Who Benefits from Forgiveness?




Assalaamu Alaykum wr wb Dearest Sisters,

It is said: “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 do also make mistakes and we are constantly in need of forgiveness. Islam speaks about two elements of forgiveness:

a) Allah’s forgiveness.

b) Human forgiveness.

We need both kinds of forgiveness because we do wrong in our relations to God as well as in our relations to each other. When we do wrong to others, we must ask for forgiveness from that person, but also, we should look in our own hearts and accept the repentance of another person. We’re going to talk about why in this article.

Stories after stories have passed us, some stories with revengeful actions and some stories with gracious forgiveness.  These two qualities are given to mankind and we’ve been encouraged to use taqwa and discretion. When we examine the life of our Nabi Sallalahu Alayhi wassalaam we have never seen one story of revenge, but we’ve seen story after story of kindness and forgiveness despite those circumstances seeming impossible to people like us.

While we never need science or our rationalizations to prove our deen, when we see how Allah swt has created us with a variety of emotions and then has urged us to exercise control over them and has shown us how to do so through our Nabi Kareem (sallalahu alayhi wassalam) it’s awe-inspiring, exhilarating, and imaan boosting!

Sometimes we think that we should control emotions because of what the harm of loosely expressing them does to others. This is very true. But at the same time, learning to manage our emotions benefits us directly which in turn benefits others building a beautiful family and community around us.  A peaceful, happy soul with hidaya illuminates and becomes a source of great help, encouragement, and tarbiya of others.

Today in sha Allah we’re going to talk about forgiveness, which for some is really such a feat. There are many reasons that make it hard, from ego, pain, and anger to just feeling like forgiving makes one weaker or like a push over subject to more abuse.

Managing Emotions in the Best Ways

What I hope we can come to understand is that the advices from our deen in managing emotions are in our best interests, even if the deen doesn’t elaborate on those benefits.  Again, we don’t need science to prove the benefits to us but knowing the benefits may just help encourage us even more to act on these advices and also… fall in love with Allah swt who created us and who who teaches us how to be the best humans possible —– and at the end of the day, it’s for our own benefit. 

Is Forgiving Beyond Our Capability?

So, we sometimes hear of stories in our day and age where people have forgiven and somehow those people seemed to transcend the natural urge for revenge or hard core justice – but usually those emotions are due to the pain and anger that they are experiencing. Despite that it’s the right to demand and receive justice. We also have the personal option of forgiving, but yet that is so hard for us. We’re never really sure if that wrong doer even truly feels an ounce of remorse.

Do people who have these seemingly supernatural ability to forgive have special traits that others don’t have?  How do they do it when the desire for revenge or justice as some call it is so strong and very normal and natural to feel exists so heavy in the heart?  The truth is that forgiveness is just as much a natural feeling in humans as revenge.  A century of research in the social and biological sciences reveals a crucial truth: Though we might wish it were otherwise, the desire for revenge is normal—normal in the sense that every neurologically intact human being on the planet has the biological hardware for it.

Forgiveness Around the World

When evolutionary biologists Martin Daly and Margo Wilson looked at data on 60 different societies from around the world, they tried to determine how many of those societies showed evidence of blood feuds, capital punishment, or the desire for blood revenge. They found that 57 of the 60 societies they examined—95 percent—had “some reference to blood feud or capital punishment as an institutionalized practice, or specific accounts of particular cases or, at the least, some articulate expression of the desire for blood revenge.”

So when a behavior is this universal, that suggests it’s not just the product of particular cultures or social factors. Instead, it’s essential to what it means to be human.   Social harm and conflict, it turns out, take a considerable toll on our psychological and physical well-being. One tempting option in these situations is to dwell on injustice and vengeance–what psychologists call “rumination”–and hold onto grudges. The other is to forgive; over more than a decade, study after study of forgiveness shows that forgiving others who have caused you harm systematically reduces personal distress and fosters happiness.

For instance, this study by researchers at the University of Miami links forgiveness to increased satisfaction with life, more positive emotions, less negative emotions, and fewer symptoms of physical illness. The same group of researchers also found that forgiving on one day is linked to higher happiness on the next day.

 

Who Benefits?  We all do.

 

 

More in Depth View:  

When Chris Carrier was 10 years old, he was abducted near his Florida home, taken into the swamps, he was extremely tortured and left there. He woke up at some point then managed to stumble to the highway where he stopped a car, which took him to the hospital.

Years later, a police officer told Chris that the man suspected of his abduction lay close to death. “Confront him,” suggested the officer. Chris did more than that. He comforted his attacker during the man’s final weeks of life and ultimately forgave him, bringing peace to them both.

Chris Carrier’s act of forgiveness might seem unfathomable to some, an act of extreme charity or even foolishness. Our culture seems to perceive forgiveness as a sign of weakness, submission, or both. Often we find it easier to stigmatize or denigrate our enemies than to empathize with or forgive them. And in a society as competitive as ours, people may hesitate to forgive because they don’t want to relinquish the upper hand in a relationship. “It is much more agreeable to offend and later ask forgiveness than to be offended and grant forgiveness,” said the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. I think many people today are inclined to agree with him.

Research today seems to present a more evolved thinking and Christ Carrier’s story isn’t an anomaly.  Forgiveness isn’t just practiced by saints or martyrs, nor does it benefit only its recipients. Instead, studies are finding connections between forgiveness and physical, mental, and spiritual health and evidence that it plays a key role in the health of families, communities, and nations.

To understand this, we need to understand what forgiveness really means.

 

What is Forgiveness? Does It Make Us Wrong?

The definition of forgiveness often depends on the context it’s used in.  In cases where we hope to forgive a person that we don’t want a relationship with, we tend to think of forgiveness as reducing or eliminating “resentment” and “motivation toward revenge.”      Others think of forgiveness in close relationships to include not just getting rid of negative feelings but also that forgiveness becomes less motivated to retaliate against someone who hurt the person and also less motivated to remain estranged from that person.  Rather, the victim may feel more motivated by good feelings even though they feel hurt.  In close relationships, forgiveness doesn’t just move us past negative emotions but rather moves us closer to a net positive feeling. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting or pardoning an offense.

 

What is Unforgiveness?

The opposite of forgiveness:  unforgiveness.  Unforgiveness is a negative emotional state where the harmed person keeps feeling resentment, hostility, anger, and hatred toward the abuser.  In the case of Chris Carrier, even though he didn’t forget or condone what his attacker did,  he was able to replace the negative emotions and desire for retribution with feelings of care and compassion and move forward to conciliation.

 

The Choice in How We Deal with Injustice

People have the choice to deal with harm and injustice in different ways.  Allah swt gives us options in our deen as He’s given us different Shari’ punishments and in some cases we can forgive.  Honestly, I used to wonder how can a person really forgive in such cases that we hear of. But, what we’ve learned is that unforgiveness takes a heavy emotional toll us us physically, mentally, relationally, and spiritually.  Contrary to that research suggests that forgiveness can benefit people’s health.

 

What Happens to Relationships When People Forgive?

According to a study done by Charlotte vanOyen Witvliet, a psychologist at Hope College:

“People were asked to think about someone who had hurt, mistreated, or offended them. While they thought about this person and his or her past offense, she monitored their blood pressure, heart rate, facial muscle tension, and sweat gland activity. To ruminate on an old transgression is to practice unforgiveness. Sure enough, in Witvliet’s research, when people recalled a grudge, their physical arousal soared. Their blood pressure and heart rate increased, and they sweated more. Ruminating about their grudges was stressful, and subjects found the rumination unpleasant. It made them feel angry, sad, anxious, and less in control. Witvliet also asked her subjects to try to empathize with their offenders or imagine forgiving them. When they practiced forgiveness, their physical arousal coasted downward. They showed no more of a stress reaction than normal wakefulness produces.”

In another study, scientists wanted to see whether people’s stress levels are related to their ability to forgive a partner.

“Researchers measured levels of cortisol in the saliva of 39 people who rated their relationship as either terrific or terrible. Cortisol is a hormone that metabolizes fat for quick response to stress (and after the stress ends, deposits the fat back where it is easily accessible—around the waist). People with poor (or recently failed) relationships tended to have higher baseline levels of cortisol, and they also scored worse on a test that measures their general willingness to forgive. When they were asked to think about their relationship, they had more cortisol reactivity—that is, their stress hormone jumped. Those jumps in stress were highly correlated with their unforgiving attitudes toward their partner. People with very happy relationships were not without stresses and strains between them. But forgiving their partner’s faults seemed to keep their physical stress in the normal range.

 

Physical and Mental Benefits of Forgiveness

In addition, studies have shown that physical and mental health benefits of forgiveness increase with age. People over 45 years of age who had forgiven others reported greater satisfaction with their lives and were less likely to report symptoms of psychological distress, such as feelings of nervousness, restlessness, and sadness.

In trying to understand what is the relationship between forgiveness and health, it can be be understood that when we feel hostility or negative emotions, such as what a Type A person feels, there is a decline in for example cardiovascular health.  If we let go of a grudge that may free a person from the negative emotions and their unhealth consequences.

It’s not just the hostility and stress that link unforgiveness and poor health however.  According to a review of the literature on forgiveness and health that Michael Scherer and Everett L. Worthington Jrpublished,

“Unforgiveness might compromise the immune system at many levels. For instance, our review suggests that unforgiveness might throw off the production of important hormones and even disrupt the way our cells fight off infections, bacteria, and other physical insults, such as mild periodontal disease.”

 

Learning to Forgive:

Researchers and counselors continually try to help victims forgive others, but it’s not a simple stepped solution. Not every technique works equally among patients. Depending on the kind of transgression, the way forward would be different.   Working through the emotions often take a while depending on the level of trauma and transgression.  At times, we can work through this on our own, and other times we need the help of our friends, imams, or other professionals.

Below are techniques which are encouraged by researchers as well as techniques encouraged in the deen:

  • Helping patients avoid dwelling
  • Not allowing negative events take place in our hearts and minds.
  • Not dwelling on if something was fair or not
  • Practicing redirecting thoughts
  • Helping patients see things from the other’s perspective.
  • Receiving a meaningful apology from the transgressor.
  • Receiving positive emotions from the transgressor.
  • Helping patients switch emotions from blaming others to deeply understanding their own feelings.
  • Connecting themselves with Allah swt.
  • As some meditate, incorporating thikr, duas, and salah
  • Realizing everyone makes mistakes and we may wish to have the same opportunity for forgiveness.
  • Acknowledging that forgiving is a choice that we can make
  • Trying to separate the actions from the person.
  • Realizing the physical and emotional benefits of forgiving
  • Realizing the spiritual benefits of forgiving
  • Feeling a lightening of the burden in the heart
  • Reviewing some of the practices illustrated through the Quran and Sunan as below

 

In light of the Quran and Sunan:

In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

Allah the Exalted said:

وَلْيَعْفُواوَلْيَصْفَحُواۗأَلَاتُحِبُّونَأَنيَغْفِرَاللَّهُلَكُمْۗوَاللَّهُغَفُورٌرَّحِيمٌ

Let them pardon and overlook. Would you not love for Allah to forgive you? Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

Surah An-Nur 24:22


And Allah said:

خُذِالْعَفْوَوَأْمُرْبِالْعُرْفِوَأَعْرِضْعَنِالْجَاهِلِينَ

Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant.

Surah Al-A’raf 7:199


And Allah said:

وَإِنَّالسَّاعَةَلَآتِيَةٌۖفَاصْفَحِالصَّفْحَالْجَمِيلَ

Verily, the Hour is coming, so forgive them with gracious forgiveness.

Surah Al-Hijr 15:85


And Allah said:

الَّذِينَيُنفِقُونَفِيالسَّرَّاءِوَالضَّرَّاءِوَالْكَاظِمِينَالْغَيْظَوَالْعَافِينَعَنِالنَّاسِۗوَاللَّهُيُحِبُّالْمُحْسِنِينَ

The believers are those who spend in charity during ease and hardship and who restrain their anger and pardon the people, for Allah loves the doers of good.

Surah Ali Imran 3:134


And Allah said:

وَالْمَلَائِكَةُيُسَبِّحُونَبِحَمْدِرَبِّهِمْوَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَلِمَنفِيالْأَرْضِۗأَلَاإِنَّاللَّهَهُوَالْغَفُورُالرَّحِيمُ

The angels glorify and praise their Lord and seek forgiveness for those on the earth. Verily, Allah is the Forgiving, the Merciful.

Surah Ash-Shura 42:5


And Allah said:

وَلَمَنصَبَرَوَغَفَرَإِنَّذَٰلِكَلَمِنْعَزْمِالْأُمُورِ

Whoever is patient and forgives, verily, that is among the matters of steadfast determination.

Surah Ash-Shura 42:43


And Allah said:

قُللِّلَّذِينَآمَنُوايَغْفِرُوالِلَّذِينَلَايَرْجُونَأَيَّامَاللَّهِلِيَجْزِيَقَوْمًابِمَاكَانُوايَكْسِبُونَ

Say to those who believe that they should forgive those who expect not the days of Allah, as it is for Him to recompense people for what they have earned.

Surah Al-Jathiyah 45:14


Abdullah ibn Mas’ud (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

I saw the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, tell the story of a prophet who was beaten by his people and he wiped the blood from his face, saying:

رَبِّاغْفِرْلِقَوْمِيفَإِنَّهُمْلاَيَعْلَمُونَ

My Lord, forgive my people for they do not know.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 6530, Grade: Muttafaqun Alayhi

 


Abu Huraira (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

مَانَقَصَتْصَدَقَةٌمِنْمَالٍوَمَازَادَاللَّهُعَبْدًابِعَفْوٍإِلاَّعِزًّاوَمَاتَوَاضَعَأَحَدٌلِلَّهِإِلاَّرَفَعَهُاللَّهُ

Charity does not decrease wealth, no one forgives except that Allah increases his honor, and no one humbles himself for the sake of Allah except that Allah raises his status.

Source: Sahih Muslim 2588, Grade: Sahih


Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, was upon the pulpit and he said:

ارْحَمُواتُرْحَمُواوَاغْفِرُوايَغْفِرْاللَّهُلَكُمْ

Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 7001, Grade: Sahih


Abu Abdullah Al-Khadali (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

I asked Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) about the character of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him. Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) said:

لَمْيَكُنْفَاحِشًاوَلَامُتَفَحِّشًاوَلَاصَخَّابًافِيالْأَسْوَاقِوَلَايَجْزِيبِالسَّيِّئَةِالسَّيِّئَةَوَلَكِنْيَعْفُووَيَصْفَحُ

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was not indecent, he was not obscene, he would not shout in the markets, and he would not respond to an evil deed with an evil deed, but rather he would pardon and overlook.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 2016, Grade: Sahih


Ata ibn Yasar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

I met Abdullah ibn Amr (may Allah be pleased with him) and I said,

“Tell me about the description of the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, in the Torah.”

Abdullah (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

أَجَلْوَاللَّهِإِنَّهُلَمَوْصُوفٌفِيالتَّوْرَاةِبِبَعْضِصِفَتِهِفِيالْقُرْآنِ‏ ‏يَاأَيُّهَاالنَّبِيُّإِنَّاأَرْسَلْنَاكَشَاهِدًاوَمُبَشِّرًاوَنَذِيرًا‏ وَحِرْزًالِلأُمِّيِّينَأَنْتَعَبْدِيوَرَسُولِيسَمَّيْتُكَالْمُتَوَكِّلَلَيْسَبِفَظٍّوَلاَغَلِيظٍوَلاَصَخَّابٍفِيالأَسْوَاقِوَلاَيَدْفَعُبِالسَّيِّئَةِالسَّيِّئَةَوَلَكِنْيَعْفُووَيَغْفِرُ

By Allah, he is described in the Torah with some of what is mention in the Quran:

O Prophet, We have sent you as a witness, a bringer of glad tidings, and to give warning, (33:45) and to guard over the illiterate, for you are My servant and messenger. I have called you a trustworthy man who is neither rude nor loud in the markets, nor does he return evil with evil, but rather he pardons and forgives.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 2018, Grade: Sahih


 

Uqbah ibn Amir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

يَاعُقْبَةُبْنَعَامِرٍصِلْمَنْقَطَعَكَوَأَعْطِمَنْحَرَمَكَوَاعْفُعَمَّنْظَلَمَكَ

O Uqbah, reconcile whoever cuts you off, give to whoever deprives you, and pardon whoever wrongs you.

Source: Musnad Ahmad 16999, Grade: Sahih

Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

اللَّهُمَّإِنَّكَعُفُوٌّكَرِيمٌتُحِبُّالْعَفْوَ

O Allah, You are forgiving and generous. You love to forgive.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 3513, Grade: Sahih


Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

مَارَأَيْتُالنَّبِيَّصَلَّىاللَّهُعَلَيْهِوَسَلَّمَرُفِعَإِلَيْهِشَيْءٌفِيهِقِصَاصٌإِلَّاأَمَرَفِيهِبِالْعَفْوِ

I never saw a case involving legal retaliation being referred to the Messenger of Allah except that he would recommend pardoning the criminal.

Source: Sunan Abu Dawud 4497, Source: Sahih


Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

A man came to the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, with the killer of his relative.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

اعْفُعَنْهُ

Pardon him. But the man refused.

The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

خُذْالدِّيَةَ

Take the blood money. But the man refused.

The Prophet (peace and blessings Allah be upon him) said:

اذْهَبْفَاقْتُلْهُفَإِنَّكَمِثْلُهُ

Go and kill him, for you are like him.

Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

فَخَلَّىسَبِيلَهُ

So the man let him go.

Source: Sunan An-Nasa’i 4730, Grade: Sahih


Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her) reported:

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

فَإِنَّالْإِمَامَأَنْيُخْطِئَفِيالْعَفْوِخَيْرٌمِنْأَنْيُخْطِئَفِيالْعُقُوبَةِ

Verily, it is better for the leader to make a mistake forgiving the criminal than it is for him to make a mistake punishing the innocent.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1424, Grade: Sahih


Abdullah ibn Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

A man came to the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, and he said,

“O Messenger of Allah, how many times should I pardon my servant?”

The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:

كُلَّيَوْمٍسَبْعِينَمَرَّةً

Seventy times in each day.

Source: Sunan At-Tirmidhi 1949, Grade: Hasan


Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

A man entered the presence of Umar and he said,

“O son of Khattab! You do not give us enough, nor are you just with us!”

Umar became angry and was about to strike him when Al-Hurr said:

يَاأَمِيرَالْمُؤْمِنِينَإِنَّاللَّهَتَعَالَىقَالَلِنَبِيِّهِصَلَّىاللَّهُعَلَيْهِوَسَلَّمَ  خُذْالْعَفْوَوَأْمُرْبِالْعُرْفِوَأَعْرِضْعَنْالْجَاهِلِينَوَإِنَّهَذَامِنْالْجَاهِلِينَ

O leader of the believers, Allah said to His Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him: Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from the ignorant (7:199). Verily, this man is ignorant.


Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) said:

وَاللَّهِمَاجَاوَزَهَاعُمَرُحِينَتَلَاهَاعَلَيْهِوَكَانَوَقَّافًاعِنْدَكِتَابِاللَّهِ

By Allah, Umar became still when this verse was recited upon him. He always adhered strictly to the Book of Allah.

Source: Sahih Bukhari 4366, Grade: Sahih


Qabisa ibn Jabir (may Allah be pleased with him) reported:

Umar ibn Al-Khattab, may Allah be pleased with him, said:

مَنْلايَرْحَمُلايُرْحَمُوَلايُغْفَرُمَنْلايَغْفِرُوَلايُعْفَعَمَّنْلَمْيَعْفُوَلايُوقَّمَنْلايَتَوَقَّ

Whoever does not show mercy will not receive mercy. Whoever does not forgive others will not be forgiven. Whoever does not pardon others will not be pardoned. Whoever does not protect others will not be protected.

Source: Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 366, Grade: Hasan


Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.

فَإِنَّالْإِمَامَأَنْيُخْطِئَفِيالْعَفْوِخَيْرٌمِنْأَنْيُخْطِئَفِيالْعُقُوبَةِ

 

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