Monday, June 09, 2008

Racing to Forgiveness

I remember the first time I said a "swear" word. I was about 5 or 6 years old, it was in the driveway to my house, and it came out like this, "What the hell..." My dad was there--and he glared at me, then dragged me into the house. I remember getting my mouth washed out with soap by my mom (yes, that really happens) and from that point on, being terrified of even uttering a word like "hell" or, heaven forbid, anything worse!

When I was growing up we used to call them "cuss" words--slang from "curse," I reckon. And thanks to that early childhood experience, I tried to keep them out of my vocabulary. But by the time I was in high school and college, I didn't try as hard. I learned that if I would watch more TV or movies which used those words, they could more frequently come to mind in bad situations, a problem I rectified by trying to avoid that kind of entertainment where such language (profanity) was common. Eventually, such words really only came to mind when I was angry. And it's fascinating how real anger can inspire the most disgusting thoughts. That has, in the past, been one of the worst ways I would exercise my anger--yelling at people, using bad words.

As Muslims, though, we are supposed to restrain our anger. It's so important that even the pinnacle of strength is being able to control it--the weak ones are those who are controlled by it. In fact, restraining anger is one of the characteristics, given in the Qur'an, of the people of Paradise.

In Surat Ale Imran(3:133), Allah (swt) says, what can be translated as
And hasten to forgiveness from your Lord and a garden as wide as the heavens and earth, prepared for the righteous...
Not just stroll towards forgiveness at a leisurely pace, but race towards it. Race towards what Allah has promised. Allah describes a single garden, jannah, as wide as the heavens and the earth for those who have taqwa. But who are those who have taqwa? The next verses explain:
Who spend [in the cause of Allāh] during ease and hardship and who restrain anger and who pardon the people – and Allāh loves the doers of good;
The first characteristic mentioned is the spending, or giving in charity. When we are well-off, have just received a bonus or tax refund, it's pretty easy to spend... or at least, easier than when times are hard, and it looks like the last few dollars might not stretch until the next payday. But Allah is describing those who spend in both cases--something to remember the next time we consider giving charity but hold back because of our own circumstances.

The second characteristic relates to my story at the beginning--restraining anger. But the Arabic is more akin to swallowing anger. Like it boils up, from deep inside, ready to spew out on anyone nearby, anger needs to be swallowed--and that is what takes the strength, and control. In my case anyway, if I'm tempted to yell or use bad language, swallowing is a very appropriate metaphor. Taking the anger and just pushing it back down, refusing to let it's ugly head breathe fire on anyone around me.

The third characteristic expounds on the second, and that is to forgive people for the wrongs they have done. Since we should be racing towards forgiveness from our Lord, it's to be expected we should try to be forgiving of others, of their wrongs against us.
And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allāh and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allāh? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.
The fourth characteristic is quickly remembering Allah, and repenting for sins. Of course we should repent for what we have done wrong, but this verse is describing the person who remembers Allah immediately and repents immediately, and then avoids what they have done wrong, knowing that it's wrong.
Those – their reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens beneath which rivers flow [in Paradise], wherein they will abide eternally; and excellent is the reward of the [righteous] workers.
And then, after describing the characteristics, Allah reminds us again of the reward: forgiveness, and gardens. Gardens, jannaat, plural. So first Allah says to race towards forgiveness and a garden, then says who the garden is for, and then says that the reward is really gardens, which He then describes--more beautiful and lasting than anything on the earth.

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