Sunday, 7 March 2010

Giving The Gift Of True Forgiveness

We have all been in situations where someone, usually someone we hold near and dear, has committed a wrong against us. As much as we want to move forward, we are often held back due to our inability to let go of the wrong, the injury and the injustice. Umm Thameenah bint Luqman searches deep to discover the essence of forgiveness.

I always thought of myself as the type of sister that found it difficult to hold a grudge. I have had my share of falling-outs, disputes, even confrontations in the past. With some, I made my feelings apparent; with others I either shrugged it off or hid my feelings and made excuses for them. In general though, I have found it easier to overlook things and simply utter “I forgive you” than to have to face an uncomfortable apology from someone.

However, a year ago, I found myself questioning my claim of being able to forgive easily. I faced a situation that was emotionally painful, not only because of the hurt and sadness it caused, but also because those involved were people whom I considered dear to me. I realised that I had a choice: I could either hold on to the situation and continue to experience the resentment and sorrow, or I could forgive and let go. I chose to let go.

But, as days turned into weeks and weeks into months, I found myself recalling the incident over and over again in my mind. “I haven’t been able to forgive them, have I?” I questioned myself. “Subhan Allah, I still hold a grudge against them.” I found myself questioning my relationship with these sisters, and found that the solid foundation of trust that we had built over years had been shattered with one thoughtless action. As much as I tried to forgive and to forget, remembering the incident brought intense sadness and tears that continued to hinder my progress.

Hostage to the past
Most of us have been in a similar position. We recognise some pattern of behaviour in ourselves that we would like to change, but we often feel powerless to do so. Everything we try seems to lead nowhere. However, if we probe deeper into the source of this behaviour, we can often link it to some past event or experience in our lives. In some cases, it is the result of a single traumatic event, whether a betrayal by a friend, an injury, an attack or a perceived injustice. For others, it is the result of emotional, mental or physical abuse that has occurred over an extended period of time.

As difficult as the situation is, overcoming it with sincere forgiveness is truly a blessing from Allah I. If we are unable to release the baggage we carry as a result of past experiences, we remain stuck, continuing to allow these experiences to shape our future in ways that are not always healthy, often creating unforeseen pain and suffering for us and those around us.

Finding the ability to forgive
To forgive someone does not mean that whatever harm or hurt they caused becomes insignificant. It is a process that begins in the heart and filters through our souls, ultimately creating an immeasurable release of burden for the one wronged and the wrongdoer.

• Forgiving by accepting responsibility. Yes, others may have done things that have hurt or harmed us, and they are responsible for those actions. But such individuals are not responsible for how we live the rest of our lives; we are responsible for that. How we respond to these past events and what we carry into our present and our future is entirely up to us and no one else. If we allow the past to negatively affect how we live the rest of our lives through the choices we make, our friendships, our relationships and our behaviour with others, then that remains our choice and responsibility, not that of the one who committed wrong. Once we understand this, only then will we grant ourselves the opportunity to implement the beautiful process of forgiveness, by freeing ourselves from the burden of pain, anger and resentment, insha Allah.

• Forgiving by releasing. Forgiveness is about releasing ourselves from those self-imposed limitations and self-defeating behaviour patterns that tie us to the past in negative ways. Forgiveness is releasing our anger, fear, pain and resentment and opening our hearts to joy, peace and love. It means that I will no longer allow the past to have a hold on my life today; that I am willing to release the hurt and pain; that I no longer wish to be tied to the experience or the person connected to the experience in a negative way; that I am releasing both myself and the person from a tie that holds us both back; and, most profoundly, that I simply wish to be free.

• Forgiving by moving on. Does forgiveness equal welcoming the person back into your life? Sometimes, to do so would be to take the high road, and that would be a source of khayr. However, there are times when it is neither wise nor prudent to do so. In the Qur’an Allah I informs us of the permissibility of seeking recompense from one that has wronged us. However, we are also told that to forgive is better than to seek revenge. True forgiveness does not always necessitate the complete forgetting of a situation, despite the common misconception that we should “forgive and forget” as though the incident never took place. However, you do not want to go around carrying the heavy burden of being bitter and resentful for the rest of your life either. Once you learn that if you touch a hot stove you can get burnt, you are not likely to do it again. You learn something from the experience: to exercise more caution while working around a hot stove, thus you do not blame the stove for being hot. It is what it is. And neither do you go around, for years, holding onto a grudge against the stove because you got burnt. This is the same for individuals that have wronged us. We are able to benefit from the situation by learning from the experience and moving on, as opposed to allowing the situation to control our lives.

Returning to Allah
A dear sister once told me, “We are a nation of believers, hoping to attain the forgiveness of our Lord, Most High, whilst failing to attain the forgiveness of our fellow beings.”

For me, learning to forgive meant taking ownership of my own situation. Though I sometimes struggle to do so, I make a habit of beseeching my Lord to forgive all who have wronged me … and to forgive me, for having ever harboured the inability to let go of what I claimed to have forgiven. As I recline each night, I attempt to cleanse my heart of every kind of ill-feeling, upset and hurt that I have been harbouring. I attempt to empty it completely, to forgive and make excuses, whilst turning to my Beloved, Most High, in need of His forgiveness.

“Our Lord! Forgive us, and our brethren who came before us into Faith, and leave not, in our hearts, rancour (or sense of injury) against those who have believed. Our Lord! You are indeed Full of Kindness, Most Merciful” (Al-Hashr: 10).

For those that have ever wronged me intentionally, unintentionally, with or without my knowledge, accept from me the best of all gifts - my forgiveness wrapped in a heartfelt du’a. With this, insha Allah, we shall walk hand-in-hand through the blessed gates of Paradise. With this, insha Allah, we shall not be held back to reconcile our worldly disputes. And with this, insha Allah, I have freed my soul and yours, by letting go of any past wrongs ever committed.

And for those that I have wronged, I pray, as taught by the Prophet r: “Oh Allah, whomever of the believers I have abused, give him the reward of a sacrificial slaughter for it on the Day of Resurrection” (Al-Bukhari).

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