Forgiveness In Life

Forgiveness In Life

Allah has granted intellect to human beings. The intellect entails responsibility. The more intellect a person has the more he/she is held responsible. When the intellect is missing, the responsibility is also not there. Little children are not held responsible, because their intellect has not yet developed. The insane are not responsible, because they have lost the intellectual capacity.

However, part of our being human is also that we make mistakes. Sometime we make mistakes without deliberation and intention. But sometime we knowingly and deliberately sin and do wrong to others. It is said: “to err is human and to forgive is divine.” Both parts of this statement are very true. As human beings we are responsible, but we do also make mistakes and we are constantly in need of forgiveness.

Islam speaks about two aspects of forgiveness:

  • Allah’s forgiveness.
  • Human forgiveness.

We need both, because we do wrong in our relations to Allah as well as in our relations to each other.

Allah’s Forgiveness:

Allah is the most Forgiving. There are many names of Allah given in the Qur’an. Some of these names are related to His mercy and forgiveness.

Some of these beautiful names:

* Al-Ghafoor: The most Forgiving. This name occurs in the Qur’an more than seventy times. There are other names from the same root, such as Ghaafir and Ghaffar. The meaning of the “ghafara” is to cover, to hide and from it comes the meaning “to excuse”, “to pardon”, “to remit” and “to forgive”. Allah does all these things. In the Qur’an, it is mentioned that:

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ لَا يَغۡفِرُ أَن يُشۡرَكَ بِهِۦ وَيَغۡفِرُ مَا دُونَ ذَٲلِكَ لِمَن يَشَآءُ‌ۚ وَمَن يُشۡرِكۡ بِٱللَّهِ فَقَدۡ ضَلَّ ضَلَـٰلاَۢ بَعِيدًا

“Lo! Allah pardoneth not that partners should be ascribed unto Him. He pardoneth all save that to whom He will. Whoso ascribed partners unto Allah hath wandered far astray.. (Surah al-Nisa’ 4:116) We must turn to Allah to seek His forgiveness.

* Al-’Afuww: This is another aspect of forgiveness. This name occurs in the Qur’an five times. Literally the word `Awf means “to release” “to heal”, “to restore”, “to remit”. Thus in relation to Allah it means “to release us from the burden of punishment due to our sins and mistakes”, “to restore our honor after we have dishonored ourselves by committing sins and making mistakes.” Sometimes in the Qur’an both names: `Afuww and Ghafoor come together.

* Al-Tawwaab: The Acceptor of repentance. This name of Allah is mentioned in the Qur’an about 11 times. Allah accepts the repentance of those who sincerely repent and turn to him. The word “Tawwaab” gives the sense of “oft-returning” which means that Allah again and again accepts the repentance. We make sins and mistakes then we repent, He accepts our repentance. Then again we commit sins and make mistakes and when we repent, He again very kindly accept us and gives us another chance.

* Al-Haleem: The Clement. This name is mentioned fifteen times in the Qur’an. This means that Allah is not quick to judgment. He gives time. He forebears and is patient to see His servant to return to Him.

* Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim: The most Merciful and Compassionate. These names are the most frequently mentioned in the Qur’an. Al-Rahman is mentioned 57 times and al-Raheem is mentioned 115 times. Al-Rahman indicates that Allah’s mercy is abundant and plenty and al-Raheem indicates that this is always the case with Allah. He is full of love and mercy and He is ever Merciful.

The Qur’an teaches that Allah is a Judge and He also punishes, but Allah is not bound to punish. The justice of Allah, according to Qur’an is that Allah does not and will not inflict undue punishment on any person. He will not ignore the good of any person. But if He wishes to forgive any sinner, He has full freedom to do that. His mercy is unlimited and His love is infinite. There are many verses in the Qur’an and sayings Rasulullah (SAW) on the love, mercy and forgiveness of Allah. In one of the prayers that Rasulullah (SAW) taught, he said, “O Allah, You are most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me.” (Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah) We need Allah’s mercy and forgiveness all the time. It is wrong to assume at any time that one will find eternal salvation without the forgiveness of Allah.

Human Forgiveness in Islam:

Just as it is important to believe in the mercy and forgiveness of Allah, it is also necessary to base human relations on forgiveness. We cannot expect Allah’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies is one of the most important Islamic teachings. In the Qur’an Allah has described the Believers as:

وَٱلَّذِينَ يَجۡتَنِبُونَ كَبَـٰٓٮِٕرَ ٱلۡإِثۡمِ وَٱلۡفَوَٲحِشَ وَإِذَا مَا غَضِبُواْ هُمۡ يَغۡفِرُونَ

“Those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive.” (Surah al-Shura 42:37)

Allah also says:

وَجَزَٲٓؤُاْ سَيِّئَةٍ۬ سَيِّئَةٌ۬ مِّثۡلُهَا‌ۖ فَمَنۡ عَفَا وَأَصۡلَحَ فَأَجۡرُهُ ۥ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ‌ۚ إِنَّهُ ۥ لَا يُحِبُّ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ

“The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah.” (Surah al-Shura 42:40)

Allah says:
وَإِنۡ عَاقَبۡتُمۡ فَعَاقِبُواْ بِمِثۡلِ مَا عُوقِبۡتُم بِهِۦ‌ۖ وَلَٮِٕن صَبَرۡتُمۡ لَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ لِّلصَّـٰبِرِينَ (١٢٦) وَٱصۡبِرۡ وَمَا صَبۡرُكَ إِلَّا بِٱللَّهِ‌ۚ وَلَا تَحۡزَنۡ عَلَيۡهِمۡ وَلَا تَكُ فِى ضَيۡقٍ۬ مِّمَّا يَمۡڪُرُونَ (١٢٧)
“If you punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith you were afflicted. But if you endure patiently, indeed it is better for the patient. Endure you patiently. Your patience is not except through the help of Allah.” (Surah al-Nahl 16:126-127)

In one Hadith Rasulullah (SAW) said: that Allah has commanded him about nine things. One of them he mentioned was “that I forgive those who do wrong to me.”

Rasulullah (SAW) was the most forgiving person. He was ever ready to forgive his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him. They abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of mistreating their Prophet.

Rasulullah (SAW) prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta’if, because what they did was out of their ignorance. Rasulullah (SAW) said: “O Allah, guide these people, because they did not know what they were doing.”

When Rasulullah (SAW) entered the city of Makkah after the victory, Rasulullah (SAW) had in front of him some of his staunchest enemies. Those who fought him for many years persecuted his followers and killed many of them. Now he had full power to do whatever he wanted to punish them for their crimes. It is reported that Rasulullah (SAW) asked them: “What do you think I shall do to you now?” They pleaded for mercy. Rasulullah (SAW) said: “Today I shall say to you what Yusuf said to his brothers,

يَغۡفِرُ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡ‌ۖ وَهُوَ أَرۡحَمُ ٱلرَّٲحِمِينَ

“No blame on you today. Go, you are all free.” (Surah Yusuf 12:92)  Soon they all came and accepted Islam at his hands.

Rasulullah (SAW) forgave even Hind who had caused the murder of his uncle Hamza (RA). After killing him she had his body mutilated and chewed his liver. When she accepted Islam, Rasulullah (SAW) even forgave her.

A very striking example of forgiveness we find in the Qur’an in reference to the most unfortunate event of “Slander of Ayesha”. Some hypocrites of Medina accused her.  They tried to put dirt on her noble character. One of the slanderers turned out to be

Mistah, the cousin of `Ayesha (RA) father Abu Bakr’s. Abu (RA) used to give financial help to this young man. After he slandered his daughter, Abu Bakr (RA) vowed not to help him any more. But Allah reminded Abu Bakr (RA) and through him all the Believers:

وَلَا يَأۡتَلِ أُوْلُواْ ٱلۡفَضۡلِ مِنكُمۡ وَٱلسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤۡتُوٓاْ أُوْلِى ٱلۡقُرۡبَىٰ وَٱلۡمَسَـٰكِينَ وَٱلۡمُهَـٰجِرِينَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ‌ۖ وَلۡيَعۡفُواْ وَلۡيَصۡفَحُوٓاْ‌ۗ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغۡفِرَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡ‌ۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ۬ رَّحِيمٌ

“Let not those among you who are endued with grace and amplitude of means resolve by oath against helping their kinsmen, those in want and those who migrated in the path of Allah. Let them forgive and overlook. Do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? Indeed Allah is oft-Forgiving, most Merciful.” (Surah Al-Nur 24:22)

Abu Bakr (RA) came out of his home and said: “Yes, indeed, I want Allah’s forgiveness.” He not only continued to help him but he gave him more.

Islam emphasizes justice and punishment of the wrong doers, but it equally strongly emphasizes mercy, kindness and love. Justice, law and order are necessary for the maintenance of a social order, but there is also a need for forgiveness to heal the wounds and to restore good relations between the people. We must keep in mind that as much as we need Allah’s forgiveness for our own sins and mistakes, we must also practice forgiveness towards those who do wrong to us.

Forgiveness as a Way of Life

EVER wonder what life would be like if our family and friends never forgave us for the mistakes we commit? Take a moment to reflect on your own life. Think hard about it. What images do you see more often? Do you see yourself apologizing more or waiting for an apology? Now try to forget about all of those times when you felt someone else should have been asking you for forgiveness but did not come around to it. Forget about all of those times when you felt you deserved an apology but one was not forthcoming. This is not about everyone else, it is about you. It is about you making an intentional decision, a deliberate choice to internalize forgiveness as a way of life.

What is Forgiveness?:

All of us, at one point or another in our lives have had an experience that frustrated us, made us upset, resentful, or angry. The sources of difficulty might have been, among so many possibilities, the words or actions of a family member or friend, or the words or actions of a stranger. Based on the intensity of the pain or harm we perceive from such difficult moments or incidents, we sometimes find that it is not possible for us to move on, to overlook, or to look past the pain or hurt.  Even worse, we sometimes find it impossible to resume normal interactions with the individual or individuals who have caused us the pain.

Forgiveness is the subsiding and ultimate elimination of feelings of anger, frustration, and resentment toward the individual or individuals who have caused us the pain, followed by a resumption of normal interactions with the individual or individuals concerned. Ultimately, forgiving a person wipes away the active memory of whatever pain or hurt that caused the rift to begin with.

This notion of wiping away, of starting anew, is rooted in Islamic teachings. One of the attributes of Allah Almighty is that He is Al-Ghaffar (the Forgiving). There are frequent occurrences in the Qur’an of the juxtaposition of the notion of Allah the Almighty forgiving us and of covering or wiping our sins away. Among the numerous examples in the Qur’an, a part of one verse in particular stands out:

إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَفُوًّا غَفُورًا

“… Truly Allah is Ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving.” (Surah al-Nisa 4:43)

And in this same Surah, Allah Almighty reminds us again of people who strive to do good and struggle in the path of Allah:

فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ عَسَى ٱللَّهُ أَن يَعۡفُوَ عَنۡہُمۡ‌ۚ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ عَفُوًّا غَفُورً۬ا

“For these, there is hope that Allah will forgive: “These are they whom Allah is likely to forgive, and Allah is Ever Oft-Pardoning, Oft-Forgiving.” (Surah al-Nisa 4:99)

The reference to forgiving our sins reminds us of a renewal of sorts, so that the slate of our actions is wiped clean. Similarly, when forgiving a person or persons, we strive to reach a level of self-restraint so that our actions with those who hurt us are no longer guided by anger or resentment, but rather by a desire to re-establish the bonds which exist between family and friends.

Obstacles to Being a Forgiving Person:

What is it about forgiving others that is so difficult? If you think about it, you can identify family members and friends you know who have found it almost impossible to be forgiving. We all might have family members who allowed an argument, over something trivial, to escalate to the point of no return. Rather than restraining anger, restraining the tongue, and restraining the hands and legs, we sometimes become vulnerable and lose control of ourselves. As a result, an uncle might not be talking to your father, or a mother might be shunning her own daughter or son. The desire not to forgive is not something unnatural.

What is unnatural, with sometimes dire consequences to one’s mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, is the savoring of, the sulking in, and as gory as it sounds, the enjoyment of, the feelings of resentment and anger towards a person. As you can tell by now, you and I are responsible for how we manage our feelings, especially when it comes to being forgiving of one another. As much as we would like to blame our inability to forgive other people, claiming that we do not forgive because the other person or persons are so bad, so unworthy of forgiveness, the reality is that not forgiving others is more a reflection about who we are, and about ourselves more than it is about other people.

Our beloved Rasulullah (SAW) has taught us clearly that exercising self-restraint, especially in situations where we would be justified fully to exact retribution, is an ideal to which every believer should aspire. We learn from Rasulullah (SAW) as narrated to us by Abu Hurairah (RA), that “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.” (Sahih Al-Bukhari)

Are you ready to incorporate forgiveness as a way of life? Who will be the first person you e-mail or call to tell them that he or she is forgiven? Who will you walk up to and say, “Listen, I’m sorry for holding a grudge against you for so long.” Imagine how relieved you will feel knowing that you are no longer carrying around with you the burden of anger and frustration! Knowing that you have released all of that negative energy from your body will be refreshing and make it easier for you to be forgiving of others and to be forgivable by others. Indeed Allah is the Forgiving and our Rasulullah (SAW) mastered forgiveness.

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