We may have heard expressions of a “forgiving God” or seen people praying for God’s forgiveness. Forgiveness and God are connected.
How can we understand the nature of God? Trying to understand God is an unfamiliar area of study for many, known as Theology. It can be hard to get one’s head around such discussions: how can one know about something you cannot see or touch? In Islamic theology, we can find descriptions or ‘names’ of God in the scripture (the Qur’an) that can help us find a way of ‘knowing’ God and understanding the nature of God. The most commonly mentioned description mentioned in the Qur’an is of a forgiving and merciful God. Indeed, before almost every section (or Sura) of the Qur’an, this description is emphasised twice. The Prophet Muhammad's own life story is replete him with being forgiving, be that in his impulsive responses to situations or a leadership capacity. Muslims are taught that being forgiving towards others is an essentially Islamic characteristic.
Islamic teachings advocate and encourage the virtue of being forgiving across the spectrum of human relations. Forgiveness is emphasised in dealing with (especially elderly) parents, one’s children, marital partners, and amongst family and friends. Forgiveness can also be a virtue in dealing with opponents, haters and attackers. Forgiveness can be demonstrated by victims of theft and violent crime, and towards a people who have wronged you. It can even apply to unexpected areas of finance, like business debts that are too burdensome to pay (when we “waive” a payment, for example). The position, status or belief of people should not impede us from an act of forgiveness. In a conflict situation, Islam praises the one who initiates peace and forgiveness as being the better and a peacemaker.
In our commercially driven world, being forgiving is sometimes portrayed as a sign of weakness. In Islamic thinking, this is far from the truth, and displays a confused and imbalanced understanding of being forgiving, and how it is a strength in human relations when applied with wisdom and in a spirit of goodness. Forgiveness is not a substitute for frankness and principles, but a door to resolution and regrowth. Human relations draw great strength from being at both the giving and receiving end of forgiveness, and the opportunities for better relations to blossom going forward are much greater. Being forgiving brings out the best in the interdependent reality of relationships.