." Refraining from roughness and hard-heartedness and being gentle is mentioned as a manifestation and result of Allah's mercy. This and similar expressions describing the Prophet's character and his approach towards people actually points to characteristics of the Prophet that all believers should possess.
How should our approach be towards other people, particularly those with beliefs and ideas different from ours? Should we reject them or embrace them? What should be the yardstick for our attitude and approach towards them? Undoubtedly, all these are vitally important in establishing sound relations among people, and the Prophet's life is full of important foundation stones on this subject.
As extensions of mercy and compassion in man's life, gentleness, compassion, forgiveness and affection are very important in Islam. They are seen as essential values that need to be taken as a basis in human relationships. Furthermore, evaluating the universe and man's life as a harmonious whole within a framework of the creed of Tawhid (Unity), Islam builds man's relationships with both the natural world and his social environment on these basic values: mercy and goodness. A believer equipped with these values is constructive, not corruptive; positive, not negative; and forgiving, not revengeful towards his natural and social environment. This attitude and approach of believers begins in relations with closest family relatives and expands outwardly in circles towards his whole social and natural environment. Pointing out that compassion is an extension of Allah's mercy, the Prophet emphasizes the importance of this basic value saying, "Those who do not act with mercy will not be treated with mercy." Also, when a man who saw the Prophet showing affection to children said he never showed love to his children or kissed them, the Prophet said, "If God removed mercy from your heart, what can I do," thus indicating how important love, mercy and good behavior are in a believer's life (Buhari, Adab 18; Muslim, Fadail 65). Mercy and love shown to his children, wife and other family members by a believing individual expands to his surroundings, circle by circle, thus becoming a memorial of mercy to his environment. In this manner, it is seen that these qualities should be shown not only to close family members or other believers, but they should be reflected towards all of mankind. Even when a person has to struggle against others, still these qualities should give direction to a believing individual's attitude and approach. The Quran gives a basic yardstick to all believers in the personality of the Prophet: "Call people to God's path with wisdom and good guidance. Discuss with them in the best manner..." (Al-Nahl 125).
As opposed to this unequaled virtue which Islam foresees for man, we see that in today's human relationships usually coercion and repression dominate in a web of relations based on power. The understanding that might is right is an operative rule both among societies and among individuals. Coercion and violence have taken the place of love and compassion, revenge has replaced forgiveness, and anger and rage have taken over modesty and gentleness. Rather than comprising a situation related to man's will and responsibility, differences are seen as situations where everything must be done to eliminate them, and cultural, political and economic monopoly or uniformity is seen as the only effective rule. The exclusive attitude towards people has turned into a war and struggle to eliminate ethnic and cultural differences. Due to this, we are faced with chaos, conflict, occupation and assimilation as the widespread results of the application of these policies world-wide.
When we take all of these into consideration, we understand better the value of the wisdom of human relations in Islam, its good council and the principle of giving precedence to mercy. In relation to being a human being, seeing others as one with himself and showing empathy in relationships with others is a guide given to believing people. The advice of the Prophet to want for others what you want for yourself or not to do to others what you do not want done to yourself are not just warnings and advice to Muslims, but each is a basic moral principle for all mankind on a universal level. They are basic values that must be ascribed to in order for people to be able to live together in peace and sustain their existence in an environment of mutual respect.