Ramadan is divided into three ten-day ashras or stages, and right now, in the middle of Ramadan, we’re in the ashra of forgiveness. This forgiveness is specifically between God and humans, humans asking for forgiveness. The belief generally goes that if you are sincere, God will forgive you, and the measure of that sincerity is between you and God. It can’t be quantified on a human scale and doesn’t follow a specific formula.
Forgiveness between humans also doesn’t follow an ironclad recipe, but here’s some what forgiveness isn’t: it is not erasure, it is not a stripping of accountability, and it is not easy to go into with eyes open.
Philosophically, psychologically, and religiously, most of us are encouraged to forgive. It’s supposed to be good for us, allowing us to drop a tension we may have been holding. It doesn’t make everything ok, but it does make you a little lighter. If you’re trying to forgive yourself, it can ease some of that excess guilt, the kind that ceases to be productive as a millstone around your neck.
One of the reasons forgiveness is difficult is that it is an act of humility. It requires admitting that people are just people, and the person who has failed us is just a dinky little person, same as the rest of us. Author bell hooks wrote, “For me, forgiveness and compassion are always linked: how do we hold people accountable for wrongdoing and yet at the same time remain in touch with their humanity enough to believe in their capacity to be transformed?”
As we continue to move through the pandemic and continue to fumble, falling in and out of contact, turning in assignments late, making mistakes big and small, forgiveness for ourselves and others is something we will probably reflect on long past this ashra. As we drift into spring, may you have access to compassion and forgiveness for yourself and for those in your life and openness to the possibility of transformation.
Associate Chaplain for Muslim and Interfaith Life