Mapping the Terrain of Forgiveness Attitudes in Muslim Societies


 Presenter (s) Ilham Nasser, Senior researcher, and Maryam Saroughi, Researcher,Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS) Initiative, The International Institute of Islamic Thought
Title Mapping the Terrain of Forgiveness Attitudes in Muslim Societies

This study contributes evidence-based knowledge on forgiveness tendencies and attitudes as part of a larger well-being research agenda for students in secondary schools and higher education institutions in Muslim societies. The study was launched in fourteen countries and included multiple target groups and constructs. This presentation focuses on forgiveness attitudes and examines individual’s tendencies to forgive in hypothetical situations. Data analysis has been completed for most of the participating countries. Initial results suggest that the reliability coefficient of the forgiveness scale for all these countries exceeds 0.7 suggesting that the scale quality is good. There were no gender differences found in forgiveness in most of the samples. Further analysis conducted, where forgiveness is an outcome variable, suggested strong correlations between constructs such as empathy and moral reasoning and forgiveness tendencies.

A review of the literature revealed a scarcity of research on socio-emotional aspects of learning as a necessary step for educational change despite the importance of that for learning (Durlak, Weissberg, Dymnicki & Schellinger, 2011). In this paper, a part of a larger study, we share the lessons learned based on empirical research focusing on Muslim societies’ realities and educational needs. The study examines the attitudes and tendencies on forgiveness and other constructs such as moral reasoning and empathy among others. The purpose is not only to examine the status of social emotional learning in these countries and to establish a baseline but also to formulate evidence-based recommendations and address gaps in empirical knowledge on the well-being of Muslim youth as a component of a research agenda to advance education in Muslim societies.

Forgiveness here is defined as the ability and willingness to let go of the hard feelings and the need to take revenge against someone who has wronged me or committed a perceived injustice against me or others. Forgiveness is also a subjective concept and is perceived differently in different cultures and contexts. Enright and Gassin (1992) define forgiveness as the “willingness to abandon one’s right to resentment, negative judgment, and indifferent behavior toward one who unjustly hurt us, while fostering the undeserved qualities of compassion, generosity, and even love towards him or her” (p. 102). Nasser and Abu-Nimer (2013) suggest that forgiveness is a personal decision that originates from intrinsic motivation to let go. Forgiveness education promotes understanding of different perspectives and reduces stereotypes (Abu-Nimer, 2001).
Scholars and practitioners have identified several core components of forgiveness that support the teaching of it including guiding students through the process of acknowledgement, apology, reparation, and finally forgiveness. Western scholars defined forgiveness in various ways while emphasizing the roles and responsibilities of the individual to reach the decision to forgive. For example, according to McCullough and Witvliet (2002) forgiveness can be perceived as “a response, a personality disposition and as a characteristic of social units” (P. 447). Forgiveness is also defined by Ahmed, Azar & Mullet, (2007) to ameliorate and reduce the destructive cycle of conflict and violence between individuals and groups. Forgiveness is “the emotional replacement of (1) hot emotions of anger or fear that follow a perceived hurt or offense, or (2) ridding of the unforgiveness that follows ruminating about the transgression, by substituting positive emotions such as unselfish love, empathy, compassion, or even romantic love” (Worthington, 2001).
Two of the leading scholars on forgiveness, Enright and Gassin (1992) maintain that forgiveness is an act of mercy and “can occur independently of the wrongdoer expressing any remorse” (P. 99). Zembylas and Michaelidou (2011) who conducted research amongst teachers in Cyprus and Greece assert that forgiveness should not be confused with pardoning, apology, forgetting, or reconciliation and that there should be a special distinctive set of attitudes, perceptions, and behaviors associated with the process and outcomes of forgiveness. Nevertheless, it is agreed upon that forgiveness and education for forgiveness is culturally situated and takes different forms and shapes in various contexts (Zembylas, 2014; Nasser & Abu-Nimer, 2014; Abu-Nimer, 2001).

Methods and results
In each of the fourteen countries in the study, five groups were included: administrators, teachers, parents, school students and university students. The survey included variations that are appropriate for each age group and roles. On average, each survey included about 160 items on a variety of constructs including two on forgiveness. The survey was a Likert scale (1 to 5) with various levels of agreement. Once data was entered and analyzed, the total sample size was closer to 22000 participants. Reliability Cronbach’s Alpha for the total number of these samples was respectively as .784, 0.754, 0.732, 0.761 and 0.744.

Participants included 45% male and 55% female. Results showed no statistically significant differences in the level of forgiveness between males and females in any of the 5 groups in most countries including: Bangladesh, Bosnia, Indonesia and Tatarstan. Statistically significant gender differences in forgiveness was only found among university students in Tanzania and among teachers in India. Scale means in all countries was above 3.0 and as followings; Azerbaijan (3.33), Bangladesh (3.29), Bosnia (3.45), India (3.00), Indonesia (3.31), Kenya (3.62), Kyrgyzstan (3.32), Malaysia (3.36), Mauritius (3.23), Palestine (3.23), Sudan (3.45), Tanzania (3.75), Tatarstan (3.48),and Uganda (3.55).The average mean for the total population was 3.29.

The results suggest a model of correlations in which forgiveness as an outcome variable is supported by various others such as foundational constructs including religiosity, empathy, and various moderators such as sense of belonging. All of importance and relevance to many of the countries in the Global scene.

Dr. Ilham Nasser is a senior researcher and educator with 25 years’ experience in research on human development and value based education. Her research explores formal and non-formal education settings in contexts such as the U.S., Central Africa, and the Middle East. She completed her PhD at the University of Maryland, College Park. She previously served as a faculty of teacher education for 12 years at George Mason University, VA. Her research includes publications on teachers’ professional development and preparation in social and political contexts and ways these influence children’s outcomes. Recently, she led the modernization of the curriculum for kindergarten in Iraq and the design and development of the first national curriculum for Kindergarten in Palestine. Currently she is a senior researcher and director of a large-scale study on education values at the International Institute of Islamic Thought in Virginia.

To contact Dr. Nasser, send an email to

3 Responses

  1. M. Najeeb Shafiq

    Dear Drs. Nasser and Saroughi: I thoroughly enjoyed the study and Youtube presentation ( Some questions:
    – The nuanced descriptions of forgiveness and empathy are appropriate. But how are they relevant within and across Muslim societies? (E.g., empathy as a mediator).
    – What is the name of the data initiative? Where are the questionnaires available? Where are the data available?
    -The correlation between empathy and forgiveness is quite high (+0.51). What is the reason? Also, did you notice differences across countries? Where was it highest? Lowest? (I realize the sample size is an issue with a few countries).
    – You mention regression analyses that you have conducted but have not shared in this poster. Feel free to share your results with me.
    Again, thank you and best wishes!
    M. Najeeb Shafiq
    Professor of Education, Economics and International Affairs
    Executive Director, CIES
    University of Pittsburgh

  2. Maryam Saroughi

    Thank you so much professor Najeeb Shafiq, for your interest in our study and presentation. Our study is called “MAPPING THE TERRAIN”. Our data and its annual report can be found in IIIT data repository by following this link:

    Our data is freely accessible and can be downloaded by the public. Our study report includes many information about our research design, data collection, method and findings.
    Please don’t hesitate to contact us at if you have any further questions. Thanks again!
    AEMS Research Team

  3. I have been looking for articles on these topics for a long time. slotsite I don’t know how grateful you are for posting on this topic. Thank you for the numerous articles on this site, I will subscribe to those links in my bookmarks and visit them often. Have a nice day

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