Forgiveness: Islamic Perspective

A lecture by Dr Muzzamil Siddiqi

Part of our being human is that we make mistakes, no body is perfect. Sometime we make mistakes without deliberation and intention. But sometime we 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 states 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.

Allah’s Forgiveness:
Allah the Almighty is the most Forgiving. There are many names of Allah given in the Qur’an. Some of which are related to His mercy and forgiveness. Let me mention some of these names.

Al Ghafoor (The Most Forgiving):
The most Forgiving. This name occurs in the Qur’an more than seventy times. There are other names from the same root.The meaning of the “ghafar” is to cover, to hide and from it comes the meaning “to excuse”, “to pardon”, “to remit” and “to forgive”. Allah the Almighty does all these things. In the Qur’an, it is mentioned that Allah does not forgive shirk (without repentance) but He may forgive every other sin for whomsoever He wills.

As Allah says in the Qur'an:

"Indeed! God does not forgive the sin of ascribing partners to Him, but He forgives anything else to whom He pleases, and whoever takes partners with God has gone astray into far error".Qur'an (4:116)

We must turn to Allah to seek His forgiveness.

This is another aspect of forgiveness. This name occurs in the Qur’an five times. Literally the word ‘Afuw means “to release” “to heal”, “to restore”, “to remit”. It means that Allah “ releases 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.” In some verses in the Qur’ an both names: ‘Afuw and Ghafoor occur together.

This name means 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 for forgiveness. 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 accepts us and gives us another chance. It is important to mention that we have to repent from our sins quickly and turn to God and ask for His forgiveness.

The Clement. This name is mentioned fifteen times in the Qur’an. It means that Allah The Almighty is not quick to judgment. He gives us time. He forebears and is patient with us till we return to Him.

Al-Rahman and al-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.

The Qur’an states 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 infinite.

There are many verses in the Qur’an and sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that emphasises the 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.” (Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah).

Thus we all need Allah’s mercy and forgiveness all the time.

Human For giveness in Islam:
Just as it is important to believe in the mercy and forgiveness of Allah, it is also necessary to base all human relations on forgiveness. How should we expect Allah’s forgiveness while we do not 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.” Qur'an ( 42:37)

Later in the same Surrah Allah says:

“The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah.”Qur'an ( 42:40)

In another Surrahs in the Qur’an, Allah The Almighty 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."Qur'an (16:126-127)

In one Hadith Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said that Allah has commanded him with nine things. One of them he mentioned was “that I forgive those who do wrong to me.”

The Prophet (PBUH) 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, 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 maltreating their Prophet. Mohammad (PBUH) prayed to Allah to save the people of Taif, because what they did was out of their ignorance.

He (PBUH) said:

“O Allah, guide these people, as they did not know what they were doing.”

When he entered the city of Mekkah 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 yea rs, persecuted his followers and killed many of them. Now he had full power to pay back and punish them for their crimes and for what they did to him and to the Muslims. Instead the Prophet (PBUH) asked them:

“What do you think I shall do to you now?” They pleaded for mercy. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Today I shall say to you what Joseph (referring to Prophet Youssuf (PBUH) as mentioned in the Qur’an, (Youssuf 12:92) Prophet Youssuf (PBUH) said to his brothers, ‘No blame on you today. Go, you are all free.” Soon they all came and embraced 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 embraced 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 Sayeda Aicha” (one Prophet Mohammed's wives). Some hypocrites of Madinah tried unrightfully to put dirt on her noble character. One of the slanderers turned out to be Mistah, the cousin of ‘Aicha'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 saying:

“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.”Qur'an (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 and support Mistah but he gave him more. Islam emphasises justice and punishment of the wrong doers, but it equally strongly emphasizes mercy, kindness and love. Justice, law and order are n ecessary 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.

Thus must not forget that as much as we need Allah’s forgiveness for our sins and mistakes, we must forgive those who do wrong to us.


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