The Guardian reported this remarkable story about forgiveness:
Abdollah Hosseinzadeh was stabbed and killed in a street brawl in the autumn of 2007 when he was only 18. He had known his killer, Balal. The two, barely out of their teens at the time, had played football together. Abdollah was the second son Samereh Alinejad had lost, her youngest died as a boy in a motorbike accident when he was 11. Furious in her grief, she was determined Balal would hang.
“Ten days before the execution was due, I saw my son in a dream asking me not to take revenge, but I couldn’t convince myself to forgive,” she told the Guardian. “Two nights before that day, I saw him in the dream once again, but this time he refused to speak to me.”
As Abdollah’s legal guardian, Alinejad’s husband Abdolghani had the power under Iranian law to overturn the death penalty, but he had relinquished that responsibility to his wife.
“We couldn’t sleep that night, we were all awake until morning. Until the last minute, I didn’t want to forgive. I had told my husband just two days before that I can’t forgive this man, but maybe there would be a possibility, but I couldn’t persuade myself to forgive.” Alinejad had been assured: “My husband said, look to God and let’s see what happens.”
In the early hours of last Tuesday, Alinejad was outside the gates of Nour prison, among the crowd gathered for Balal’s execution.
“You have the final say, my husband had said,” she recalled. “He said you’ve suffered too much, we’ll do as you say.”
After recitation from the Qur’an was read, prison guards had hooked a rope around Balal’s neck as he stood on a chair blindfolded, his hands tied behind his back. Iran’s Islamic penal code allows the victim’s heir – “walli-ye-dam” – to personally execute the condemned man as (retribution) – in this case by pushing away the chair he was standing on.
Seconds away from what could have been his final breath, Balal pleaded for his life and called out for mercy. “Please forgive,” he shouted, “if only for my mum and dad,” Alinejad recalled. “I was angry, I shouted back how can I forgive, did you show mercy to my son’s mum and dad?”
Others in the crowd watching the scene in anguish also called out for the family to spare Balal’s life. “Amoo Ghani (uncle Ghani), forgive,” they shouted, calling the victim’s father by his first name.
Balal’s fate then took an unexpected turn. Alinejad clambered up on a stool and rather than pushing away his chair, slapped him across the face.
“After that, I felt as if rage vanished within my heart. I felt as if the blood in my veins began to flow again,” she said. “I burst into tears and I called my husband and asked him to come up and remove the noose.” Within seconds, as Abdolghani unhooked the rope from Balal’s neck, he was declared pardoned.
It is tempting to simply add “Amen,” but allow me to make a couple of points. First of all, I don’t want us to assume that this story reflects anything more than one way of understanding and practicing Islam. In the way Iranian law is viewing God’s will, there is an understanding of justice that is retributive. In the manner that Samerah Allinejad ultimately enacted her understanding of God’s will she demonstrated restorative justice. This, I contend, is the the true will of God, who is the author of all that is and thus is the only source of authority to forgive. When relationship is broken (and in this case in a most extreme manner) it is not only the people involved who are hurt, God as well is offended, because God’s intended order for creation has been disrupted. So it is that God desires our repentance in order to restore right relationships. That is the starting point of forgiveness.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA. He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com