Take a moment just now to think of the attributes of Allah (SWT). For many of us, the first attribute that will come to mind is His Mercy. Every day when we recite Surah Al-Fatihah we are reminded that Allah (SWT) is Ar-Rahman (the All-Merciful), Ar-Raheem (the Very Merciful) [1:1].
However, often our communities shame rather than being compassionate, and often when we have wronged ourselves through sinning, instead of seeking forgiveness from Allah (SWT) and being content in the knowledge that Allah (SWT) is the Most-Merciful, we continue to beat ourselves up internally. On some level we know that this isn’t constructive, for ourselves and others, but we are not able to deal with feelings of anger and shame, which has great consequences for our souls.
When we have wronged, and our internal dialogue is a series of insults and self-hatred, we can quickly find ourselves spiralling into a cycle of self-destruction where we are so merciless and cruel to ourselves that our ability to focus on growing and being better is almost entirely impeded. We may feel so ashamed that our ability to be grateful for the gifts Allah (SWT) has given us is very limited; we decide to list reasons why we don’t deserve anything good at all instead. We may even stop acting on good intentions or praying because we feel that doing so will make us hypocrites. Then when we do not do these things, we feel even more disappointed with ourselves. If this has struck a chord for you please do not let the cycle continue. The past is not worth losing your sense of internal peace, the present, and opportunities to do good now. You have wronged and feel regret but there is no one on this Earth who has never felt ashamed or regretted an action they have taken in ignorance.
Reflect on the example of Musa (AS). When he killed a man by accident after punching him [28:15], he sought forgiveness from Allah and we are told that he was forgiven.
He said, “O my Lord, I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” So He forgave him. Indeed He is the most Forgiving, Very-Merciful.
~ Qur’an 28:16
What is really profound is what Musa (AS) said next.
He said, “O my Lord! As You have favoured me, I will never be a supporter of the sinners.”
~ Qur’an 28:17
Although Allah (SWT) did not speak to Musa (AS) directly, he believed that he had been favoured, that he had been forgiven, without being given any immediate sign of this. Note that Musa (AS) asked for forgiveness once, believed he was forgiven and then moved on with his life. When seeking forgiveness sometimes we have the attitude that only an infinite number of Astaghfir-Allahs and prayers and fasts and giving to charity will suffice, and this is not to say that we shouldn’t ask repeatedly for forgiveness, but we must cultivate hope and peace of mind knowing that after the very first time we sincerely ask for forgiveness, we will, In Shaa Allah, be forgiven.
Imagine (in an age before cars, Google maps and smartphones) that you found an old man walking down your road one day with a huge map. He asks you where he is to see if he is heading in the right direction, and you tell him he is not. He has been walking in the opposite direction for days. You give him the right directions looking at the map, wish him luck and head back into your house. Three hours later you hear a noise outside only to find that the old man has been sitting on your street crying about the fact that he walked in the wrong direction since you left him! How absurd? You gave him the right direction so he really should be on his way! How many times have we done the same thing when we have stumbled and lost our way? Instead of getting caught up in self-hatred or disappointment, we must be merciful to ourselves, realise we have been given the way to back to Allah (SWT) and start moving forward in hopefulness and renewed humility.
“Say, O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.”
~ Qur’an 39:53
Sometimes, we are not angry or ashamed because of something we have done. Sometimes simply by feeling responsible for the bad actions of others or their poor treatment of us we experience the same emotions. People who have experienced abuse or bullying often feel shame. Often the individual becomes angry at themselves, thinking things like: “Why didn’t I stand up for myself?”, “Why did I allow this person to treat me so terribly?”, even feeling self-hatred because they feel they deserve the way they are treated. Do not take the blame for the actions of the person who hurt you, they and only they are responsible for their actions. They and only they will stand before Allah (SWT) on the day of Judgement for the wrong they did to you. Slowly begin to reject the idea that you are at fault, because you are not, and forgive yourself so that their actions will not have power over your life forever.
Learning to have mercy on yourself is a hard thing. It may feel forced or strange to start trying to speak to yourself in a kinder voice but with practice it will become second nature in time, and it will allow you to be more compassionate with others in turn.