Legacies of Mercy: The east and the west

In 1884, Auguste Rodin – perhaps France's most famous sculptor – was commissioned by the city of Calais for a piece that would reflect French national history and pride. The Burghers of Calais it was called, and it serves as a monument to the siege of Calais that had happened many centuries ago during the 100 years war between France and their English neighbors. Six men it portrayed, with nooses around their necks and their feet bare. After his sudden landing at Normandy and his soul crushing victories at Cannes and Crecy, Edward III – one of England's most celebrated kings (and also responsible for the red cross on the flag) – marched to Calais, a key fortified city near a port that would most certainly secure the success of his campaign in France. 
What ensued was one of the longest sieges ever recorded in Medieval warfare with the common people of Calais and a handful of French troops holding out to Edward (who had razed and killed all that lived in the surrounding countryside) for almost a year. The situation inside the city was so dire that at it's darkest days, the men, women and children of Calais were forced to eat rats to survive. The French king watched helpless, as a great share of his forces and his nobles had been slaughtered on the fields of Crecy mercilessly by Edward; thus, no reinforcement came to the oppressed people of Calais. 
Starved, defeated and abandoned, they held up the white flag and prepared for a humiliating surrender. Just as the English would barge into the city to loot it and rape its women, Edward stopped them. He commanded Calais to send six of its most distinguished and noble men to him. Their attire was to be rags and nooses were to be tied around their necks and they shall come to him with bare feet for him to do with them as he saw fit.
The six that went were volunteers whose selflessness and spirit of sacrifice is captured by Rodin in his monumental work. These six represent all the goodness of France and the honor of her people (though I would argue these qualities are nonexistent in France today).
Yet a similar sculpture sits proudly outside the great British house of parliament! Why? When these six humiliated men were brought before the King of England, Edward in a great show of mercy, forgave them and let them free. The sculpture outside parliament captures this quality of a monarch so powerful that he can afford to show mercy. 
These are the heroes of Western tradition and Edward's pardon of the six men of Calais is still seen as a great feat in the eyes of many (though they conveniently leave out the part where the queen persuaded him). 

Is this the extent of mercy in western heroic tradition? Perhaps. 
Limiting our study of the world to western tradition robs us of knowledge concerning true heroic deeds done in the past. What is a true heroic deed in the realm of mercy? To me (and to those with a hint of common sense), it must be a situation in which a person has every right to be unmerciful and vengeful, but chooses mercy. Edward's mercy is faux; his campaign in France invalidates any iota of goodness that he may have shown to the six at Calais. He intentionally commanded his soldiers to raid the country side, burn crops and kill innocent civilians where ever they were found. 
His invasion of France was not only an act of supreme aggression by modern standards, but an act of a power hungry and lustful man seeking dominion.
But is there no instance of true mercy in Western history? Perhaps there is. But one of the most striking cases arises in Islamic history.
Such was the case when the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad peace be upon him entered into the city of Mecca in 630 AD, many centuries before the English knew the meaning of 'civilization'. If a man had a greater right to exact vengeance on a people, it would be Muhammad as he looked on the faces of the dishearten Meccans, the oppressors, killers, and bullies of him and his followers. These were the people that would take a Muslim, tie him up and drop him in the middle of the desert to be roasted by the heat. These were the people who had fought against the Prophet on the day of Uhud, killed his closest family (his uncle) and maiming his body. These were the people who had thrown rocks at him until he bled and had exacted every form of punishment on him and his followers because of their beliefs. 
On the day of the conquest of Mecca, the Prophet rode in humbly with head bowed low and he said to the Meccans as they stared at him with wide eyes humbled by their defeat, 'I will be as Yusuf (Joseph) was to his brothers.' and he forgave them (save a 9 war-criminals), including the man and women who had killed and maimed his uncle.

This is the tradition of mercy in Islamic history. Not only is it greater, more astounding to the mind than that of Edward's faux show, but it sheds a light upon the type of man that the Prophet Muhammad was, a man so selfless that hurts done to him were immediately forgiven, but so upright that oppressors of his followers would earn his wrath; and even then, he found a place in his expansive heart for forgiveness.

The course of history had led to a point where western philosophies
has slowly become the standard by which we judge other philosophies. This is not a negative thing. 
But once in a while, we should question established thought and learn from cultures not our own and perhaps we will find therein, heroes who act like heroes and men and women worthy of true praise.

As the prophet once said, “The strong is not the one who overcomes the people by his strength, but the strong is the one who controls himself while in anger”.

Moderation, tolerance and mercy. Perhaps it is time that Muslims return to their tradition.

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