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Newsletter for July 2013
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Forgiveness in Islam
towards understanding the role of forgiveness, mercy and compassion in Islam
by Nasir Shamsi
Forgiveness is pivotal to understanding the Islamic faith. In essence, Islam in Arabic , means submission. To submit is an essential part of the process of forgiveness. That Islam is a Faith of compassion and Mercy and forgiveness is eloquently represented by the fact that the very First verse of Qur'an opens with affirmation of MERCY, the most outstanding attribute of Allah, the Arabic word for God Almighty, the One and Only One God of the three Montheistic Faiths--Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The opening verse of Quran reads: Bismillah hirra Rehman- nir- Rahim ( In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful ).
Interestingly, all Chapters of the Quran--there are 114 chapters--begin with the same verse of compassion and Mercy ( Bismillah...) , except one Chapter, which carries the title of Tauba or Repentance.
Quran was revealed by God to Prophet Muhammad (s) over a period of 23 years (13 years in Mecca and 10 years in Medina) through the Angel Gabriel. The whole body- fabric of Qur'an is so immersed in the verses pertaining to Compassion, Mercy and Forgiveness that after a close study of the Book, one can easily conclude that Islam is in fact Religion of Mercy. Forgiveness is Divine, so goes the saying. God clearly loves His creation and although, he assumes as many as 99 names--each name describing a trait or attribute of the Almighty God, yet the names most often used, and repeated over and over again in His revealed Book, the Qur'an are those describing the Divine Attributes of Compassion, Mercy and Forgiveness. They are Rehman (compassionate) Rahim (Merciful) and Ghafoor (Forgiving). The Divine Attribute most generously referred to in Quran is His " Rahma ", that is Mercy.
A most eloquent verse (12) of the 6th Chapter, Al- Anam, in Quran declares in most clear words: ' Kaataba ala nafse'hi Rahma ', that is He (Allah) has ordained Mercy on Himself. In the same chapter, the great Promise of Mercy that Allah has mandated on Himself, is reiterated in these words: "
" And when ( O Prophet ) those who believe in your communications come to you, say: Peace be on you, Lord has ordained Mercy on Himself (salamun alakum, kataba Rabb-o kum ala nafs-e hi war-Rahma), so that if any one of you does evil in ignorance, then turns after that and acts aright, then He ( Allah) is Forgiving, Merciful. "
Quran 6: 54
There are similar other verses of Quran, promising atonement and forgiveness of ALL sins, provided a person turns to God in sincerity. Look at these Qur'anic verses, for example:
" Say, ( O Muhammad ), O, my servants or people (ibaadi) who have been prodigal to their own selves, Do not despair not of the Mercy of God (rehmat ullah), who forgiveth all sins. Lo ! He is the most Forgiving and Merciful ". ( Quran 39:58 ).
"And He it is who accepts repentance from His bondsmen, and pardons the evil deeds and knows what you do" ( Quran 42:25 )
" And lo! Verily I am Forgiving towards him who repents and believes and does good, and afterwards walks aright" ( Quran 2:82 )
The Door of Repentance is always left open to the Believer; if he turns to God, with sincerity and in humility, according to several verses of Quran, God may delete ALL his wrongful acts. This promise of atonement fills the heart of a believer with comfort and keeps him or her in a perpetual and continuous spiritual contact with the Creator, the Forgiving, the Merciful.
He looks to him for his Grace and Mercy. That is why, in the Muslim world, besides the daily most-uttered Quranic phrase, al-hamdu lillah ( Praise be to God), the other oft-repeated verse uttered in the five daily prayers as well as in the daily life of the Believers, is " Astaghfer ullah ", meaning:" Oh God ! Please forgive me , or " Astaghfer ullah -ho Rabbi wa atoobo elaih "
Oh God ! Please forgive me and accept my repentance. ". This continuous reminder, according to a Tradition of the Prophet (s), ensures a Believer's self-purification and protects him from unjust actions. This serves to hasten the fulfilment of a Believer's ultimate goal, namely attaining nearness to Allah ( Qurbe- Ilahi ). It makes him or her successful in this life and the
Similar to the statement in the Testament: " The man is made in the image of God ", the Quran declares that ' the man was made as vicegerent or representative of God on earth ' (inni jaa'ilan fil arz-i khalifa). The scholars of Islam conclude from this very meaningful verse of Quran, that, to lead a just life and to fulfill the purpose of his creation, every human being has to live his or her life in accordance with certain rules of conduct that must reflect the divine qualities in his or her day to day dealings with others. This is because he or she represents the Almighty God on earth. It is therefore necessary that in order to deserve forgiveness of God, a human being must demonstrate in his daily conduct of affairs, compassion, mercy and forgiveness. He must display in his dealings with others, whether relatives, friends, fellows in faith or followers of other faiths, even the strangers, even-handedness and fair play and ability to overlook, ignore and forgive others' faults or excesses.
In Quran Allah has promised forgiveness and great rewards in the life hereafter for those " who control their anger and forgive the fellow human beings " ( wal kazimin al ghaiz-a al aafina a'nin naas ). Allah calls these people who eschew their anger and forgive others, by the beautiful name of " muhsineen " ( the good-do-ers ). He says He loves the ' muhsineen ' . Here is the complete translation of these very remarkable verses on mercy and forgiveness:
" Obey God and the Apostle (Muhammad) that you may find mercy. Compete with each other to earn the forgiveness of your Lord and a Paradise as vast as heaven and earth, prepared for the righteous: those who give alms alike in prosperity and adversity; who curb their anger and forgive their fellow-beings . God loves the good-do-ers; who, if they commit evil or wrong their souls, remember God and seek forgiveness for their sins, for who but God can forgive their sins ? And (they) do not knowingly persist in their misdeeds. These shall be rewarded with forgiveness from their Lord and with gardens watered by running streams, where they shall dwell for ever. Blessed is the reward for those who do good works. " ( wallah-o yohibbul muhsineen ). ( Quran 3: 132-137 )
Wow !!! What a great bargain for those who control their anger, and walking in the way of their Merciful Lord, are willing to forgive others and submit to God, asking forgiveness of their acts of omission and commission, in all sincerity and humility ! And the Reward ? Allah, who is true to His promises, will not only forgive their sins but reward them with dwellings in
the Heaven, watered by the running streams.
The Forgiving, Merciful and Compassionate Prophet A close study of the life of the Prophet of Islam best exemplifies the
practice of the godly virtues of compassion and forgiveness. During his 40 years of living in Mecca, before He received the first revelation through Angel Gabrial, asking him to declare his Prophet hood, Muhammad had impressed the Meccans with his most compassionate and merciful nature. God was so pleased with his conduct that He eulogized him in Quran as ' Rehmat ul aalimeen ' , the Mercy for the whole universe, which remains to date his most celebrated tiltle in the Islamic world.
Examples of the Prophet's forgiving nature
After Muhammad proclaimed himself as Prophet as ordained by God, a terrible campaign of persecution started against him in Mecca. He was insulted in public, hooted and called names. An old lady threw on him dust and dirt from her roof when he passed by her house and she always yelled at him. One day while passing by her house, to his surprise, he did not see her. On enquiring from her neighbor, he learnt that she was sick. The prophet asked to be taken to the lady. seeing her perplexed by his visit, he told her that he was worried about her when he found her missing from her daily chore and come to enquire about her haelth. Embarrassed by Muhammad's compassionate overture, the old lady immediately repented asking him to forgive her and to include her among his followers.
Muhammad faced worst kind of persecution and atrocities on the hands of the pagans of Mecca who tortured and killed the early Muslims, some of his closest friends. Finally he was forced to leave his city, to seek shelter in Medina. The Meccan Chief, Abu Sufyan, the Prophet's worst enemy, who had spear-headed the opposition against him, led two fierce attacks against him and his followers in Medina. His wife had Muhammad's beloved uncle and strongman, Hamza killed by a slave, mutilating his body. Yet when a few years later, the Prophet of Islam re-entered Mecca with 10,000 Muslims, and the
entire city lay under his feet, without resistance, in an act of supreme compassion and mercy, and true to his title of ' rahmat ul aalimin ", the Prophet extended, through an order of general amnesty, a total forgiveness of all atrocities and injustices that had been perpetrated against him and his followers. He not only forgave abu Sufyan and his wife Hinda, but also declared that anybody entering their house will remain harmless against any act of revenge by the Muslims.
In the battle of Badr, the first invasion of the Meccans against the Muslims who had sought shelter in Medina, Muhammad had instructed his followers not to follow the running army, nor to hurt a person if and when he drops the arms. After his victory over the pagans, when the prisoners were brought before him, he ordered them to be treated with kindness. Then he issued an interesting order: any prisoner who would teach an illiterate Muslim how to read and write will be free to go, an act of unique forgiveness by the Prophet of Islam.
Forgiveness is considered as such a supreme virtue and a quality essential for self-purification. Among the mystics, the Sufi's, compassion and forgiveness are the divine qualities that a traveller on the path of ' salook ' (searching for the final truth ) must emula to seek nearness to God.
az kojâ jôyêm `ilm? az tark-é `ilm
az kojâ jôyêm silem? az tark-é silem
"How can we search for (true) knowledge? By abandoning
(false) knowledge. How can we seek (true) peace? By
abandoning (false) peace."
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