In our day-to-day life, sometimes we come across ignorant behaviour shown by people around us. It may take the form of verbal abuse, accusations, disrespect, slander, backbiting, false assumptions, name-calling, ridicule, maligning comments, physical aggression, etc. because of their jealousy, misgivings, maliciousness, difference of opinion or dislike for whatever reason. When this happens we can either retaliate, respond, avenge, seek redress and cry foul or we can forbear, ignore and forgive.
Although justice demands that scores should be fairly settled for every wrong that takes place in the society, Ihsaan suggests that people should be gracious and generous enough to forgive any wrong perpetrated against them personally.
Muslims are encouraged to practice Ihsaan by adopting the following:
“Practise forgiveness, command what is good, but turn away from the ignorant.”
“Kind speech and forgiveness are better than charity followed by hurt.”
Those who care about attaining Allaah’s forgiveness, they have been told that they should themselves demonstrate forgiveness for people:
“And they should pardon and overlook. Do not you like that Allaah forgive you?”
And because Allaah Himself is forgiving, He loves those who forgive:
“Those who restrain their anger and who pardon people, and Allaah loves Muhsineen.”
The Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam not only himself practised forgiveness in a way par excellence, he trained his companions to be the same way. It is indicated by the following example:
Once, a person was verbally abusing Aboo Bakr radhiallahu `anhu, while the Prophet was curiously watching with a smile. After taking much abuse quietly, Aboo Bakr responded to a few of his comments. At this, the Prophet exhibited his disapproval, got up and left. Aboo Bakr caught up with the Prophet and wondered, “O Messenger of Allaah, he was abusing me and you remained sitting. When I responded to him, you disapproved and got up.” The Messenger of Allaah responded, “There was an angel with you responding to him. When you responded to him, Shaytaan took his place.” He then said, “O Aboo Bakr, there are three solid truths: If a person is wronged and he forbears it (without seeking revenge) just for the sake of Allaah, Allaah will honour him and give him the upper hand with His help; if a person opens a door of giving gifts for cementing relationships with relatives, Allaah will give him abundance; and, if a person opens a door of seeking charity for himself to increase his wealth, Allaah will further reduce his wealth.”
Forgiveness is also a comprehensive concept extending to all human encounters and dealings including those with family members, servants, employees and strangers.
A person came to the Prophet and asked him how many times he should forgive his servant. The Messenger of Allaah responded, “Seventy times every day.” (‘Seventy’ times is an Arabic expression to indicate countless times)
Sometimes, people take advantage of those who are forgiving, abuse their forgiving nature or even take it as a sign of their weakness. Observing such tendencies in people, a Muslim may think that he should deal with people according to their behaviour. This is not acceptable in Islam as it means living by the values of other people instead of sticking with one’s own Islamic values. Thus, the Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam warned:
“Do not be ‘reflection of society’, keeping the attitude that if people behave well, we will behave well. However, if they behave badly, we will also be unfair. Rather, program yourselves so that if people behave well, you behave better; but if people behave badly, you must not be unfair.”
Although forgiving by the aggrieved party is good in any circumstances, it is really meaningful and beneficial when the aggrieved party has an upper hand and has full power, authority and opportunity to avenge or settle the score. It is the forgiveness in that situation that is really rewarding and that wins the hearts of people.
The Messenger of Allaah said, “Moosa Ibn ‘Imraan, `alayhissalaam asked Allaah: O Lord, who is the most honourable of your slaves? Allaah responded: “He who forgives when he has power to avenge.”
Although Islam encourages Muslims to be forgiving and promises great rewards for those who forgive, it (the act of forgiving) is a very personal affair of an aggrieved party that he/she may want to do on his/her own discretion as an act of Ihsaan for the Pleasure of Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala. No one has the right to demand or expect it from the victim. If the victim does not forgive, no one has the right to regard it as an improper or impious act, nor should the refusal of a victim to let go the matter diminish the victim’s respect in the eyes of those who think it should be forgiven. Third parties (those who are not parties to the case or are not adjudicators or arbitrators) can encourage the wronged party to forgive for the sake of Allaah, but people in authority or those responsible to administer justice should not try to pressure the victim in any way shape or form. About a victim’s right to raise the issue, to lodge a complaint and to seek redress, the Holy Qur-aan says:
“Allaah does not like public mention of evil except by one who has been wronged. And Allaah is all-hearing, all-knowing. Rather, if you publish something good, or conceal it, or pardon an offence, indeed Allaah is forgiving and omnipotent.”
About every one’s rights to justice, defend or avenge, Allaah says:
“The fair settlement for a wrong is equal retribution. However, whoever forgives and reconciles, his reward is due on Allaah, and Allaah does not like the unjust. And whoever avenges himself after being wronged, they are not to be blamed. The blame is on those who oppress people and wrongfully rebel in the land. For them, there will be a painful punishment. And indeed whoever practices Sabr and forgives, that is a highly resolute, top-notch behaviour.”
Thus, a person will be within one’s right to defend himself from any misbehaviour or avenge a wrongdoing. That is justice and everyone is entitled to it without being blamed for it.
However, Ihsaan is that the believer takes all that in stride graciously and magnanimously without responding, fighting back, paying much attention or complaining. Ihsaan is the standard good Muslims are expected to strive for. And this is the kind of behaviour that wins the hearts of people, converting them from adversaries into loving friends.
The Holy Qur-aan states:
“Who can be better in stance than He who calls people towards Allaah, performs good deeds and proudly declares to be a Muslim. Goodness and evil are not equal. Hence, respond in the most excellent way. Then you will see your enemy turning into a close friend. And this level cannot be attained except by those who practice Sabr, nor it can be attained except by those who posses a great share of (magnanimity).”
Our Prophet, Sall Allaahu `alayhi wa sallam was the most excellent example of winning the hearts of people by forgiving them when he had power and by responding in the most unexpectedly better manner when wronged. In addition to our Prophet, prophet Yousuf `alayhissalaam was another excellent example of forgiving behaviour. In response to all the wrongs done by his brothers, when he had power to settle the scores, he forgave them with the following words:
“No blame will there be upon you today.”
At the conquer of Makkah when our Prophet had power of life and death over his persecutors, he forgave them with the same words: “No blame will there be upon you today. Go. You are free.”
However, the following points must be clearly understood before one assumes that Islamic encouragement of forgiveness applies carte blanche to every situation on the earth:
A person can forgive only a crime, wrongdoing, excess or transgression against one’s own person, not for another adult Muslim.
Forgiveness must be voluntary, without any pressure.
Often, while settling disputes, people pressure the victim to forgive and forget. This specially happens when the victim is a weak member of the society while the perpetrator is an influential or powerful person, and people tend to pressure the victim to let the matter go, without seeking justice, apology, retribution or compensation. In such situations, a victim may do so under pressure, but it will keep bothering him inside that justice was not done for him. It also encourages the perpetrator to violate rights of other weaker persons because he can get away with it. Hence, for ensuring justice for everyone, for peace of the society and for discouraging exploitive behaviour on the part of the strong and influential, Islam stands forcefully with the victim in such situation. This principle was clearly communicated by Aboo Bakr, radhiallahu `anhu, when he delivered his opening address as the chief of the believers:
“The weakest among you is the strongest to me until I have ensured that his rights have been fulfilled; while the strongest of you is the weakest to me until I have made him appropriately deliver his obligations.”
Even a government, court, head of a state/country, arbitrator, conciliator, etc. has no authority to forgive a punishment or retribution against a crime unless the victim forgives it without any pressure or coercion. The duty of a political, judicial or an arbitration authority is to deliver justice, not to make compromises or pressure people into making compromises. That is against justice because a compromise favours the perpetrator at the expense of the victim. This right of the victim, regardless of how insignificant the violation is, is so sacred that even Allaah Subhaanahu wa Ta`aala will honour it on the Day of Judgment. Even He will not forgive the most minute violation of rights of people unless they were voluntarily forgiven in the world. He will administer perfect justice and settle all violations of rights by transferring an appropriate amount of balances of people’s virtues and sins, to each other as the case may be.
Even in cases where there is no identifiable victim, Judiciary does not have any right to forgive any violation of law without meting out the minimum punishment prescribed by the law.
Similarly there can be no leniency in case of a cognizable / indictable offence for which punishment is already prescribed in the Qur-aan, e.g. fornication, murder, theft, rape, etc. Once they are brought to the notice of the authorities, they cannot be dispensed without the minimum prescribed punishment, even if the victim wants to forgive or settle in another way.
“Forgive the indictable offences (Hudood) among yourselves. Once it reaches me, punishment shall be mandated.”
A case of fornication was brought to the knowledge of the Prophet after the parties had agreed to accept a financial penalty from the perpetrator. The prophet overruled the settlement and implemented the punishment on both parties involved in the fornication.
‘Aaiyshah radhiallahu `anha reported, “The Messenger of Allaah never ever avenged for himself. However, if Allaah’s sanctities were violated (important rules of Islam broken), then he will avenge (implement punishment) for Allaah.”
Hence, Islam properly balances the needs of law, order and justice in the society and the need of developing graciousness in its adherents. On the one hand, it encourages the aggrieved party to forgive to create a more loving and caring environment in the society, and, on the other hand, ensures peace and security of the society and integrity of the system through proper provision of justice to the wronged party/victim and through strict enforcement of justice.
The Other Four of the Six Guiding Values:
Giving – To Close Relatives
Avoiding Fahshaa – Avoiding indecency
Avoiding Munkar – Bad behaviour
Avoiding Bahgy – Transgression
(Reported from Aboo Hurairah in Mishkaah and Musnad Ahmad)
(Reported from ‘Abdullaah Ibn ‘Umar by At-Tirmidzee)
(Reported from Hudzaifah in Mishkah and At-Tirmidzee)
(Bayhiqee in Shu’abul-eemaan from Aboo Hurairah)
(Aboo Dawood and Nasaai)
(Reported Bukhaaree and Muslim)
(Reported by Bukhaaree and Muslim)