“Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy. Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.”
~ Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
One person recently asked me, “If forgiveness is the key to happiness, how come forgiveness isn’t more attractive to the masses?”
This is a valid and great question on the minds of many of the audiences to which I regularly speak.
Part of the problem lies in the fact that forgiveness is not very well understood in most cultures, especially in the western world. We are conditioned to live with a punitive social and criminal justice mindset,
which is also reflected in the laws that govern us and control our lives. It has run our culture from the dawn of civilization. We live in an “eye for an eye” mindset, which makes forgiveness impossible.
There is this impression that by forgiving, we are somehow condoning the offender’s behaviors. We may, as well, be afraid that we may be viewed as weak. There is also this conditioning that says by forgiving the offender is to let him or her off the hook, instead of suffering punishment.
None of these myths are true. For starters there is no escaping wrongdoing – karma always balances. Tony (who killed my son Tariq) has suffered for 23 years in prison and still wakes up in the middle of the night with sweaty palms knowing he took the life of an unarmed innocent human being. I believe he has suffered and was punished enough for his crime. And while I have forgiven him, it is still hard for him to forgive himself.
The key to forgiveness comes when you separate yourself from the offender. It is best to leave the offender to the Higher Power. From all religions and scriptures, we are taught:
- “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Mathew 7:1)
- “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.” (Matthew 6:14)
- Gandhi remarked, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.”
- Gandhi also taught, “Hate the sin and not the sinner.”
So, for forgiveness to be possible it is important that you reframe your conditioning.
I decided to leave the fate of Tariq’s killer to the Higher Power. I also realized that if I stayed in anger or resentment and took the position that Tony should be hung from the highest pole – it would not bring Tariq back, or stop the pain and grief I felt or create a better society. I was able to see that there were victims on both sides of the gun.
As Henry David Thoreau taught us: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.”
This level of empathy is important to develop. Having done this work for over 23 years and having met many offenders – I have yet to meet an offender that was not a victim. Tony was no different. Sometimes I wonder if I had the same abusive and difficult childhood, would I have made the same choices?
I also recognized that if I stayed in resentment or anger I would be hurting myself. Much of this level of anger and hatred often manifests into chronic diseases like cancer. As Nelson Mandela wisely taught: “Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for your enemy to die.”
When Mandela forgave the apartheid atrocities and was asked why he did so, he commented, “I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
So, this is an important perspective. I realized that I did not want to go through life on crutches as a victim because I lost my only son. I had a very full life when my son was alive, and I wanted that life back.
I also realized that there is no quality of life living as a victim, and if you do NOT forgive you remain a victim. Through my choice to forgive I do have a full life back, and am blessed with peace and purpose from this choice. Although I had no idea at the time of the tragedy the results of my choice, I know 20 years later that I have manifested many blessings in my life, as evidenced by my trilogy:
Another good example of forgiveness arose from a participant in one of my 2-day forgiveness workshops. She was of Jewish descent and had lost family in the holocaust. On the morning of the second day she asked a very animated question: “Azim, you don’t get it – I am working on forgiving Hitler!” I could see in her aura and the lines etched on her face her anger and hatred for Hitler.
While I fully understand her grief and anger, my response to her was: “Hitler died some 70 years ago – how is that working for you? Trust me the Higher Power is dealing with Hitler and knows how best to do that than you or I do. Be certain as we speak, the Higher Power is dealing with Hitler, so you don’t need to have him live in the important and meager real estate of your psyche. Release Hitler to the Higher Power so love and joy can live in your psyche.”
She got it. At the end of the workshop you could see the shift in her aura, with her face taking on a new radiance. A month later I got a beautiful card from her with the comment, “My husband thanks you.”
She was referencing the fact her marriage of 30 years was now more loving and fulfilling because her inner resentment no longer was living in her psyche!
In conclusion, once you understand that forgiveness frees you of hatred, anger and resentment, you will indeed live a happier and a healthier life. Having taught this work for the last 20-plus years and having helped many release their grief and anger and find happiness, I too am finding that my own life is in the flow, as I enjoy a happier and more peaceful life.
Try it. It is a wonderful gift to give yourself!