My newsletter is typically published on the second Tuesday of each month – it just so happens that this Tuesday’s date in September is 9/11. This date reminds us of the catastrophic event that shook the whole world and forever changed the world we knew before into the world we live in today. I decided to write about this event not to bring back a painful memory of our history but as an important reminder to pay tribute to those who have sacrificed their lives for our freedom, values, and well-being.
In my meditation this morning I felt a deep reverence and untold gratitude to the many souls that lost their lives (people from almost all the world’s countries — I think over 90 countries) and the numerous first responders that rushed in to save as many lives as they put their own lives on the line. May the good Lord rest their souls in eternal peace and continue to give strength to their loved ones to move forward in their absence.
When it comes to the idea of “forgiveness” there are many myths out there that we have heard over the years. For starters here are a couple of anonymous ones you may have seen or heard:
“Forgive what hurt you but never forget what it taught you.”
“Some forgive and forget, more forgive and remember, most forgive and remind.”
There are many more myths:
Forgive and Forget.
Forgiveness removes consequences.
Forgiveness is acting as though it did not happen.
Forgiveness is a quick fix.
Forgiveness is a sign of weakness.
Forgiveness is an event.
Forgiveness is pardoning, condoning, or excusing the behavior.
Obviously, an event like 9/11 is IMPOSSIBLE to forget, ever, as in my own case losing my son to a senseless murder is equally something I will never forget. However, forgiveness is not about “forgetting” nor is it reduced to these myths. So how does one rationalize such events in one’s personal life or on a macro level like 9/11? How do we practice forgiveness towards such a global tragedy?
First, it is important to remember that there is no escaping wrongdoing. Karma always balances and there will always be consequences that follow actions. The important thing to remember is to leave the consequences to the higher power.
When Lord Jesus was asked by Peter “how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Seven times?” Jesus saith unto him, “I say not unto thee, until seven times: but, until seventy times seven.”
I recall in one of my forgiveness workshops when a Jewish lady who had lost family members in the holocaust told me in an angry and animated voice, “Azim you don’t get it, I am working on forgiving Hitler.” My response to her was: “Let me share with you that the higher power knows how to deal with Hitler for his wrongdoings better than you or I do. Trust me that the higher power is dealing with Hitler as you and I speak because there is no escaping wrongdoing, so you do not have to deal with it. Why do you want to have Hitler reside in the important, limited, real estate of your psyche? All this hatred and resentment is not healthy for you. Let Hitler go so love and joy can live there.”
She understood my message and at the end of the two-day workshop there was a new radiance in her aura and the lines of hatred and resentment were beginning to fade! A month later, I received one of the prettiest cards I have ever received with a P.S. “My husband thanks you.” Now that Hitler does not reside in her psyche they have the most loving relationship they ever had in their 35 years of marriage.
So, forgiveness of others and of self is to let go and not live in anger, resentment, hatred, shame or guilt. These are highly corrosive and debilitating emotions that often manifest in fatal diseases like cancer. The choice is always present in forgiveness. You do not have to forgive, but there will most certainly be resulting consequences to the long-term emotional weight you choose to carry. Refusing to forgive by holding onto anger, resentment, and sense of betrayal can make your own life miserable.
It can cause disharmony in your relationships with others and with yourself. Without forgiveness, we remain stuck in our past, a place from which it’s difficult to reach happiness and true abundance. For more clarity and inspiration to master forgiveness, read From Forgiveness to Fulfillment
— the first three chapters are dedicated to the important steps of forgiveness.
What I have learned in my own journey is that it is critically important to separate yourself from the offenders. They have their journey and you have yours. Also, be kind to yourself. As taught by the Aga Khan who leads my Sufi Ismaili faith: “Everybody makes mistakes. Never regret them, correct them. There is no such thing as a perfect world or a perfect life.”
So how does this relate back to 9/11? I know that 9/11 is heavy on everyone’s heart. We all remember exactly where we were on that day even though it happened 17 years ago. It is a little heavier on my heart as I am a practicing Muslim and the atrocity was perpetrated by people from my faith. After 9/11, I went into a deep introspective space for several months not understanding how people could orchestrate such a tragic atrocity in the name of my faith– the same faith that helped me forgive the killer of my son and led me to partner with his grandfather. For the last 23 years, we have been diligently working together through the Tariq Khamisa Foundation
teaching young souls’ nonviolence, empathy, compassion, forgiveness, and peace-building. The kid who killed my son at age 14 is now 37 and will join us when he is paroled later this year.
In other words, it is not the faith that led to the tragedy! (And our geopolitical climate is a conversation for another time and place.) I think you recognize the compassionate power of the teachings that have guided me–in fact, all major faiths worldwide teach forgiveness, compassion, and taking care of each other. All faiths admonish us not to kill.
Islam speaks respectfully of the people of the book, all those who follow the teachings of Muhammad and the prophets who preceded him in bringing God’s message to the world. The Qur’an tells us that all the people of the book worship the same God. Our prophet, our messenger, brought us the teaching that all human beings were formed into nations and tribes “so that we may know one another, not to conquer, subjugate, revile or slaughter, but to reach out toward others with intelligence and understanding.” The Qur’an tells us that whosoever kills one innocent human being, “it shall be as if he has killed all humankind, and whosoever saves the life of one, it shall be as if he has saved the life of all humankind.” The Qur’an tells us that Islam cannot be spread by the sword, that the faith cannot be forced on others.
After several months meditating on this, what came to me is this quote which is the basis of my fourth book From Fulfillment to Peace
“Sustained goodwill creates friendship (this should be obvious as you create friends by extending goodwill over time.) Sustained friendship creates trust. Sustained trust creates empathy. Sustained empathy creates compassion and sustained compassion creates peace.”
I call this my Peace Formula. But often I am asked, “how do you extend goodwill to the person who murdered your child?” I tell them you do that through forgiveness. It is evident that it worked for me and my family. Forgiveness, I believe is a miracle, and if it worked for Tony and his family, it can work for you and your family, indeed it can work for Palestine, Israel, North and South Korea, Afghanistan, Syria, Iran, Iraq, the United States, and the world. Peace is possible – how do I know that? Because I am at peace!