2018 Theme: The Valor of Mercy: Summoning the Strength of Compassion

“And We have not sent you except as a mercy to the worlds.” - Quran 21:107

In English, the word mercy is typically used in a context of suffering. A beggar might ask the people for mercy; the people might ask the criminal for mercy; and the criminal might ask the judge and jury for mercy. Whereas the Arabic term rahma is often translated as mercy, its root letters r-h-m form the meaning “womb” in their nounal form, so rahma contains not just mercy but also the depths of motherly love. Al-Rahman (the Compassionate) and Al-Raheem (the Merciful) are the most prevalent references to God in the Quran, derived from the same root letters. When God addresses Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, in the following verse: “And We have not sent you except as a rahma to the worlds,” (Quran 21:107) the entire theme of the prophetic message can be understood as rahma.

Despite being a morally positive concept, mercy is sometimes seen in a negative light, juxtaposed against justice. Showing mercy to an enemy can be seen as demonstrating weakness. To a criminal, offering leniency might mean failing to defend the rights of the aggrieved. Forgiving someone might be tantamount to appeasing bad behavior. So how can we show mercy without compromising the demands of justice?

The answer lies in our ability to prevent further harm. Forgiveness is a deeply spiritual practice, which cleans the mind and heart from negativity. However, forgiveness is impossible in a context where the cycle of abuse continues. We dare not ask the abused to forgive their oppressors without saving them from harm’s way, and we cannot champion the cause of the oppressed without first establishing a deep sense of compassion for all involved.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, “Help your brother whether he is oppressed or an oppressor." A man said, "O Messenger of God, I will help him if he is oppressed, but if he is an oppressor, how shall I help him?" The Prophet responded, "By preventing him from oppressing, for that is how to help him.” (Bukhari, Muslim, Tirmidhi)

Once we are compassionate enough to recognize the dignity of both the oppressed and oppressors as our brothers in humanity, we must treat them as such[1]. Compassion compels us to gather our strength to oppose injustice[2], which may be difficult and scary, but we must stand strong because the weak are in no position to help anyone except through thoughts and prayers[3][4]. After mustering our strength, we may realize the open secret of compassion: that it comes with a strength of its own[5][6].

Do you dare to be merciful, forgiving, and compassionate in your own home and community? How? We challenge you to take a deeper look and analyze the various concepts surrounding this theme. You have a chance to explore these concepts and more in the competitions and workshops of MIST this year, at both the Regional and National levels. Remember, competitive submissions with the most creativity and insight earn the greatest points.


[1] Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, relates, “The greatest jihad is a word of truth spoken to an unjust ruler,” (Abu Dawud, Nisa’i, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah) which may be coupled with the injunction that Moses and Aaron were given when asked to address one of the greatest tyrants of history, “And speak to Pharaoh with a gentle word, perhaps he may remember or fear God” (Quran 20:44).

[2] “You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.” -Quran 4:135

[3] “Whoever among you sees an evil, let him address it with his hand; if he cannot, then with his tongue; if he cannot, then within his heart, but know that is the weakest form of faith.” -Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Muslim, Nisa’i)

[4] “The strong believer is better and more beloved to God than the weak believer, although both are good. Strive for that which benefits you, seek the help of God, and do not feel helpless...” -Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Muslim, Ibn Majah)

[5] “The Compassionate has mercy (rahma) on those who are merciful. Show mercy to the people of earth, and the One in the Heavens will show mercy to you.” -Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi)

[6] “If anyone relieves a believer from a hardship in this worldly life, God will relieve him from a hardship on the Day of Resurrection. If anyone makes it easy for the one who is indebted to him, God will make it easy for him in this worldly life and in the Hereafter, and if anyone conceals the faults of a believer, God will conceal his faults in this world and in the Hereafter. God is in the service of His servant as long as the servant is in the service of his brother.” -Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Abu Dawud)

Previous Themes


2017: The Challenge of Beauty: Striving for Perfection in an Imperfect World


2015: The Clarity of Sincerity: From Outer Perceptions to Inner Reflections

2014: The Art of Generosity: Finding the Greatness to Give

2013: The Patience of Champions: Rising to a Better Self

2012: Family: Reconnecting our Hearts to Home

2011: Loyalty: The Key to Faith and Citizenship

2010: Lantern of Modesty: Reflecting the Light from Within

2009: Hometown Heroes: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

2008: The Puzzle of Diversity: Piecing Together a Vibrant Community

2007: Scattered Images: Reflecting Faith, Reclaiming Our Future

2006: Character: Our Diamond in the Rough