The Places of Worship serves as space where the religious, the social, the educational, and the ethical maters come together.
Here I would like to explore the act of asking for and offering forgiveness. The basis for all forgiveness is compassion. Each of us expects Allah (God) to be compassionate towards us and to forgive us for our wrong-doings. We should then also try to show that compassion towards others by forgiving them. This comes most easily when we recognize that we are all intimately connected as human beings, regardless of religious beliefs or social status. After all we are further connected as the creation of one God. Obviously, we must begin by demonstrating compassion and forgiving those that are closest to us. But it is also in compassion towards strangers, towards those not part of your family, that we can truly embody this value. Given the Islamic emphasis on brother- & sisterhood regardless of race, religion or color, there is no room for racism or prejudice.
An Ismaili priest Pir Hasan Kabiruddin (1341-1449) says in his Gujarati language poetry (translation)
“The physical form is raw and unstable, and the mind and heart is fragrant (lively). With this awareness and feeling, conduct yourselves (in appropriate manner), o living mankind!“
Here we are reminded that our bodies are transient and can spoil once our souls departs. The body has value because it allows us to achieve our spiritual and worldly goals. It allows us to translate our feelings, ideals and thoughts into action. By embodying the five virtues of truth, patience, faith, remembrance and forgiveness, the tired boats of our bodies are better able to sail through the ocean of our material existence. Our heart and minds, however, are brimming with fragrance and promise. Maybe because it is through those faculties that we may know our creator.
When we forgive others, we are softening our hearts so as to better perceive the Divine presence within us. When we are forgiven, a burden is lifted off our shoulders and we are unburdened from our worldly feelings so we can focus on our spiritual well being. Through the act of forgiving others, we open ourselves to each other, it is a perfectly selfish act. It sets you free from the past. With each act of forgiveness, our community gets both stronger and larger, as we break down the barriers that divide us.
Surely, God forgives all sins. ‘Indeed He is the most Forgiving, the Merciful‘ (Quran 39:53). We then learn ‘And the retribution for an evil act is an evil one like it, but whoever pardons and makes reconciliation -his reward is (due) from God. Indeed, He does not like the unjust.‘ (Quran 42:40). In fact ‘forgiveness‘ and ‘mercy‘ are mentioned over a hundred times in Holy Quran.
We are also reminded of how connected we are through forgiveness during prayers, religious holidays, at special family and community events. We generally ask in-person to our family and friends for our past knowingly or unknowingly committed sinful or hurtful acts, when the person forgives, the God will also forgive. In this very act, we are reminded about the importance of community and how each and every one of us is responsible for the entire community’s spiritual well-being. Being myself an Ismaili Muslim, I go to JamatKhana and participate in prayers and religious ceremonies, my family and I collectively contribute to the spiritual health of the community as well as my own progress on the spiritual path.
In a speech in Toronto, Canada in 2016, His Highness the Aga Khan, Imam of the Shia Ismaili Muslims, outlined a number of principles required to face the challenges of the future, including “a vital sense of balance, an abundant capacity for compromise, more than a little sense of patience, an appropriate degree of humility, a good measure of forgiveness, and, of course, a genuine welcoming of human difference.”
Practicing each of these attributes can go a long way towards preventing conflict, and resolving disputes when they do occur.
In the act of seeking forgiveness and forgiving others, we are purified. The word tauba, usually translated as “repentance”, literally means to “return” (from sin). So when we repent and seek forgiveness, we are actually turning away from sin to the Divine Love, back to our original pure, loving essence.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said “The repentant one is like one without sin; for repentance erases what happened before it.”
With forgiveness, comes much blessings. In being forgiven, our load is lightened. The importance of seeking forgiveness from the person reminds us of the intricate ways we are connected to each other. Forgiveness is something we should ask for often, from others as well from our Creator. Let’s commit ourselves to asking others and our Creator for forgiveness but also have the compassion to forgive others.