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Forgiveness in Islam

By: N. Ali
(Adapted from: Al-Noor, Vol 1, No. 6, Jamadi Al-Thani, 1412 A.H. - Dec. 1991 A.D. pp 10-11)

This subject has been discussed in a booklet entitled "Pardon in Islam" published by Be'that Foundation.

In many verses while using different modes of expression, the Holy Qur'an has recommended moral issues to us and praised the prophets for possessing such merits as patience, adherence to promises, forgiveness, modesty and good manners.

Forgiveness is an attribute which has received due attention in Islam and which has been extensively discussed in the Holy Qur'an, and hadiths (Islamic traditions).

The forgiveness desired by Islam is that we forgive when we have the power to take revenge


Forgiveness signifies overlooking the offence and sin of a person who has purposefully or mistakenly done you wrong, such as insulting you by his words, beating you up or exacting your property. Ignoring all these issues and not committing this wrong is called "forgiveness".

Forgiveness is of two types:

  1. We forgive someone when we are unable to take vengeance. This kind of pardon is, in fact, tantamount to patience and forbearance and not to forgiveness. In other words, it is a kind of helplessness and debility, a kind of tolerance.
  2. We forgive someone when we have the power to take revenge. The forgiveness desired by Islam and its leaders relates to his kind.
In the Holy Qur'an Allah has proclaimed the following:
  1. "Turn to forgiveness and enjoin good and turn aside from the ignorant (7:199)".
  2. "And if a false imputation from the Shaitan afflict you, seek refuge in Allah; surely He is Hearing, Knowing (7:200)".
  3. "Those who spend (benevolently) in ease as well as in straightness, and those who restrain (their) anger and pardon men; and Allah loves the doers of good (to others) (3:134)."
With more deliberation into the meaning of the divine verses, we realize that Allah Almighty enjoins on His prophets pardon and connivance.

Allah recommends him to observe good behavior while guiding the people, and keeps him away from getting involved with ignorant elements. To make His "Messenger" completely successful, Allah warns him against paying heed to satanic temptations, which are the biggest barrier before man in performing good deeds. To save His messenger, Allah commands him to seek refuge in Him.

It becomes evident that granting pardon to an oppressor and abstaining from taking vengeance are not so simple tasks. Man needs a greater spiritual power with which to kill his carnal desires and sense of vengeance, and to grant "Pardon" while he has the ability to take revenge. For this reason, Allah Almighty introduces "the restraint of anger" as one of the attribute pertains to people who suppress their anger and forgive others.

Hence Allah Almighty command:
"Thus it is due to mercy from Allah that you deal with them gently, and had you been rough, hardhearted, they would certainly have dispersed from around you; pardon them therefore and ask pardon, for them, and take counsel with them in the affair: so when you have decided, then place your trust in Allah; surely Allah loves those who trust (3:159)".
This Holy verse has been revealed about few Muslims who violated the Holy prophet's order in the Battle of Uhud thus leading to the defeat of the Moslems.

People expected the Holy Prophet to strongly punish those violators; however, the following holy verse was revealed:
"...forgive them therefore and ask forgiveness for them, and take counsel with them in the affair ... (3:159)"
In addition to calling on people to forgive, our religious leaders have always been the eminent pardoners in the world, and barring them, no one is capable of such an extent of forgiveness.
  1. The Messenger of Allah said: "The best deed before Allah is to pardon a person who has wronged you , to show affection for relatives who have broken ties with you, and to act generously towards a person who has deprived you ". Thereafter he recited the following holy verses:
    "Turn to forgiveness and enjoin good and turn aside from ignorant (7; 199) ".
  2. Imam Ali (A.S), Commander of the Faithful, in his testament addressed to Malik el Ashtar stated:
    "Fill your heart to the brim with mercy, kindness, and affection towards your subjects. Never act like a voracious 'animal' towards them, availing yourself of tearing them apart, for they are your brothers-in faith or your equals in creation. So grant them the same degree of pardon and forgiveness that you hope Allah will grant you, for, you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you and Allah is above him who gave you this position".
  3. The Imam also said:
    1. "The most deserving person to pardon others is the one who is most powerful in punishing others".
    2. "Subdue your anger and forgive a guilty person while you are in power".
    3. "When you gain power over the enemy, consider forgiving him as a sign of your gratitude for your power".
  1. Imam Ja'far as-Sadeq (A.S) stated: "Pardoning others while one is in authority is consistent with policy of the Prophets and the abstemious".
Examples of Remission

In the battle of Siffin, Moawieh, the son of Abu Sufyan, prevented the flow of water and thus did not allow the troops of Imam Ali to drink. Imam Ali (A.S) delivered a lecture following which his troops seized the source of water from the army of Moawieh, and drove it to the desert. The companions of the Imam said: "Let us now deny them access to the water, so that they would die of thirst and there would be no need to do battle with them. Imam Ali (A.S) noted: "By Allah, I will do no such thing. I deem my sword sufficient for achieving my ends". He then ordered them to reopen the flow of water on Moawieh's army, so that, it too can meet its needs.

It must be noted that remission has been recommended, as the personal right of every Muslim, upon being with authority, should forgive those who oppress him and trample upon his rights. He should not think of taking revenge, so the grudges and animosities could be uprooted in the world and the forbearing person, too, could receive a good reward from the Lord of the worlds.

As far as the rights of the society are concerned, "remission" results in the escalation of corruption and appearance of chaos. At such a time, social security will be jeopardized and the property, life and reputation of the people would remain immune from the aggression of the corrupt and wicked persons. For this reason, Islam has attached more importance to carrying out religious penance than to granting "remission".

Imam Mohammad Baqer (AS) has noted: "Allah Almighty has not left out anything whatsoever that His servants might need until the day of Resurrection, except that He has revealed it in a book and expressed it to His prophet. He has maintained a "limit" for everything and brought proof for it. For those who exceed the bounds, Allah the Almighty has fixed a "religious penance and punishment".

This precious statement of Imam Muhammad Baqer (AS) clearly indicate that "religious penance" has been allowed in order to prevent the transgression of the aggressor; furthermore, it serves to preserve Allah's equitable criteria in the world; to eradicate disorder, oppression, extortion, and obstinacy; to enable the society, with all its classes, to live in welfare and security under the light of Islamic justice; and to safeguard human honors and values against the encroachment of capricious and spiteful persons. Likewise, in the Islamic jurisprudence, it is stated that if three people bear witness concerning the religious penance for adultery without the presence of a fourth witness, all three just witnesses will be penanced because of marring the reputation of a person without the existence of religious conditions.


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