Islam and Forgiveness
The many nuances of forgiveness in Muslim societies will be the focus of a two-day symposium at the University of Washington in early February.
Supported by the Fetzer Institute and the Simpson Center for the Humanities, this symposium will invite reflection on the meanings, processes, and effects of forgiveness in multi-layered, complex, and interdependent Muslim Societies.
While scriptural texts compel Muslims to be merciful and compassionate in their actions towards others, little is known about the actual practices and effects of this mandate in their local contexts. Although mercy, as commonly understood in Western traditions, and forgiveness are not entirely interchangeable concepts, Islamic mercy encompasses forgiveness and often takes shape through it. For Muslims, God’s most important qualities come from the words Ar-Rahman and Ar-Rahim, meaning “The Most Gracious” and “The Most Merciful.” These attributes comprise the opening verse of the Qur’an: “In the name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful.”
The words are repeated at the beginning of 113 Qur’anic chapters and remind Muslims of their obligation to be just and compassionate. Despite these religious obligations, many portrayals of Islamic justice showcase vengeful retribution. As such, one might ask, then, where is the compassion that guides Muslims?
The event will feature several noted scholars, including Khaled Abou El Fadl (UCLA), Thomas Barfield (Boston University), Aïda Kanafani-Zahar (French National Center for Scientific Research) and Bertram Turner (Max Plank Institute for Social Anthropology). “Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World” will be the title of the event’s keynote lecture by El Fadl, Distinguished Professor in Islamic Law at the UCLA School of Law.
This project contributes to a growing literature on human rights, restorative justice, and reconciliation, with an emphasis on Muslim-majority societies in two ways: it engages with intellectual debates in Muslim-majority societies on questions of humanity and forgiveness, and it considers the application of Islamic restorative justice practices among Muslims.
This is a project of the Fetzer Advisory Council on Social Sciences.