Forgiveness: A Great Islamic Virtue

Forgiveness: A Great Islamic Virtue


moin qaziMoin Qazi is a well-known banker, author and journalist. He holds doctorates in Economics and English. He received an Honorary D Litt at the World Congress of Poets at Istanbul in 1991. He is  author of several books on Islam  including bestselling biographies of Prophet Muhammad and Caliph Umar. He writes regularly for several international publications and was a Visiting Fellow at the University of Manchester. He is also a recipient of UNESCO World Politics Essay Gold Medal and Rotary International’s Vocational Excellence Award. He is based in Nagpur and can be reached at [/symple_box]

“{So by mercy from Allah, [O Muhammad], you were lenient with them. And if you had been rude [in speech] and harsh in heart, they would have disbanded from about you. So pardon them and ask forgiveness for them and consult them in the matter. And when you have decided, then rely upon Allah. Indeed, Allah loves those who rely [upon Him].”(Q 3: 159).

Nagpur, India (TMT)-Forgiveness is at the heart of so many spiritual and ethical traditions. But, it can be one of the most difficult teachings to live up to. Forgiveness requires an extraordinary struggle against the bruised ego. And, the bigger the hurt, the more difficult it is to forgive. Ultimately, though, there is nothing like forgiveness that can set a person free and to put a mind at rest. In the Islamic tradition, teachings on forgiveness are intimately connected to and rooted in a deeper theological understanding of God and of the relationship between God and the human being.  The foremost attributes of God – which open up every chapter of the Qur’an – are the merciful (al-rahman) and the compassionate (al-raheem). And, one of the most celebrated names of God in the Qur’an is the forgiving (al-ghafur). There are several other divine attributes that are similar. The way in which this relates to the human being is two-fold:

First, at the heart of Islamic spirituality is this idea that we have a share, no matter how small in comparison to God, of divine attributes by virtue of the life-giving and divinely originating soul (ruh) that is breathed into us by the angels when we are still fetuses in our mother’s wombs. It is, then, our spiritual task to cultivate and grow these beautiful attributes within our soul and character in order to draw closer to the divine. Forgiveness is an opportunity to adorn our souls with Godliness. And, the more difficult it is to forgive, the greater and more beautiful the adornment. As such, one of the motivations to forgive is to draw closer to God’s attributes. Forgiveness should be seen as an opportunity – a chance at experiencing and achieving a nearness to God that is indescribable in its beauty and tranquility. This is why the Qur’an describes those who are deeply aware of God as “when they are angered they forgive” (Q42:37) and “when they are prompted by the ignorant they respond with words of peace” (Q25:63).

Second, there’s a deep sense that the way we treat others is the way that we will be treated by God. In other words, if we wish for God’s gentle treatment towards us then we must be gentle toward others. This teaching is reflected in what is referred to as the foundational Prophetic teaching – meaning that the first saying attributed from the Prophet (hadith) that a teacher of hadith imparts to his or her student – which states: “Show mercy towards those on earth and the One above the heavens will show mercy toward you.” This is, furthermore, a reflection of the Qur’anic advice: “And let not those who possess dignity and ease among you swear not to give to the near of kin and the needy, and to fugitives for the cause of God. Let them forgive and show indulgence. Do you not understand that God forgives? God is forgiving, merciful.”(Q24:22). The allusion to God as “forgiver” occurs at 125 places in the Qur’an and is invariably followed by mention of His attribute of “compassion”.

Forgiveness is love’s way of healing us. Forgiveness is an intimate relationship with mercy that soothes pain, dissolves anger and releases attitudes that don’t serve our own life potential or humanity. Forgiveness is a journey that develops and requires the kind of courage that changes our lives in wonderful ways. This courage compels us increasingly to seek truth and compassion. Along the way, love’s presence sustains us when our effort is great. As we deepen in our forgiveness practice, we come to know how we are to express ourselves in the world.

With forgiveness promising so much, why do we often hesitate to actively forgive people it? Even when we desire to face long-held feelings and let go of painful wounds, we shy away from the depths of what forgiveness would have us experience. We may be reluctant to join hands with forgiveness because we lack the know-how, the tools of forgiveness. Or at some level, we may misunderstand forgiveness and decide it is not appropriate for us or that we are not ready. Forgiveness soothes the heart and cools the sting. It pays more to forgive than it costs to hate. Forgiveness puts the smile back on your lips and happiness into your heart. Put differently, the one who opens the doors of forgiveness soon enters the house of happiness! Forgiveness releases you from the punishment of a self-made prison where you are both the inmate and the jailer. Hating others or yourself is not an aid to leading a happy life. Hate produces more hate – never happiness. Hatred is the cancer of the soul. No one is so powerful as to be able to hate others without suffocating one’s own happiness and stifling one’s own personal growth. Forgiveness soothes the heart and cools the sting. “

I’ve heard people say that only God forgives, humans are not capable of showing such mercy. At first those words didn’t make much sense but then I later realized that in some situations it was true. Maybe we don’t really know how to forgive.

When we stand before the Almighty, hands stretched out towards the heavens, our eyes squeezed shut as we beg for forgiveness, what do we ask for? What kind of forgiveness do we ask for? We want a complete blank sheet, don’t we? We want another chance. We want our mountains of crimes to be erased, right? We want Him to accept our repentance and let us start again. We don’t want to be reminded of it, or be taunted about it later on, or have it come back to haunt us. We want our sins to be forgiven here and veiled on that day.

Society teaches us to forgive, but never forget. Is that possible? When we say we’ve forgiven another but then continue to remind them of their actions once in a while. Maybe in anger or maybe just to tease or make them feel hurt. That’s not the forgiveness we want for ourselves. What’s that called?

Abrahamic traditions teach us the infinite range of God’s mercy and forgiveness.

“Who is a God like you, who pardons sin and forgives the transgression of the remnant of his inheritance? You do not stay angry forever but delight to show mercy. You will again have compassion on us; you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.” (Micah 7:18-19)

The mercy of the Divine exceeds the righteousness of the Divine:

“But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” (Matthew 5:44-45)

It is not enough to love our neighbor; the real work is in loving our enemies:

“Allah the Almighty has said: ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as its.'”
(Hadith, On the authority of Anas)

God’s unconditional love eclipses all transgressions:

“Allah says: ‘Take one step towards me, I will take ten steps towards you. Walk towards me, I will run towards you.'” (Hadith Qudsi)

If we turn even a single degree toward the Divine, the Divine will utterly enfold us:

The lessons I have learned when it comes to forgiveness are several. The most important one to me is learning not to say “It’s OK” when clearly it’s not. I’ve learned that forgiveness is a choice and not a requirement in each of my relationships and, I now recognize that before offering my forgiveness I must acknowledge and understand my own feelings and emotions therefore, giving myself the opportunity to know myself better and grow as a person every step of the way. It’s been a huge — and much needed — realization for me to accept that the only person my forgiveness should influence is myself. If it happens to affect another in a positive way then that’s a bonus however, it is no longer an expectation. Forgiveness is my way of freeing my soul and moving on with an open heart!

“Forgiveness is a gift you give yourself.” — Tony Robbins