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Forgiveness: One of the Greatest Teachings of Islamic Tradition

muslim woman praying

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, 42:40)

F

orgiveness is easily one of the greatest teachings of Islamic tradition. For Muslims, it is intimately connected to and rooted in a deeper theological understanding of God and his relationship with humanity. Being born into a culture dedicated to polytheism, the Islamic prophet Abū al-Qāsim Muḥammad ibn ʿAbd Allāh, suffered much persecution in his life, but is largely held to have lived the meaning of forgiveness throughout such treatment.

One story about Muhammad’s constant pardoning revolves around an old woman that he had to pass daily on his way to mosque. Every time he passed by her house, she would throw garbage at him, but no matter how much she threw, he never showed sign of anger or annoyance. One day he passed by her house and to his surprise was not doused in trash. Stopping to ask a neighbor what happened to her, Muhammad found that the woman struck ill and lay very sick in bed. He entered her house to pay a visit. Though she expected an ambush, Muhammad explained that he came because Allah had ordered him to take care of those in need. In marvel of his compassion, the woman converted to Islam on the spot.

But how do today’s Muslims understand the Quran’s standard on mercy and how is it implemented?

Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive you for your wrong actions. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’ (Surat Al ‘Imran, 31)

If Donna Azizi had ever read that verse six years ago, it would have likely gone over her head, but just one year later, when the only thing between her and death was a handful of antidepressant pills and the shocked look on the face of her 25 year old son, those same words would set her free.

Though born Muslim in Cairo, Egypt, Donna wasn’t controlled by a life of faith. She lived for love. And in 1978 it took the form of a young man named Alan, who she met during a semester she spent studying interior design in Cairo.

A pretty, young Donna caught his eyes in the student cafeteria. Before he knew it, Alan would spend the next seven years trying to gain Donna’s parent’s permission for her hand in marriage.

They were engaged by 1979, finished school together in Egypt and by 1985 were married and starting a family in California. Soon later her first son, Matthew would be born, followed by her daughter Sarah.

She lived for her family. She lived for her husband. That was enough.

Flash forward 25 years—with a daughter away at college, the Gawad family had planned to move from their home in Glendora to a smaller one in Glendale. One late June night, Donna laid on her bed browsing housing options on her laptop next to an aloof Alan.

“I was looking for three bedroom houses and he kept saying get two, get two,” she said. “He’d make excuses like ‘Sarah doesn’t need a room, she’s in college now.’ ”

Donna disregarded her husbands comments and continued her search.

“Get two, I don’t want to live with you,” he finally said.

Make allowances for people, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant. (Surat Al-A‘raf, 199)

Alan hadn’t come to this decision overnight, but months of planning.

Months later, after the intial separation, Donna was at dinner later when a family friend came to meet her, holding divorce papers.

“I asked, ‘Where is he.’ He said he’s on vacation.”

He planned everything—and planned it well.

“He had another woman,” Donna said. “His plan was to clear everything—our money, our assets—to not have anything for me, so he got a lousy attorney who advised him to neglect to pay our mortgage for 13 months.”

She turned to her medicine cabinet.

“When I found out that he was going to leave me I didn’t want to live anymore. I tried to overdose on anxiety medication.”

Before she could bring the fistful of medication to her mouth, Matthew came into the room.

“It was a sign that God wanted to keep me alive.”

“When they are angered they forgive” – Quran 42:37

Life moved forward, but Donna hadn’t. Her mind ran circles around the paradox—utter resentment toward her separated husband, yet a continued longing for his return.

Things about their relationship that hadn’t made sense before started to add up. For years, Alan would visit Egypt at least twice a year, for a month at a time. He’d drop everything for it, Donna recalled, to visit his mother who he said was sick and too old to care for herself.

“My kids started to tell me and a couple friends from back home they saw him going out with her (in Cairo),” she said. “He would go every January; it was weird because sometimes we’d have an event or an emergency and he wouldn’t bother with it. He’d still have to go.”

“I just saw photos of his mother, the other night,” Donna laughed. “ She just got plastic surgery, I thinks she’s doing just fine.”

It was shocking because after 35 years of dedicating her life to a man, she found out he was cheating on her with another woman she used to talk to, she said. Though she felt like God had abandoned her, Donna continued to act out her five daily prayers. She asked that God would help her forget what her husband had done to her, that he would be punished for his wrongs and that if he (God) was real, to prove it to her.

“I started to say that even though I don’t really believe it, I just go by what my religion says. ‘God if this is true let me see it. Let me believe in it.’ ”

She needed a sign. Any sign.

Allah does not impose on any self any more than it can stand. For it is what it has earned; against it, what it has merited. Our Lord, do not take us to task if we forget or make a mistake! Our Lord, do not place on us a load like the one You placed on those before us! Our Lord, do not place on us a load we have not the strength to bear! And pardon us; and forgive us; and have mercy on us. You are our Master , so help us against the people of the kafirun. (Surat Al-Baqara, 286)

One night late January, Donna woke up in her bed with short breaths, forehead drenched in cold sweat. She decided to get up and drink some water. Sharps pains jabbed from her chest to her legs.

Alone, lying on her bathroom floor, she called a friend to come pick her up.

By 6:30 am she was in the emergency room. X-ray scans showed scar tissue surrounding her colon, causing the organ to literally twist around itself.

“The pain is unbelievable. It goes all the way to your chest and feels like you’re going to have a heart attack,” she said. “I was almost not breathing. I thought I was going to lose consciousness.”

The answer, doctors said, would be surgery. But after an incident with anesthesia while going under the knife in 2009, Donna was told that if she was to go under again, she wouldn’t wake up.

She spent the night in the ER. Teary eyed, Donna stared out her hospital room window, watching lightning thunder across  a rain drenched sky. She closed her eyes and bowed her head in prayer.

“God, I can’t even move,” she said. “Let me live again, take my suffering away. I appreciate everything. Forgive me for what I was doing over one person.”

It took staring death in the face for Donna to realize what she had become. She had her health and she had her family, but she was crying over one person, she said.

The next morning Donna’s pain had completely subsided. She left the hospital without surgery and without the anger she had been holding on to for so long.

“Because God loves me so much, he makes me close to him; whatever he gives me, I accept it,” she said. “I forgive my husband. I was giving him too much and he did not appreciate it and God said enough, I need to move on.”

Say, ‘If you love Allah, then follow me and Allah will love you and forgive you for your wrong actions. Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful.’ (Surat Al ‘Imran, 31)

Donna lives out her faith in the same tradition today—five prayers a day. But, she does it with a renewed heart, one that embraces everyone around her and puts God before everything else, one with compassion and eagerness to help her fellowman and most of all, one that pardons and overlooks.

 

 

Religio Mag
Written by Religio Mag

6 Comment responses

  1. Avatar
    January 11, 2015

    I wish forgiving was easier done than said… but alas, forgiveness has to start with me too..

    Reply

  2. Avatar
    January 12, 2015

    Forgiveness? What the heck are the extremists going by when they killed the 12 at Charlie Hebdo in Paris? Don’t understand how they are interpreting their quran

    Reply

  3. Avatar
    January 14, 2015

    Regardless of faith or what you believe in, a story is like this is so saddening but also shows strength through it all. I’m glad though that she was able to reach for God to help her through that mess. Some people are not so lucky.

    Reply

  4. Avatar
    January 14, 2015

    It’s human nature to want to repay back the pain to the person who hurt you…but what helps me is knowing that it was God who forgave us first.

    Reply

  5. Avatar
    January 15, 2015

    wow…these stories are so moving…imagine if we all had a compassionate and forgiving heart! Imagine what the world might look like…

    Reply

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