Reflection No. 63 on Q 64:14 – The Stages of Forgiveness

And if you pardon, and forbear, and forgive, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful (At-Taghabun, Verse 14)

This verse talks about the different stages of forgiveness. According to Tafsir, verse 14 of Sura at-Taghabun was sent after certain spouses tried to stop the early Muslims from migrating. Some of the Muslims listened to their spouses, while others refused and were angry with them. That is why the first part of the verse says: O you who have faith! Indeed among your spouses and children you have enemies; so beware of them. Allah tells them that the family should not detract them from doing the right thing, but if they change after that, the believers should forgive them.

There are three stages of forgiveness mentioned in this verse. To really forgive a person, you need to go through all three stages:

1) Afw, or Pardon. This is described as overlooking the wrong done. According to Imam Ali (a), Pardon is the crown of all noble qualities. Pardoning could include making excuses for the person, giving them a chance, understanding their weaknesses, not taking it too seriously, and not focusing on it continuously. Going through this stage speeds up the process of genuine forgiveness.

2) Safh, or Forbearance: It means to refrain from reproaching, through words and actions. Sometimes we forgive, but cannot resist the temptation to speak about it, and remind the other person of the hurt they inflicted. Words, gestures, even feelings, are a constant reminder of the hurt that we have ‘forgiven’ but cannot get over. True forgiveness entails complete forbearance. If we went through the first stage conscientiously, the second would be easy.
The Holy Quran says:  So overlook with a gracious forbearance (al-Hijr, 15:85). Imam Ali ar-Rida (a) in explaining the word ‘safh’ in this verse, says it means; to pardon [and forgive] someone without punishment, harshness, or reproach.

3) Ghufran, or Forgiveness: Forgiveness means erasing the deed that is done and removing the negative consequences that the deed warrants. When Allah forgives a deed, He will not punish the doer for it. It is removed from the book of deeds. Forgiving someone means there is no thought of retaliation, or revenge.

Points to Ponder
1)  Forgiveness is very powerful. If we don’t forgive, past wounds can ruin the present. They can also infect the future. The Holy Prophet (s) says; Pardon each other, hatred between yourselves will be eliminated. In the verse above Allah tells believers to go through the stages of forgiveness so that the wrong done should not spoil their future together.

2) Love includes being able to forgive mistakes. Allah loves His creatures and has kept the doors of repentance and forgiveness open for them. Without that, human beings would be doomed. In the same way, love for family, and friends, means that we should be ready to forgive. Only then can we live in harmony and peace with them

3) According to Tafsir al-Mizan, the ending of the verse; and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful, can mean one of two things:

a) It is a promise to believers. You forgive others and God will forgive you. In another similar verse of the Holy Quran, Allah says: So pardon and forbear, do you not wish that Allah should forgive you? and Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. (24:22)

b) It could be an encouragement to believers to take on qualities of Allah. Allah is Forgiving and Merciful. He would like those who believe in Him to also be forgiving and merciful. Hadith al Qudsi, says; Take on the Qualities of Allah.

Forgiveness is a beautiful quality, but is difficult to achieve. Even when it comes, it is often accompanied with certain misgivings. People will forgive, but still harbor resentment. They will forgive, but they cannot forget. The stages of forgiveness help the forgiver arrive at true forgiveness, without strings attached. It is human to remember, as the faculty of memory is a part of all human beings, but it is how we remember that is important. True forgiveness means to cease feeling anger and negativity at the memory of the incident.

Learn to forgive genuinely. The process described in this verse is a cleansing process, one that will leave you happier and better adjusted. Taking that step will also open up doors of elevation, with God, as well as with people. The Holy Prophet (s) says; Whoever pardons a wrong, Allah will replace it for him with honor in the world and the hereafter.

Ayatullah Mohammad Husain Tabatabai, Tafsir al-Mizan
Ayatullah Nasir Makarim Shirazi (ed.), Tafsire Namune
Agha Muhsin Qara’ati Kashani, Tafsire Noor
Muhammad al-Ray Shahree, Mizanul Hikmah