The Prophet said, “All human beings sin and the best of those who sin are those who repent” [Tirmidhi]. As human beings we do good but we also make mistakes and are therefore constantly in need of pardon and forgiveness. Allah therefore assures us; “O my servants who have transgressed against their souls, never despair of the mercy of Allah [Qur’an 39:53]. In light of this Imām al-Shaf’i wrote …“In You, O Creator, I raise my longing for forgiveness as a sinner and a wrongdoer. O Possessor of Kindness and Generosity; when my heart becomes constricted and my paths became narrow, I find hope in Your pardon and forgiveness as an opening and an escape. My sins seems so many but when I compared them to Your forgiveness, I find Your forgiveness to be far more magnanimous than all my sins [Diwan as-Shaf’i].
It is said that to err is human and to forgive is divine. Both parts of this statement are true. Wise ones have said that forgiveness is God's invention for coming to terms with a world in which, despite their best intentions, people do err, they do sin; they do wrong others and hurt each other. Allah began by forgiving us and He invites us all, to forgive each other. We expect Allah to forgive us but are we prepared to forgive others? Some of us become so hard-hearted that we refuse to forgive, as if we are ourselves not in need of forgiveness. The Prophet counselled, “He who is not merciful will not be shown mercy, and he who does not forgive will not be forgiven [Haythami].
Isn't it also strange how so many of us who are full of faults see every little sin in everyone else yet are blind to our own shortcomings? Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “Glad tidings to those more concerned about their own shortcomings than bothering about the faults of others” [Bazzaar]. Imam Shaf’i warned; Let not your tongue mention the shame of another, for you yourself are covered in faults and all people have tongues. If your eye falls upon the sins of your brother, shield them and say, "Look away! I also have faults and other people have eyes too!" [Diwan as-Shaf’i]. The Prophet thus warned: “O you who have believed with your tongues but faith has not yet entered your hearts, do not back-bite Muslims. Do not seek to uncover their faults, because whoever seeks out the faults others, Allah will seek out his faults. And if Allah seeks after someone’s faults, He will expose him even for (what he committed) in his home.” [al-Tirmidhī and Musnad Aḥmad]
In a world so highly critical of everyone, at a time when pessimism, vilification and suspicion abounds; we need, more than ever, to give ourselves the benefit of hope and give other people the benefit of the doubt. Instead of being over critical of ourselves, looking down upon others and burying people in negativity; let us inspire them to look up to Allah and elevate themselves. There are so many faults in the best of us and so much goodness in the worst of us, that it does not behoove rest of us to look down upon any of us.
We should remember that seeking forgiveness is a sign of humility, forgiving others is a sign of magnanimity and in the final analysis; forgiveness is not merely a set of behaviors, but is rather an attitude, a great attitude, a positive attitude, an attitude of the Divine, al-Ghaffaar, the Forgiving. Recall the promise of Allah [Qur’an 64:14] … “If you pardon, reconcile and forgive; then know that surely Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
Shaykh Sadullah Khan serves as the CEO of Islamia College in Cape Town, South Africa. He completed studies in Law at University of Durban, South Africa, Journalism (UK) and Islamic Studies at Al Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt.