Monday, August 5, 2013

Ramadan Reflection: The Art of Forgiveness

Ramadan is a time for spiritual rejuvenation, but because of the way our emotional, spiritual, physical, and mental states affect one another, in order to really spiritually cleanse ourselves we must go on an emotional detox. This means we have to get rid of negative feelings in our hearts ("black spots") such as anger, pride, grudges, envy, etc. We also have to seek forgiveness for ourselves and for others. We have to forgive others who have hurt us in any way, whether it's through small acts or in big ways. 

This Ramadan, I struggled with this. I had discussions about it with my friends, contemplated it, and read up on the psychology of forgiveness. How do you forgive someone who may not "deserve it," or someone who does not realize they did anything wrong? This is why forgiveness is truly an art of its own. 

Many articles and lectures about Ramadan telling us how to "do it right" mentioned that we must let go of grudges and that we must forgive and forget, but how exactly do we do this? Sometimes we may tell ourselves that we forgive someone but we're only lying to ourselves. If we still possess a feeling of "hatred" towards someone, it's a sign that we have not fully forgiven them. If we find that it is getting in the way of allowing us to focus on our spiritual worship and of improving ourselves, then it is a problem. And it does get in the way of our worship and spiritual well-being, because of the way God created us, subhanAllah. 

It only hurts ourselves when we have not forgiven someone else. I saw this quote and loved it: "Holding on to anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die." -Buddha

This is why we must forgive others and make sure we have a clean heart with no negative feelings or grudges towards other people. We may know that we should forgive others, but we may not know how to get ourselves to. That was my personal issue. But with one month of contemplation, reflection, and discussion, I think I started to figure it out a little. I hope that iA it can be beneficial to at least a few people out there. 

1. We must pray for ourselves and pray for them. 
God only gives us tests that He knows we can handle, but sometimes it feels like He overestimates us. The fact that we can handle it should give us the confidence and the drive to pass these tests. But we might not always be that strong. When we are wronged by someone else, we can react in different ways and this is a test from God. Once we realize this, we can pray that God makes it easier on us, to help us pass this test He has given us.

A friend sent me a prayer she had written before she went for Umrah, and I used some parts of this prayer for myself in Ramadan. Certain parts stuck out to me, and they are relevant here: 

"Oh Allah, You are the Turner of hearts, so turn my heart to forgive others. If I have wronged others knowingly or unknowingly, verbally or through my acts, turn their hearts to forgive me. Make the hearts of those around me softened towards me, and soften my heart. Allow me to purify my heart and rid my heart of diseases including anger, negative feelings towards others, and other diseases that I am unaware of." 

As part of our prayer, we can get specific and "vent" to God. You can literally pray for anything, using whatever words you want to. I already mentioned to pray for it to become easier for you to forgive, but you can also pray for more if it helps you feel better, which to me it does: for example, for them to realize their mistake, for God to soften their heart and swallow their pride and make them realize that they did something wrong, for them to not do what they did to you to anyone else, and for you to never hurt anyone else the way they hurt you. You can pray for God to help you understand why He put you through that as well, because there is always a reason, and I'll get more into this in #5. If a wound is fresh or if something really terrible happened, then ask Allah to take it away from you and replace it with something better. Here is a hadith that goes with that dua: 

Ahmad and Muslim reported from Umm Salmah that she said: "I heard the Prophet, peace be upon him, saying: "If a servant of Allah is afflicted with a misfortune and says 'Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji'un, Allahumma ajirni fi musibati wa akhlif li khairan minha' (Verily we belong to Allah and truly to Him shall we return. O Allah! Protect me in this calamity that has befallen and replace it with something better), Allah will accept his prayer, grant him reward for his affliction, and replace it with something better." She added: "When Abu Salmah (her husband) died, I invoked Allah in the words tuaght to me by the Prophet, peace be upon him, and Allah did grant me someone better than he, i.e., (He gave me) the Messenger of Allah (as a husband). 

One of the best ways to forgive someone is to pray for them and to genuinely mean it. This sounds crazy, but try it. I heard somewhere in an Islamic context that if one is envious of another they should pray for them to get more of whatever they have that makes one envious of them. That works here too. I already mentioned how we can pray for the person to realize their wrong and to soften their hearts, but we can and should also pray for their well-being, for them to forgive us in return for whatever we have done, and for them to gain the best in this life and the hereafter. This is literally what it means to "be the bigger person." 

This goes hand in hand with #2, which is that we must view their forgiveness from a different perspective. 

2. We must view their forgiveness from a different perspective. 
What if we were in their position? What if we were raised the same way they were raised and had had the same experiences as them? Would we have acted differently or acted similarly? Only God knows. We need to humble ourselves and realize that if we want God to forgive us for our mistakes which may be larger than theirs, we need to forgive them and we should want God to forgive them too. This is difficult to do, but it's necessary to sincerely try. We cannot be selfish when we consider this. Maybe God won't forgive them, but that's up to Him and not us. Only God can judge, and once we realize this we will let go of these feelings that consume us and get in the way of us living our life in the healthiest possible way. 

In the grand scheme of things, this person is another human being who makes mistakes just as we do, and they may be our Muslim brother or sister, and so we want the best for them. We must forgive them because we want God to forgive us too when we screw up, and we do, probably more than them but in different ways. It comes down to being as simple as that. We need to have some tough love on ourselves, and avoid victimizing ourselves in this process. 

3. We must try to forget, and in the mean time we may still feel hurt or upset, but we must realize that that's okay.
I have a story here: 

Once I was boiling up about something. I think I was talking about a bad situation to a friend, and this made it worst because when we talk about something from the past, in talking about it we are re-living it. There is a difference between venting about something and speaking about it just to speak about it. If you are over a situation or getting over it, don't "re-live" it by telling the whole story again. If you must tell the whole story again, tell it in a less emotional, more vague, matter-of-fact way. But going through the details of something will only make it worse. Yes, we do need to vent about things and we do need someone to listen and we do need advice, and that's okay when something is more recent and fresh. Personally I try to remind myself that the more time has passed since something or the more we've progressed in getting over something, the less we should be talking about it. 

Back to the story. As I was boiling up about this, my mom was in another room in the house and was reading Quran while listening to the recitation with her headphones on. She did not realize that her headphones were not plugged in all the way and so the recitation was on the speakers of her iPad and I heard it. But the way it softened my heart in an instant. I had never turned on Quran when I was angry before. This recitation of Mishary Al-Afasy though just changed my mood in an instant which was so powerful that it scared me slightly. 

So we need to realize that we will get angry from time to time. One way to avoid this is to not talk about it with others after we have already started the healing process. We must also avoid re-living it in our own heads, which is very common and only natural, but we need to fight it anyway. We will slip though, and sometimes we will think back to something and feel hurt. If we do feel angry we should deal with it in one of the many ways that Islamic teachings tell us to - whether it is through changing our physical position (sitting down, laying down, or standing) or by taking a shower or sleeping or listening to some Quran. We need to also realize that it is possible to forgive someone yet still feel hurt from their acts towards us. There is a difference between feeling angry towards someone, versus feeling hurt because of what someone did or said to us. We will feel sadness or disappointment from time to time, but we cannot that transform itself into anger towards the person again. And we need to continue to work on forgetting, which leads me into my next point. 

4. We must realize the power of time as a healer. 
Time is the best, and sometimes the only, healer. God makes our brains forget painful memories over time: so that our hearts can forgive and heal. We need to be patient and realize that it will get better with time. Sometimes fresh wounds seem like they will never heal. But whenever something bad happens, we need to keep that in mind and it will become easier for us to get through it. This is difficult for those who are not as patient, such as myself. To forgive is a test of patience. This point and the next go together, in that through time we will realize and understand the situation better

5. We must have faith in God's plans for us.
"But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And Allah Knows, while you know not." - [Quran 2:216]

Why did this person or these people hurt us in whatever small or large way, why did we go through whatever experience we did, and why did it occur at the time it did, with the people it occurred with? There is a reason for all of this. We may not understand it until later, though.

Think about it sort of in comparison to history: while an event is going on it makes absolutely no sense. There are only attempts to understand, but these are biased and only a slice of what is going on, influenced by media and propaganda and politics. Whatever we understand from it is only only years later, sometimes decades later, when it makes sense to historians and political commentators. One of the reasons for this is because the emotion of the situation is less strong and present, and there is more of a logical lens when analyzing it. 

This happens to us as well in these situations. It may be hard to forgive someone when there are more emotions involved, but later we realize why we were put through the situation. Whether it is to teach us a lesson, show us what to watch out for, learn about ourselves, or just because we had to get through that in order to get to where we are now. Having faith makes it easier for us to have the ability to forgive, and forgiving others in turn strengthens our faith. 

I'll end with a few quotes on forgiveness I really like: 

"To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you." -C.S. Lewis

"Forgiveness is not an occasional act; it is a constant attitude." - Martin Luther King Jr. 

1 comment:

  1. Marvelous piece!
    Re point 1 above, one of the ways of doing this is to pray in plural form instead of singular form, whereas the benefit of dua spreads all over when accepted. In a hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) says that if you ask Allah's forgiveness for all the believers, you will be rewarded against each of one of them.