It was narrated from Anas that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said:
Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.Sunan Ibn Majah 4251
We often find ourselves overthinking mistakes we have made in the past. It could be a mistake we made at work or in school, something we said to someone that was hurtful, or a sin that we committed and regretted later. We can end up obsessively pondering over these mistakes to the point where we put ourselves down and start believing that we simply cannot become better people. In particular, we start thinking that we are not worthy of Allah’s forgiveness. This negative spiraling can lead to extremely unhealthy beliefs about ourselves and can hinder the way we think about our own capabilities, skills and confidence. In this situation, we need to take the path to God’s forgiveness and, in doing so, forgive ourselves.
Know the Creator’s infinite mercy
As we are learning from our past mistakes, we must always remember Allah’s infinite mercy and forgiveness. When we sin and our hearts are heavy with regret, our first thought should be to seek forgiveness from Allah ﷻ. Remembering that He ﷻ is Al-Ghaffar (the Forgiving) and Al-Raheem (the Merciful) should bring us comfort and peace. Allah’s forgiveness is mentioned around 200 times in the Qur’an, an example being Surah Al-A’raf:
“But those who committed misdeeds and then repented after them and believed – indeed your Lord, thereafter is Forgiving and Merciful.“Al-Qur’an 7:153
In his series “The Most Beautiful Names”, Ustadh AbdelRahman Murphy reflects on the name of Al-Ghaffar, the One who Forgives. He describes Allah’s forgiveness as complete and perfect, where there is no barrier to entry for forgiveness on His part. In addition to this, Allah ﷻ does not remind us of our faults once we have asked for forgiveness; this is why His Forgiveness ﷻ is beautiful and unique. The word “ghafara” means to hide a person from their mistake, and that is the beauty of Al-Ghaffar: He ﷻ not only forgives us for our previous mistakes, but He also does not remind us of those mistakes in a way that will have an impact on us moving forward in our life.
As articulated by the aforementioned hadith, all human beings sin. Yet on a community level, we often find that those who have made mistakes, especially youth, are alienated from the deen. Even if they want to feel closer to Allah ﷻ again, they are judged and even shunned in the community, preventing them from authentically rebuilding that relationship. This alienation causes them to feel as though they are unworthy of being forgiven by Allah ﷻ and by their communities; they become known simply as the mistakes they made. But this should never be the case; Allah’s doors of mercy and forgiveness are open for everyone.
While it is important for us to have hope in Allah’s infinite mercy, we should not get carried away in thinking that we do not need to work towards earning His forgiveness ﷻ because He is the Most Forgiving. We cannot expect to have our sins forgiven if we are not actively repenting for what we have done; hope alone in His Mercy is not enough. Ibn Al-Qayyim speaks on this idea of balancing between fear and hope in Allah ﷻ:
The heart in its journey towards Allah is like a bird whose head is love, and hope and fear are its two wings.Madarij al-Salikeen (1/513)
The path to forgiveness
So the question that we must ask ourselves is: do mistakes define who we are?
We should be able to reflect on this question, how much we have learned from our past mistakes, and how we have tried to improve ourselves. If we feel regret after committing a sin, this is already a sign that we are willing to learn from it, and most importantly, to seek Allah’s Forgiveness for it. Allah ﷻ plans for us to go through this entire process, because He wants to guide us back to Him ﷻ. The fact that we are turning to Allah ﷻ for forgiveness is a sign that He is calling us towards Him.
The concept of tawba (repentance) means “to return”, meaning that no matter what we have done or how much we have sinned, our souls cannot be stained by our sins, if we eventually turn to Allah ﷻ for forgiveness and cover our hearts with His infinite mercy. When we do so, Allah ﷻ allows for our hearts to be purified and regain God-consciousness, where we orient our hearts from this dunya towards Allah.
Repentance is letting go of our baggage, because we understand that by Allah’s mercy we are not defined by our past.A. Helwa
We should take time to periodically reflect on the people we are and how much we may have changed because of mistakes made in the past. We should specifically look at what we have been able to accomplish through the help of Allah and how much we may have changed for the better because of our learning curve. This is part of our growth as individuals and recognising that appreciating ourselves and our struggles is part of appreciating Allah.
Imam Al-Ghazali commented on this form of self-love, stating that if someone loves themselves, they need to have love for Allah ﷻ as well. Indeed, our existence and the perfection of our existence all comes from Allah ﷻ. We cannot love ourselves without loving Allah ﷻ, for He is our Sustainer. And how can we remember Allah’s mercy when we cannot even be merciful towards ourselves?
The past need not define who we are when we are working on becoming the best versions of ourselves for the future. In order to forgive ourselves for a mistake we have made we must remember to always seek forgiveness from the One who Forgives.
The servant of Allah who seeks the pleasure of Allah never abandons tawbah (repentance).Ibn Al-Qayyim, Madaarij as-Saalikeen
Sarah Masri is completing her Master’s degree in sociology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. She is interested in politics and teaching, and enjoys baking and embroidery. She speaks English, Arabic, French and Spanish. You can follow her on Instagram @sarahmasriii and on Twitter @sarahmasriii.
Helwa, A. “Tawba: Repent and Return to Unity.” In Secrets of Divine Love: A Spiritual Journey into the Heart of Islam, 131-148. Naulit Publishing House, 2020.
Al-Ghazali, Love, Longing, Intimacy and Contentment: Book XXXVI of the Revival of the Religious Sciences. Islamic Texts Society, 2016.