Forgiveness in Islam: Even When You Can’t Forget

by Saadia Mirza x Ayeina

Isn’t it hard for everyone of us to forgive the ones who hurt us, betray us, the ones who break our hearts? We are often hurt by the people who are closest to us so it’s natural for the wound to go deeper than the hurt you may endure through a stranger. Largely because you don’t expect hurt to come from their direction.

What is Forgiveness?

Forgiveness is the intentional and voluntary process by which a victim undergoes a change in feelings and attitude regarding an offense, lets go of negative emotions such as vengefulness, with an increased ability to wish the offender well.

Forgiveness is different from condoning (failing to see the action as wrong and in need of forgiveness), excusing (not holding the offender as responsible for the action), forgetting (removing awareness of the offense from consciousness), pardoning (granted for an acknowledged offense by a representative of society, such as a judge), and reconciliation (restoration of a relationship).

Forgiveness is given to someone who does not deserve it. And you Choose to forgive instead of taking the revenge. You could take revenge but you chose to become a bigger person and let go…

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have any more feelings about the situation.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean there is nothing further to work out in the relationship or that everything is okay now. Resolution might still be needed.

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you should forget the incident ever happened.

And sometimes, forgiveness doesn’t mean you have to continue to include the person in your life…

Forgiveness is basically for you. To help you move on…

pray to Allah for forgiveness

Forms of Forgiveness

You could either let go of revenge but never forget, or you could forgive with such conviction that you forget it eventually as well after the time has healed your wounds.

In Qur’an, there are two phrases used for forgiveness, coming from root words:

1) غ ف ر

The meaning of the Arabic word “ghafara” is to cover, to hide and from it comes the meaning “to excuse,” “to pardon,” “to remit” and “to forgive.”

“…and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you?… “

[Surah An-Nur 24:22]

2) ع ف و

Al-‘Afuw is another part of forgiveness. This name is mentioned in the Quran five times. Literally the word ‘Afw means “to release,” “to heal”, as well as “to restore, to remit.” 

ٱلَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِى ٱلسَّرَّآءِ وَٱلضَّرَّآءِ وَٱلْكَـٰظِمِينَ ٱلْغَيْظَ وَٱلْعَافِينَ عَنِ ٱلنَّاسِ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ يُحِبُّ ٱلْمُحْسِنِينَ

Who spend during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allah loves the doers of good

​​[Surah Ali Imran 3:134]

Steps to Forgive Even When It Feels Impossible 

A grudge usually indicates a dramatic mismatch between our expectations of others and the reality; an acknowledgment that someone disappointed us deeply, and often, doesn’t even realize it. When someone apologizes to us, we also feel validated and justified for being upset. The apologizer is taking responsibility at some level for the result of their actions, intended or not. And when that happens, our insides relax; we don’t have to fight anymore to prove that our experience is valid, that we are entitled to our hurt, and that it matters. When hurt by another, our bodies are hardwired to need an apology to relax, move forward, and let go of the hurt. 

But sometimes when we can’t get the I’m sorry, we think we need, we have to learn to relax on our own, without the other’s help. Trusting and knowing that our pain is deserving of kindness — because it is — and that our truth is justified and valid — because it’s our truth — is the beginning of our independent healing process.

From a Psychological Perspective 

If you decide you are willing to forgive (because your willingness to move on matters), try following these four steps to forgive even when it feels absolutely impossible that you’d be able to move past all the hurt you endured:

1) Recap

Run a recap of that incident in your mind. Accept that it happened. In order to forgive, you need to acknowledge the reality of what occurred and how you were affected.

2) Acknowledge

Acknowledge the growth you experienced as a result of what happened. What did it make you learn about yourself, or about your needs and boundaries? Not only did you survive the incident, perhaps you grew from it. Begin to picture your life without holding on to that anger and hurt. Would it feel lighter? Would you feel more content within? The health of your heart and mind should belong to you. If you give it in someone else’s hand, what are your chances of peaceful survival? 

3) Share Your Feelings

A grudge can form when an issue isn’t fully confronted. Without being judgmental about yourself or another, clarify your feelings on the situation. Then, decide if this is something you will work on in your own heart or by contacting the other person involved. Only when you are ready, communicate with the other person about the issue. The path to freedom from a grudge is not so much through the forgiveness of the “other” (although this can be helpful), but rather through loving our own self or bringing in a loving presence of someone else into the suffering that crystallized into the grudge.

If it feels like too much to go directly into the pain of a grudge, we can move toward it with the help of someone wise we trust. The idea is not to re-traumatize ourselves by diving into the original pain but rather to attend to it with the compassion that we didn’t receive. Although our heart contains both our pain and the elixir for our pain. Sometimes the pain can be too difficult to deal with on our own and outside help may be needed. 

4) See the Other Side of The Coin

To say I’m sorry is to say that I did something wrong. For some people, admitting that they did something wrong is not possible, even when they know it was wrong, and even when they feel bad about doing it. This never-sorry person can actually be sorry and still refuse to utter the words that would both acknowledge their remorse and right their wrong. To be able to admit that we’ve done something wrong requires a certain level of self-esteem or ego strength.

 People who are deeply insecure can find it challenging to say I’m sorry in part because they think that a single mistake has the power to obliterate their self-worth. The idea that they could make a mistake and still be a valuable and good person is unthinkable for someone whose self-esteem is severely lacking. And then there are those who refuse to say I’m sorry because they lack empathy. They believe that an apology is only appropriate for situations in which they purposefully caused you harm. There’s no sorry deserved or indicated when the pain you felt was not intentionally caused, and thus not technically their fault. 

So think about the other person. Where is he or she coming from? He or she is flawed because all human beings are! When you were hurt, the other person was trying to have a need met. What do you think this need was and why did the person go about it in such a hurtful way?

From an Islamic Perspective

Holding a grudge is like drinking poison yourself and hoping the other person gets affected by it. It feels like carrying a heavy burden of negativity & feelings of resentment. The problem with grudges, besides the fact that they are a drag to carry around, is that they don’t serve the purpose that they are there to serve. They don’t make us feel better or heal our hurt.

At the end of the day, we end up as proud owners of our grudges but still without the experience of comfort that we ultimately crave, that we have craved since the original wounding. We turn our grudge into an object and hold it out at arm’s length as proof of what we have suffered, a way to remind others and ourselves of our pain and deserving-ness.

 But in fact, our grudge is disconnected from our own heart; while born out of our pain, it becomes a construction of the mind, a story of what happened to us. Our grudge morphs into a boulder that blocks the light of kindness from reaching our heart, and thus is an obstacle to true healing. Sadly, in its effort to garner us empathy, our grudge ends up depriving us of the very empathy that we need to release it. So a change in perspective can really help straighten things for you in shaa Allah…

1) Forgive People to Gain Allah’s Forgiveness: 

Here Is a big question. Ask yourself. Don’t you want forgiveness from Allah? If we seek forgiveness from Allah (And we all need Allah’s mercy), let us rush into forgiving people. We only give forgiveness that is finite and what Allah can give us is infinite. Allah’s mercy is infinite. His forgiveness is infinite. SubhaanAllah. What a Beautiful Exchange! Either our anger weighs more or our love for forgiveness of Allah weighs more…

حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عُقْبَةَ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ عُثْمَانَ الْقُرَشِيُّ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا حَرِيزٌ، قَالَ‏:‏ حَدَّثَنَا حِبَّانُ بْنُ زَيْدٍ الشَّرْعَبِيُّ، عَنْ عَبْدِ اللهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ‏:‏ ارْحَمُوا تُرْحَمُوا، وَاغْفِرُوا يَغْفِرُ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ، وَيْلٌ لأَقْمَاعِ الْقَوْلِ، وَيْلٌ لِلْمُصِرِّينَ الَّذِينَ يُصِرُّونَ عَلَى مَا فَعَلُوا وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ‏.‏

Abdullah ibn al-‘As reported that the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, “Show mercy and you will be shown mercy. Forgive and Allah will forgive you. Woe to the vessels that catch words (i.e. the ears). Woe to those who persist and consciously continue in what they are doing.”

[Al-Adab Al-Mufrad 380]

The incident of slander against Aisha is one of the example of this fact. When the Mother of Believers was accused and there were rumors spreading about her in the city – one of the Sahaba who was Abu Bakr’s relative (Mistah Bin Uthatha) who Abu Bakr was also supporting financially, got indulged in spreading the false propaganda created by Munafiqeen. When Aisha’s father – Abu Bakr came to know about that, he swore that he wouldn’t help him anymore. Upon this, Surah An-Nur, Verse 22 was revealed. 

وَلَا يَأْتَلِ أُو۟لُوا۟ ٱلْفَضْلِ مِنكُمْ وَٱلسَّعَةِ أَن يُؤْتُوٓا۟ أُو۟لِى ٱلْقُرْبَىٰ وَٱلْمَسَـٰكِينَ وَٱلْمُهَـٰجِرِينَ فِى سَبِيلِ ٱللَّهِ ۖ وَلْيَعْفُوا۟ وَلْيَصْفَحُوٓا۟ ۗ أَلَا تُحِبُّونَ أَن يَغْفِرَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمْ ۗ وَٱللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ

And let not those of virtue among you and wealth swear not to give [aid] to their relatives and the needy and the emigrants for the cause of Allah, and let them pardon and overlook. Would you not like that Allah should forgive you? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.

After this, Abu Bakr resumed helping Mistah.

2) Qalbin Saleem Leads to Jannah

I know it’s easier said than done. Qalbin Saleem means a sound heart. A heart free of burdens of dunya. Our hearts are made for Allah. They aren’t meant to hold so much hurt of this dunya. So daily cleansing can be an uplifting experience. 

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ ،أَنَّ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ: ” تُفْتَحُ أَبْوَابُ الْجَنَّةِ يَوْمَ الِاثْنَيْنِ، وَيَوْمَ الْخَمِيسِ، فَيُغْفَرُ لِكُلِّ عَب  يُشْرِكُ بِاللَّهِ شَيْئًا، إِلَّا رَجُلًا كَانَتْ بَيْنَهُ وَبَيْنَ أَخِيهِ شَحْنَاءُ، فَيُقَالُ: (1) أَنْظِرُوا (2) هَذَيْنِ حَتَّى يَصْطَلِحَا، أَنْظِرُوا هَذَيْنِ حَتَّى يَصْطَلِحَا، أَنْظِرُوا هَذَيْنِ حَتَّى يَصْطَلِحَا”

رواه مسلم (وكذلك مالك وأبو داود)

Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: The gates of Paradise will be opened on Mondays and on Thursdays, and every servant who associates nothing with Allah will be forgiven, except for the man who has a grudge against his brother. it will be said: Delay these two until they are reconciled; delay these two until they are reconciled. It was related by Muslim (also by Malik and Abu Dawud).

[Hadith 20, 40 Hadith Qudsi]

women hugging each other

3) Follow the Sunnah

We see forgiveness in the character of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ and in each prophet who went before him. From Yusuf (AS) forgiving his brothers after living a life of slavery and imprisonment when his brothers threw him into the well – to Prophet ﷺ forgiving the murderers of his beloved uncle and supporter. From Ibrahim (AS) forgiving his father who was one of the people to throw him into fire – to Prophet ﷺ making dua for the people of Taif who pelted him with rocks until he bled…

وعن أنس رضي الله عنه أن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال‏:‏ ‏ “‏لا تباغضوا، ولا تحاسدوا ولا تدابروا، ولا تقاطعوا، وكونوا عباد الله إخوانًا، ولا يحل لمسلم أن يهجر أخاه فوق ثلاث‏”‏ ‏(‏‏(‏متفق عليه‏)‏‏)‏‏.‏

The Prophet ﷺ said, “Do not harbor grudge against one another, nor jealousy, nor enmity; and do not show your backs to one another; and become as fellow brothers and slaves of Allah. It is not lawful for a Muslim to avoid speaking with his brother beyond three days.”

[Bukhari and Muslim, Riyad as-Salihin 1567]

4) Consider Life A Constant Test

Let’s not get caught up in the illusion of pain given by the people that you fail to see the bigger picture. By forgiving, you are accepting the reality of what happened and finding a way to live in a state of resolution with it. This can be a gradual process and for some, a journey of a lifetime. This life is a test. Allah is going to test us through other people too. 

وَمَآ أَرْسَلْنَا قَبْلَكَ مِنَ ٱلْمُرْسَلِينَ إِلَّآ إِنَّهُمْ لَيَأْكُلُونَ ٱلطَّعَامَ وَيَمْشُونَ فِى ٱلْأَسْوَاقِ ۗ وَجَعَلْنَا بَعْضَكُمْ لِبَعْضٍ فِتْنَةً أَتَصْبِرُونَ ۗ وَكَانَ رَبُّكَ بَصِيرًا

And We did not send before you, [O Muḥammad], any of the messengers except that they ate food and walked in the markets. And We have made some of you [people] as trial for others – will you have patience? And ever is your Lord, Seeing.

[Surah Al-Furqan 25:20]

This article was first published on ayeina.com.

About the Authors

AYEINA is a multiple award-winning Islamic blog ayeina.com, which revolves around Islamic parenting, psychology, and productivity run by two Muslim mums – AYEsha and samINA. The duo brings their years of Islamic psychology, Quran, and Arabic studies into creating interactive fabric quiet books and novelty Journals for Muslim kids and adults.

Saadia Mirza is from Karachi, Pakistan who is currently an Arabic language student at Quran Academy. She’s a writer from every part of her heart who loves art, painting, nature & the One Who has created it.

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12 Comments

  1. Farzana

    I love this app with all my heart thank you muslim pro team . I love islam and find everything here .

    ❤️

    Reply
  2. Kolapo Monsuru BELLO

    The article is quite revealing, I gained a whole lot fro reading it.

    Reply
  3. Hayat Yar Khan

    Remarkable

    Reply
  4. Salima

    This is so beautifully written 🥺😍😍😍

    Reply
    • Rifqa

      Very thoughtful and helpful.

      Reply
      • Salamatou

        I love this app its make appreciate Islam every moment of my existence. Thank you so much for this opportunity Alhamdulillah. Wa Aleikum.

        Reply
  5. Hussain

    This is true but it is easier said than done.

    Reply
    • Iffat

      What a beautiful article on forgiveness! I have read few but this one make all the sense.
      HUSSAIN you are absolutely right, it is not easy in any way. But it is also not easy to keep yourself in prison of grudges. We need to learn how to do it for sake of ourselves. To heal our hearts and to give ourselves freedom we deserve. We need to work on it.
      When I read all the examples given in this article of forgiveness,it was just awakening.

      Reply
  6. Salma Tanweer

    What a wonderfully written article on forgiveness

    Reply
  7. Parveen K

    Mashallah, I have learned a lot from that article. May Allah bless those who put it together.

    Reply
  8. DORIE

    Jazakallahu khayran for sharing.

    Reply

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