Forgiving for the sake of Allah
Who doesn’t hate conflict and falling out with people? Disagreements, even the smallest ones, can suddenly and out of nowhere become messy, emotional affairs. The world would definitely be a better place if we could all get along with each other, all of the time. Unfortunately that’s plain wishing thinking, except in Jannah inshaAllah!
As much as I hate it, and wish I could completely avoid it, I have to deal with conflict from time to time just like anyone else. I can’t wave a magic, Muslim wand and make myself exempt. That’s the life of this world; humans wouldn’t be humans if we didn’t get into conflict with someone, somewhere at some time or other. Muslims are no different. Whether you unwittingly manage to wrong someone else, or someone else happens to wrong you, conflict sucks because someone is going to feel aggrieved- both of you in the worst case scenario!
What maybe sucks even more than conflict itself is trying to resolve the problem when no-one is interested in initiating a solution. ‘I’m sorry’ is not all that complicated a statement, but somehow these two small words can be remarkably difficult to pry from the lips, even more so with sincerity (remember that age-old adage about forgiving but not forgetting). When you’re annoyed and feel it’s not your place to apologise, that you didn’t start it so you shouldn’t have to end it, that’s when being Muslim does make a difference for me.
Admitting you were in the wrong, and saying so, takes guts. Knowing you were not in the wrong, but being the peacemaker anyway even more so! Here’s how the being Muslim bit comes into the equation. It doesn’t mean that I’m somehow immune from feeling wronged or upset, but that precisely when I do feel these unpleasant emotions, I’m willing to overlook my sense of indignation for something worthier: forgiving for the sake of Allah.
What exactly is that phrase supposed to me? That I’m only forgiving you because God told me to, though if it was up to me I’d never forgive you- ever! Not quite. It’s more nuanced than that and much more sincere. A Muslim accepts that perfection is only for Allah. Allah alone is the One on whom we can always rely and never be disappointed by. So on one level forgiving someone for the sake of Allah is recognising that much like ourselves, the person who has wronged us is far from perfect and prone to error. That puts things into perspective and is a real pride softener.
On another level forgiving for the sake of Allah is much more selfless. Sometimes we can be petty in refusing to forgive, but at other times a person’s actions in wronging us may well seemingly deserve not to be forgiven. An illustrative example would be a person who spread malicious lies about you amongst your community. In such a scenario you could hardly be blamed for wanting to withhold forgiveness, but that is why forgiving for the sake of Allah is so beautiful: even though the person might not ‘deserve’ to be forgiven, a Muslim forgives them anyway not because they owe it to them, but to please their Creator.
Allah loves to forgive and loves those who forgive, and every Muslim wants to both receive the forgiveness of Allah and be among those whom Allah loves. The Quran refers to those who forgive in the following terms:
الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
those who give in times of both ease and hardship, those who control their rage and pardon other people – Allah loves the good-doers (3: 134)—
A profound example of this in Islam can be found in its penal code: while murder is punishable by death, Islam provides a way out through blood money if the family are willing to forgive the perpetrator. The latter is the option preferred by Allah and many families in such a situation living in Muslim countries have chosen to forgive on this basis, may Allah accept it from them.
To expect Allah to forgive our constant sinning and transgressions, yet to be unwilling to forgive others who have merely transgressed us rather than the Lord of the Worlds, is to assume a type of superiority unbecoming a Muslim. A hadith of Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم warns us against prolonging disputes with others:
Do not have ill-will towards one another, do not be envious of one another, do not turn your back on one another; O, servants of Allah, be brothers (and sisters). It is not permissible for a Muslim to remain angry with their brother [in religion] for more than three days. (Bukhari)
So no matter how difficult, unpleasant or uncomfortable, the realisation of our humility helps us to nevertheless try to forgive for the sake of Allah. Next time someone wrongs me in a way I find hard to forgive (thankfully rare), I think I’ll pull up this article as a timely reminder!
If you ever find yourself having wronged a Muslim friend, neighbour or colleague and doubt the acceptance of your (sincere!) apology due to the harm you have caused them, try asking them to forgive you for the sake of their Lord. InshaAllah you won’t be disappointed :).