Forgiveness is an attribute that has always received due attention in Islam as it has been widely mentioned in the noble Qur’an and the Sunnah. True Muslims have always adopted a forgiving attitude towards others. Nowadays, however, this noble trait is often forgotten and it seems very hard to see it practiced in everyday life. That is the reason why we hear news of wars everywhere where people are fighting and killing each other. Every side blames other parties and neglects the virtue of forgiveness. It is therefore important for us to re-inculcate the value of forgiveness in our lives, but before learning how to do that, we first need to know what forgiveness really is and why it is important to forgive.
To forgive an enemy or someone who has done wrong to you is to avoid taking revenge or inflicting punishment while you have the ability and the means to do so. A forgiving person treats kindly those who have committed a mistake or done him or her injustice. Another meaning of forgiveness is to forgo something you are entitled to. Also, a person who overlooks the faults in others is a forgiving person.
Thus, forgiveness signifies overlooking the offence and injustice of a person who has purposefully or mistakenly done you wrong, such as insulting you, beating you up or taking your property unjustly.
There are two aspects of forgiveness: divine forgiveness, which is shown by Allah, the All-Merciful, the Most Forgiving, and human forgiveness, which people show to one another with the aim of attaining the pleasure of Almighty Allah. We cannot expect to be forgiven by Allah unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other and even forgiving one’s enemies is a highly commendable principle in Islam. In the Qur’an, Almighty Allah says [those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive.] (Ash-Shura 42:37)
We may forgive someone because we are unable to take vengeance or inflict punishment on them. This kind of forgiveness is, in fact, tantamount to patience and forbearance. It is not real forgiveness, but rather a kind of tolerance. The real meaning of forgiveness, however, is manifested when we have the means to take revenge but prefer to forgive and pardon.
The noble Qur’an describes forgiveness in the following terms:
[Turn to forgiveness and enjoin good and turn aside from the ignorant.] (Al-A`raaf 7:199)
[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).] (Aal `Imran 3:134)
Importance of Forgiveness
A servant who hopes that his sins and offences shall be forgiven by Almighty Allah should also learn to forgive others and overlook their errors. Hating that their faults and weaknesses should be exposed, every Muslim should also screen the faults and weaknesses of others, unless otherwise necessary. Such attitude is referred to in a hadith in which the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said, “None of you truly believes until he wishes for his (Muslim) brother what he wishes for himself.” (Al-Bukhari)
Indeed, seeking forgiveness from Almighty Allah is a sign of humility in the servant and forgiving others is a sign of nobility. Moreover, forgiveness creates an atmosphere of kindness and ease among people and it improves their mutual relationships.
When we commit a sin, the following four witnesses are established against us:
- The place where the sin is committed.
[On that day, she (the earth) shall tell her news.] (Az-Zalzalah 99:4)
- The organ used in the commission of the sin.
[Until when they come to it, their ears and their eyes and their skins shall bear witness against them as to what they did.] (Fussilat 41:20)
- The angels who record our deeds, good and evil alike.
[Honorable recorders; they know what you do.] (Al-Infitar 82:11,12)
- And above all, the Witness over all things: Almighty Allah.
[…We record that which they send before them, and their footprints, and all things we have kept in a clear register.] (Ya-Sin 36:12)
From the foregoing, it becomes clear that none of our deeds can go unrecorded and that we will give account for all what we do and say. No matter how serious our sins were, if we sincerely repent to Almighty Allah, He, out of His boundless mercy, will accept our repentance and erase our bad deeds-as promised in His noble Qur’an and the Sunnah of His Prophet.
Unforgivable Sin & Unbounded Mercy
In the Qur’an, Almighty Allah says:
[Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated with Him, and He forgives what is besides this to whom He pleases…] (An-Nisaa’ 4:116)
As the verse suggests, disbelief in Allah is the only sin, or rather crime, that Almighty Allah does not forgive. Apart from it, He gracefully forgives all kinds of sins. Moreover, it should be noted here that the meaning intended in the above Qur’anic verse is when one dies in a state of disbelief; that’s to say, even this heinous sin is forgiven if one sincerely repents before death and believes in the One and Only God: Allah.
In a hadith qudsi (Divine Hadith), the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that Almighty Allah said, “O Son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not care (of the enormity of what you did). O Son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me ascribing no partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it is.” (Al-Mundhiri, and classed as hasan by Al-Albani)