Forgiveness – An Important Virtue
by Asif Uddin
We sin openly and secretly, inwardly and outwardly, major and minor, to the Creator and the creation. And whilst it is unavoidable to do at least some sins, it is important that we seek forgiveness from Allah daily. In fact, there are at least twenty duas of forgiveness a Muslim can make every day. No one would seek forgiveness more than the blessed Messenger of Allah (SAllahu alaihi Wa Salam) despite all of his sins being forgiven, so how about us? We steal, lie, cheat, scorn and if we do not do this with others, we certainly do this with Allah.
Despite all of this, Allah is willing to forgive us. He loves to forgive and he would have replaced us if we were sinless with people who sin and then repent to him. If someone was to encroach upon our rights, how would we react? If we don’t forgive the person, we will at least seek ‘justice’. And the problem with seeking ‘justice’ is that it can be revenge in another name.
Justice is limited in how much we can attain and it is quantifiable. “And those who, when an oppressive wrong is done to them, take revenge. The recompense for an evil is an evil like thereof.” (Surah Ash-Shurah 39-40).
And what we seek cannot be compensated except through forgiveness. It will remove the hurt and the scar will be lifted. And so we choose something which is temporary that results in regret, for something permanent that we will always be pleased with even though its initial stages may feel bitter. And whilst ‘justice’ is measurable, the reward is not. There is no mention of gardens or rivers, but the reward is with Allah. “but whoever forgives and makes reconciliation, his reward is with Allah.” (Surah Ash-Shurah (40)
Forgiveness is not easy to do and that is why the rewards are so high. Someone may say: ‘I will forgive everyone except for such and such a person because you don’t know what s/he’s done to me’. Remember what we have done against Allah and yet he forgives us for nothing in return. Remember how Abu Bakr forgave a companion for spreading rumours of adultery about his daughter, the wife of the Prophet and our mother, Aisha. Why? Because he understood that the reward of forgiving him is far greater than any justice he would be able to gain in this life or on the Day of Judgement. And this is a greater type of sabr when a calamity befalls someone because in the former you have a choice. The ones we get most angry with are those whom we are closest to and because we see them day in and day out , it is more difficult to forgive them. In fact, the test of good character is not to show it to people you like or don’t know, but people you don’t like. Ibn Taymiyyah wrote: “be in need of whoever you wish, and you will be his prisoner; be sufficient from whoever you wish, and you will be his adversary; be kind to whoever you wish, and you will be his authority”
We may feel we cannot trust anyone. It doesn’t matter how deep one’s love is for their spouse, parents, children, siblings and friends – there will always be some element of disappointment. And although we should not think like this, in some situations, it cannot be helped. It is easier to please Allah than to please the people. Ibn Qayim said: “The heart of who you are trying to earn acceptance, is in the hands of whom you disobey.”This is why we must always do things for Allah alone and everything else should be secondary. This way, if you are disappointed by the people, you didn’t do it for them anyway. And any harm they cause us will be worth it because the reward will be higher. In fact, there are eight gates of Paradise and whilst we know one named ‘Rayyan’ exclusively for those who fasted. There is another in which one forgives the one who oppressed them. These eight gates represent the greatest actions one can do in Islam.
In one perspective, we should fear people more than Allah? As Allah is Al-Ghafur, At-Tawwab, but mankind is plagued by pride and arrogance. So despite any sin we may do, Allah is willing to forgive us if we apply the conditions. As for man, our hearts are hard and not willing to forget let alone forgive. We are reminded constantly of past transgressions in a heated argument even when we were ‘forgiven’ and we curtail our kindness because of that hurt that we once felt.
And yet when Allah forgives, it is almost as though we had not done that sin and He bestows more mercy upon us so that we are not embarrassed to return to him. As one Mufassir (explainer of the Quran) wrote: Allah knows things about you that if your parents would know, they would disown you. That if your wife would know, she would divorce you. If your slave were to know, he would run away from you. If your neighbour would know, they would move away from you. But despite all of this, Allah is Merciful.
Knowing this characteristic about ourselves, we should therefore limit the harm we cause one another. We are all on a journey together; let us help each other to be righteous, seeking forgiveness of each other, overlooking each other’s mistakes. Let us facilitate jannah for each other, not jahanam. Paradise is very vast and it has room for us all. And it doesn’t matter how much we may despise one another, kafir or Muslim, we should never wish jahanam for anyone if we truly knew its reality. So a word said to our brother or sister even though it takes a few seconds, the consequences are billions of years in the hellfire or trillions of years in Paradise. Is it not enough for us to worry about our good deeds being accepted, than for us to increase in sin and worry about others holding grudges?
Ibn Taymiyyah said, “Verily, I constantly renew my Islam until this very day, as up to now, I do not consider myself to have ever been a good Muslim.”