What is forgiveness? How to forgive? What are the health benefits of forgiveness?
Human beings are social creatures, we live together as families in neighbourhoods, communities and towns. Our economic prosperity is a result of many compromises where individuals and groups have willingly and unwillingly forgiven each other. People have been victims as well as perpetrators of injustice. However, people have learnt to forgive and move on. It is a quality of being tolerant of others and the spirit of compassion that has been the force detour 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 teaches. It doesn’t just command forgiveness but teaches that Allah is the Forgiving (Ghafir), the absolutely Forgiving (Ghaffar) and the most oft Forgiving (Ghafoor). Thus, the Quran provides an excellent example of forgiveness, The Almighty. We will also read how wonderfully forgiving the Messenger of Islam (peace be upon him) 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 overcome resentment, hatred, malice and thoughts of revenge. Helping him or her to dissociate from the negative feelings that keep fresh the memory of the offence. By overcoming negative feelings, they get a sense of control, hence free of the burden of victimhood. That’s the secret to a happier life. So, when someone annoys you, instead of responding with expletives or angry words, remember Allah is giving you another opportunity to forgive, ‘resentment is one of the most expensive luxuries you can indulge in’. A grudge ruins your peace of mind like malignant cancer destroys a vital organ. In fact, there are few things as sad as a person who has harboured a grudge for years. Without forgiveness, life becomes an endless cycle of resentment and retaliation. One of the secrets to a long and fruitful life is to forgive everybody, everything, every night before you go to bed. It’s the key to having personal peace.
Research shows that forgiveness has health benefits too. Bitterness, hatred, grudges and desire for revenge increases blood pressure and symptoms of stress. On the other hand, forgiveness leads to less hostility, less anxiety and depression, an improvement in health; this results in lower blood pressure. 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.
The Quran presented the Prophet (peace be upon him) as the most beautiful role model for mankind: “You have an excellent role model in the Messenger of Allah” (Al Ahzab: 21). He is the exemplar par excellence in all walks 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 Prophet forgives his tormentors
After the death of Khadija and Abu Talib; the Quraysh sensed the Prophet’s vulnerability and sped up their vicious campaign of hatred. 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. However, the ruling tribe of Thaqif, not only declined to listen to him but mocked him and mercilessly expelled him from the city. In the face of such 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 took refuge in a vineyard. Feeling disappointed, lonely and humiliated he (peace be upon him) raised his hands and prayed a prayer, which has become an iconic symbol of utter submission to the Will of Allah in the face of despair. The intensity and moving humility of this supplication is impressive.
“Allah! Please consider my weakness, the shortage of means and the little respect people have of me. Oh, most Merciful Allah, 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.”
A powerful lesson about forgiveness
Once a college professor was teaching on the prohibitive cost of being unforgiving, he asked each student to bring a sack of potatoes to class. A potato for each person they refused to forgive, they had to write the date on it besides 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 sack of potatoes 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.
How would you like Allah to forgive you in the same way you forgive others?
That’s a great question, if that thought makes you uncomfortable, do something about it! You will have played and replayed your personal tragedies, betrayals and hurt movies so often as you know them inside out, here are four powerful reasons why you should let go of the grudge, the complaint, the bitterness, the resentment and the hatred that you have held against someone:
- Letting go of past hurts gives you the freedom to secure the present and prepare for the future, the offender can no longer hurt you.
- 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?
- We are often reminded that the offender has done nothing to deserve forgiveness, but Allah orders us to forgive. 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 cleansed yourself of all toxic relationships and people.
Now before you click off this article, ask yourself “who do I hold a grudge against? Will I forgive them? When will I forgive them?”