by Dr. Safiyyah Ally
Have you committed a sin that makes you feel ashamed? Does it feel like there’s no way back? Perhaps you’ve let your loved ones down. Maybe you’ve embarrassed yourself in front of the world.
And now you’re certain there’s no forgiveness for you. Your sin’s just too big. You’ve done too many bad things. It’s gone on for far too long. And you just can’t seem to stop. You’re sure you’re bound for hell. Might as well just throw in the towel now!
Can you imagine a world where God did not forgive? What would happen to us if we had no hope for another chance? Would we try to be better people, or would we give up and harm ourselves and the people around us? Guilt and shame can paralyze us and lead us into darkness. These feelings are only useful if they’re short-lived and can propel us to seek out a better path.
Sometimes, we fall into the trap of thinking of God as we do human beings. If we make a mistake, and we approach the person we have wronged to ask for forgiveness, it’s embarrassing. Perhaps even humiliating. There’s no guarantee that that person will forgive us. And even if the person does forgive, if we fall into error again, there is a limit to the person’s forgiveness. We can’t keep doing wrong and expecting forgiveness. People get fed up. Disgusted. They turn away from us.
But God isn’t like that. God is capable of forgiving all of our sins, no matter how big. If we turn sincerely to God and ask for forgiveness, God will forgive. Even if we mess up again and again due to our own weakness, God does not get tired of us.
Repeatedly in the Quran, God calls on us to repent. To seek forgiveness. And to not despair of God’s mercy. The Quran reminds us that God is vast in forgiveness, that God is continually forgiving.
In chapter 39, God says, Oh my worshippers who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning). Do not despair of the mercy of God, for indeed God forgives all sins. God is most forgiving, most merciful.
There are so many verses like that in the Quran.
And there are so many sayings of the Prophet Muhammad that speak to God’s forgiveness. In one of them, he explains that God says to us, “if you call on me and place your hope in me, I will forgive you without hesitation. If you have sins piling up to the clouds and then ask for my forgiveness, I will forgive you without hesitation. If you come to me with enough sins to fill the earth and then you meet me without associating anything with me, I will come to you with enough forgiveness to fill the earth.”
In this blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world pray, with their hands outstretched, Oh God, You are Most Forgiving. You Love to Forgive. So forgive me.”
So let me ask, why do you feel so guilty and ashamed?
Perhaps you haven’t done the work of repairing your relationship with yourself and with God.
Have you recognized that you’ve done wrong? Have you repented to God with sincerity and humility? Have you committed to doing better? Have you taken concrete steps to avoid falling into more sin? Have you replaced your bad deeds with good?
Because you will sin again and again. You’re human. God knows that. But if you keep working on your relationship with yourself and with God, your sinning can become a blessing in disguise. It can be a means by which you draw closer to God and recommit yourself to pleasing Him.
So don’t get lost in your guilt. Don’t feel overwhelmed by the heaviness of the burden of your sins. Don’t let your shame paralyze you from moving forward. And don’t lose hope.
Even if every human being has given up on you or turned their back on you, even if you’ve been condemned here on earth, you should never think you are unworthy before God. Islam is not a religion of despair. God is with you always. And God’s forgiveness is always within reach.