June 2006

By: Ahmad Ibrahim

We often face a situation in our lives, where we have to make a difficult decision; to forgive or continue to live with malice. Some people choose to forgive and liberate themselves from the grudge and the related stress. Some choose the latter and continue to suffer in their lives.

In this essay we will examine a) what is forgiveness, b) what is the perspective of the Quran and Sunnah and c) why forgiveness is essential for a good life.

What is forgiveness?

According to Oxford Dictionary, forgiveness means:

To Pardon (an offence);

To cease to resent or claim requital for;

To give up resentment against a person

God has given us the ability to rationalize and decide what is best for us. Forgiveness is a choice we make for our own good and cannot be forced upon us. When we choose to forgive it shows the level of control we have on our emotions and life. Forgiveness is a state of mind. It happens when we cease to feel resentment or anger against another for any perceived mistake or offence [1].

In moral terms it is response to an injustice by turning to “good”. In terms of goodwill it is a merciful restraint from pursuing resentment or revenge. And it is something which we freely chose as a gift, rather than a grim obligation. At the same time forgiveness is not forgetting or denial, condoning, excusing, condemning or seeking justice or compensation. Therefore with forgiveness we must stop demanding punishment or requital [2].

Studies show that people who forgive are happier and healthier than those who hold resentments. One study has shown that the positive benefit of forgiveness is similar whether it was based upon religious or secular counseling as opposed to a control group that received no forgiveness counseling [3].

Perspective in the Quran

Forgiveness is an act of “Ihsan” i.e. Goodness. It is one of the qualities for which God has expressed love and support. (Please read about Qualities God Loves)

The Quran tells us that the human life on earth started with an act of forgiveness by God. We all know the history of Adam and his wife and how they were deceived by the Satan, to disobey God. As a result they were expelled from the garden and sent down to this earth. The Quran says:

And Satan made them slip there from, and got them out from that in which they were. We said: "Get you down, all, with enmity between yourselves. On earth will be a dwelling place for you and an enjoyment for a time"[2/36]

Then Adam received from his Lord Words. And his Lord pardoned him. Verily, He is the One Who forgives, the Most Merciful. [2/37]

This is the first account of forgiveness and it followed a condition:

We said: "Get down all of you from this place, then whenever there comes to you Guidance form Me, and whoever follows My Guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve.[2/38]

The human history starts from here. Since that day we humans are committing mistakes and also practicing forgiveness.

The Quran uses several terms related to the broad concept forgiveness and reconciliation:

  • Afu (root Ein-Faa-Waw) – to wipe out; to forgive; to excuse, free, exempt; to abstain, refrain; to restore to health, heal, cure; to protect, save, guard; to recover
  • Magfirat (root Gha-Faa-Raa) – to forgive, grant pardon, remit
  • Islah (root Sad-Lam-Haa) – to be good, right; settle, adjust, restore, restitute; to make peace, reconcile, settle
  • Safah (root Sad-Faa-Haa) – to broaden, widen; to pardon, forgive; to shake hands, greet; to ask forgiveness, apologize.
  • Tawba (root Taa-Waa-Baa) – to repent, be penitent, do penance; renounce; to turn to God in repentance.
  • Ihsan (refer to essay Ihsan)

(refer to Hans Wehr dictionary of Modern Written Arabic)

The Quranic references

  • Hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. [7/199]
  • They should rather pardon and overlook. Would you not love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [24/22]
  • The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But if someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with Allah… [42/40]
  • …. But if you pardon and exonerate and forgive, Allah is Ever- Forgiving, Most Merciful[64/14]
  • But if someone is steadfast and forgives, that is the most resolute course to follow.” [42/43]
  • (believers) control their rage and pardon other people [3/134]

The Quranic Example

Story of Prophet Joseph (PBUH) in the Quran, is one of the finest examples of forgiveness. Prophet Joseph suffered at the hands of his brothers. He was thrown into a pit by his brothers, then he was thrown into the prison for a crime he did not commit. But all this time Prophet Joseph never lost hope nor did he falter in his beliefs. Eventually he came out of prison and became the virtual ruler of Egypt.

When his brothers came to him during the famine, he forgave them all by saying "No blame rests on you today," and treated his brothers with kindness and honor. [4]

Please also read this article by Dr. Tanveer Hussain on Whom God forgives?

Why forgiveness is essential for a good life?

There is a saying that the greatest revenge is a life well-lived. By making your life miserable and bitter and not forgiving, the quality of life is severely impacted. This subject has received a lot of attention in the last decades by psychologists and social psychologists. A consensus has emerged that forgiveness is a process and a number of models describing the process of forgiveness have been published [3]. For good healthy life it is necessary to eliminate malice, grudge, associated stress and related diseases.


God teaches us to forgive. This is an act of “Ihsan” i.e. Goodness, for which God has expressed love. Repayment of a bad action is an equivalent action, but forgiveness is better and a resolute course to follow. Modern research also concludes that forgiveness is necessary for a good quality life because it reduces stress which is a cause of numerous diseases. By practicing forgiveness we liberate ourselves from grudge and malice. This leads to mercy from God and a beautiful life.

Notes & References


[1] Nine Steps to Forgiveness from "Forgive for Good" (Harper Collins, 2002) by Frederic Luskin, Ph.D. [2] Forgiveness.htm [3] [4] for a detailed commentary on the story of Prophet Joseph please refer to The Qur'ānic Story Of Joseph: Plot, Themes, And Characters by Mustansir Mir



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