Islam and Judaism [4]: On redemption, repentance and forgiveness

On the Day of Atonement-Yom Kippur, Jews pray not at the usual three daily services, but [like Muslims] at five services, which however all together last for over 8-10 hours.

One of the meanings of Kippur is to cover over or conceal [like God’s Arabic name Al-Ghafoor]. Some of us might have committed sins that are too many, or too shameful, to even think about. But when Allah forgives a sin, He covers it over and conceals it.

Al-Ghafoor is the One who does not expose the sins of His servants. God forgives us whenever we repent, even while knowing of the wrongs we have committed; and Yom Kippur is the day when Jews should focus for the whole day on deep self-examination, seeking God’s forgiveness .

Mentioned as Al-Ghafoor (the most forgiving) in 90+ places in the Qur’an, God offers every sinner many chances of redemption and repentance saying: “O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning), do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful’.” (Qur’an, 39:53)

And as the Bible states: “If My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray, seek My presence, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear [their words] from heaven, and forgive their sins and heal their land.” (II Chronicles 7:14)

Prophet Muhammad clarified this when he narrated in a Hadith Qudsi, “Allah the Exalted said: ‘O son of Adam, if you call upon me and place your hope in me, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you have sins piling up to the clouds and then ask for my forgiveness, I will forgive you without any reservation.” (Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, 3540)

As Prophet Isaiah says: “I have swept away your transgressions like a fog, and your sins like a cloud. Return to Me, for I have redeemed you”. (Isaiah 44:22)

Even God’s Prophets and Messengers who are very righteous and pure individuals, used to acknowledge their mistakes too, and turned to Allah in repentance all the time. Prophet Adam and his wife accepted their mistake and said: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers..” (Qur’an, 7:23).

Similarly, Prophet Musa said: “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” (Qur’an, 28:16) and Prophet Muhammad said: “Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart and ask Allah for forgiveness one hundred times a day.” (Muslim, 2702)

We should learn from them that, as the Bible states: “Indeed, there is no one on earth who is [always] righteous, no one who [always] does what is right and never sins.” (Ecclesiastes 7:20)

And we should learn from this super dramatic allegory that whoever sincerely and strongly turns to God in repentance will be helped also by God to repent.

Abu Sa’id al-Khudri reported Allah’s Messenger as saying that a man [a Jewish man according to Al-Bukhari Book #56, Hadith #676] who killed ninety-nine persons (and then) began to seek if there was any way left for him for repentance. He came to a monk and asked him about that, and the monk said: There is no chance for repentance for you. So, he killed the monk; and then began seeking again going from one village to another village where there lived pious persons, but at some distance away he was overtaken by death, yet he kept crawling on his chest (toward the village where the pious men lived).

When he died there was a dispute between the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment [over who he belonged to] and (when it was measured) he was found to be nearer the village where pious persons were living, so he was included among them. (Muslim Book #037, Hadith #6663)

In the allegory the Monk says there is no chance for repentance for you, not because you killed many people, but because you Jews do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God who died on the cross as an atonement for all those who believe in the sacrifice of God’s son.

But the allegory teaches that Al-Ghafoor’s mercy extends to everyone who sincerely and strongly turns to God in repentance; and that they will even be helped by God Himself to repent; because in the Al Bukhari version the allegory states that Allah himself moved the pious village closer to the Jew.

There are many verses in the Qur’an and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad on God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness. In one of the prayers that the Prophet taught, he said: “O God, You are a most Forgiving One, You love to forgive, so forgive me.” (At-Trimidhi & Ibn Majah).

We need God’s mercy and forgiveness all the time. It is wrong to assume at any time that one will find eternal salvation without the forgiveness of God. Just as it is important to believe in God’s mercy and forgiveness, it is also necessary to base human relations on forgiveness. Indeed, Jewish tradition teaches that before creating the physical world; God created the possibility of spiritual redemption by repentance and forgiveness.

We cannot expect God’s forgiveness unless we also forgive those who do wrong to us. Forgiving each other, even forgiving one’s enemies is one of the most important of Islamic teaching. In the Qur’an, God has described the Believers as: “those who avoid major sins and acts of indecencies, and when they are angry they forgive.” (42:37)

Yom Kippur is a day of fasting for 24 hours; and during that fast all Jews will hear the words of Prophet Isaiah read during the service in the synagogue as follows: “Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To lose the bonds of wickedness, To undo heavy burdens [and] let the oppressed go free, and that you break every yoke?

“Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring to your house the poor who are cast out;
When you see the naked, that you cover them, and not hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light shall break forth like the morning, Your healing shall spring forth speedily,
And your righteousness shall go before you; The glory of the Lord shall be your rear guard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; You shall cry out, and God will say, ‘Here I am.’

“If you take away the yoke from your midst; the pointing finger, and speaking wickedness, If you extend your soul to the hungry and satisfy the afflicted soul, then your light shall dawn in the darkness, and your darkness shall be as noon-day. The Lord will guide you continually, satisfying your soul in drought, and strengthen your bones; You shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters do not fail.” (Isaiah 58:6-11)

And everyone knows how important fasting during Ramadan, and daily worship and prayer are in Islam; but few know that Islam considers reconciling people better than many acts of worship.

Prophet Muhammad said: “Should I not tell you what is better in degree than prayer, fasting, and charity.” They (the companions) said: “Yes.” He said: “Reconciling people, because grudges and disputes are a razor (that can easily cut a neck instead of a beard).” (Ahmad, Abu Dawood, and At-Tirmithi)

Even more amazing Prophet Muhammad said: “The one who reconciles people is not considered a liar if he exaggerates what is good or says what is good.” [Ahmad] This is an excellent guide to dealing with the three-generation old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rather than focusing mostly on what the other side did to us, we all should focus on how the conflict has hurt all of us, and how much better our future would be if we could live next to each other in peace.

If the descendants of Prophet Isaac and Prophet Ishmael negotiate a settlement that reflects the religious policy that “…there is no sin upon them if they make terms of settlement between them – and settlement [reconciliation] is best.” (Quran 4: 128)

About the Author
Rabbi Allen S. Maller has published over 250 articles on Jewish values in over a dozen Christian, Jewish, and Muslim magazines and web sites. Rabbi Maller is the author of "Tikunay Nefashot," a spiritually meaningful High Holy Day Machzor, two books of children's short stories, and a popular account of Jewish Mysticism entitled, "God, Sex and Kabbalah." His most recent books are "Judaism and Islam as Synergistic Monotheisms' and "Which Religion Is Right For You?: A 21st Century Kuzari" both available on Amazon.
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