Elijah Lawrence: Friendship & Forgiveness in the Qur’an

The starting point in Sachedina’s discussion of friendship and forgiveness is the fact that Muslims co-exist with individuals and communities that do not share their faith. This is the essential challenge facing Islam’s in the context of a multicultural and multi-faith global society. Coexistence is possible only through forgiveness and compassion, as distinct from retaliation and revenge. The author’s deep concern is with the intensification of interreligious violence that is caused by the “eye for an eye” view of justice. Sachedina reminds the reader that “crimes against fellow humans are also treated as crimes against religion because they violate the sanctity of the dignity bestowed by God on humankind without distinction (111). Retaliation only brings “deadly and endless cycles of carnage, the chief victims of which are often innocent civilians” (105).

The first step in seeking forgiveness is for the wrongdoer to accept responsibility for his acts, and in so doing, to demonstrate moral humility. This is a process of repentance, a “turning to God” (106, 107), as a ritual of apology. Forgiveness must be asked and earned. Accepting responsibility and sincere repentance for the harm or injury caused to others, or to oneself, is vital. Ideally, the offer of forgiveness is accepted. In fact, forgiveness on behalf of the harmed individual must occur before the person can be forgiven by God. Once acceptance of responsibility, repentance, and forgiveness have occurred, “genuine social change becomes possible” (105). This is the avenue to “a just and peaceful political order by bringing individuals, families, and groups closer together” (105).

My take on these messages is that forgiveness remains a crucial virtue to possess, especially in this complicated and highly diverse world in which we are all living closer together, both geographically and socially. The recent negotiations with Iran have brought home the lesson that it is vital to our survival that we understand, forgive and respect our fellow world powers. Yet, to be forgiving of some of the acts of violence that have occurred recently is understandably very difficult for people who have lost beloved family members and friends. For example, forgiving the members of Al-Shaba who committed gruesome acts of violence against college students in Kenya is an example of a situation in which it is hard to imagine forgiving perpetrators of violence.

On a more personal level, being in a highly African-American high school as a white person, social acceptance did not come easily and I was faced with many situations in which forgiveness, and taking responsibility were essential. I experienced bullying and had to then work as part of theater ensembles with these individuals. I learned to forgive and overcome hard times, and I also learned how to co-exist and to make friends in this diverse context. I grew immensely as a person, and now have the skills to face difficult and trying situations knowing that I can learn from those who are different from me, and I can forgive those who have hurt me.