Pardoning, Never Wish Combat, True Citizenship

Issue 685 » May 11, 2012 - Jumada al-Thani 20, 1433

Living The Quran

Al Nisa (The Women) - Chapter 4: Verse 149

"Whether you publicize a good deed or hide it or pardon a (personal) offense (done against you), know that God has the power to pardon (all sins)."

This verse embodies a moral directive of very high value to the Muslims. If a wronged person speaks out against a wrong-doer, he is quite justified in doing so. Even though this is a person's right, it is more meritorious to continue to do good both in public and in private, and to ignore the misdeeds of others. For one's ideal should be to try to approximate to God's way as much as possible. God with whom one wants to be close is lenient and forbearing. He provides sustenance even to the worst criminals and seeks mitigating circumstances in even the most serious offences. In order to become close to God, one ought to be generous in spirit and full of tolerance.

True forgiveness occurs only when we allow ourselves to face the truth and to feel and release our emotions, including our anger, about what was done to us. It is completely premature to forgive if you haven't even acknowledged that you were harmed. When children are asked to forgive abusive parents without first experiencing their emotions and their personal pain, the forgiveness process becomes another weapon of silencing. The same is true of adults who rush to forgiveness. Many people have been brainwashed into submission by those who insist that they are "less than" if they don't forgive.

Many people think that forgiving someone who hurt them is the same as saying that what happened to them was okay or that it didn't hurt them. But forgiveness doesn't mean that what happened was okay. It simply means that we are no longer willing to allow that experience to adversely affect our lives. Ultimately, forgiveness is something we do for ourselves.

Compiled From:
"The Holy Quran: Guidance for Life" - Yahiya Emerick, p. 78
"Towards Understanding the Quran" - Sayyid Abul Ala Mawdudi, Vol 2, p. 101
"Healing Your Emotional Self" - Beverly Engel, pp. 113, 114

Understanding The Prophet's Life

Never Wish Combat

The Prophet, upon him be peace, insisted that combat be undertaken only for the sake of Allah; and never for the sake of transitory gain. Moreover, he used to caution his followers against their being the ones to initiate hostilities and against their provoking their enemies into action.

Abdullah ibn Abi Awf related that the Prophet of Allah, upon him be peace, waited, on one of the days on which he was to engage the enemy, until the sun had begun to incline, then stood among his followers and said:

O you people! Never wish to meet the enemy in combat. Rather, seek your well-being from Allah. Yet, if meet them you must, then do so with patience. And know that Paradise is to be found in the shadow of the sword!

Then he said, upon him be peace:

'O Lord! Revealer of the Book, Sender of the clouds, and Vanquisher of enemies! Vanquish them, and give us victory over them!'

The defeat of the confederates at Madinah is an astonishing event. All the forces of disbelief on the Arabian Peninsula had joined to surround the Muslims in their city-state. The Muslims found themselves in a position so vulnerable as to bring them to the verge of extinction. There was not a glimmer of hope that their salvation could be brought about by any save the Almighty. It appeared that the Muslims had got themselves caught in a trap that would mean their ultimate destruction. Yet, the humble Prophet, upon him be peace, expected the help of the Lord to descend at any moment. The moment came: the confederates were taken unawares by the sudden churning of the atmosphere by gale-force winds that ripped away their tents, overturned and buried their provisions and sent them scattering into the desert in search of some escape from the terrible sand storm that had enveloped them and tossed them far from the secure walls of Madinah!

Compiled From:
"Remembrance & Prayer" - Muhammad Al-Ghazali, p. 176


True Citizenship

Citizenship is not about voting, or even about having a vote. When we think of citizens as just voters, we reduce them to being consumers of elected officials and leaders. We see this most vividly at election time, when candidates become products, issues become the message, and the campaign is a marketing and distribution system for the selling of the candidate. Voters become target markets, demographics, whose most important role is to meet in focus groups to respond to nuances of message. This is the power of the consumer, which is no power at all.

Through this lens, we can understand why so many people do not vote. They do not believe their action can impact the future. It is partly a self-chosen stance and partly an expression of the helplessness that grows out of a retributive world. This way of thinking is not an excuse not to vote, but it does say that our work is to build the capacity of citizens to be accountable and to become creators of community.

We can see most clearly how we marginalize the real meaning of citizenship when the word becomes politicized as part of the retributive debate. We argue over undocumented workers, immigration, and the rights of ex-felons - and even their children. We politicize the issue of English as the official language and building a new wall on the Rio Grande that we will have to tear down someday.

Citizenship as the willingness to build community gets displaced by isolationism in any form. It is not by accident that the loudest activists for finding and deporting undocumented workers are some of the leaders of the fear, oversight, safety, and security agenda. They are the key beneficiaries of the retributive society. If we want community, we have to be unwilling to allow citizenship to be co-opted in this way.

The idea of what it means to be a citizen is too important and needs to be taken back to its more profound value. Citizenship is a state of being. It is a choice for activism and care. A citizen is one who is willing to do the following:

  • Hold oneself accountable for the well-being of the larger collective of which we are a part.
  • Choose to own and exercise power rather than defer or delegate it to others.
  • Enter into a collective possibility that gives hospitable and restorative community its own sense of being.
  • Acknowledge that community grows out of the possibility of citizens. Community is built not by specialized expertise, or great leadership, or improved services; it is built by great citizens.
  • Attend to the gifts and capacities of all others, and act to bring the gifts of those on the margin into the centre.

Compiled From:
"Community: The Structure of Belonging" - Peter Block, pp. 64-65