Allah Almighty is All-Forgiving. This means that He is also the Most Forgiving. It is through the functioning of this Attribute that Allah Almighty forgives all sins. There is not a single sin, and it does not matter how devastating or how great that sin is, that Allah Almighty does not have forgiveness for. About this matter, He says in the Quran:
لاَ تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَّحْمَةِ اللهِ إِنَّ اللهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوْبَ جَمِيْعًا
Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins (xxxix: 53).
What this means is that one cannot compare Divine Forgiveness with the forgiveness of one human being to another. This is because one cannot understand the functioning of the Attributes of Allah Almighty especially if one considers each one in isolation. It is for this reason that the All-Encompassing Forgiveness of our Lord is also generated by His All-Encompassing Generosity. His Forgiveness is “All” because His Generosity is “All”. And so we see that, according to our understanding those attributes of our Lord that have to do with His Giving, such as forgiveness, granting, repentance, giving mercy, showering with blessings, providing sustenance, and the many other similar ones, have all to do with His Attribute of being the Most Generous. It appears, again from our understanding that it is His Generosity that gives rise to the All-Encompassing nature of His Attribute of Giving or Granting.
It is said by many scholars, in describing these Attributes of Giving, that our Lord has endless, shoreless oceans of the Attributes of Giving, and that there is never any decrease in these oceans despite what our Lord grants from them. The infinity never decreases in any way and this we believe intensely.
What does this mean to one who is a conscious human being and an even more conscious Muslim? One knows that is does not matter the gravity of the sin, our Lord has available for each one of us a forgiveness that never decreases but it is also always available. There is not a moment in time that the infinity of that ocean becomes finite or that the availability of that ocean ceases to be available. Allah (ﷻ) mentions in the Qur’an that the only sin for which that ocean is not available, is when one dies in a state of shirk. For such a person the tap, if I may call it such, of forgiveness for him is turned off.
One can now understand the finite nature and the limited availability of human forgiveness. Despite this, when it comes to human beings, we should always be readily available to forgive. And here I wish to indicate, that by our very nature, there are certain things that our natures find difficult to forgive. I have read that in this country, very old people have been raped and killed in the most brutal way. For us to expect that the sons and daughters of such old people should forgive those who had brutalised their parents, for example, is expecting a little bit too much. This is because the forgiveness of human beings is very limited and very finite. The human being whose forgiveness was the “most” of all other human beings was, of course, Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ). Even in his case, although he had forgiven Hind for organising the killing of his uncle and chewing his liver, he said to her that he forgave her after she had recited Shahadah but that she must never appear in front of him. He did not wish to see her again.
The forgiveness of our Lord is way above that of all human beings. Because of these limitations on our granting forgiveness, there are certain things for which we will never grant people forgiveness, as in the example quoted earlier. With myself also, I tend to follow the example of the Messenger (ﷺ). I will grant forgiveness as I try to do all the time but I prefer certain people to stay out of my personal space.
We learn that to have a little bit of understanding of Divine Forgiveness, one must also try to understand other Attributes of our Lord which tells us about Himself, like His Generosity or His Bestowing and His Granting. Some understanding of His being All-Forgiving, is obtained if one examines His Forgiveness in relation to some of the other Names and Attributes. If we see our Lord as the One who grants, and this granting is without limit, then one can understand that this granting of forgiveness must also be without limit.
When we are in the Divine Court the day, we will depend on the All-Encompassing nature of our Lord’s Forgiveness and granting of repentance, and many other things, for us to fall free of his punishment. It is common knowledge in Islam that the time of our Lord’s greatest generosity with regards to His Mercy and Forgiveness, will be on the Day of Judgement when He dispenses from His Oceans of Mercy and Forgiveness to all of us. Perhaps at no other time, generally speaking, will we depend on the infinite nature of those Attributes on which we are going to depend to enter Paradise.
We are such minute human beings, created weak by our Lord with feelings and emotions that are in fact still extremely primitive. There are some fortunate ones amongst us who have been able to secure for themselves a greater display of forgiveness for others than what most human beings have. They are the fortunate few. Their sense of forgiveness has its limitations but it is much broader in scope than that of others. The problem with all of us is that when our feelings are seriously damaged by, for example, the sexual brutalisation of our wives or our daughters or our mothers. What is there that we can draw on to overcome the hurt and the pain that those so close to us have had to undergo? This is my worry you see. We try to find access to sources of forgiveness but the pain runs so deep that one cannot “open the tap”. In some cases the forgiveness might be there but the pain runs so deep that the incidents involved in this pain are never forgotten.
You see, we must not romanticize forgiveness by making statements such as: “Allah forgives, so we must forgive” or other similar statements. How can one compare the infinite nature of our Lord’s forgiveness and its permanent availability with what we have in our breasts? How can we compare? It is quite true that there are certain things that one cannot forget, because of the depths of the wounds. How can a person forget if his mother, for example, has been brutalised? And even if he does say he has forgiven, his tongue might say one thing but his heart says another thing.
Many of the cases in my own personal life that I have come across I found it at times so difficult to open my heart to those who have done things to me or to others close to me. This applies to all human beings. You see, Allah (ﷻ) forgives through His Generosity. He has created us in such a way that we experience hurt, pain, disappointment and regret. Because of this our ability to forgive others is seriously limited. Sometimes one just shakes one’s head in dismay to what people do to others. I have seen women having been divorced and being in a state of major emotional collapse. I have seen the pain in their eyes and without any understanding we tell these women to forgive or that they must be patient or whatever the case might be. I have seen so many other things in my life or read about them and, of course, we appeal to our Lord for a softening of our heart but nobody else feels the searing pain that others suffer. I do not know whether there is a greater inhumanity than the inhumanity of man to woman. I do not know.
Deep down inside us we appeal, for a softening of hearts but we know that for a genuine forgiveness for what has happened to many of us will take a long time to come. We as human beings live very complicated lives. Don’t talk to us about forgiving those who have brutalised our lives. Wait till our Lord heals us so that we are able to do this. We ask Almighty Allah to help us in all these matters and to give us the spiritual ability to draw even an atom’s weight from the forgiveness that is one of His most precious Attributes. We ask, because we have nothing better to do on this matter, but even in our asking lies the possibility that He will grant to us what we have asked. It is always His Decree and His Will. Each one of us must ask that Allah Almighty makes forgiveness one of the major attributes of our personalities, amin.
[Letters to Seekers on the Spiritual Path Vol 2 – Unpublished 2012]