Learning to Forgive


What is Forgiveness? How to forgive? What are the benefits of forgiveness?

Human beings are social creatures, living together as families in neighbourhoods, communities and towns. The infrastructure of cities, roads, transport, institutions and facilities for leisure and recreation all are a testimony of hard work and a long torturous history. This economic prosperity is a result of many compromises where individuals and groups have willingly and unwillingly given and taken. People have been victims as well as perpetrators of injustice. However, people have learnt to forgive and move on. It is quality of being tolerant to others and the spirit of compassion that has been the force de tour of human civilisation and prosperity. The progress of Human civilisation is deeply rooted in forgiveness.

Islamic teachings make it obligatory for Muslims to develop the virtue of forgiveness as the Quran repeatedly tells them to forgive; It doesn’t just command forgiveness but teaches that God is the Forgiving (Ghafir), the absolutely Forgiving (Ghaffar) and the most oft Forgiving (Ghafoor). Thus, the Quran provides us excellent examples and role models of forgiveness. We will also read how wonderfully forgiving the Messenger (peace be upon him) of Islam was!

“Forgiveness allows us to let go of the pain in the memory and if we let go of the pain in the memory we can have the memory but it does not control us. When memory controls us we are the puppets of the past” (The Garden of Forgiveness in Beirut by A. Asseily).

Forgiveness is a powerful virtue for displacing hard feelings , it empowers the victim to release resentment, hatred, malice and thoughts of revenge. What you are doing is dissociating yourself from the negative feelings that keep reminding you of the offence done against you. This diminishes the negative feelings against the other and gives you a sense of control and freedom that results in a happier life.

Research shows that forgiveness has health benefits too. Bitterness, hatred, grudges and desire for revenge is known to increase blood pressure and symptoms of stress. On the other hand forgiveness leads to improvement in health; this is a result of lower blood pressure, less hostility, less anxiety and depression. Forgiveness is a positive feeling, attitude and behaviour that it naturally helps one better manage anger, build better relationships and win more friends. On the whole forgiveness is a complete remedy for personal, social and health well-being.

Read the following beautiful stories of Forgiveness from the life of our Master and teacher Muhammad (peace be upon him). As we practise forgiveness we will become closer to him. This is our Islamic duty! Since forgiveness is a difficult task I have highlighted many examples from the Prophet’s life, forgiveness in challenging and hard work!

The Quran presented the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the most beautiful role model for mankind. “Indeed, in the messenger of God there is a beautiful role model for you.” He is an exemplar par excellence in all aspects of life the purity of his beliefs, the goodness of his behaviour, the beauty of his character a splendid role model, we all recognise the need for role models, children imitate their parents, students reflect the manners of their teachers and those who yearn for perfection in character and devotion to the Lord can find no better model than the prophet of Islam.

The trip to Taif

The intense trials and tribulations of the prophet’s (peace be upon him) trip to the city of Taif, illustrates in abundance the virtues of forgiveness and forbearance, which were the hallmark of his gentle, stoical personality.  This trip came soon after the death of his beloved wife and constant and loyal companion of 25 years Khadija as well as that of his patron uncle Abu Talib who had been an impenetrable bulwark that stood between his nephew and the brutal Quraish. The prophet’s (peace be upon him) life was in emotional turmoil at this time with no moral support from Khadija or protection from Abu Talib. With his uncle gone, the Quraish sensed the prophet’s (peace be upon him) vulnerability and speeded up their vicious and relentless campaigns of hatred against him. He (peace be upon him) decided to try the nearby city of Taif hoping that the call to Islam would find more willing recipients there than Makka. However, the tribe of Thaqif, who ruled the city, not only declined to listen to him but mocked and ridiculed him mercilessly and expelled him from the city.

In the face of such a fierce opposition, the beloved prophet (peace be upon him) had no choice but to retreat hastily. They ran after him, pelting him with stones which caused him severe injuries.  In excruciating mental, physical and emotional pain, bleeding and exhausted, he (peace be upon him) took refuge in a vineyard. Feeling dejected, forlorn, helpless and humiliated he raised his hands and prayed a prayer which has become an iconic symbol of utter submission to the will of God in the face of complete and total despair. The intensity, the beauty and the very moving humility of this magnificent supplication most eloquent.

O God! please consider my weakness, my shortage of means, and the little respect   people have of me. Oh, most Merciful God, You are the Lord of the oppressed and you are my Lord. To whom would you leave my fate? To a stranger who insults me? Or to an enemy who dominates me? Would I that you have no wrath against me! Your pleasure alone is my objective.

The Prophet sends charity to famine stricken Makka

The Muslims had been attacked three times by the Makkans, at Badr, Uhud and third time when they gathered all their allies to wipe out the Muslims.  However, look at the goodness of the messenger of God (peace be upon him), when he heard that people in Makka were facing a famine, he (peace be upon him) immediately sent them a supply of food and 500 gold coins as charity from the Muslims of Madinah.

The Conquest of Makka

The conquest of Makka is perhaps the most striking example of the messenger’s (peace be upon him) forgiveness and moral character. After twenty years of hostility and persecution, he returns to Makka with a mighty army the likes of which the Quraish had never seen. However, he entered with utmost humility, with a bowed head, no swagger, no trappings of an all-mighty conquering hero, no revenge or retaliation. Not a single person was killed in this phenomenal conquest.  Haykal describes the general amnesty as follows:

‘O! The beauty of pardon and forgiveness on the part of the mighty and powerful! How great is the soul of Muhammad which rose above hatred and above revenge, which denied every human feeling and ascended to heights of nobility that man had never reached before! There were the Quraysh among whom were people whom Muhammad knew had plotted to kill him, had persecuted him and inflicted upon him and his companions all kind of injury and harm, who fought him at Badr and at Uhud, who blockaded him in the campaign of al Khandaq, who incited the Arab tribes to rise against him and who would even then tear him apart if only they had the power. There, the whole of Quraish stood totally under Muhammad’s hand, indeed under his feet, totally subject to his command. His heart was absolutely free of injustice, of malice, of tyranny or false pride. In the most decisive moment, God gave him power over his enemy. But Muhammad chose to forgive, thereby giving to all mankind and all the generations the most perfect example of goodness, of truthfulness, of nobility and magnanimity’ (The life of Muhammad).

A powerful lesson about forgiveness

Once a college professor was teaching on the high cost of being unforgiving, he asked each of his students to bring a sack of potatoes to class. For each person they refused to forgive, they had to select a potato and write the date on it beside that person’s name. Then for a month, without fail, they had to carry that sack of potatoes with them everywhere they went. After lugging those sacks around for a while each student began to recognise how much weight they were carrying; the amount of energy it took to focus on their bag; and that they had to be careful not to leave it in the wrong place. Eventually, as the potatoes began to rot and stink, they realised that getting rid of them was the only smart thing to do.

A Good question, how would you like God to forgive you in the same way you forgive others? If that thought makes you uncomfortable, do something about it!

You will have played and re-played your personal tragedy and betrayal and hurt movie so often as you know it inside out, here are four powerful reasons why you should let go of the grudge, the complaint, the bitterness, the resentment and hatred that you have held against someone:

  1. Letting go of past hurts gives you the freedom to secure the present and prepare for  future, the offender can no longer hurt you.
  2. When you’re not spending time and energy feeding a grudge, you can nourish new, healthy ideas. On the other hand a  grudge takes time and energy. How can you afford to waste time and energy on futile and hurtful activity?
  3. Unfortunately holding a grudge feels like a form of control, because you falsely think that by harbouring resentment you can stop him from hurting you again. Since he can’t get close to you but actually you’re the one who is being controlled.
  4. We are often reminded that the offender has done nothing to deserve forgiveness, but God mandates us to forgive. Since he is the all forgiving. You’ve held onto it long enough; it’s time to let it go and enjoy the freedom that comes from forgiveness.

Once you lower your defences you can start to heal, love, and be loved.

Feeling angry feels good temporarily, but being healed feels so much better. Letting go of your bitterness or hurt means you have cleanse yourself of all toxic relationships and people which were keeping your all warm is fresh. Kristin Armstrong says “after you forgive… You get to work out the process. It’s a collaborative effort of God’s power and your hard work. Letting go isn’t always as simple as opening your tightly clenched fist, yet deliverance often is immediate”.