Presentation to a Workshop on
“ATONEMENT: THE PROCESS OF HEALING AND RECONCILING OF DIFFERENCES”
Shaykh Ahmed Abdur Rashid
Bismillah ir Rahman ir Raheem, Bismillâh, Alhamdulillâh
Allâhumma salli wa sallim alâ sayyidinâ Muhammadin, wa alâ âlihi wa sahbih
...When we make our prayer, the segment of time from the last prayer to that prayer is like standing before Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) on the Day of Awakening. If we prepare inwardly and fill our lives with the radiance of repentance, then there is hope. If we think we can get through one day without feeling some repentance, we’re wrong. We are degrading our lives, our souls, and the community around us. No good can come without dependence on God. As we enlist Allah’s (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) aid in the struggle against the forces of darkness within us; as we turn our lives from selfishness to service; as we strive to correct our wrong actions and attitudes, we uplift our families, our communities, and humanity. We begin to think Islamically.
Not all Muslims think Islamically. By “thinking Islamically”, I mean suffusing our lives with the attributes of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa): the Compassionate, the Merciful, the Gatherer, the Just, the Forgiver, the Protector. Islamic thinking evolves from our good actions. We only begin to be that way through our ibaada (worship), repentance, sincerity, service—through changing our attitudes and habits.
When we think Islamically, we think with an attitude of confidence, tolerance, and patience. Compassion and mercy accompany everything we do and say. We also know that as we come to be more compassionate and merciful, there are times when we succumb to one flash of anger or frustration, and feel as if we have lost all the progress we had made. But, let us rest assured that when we have repentance, Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) will always place us back on the path, at the place where we deviated.
Once the Prophet Musa (‘alayhi as-salaam) prayed, “O Lord, I want to meet the most abominable of your creatures.” A voice came to him and said, “Go see the first man at the riverbank in the morning.” So, he went down to the river the next day, and there he found a surly man with bloodshot eyes, mumbling and cursing and beating his donkey, obviously hung over from the previous evening’s cavorting and libations. The Prophet Musa (‘alayhi as-salaam) went back to prayer. This time, he prayed to see the best of God’s creations. Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) said, “Return to the river tomorrow morning.” Musa (‘alayhi as-salaam) went, and lo and behold, he encountered the same man. This time, the man was sweet and kind, and being gentle with his donkey. Musa (‘alayhi as-salaam) thought, “How can this be?” In search of an explanation, he visited the man’s house and spoke to his wife. He told her all that he had seen. After listening carefully, she said, “Yesterday, my husband came home, and I served him dinner, and he began cursing me as usual. Then he demanded that I massage his feet. As I was doing that, I asked if I could ask him a question. He said, ‘Yes’‘“I said, ‘What is greater than the earth?’ He answered, ‘The seas.’ I asked, ‘What is greater than the seas?’ ‘My sins,’ he replied. I asked, ‘What is greater than your sins?’ And he said, with tears of gratitude pouring from his eyes, ‘Allah’s forgiveness.’ From that moment on, he has been as you see.”
If we, like the man in the story, long to experience the forgiveness of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) , then we need to take stock of how well we are forgiving our fellow human beings.
Extending Forgiveness to Others
Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) says,
Wa- li- afwa wa- li-yas.fah.o ‘a-laa tuh.ibbon ‘an yaghfir ‘allaah la-kum wa- ‘allaah ghafor raheem. Let them forgive and overlook. Do you not wish that God will forgive you? For God is All-Forgiving, Most-Merciful (24:22).
‘Yaquuluuna Rabbana-gfir lanaa wa li-‘ikhwaani-nalladhiina sabaquunaa bil- ‘iimani wa laa taj-‘al fii quluu-binna ghillal-lillazina ‘aamanuu… ...[they] say: “Our Lord! Forgive us and our brethren who came before us into the faith and leave not in our hearts rancor (or sense of injury) against those who believe!”... (59:10).
If we expect forgiveness from God, how can we not give it to others? Yet, too often, we choose to be harsher than Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa). Rather than forgiving, we hold grudges and punish people. Nevermind that Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) has said, “My Mercy overpowers My Anger”; in our lives, we replace the Mercy of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa tac’laa) with our judgments, our blame, our desire to avenge past wrongs.
To earn the forgiveness of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa), we have to let go of all that. We have to accept that whatever happens to us, happens with the permission of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa). The Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) advised Ibn Abbas (rad.iy Allaahu ‘anhu):
...If you ask, ask only Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa). If you seek refuge, seek refuge only with Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa). And learn that if all people meet and agree to do something useful for you, they will not do that except by the wish of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa); and if they decide to harm you, they will not do that except by the wish of Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa).
We need to move towards that place where we can say, “Al Hamdu’lillah” (praise be to Allah) no matter what happens to us, rising above attitudes of blame or doubt, even violence and hate. As we do that, we realize that all good that comes to us comes from Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa), and all that heretofore we thought was bad, comes from our own self.
Maa ‘asaabaka min hasanatin faminallah; wa maa ‘asaabaka min sayyi’atin fa-min nafsik. Whatever good happens to you is from Allah; but whatever evil happens to you is from your (own) soul (4:79).
The catalyst—the way we get to this realization—is to turn to Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa) in our hearts, our minds, and our words and to atone of our wrong actions. This builds the strength to accept that all things come from Allah (Subh.aanahu wa ta’alaa). Neither atonement nor the forgiveness that follows is a sign of weakness. Rather, both are indications of strength. Real forgiveness is when we have the power to take revenge, and we choose not to. The Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said:
The strong person is not the one who overcomes people by his strength, but the one who controls himself when he is angry.
On another occasion, the Prophet (s.alla-llaahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,
The best deed before Allah is to pardon a person who has wronged you, to show affection for relatives who have broken ties with you, and to act generously towards a person who has deprived you.