Forgiveness in Islam – an Essential Virtue for Every Muslim

  • Lily Syariah Ramlan
  • 26 July 2021
There are many published articles out there discussing forgiveness in Islam. Our fellow Muslims are tangled with questions on forgiving others. What is the importance of forgiveness? What is the etiquette of forgiveness? What does the Qur’an and hadith say about forgiveness in Islam? These are all intriguing questions our fellow Muslims need to know. As a united Ummah, we are encouraged to forgive others who have wronged. Even when life is filled with betrayal and distrust we can never escape from, Islam encourages forgiveness.
It might seem unfair to deny our feelings, conceal and forgive them instead of seeking vengeance and holding a grudge against them. Even Prophet Yusuf (Peace be upon him) had to face his own blood brothers who left him in a well on his own. However, there are many virtues of forgiveness in Islam, and it is even one of the Sunnahs the Prophet, Peace and Blessings be upon him.

Forgiveness in Islam: What is the Importance of Forgiveness?

1. To gain Allah’s Forgiveness:
As Muslims, we have to realise the immense amount of sins we have committed, and one of the ways to expiate those sins is by forgiving others. Although it is a tough thing to do, remember that Allah is All-Forgiving and we have to ingrain the virtue of forgiveness within us to gain His Pleasure, InshaAllah. To summarise this concept of forgiveness in Islam, it would be ‘Allah forgive those who forgive’. Below mentions about forgiveness in the Qur’an:
“. . . and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [Quran 24:22]
2. Qalbun Saleem (قَلبٌ سَلِيمٌ) leads to Jannah
Qalbun Saleem means a sound heart or a heart that is free of the burdens of worldly affairs. To have a sound heart means to let go of whatever that is hurting us in this world. A sound heart is made for Allah the Merciful and His Messenger ﷺ and it is not meant to hold so much hurt of this dunya, so it is better for us to rectify our intentions from time to time through daily spiritual purification. 
This is one of the other ways to obtain a sound heart according to this hadith on forgiveness: 
Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) said: The gates of Paradise will be opened on Mondays and Thursdays, and every servant who associates nothing with Allah will be forgiven, except for the man who has a grudge against his brother. it will be said: Delay these two until they are reconciled; delay these two until they are reconciled. [Muslim, Malik and Abu Dawud]
3. It is the Sunnah of our beloved Prophet ﷺ
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, “Do not harbour a grudge against one another, nor jealousy, nor enmity, and do not show your backs to one another and become as fellow brothers and slaves of Allah. It is not lawful for a Muslim to avoid speaking with his brother beyond three days.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
As mentioned in the above hadith on forgiveness, we see this essential virtue in the sublime character of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. We have heard many Prophetic traditions in regards to his unlimited forgiveness and how that attribute eventually results in a rewarding spiritual outcome. Even when non-Muslims disrespect him, he showed no grudge. Instead, he was patient and always kind to them, which led all of those he affected to become virtuous Muslims in the end, SubhanAllah.
Especially during his bitter experience in Taif, after he lost his beloved uncle and wife, he was then rudely insulted by the city leaders and pelted with stones by the tribe members. Bruised and rejected, with his blood clotting as it leaked onto his sandals, he made the following du’a:
  • To You, my Lord,
  • I complain of my weakness,
  • lack of support and the humiliation I am made to receive.
  • Most Compassionate and Merciful!
  • You are the Lord of the weak,
  • and you are my Lord.
  • To whom do You leave me?
  • To a distant person who receives me with hostility?
  • Or to an enemy, You have given power over me?
  • As long as you are not displeased with me,
  • I do not care what I face.
  • I would, however,
  • be much happier with Your mercy.
  • I seek refuge in the light of Your face by which
  • all darkness is dispelled, and both this life and the life to comeare put in their right course against incurring your wrath
  • or being the subject of your anger.
  • To You, I submit,
  • until I earn Your pleasure.
  • Everything is powerless without your support.
He never once made du’a to retaliate against the tribesmen who hurt him, but all he cared was to Please Allah the Almighty and had faith in Him. Indeed, forgiveness is a virtue for the brave and the patient, and we should strive towards becoming forgiving Muslims (although it could be truly difficult sometimes).
4. Be ready to forgive, for life is a constant test
Another reason why everyone should be ready to forgive is the fact that the reality of dunya is filled with trials and tribulations. Accepting the tests is considered as accepting the Divine Decree of Allah the Almighty. Accepting the painful incident that had happened to you was meant to be. This can be a gradual process for some, but in some others, a journey of a lifetime. Allah is going to test us through other people too. Mentioned below is one of the Qur’anic verses about forgiveness:
“…And We have made some of you as a trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.” [Qur’an 25:20]
5. Nobody is perfect
The reality is that people are not perfect, and everyone is constantly growing. The question is, how do they grow? They mature through mistakes and experiences in life, which involves other people. They are subjected to making mistakes and committing sins, so as flawed people ourselves, we cannot put high expectations on people. 
Instead, we should make room for forgiveness like the blessed Prophet ﷺ used to do. Allah the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful also forgives His Servants who make mistakes, so we should try our best to ignite the spirit of forgiving others in Islam!

What are the types of forgiveness?

From the Islamic point of view, there are two types of forgiveness which are;
1. Allah’s Forgiveness:
This type of forgiveness in Islam is between us and the Lord of the Worlds, and it isn’t something which has to be done explicitly. We can seek forgiveness from Allah in our own private time, in our rooms, as long as we have a sincere intention and desire to change.
2. Human being’s forgiveness (others and self):
This type of forgiveness is between us and ourselves and other people who we might have hurt or those who have hurt or betrayed us from any aspect; physical, emotional and even mental pain. Forgiving others in Islam should be done explicitly between the two parties involved.
So, back to the subject matter of forgiveness in Islam. How do we forgive someone with sincerity and move on? Here are some of the essential steps you can take from the psychological and spiritual perspective:

How to Forgive Someone from the Psychological Perspective:

If you decide you are willing to forgive others in Islam, try following these four steps:
1. Acknowledge what had happened
Whenever you have free time, take a breather and reflect on the incident that has happened. The first step to forgiveness in Islam is internalising what had happened and accepting it as is and assessing how you were affected. Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to get a better understanding on the incident:
  • What happened that caused the incident?
  • How were you feeling at the time? How do you feel now?
  • How did you and the other person react during the incident?
  • Is there anything you could have done differently?
2. Discover the lessons you learned
You have to acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. As Jalaluddin ar-Rumi once said, ‘You have to keep breaking your heart until it opens’, so has it opened yet? Here are a few questions listed below to see if you have indeed learned from the painful incident:
  • Did you learn anything new about yourself?
  • Did you discover anything about your needs and boundaries?
  • Did you learn anything from the incident?
  • Did this incident change your insight about life/trust?
  • Do you think you’re becoming emotionally mature?
Not only did you endure what seems to be a painful experience, perhaps you grew from it. Begin to picture your life without holding on to that anger and hurt. Would you feel more content within? 
3. Share your unresolved issues with someone you can trust
If both parties don’t decide to confront the issue, then the hole will be left deeper and more painful for one or the other person. When there is no closure, it can be really difficult to move on. 
If you feel like pouring your frustrations out, clarify your feelings on the situation by either communicating with them directly, or you could even reach out to someone you trust. The idea is not to re-traumatize ourselves by diving into the original pain but rather to attend to it with the compassion that we didn’t receive. Here are just some of the support systems you can reach out to:
  • Family members/relatives
  • Friends
  • Certified counsellor
  • Helplines that offer counselling
  • If the situation seems dire and critical, it is best to seek help from your local GP or therapist
4. Practice mindfulness and meditation
When you are consumed with fuming anger and frustration, one of the techniques to extinguish the negative flame is through a continuous practice of mindfulness and meditation. What is mindfulness?
It is a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.
It can be difficult to centre your focus the first time but once you get the hang of it, you will feel much calmer and more aware of your surroundings, but most importantly, your thoughts and emotions. You will have the ability to control them once you are aware of them, InshaAllah. Below are just a few Youtube videos to help you get started:

How to forgive someone from the Islamic perspective:

1. Ask Yourself ‘Why should I forgive?’
Prophet Muhammad ﷺ said: “Actions are but by intention and every man shall have but that which he intended. Thus he whose migration was for Allah and His messenger, his migration was for Allah and His messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated.” [related by Bukhari and Muslim]
Sometimes, intentions can mislead even the noblest of deeds. You thought you’d forgiven them but sometimes, you unconsciously expect something in return. Perhaps, a ‘I’m sorry’ statement, but what if that never happened? 
One of the ways you can rectify your intentions is to forgive for the sake of Allah and His Messenger ﷺ. Allah loves those who forgive, so wouldn’t it feel rewarding to be loved by Allah, the Lord of the Worlds? According to the Qur’anic verse on forgiveness below, let us take forgiveness as a habit!
“(O Prophet,) take forgiveness (as your habit), enjoin virtue, and ignore the ignorant.” [Qur’an 7:199]
2. Make Du’a for you and others
The experience of forgiveness in Islam is supposed to be wholesome, selfless and a liberating journey. If someone has hurt you so badly no words could describe the pain you’re going through, then it is best to make du’a for yourself and for those who have hurt you. 
Before you rush into making du’a to pour your heart out to Allah, please do not make dua against the person who has hurt you. Instead, work on beautifying your character so that Allah protects you from all evil desires and emotions that can sever a relationship:
اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ مُنْكَرَاتِ الأَخْلاَقِ وَالأَعْمَالِ وَالأَهْوَاءِ
“O Allah, I seek refuge in You from evil character, evil actions, and evil desires” [Jami’ at-Tirmidhi]
Perform ablution and stand up in prayer of Need (Salah al-Haja) and ask from Allah the Almighty to grant you the strength and mercy to forgive others. You can also refer to this link below to make du’a to avoid any feeling of resentment:
3. Listen to lectures and documentaries on forgiveness
One of the ways to motivate you to forgive others is by listening to lectures pertaining to hadith on forgiveness. When we listen to the stories of our blessed Prophet ﷺ and how he forgave the atrocious acts of other people, we are more inclined to follow the respected role model and apply it in our daily lives. 
Another way to ease your mind is to watch short videos or documentaries on strong-hearted people who have the bravery and will to forgive others in Islam. Here is a list of Youtube videos you can watch whenever you need the boost:
From these few steps that we’ve shared from both psychological and islamic perspectives, we hope that you are able to move on with ease one day by forgiving them regardless of what they did, no matter how bitter the experience may be. Life can be unfair and unpredictable, but always remember about the virtue of forgiveness.
Forgiveness and Islam are the keys to freedom. Let go, be free, and be happy! Allah the Merciful is always with the ones who endure, so be patient and have faith in Him. May Allah grant us all the strength and patience to go through the tribulations, and may He grant us the compassion and mercy to forgive others, Insha’Allah.
Are you going through a rough patch with someone recently? Don’t worry! You are not alone. Leave a comment down below if you are facing the same situation right now, or have gone through it in the past, and share with us how you overcome the negative emotions you faced. As a united Ummah, let us be there for each other in these trying times.
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