x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

And its middle is forgiveness

Tradition says that Ramadan is a month the first of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is freedom from the fire.

"You will never enter the Garden until you believe; and you will never believe until you love one another. Shall I indicate for you a thing that were you to do it you would love one another? Spread peace amongst one another." - Prophet Mohammed "He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love." - Martin Luther King, Jr. Tradition says that Ramadan is a month the first of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is freedom from the fire. The Prophet said: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan and stands in prayer on the Night of Power - in faith and counting on his reward from Allah alone - all that has preceded of his sins will be forgiven."

Ramadan is a season of forgiveness. Every son of Adam is prone to shortcomings. It is a flaw built into the system. But no matter how far we think we've fallen, no matter how separated we feel we've become, Allah warns us never to despair of His mercy. And like the parable of the man who killed 100 souls and died on the road to repentance, it requires some resolve and a show of effort. The angels of salvation and the angels of damnation are fighting over him, so they settle it by measuring the distance, finding that with his last breath he has pulled himself in the direction of his objective. You get points just for coming out.

But can those so in need of forgiveness expect to receive it if they cannot give it? Forgiveness is healing, (shifa). It brings about a mending of rifts and makes things whole again. Acceptance in the final reckoning will be for those of sound (saleem) heart. A sound heart is one that is free of hatred, free of grudges. When a seemingly inconsequential companion was asked by the others why the Prophet had singled him out as so significant, he replied that he had no idea; except one thing, he never went to bed at night with anything in his heart against any other person.

The second secretary general of the UN, Dag Hammarskjöld, said of forgiveness that it is "the answer to the child's dream of a miracle by which what is broken is made whole again, what is soiled is again made clean". The peace that must be spread among one another is not the greeting of "al-salam alaykum", but it is peace of heart toward one another. Forgiveness - whether granting it or seeking it - is a story of return. It brings things full circle. It is a prescription to right imbalance. It makes a vibrant and healthy future possible. The Dutch botanist Paul Boese is noted for saying that, "forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future".

A healthy future needs solidarity and a sentiment of fraternity; a consciousness of responsibility (fard kifaya) for the public good (maslaha amma). The Prophet said: "My community is like a single body, when one limb suffers, the rest of the body lies awake in fever and sleeplessness." Both solidarity and fraternity are not possible when hearts become hardened by harbouring spite and anger. Ramadan is a prescription to treat these types of heart conditions.

Jihad Hashim Brown is director of research at the Tabah Foundation. He delivers the Friday sermon at the Maryam bint Sultan Mosque in Abu Dhabi