I am a Muslim and, like many Muslims, I have been told my entire life that I need to learn the art of forgiveness. I was told that, despite the errors of a person's or nation's ways, we must forgive. Of course, this isn't Islamically accurate. Islamically, forgiveness is best, but there's nothing that will ever force you to forgive. You may hold onto your pain in any way you see fit. Regardless, as a Muslim, you are told to forgive.
I have struggled with this concept, as I seemed to endure pain that no one wanted to talk about, and I didn't know how to forgive. No one really talked about the art of forgiveness in terms of theory, they just expected the practice to be perfect, and if you weren't there you were judged for not being able to let go of things. All the time, we would mention that forgiveness is for the forgiver, thus giving those that have wronged us an easy way out, a way where they don't have to do a thing to right their wrongs. Our forgiveness was entirely separate from them, and so, they never learned how to properly apologize.
So I learned that I needed to forgive, and forget, with nothing in return. That's what a 'good' person did.
When I was fourteen, a few months after moving to Jordan, I did something, I don't remember what, but my oldest sister got mad at me, and she said "you never take responsibility for your actions." At that moment something clicked in my head and I knew that her words were 100% true, and I needed to start taking responsibility for my actions. I had to learn how to apologize, and eventually, I learned how to acknowledge the harm that I was causing, and creating actions to rectify that harm. It's not always the most sustainable action, but I will do what's necessary to end this form of pain, even if I have to let people go.
But I am strange in that sense. I have watched as the world demanded I forgive it for every atrocity, and every small piece of systemic oppression.
A few months ago, I was speaking at a Transgenerational Trauma conference in Jordan and forgiveness came up. We were talking about how communities can heal and forgive their oppressors. I said that before we can forgive we need an acknowledgement of the atrocities that occurred. There was a bit of silence after, and then we moved on, and I felt that despite hearing me, not many truly bought that acknowledgment was a huge piece of forgiveness. I believe there are two main reason for this:
1) We believe that acknowledgements have already been made, and they haven't resulted in healing.
2) We don't want to acknowledge the atrocities and past trauma's we have caused to others. In a transgenerational sense, we don't want to acknowledge things that we are so ashamed of.
It's easy to believe that the first is true. When we think about the things that have happened in our past, and how truly terrible they are, we might assume that acknowledgements have truly been made. But they have not. There has not been a single major atrocity, from the Major world wars, the holocaust, Palestinian occupation, the massacre of indigenous populations worldwide, the war on drugs, the war on terror, slavery, stealing the worlds resources so Europeans can get to where they are now, and so many others, where we have truly acknowledged what really happened.
Wars were won and lost, land and resources lost, and human life entirely annihilated, but no group of people have come forward saying "we messed up". "We acknowledge the pain we have caused to X group of people, and this is how we want to fix it and make sure it never happens again," has never been said. Instead, what we get is this insistence that the atrocities don't play a role in our present and that people that have suffered because of this need to just get over it, because it no longer exists. That is not an acknowledgement in any sense of the word. So no, next time someone tells you that there have been real acknowledgements for Slavery, Jim Crowe, the way women were treated for centuries, how individuals are treated to this day, and so many more, know that that's not true. They have not.
I personally can not forgive without acknowledgements. What this means is simple, I do not forgive very often. I will hold on to every bad thing you have ever done, and until you acknowledge what you, as an individual or a community, have done, I will not forgive you. As callous as a large part of the worlds population would like to make me think I am, I will stand and demand my acknowledgement. I can forgive anything, but you need to be able to acknowledge everything.
I have suffered for far too long at the hands of systemically and oppressively-minded individuals to accept any less. You voted for Bush, great, where's my acknowledgement for the War on Terror? You voted for Trump, or Clinton, or anyone, great, where are my acknowledgements for White Supremacy? Oh, you've upheld the Patriarchy, awesome, where's my acknowledgement for Patriarchal Violence? Where's the acknowledgement for racist oppression? For LGBTQ+ suppression? Where's the acknowledgement for the massacring of my Indigenous Sisters and Brothers, here and in my homeland?
On a personal level where's my acknowledgement for the abuse you put me through? Where's my acknowledgement for the things you said out of anger, and spite? Where's my acknowledgement for everything you didn't validate, and the moments when you weren't there when I needed you most?
You see, all I hear is you demanding forgiveness for yourself and your group of people, but I don't hear any acknowledgements, and I don't see any actions to make sure this never happens again. So I'll be here, demanding my acknowledgements, and if you don't want to acknowledge these things don't worry about it, Social Justice Warriors have got this, we'll take action and make sure it never happens again, but don't forget, us doing the work is not an acknowledgement from you for the Injustices you have caused. Remember that, when you see us winning and decide our wins are your acknowledgement, they are not.
So how do you acknowledge things? It's pretty simple, actually.
- Admittance of fault for whatever was caused. This isn't just saying I did X, this is saying I understand that by doing X, I hurt you in Y way.
- Identify why this happened in the first place. A root cause analysis with an indepth report will suffice.
- Action plan addressing the root cause so it never happens again.
See, as simple as 1, 2, 3.
Lastly, this is a path to forgiveness, it is not the only one, and it's not always going to work. If your action plans and acknowledgements are BS, based on experience, then unless your plan also acknowledges those other failed attempts I might not forgive.
Ahmad Abojaradeh is the Founder and Executive Director of Life in My Days, Inc. He is the co-Founder of Muslim Community Link, An Engineer, a world traveler, a Peer Support Specialist, and a Novelist. He hopes to spread awareness of living a life of wellness through his writing, workshops and speaker events. Follow Ahmad on twitter, instagram or facebook.