How do you feel when are caught doing something wrong, but the person who catches you lets it go and doesn’t punish or embarrass you? There is a mixture of embarrassment, relief and gratitude. If you love the person you disobeyed, in general many would vow never to do the same and never to take advantage of their kindness and forbearance.
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) is far above any analogy, but this is our state with our Lord every single day. We constantly look at, listen to and do things we know we shouldn’t. But Allah (swt) knows our state. And in most instances, He lets it go. He is al-Haleem.
Al-Ghazali defines Allah’s Name al-Haleem as the One “who observes the disobedience of the rebellious and notices the opposition to the command, yet anger does not incite Him nor wrath seize Him, nor do haste and recklessness move Him to rush to take vengeance, although He is utterly capable of doing that.”
Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an: “And if Allah were to impose blame on the people for what they have earned, He would not leave upon the earth any creature. But He defers them for a specified term. And when their time comes, then indeed Allah has ever been, of His servants, Seeing.” (Qur’an, 35:45)
In this scenario there is a specific action done and blame to be earned for that action. But Allah (swt) defers it—so a logical question would be, why does Allah defer it? A person could defer punishment because he is weak, because he is unable to act. But Allah (swt) is al-Qawiyy: He is the Most Powerful and can do as He wills. So why does He defer punishment?
As humans, we appreciate forbearance. We appreciate being given chances to rectify ourselves before seeing the consequences of our actions. If there was a rule that you would be sent to detention for not doing your homework, wouldn’t you be grateful that your teacher let it slide? How about the second time she does so, or the third? What about when a police officer catches you speeding, but doesn’t give you a ticket? Many of us would feel relief and then check ourselves to ensure we don’t do the same thing again. So Allah’s forbearance is for us to return. And we should be grateful for this attribute, just like we would be grateful to anyone who overlooks our faults and mistakes.
And imagine being punished for every wrong deed that you did. How many punishments in a day? What is beautiful about this Name is that it does not only pertain to punishments, but even simply the writing down of the wrong things that we do. The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him) tells us: “The Scribe on the left delays registering the sin of a Muslim for six hours. If he repents (within these six hours), and seeks Allah’s forgiveness, they drop if off. If he doesn’t, they write is down as a single sin.” (Tabarani)
And we sometimes take for granted that we do not see the consequences of our actions. Perhaps we assume that what we are doing is not a big deal—that Allah (swt) does not mind, even though we have clear commandments telling us to do something or to avoid something. So sometimes we need to be woken up. Even if we are punished in this world, this shouldn’t cause us to lose heart. Firstly because Allah is Just, but also because even in His punishment is a mercy.
Allah (swt) tells us in Surat al-Qalam the story of the people of the garden. There were three sons of a man who would allow his garden to be used by the poor. When he passed away, “they swore to cut its fruit in the [early] morning” so they could have it all and give none to the poor. So what happened? “So there came upon the garden an affliction from your Lord while they were asleep. And it became as though reaped.” (Qur’an, 68:19-20)
SubhanAllah (glory to God), but what was the result? When they finally reached the garden to do what they had set out to do, they found it burned to the ground. But they realized the lesson—“They said, ‘O woe to us; indeed we were transgressors. Perhaps our Lord will substitute for us [one] better than it. Indeed, we are toward our Lord desirous,’” (Qur’an, 68:31-32). And Allah (swt) says “Such is the punishment [of this world]. And the punishment of the Hereafter is greater, if they only knew,” (Qur’an, 68:33). This punishment woke them up. They realized the error of their ways. If Allah (swt) had allowed them to do what they wanted, then they would have to face a reckoning greater than it. The point is to bring us back. So Allah is al-Haleem for us to return to Him, but when we take advantage of that Hilm, of that forbearance, we need to be woken up and made aware. And all of this is from Allah’s Mercy.
Having the Characteristic of Hilm
There are some Names of Allah (swt) that are reserved for Him alone, such al-Khaaliq (the Creator). But other Names can be used to describe human beings, such as Raheem (Merciful), as Allah (swt) describes the Prophet ﷺ in the Qur’an using this term. Al-Haleem is also one of these attributes. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an about Ibrahim `alayhi assalaam (peace be upon him):
“Indeed was Abraham compassionate and Haleem.” (Qur’an, 9:114)
The Prophet ﷺ said that forbearance is the best characteristic. If we want Allah (swt) to overlook our mistakes, we need to be able to overlook the mistakes of others. And this especially pertains to what we allow to fester in the heart. We may think we are being forbearing by not reacting to something, but the fact that we keep it in and then explode the next time is not forbearance. Being forbearing would be letting go once, twice and even three times depending on the situation. But if this allows abuse to continue, then that is where we stop and put the person in check—but for the sake of Allah (swt). Meaning that we put the person in check so that they return, so that they are made aware, so that they understand that actions have consequences.
May Allah make us of those who have forbearance, and of those who recognize Allah’s forbearance towards us, and to make that realization a means for us to return to Him. Ameen.