Islamic Value – Forgiveness

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Taken from the book American Muslim Agenda by Dr. Mike Ghouse

Chapter 16: Islamic Values No. 6


Forgiveness is one of the twenty values of building cohesive societies. It is as crucial as the other nineteen values that contribute to the well-being of individuals, families, communities, and nations. Let’s not forget that the Quran is a book of guidance for humanity, from the very first chapter to the last one, and throughout the book, God addresses humankind and not Muslims.

If you take the word “God” out of the Quran, what you have is a book that helps build societies where every human can live freely in the pursuit of his or her life, liberty, and happiness. The Quran can be an excellent textbook for building such societies.

If the word Muslim is used in the book, it is not the group identified politically but the individuals who subscribe to the system of harmony, law, and secure societies. A good Muslim is a good citizen. You’ll find similar characteristics except for the rituals.

If you seek answers from the Quran to find who God showers his grace on the most and the least, it is the one who forgives the most and the arrogant one the least.

What is the need to believe in God? Someone or something has created precise systems that give life to each of us; everything around us, from family, food, water, air, etc., is spread out for our benefit (Quran 55:1-13). Even the poison of a snake is made for our use. Let’s look at this example: if you give me a gift for my benefit, and I don’t thank you, even if you were not expecting it, it creates momentary awkwardness. But when I thank you, it completes the transaction. Likewise, thanking whoever or whatever has given us everything completes the life transaction. It brings relief to us. That someone or something can be called God and million other names different groups choose to call him including Creator or the Causer.

God is selfish, as we are. His favorite human is the one who is on the vigil and takes care of his (the universe, life matter, and environment) property. Every religion calls him in various ways; the Quran calls him Rabbul Aalameen- creator of the universe (Quran 1:2). God gave us everything to live comfortably and in harmony with each other. Forgiveness is one of the values that continually restores harmony within an individual, family members, communities, and nations. It puts everyone back on the same level, restoring individual dignity. Why shouldn’t he love the one little bit more who contributes most to preserve his property? As a business owner or the head of the family, you will have a favorite who takes care of your business and property. God is no different.

President Nixon was a crook, but God will forgive him for his steps to preserve the environment by creating the Environment Protection Agency. There is a famous story where God forgave a woman’s sins on the street for one act of kindness in finding water for a thirsty dog. Such is the value placed on caring for life and the environment. I am not sure God will treat Bush and Cheney the same unless Bush does something to offset the thousands of deaths he has caused or repents and offers a public apology to the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and the families of our nearly 5000 American soldiers.

Muslims should clearly remember that the woman in the above story was not a Muslim, and God does not require you to be a Muslim to earn his grace. The Quran is a guide for humanity.

The top line of 113 chapters in the Quran is “God is the most gracious, merciful and kind.” Everything stems from God’s kindness; after all, he is the creator, sustainer, and recycler (Hinduism sees God in three roles).

Forgiveness restores harmony and balance to individuals, family members, communities, and nations. It brings peace to the forgiver and forgiven alike. After all, God wants us to restore balance to the universe. Indeed, you find the same guidance in all faith systems.

The Jain tradition has a beautiful phrase to express this thought: Michami Dukadam. It merely means let’s clean each other’s slates and start anew, forgive, and seek forgiveness.

At the funeral prayers for my late wife Najma at the Richardson (Texas) Mosque, we had over 2000 people from different faith traditions, and the Fire Marshall kept many more outside. Imam Zafar Anjum and I worked in tandem, and I was able to communicate to my fellow Americans of different faiths that the purpose of funeral prayers was to forgive and seek forgiveness. It is for us to release the deceased and find relief for ourselves. I asked them to recite Michami Dukadam with me. It’s a beautiful phrase to express a whole lot.

This is what Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) meant when he said that if you have to learn useful things in life and go to China (metaphor), go for it. Each faith tradition has values that add to the enrichment of us. Thus, Islam is a public religion not owned by anyone.

Forgiveness is the cornerstone of all religions. Islam and Christianity have put extra emphasis on this value of their faith. Jesus said on the cross, “Forgive them, Lord, for they know not.” Jesus is the morning star for Muslims who brought the good news. Indeed, Prophet Muhammad repeated the same message when he was pelted with rocks and was bleeding profusely on his way to the city of Taif. His associates wanted to go beat up the miscreants, and the angel Gabriel offered to crush them. But Prophet Muhammad, the peacemaker, said no and instead spoke to the effect, forgive them, Lord, for they know not, and prayed for their wellbeing. Forgiveness is like humility that builds bridges and brings conflicts to an end.

Why did Jesus and Muhammad take that posture? Let me share the practicality of this example: if you have a conflict with one of your family members, you cringe each time you see him or her at someone’s wedding and avoid each other. The same goes for an angry customer running into you in a grocery store or when you see your doctor in a restaurant who kept you waiting forever. None of you would be at ease.

During conflicts between spouses, family members, friends, communities, and nations, people throw offensive words at each other, aggravating the battle further. If we follow the wisdom of the sages, we can mitigate the conflicts and nurture goodwill. Prophet Muhammad was a great example of this attitude.

Of course, when one is beyond the scope of a dialogue, we have to condemn what is wrong and praise what is right.

Here are my personal examples of the value of forgiveness.

Two weeks before my late wife Najma’s death, I asked my son and daughter to visit her (their stepmom) in the hospital; there was reluctance. They had difficult relationships. I requested them again to attend, and they did. What I witnessed was non-verbal communication; all of them were crying. Najma was inherently aware of her mistakes and had wanted to make up with them but did not know how, and the kids were afraid to mess it up as well. They all forgave each other without saying a word, and she left the world in peace. I hope my kids have one less un-easy feeling to carry. The power of forgiveness brings freedom.

Three days before her death, I shared the good news with her, “Najma, spiritually you are a free person now, you will be pleased to know that all those items that bothered you and gave you tension are done with. The loose ends are tied, and if you were to get up and walk and be with anyone, hear about anything, or see anyone, you would be completely free from tensions”.

The smile on her face was life-giving; it meant everything to me. It was a relief to me to know that, as a spouse, I have completed her life successfully, and I thank God for that. I asked her to forgive my shortcomings, and she asked me to do the same without missing a beat. It was one of the best emotional releases she and I have had. It was a perfect Michami Dukadam. (cleaning each other’s slate)

You, me, and others have complicated relationships with family members, friends, customers, clients, and community members. Take the time to do your Michami Dukadam (forgive and seek forgiveness to start life with a clean slate from that day forward.

Forgiving is practical to restore harmony among people, and that is what God wants. It brings clarity to the foggy mind; you feel liberated.

As humans, we make mistakes, and the guidance from the Quran calls for us to seek forgiveness from God for the things we do that no one knows and forgiveness between fellow humans for the wrongs we do to each other.

When you forgive someone, you are not doing a favor to the other, and you are cleaning up yourselves. Forgiveness is an Islamic value, as it is common in all religions and contributes to the well-being of individuals, family members, communities, and nations.

Here are a few of the hundred-plus verses in the Quran.

By the way, the wisdom from God in the Quran and other holy books is for our benefit. God is happy when we live in peace and harmony.

Quran 42:40, “But [remember that an attempt at] requiting evil may, too, become an evil: [classical commentators stress the absolute prohibition of “going beyond what is right” when defending oneself against tyranny and oppression.] hence, whoever pardons [his foe] and makes peace, his reward rests with God – for, verily, He does not love evildoers [I.e., in this context, such as succumbing to the temptation of indulging in undue acts of revenge against their former oppressors].

Quran 42:43, “If one is patient in adversity and forgives – this, behold, is indeed something to set one’s heart upon!” Resorting to patience and forgiveness reflects a real strength of character.

Quran 7:199, “MAKE due allowance for man’s nature, [the believer is admonished to make due allowance for human nature and not to be too harsh with those who err.] and enjoin the doing of what is right; and leave alone all those who choose to remain ignorant [“the ignorant ones*’- i.e., those who willfully remain deaf to moral truths. And not’ those who are just unaware of them.]

Quran 3:159, “And it was by God’s grace that thou [O Prophet] didst deal gently with thy followers: [Lit., “with them”- i.e., with those of his followers who had failed in their duty before and during the disaster at Uhud. According to all available accounts, the Prophet did not blame any of them for what they had done.] for if thou have been harsh and hard of heart, they would indeed have broken away from thee. Pardon them, then, and pray that they are forgiven. And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in God. Verily, God loves those who put their faith in Him [This verse, implying government by consent and council, must be regarded as one of the fundamental clauses of all Quranic legislation relating to statecraft]

Quran 5:13, “Then, for having broken their solemn pledge, [An allusion to their lack of trust in God and their persistent sinning]. We rejected them and caused their hearts to harden- [so that now] they distort the meaning of the [revealed] words, taking them out of their context; [where the same accusation is leveled against the children of Israel]. And they have forgotten much of what they had been told to bear in mind, and from all but a few of them, thou wilt always experience treachery. But pardon them, and forbear: verily, God loves the doers of good.”

Quran 3:133, “And vie with one another to attain to your Sustainer’s forgiveness and to a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, which has been readied for the God-conscious.”

Forgiveness is a mechanism to restore peace within us. When people say God loves those who forgive, it simply means God wants his creation to live in harmony and one of the sources of such harmony is the power of forgiveness.

Mike Ghouse


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