Forgiveness in Islam

Summary of a Friday Khutbah, 14th April 2000

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala has granted intellect to human beings. The intellect entails responsibility. The more intellect a person has the more he/she is 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: a) Allah’s forgiveness; b) Human forgiveness. We need both, because we do wrong in our relations to Allah as well as in our relations to each other.

A. Allah’s Forgiveness:

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala 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. Let me mention some of these 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 Ghafir 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 subhanahu wa ta’ala does all these things. In the Qur’an, it is mentioned that Allah does not forgive the Shirk (without repentance) but He may forgive every other sin for whomsoever He wills. (al-Nisa’ 4:116) We must turn to Allah to seek His forgiveness.

Al-’Afuw: This has another aspect of forgiveness. This name occurs in the Qur’an five times. Literally the word ‘Afw 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: ‘Afuw and Ghafoor come together.
Al-Tawwab: 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 “tawwab” 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 subhanahu wa ta’ala is not quick to judgment. He gives time. He forebears and is patient to see His servant to return to Him.

Al-Rahman and al-Rahim: The most Merciful and Compassionate. These names are the most frequent 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 of the Prophet -peace be upon him- on the love, mercy and forgiveness of Allah. In one of the prayers that the Prophet taught, he said, “O Allah, You are most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me.”(reported by al-Trimidhi 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.

B. 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 teaching. In the Qur’an Allah has described the Believers as “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive.” (al-Shura 42:37) Later in the same Surah Allah says, “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah.” (al-Shura 42:40) In another place the Qur’an says, “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 (al-Nahl 16:126-127)

In one Hadith the Prophet -peace be upon him- said that Allah has commanded him about nine things. One of them he mentioned was “that I forgive those who do wrong to me.”

The Prophet -peace be upon him- 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. The Prophet -peace be upon him- prayed to Allah to save the people of Taif, because what they did was out of their ignorance. He said, “O Allah, guide these people, because they did not know what they were doing.” When he entered the city of Makkah after the victory, the Prophet -peace be upon him- 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 the Prophet -peace be upon him- asked them, “What do you think I shall do to you now?” They pleaded for mercy. The Prophet -peace be upon him- said, “Today I shall say to you what Joseph (referring to Prophet Yusuf -peace be upon him- as mentioned in the Qur’an, Yusuf 12:92) said to his brothers, ‘No blame on you today. Go, you are all free.” Soon they all came and accepted Islam at his hands. He forgave even Hind who had caused the murder of his uncle Hamza -may Allah be pleased with him. After killing him she had his body mutilated and chewed his liver. When she accepted Islam, the Prophet 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 Sayyidah A’isha’”. Some hypocrites of Madinah accused her. They tried to put dirt on her noble character. One of the slanderers turned out to be Mistah, the cousin of ‘Aisha’s father Abu Bakr’s. Abu Bakr -may Allah be pleased with him- used to give financial help to this young man. After he slandered his daughter, Abu Bakr vowed not to help him any more. But Allah reminded Abu Bakr and through him all the Believers, “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.” (Al-Nur 24:22) Abu Bakr -may Allah be pleased with him- 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.


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