Originally posted in 2007.
What do you think of when you see a Muslim doing something considered wrong?
Ever look down on them? Think you are better than them? It’s really easy to be self-righteous. It’s even easier to fall prey to this attitude if you sport the outer ‘righteous’ look.
But let’s ask ourselves this question: has Allah written us amongst His righteous servants? Or is that a title we have only given ourselves?
I was once sitting at the da`wah (outreach) table on my college campus and a female student approached it. She asked if she could have a Qur’an, and of course, I was happy to give one to her. Then she said, “Can I ask you a question?” The question sounded kind of deep, so I invited her to sit next to me on the empty chair. She took up the offer.
“Please don’t judge me,” she began. SubhanAllah (glory be to God)! The courage it must have taken for her to come and speak to me, for her to begin with that statement.
After reassuring her, how could I judge her? She began—
She told me that she was Muslim and she became involved in a relationship for the first time in her life with a Muslim guy. Her intention was for long term, but she felt so terrible doing it. She told me when she is with her boyfriend, she feels horrible, even though she thinks she is supposed to feel good. She told me that she knows that this is such a big sin, that she wants to stop, but that it is just so, so hard. And she asked me: Can Allah forgive me?
While this girl was speaking, I was looking at her thinking: look at the struggle she is going through for the sake of God. She hates what she is doing because she knows it’s something He would not be pleased with, she wants so much for God to forgive her, but it is so hard for her to leave what she knows she shouldn’t do.
Her desire to repent became so intense that she came to me, a girl she has never even seen before, who could easily judge her, and poured out her heart. She was so desperate in her wanting to know: Could Allah forgive her? Could He really forgive such a sin?
I told her—man, God is THE MOST MERCIFUL! He will forgive ANYTHING when you turn to Him! I kept telling her about God’s Mercy, about how He is so, so happy to accept the repentance of His creation.
We kept talking about how God must be pleased with her internal struggle because she clearly wants to gain His pleasure despite her difficulty. We looked at the Holy Hadith, where God talks about us and says:
“O child of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O child of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O child of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.” (Ahmad)
She was overwhelmed with emotion. I then shared with her a supplication that, if said with firm belief in the morning or evening, and if death happens on that day or night, the person who said it would be amongst the people of Paradise.
The Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon us) taught us the chief supplication (sayyidul istighfaar) of asking for forgiveness as follows:
اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لا إِلَهَ إِلا أَنْتَ خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ وَأَبُوءُ لَكَ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَإِنَّهُ لا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلا أَنْتَ
Allahumma anta rabbi, la ilaha illa anta, khalaqtani wa ana abduka [if you’re a male]/amatuk [if you’re a female], wa ana ‘ala `ahdika wa wa`dika mastata`tu. A`udhu bika min sharri ma sana`tu, abu’u laka bini`matika ‘alaiya, wa abu’u laka bidhanbi, faghfirli, fainnahu la yaghfiru adhdhunuba illa ant.
O Allah! You are my Lord! None has the right to be worshipped but You. You created me and I am Your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise as much as I can. I seek refuge with You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge before You all the blessings You have bestowed upon me, and I confess to You all my sins. So I entreat You to forgive my sins, for nobody can forgive sins except You. (Bukhari)
And of course, the most intimate way of feeling close to Allah is to come to Him, from the depths of one’s heart, in the language easiest for oneself, with the words coming from one’s own soul, asking for His forgiveness.
I want you to go back to your original answer when I first posed the question. What would you be thinking of someone you see doing something you feel is wrong?
Yes, in that moment, that person might be outwardly sinning if that is what they are doing, but perhaps internally they are struggling and fighting every time they commit the sin, and are continually seeking to turn back to God. Perhaps in some people’s eyes, this person is a ‘sinner’ (and who amongst us is not?). But perhaps in the Sight of Allah, they are more beloved to Him because of their sincere struggle, than those of us who can easily fall into feeling arrogant about our Islamic activism, our Islamic appearance, or our ‘hard-core’ connection with Rabb il`alameen (the Lord of the Worlds). We need to be careful. Are we really connected? Am I really connected?
And don’t get me wrong: the struggle of those who are trying to stay upright and please God Almighty is a weighty, honorable and noble one.
But for those of us who might have ‘been there’ and left it, and then feel arrogant that we’re no longer involved in the “ways of the sinners,” and perhaps even might feel better than others because we’re so pure and special, then my advice to myself is what Omar radi allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him) advised, “Take account of yourselves before you are audited.”
Or in the words of Ice Cube, “Check yourself before you wreck yourself.”