Yom Kippur and Al-Ghafoor

On the Day of Atonement-Yom Kippur, [October 8th from sunset to the 9th at sunset this year] Jews pray not at the usual three services, but [like Muslims] at five services, which however all together last for about 8-10 hours.

One of the meanings of Kippur is to cover over or conceal [like God’s Arabic name Al-Ghafoor]. Some of us might have committed sins that are too many, or too shameful, to even think about. But when Allah forgives a sin, He covers it over and conceals it.

Al-Ghafoor is the One who does not expose the sins of His servants. God forgives us whenever we repent, even while knowing of the wrongs we have committed; and Yom Kippur is the day when Jews should focus for the whole day on deep self-examination, seeking God’s forgiveness .

Mentioned as Al-Ghafoor (the most forgiving) in 90+ places in the Qur’an, God offers every sinner many chances of redemption and repentance saying: “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning), do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful’.” (Qur’an, 39:53)

And as the Bible states: “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray, seek My presence, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [their words] from heaven, and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

Prophet Muhammad clarified this when he narrated in a Hadith Qudsi, “Allah the Exalted said: ‘O son of Adam, if you call upon me and place your hope in me, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you have sins piling up to the clouds and then ask for my forgiveness, I will forgive you without any reservation.” (Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, 3540)

As Prophet Isaiah says: “I have swept away your transgressions like a fog, and your sins like a cloud. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you”. (Isaiah 44:22)

Even God’s Prophets and Messengers who are very righteous and pure individuals, used to acknowledge their mistakes too, and turned to Allah in repentance all the time. Prophet Adam and his wife accepted their mistake and said: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers..” (Qur’an, 7:23).

Similarly, Prophet Musa said: “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” (Qur’an, 28:16) and Prophet Muhammad said: “Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart and ask Allah for forgiveness one hundred times a day.” (Muslim, 2702)

We should learn from them that, as the Bible states: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is [always] righteous, no one who [always] does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

And we should learn from this super dramatic allegory that whoever sincerely and strongly turns to God in repentance will be helped also by God to repent. Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported Allah's Messenger as saying that a man [a Jewish man according to Al-Bukhari Book #56, Hadith #676] who killed ninety-nine persons began to seek if there was any way left for him for repentance.

He came to a monk and asked him about that, and the monk said: There is no chance for repentance for you. So, he killed the monk; and then began seeking again going from one village to another village where there lived pious persons, but at some distance away he was overtaken by death, yet he kept crawling on his chest (to the village where the pious men lived).

When he died there was a dispute between the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment [over who he belonged to] and (when it was measured) he was found to be nearer the village where pious persons were living, so he was included among them.  (Muslim Book #037, Hadith #6663)

In the allegory the Monk says there is no chance for repentance for you, not because you killed many people, but because Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God who died on the cross as an atonement for all those who believe in the sacrifice of God’s son.

But the allegory teaches that Al-Ghafoor’s mercy extends to everyone who sincerely and strongly turns to God in repentance; and that they will even be helped by God Himself to repent; because in the Al Bukhari version the allegory states that Allah himself moved the pious village closer to the Jew.

There are many verses in the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. In one of the prayers that the Prophet taught, he said: “O God, You are most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me.” (At-Trimidhi & Ibn Majah).

We need God’s mercy and forgiveness all the time. It is wrong to assume at any time that one will find eternal salvation without the forgiveness of God. Just as it is important to believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness, it is also necessary to base human relations on forgiveness.

We cannot expect God’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies is one of the most important of Islamic teaching. In the Qur’an, God has described the Believers as: “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies, and when they are angry they forgive.” (42:37)

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting for 24 hours; and during that fast all Jews will hear the words of Prophet Isaiah read during the service in the synagogue as follows:

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To lose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens [and] let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring to your house the poor who are cast out;

When you see the naked, that you cover them, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?

Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily,

And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.

Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away the yoke from your midst; the pointing finger, and speaking wickedness,

If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul,

Then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as noon-day.

The Lord will guide you continually, satisfying your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones;

You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)

Allen S. Maller is an ordained Reform Rabbi who retired in 2006 after 39 years as the Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, California. His web site is: www.rabbimaller.com. Rabbi Maller blogs in the Times of Israel. His book ‘Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms: A Reform Rabbi's Reflections on the Profound Connectedness of Islam and Judaism’ (31 articles previously published by Islamic web sites) is for sale ($15) on Amazon.

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