We often use the term "forgiveness" in dealing with each other. It would be beneficial to our souls to study and be aware of the true meaning of forgiveness and its rightful way of practice in the light of Quran.
To forgive, as defined in dictionaries, is to pardon an offense or offender, to cancel a liability, to give up a claim against someone and to cease the negative feelings of pain and resentment against someone. These definitions of forgiveness are hopefully going to be analyzed in this reminder because of their serious impact on our health and our relations.
Since we are in constant contact with fellow humans, it is likely to encounter a wide range of defective behavior and negative traits. This generates hurt which could escalate to various emotional and psychological problems specially for those who are aware and appreciative of their God-given rights and those who are blessed with thoughtful hearts and high standards of morality. Some of us, instinctively, tend to stagnate that hurt inside. Others are capable of expressing their emotions and standing for their rights. This later approach takes a lot of practice, perseverance and inner strength. However, it is God's recommendation for us in Quran as will be explained. It is the healthy approach for our souls as we manage to initiate a closure for a painful episode when we express our hurt feelings and stand for our rights. This initial step is the foundation of the actual process of forgiveness. Once we take it, we become psychologically ready to choose to let go of pain and resentment and give "time" the power to heal our souls and facilitate the entire process of forgiveness.
If we keep our emotions inside and never deal with our problems and stand for our rights in a righteous manner, as prescribed by God, we stay as subjects for attacks of pain, disappointment or anger. Those unhealthy feelings keep on resurfacing periodically and they undermine the quality of our lives and our relations with our beloved ones. The trust in those around us, even our dearest friends, is always under attack or threatened because of the growing, opened, mistreated and ignored wounds we carry inside and try to deny or live with.
Because Quran is described by God as a book of mercy and healing (10:57), it has a prescribed formula to deal with the issue of accumulating pain and grief deep inside us towards those who do not mind being aggressive against fellow humans. The formula of forgiveness is sufficiently highlighted by our Merciful God, and all what we need to do is to grasp the correct understanding, the guidelines and the consequences of this practice in order to apply it comfortably and firmly and benefit from its positive outcome:
- A famous misconception that always makes us afraid of forgiveness is that we think it is an indication of giving up our rights and dignity, thus, it is a sign of weakness. Quran teaches us the contrary of that. Quran teaches us that forgiveness actually goes hand in hand with standing for our rights and it is a sign of our strength and dignity. Quran invites the believers to always stand for their rights, and show such a stand distinctively from patiently and righteously forgiving the guilty party (42:39-40). In other words, we must stand for our rights when violated while righteously forgiving the aggressors. The following set of verses (42:37-43) show us that a therapeutic and an initial step to start the process of healing and forgiveness (as defined above) is to actually first stand for our rights. Once we stand for our rights, our strength of character to pardon and let go of the pain comes naturally as an outcome. Standing for our rights is a command from God to all believers that prevents evil from spreading in our communities. In no way, God would allow the believers to be apathetic towards aggression and falsehood.
Please note that there is no set time frame by God in these verses (42:37-43) to force us to go through the process of forgiveness right away when angered or when our rights are violated.. In other words, our reaction to pardon and forgive is not necessarily an instant one although some might be able to react this way. At times, it takes a long period of time to feel relieved and pain free. However, we are commanded to stand for our rights and beautify our actions with patience and righteousness until God heals our hearts. God explains for us that those who treat others unjustly are the ones wronging their souls. All what we have to do is to stay righteous, strong and patient while standing for our rights, and this will gradually enable our souls to let go of our pain. This is what the following verses are all about:
Traits of the Believers
[42:37] They avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive.
[42:38] They respond to their Lord by observing the Contact Prayers (Salat). Their affairs are decided after due consultation among themselves, and from our provisions to them they give (to charity).
[42:39] When gross injustice befalls them, they stand up for their rights.
[42:40] Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust.
[42:41] Certainly, those who stand up for their rights, when injustice befalls them, are not committing any error.
[42:42] The wrong ones are those who treat the people unjustly, and resort to aggression without provocation. These have incurred a painful retribution.
[42:43] Resorting to patience and forgiveness reflects a true strength of character.
- Another misconception that sometimes stops us from practicing forgiveness is that we believe when we pardon others, we must resume our normal relations with them or trust them unconditionally as if they have never violated any guidelines before. The following verses address this misconception.. In these verses, God is warning us against certain categories of people and telling us to be constantly aware of their harm or betrayal. At the same time, He is inviting us to disregard them while pardoning or forgiving them. This again emphasizes that forgiveness is a totally separate process to let go of our own pain and should not be perceived as a reason to become unconditionally trusting or to resume harmful relations. Time is the only tool to rebuild that lost trust if it is legitimate to have it back and we do not need to be associated with those who we forgive or even let them know we have forgiven them. We can simply disregard them, while benefiting from the positive outcome of letting go of the hurt and resentment:
Consequences of Violating God's Covenant [5:13] It was a consequence of their violating the covenant that we condemned them, and we caused their hearts to become hardened. Consequently, they took the words out of context, and disregarded some of the commandments given to them. You will continue to witness betrayal from them, excepting a few of them. You shall pardon them, and disregard them. GOD loves those who are benevolent.
[64:14] O you who believe, your spouses and your children can be your enemies; beware. If you pardon, forget, and forgive, then GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful.
[7:199] You shall resort to pardon, advocate tolerance, and disregard the ignorant.
- Besides the above two misconceptions, ego is a third obstacle to relieve our pain and practice forgiveness. Because of our egos, we tend to resist such a liberating act and in total deception we think we are in full control of ourselves and others or in a position of power when we hold on resentment. We think we will lose authority and do the opponent a favor by forgiving, and so, we egoistically resist that. In reality, we gain power and make peace with our very own selves, not the opponents, when we forgive.
In conclusion, forgiveness is a divine recommendation and should be understood and practiced as prescribed by God. The primary beneficiary is the one who strives to be patient and choose to let go of the negative feelings accumulated deep inside towards others. Therefore, forgiveness is a "selfish" act. It enhances the inner self strength, integrity and well being of the entity that chooses to forgive.
Forgiveness doesn't mean we do not stand for our rights. Standing for our rights is an initial step and a therapeutic foundation to be able to start the healing process of forgiveness. Once we stand for our rights and verbalize our emotions, our strength of character to pardon and let go of the pain easily follows. Forgiveness doesn't mean we must resume our relations with guilty parties instantly or trust them unconditionally. As believers and submitters, we must take God's recommendation to forgive others seriously. We must implore God to support us choose such a healing route. We must let go of our egos and continue our righteous behavior and patience while going through this process. Time is a powerful tool to heal our souls and to rebuild any lost trust. The Most Merciful never suggested any time frame to go through this process. It might take seconds or years to be able to completely forgive someone. However, we must trust the Almighty that the righteous example we set and the strength and peace we gain when we rightfully engage our souls in this process is quite worth it.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless.