وَإِنْ تَعْفُوا وَتَصْفَحُوا وَتَغْفِرُوا فَإِنَّ اللَّهَ غَفُورٌ رَحِيمٌ
Wa-in ta‘fū wataSfaHū wataghfirū fainnallāha ghafūrur-raHīm
And if you pardon, and forbear, and forgive, then surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
(Sūratut Taghābun, No. 64, Āyat 14)
This verse talks about the different stages of forgiveness. According to Tafsīr Namūne, verse 14 of Sūratu Taghābun 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, one needs 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 (MH, H.12870). 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 in Sūratul Hijr: So overlook with a gracious forbearance (Q 15:85). Imam Ali alr-Ridā (a) in explaining the word safh in this verse, says it means; to pardon [and forgive] someone without punishment, harshness, or reproach.
3) Ghufrān, 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.
Forgiveness is very powerful. If we don’t forgive, past wounds can ruin the present. They can also infect the future. It is often those who are close to us who hurt us the most, and unless we forgive them it is difficult to maintain harmony in the relationship. 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.
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.
Use this verse to help you to forgive genuinely. The process described in this verse is a cleansing process, one that will leave you happier and better adjusted.
Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabātabā’ī, Tafsīr al-Mizān;
Āyatullāh Nāsir Makārim Shirāzī (ed.), Tafsīre Namune;
Aghā Muhsin Qarā’atī Kāshānī, Tafsīre Nūr;
Muhammadī Rayshahrī, Mīzānul Hikmah