Not too long ago, I attended an amazing full-day seminar dedicated entirely to salah (Islamic prayer). Early on in the program, a point was raised regarding a dangerous trap that is scarily fallen into far too frequently:
“I can’t pray; I have sinned too much.”
I have seen this not just with salah, but many other elements of our faith, such as sisters feeling like they’re not ‘pious’ enough to wear hijab, or feel too sinful to attend halaqas (circles) at the masjid (mosque). Brothers too, admit feeling reluctant to grow their beards according to the sunnah, due to fear of being unworthy of representing their deen (religion) in their outward appearance.
Many of us have been there to a varying degree, but what we must remember is this is not the way of our religion. A life upon Islam is a journey of continual self-reflection and self improvement. You don’t achieve perfection and then begin practicing. And you certainly don’t wait until your character is correct before you then start offering salah. This is the way Shaytaan (Satan) wins the jackpot! He has not only succeeded in convincing you to overstep the boundaries of Allah by sinning, but he then also convinces you to distance yourself even further from Allah by foolishly believing you are not worthy of His mercy.
When we fall into sin and commit actions, behaviours or habits that we are not too proud of, we can feel a deep sadness and remorse, which can even transcend into a bitter self-loathing.
Guilt is a good thing – a blessing, even – as this shows that Allah has not sealed our hearts, and that our yearning is still to be close to Him. But when we allow this guilt to manifest into a far less productive feeling of despair, we lose all sensibility and foolishly then allow our sins to define who we are.
We are not designed to be perfect. It is not Game Over just because we made a few mistakes. When Aadam and Hawa, radiyallahu anhum (Adam and Eve, may Allah be pleased with them), transgressed and committed the first sin by eating from the forbidden tree, Allah never once described either of them as forgotten or unworthy; He simply said that they ‘slipped’.
“We said, ‘Adam, live with your wife in this garden. Both of you eat freely there as you will, but do not go near this tree, or you will both become wrongdoers’. But Satan made them slip, and removed them from the state they were in. We said ‘Get out, all of you! You are each other’s enemy (Satan the enemy of mankind and vice versa). On earth you will have a place to stay and livelihood for a time’. Then Adam received some words from his Lord and He accepted his repentance: He is the Ever Relenting, the Most Merciful.” (Qur’an 2: 35-37)
Throughout the Qur’an, Allah repeatedly makes it clear to us that His compassion and forgiveness is unlimited, and is readily available if only we ask. By wallowing in the despair of our own errors, we not only overestimate the significance of our actions, but far worse, we underestimate the qualities of Allah. We give magnitude to our errors, when instead we should be running to and depending on the enormity of our Lord. Are we more afraid of our own sins than we are of the powers of the Almighty? Are we so self-absorbed that we will allow one sin to turn into many, because we unwittingly decide that our shortcomings exempt us from His commands?
Whenever we sin, we need to turn more deeply to Allah; we need to delve more deeply into prayer. With sincere effort and genuine intentions, we can even turn our sins into a positive.
“Those who repent, believe, and do good deeds: God will change the evil deeds of such people into good ones. He is most forgiving, most merciful.” (Qur’an 25: 70)
As humans, it is 100% unavoidably inevitable that we will sin. Repeatedly. We are imperfect and flawed by design. Even our good deeds are laced with mistakes – this is how we are. This is by no means an excuse to drop all guards and commit sin as and when and however we please. The measure is in our intention. It doesn’t matter that it’s impossible for us to be perfect – the beauty is in the steadfast efforts we continue to make regardless. The objective is to return to Allah not with a spotless past, but with a clean heart. And regardless of how dirty you feel your heart is now, everyone, by the permission of Allah, has the capability of becoming cleansed.
Whatever sin you have committed, whether you’ve stolen; lied; missed prayers or abandoned salah; whether you’ve fought; whether you’ve hurt; committed zina (adultery) or even murder; you are not your past. You are not limited by what you have done. You are your intentions; you are your actions. Your limit is how much you want to do; how far you are willing to go; how hard you are willing to work to ensure that black mark is removed from your heart.
Instead of turning your regret into depression and despair, burn it as fuel and let it power your motivation. Charge yourself head-first into extra salah, increased giving of sadaqah (charity), advanced recitation of dhikr (remembrance of Allah). Remember your sin, remember how easily you slipped, and use this to humble yourself. Use this as an incentive to forgive and excuse others, as you know yourself how easy it is to make mistakes. Use your sin as motivation to better yourself; better yourself to the best version of you that you have ever been. Move away from other bad habits; remove yourself from the likelihood of committing the same sins again; change; strive to perfect your character; strive to attain the clean heart that we so want to present to Allah when we face Him on the Day of Judgement.
Focus on the wise words of renowned Muslim scholar, Ibn Qayyim, who said, “Satan rejoiced when Adam (peace be upon him) came out of Paradise, but he did not know that when a diver sinks into the sea, he collects pearls and then rises again.”
You may have sinned; you may have fallen; you may even be drowning. But the cold dark floor of the ocean is not where you have to stay. If you repent from your sin, engage in sincere tawba (repentance), and as a result draw closer to Allah – closer even than you have ever been before, then you have gathered your pearls alhamdulillah. You can become richer than you’ve ever been, if you strive for it. Your sin is not where it ends. Your faults are not who you are. There are two sides to the scales; which one do you want to fill?