As an example, he pointed to a famous saying of the Prophet Mohamed that "even a smile is a form of charity" since it forms a human connection. This is especially true, he said, at a time when humanity is becoming increasingly more impersonal, despite advancements in technology and communications.
However, while mercy is "the core of Islam," there is tragically a difference between "Islam as an ideal and Islam as it is applied and as it is practiced by people," Khan said, noting that the same can be said of any religion.
"Unfortunately there are people who will invoke the name of Islam to all kinds of unspeakable and egregious things," he said.
"Those may claim to be believers who act out in such vengeful and violent ways, but again, it is such an anomaly and such an aberration from the divine message that it's very difficult to be able to say with a certain straight face that this is really what God intended."
The professor said that instead, to get to the heart of true Islam one has to go back to the sources of in order to see the real divine message and understand what God is really mandating.
Mercy, Khan said, "is so embedded in Islam that in several places within the Quran it says 'and establish regular prayer and charity.'"
He noted how two of the 99 attributes Muslims recognize in God are "all-merciful" and "ever-merciful." These phrases, he added, are invoked at least 17 different times during the five daily prayers Muslims recite throughout the day.
The terms are also invoked by Muslims before they embark on "any act or deed," so therefore the concept of an all-merciful God also exists in Islam, the professor explained.
When it comes to verses in the Quran supporting vengeance and violence such as death by the sword, Khan said that Islam is "a totalistic religion" which also provides instructions on what to do in a time of war, persecution or when one's life is threatened.
He acknowledged that there are sanctions for war and for committing physical violence in the Quran, but said they are "a last resort," and are heavily regulated to societies that would otherwise be "very unregulated, very anarchic, even more brutal than they already are."
Turning to the current Jubilee of Mercy, the professor touched on Pope Francis' numerous affirmations that the Holy Year isn't just for Catholics, but for people of all religions, including our "Muslim brothers."
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When asked how Muslims can participate in the Jubilee, Khan said that one of the most important things to remember is that it's not just God who is merciful, "but we who are his instruments on earth have an obligation as well as the opportunity to express that kind mercy."
He noted how the Quran speaks to two different audiences, namely, believers and non-believers, and that mercy is something that can and should be commonly expressed.
"It is incumbent on Muslims to understand that when it comes to mercy, this is something that then binds both believers and all of humanity in the fact that mercy can be displayed, and should be displayed, to everyone," he said.