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Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Forgiveness: A Gift to Ourselves

This is a story about a teacher who told each of her students to bring
a clear plastic bag and a sack of potatoes to school. The teacher
suggested to her pupils that for every person they had refused to forgive in
their life's experience, they were to take a potato, and write on it
the name and date, and put it in the plastic bag.

The teacher then told each of her students to carry this bag with them
on their shoulders and on their backs everywhere they went for one week
keeping the bag next to them at all times even beside their beds at
night and by their desk throughout the school day, basically 24-hours a

Some of her students complained that the plastic bags were too heavy to
lug around. The hassle of physically lugging these heavy plastic bags
around with them made it clear to the students what their teacher was
trying to convey to them about the value of friendship and forgiveness.

The students realized what a weight they were carrying spiritually.
This is a great metaphor for the price we pay for keeping our pain and
heavy negativity. Too often we think of forgiveness as a gift to the other
person, but it clearly is for ourselves.

Remember what Allah (Subhanahu Wa Ta'ala) teaches us in Surah Al-A'raf
[7:199-200]: "Show forgiveness, enjoin what is good, and turn away from
the ignorant (i.e. don't punish them). If a suggestion from Satan
assails your mind, seek refuge with Allah; for He heareth and knoweth (all

In these ayahs Allah (Ta'ala) comforts the Prophet (Sallallahu alaihi
wa sallam) and directs his mind to three precepts:
1. to forgive injuries, insults, and persecution;
2. to continue to declare faith that was in him, and not only to
declare it, but to act up to it in all his dealings with friends and foes and
3. to pay no attention to ignorant fools, who raised doubts or
difficulties, hurled taunts or reproaches, or devised plots to defeat the
truth: they were to be ignored and passed by, not to be engaged in fights
and fruitless controversies, or conciliated by compromises.

Even a Prophet of Allah (Ta'ala) is but human. He might think that
revenge or retaliation, or a little tactful silence when evil stalks
abroad, or compromised with ignorance, might be best for the cause. He is to
reject such suggestions and seek refuge with Allah (Ta'ala).

Of all the things we can give other people in life, forgiveness is one
of those that require the most effort. This phrase seems to make the
process of forgiving easier for me: "To bear a grudge against someone is
like burning down your house to get rid of a rat."

People say or do things often inadvertently and mostly out of personal
insecurity or ignorance. You may be just the punching bag for the day.
Maybe the other person is envious or afraid of you. Most of the time,
these people have their own demons to grapple with.

Don't let their words and actions wear you down. They can only have a
moment's effect on you. Then, depending on how you deal with the
situation, they can continue to haunt you, or vanish like ashes in the wind.
But only you can make that decision.

Discouraging and spiteful words and actions from other people can only
have the desired effect if you want them to. Give yourself the pleasure
of a free spirit.

Forgiveness is something we "give other people", but forgiveness,
really, is a gift to ourselves. When we wreak vengeance on people whom we
think have done us an injustice, we invariably end up bitter and

Worse still, if our vindictiveness provokes retaliation, we might start
a cycle of vengeance. And when you bear hatred within your heart, what
you're essentially doing is destroying your own state of mind and
potential to be happy.

Each day yields opportunities for us to let go of or hold on to
grudges, although the severity of each situation may vary. Are you better off
holding on to them, or letting go?

The righteous salaf were as fearful of their good deeds being
squandered, or not being accepted, as the present generation is certain that
their neglect would be forgiven. [Hasan Al-Basri]


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