Morality of forgiveness
One of the moral traits recommended in the Qur’an is forgiveness:
007.199► خُذِ الْعَفْوَ وَأْمُرْ بِالْعُرْفِ وَأَعْرِضْ عَنِ الْجَاهِلِينَ
Hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. (Qur’an, Al-Araf -7: 199)
024.022► وَلا يَأْتَلِ أُولُو الْفَضْلِ مِنْكُمْ وَالسَّعَةِ أَنْ يُؤْتُوا أُولِي الْقُرْبَى وَالْمَسَاكِينَ وَالْمُهَاجِرِينَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَلْيَعْفُوا وَلْيَصْفَحُوا أَلا تُحِبُّونَ أَنْ يَغْفِرَ اللَّهُ لَكُمْ وَاللَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
In another verse Allah commands: “… They should rather pardon and overlook. Wouldn’t you love Allah to forgive you? Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an, An-Noor- 24:22)
Those who do not abide by the moral values of the Qur’an find it very difficult to forgive others. Because, they are easily angered by any error committed. However, Allah has advised the faithful that forgiveness is more proper:
042.040► وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِثْلُهَا فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّهُ لا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
The repayment of a bad action is one equivalent to it. But if someone pardons and puts things right, his reward is with Allah… (Qur’an, Ash-Shura -42:40)
064.014► يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ مِنْ أَزْوَاجِكُمْ وَأَوْلادِكُمْ عَدُوًّا لَكُمْ فَاحْذَرُوهُمْ وَإِنْ تَعْفُوا وَتَصْفَحُوا وَتَغْفِرُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
…. But if you pardon and exonerate and forgive, Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Qur’an, At-Taghabun -64: 14)
003.134► الَّذِينَ يُنْفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ
It has also been revealed in the Qur’an that forgiveness is a superior moral trait: “But if someone is steadfast and forgives, that is the most resolute course to follow.” (Qur’an, 42:43) For that reason, believers are forgiving, compassionate and tolerant people who, as revealed in the Qur’an, “control their rage and pardon other people.” (Qur’an, Al-E-Imran 3:134)
Believers’ notion of forgiveness is very different to that of those who do not live by the morals of the Qur’an. Even though many people may say they have forgiven someone who has offended them, it nevertheless takes a long time to free themselves of the hatred and anger in their hearts. Their behaviour tends to betray that anger. On the other hand, the forgiveness of believers is sincere. Because believers know that human beings are tried in this world, and learn by their mistakes, they are tolerant and compassionate. Moreover, believers are also capable of forgiveness even when they are in the right, and the other in the wrong. When forgiving, they make no distinction between large errors and small ones. Someone may cause severe losses to them by mistake. However, believers know that everything takes place under the command of Allah, and according to a specific destiny, and therefore, they surrender themselves to these developments, never acquiescing to anger.
According to recent research, American scientists established that those capable of forgiveness are healthier in both mind and body. Dr. Frederic Luskin, who holds a Ph.D. in Counselling and Health Psychology from Stanford University, and his team, studied 259 people living in the city of San Francisco. The scientists invited the subjects to attend six one-and-a-half-hour sessions, and aimed to instruct the subjects in forgiveness during their conversations.
The subjects of the experiments stated that they suffered less after forgiving people who had wronged them. The research showed that people who learned to forgive feel much better, not only emotionally but also physically. For example, it was established that after the experiment psychological and physical symptoms such as stress-related backache, insomnia and stomachaches were significantly reduced in these individuals.
In his book, Forgive for Good, Dr. Frederic Luskin describes forgiveness as a proven recipe for health and happiness. The book describes how forgiveness promotes such positive states of mind as hope, patience and self-confidence by reducing anger, suffering, depression and stress. According to Dr. Luskin, harboured anger causes observable physical effects in the individual. He goes on to say that:
The thing about long-term or unresolved anger, is we’ve seen it resets the internal thermostat. When you get used to a low level of anger all the time, you don’t recognize what’s normal. It creates a kind of adrenaline rush that people get used to. It burns out the body and makes it difficult to think clearly-making the situation worse.
In addition, Dr. Luskin says, when the body releases certain enzymes during anger and stress, cholesterol and blood pressure levels go up-not a good long-term disposition to maintain the body in.
An article called “Forgiveness,” published in the September-October 1996 edition of Healing Currents Magazine, stated that anger towards an individual or an event led to negative emotions in people, and harmed their emotional balance and even their physical health. The article also states that people realise after a while that the anger is a nuisance to them, and wish to repair the damage to the relationship. So, they take steps to forgive. It is also stated that, despite all they endure, people do not want to waste the precious moments of their life in anger and anxiety, and prefer to forgive themselves and others.
In another study involving 1,500 people depression, stress and mental illness were observed to be less frequent in religious people. Dr. Herbert Benson, who conducted the research, linked this to the way religions encourage “forgiveness,” and went on to say:
There’s a physiology of forgiveness… When you do not forgive, it will chew you up.
According to an article titled, “Anger Is Hostile to Your Heart,” published in the Harvard Gazette, anger is extremely harmful to the heart. Ichiro Kawachi, an assistant professor of medicine, and his team scientifically demonstrated this with various tests and measurements. As a result of their research, they established that grumpy old men had three times the risk of heart disease than their more tempered peers. “The tripling of risk,” Kawachi says, “involves high levels of anger, explosive anger that includes smashing things and wanting to hurt someone in a fight.”
Researchers believe that release of stress hormones, increased oxygen demand by the heart’s muscle cells, and added stickiness of blood platelets, which leads to clots explain how anger increases the chance of a heart attack. Furthermore, at times of anger, the pulse rises above its normal level, and leads to increased blood pressure in the arteries, and thus to a greater risk of heart attack.
According to researchers, anger and hostility can also trigger the production of proteins linked to inflammation in the blood. The journal Psychosomatic Medicine suggested that the emotion triggers the production of inflammatory proteins, which may in turn be causing the hardening of the arteries, causing heart disease and stroke. According to Associate Professor Edward Suarez of the Duke University Medical Centre in North Carolina, the protein interleukin 6 (or IL-6) is much higher in men who are angry and depressed. High blood levels of IL-6 lead to atherosclerosis, the build-up of fatty deposits in the lining of the walls of arteries.81 According to Suarez, as well as factors such as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity and high cholesterol, heart disease is also linked to psychological states such as depression, anger and hostility.
Another article, titled “Anger Raises Risk of Heart Attack,” published in The Times, stated that a short temper might be a short cut to a heart attack, and that young men who reacted to stress by becoming angry were three times more likely to develop premature heart disease, and were five times more likely to have an early heart attack.83 Scientists at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland, found that quick-tempered men are at risk of heart attack even if there is no family history of heart disease.84
All the available research shows that anger is a state of mind that seriously damages human health. Forgiveness, on the other hand, even if it comes hard to people, is pleasing, an aspect of superior morals, that eliminates all the harmful effects of anger, and helps the individual to enjoy a healthy life, both psychologically and physically. Forgiveness, of course, is one of a form of behaviour by which a person can stay healthy, and a positive virtue everyone should live by. However, the true aim of forgiveness-as in all else-must be to please Allah. The fact that the features of this sort of morality, and that the benefits of which have been scientifically identified, have been revealed in many verses of the Qur’an, is just one of the many sources of wisdom it contains.