Wondering how mercy relates to justice, I came across an old Islamic folk tale. It is told of the seventh century Khalifa Umar Bin al-Khittab, who you will remember was the successor of Abu Bakr among the Rashidun Khalifas, known as “al-faruq” — one who judges aright. From his sword of Justice, above, you will understand Umar was no soggy Liberal.
A young man was arrested for murder, and brought by the victim’s sons before the Khalifa. He pleaded guilty, and submitted to an “eye for an eye” death sentence the family were entitled to demand, according to primitive justice. He asked however, to delay the execution three days. He was guardian to an orphan, and the lad’s inheritance was hidden somewhere only he knew. It wasn’t fair to punish the child for his sins, so three days compassionate leave was arranged.
Someone, however, had to stand proxy for the convict in case he failed to reappear for execution — someone willing, if necessary, to die in his stead. Old Abu Dharr, companion of the Prophet offered, and the young criminal went home to sort out his family affairs.
Three days later, he had not returned. Amidst a certain amount of “told you so,” but also great sadness, Abu Dharr prepared for beheading in the town square. The executioner sharpened up his axe, and got his red tights that didn’t show the blood, ready for the wash. Actually I'm not sure about the red tights, but you get the idea.
At which point young criminal returned, huffing and puffing. “So very sorry,” he said. “Caravans on the road — but I’m here now, so let’s get on with the beaheading.”
The crowd were amazed. “Why the hell did you come back? You were free. We’d all have legged it!”
“Oh no!” said the young criminal. “I am a Muslim, and it would be intolerably shameful to me to have people saying, on my account, that Muslims do not keep their word.”
So the crowd turned to old Abu Dharr. “You’re a lucky old fox, Abu Dharr. You must have known this criminal was a man of his word at heart. More than we did!”
“Oh no!” said Abu Dharr. Never seen the feller in my life. But I am a Muslim, and it would be intolerably shameful to me to have people saying, on my account, that Muslims have no compassion.”
At which point the victim’s family went back to Khalifa Umar and asked him to call off the execution: “We are Muslms, and it would be intolerably shameful to us to have people saying, on our account, that there is no forgiveness in Islam.”
OK, “Liberals” and “Conservatives.” What would it be “intolerably shameful” to have people say of us, Christians that we claim to be...?