THE quality of forgiveness, in any culture and society, is considered a sign of generosity. It facilitates the peaceful flow of human interaction and reduces resentment and revolt in interpersonal relationships.
This is a particularly admired trait among people who hold positions of authority. Such individuals, who are also by nature forgiving, get more compliance from their juniors and subordinates and therefore prove to be more effective in their roles. The Quran has stressed this quality many times as a necessary ingredient in the smooth functioning of society.
Islam permits retaliation commensurate with the extent of wrong done to an individual, even though it states that forgiveness in any case is a more appropriate choice. A forgiving attitude strengthens social ties. This is a quality that was demonstrated time and again by the Prophet (PBUH) as he forgave the crudest of insults and abuse. He lived up to the following Quranic injunctions fully.
"Praised are they who restrain their anger and pardon the faults of others; and God loves those who do good to others" (Quran 3:134). "If ye punish, then punish with the like of that wherewith ye were afflicted. But if ye endure patiently, verily it is better for the patient." (Quran 15:126).
According to the above quotation from the Holy Quran, it can be inferred that even blood money can be waived as charity. The emphasis is on forgiveness rather than compensation for a wrongdoing.
The Quran narrates the story of Adam's two sons and how the one did not retaliate the other's evil actions. "But recite unto them the tale of the two sons of Adam, how they offered each a sacrifice, and it was accepted from the one of them and it was not accepted from the other. (the one) said: I will surely kill thee. (the other) answered: Allah accepteth only from those who ward off (evil) (Quran 5:27).
Allah not only urges Muslims to forgive, but also recommends that they go a step further, by doing good to people who have wronged them. This is the rationale offered by the Quran in this matter: "The good deed and the evil deed are not alike. Repel the evil deed with one which is better, then lo! He, between whom and thee there was enmity, (will become) as though he was a bosom friend." (Quran 41:34).
In a well known Hadith, the Prophet (PBUH) said: "There may well be persons who through forbearance and forgiveness get the same degree (of merit) as those who keep the fast and perform the prayer."
Hazrat Ali, the fourth Caliph of Islam, also once said:
"Do not feel ashamed to forgive and forget. Do not hurry over punishments and do not be pleased and proud of your power to punish. Do not get angry and lose your temper quickly over the mistakes and failures of those over whom you rule. On the contrary, be patient and sympathetic with them. Anger and desire for vengeance are not going to be of much help to you in your administration."
From the above questions certain ethical principles regarding the virtue of forgiveness can be deduced. First, Islam avoids extremes like "tooth for tooth" or "turning the other cheek." Islam on the other hand provides a more balanced and practical approach. The objective is to provide the maximum good for the largest group of people.