Forgiveness in Islam

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Islam teaches that Allah  is ‘the most forgiving’, and is the original source of all forgiveness.

Forgiveness often requires the repentance of those being forgiven.

Depending on the type of wrong committed, forgiveness can come either

  1. directly from Allah,
  2. or from one’s fellow man who received the wrong.
  • In the case of divine forgiveness, the asking for divine forgiveness via repentance is important.
  • In the case of human forgiveness, it is important to both forgive, and to be forgiven. [16]

Forgiveness is typically defined as the process of concluding resentment, indignation or anger as a result of a perceived offense, difference or mistake, and/or ceasing to demand punishment or restitution. [1]

The Oxford English Dictionary defines forgiveness as ‘to grant free pardon and to give up all claim on account of an offence or debt’.

The concept and benefits of forgiveness have been explored in religious thought, the social sciences and medicine.

Forgiveness may be considered simply in terms of the person who forgives including forgiving themselves, in terms of the person forgiven and/or in terms of the relationship between the forgiver and the person forgiven. In some contexts, forgiveness may be granted without any expectation of restorative justice, and without any response on the part of the offender (for example, one may forgive a person who is incommunicado or dead).

In practical terms, it may be necessary for the offender to offer some form of acknowledgment, apology, and/or restitution, or even just ask for forgiveness, in order for the wronged person to believe himself able to forgive. [1]

Most world religions include teachings on the nature of forgiveness, and many of these teachings provide an underlying basis for many varying modern day traditions and practices of forgiveness. Some religious doctrines or philosophies place greater emphasis on the need for humans to find some sort of divine forgiveness for their own shortcomings, others place greater emphasis on the need for humans to practice forgiveness of one another, yet others make little or no distinction between human and/or divine forgiveness.

Allah does not forgive idol worship (if maintained until death), and He forgives lesser offenses for whomever He wills. Anyone who idolizes any idol beside God has strayed far astray. (Qur’an 4:116)

But if he returns to God and pleads sincerely for forgiveness and abandons worshiping other than the one and only God, He will be forgiven.

The Qur’an never allows for violent behavior on the part of Muslim believers, [17] except in the cases of_

  1. defending one’s religion,
  2. one’s life,
  3. or one’s property.

Outside of this, the Qu’ran makes no allowances for violent behavior. From time to time certain Muslims have interpreted such Qur’anic allowances for “defensive violence” to include what other Muslims have viewed more as unwarranted and overly aggressive violence. This interpretative debate about when to forgive and when to aggressively attack or defend continues to this day within the Muslim community.

The Qur’an makes it clear that, whenever possible, it is better to forgive another than to attack another.

The Qur’an describes the believers (Muslims) as those who, avoid gross sins and vice, and when angered they forgive. (Qur’an 42:37) and says that_

 Although the just requital for an injustice is an equivalent retribution, those who pardon and maintain righteousness are rewarded by GOD. He does not love the unjust. (Qur’an 42:40).

To receive forgiveness from God there are three requirements:

  1. Recognizing the offense itself and its admission before God.
  2. Making a commitment not to repeat the offense.
  3. Asking for forgiveness from God.

If the offense was committed against another human being, or against society, a fourth condition is added:

  1. Recognizing the offense before those against whom offense was committed and before God.
  2. Committing oneself not to repeat the offense.
  3. Doing whatever needs to be done to rectify the offense (within reason) and asking pardon of the offended party.
  4. Asking God for forgiveness.

There are no particular words to say for asking forgiveness. However, Muslims are taught many phrases and words to keep repeating daily asking God’s forgiveness. For example:

  • Astaghfiru-Allah, “I ask forgiveness from Allah”
  • Subhanaka-Allah humma wa bi hamdika wa ash-hadu al la Ilaha illa Anta astaghfiruka wa atubu ilayk, “Glory be to You, Allah, and with You Praise (thanks) and I bear witness that there is no deity but You, I ask Your forgiveness and I return to You (in obedience)”.

Islamic teaching presents the Prophet Muhammad as an example of someone who would forgive others for their ignorance, even those who might have once considered themselves to be his enemies. One example of Muhammad’s practice of forgiveness can be found in the Hadith, the body of early Islamic literature about the life of Muhammad.

This account is as follows:

The Prophet was the most forgiving person.

He was ever ready to forgive his enemies. When he went to Ta’if to preach the message of Allah, its people mistreated him, abused him and hit him with stones. He left the city humiliated and wounded. When he took shelter under a tree, the angel of Allah visited him and told him that Allah sent him to destroy the people of Ta’if because of their sin of maltreating their Prophet. Muhammad prayed to Allah to save the people of Ta’if, because what they did was out of their ignorance.

16.“Islam online. Forgiveness: Islamic Perspective. 2006. http://www.islamonline.com/news/articles/6/Forgiveness_Islamic_Perspective.html. Retrieved 2009-02-07.

17. Qur’an 9:12- “Fight ye the chiefs of the unbelievers.”

18. “Pakistanlink. Forgiveness in Islam. 2006. http://www.pakistanlink.com/religion/2000/04-14.html. Retrieved 2009-02-07.

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