Updated: Mar 12, 2021
Palwasha A. & Tahmina R. (Editor)
“So long as there is still a tomorrow, a next moment, there is hope, there is change, there is redemption. What is lost, is not lost forever” - Yasmin Mogahed.
And so begins Ramadan; it’s like this month calls us to forgiveness. While many Muslims fast during this month, how many of us devote our effort and our time toward practicing forgiveness in all its forms? Ramadan is an emotional experience for many Muslims, a turning of our faces to light in the hopes of finding greater peace and strengthening our connection with our creator. It’s a time to reflect on our habits and to try to improve them in the month that we’re most encouraged to do so. A part of this process is examining our treatment of others; we reflect on our relationships with our friends, families, colleagues and forgiving them for any resentment we hold as well as beseeching their forgiveness ourselves. But how can we, in seeking forgiveness in all its forms, allow this mindset to transcend into our relationship with ourselves?
What is the necessity of forgiving ourselves?
When someone ‘fails’ in a way that they cannot reconcile with their faith, more often than not we fall into patterns of punishing ourselves for our missteps. The necessity for forgiving ourselves then becomes one of the most important things we can pursue in our practice of our faith. This is an active process and it is not as simple as passively accepting that ‘we all make mistakes.’ To quote Yasmin Mogahed, “oftentimes people misunderstand the concept of forgiveness as ‘turning the other cheek.’” This is not the case. Forgiveness is not an act that enables falling into or continuing bad habits, but rather giving ourselves space to move out of them.
One of the most essential aspects of fasting is the practice of self-discipline. This same self-discipline is the cornerstone of practicing forgiveness of oneself. It is not a single epiphany or something that can be crossed off on a to-do list - it is a process that requires consistent reflection and a promise that we will strive to build new habits around the way we think and speak of ourselves. It’s definitely easier spoken of than accomplished.
Why is this particularly difficult for women?
The onus of perfecting our observance of our religion more often than not falls unevenly on women and when at some point in their lives they inevitably fall short, they do not have the same resources and assurances as men do that there is still room for them to explore and experience their faith. Islam is a faith that preaches forgiveness, but many of the cultures that carry it forward can be incredibly unforgiving. We therefore cannot talk about forgiveness in our faith without addressing the fact that both are experienced at the same time and cause, especially for women, hidden shame that is never addressed. One informs the other and sometimes one conflates the other.
In so many spaces, as women, we internalise that our margin of error is smaller in faith. Even in our own communities, we see how the pressure of gossiping eyes is put on girls from birth, in a way that it never is with males, even well into adulthood. The result is that young girls looking for answers to some of the most conflicting questions have to rely on lectures that fail to consider them in their making and prevent them from feeling that they have a space to grow in their religion.
Many of us can think of instances where we’ve felt that our religion was being used against us as a way of encouraging fearfulness. As women, finding faith on our own terms is behest by a myriad of obstacles. Many of these problems are borne of patriarchal cultures and one of the most damaging consequences of this is that it puts men in control of women's redemption arcs. But in a mind where you are crippled by fear, there can never be the peace that comes with forgiveness.
How do our communities play into unforgiving cultures?
We all know the importance of separating culture from religion, but it is difficult to always remember this. Although passing judgement of another’s practice of their faith is strictly prohibited for us, it is something that has become so prevalent in our communities. It is easy to guess someone’s ‘practice’ from an observation, conversation or making assumptions.
But just as we cannot look at someone and assume they are inferior, we also cannot assume that they are superior. In moving beyond these barriers of judgment, we create for ourselves the space to better realise and practice our faith free of feelings that we are not good enough. When people stray from their visions of who they want to be, it cannot be the be all or end all of their faith and if it is, there is such a loss.
A Final Word.
Now imagine… That instead of relying on material that could wholly alienate them from their faith, children with difficult questions stumble upon writing that promotes forgiveness in our faith as something that is attainable at every stage of our relationship with Allah (swt).
“Whoever draws close to me by the length of a hand, I will draw close to him by the length of an arm. Whoever draws close to me by the length of an arm, I will draw close to him by the length of a fathom. Whoever comes to me walking, I will come to him running. Whoever meets me with enough sins to fill the earth, not associating any idols with me, I will meet him with as much forgiveness” - Sahih hadith reported by Abu Dharr (ra).
Writing this piece caused us to reflect on many of our experiences in nurturing our faith. We hope that reading this will allow you to walk away with an understanding of the necessity of forgiving yourself on this journey and moving the conversation away from hierarchies of spirituality and more towards the internal journey of connection with Allah (swt) that it is.
In creating this space, it will make it easier for everyone, regardless of how closely they resemble goodness in the eyes of their community or even themselves, to remember that religion, spirituality and the very act of striving is something that no one can be excluded from.