“As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little bit more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges…..Forgiving those who may have made a mistake or harmed you, will give them respect for your behaviour, and it will encourage them to follow your behaviour.” — Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, from 1969 and 1995 excerpts quoted below.
Applying the Islamic ethical principle of forgiveness at the most important moment in Mawlana Hazar Imam’s Imamat
By ABDULMALIK J. MERCHANT
The spirit of forgiveness is an ethic that Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has articulated many times since his Imamat. In 1969, he said in Mumbai:
“As the world gets smaller, it is fundamental that people should work together and not against each other, and try to be a little bit more generous than you have been in the past. If people have made mistakes, forgive them their mistakes. If people have harmed you, forget and forgive. Do not hold grudges. Do not turn around and say, ‘he hurt me yesterday, so I will hurt him today’. This is not the spirit of Islam, and it is not as I understand that our faith should be practiced, and this is fundamental.”
The act of apologizing when one thinks that one was not at fault, and the act of exercising forgiveness when one feels that they have been wronged, are probably the most difficult to struggle with.
However, each one of us has to realize that when there are conflicts, especially within a family, the burden of disunity is the greatest on parents because their love for all their children is absolute. Now consider that in the context of Hazar Imam, who addresses all Ismailis as his spiritual children!
According to a popular tradition, when the Prophet Muhammad asked Angel Gabriel what was meant by the Qur’anic verse (7:199),
“Keep to forgiveness (O Muhammad), and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant”
the Angel replied:
“It is God’s command to forgive those who have wronged you, to give to those who have deprived you, and to tie relations with those who severe theirs with you.”
Another tradition of the Prophet says:
“Show mercy and you shall be shown mercy. Forgive others and you shall be forgiven by God.”
When Mawlana Hazar Imam received the Adrienne Clarkson prize for Global Citizenship he shortlisted a good measure of forgiveness, along with an abundant capacity for compromise, a little sense of patience and humility, as strengths for an aspiring global citizen. Accomplishing these would mean hard work, he said, “but no work would be more important.”
In a piece “Why Forgive” Fatima Ariadne in her blog Decoding Eden says that “forgiveness is about giving yourself permission to let go of the past….and giving that inner space in your heart for something more positive. We forgive because we deserve peace.”
Through our kind gesture of forgiving, we are also raising the consciousness of this fundamental Islamic ethic in the hearts and minds of the persons we are seeking to forgive. Speaking in Moscow in 1995 during his first physical presence among his community in Central Asia, Mawlana Hazar Imam said that “forgiving those who may have made a mistake or harmed you, will give them respect for your behaviour, and it will encourage them to follow your behaviour.”
Of course, Mawlana Hazar Imam was addressing an audience that had passed through a period of civil strife in Tajikistan. However, this principle is as fundamentally important in our daily attitudes to our families and friends.
Louis B. Smedes, professor emiritus of ethics and theology at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena, California and author of book Forgive and Forget wrote that, “Forgiving does not erase the bitter past. A healed memory is not a deleted memory. Instead, forgiving what we cannot forget creates a new way to remember. We change the memory of our past into a hope for our future.” He further noted that “You will know that forgiveness has begun when you recall those who hurt you and feel the power to wish them well.”
The Qur’anic ayat quoted earlier “tie relations with those who severe theirs with you” imposes upon us a moral obligation to forgive.
So as we approach the important day of the holy encounter with Hazar Imam it would be most appropriate for us to reach out to our friends and family members with whom we are seriously at odds and say, “Let unpleasant things that have happened in the past be forgotten.”
That act of courage would be in the truest and finest tradition of our faith. With that kind spirit in our heart, we will truly lavish in the love, grace, and blessing of Mawlana Hazar Imam when he is with us in a few days. Forgiveness will lead to greater unity within families and the jamat.
It is within the framework of united families and Jamats that Mawlana Hazar Imam wishes us to attain spiritual as well as worldly success and happiness. He has explained:
“I would like my spiritual children here to live in the spirit of Islam. I would like you everyday to remember that you are brothers and sisters. When you pray together, you are brothers and sisters; when you face difficulties, you are brothers and sisters; and when you are having success, you are brothers and sisters. In this unity as a family, I would like you to achieve worldly success also. I would like you to have many worldly goods, but if a family is at odds, you can never achieve success. It is only if you work together, that you are united and that you attempt to succeed together, that you will have success.” — 1964, Peshawar, Pakistan.
“I would like you to remember one particular ayat in the Qur’an which says, “Khalaq-kum min nafsin wahidatin” which means He created you, you in the dual — it refers to man and woman — from one soul. This means that Allah has made you from one soul only and He divided you into man and woman. This is what I have said to you, that you are not only brothers and sisters in a worldly manner but also in a spiritual manner.” — 1964, Dacca, East Pakistan, now Bangladesh.
Date posted: March 10, 2018 (a version of this article has appeared on this website previously).
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