Outside religion, who’s talking about forgiveness?
The case of Janna Ezat reminds us of its power
This week the mother of one of the victims of the Christchurch massacre forgave the perpetrator.
Speaking with moving dignity, Janna Ezat spoke about her son who “didn’t have an enemy in the world until the day he was killed. He used to give me flowers for my birthday. Instead I got his body.” She added: “I decided to forgive you. In our Muslim faith we say…if you are able to forgive, forgive”.
Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email
Already registered? Sign in
The archetype of a grieving parent forgiving their child’s killer has become a horribly familiar, and it is always moving one. Perhaps because the act runs so contrary to expectations, it is always covered in the news. The most recent memorable example is the Charleston massacre, in which nine churchgoers were gunned down by (again) a white supremacist who had joined their bible study. Three relatives went on to offer forgiveness at the attacker’s bond hearing.
At least in the West, we are more accustomed to these expressions of forgiveness being framed in Christian terms. The Lord’s Prayer itself includes a plea for God to “forgive us, as we forgive those who sin against us”. Perhaps the best-read preacher of the twentieth century, Martin Luther King Jr., repeatedly underlined the need to “develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love.” He knew that change, justice, trust all relied on forgiveness.
But forgiveness, as Janna Ezat reminds us, isn’t the preserve of one culture. Most scholars of Islam would agree on its importance. Mercy is one of the primary characteristics of Allah, and multiple verses in the Qur’an and Hadith urge forgiveness of others as an act of virtue which will be rewarded.
And we, a largely secular society in which more people identify as non-religious, need those reminders now. Forgiveness of even much lesser injuries than the loss of a loved one is not generally encouraged. Whether you have been hurt, humiliated or just plain pissed off, the culturally acceptable responses are withering put-downs, self-righteous rage or shunning. Forgiving our opponents in the disagreements and differences that make up public life sounds pious, patronising and weak.
And yet a healthy citizenship depends on this social virtue. If we forget how to forgive, how to see forgiveness as a powerful, and not appeasing, act, then we have no hope of healing our social wounds. Societies in which there is no possibility of forgiveness are places where no-one can change their mind, or change their tribe, or do better.
It is a habit, a hard, costly counter-cultural habit we would do well to develop. And, imperfectly as always, it is our religious traditions which are reminding us of its power.
A message that needs to be heard. The current age is one of sin minus redemption, punishment without hope of rehabilitation. No apology or expression of remorse ever suffices to bring the apostate back into the fold.
Someone once asked a Holocaust survivor if he forgave the perpetrators. He answered he could forgive what they did to him, but it wasn’t up to him to forgive what they had done to others. Society mustn’t collectively forgive on behalf of victims.
Forgiveness is a great coping mechanism for individuals and society – but it’s absolutely vital to never “forget”.
Forgiveness? Well as we’ve come to expect from the bbc, news coverage of the Christchurch killer being paraded whilst family members of those killed or injured have had their opportunity to give personal impact statements, and ‘forgiveness’ too in some cases, very much in public. But what of all those who have had family members killed in the UK by adherents of Islam? They have simply been told ‘don’t look back in anger’, no public broadcasting of ‘impact statements’ nor ‘forgiveness’ where they might have had some, just the usual minimal coverage and ‘mental illness’ bull. Forgiveness is in short supply when the system is biased against you, for white Christians turning the other cheek is expected when they are attacked, to forgive may be divine, but it’s bloody hard to do when your always being told it’s your fault anyway.
But forgiveness, as Janna Ezat reminds us, isn’t the preserve of one culture. Most scholars of Islam would agree on its importance. Mercy is one of the primary characteristics of Allah,
i) There seems to have been a much larger number of the victims’ relatives who have not expressed forgiveness. A lot have called for the murderer’s death.
ii) Mercy is patently not one of the primary characteristics of Allah, any more than it isn’t one of the primary characteristics of the Old Testament god or even the New Testament god. That is the most deluded wishful thinking.
Any thoughtful examination of Allah’s commands and of the activities of Mohammed shows that mercy is something called for and displayed on occasion, while on other occasions appalling violence, revenge and cruelty are demanded and committed. And people tend to be treated very differently depending on whether they are followers of Allah or not. Consequently, mercy is not one of the “primary” characteristics of Allah.
While it can be argued that Jesus made mercy and compassion a “primary” consideration and aspiration, the whole idea of an all-powerful, all-knowing god who punishes disbelievers or other “wrongdoers” with eternal torture has little to do with mercy, in my opinion. We are born sinners. As Christopher Hitches put it, “You are born sick and commanded to be well.”
What has that got to do with mercy and compassion? Who made us sick in the first place, god?
And the vanquished rely on the mercy of those with power!
Forgiveness has little to do with mercy.
A child of five can forgive. Can he or she grant mercy?
Sure, forgiveness and mercy are different.
But it was the article that told us that mercy was a “primary” characteristic of Allah, which is what I was responding to.
I was being rhetorical. No contradictory offence intended.
And having read the texts in English, I can agree that not much mercy is displayed but as an ambition it seems reasonable.
But it seems more a cover for atrocities in so many cases, even in other texts and in modern reality as viewed on tape etc.
i.e. ‘Look at what I can do. Now revere me because I don’t. Well, not often.’ .. Sort of thing.
Hitchens has pretty much misunderstood the most basic point of Christianity, then. Even from a dry academic reading of it, it’s quite explicit that people cannot make themselves well.
Please tell me what you think is wrong with Hitchens’ summarisation of Christianity, because I’m afraid I couldn’t work it out from what you wrote.
Christianity doesn’t command sick people to be well, it is largely an explanation of why they can’t accomplish that. The Orthodox have a saying that the Church is a hospital for sinners – there is no sense that they can somehow heal themselves, that’s the point.
Hitchens had a tendency to look at certain forms of American fundamentalism and imagine they are somehow representative of Christian theology in areas where they are not actually all that typical.
Many Christian denominations, including Catholicism, teach the doctrine of original sin, don’t they?
That seems a pretty poor starting point for mercy. It also sounds a lot like being born sick.
I admit I don’t know much about the Orthodox tradition.
I suppose the questions we then have to asked are:
1. Is there a God (irrespective of how he seems to behave in the OT)?
2. If there is a God, then how do I respond (ignore or follow his moral code including mercy & forgiveness) ?
3. If there is no God, then what sort of moral code exists – can society have absolutes that it creates itself and if so, individuals can also have their own moral code (which kinda means you can’t condemn or forgive the perpetrator of the massacre because they are just working to a different moral code) ?
I feel much happier trying to live life to a higher moral code than one set by individuals or by transient societies (even if it means I also have to accept some difficult passages in the OT).
I feel much happier trying to live life to a higher moral code
Sure, do and believe what you like. I’m not trying to stop anyone.
“If you wish for tears have mercy on one who shed tears. If you wish for mercy show mercy” Jallauddin Rumi
Well, of course, every religious tradition contains some exhortations to mercy. It would be extremely surprising if they didn’t.
It’s all very well saying some heartwarming things about mercy, but they fail to override the extremely vengeful, violent, vicious and generally unmerciful aspects of the monotheistic god of Abraham.
No you’re wrong. “mercy is not one of the “primary” characteristics of Allah”. Oh yes it is!!! I’m not a Muslim, but you’re talking about Extremist Muslims, terrorists, just as Christians can be Extremist and have been terrorists too. Are you proud of our past Religious Crusades? forcing everyone in our path to bow down to “our” God.As for Jews, it’s the same thing, the Extremists are, well, extremist, nothing to do with their real religion. As for having a moral compass, WITHOUT any religion, that’s me! I also understand & tolerate anybody’s alternative views. Hitchens is an amoral person, anti-any religion, willing to steam roller over anyone who disagrees with him.
Please remember Deb that, despite the atrocities committed under their name, the Crusades were primarily a joint act of survival by the Europeans in the face of violent conquest by Islam which threatened Christian Europe’s existence.
And you don’t think that Muslims feel the same about us! Theirs is now an action against us, as they feel that Christianity is crushing them. They perhaps feel that “our” Christianity is perceived by so much of the world as THE BEST and only religion and fair way for a civilisation to be.. I’ve lived in Africa and China, fascinating to live in places and try and understand THEIR point of view. It’s a BIG world and we are are not and should not be the BEST a la Trump. China for instance “know” that theirs is the original “Middle Kingdom”. Ignoring their present “communist” status, they feel superior to us. It is MUCH more difficult, for example for a Westerner to be accepted into their families, than the other way around. One of the African countries I lived in was Niger (Muslim) and never have I felt so safe, nor agreed so much with “their” Islamic faith: a gentle non-extremist version, as is our “Christian” faith now.
I think you’re preaching to the converted there Deb – I’ve also lived/worked in Muslim, Buddhist etc countries and I hear what you’re saying. There’s no one right way, and the chaos of the Middle East is certainly largely a result of one “side” thinking their’s is the one and true way.
I’m not a Muslim, but you’re talking about Extremist Muslims
Well, Mohammed was an extremist Muslim who caused the deaths of hundreds of people he saw as his opponents.
But I’m also talking about all the exhortations in the Koran to kill unbelievers and Jews. In addition, there are all the Allah-mandated punishments that we regard as cruel and merciless.
I’m not a Christian, so of course I’m not proud of atrocities done in the name of the Christian god.
You say that you have a moral compass without religion. Well, of course, we all do. But I don’t see how you come to the conclusion that Hitchens was an amoral person – above all, he made it his mission to contest the claim that only the religious can be morally good (or that good morals derive from religion) and to keep religious mumbo-jumbo out of the classroom.
I have found that life’s got better and I’ve got happier the further on with it I’ve gone with each stage an improvement on what went before, and I don’t think I’m alone in this.
My only caveat is that at each stage we must do what is necessary for that stage in the time we have to do it, so that, for example, at school we work to gain good qualifications rather than mucking about and later on during life’s earning phase we build up good reserves rather than spending on fancy cars and other fripperies. Adventure where life can be threatened is good and retirement should be a slow wind down rather than a sharp cut off, and needn’t necessarily occur at all.
I’m seventy five now so can speak from experience of all life’s stages except extreme old age
Oh well, that’s life. But dont worry,from your late 50’s it starts to get much better again.
I submit that Dennis Prager provides the clearest understanding of happiness in his book, Happiness Is A Serious Problem. But, Prager talks about showing happiness (putting on a happy face) as a responsibility each of us has to those in our midst, regardless of our current reality. I think he’s right.
Also, I don’t think that secular people can ever be really happy.
“Mercy is one of the primary characteristics of Allah, and multiple verses in the Qur’an and Hadith urge forgiveness of others as an act of virtue which will be rewarded”
It’s a lovely sentiment and it’s widely propagated by Islamic apologists, however the grim reality is that for every verse that talks of mercy in the Quran, their are several that speak of vengeance and violence. This is compounded dramatically by the Islamic doctrine of “abrogation”, where if there is a contradiction in a Quranic verse, the latter verse always supersedes the former. Unfortunately for all of us, the former verses come from Muhammad’s relatively peaceful Meccan period (where his followers were few and he had to tread carefully). This is contrasted with the aggression and violence of the later Medina verses, after the Hegira (“migration”) of Muhammad and his followers to Medina (due to hostility from Meccans).
“White supremacist”? If we wish to prevent future Christchurch Mosque Terrorists we should understand their motives. Why does the media (and even Unherd now!) continually repeat this classification unthinkingly? Although the Charleston church killer may have been a white supremacist, Brenton Tarrant is not a “white supremacist”; he isn’t even simply a “white nationalist”. He is an “ethno nationalist”. Ie. He is not talking of supremacy/superiority, he’s talking of separation. He doesn’t mention “white” superiority anywhere in his manifesto. He talks of admiration for other ethnicities/races and their hospitality toward him on his world travels. He (ie, not me) believes that all ethnicities should remain in their own nations, and that this is the only way for societies to harmoniously work. In this regard, some of his grievances expressed in the manifesto are quite valid, and massive amounts of “white” people, especially Europeans, hold exactly the same grievances as they see their indigenous cultures being swamped by the present hyper-immigration. [NB: for all hormonal social justice warriors: I do not endorse Ethnonationalism or Tarrant’s horrific solution to this problem]. If we fail to understand where such terrorism has arisen from, it will simply increase exponentially in the West as the problems worsen.
Hyper-immigration! Give me a break! When in history has there not been hyper-immigration? Here we go again: all nationalities should keep themselves pure, keep their cultures, etc. Keep out the Immigrants? led to Brexit… Look back at history: are we in GB pure, unchanging? We are a nation of Immigrants!! Invasion, mixing, invasion, I won’t even list the number of “ethnic” races that have made us, what we are. And singling out Jews, Muslims, Blacks, Europeans (I could go on & on) is ridiculous. They are all British and proud to be. I asked an American friend, “If we can’t call them black anymore, what should we say? African American, came the swift reply! And if they aren’t American, then what?…”
Thank goodness in GB & most of Europe: Blacks are called first & foremost whatever country they live in. USA being the melting pot: oh ha! What about Latino Americans, African Americans? Logically, there should then be Italian, Irish, German, Dutch, Catholic etc. Americans… Once you have settled how many generations does it take to be considered as Locals?
Last point: have any of you ever looked at what Percentage of Immigrants there are in Britain? or Ethnic minorities? It runs to the 1 to 2% !!!
[You’re sending me mixed messages there, Deb. First you “upvote” my comment and then you seem to vehemently condemn it :).] Although your passion is commendable, please calm yourself a little and realise that I was talking about the representation of Tarrant’s and many Europeans’ feelings about the present mass immigration. Although it’s obvious that this is causing perhaps irreparable damage to European societies, I am not saying I endorse any of the ideas. I am pointing out that the media needs to “Know thy enemy” if they want to avoid dangerous misrepresentation of what drives people to commit such acts.
[Not sure who your “any of you” refers to, but of course the debate about “Britain is a land of immigrants” is too big to go into here with simply rhetorical points.]
When I came out to my mother in high school, she said nothing for a couple of days. then on a long drive, she told me she was going to dedicate her life and fortune to helping doctors find a test that could determine if a fetus would be born gay or straight. I’m pretty low key about all this stuff, but on this point I did say that would just result in the extermination of countless gay children-to-be, including me. She expressed supreme surprise and said she’d never get rid of me, but would just want to know in advance. I think she figured out how offensive that whole idea was and that in reality it would have resulted in my abortion, so the idea was shelved and never discussed again.
The Environmental Bill contains Net Biodiversity Gain and Net Environmental Gain.
It also includes Local Nature Recovery Strategies which are currently being piloted in 5 areas.
There is also the 25 Year Environment Plan
which is informed and updated by the Natural Capital Committee.
The biggest challenge for the UK is population growth which is eroding our national ecology as grey infrastructure expands into green infrastructure.
We’re truly a society without a language for redemption. One of the things that strikes me about aspects Black Lives Matter, and perhaps most typified by ‘cancel culture’ in general is the inability of the aggrieved to have the capacity or language of redemption – which relies almost entirely on the ability to forgive. Without forgiveness there is only grievance and retribution. This is one area of our common life where religion has a real role to play because the centrality of forgiveness is still common currency of the major religious faiths and could help our society out of its present schisms. As they say, to err is human, to forgive, divine.
It all depends whether you are talking of Forgiveness in Society, or personally. In Society yes, we need more of it. But Personally, I have shunned an old, old friend: too many occasions when she hurt me (did she do it knowingly? I will never know) and only ever thought of herself… Do I forgive her? I’ve tried but NO. As for Forgetting, I will never forget… Does she know all this? No, she doesn’t, thankfully, but sometimes one does have to protect oneself.
To the Editors:
I note that you censored my first comment – based entirely on verifiable facts, but as I noted, facts can be disconcerting to some. I used no uncouth or offensive language.
Withholding facts and masking realities in order not to offend the sensibilities of others amounts to self censorship and the abnegation of freedom of expression. You may not want to see it that way, but that’s a fact.
Give some thought to Orwell’s warning:
“If liberty means anything, it means the right to tell other people what they do not want to hear”. Your policies as currently stated make that impossible, reducing your comment section to an echo chamber of illiberal political correctness.
Lest I offend anyone else’ sensibilities with facts, this will be my last posting here.
Some people are gay. Some are not. Like everything else, gayness is part biology and part environment. Each person is different and so there can never be a clear cut winner for nature or nurture. So it is a waste of money, especially when feminists jump from nature to nurture depending on what type of victimhood they are trying to push at any one time.
The search is a waste of money because the “condition” is self-limiting. The numbers will decrease if it is ignored.
Join the discussion
To join the discussion in the comments, become a paid subscriber.
Join like minded readers that support our journalism, read unlimited articles and enjoy other subscriber-only benefits.Subscribe