Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Love and Forgiveness in Islam


Interview with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf

(Source: Q-News )

Q: The convenient response to those who revile your religion is to return the favor. The more virtuous position however is to forgive. Forgiveness as you know, while less in virtue when compared to love, nevertheless, can result in love. Love, by definition, does not require forgiveness. What many Muslims today seem to forget is that ours is a religion of love and our Prophet, upon him be peace and blessings, was the Habib, the Beloved. How did love, the defining virtue of our community, come to be replaced by an urge to redress wrongs, to punish instead of to forgive?

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: It is the result of Muslims seeing themselves as victims. Victimization is a defeatist mentality. It's the mentality of the powerless. The word victim is from the Latin “victima” which carries with it the idea of the one who suffers injury, loss, or death due to a voluntary undertaking. In other words, victims of one’s own actions. Muslims never really had a mentality of victimization. From a metaphysical perspective, which is always the first and primary perspective of a Muslim, there can be no victims. We believe that all suffering has a redemptive value.

Q: If the tendency among Muslims is to view themselves as victims which appears to me as a fall from grace, what virtue must we then cultivate to dispense with this mental and physical state that we now find ourselves in?

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: The virtue of patience is missing. Patience is the first virtue after tawba or repentance. Early Muslim scholars considered patience as the first maqam or station in the realm of virtues that a person entered into. Patience in Islam means patience in the midst of adversity. A person should be patient in what has harmed or afflicted him. Patience means that you don’t lose your comportment or your composure. If you look at the life of the Prophet Muhammad, upon him be peace and blessings, you will never ever find him losing his composure. Patience was a hallmark of his character. He was ‘the unperturbed one’ which is one of the meanings of halim: wa kaana ahlaman-naas. He was the most unperturbed of humanity. Nothing phased him either inwardly or outwardly because he was with Allah in all his states.

Q: Patience is a beautiful virtue…the cry of Prophet Yaqub.... "fa sabran jamil." Patience, it appears, is not an isolated virtue but rather it is connected to a network of virtues. Should Muslims focus on this virtue at the expense of the other virtues?

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf: The traditional virtues of a human being were four and Qadi Ibn Al-Arabi considered them to be the foundational virtues or the ummahatul fadaa'il of all of humanity. They are: prudence, courage, temperance, and justice. Prudence, or rather practical wisdom, and courage, are defining qualities of the Prophet. He, upon him be peace and blessings, said that God loves courage even in the killing of a harmful snake. Temperance is the ability to control oneself. Incontinence, the hallmark of intemperance, is said to occur when a person is unable to control himself. In modern medicine it is used for someone who can’t control his urine or feces. But not so long ago the word incontinence meant a person who was unable to control his temper, appetite or sexual desire.

Temperance is the moral virtue that moderates one’s appetite in accordance with prudence. In early Muslim scholarship on Islamic ethics, justice was considered impossible without the virtues of prudence, courage and temperance.

Generosity as a virtue is derived from courage because a generous person is required to be courageous in the face of poverty.

Similarly, humility is a derivative from temperance because the humble person will often restrain the urge to brag and be a ‘show-off’ because he or she sees their talents and achievements as a gift from Allah and not from themselves.

Patience as a virtue is attached to the virtue of courage because the patient person has the courage to endure difficulties.So 'hilm' (from which you get 'halim'), often translated as forbearance or meekness if you wish, is frown upon in our society. Yet it is the virtue we require to stem the powerful emotion of anger. Unrestrained anger often leads to rage and rage can lead to violence in its various shades. Our predecessors were known for having an incredible degree of patience while an increasing number of us are marked with an extreme degree of anger, resentment, hate, rancor and rage.

These are negative emotions which present themselves as roadblocks to living a virtuous life. A patient human being will endure tribulations, trials, difficulties, hardships, if confronted with them. The patient person will not be depressed or distraught and whatever confronts him will certainly not lead to a loss of comportment or adab. Adab, as you know, is everything. Allah says in the Quran:

‘Isbiru was-sabiru.' “Have patience and enjoin each other to patience.”

The beauty of patience is that ‘inallaha ma'assabirin’ Allah is with the patient ones. If God is on your side you will always be victorious. Allah says in the Quran:

"Ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salat.'"

Isti'aana is a reflexive of the Arabic verb `aana which is “to help oneself.” Allah is telling us to help ourselves with patience and prayer.This is amazing because the Prophet, peace be upon him, said: “if you take help, take help from God alone.” And so in the Quran Allah says ista`inu bi-sabiri was-salaat. This means taking help from patience and prayer because that is the means by which Allah has given you to take help from Him alone. How is it then that a person sees himself as a victim when all calamities, difficulties and trials, are ultimately tests from Allah. This does not mean the world is free of aggression and that victims have suddenly vanished. What I’m talking about is a person’s psychology in dealing with hardships. The sacred law has two perspectives when looking at acts of aggression that are committed by one party against another. When it is viewed by those in authority the imperative is to seek justice. However, from the perspective of the wronged, it is not to seek justice but instead to forgive.

Forgiveness, `afwa, pardon, is not a quality of authority. A court is not set up to forgive. It’s the plaintiff that’s required to forgive if there is going to be any forgiveness at all. Forgiveness will not come from the Qadi or the judge. The court is set up to give justice but Islam cautions us not to go there in the first place because ‘by the standard which you judge so too shall you be judged.’ That's the point. If you want justice, if you want God, the Supreme Judge of all affairs, to be just to others on your behalf, then you should know that your Lord will use the same standard with you. Nobody on the ‘Day of Arafat’ will pray: “Oh God, be just with me.” Instead you will hear them crying: O Allah, forgive me, have mercy on me, have compassion on me, overlook my wrongs. Yet, these same people are not willing to forgive, have compassion and mercy on other creatures of God.We are not a people that are required to love wrong-doers. We must loath wrong actions, but at the same time we should love for the wrong-doers guidance because they are creatures of God and they were put here by the same God that put us here. And Allah says in the Quran:

“we made some of you a tribulation for others, will you then not show patience.”

In other words, God set up the scenario, and then asked the question: ‘will you then not show patience?’ Will you subdue the inordinate desire for vengeance to achieve a higher station that is based on a conviction that you will be forgiven by God if only you can bring yourself to forgive others?

The Prophet Muhammad(sallalahu alayhi wa sallam) never took revenge on anyone for personal reasons and always forgave even his staunch enemies.

A'isha(may Allah be pleased with her) said that God's Messenger(salallahu alahyi wa sallam) never took revenge on his own behalf on anyone. She also said that God's Messenger was not unseemly or obscene in his speech, nor was he loud-voiced in the streets, nor did he return evil for evil, but he would forgive and pardon.

The people of the Quraish rebuked him, taunted and mocked at him, beat him and abused him.

They tried to kill him and when he escaped to Medinah, they waged many wars against him yet when he entered Makkah victorious with an army of 10,000, he did not take revenge on anyone.

He forgave all.

Even his deadliest enemy Abu Sufyan, who fought so many battles, was forgiven, and anyone who stayed in his house was also forgiven

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