Forgiving someone is perhaps one of the most difficult virtues we are called upon to practice. Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat discusses the theme of forgiveness in the life of the Prophets, as well as the Companions.
We all are wounded at some time or another. Some wounds afflict the flesh, sapping our strength and affecting our ability to function as we did before. Usually, the skilled hand of medicine can mend these wounds.
Others, however, are deeper. They cannot be nursed, bandaged or even seen by those around us; yet their pain is just as keenly felt, if not more. Sometimes it is a harsh sentence from a loved one; or the betrayal of a friend; or unfair treatment from others. Whether real or perceived, these wounds are a part of life felt by everyone – even the elite of the Messengers, those of great resolve (Uluʾl-ʿAzm): Nuh, Ibrahim, Musa, ʿIsa and Muhammad (Allah bless them and grant them peace).
The followers of Musa frequently said hurtful things about him, despite all that he had endured and done for them, which made it all the more painful. The Qurʿan tells us his pained response to them, ‘My people! Why do you keep offending me when you know that I am the Messenger of Allah [sent] to you?’ (61:5).
When wrongfully accused of being unfair, the Prophet Muhammad (Allah bless him and grant him peace) consoled himself with the knowledge that people have treated other Messengers like this before him. He said, ‘May Allah be kind Musa; he was insulted with worse than this and was patient’ (Bukhari).
The Example of Abu Bakr
If this is the case, then how are we – as believers – to treat those who wrong us and cause us pain? What kind of response should we demand from ourselves? But, more importantly, how can we transform what hurts us into what heals us?
To answer these questions, let us look at a significant event in the life of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace): the false accusation of infidelity which was levelled against his wife ‘Aʾisha, the daughter of Abu Bakr. In this incident and the verses revealed regarding it, are a multitude of lessons for us all, as well as foundational principles for a healthy society. It behoves every believer to study it detail.
In short, ʿAʾisha was accidentally left behind when the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) and a group of his followers we returning from a military campaign. She waited where they had camped the night before only to be noticed by Safwan b. al-Muʿattal, a young, righteous man of Quraysh, whose job was to pick up any items the army may have left behind. Upon seeing her he said nothing more than ‘We belong to Allah, and we are to Him returning’ expressing that he realised that the whole scenario was a test from Allah. He then gestured to ʿAʾisha to mount his camel and, without a word or a backwards glance, led her to where the rest of the army had next set up camp.
ʿAbdullah b. Ubayy, the chief of the hypocrites, wasted no time in spreading false rumours about the two; and unfortunately, several of the good believers, in moments of weakness, got caught up in the matter: Hassan b. Thabit, Hamna bint Jahsh, and Mistaḥ b. Uthatha all spread the vicious rumours. They circulated around Medina, causing a great deal of trouble amongst the Muslims for a month until Allah revealed verses exonerating ʿAʾisha. The latter three repented, and were given the punishment for falsely accusing a chaste woman. Ibn Ubayy was not punished because Allah had promised a terrible punishment for him in the Afterlife.
Our focus here, however, shall be on Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, the foremost of this umma, and the father of ʿAʾisha. His virtues and rank in Islam are unrivalled by anyone who is not a prophet, and his close relationship to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) is known to all. He was also the cousin of Mistah b. Uthatha, who, incidentally, was also related to the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace).
Let us now imagine what Abu Bakr and his family must have endured during this time. The pain this rumour brought on them must have been immense. As must have been the pain he felt on behalf of his daughter and the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) due to his immense love for them. When ʿAʾisha learned of the accusations he expressed that his family had never been accused of such a thing in the jahiliyya, so how was it possible that they do such a thing after having been honoured with Islam?
Not knowing the facts with certainty for over a month must also have taken its toll on him. In fact, as the verses were being revealed, ʿAʾisha – unfazed due to being her being certain of her innocence – noticed fear on the faces of her parents, lest the rumours be proved true.
It is difficult to imagine the full impact of these rumours on Abu Bakr given his social and religious standing, righteousness, great love for ʿAʾisha, and close relationship with the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace). However, what is clear is that he must have felt betrayed, and a great deal of anger towards Mistah. Mistah was a close relative – and not only that – but Abu Bakr had been financially supporting him since they left Mecca due to Mistah’s poverty.
Before progressing, it is important to realise that events which hurt us are always beneficial for us in the long term. The Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) said, ‘No Muslim experiences any tiredness, illness, worry, grief, offence, depression – not even being pricked by a thorn – except that Allah wipes out some of his sins [because of it]’ (Bukhari). Everything benefits the believer. The intelligent believers seek to maximise this benefit.
How Abu Bakr Was Called to Forgive
Abu Bakr did not respond by directing any verbal or physical aggression towards Mistah – which speaks volumes about his virtue and the supreme standard of conduct he imbibed from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) over the years. But, due to the pain caused to him by Mistah, he vowed that he would never give Mistah any more money after that day. This is a very understandable and human response; it embodies the restraint he showed due to the impact of religion on his life, and that he deeply felt the pain of this incident – something which makes his overall reaction even more amazing.
Allah, however, wanted to call him – and by extension, us – to an even higher standard of conduct. He revealed a verse addressing Abu Bakr primarily, but we are more in need of its instructions than he was.
‘Those of great religious virtues and wealth from amongst you should not swear that they will not give [anything] to close relatives, nor the destitute, nor to those who have emigrated for the sake of Allah. So pardon fully and overlook out of kindness. Do you not greatly desire that Allah forgives you? And Allah is All-Forgiving, Ever-Kind’ (24:22).
First, the verse clearly established the great virtues of Abu Bakr, which is a way of praising him, appealing to those praiseworthy qualities, and preparing him for another great quality he can add to these virtues. We should take this as in invitation for us to take on this noble quality too, as we are in much more need of virtues than Abu Bakr.
Next, Allah reminded Abu Bakr of the wealth that he had, which he spent on Mistah. In this is a reminder to us that all that we have is a gift from Allah, and that any favours we do to others are purely from the favour of Allah upon us.
Also, if those who we have been kind to do something to hurt us, then we should think of our sins in the face of the uncountable favours of Allah. Realising this means that we should go out of our way to embody the kindness Allah shows us despite our sins when dealing with those who have hurt us.
Allah then used a very interesting rhetorical device in the verse: He mentioned three qualities of Mistah – being a close relative, being poor, and being someone who left his home, wealth and property, to emigrate to Medina for the sake of Allah. Allah separated each of them with the conjuction ‘wa’. The effect of this is that we are made to think that there are three individuals being discussed – not one. This a common usage in the Qurʾan, and its purpose here is to highlight each quality as being important enough to make Mistah deserving of the financial support he was getting.
His being related to Abu Bakr meant that Abu Bakr should take care of him for the sake of Allah, and the ties that bind them. In fact, those closest to us can usually cause the deepest pain, as was the case here, but that pain does not end the relationship.
His poverty made him deserving of financial aid because Allah has distributed His blessings amongst His servant so those who have more can give to those who have less. Helping the poor should not be seen as a favour to them; rather, it should be seen as means of thanking Allah for what we have been given.
Emigrating from Mecca to Medina was a great act Mistah did for the sake of Allah, and consequently, Allah praised him by mentioning it, and deemed him worthy of receiving continued financial support from Abu Bakr for it. Leaving one’s home, loved ones, friends, and comforts for the sake of Allah is a difficult experience, and usually riddled with tests and trials. In this is a reminder to us that we should never forget the good others have done, whether it is to us, or in general.
The verse then calls to two monumental character traits: ʿAfuw and Ṣafḥ. The former has a meaning of covering up and looking away from something which is usually given a lot of focus. Khalil b. Ahmad al-Farahidi, the great polymath, genius and authoritative scholar of Arabic, said the word implies not punishing someone who deserves punishment.
How Do We Forgive?
This is significant because the Qurʾan does not call us to put ourselves in the life of fire from someone who is actively trying to harm us. Rather, we learned from the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that ‘the believer is not bitten [by an animal] from the same hole twice’ (Bukhari). Practical steps to ensure one’s safety should be taken.
However, this does not mean that one should fixate on the harm others cause us as this usually makes the pain worse and longer lasting. Pardoning someone despite their wrongs is beneficial to one’s mind, body, and soul. Fixating on wound makes one angry, resentful and mistrusting of others. The constant dwelling triggers the body’s fight or flight response, exposing oneself to more stress and illness in the long term. It also prevents one from being a kind, forgiving person who wishes well for all of humanity – which is central to good character and the sunna of the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and grant him peace).
The latter trait discussed is ṣafḥ, which has a sense of turning oneself from something so one’s side faces it, and not focusing on the cause of pain. Some Qurʾanic philologists have suggested that this implies an underlying sense of kindness which would be the motive of such an act.
The verse then focuses on a very strong motive indeed: self preservation. It asks ‘do you not greatly desire that Allah forgives you?’ We are told to respond to the offences we receive from others in the way we wish Allah to respond to our crimes: forgiveness. There is a great dichotomy in not forgiving the servants of Allah, yet wishing for Him to forgive our sins.
Rather, what is implied in the verse is that forgiving – just forgiving – is a means to being forgiven by Allah. The verse ends with a strong, emphatic statement which can only be understood as a promise of forgiveness and more favours from Allah to those who forgive others: ‘And Allah is All-Forgiving (Ghafur); Ever-Kind (Rahim).’
The word gha-fa-ra – the root of the name al-Ghafur – has a sense of forgiving something that deserves punishment. Coupled with it is a nuance that implies Allah’s hiding one’s faults from others, and protecting one. The name al-Ghafur has a sense that no matter how great the amount of sins one has, nor their severity, Allah is prepared to forgive them.
The name al-Rahim comes from a root which implies a strong, inherent desire to do good to others and to be kind to them, and the name itself suggests that Allah is eternally like this. Exegetes of the Qurʾan mention that coupling these two names together means that Allah not only forgives criminals, but He then goes on to shower His gifts on them too. If that is the case with criminals, how will He be towards the righteous such as Abu Bakr.
Upon hearing this verse Abu Bakr exclaimed, ‘Of course; I do greatly desire that Allah forgives me!’. Thereafter, he not only forgave Mistah, but he actually doubled the amount of money he regularly gave him, and thereby embodying the meanings of the two names too.
All that remains is for us to to ask ourselves how we will respond to those who have hurt us…
Shaykh Abdul Rahim Reasat began his studies in Arabic Grammar and Morphology in 2005. He moved to Damascus in 2007 to study and sit at the feet of some of the most erudite scholars of our time, such as Shaykh Adnan Darwish, Shaykh Abdurrahman Arjan, Shaykh Hussain Darwish and Shaykh Muhammad Darwish.
In late 2008 he moved to Amman, Jordan, where he continued his studies in Fiqh, Usul al Fiqh, Theology, Hadith Methodology and Commentary, Shama’il, and Logic with teachers such as Dr Ashraf Muneeb, Dr Salah Abu’l Hajj, Dr Hamza al-Bakri, Shaykh Ahmad Hasanat, Dr Mansur Abu Zina amongst others. He was also given two licences of mastery in the science of Qur’anic recital by Shakh Samir Jabr and Shaykh Yahya Qandil.
His true passion, however, arose in the presence of Shaykh Ali Hani, considered by many to be one of the foremost tafsir scholars of our time who provided him with the keys to the vast knowledge of the Quran. With Shaykh Ali, he was able to study an extensive curriculum of Qur’anic Sciences, Tafsir, Arabic Grammar, and Rhetoric.
When he finally left Jordan for the UK in 2014, Shaykh Ali gave him his distinct blessing and still recommends students in the UK to seek out Shaykh Abdul Rahim for Quranic studies. Since his return he has trained as a therapist and has helped a number of people overcome emotional and psychosomatic issues. He is a keen promoter of emotional and mental health.