Forgiving Ourselves for Not Being Perfect


I’ve had the opportunity to meet with Muslims who’ve experienced spiritual crises of faith, which caused them to reconsider their belief in Islam or leave it altogether. And I’ve experienced a few of my own, which made me re-evaluate my understanding of my faith and religious identity.

One of the main mental stumbling blocks, which held be back from becoming a Muslim was my fear of imperfection manifested in sins I thought I might possibly commit at some point in the future. I wanted to learn as much as I could about Islam so that I could know what I was getting into and what I signed up for. Muslims believe that the one’s previous sins are washed away by conversion to the faith so I wanted to make sure that I remained in that purest of states, forever.

I can smile now looking back at my fairly innocent naiveté. For all the books I read that gave a nice overview of Islam, I didn’t know that God loves for us to turn to him in repentance when we make a mistake or sin so that he can forgives us. I didn’t know the hadith of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) informing us of the reality that every one of us commits sins and that the best of us in the sight of God are the ones who repent the most.

I wanted to be perfect but perfection is not an inherent quality of human beings. After much difficulty, I’ve come to realize that while I can strive for perfection, I’m also okay turning to God to forgive me when I fall short. This has been a hard realization and is still a continual process.

The Muslim community like any religious group can be incredibly compassionate or unforgiving. I’ve actually found more liberal-minded Muslims to be among the most open, honest and welcoming of others. There seems to be a “come as you are” philosophy among them. While in more conservative communities, I’ve found the philosophy tends toward the “pretend to be perfect or don’t come at all” mentality.

The “come as you are” philosophy can be problematic in that it sometimes overshadows or negates any religious boundaries. But the latter philosophy can also be problematic in forcing individuals, according to Wajahat Ali, “to perpetually lie, subvert, hide and pretend due to upholding a fairy-tale of a life just so others will not condemn, mock, ridicule, or exploit them for their fallibilities.

I’ve seen converts and born Muslims move away from Islam because they cannot reconcile between being a flawed human being that makes mistakes and the religious perfection hypocritically demanded by many of their equally flawed co-religionists.

I sometimes just want to say to them and to myself, it’s okay, come to Islam as you are, you’re not broken, turn to God, and forget about the criticism from others. I’m deeply flawed but I’m still Muslim and so are you.

But we can’t admit to being flawed or we’ll be accused of disclosing or publicizing our sins. We can’t ask for help or we’ll be shunned. We have to go on pretending to be perfect trying to avoid the social stigma attached to being an imperfect Muslim.

I was once asked by an imam whom I respect to disclose if I had committed a sin, and in my mind, I was like, who are you? You’re just a sinful believer like myself, we’re not Catholic and this is not a confessional booth, so what’s up with the Inquisition?

I’m always amazed and saddened by the Muslims who actually wish and say that they want another person to leave Islam or that you can’t be both [insert your own sin] and a Muslim. Really? Why not? Committing sins doesn’t take you outside the fold of Islam. Rather, those who commit sins and who repent to God (not necessarily to you or other human beings) is praised in both the Quran and the hadith literature.

This inability to admit we’re human and that we make mistakes can destroy a person’s faith. So often, the community response to a person who has the misfortune to have their mistakes become public knowledge is to ridicule, abuse, and banish rather than to welcome, recognizing their human frailty, and to seek to help them.

I’m missing my friends who have left Islam for this very reason. I pray that we can help them find a way back and that we’re not among those pushing others further away based on our own insecurities and limited understanding.

Advertisements

Author: Ify Okoye

Muslim woman, RN, & rebel with a cause.

19 thoughts on “Forgiving Ourselves for Not Being Perfect”

  1. Loved the article, Ify! I’m glad you brought this point up. Now it’s time to think up of some plausible solutions for the rest of the community members who don’t understand this concept 🙂

  2. Salam Sundus, thank you for reading it! I think we might start by looking inward a bit to rectify ourselves, avoid backbiting and pretending to know the intentions or struggles of others. And allow others to make mistakes and to stumble and see that as part of growth process or the lifelong journey of submission rather than an either/or in terms of one’s Islam or participation in the community.

    I watched my 9-month old cousin for two days this week and was struck by how much she’s learning each day and trying to walk steadily or feed herself or even clap her hands and snap her fingers and talk. No one expects children to be perfect right out of the womb, we understand they’re learning and growing and changing, it seems we should also see that in our fellow Muslims.

    What do you think?

    1. You know maybe that’s too pie-in-the-sky-ish, distilled down to its essence is the thought that we should avoid talking about other people especially when they’re absent. Or to only mention people with the good you know from them.

  3. I think we, Muslims have become too judgmental as a community. Unfortunately, we are so quick to point out the faults of our brothers and sisters we overlook our own fallacies. Pretending to be a perfect Muslim is just as bad as being a hypocrite. You’re presenting yourself as something you aren’t and know you aren’t.
    I wish we can begin to look at one another with a clearer lens and accept the fact that even Muslims make mistakes. Allah says in His Qur’an that he made man weak in flesh. Since we know this, instead of condemning and ostracizing each other why don’t we help and guide one another?

    1. Salam wiggywack, awesome name by the way.

      I attended the 3rd annual United for Change event this weekend and one quote by John L. Esposito stuck out for me, he said that for some people their faith is like a glass escalator or elevator, in order for them to know they’re going up, they need to see someone else going down.

      Much harder to try to build people up, which is the work of true love and fellowship. Much easier to throw up our hands in disgust and toss them aside because we don’t want to invest any real effort.

    2. Oh yes, I agree with you on this. What is with this holier-than-thou attitude? We all live in glass houses and can’t afford to throw the first stone. Who are we to determine who will earn Paradise and who will earn hell? Isn’t it better to be good to each other and pray that Allah will reward us, even though we are undeserving?

  4. Salam alaykum Ify.First,thank you for being so strong – “I was once asked by an imam whom I respect to disclose if I had committed a sin, and in my mind, I was like, who are you? You’re just a sinful believer like myself, we’re not Catholic and this is not a confessional booth, so what’s up with the Inquisition?” That was so inspiring.May Allah increase you in faith.

    Secondly, to any muslim who might be under the heat of ‘judgement’ from other muslims,remember that your Salat,sacrifice,life and death should be for Allah and Allah alone.Remember that the whole of humanity cannot benefit you in anyway even if they wanted to,neither can they harm you.So be strong, they will not be held accountable for your deeds neither will you for theirs.

    Lastly all muslims should learn from this wise saying from Jesus(As) “Do not examine the faults of people as if you were a Lord, but rather examine your own faults as though you
    were a slave.” Muwatta.

  5. Wa alaykum salaam Taiwo,

    Ameen. Not sure if it’s always strength, probably also a weakness. Love that quote attributed to Jesus from the Muwatta.

    Practical steps 1. Be humble 2. Avoid discussing others…

  6. Salaam!

    I love this! It’s so true…we’re not perfect, and we’re hard on ourselves when we’re not, even though we know this is our nature. I still often feel as if I should “know better” at all times with regards to sin, and if I make a mistake I feel like there is an inexcusable level of purposefulness behind my actions that sometimes makes me feel like I can’t rightfully call myself a believer. Thus has been my crisis, my downward spiral that has caused me interruptions in my practice in the past. It’s a hard balance between laxity/complacency and paralyzing rigidity…

    Ws, ~Chinyere

    1. Yes, I agree it can be very hard to find the balance and middle road between laxity and piety. I think for me some of the difficulty came from trying to implement a version of Islam, which was alien to the lived reality and culture here. We elevated one historical and cultural expression of Islam to be the “real” Islam but like any man-made system it has its flaws.

  7. From a Lutheran friend of mine: “The opposite of sin is not virtue. The opposite of sin is faith.”

    wassallam,
    Jacques

  8. Thank you for your wonderful post. It got me thinking about our innate ability to judge others while we ignore our own shortcomings. I just got back from Hajj. It was an indescribable experience. One of the most confounding things is praying with a million plus strangers, from a hundred different countries, all of whom are there because they individually felt the call of Allah, calling them to this place. How can one person be capable of explaining what each of those other million people are feeling, what their reasons for belief are, the nature of their faith, their uniqueness of their experiences, their individual relationships with their ever-loving Creator? It is mind-blowingly humbling, and I struggle with my pathetic capacity to appreciate that, as I simultaneously revel in the relationship I have with my Creator, the Creator of the universe, who created each one of the millions who surrounded me in silent prayer. I also did momentarily struggle with the notion that my Hajj wasn’t a ‘glory-hallelulah’ all-out perfect religious experience – it was tiring, stressful, and full of hardships, even though I was prepared for it to be so – until I came to the realization that my faith will always come from within me, not from looking at or trying to merely follow others. (I did experience 3 miraculous events, involving the sun shining on the Qur’an while I was reading Surah Muhammad in the Prophet’s Mosque, the number 786, and a bus ride to the Kaaba, and a handful of minor food-related miracles). Islam is not a social club. It is a contract with Allah first, and a desire to fulfill His commandments, which involve family, community, justice, charity, knowledge, struggle,perseverance, morality, and all of the other things mentioned in the Qur’an. Personally, I follow the example of the Prophet, whose role was to preach the message, but not to be responsible for the behaviour of everyone. This way, you can join with like-minded people, and not waste any energy on negative people.

  9. salaam and ramadan kareem.
    I realize I am late to this virtual tea party, but I thought I would comment anyhow. I feel you deeply on this. I have seen a few sisters leave with little to attribute it to other than lack of understanding from the community, circumstances in life, and not finding a safe space to be themselves inside of islam. None of them were terribly bad women or doing anything overtly heinous. I myself have gone through some horrific struggles and I still am. Still pondering the effects and how I can regain my own sense of identity within the scope of the community, etc.

    1. Wa alaykum salaam and may your Ramadan be blessed White Pumpkin,

      Welcome to the blog, it’s never too late to join in the conversation, and I thank you for adding your voice.

      I pray you are able to find an authentic identity for yourself within your faith and community. This is something I continue to struggle with each day. One thing I’d like to work on is helping other Muslims maintain a strong sense of their unique cultural identity while navigating the contours of their faith landscape.

    2. InshaAllah. May Allah help you, and all of us, with that. ameen. I know I have my identity within the faith itself. Its more about the faith based community. Also, its a very strange paradox to not fit into any specific culture wholeheartedly (with or without the religious aspect thrown in). It tends to have people somehow judging your authenticity somehow, as if perhaps you are “faking it”.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s