Forgiveness: Islamic Perspective

Part of our being human is that we make mistakes — no one is perfect. Sometimes we make mistakes unintentionally.  But sometimes we deliberately sin and do wrong to others.  A famous saying is, “To err is human and to forgive is divine.”  Both parts of this statement are very true. As human beings we are responsible, but we also make mistakes and we are constantly in need of forgiveness.

Islam states two aspects of forgiveness:

a) Allah’s forgiveness;
b) Human forgiveness.

We need both, because we do wrong in our relations to Allah as well as in our relations to each other.

Allah’s Forgiveness:
Allah the Almighty is the Most Forgiving.  The Qur’an mentions many of the names of Allah, some of which are related to His mercy and forgiveness. Let me mention some of these names.

Al Ghafoor (The Most Forgiving):
The Most Forgiving. This name occurs in the Qur’an more than seventy times. There are other names from the same root.  The meaning of “ghafar” is to cover, to hide and from it comes the meaning “to excuse”, “to pardon”, “to remit” and “to forgive”.  The Qur’an mentions that Allah does not forgive shirk (without repentance) but He may forgive every other sin for whomsoever He wills.

As Allah says in the Qur’an:   “Indeed! Allah does not forgive the sin of ascribing partners to Him, but He forgives anything else to whom He pleases, and whoever takes partners with God has gone astray into far error”. (Sura 4, Al ‘Imran, ayah 116)

This is another aspect of forgiveness and the name occurs in the Qur’an five times.  Literally the word ‘Afuw means “to release” “to heal”, “to restore”, “to remit”. It means that Allah “releases us from the burden of punishment due to our sins and mistakes”, “to restore our honor after we have dishonored ourselves by committing sins and making mistakes.”  Some verses in the Qur’an mention both names, ‘Afuw and Ghafoor, together.

This name means The Acceptor of repentance and is mentioned in the Qur’an about 11 times. Allah accepts the repentance of those who sincerely repent and turn to him for forgiveness. The word “Tawwab” gives the sense of “oft-returning” which means that Allah again and again accepts our repentance. We make sins and mistakes, then we repent, and He accepts our repentance. Then again we commit sins and make mistakes and when we repent, He again very kindly accepts us and gives us another chance.

The Clement. This name is mentioned fifteen times in the Qur’an. It means that Allah The Almighty is not quick to judgment. He gives us time. He forebears and is patient with us until we return to Him.

Al-Rahman and al-Rahim:
The most Merciful and Compassionate. These names are the most frequently mentioned in the Qur’an. Al-Rahman is mentioned 57 times and Al-Raheem is mentioned 115 times. Al-Rahman indicates that Allah’s mercy is abundant and plenty and Al-Raheem indicates that this is always the case with Allah.

The Qur’an states that Allah is a Judge and He also punishes, but Allah is not bound to punish. The justice of Allah, according to the Qur’an, is that Allah does not and will not inflict undue punishment on any person. He will not ignore the good of any person. But if He wishes to forgive any sinner, He has full freedom to do that. His mercy is unlimited and infinite.

There are many verses in the Qur’an and sayings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) that emphasize the mercy and forgiveness of Allah. In one of the prayers that the Prophet taught, he said: “O Allah, You are most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me.” (Narrated by Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah)

Human Forgiveness in Islam:
Just as it is important to believe in the mercy and forgiveness of Allah, it is also necessary to base all human relations on forgiveness. How should we expect Allah’s forgiveness while we do not forgive those who do wrong to us?  Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies, is one of the most important Islamic teachings.   In the Qur’an, Allah describes the Believers as:   “Those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies and when they are angry they forgive.” (Sura 42, Ash-Shu’ara, ayah 37)

Later in the same Surah Allah says: “The reward of the evil is the evil thereof, but whosoever forgives and makes amends, his reward is upon Allah.”  (Ayah 40)

Allah The Almighty also says in another Sura:     “If you punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith you were afflicted. But if you endure patiently, indeed it is better for the patient.   Be patient – for your patience is not but with the help of Allah.”  (Sura 16, An-Nahl, ayat 126-127)

In one Hadith, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) said that Allah has commanded him with nine things. One of them he mentioned was “that I forgive those who do wrong to me.”

When he entered the city of Mekkah after the victory, the Prophet -peace be upon him- faced his worst enemies .  They had fought him for many years, and persecuted and killed many of his followers.  Instead of punishing them or seeking revenge, the Prophet (PBUH) asked them:  “What do you think I shall do to you now?” They pleaded for mercy. The Prophet (PBUH) said, “Today I shall say to you what Prophet Youssef (PBUH) said to his brothers, ‘No blame on you today. Go, you are all free.”  Soon they all came and embraced Islam at his hands. He forgave even Hind who had caused the murder of his uncle Hamza -may Allah be pleased with him.  And she eventually embraced Islam.
We must not forget that as much as we need Allah’s forgiveness for our sins and mistakes, we also must forgive those who do wrong to us.


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