April 18, 2003
Bilqis is currently on sabbatical, so this question is being answered by Wael Abdelgawad, the Zawaj.com Editor.
I am 19 years old and at this point in my life, I feel so spriritually confused that sometimes it just makes me cry. I hate the person I have become: I know I am a horrible sinner in the eyes of Allah. I want to change and I just don't know how. I know there is no step-by step process; I just have to stop the bad things in my life. Yet I don't have the strength to do all this at once.
I had a very bitter time growing up in America with my parents. My father was abusive but well meaning, and my tendencies towards boys made our domestic situation explode.
I am now 19 and married to a nice American boy who converted to Islam before we married (because he believed in it). Although I faced much parental opposition at first, they have accepted the marriage and really like him now. He is a good husband. I seem to go through phases of extreme devoutness: regular prayer etc. Or I fall out of it completely. Right now I have fallen out of it, and worse than ever before. I have been having an affair for the past few weeks. I dress provocatively. I flirt. I have not been praying. I have considered drinking. What's wrong with me? I don't condone any of these acts, yet I somehow don't even feel guilty, just scared. Scared because I know they are wrong, because I DO believe in Islam, and fear about the hereafter, which I know is so close.
My parents are trying to help me to be a good person (although they do not know about the affair). I want to get on the right path once and for all. I don't know how to stop this horrible lifestyle I have gotten into. Please help. Inside, I want to be a good Muslim, but I am starting to hate myself.
My problems are so unspecific, no one knows what to say to me. There is no magic solution. I know that. Where do I start? Prayer? Acts of kindness? But how do I seperate from my vices? I just can't figure out how.
- Confused Woman
Dear Confused Sister, As-salamu alaykum,
It seems to me you have some deep-seated emotional issues that are really messing you up. In fact, it sounds like you are deliberately trying to mess up your life, and I cannot think why someone would do that unless there is a lot of self-hate involved, or unless you are trying to punish your parents for something. You said your father was abusive, but you didn't elaborate. I think you need to get to the root of your self-destructive behavior, and I think it would definitely not hurt you to see a therapist.
Now, there are four things in your life that you have to change.
1. Tawbah (Repentance)
The first thing you have to do is to immediately end the affair. It is a huge sin, and it is the ultimate betrayal of your husband, who you say is a good husband and a Muslim. You must perform Tawbah and ask Allah's forgiveness. Tawbah means to acknowledge to Allah the sin of what you have done and to stop doing it; to feel remorse that you did it; to make reparations to anyone who has been materially wronged; and to sincerely resolve to Allah not to commit the sin again.
Even with the magnitude of your sin, Allah will forgive you if you repent sincerely. Allah's Mercy is unlimited and far surpasses your sin. Allah is Al-Rahman and Al-Raheem. Allah Almighty says:
"Say: 'O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." (Az-Zumar: 53)
And Allah's Messenger (saws) said, "When a servant (of Allah) commits illegal sexual intercourse, he is not a believer at the time of committing it; and if he steals, he is not a believer at the time of stealing; and if he drinks an alcoholic drink, he is not a believer at the time of drinking it; and he is not a believer when he commits a murder." 'Ikrima said: I asked Ibn Abbas, "How is faith taken away from him?" He said, Like this," by clasping his hands and then separating them, and added, "But if he repents, faith returns to him like this," by clasping his hands again. (Bukhari)
And Abu Musa Al-Asharee narrated that the Prophet (saws) said:
Allah holds out His Hand during the night to receive the repentance of the one who has committed wrong during the day, and holds out His Hand during the day to receive the repentance of the one who has committed wrong during the night. (Muslim)
So the door of repentance is open to you sister, but do not delay. You need to end the affair and ask forgiveness for it right this very second. I will tell you a true story:
A man was was passing through a street when he saw the door of a house open. A woman came out with a child who was crying and pleading while she was pushing him out. She left him outside the house and slammed the door shut in his face. The child left the door and walked a distance. Then he stopped, looked about, began to think, and not finding any other place but his own house where he could take shelter nor anyone who would care for him as his mother would, he returned to his house dejected and sad. He found the door shut. He sat at the sill, put his cheek on the threshold and slept with tear marks on his cheeks. He was in this state when the mother opened the door. When she saw him in this state she could not control herself. She bent down, grabbed him to her bosom, began to kiss him and say in tears: "Oh my boy! My dear child! My very soul! Where were you? Didn't I tell you not to disobey me? Do my bidding, and don't force me to punish you, because I hate to do that." Then she carried the child back and closed the door behind her.
That is the story of a mother and a child: the story of disobedience, punishment, return, forgiveness and unbound love. But the Prophet, salla Allah u alihi wa sallam, has told us that: "Allah loves His creation more than a woman does her child." In fact, there is no comparison between the love of a mother for her child and that of Allah whose Mercy encompasses everything. Allah, azza wa jall, is immensely pleased with a servant when he or she repents and turns to Him.
The second thing you must do is to purify yourself through ghusl and wudu', and begin praying. You say that you know what you are doing is wrong and you want to become a good Muslim. Well, the first and most important step is the prayer. The salaah is a fundamental, vital aspect of this religion. Islam begins and ends with prayer. Without it, you cannot find your way. If you get your prayers on track, then everything else will begin to fall into place one by one. I could say much more about this, and I could quote many ahadith about the tremendous value of prayer, but I think that it's clear and that we all know that prayer is the heart of your relationship with Allah and you cannot make any progress without it.
3. Your Friends
Sister, it's obvious that when you are - as you said - dressing provocatively, flirting, cheating, thinking about drinking etc., that you are not doing these things alone. You are hanging around with certain types of people and bad friends who are doing these things with you and living the same sinful lifestyle. But there's a big difference between you and them. The difference is that you want to stop those things and to get on the right path. That means you have set your foot on the path of Tawbah. In order to complete that journey, you have to stop hanging around with those people who are doing bad things.
I guarantee you that as long as you are hanging around with people who are living a sinful lifestyle, you are going to find it extremely difficult or even impossible to become the good Muslim that you want to be.
On the other hand, imagine how it will be if you make some good Muslim friends and start spending time with them. There are many young people these days who are very sincerely and seriously practicing Islam. The MSAs, masjids, and Islamic organizations are full of young people. Do you think if you are associating with sisters who wear hijab, who pause at prayer time in order to worship Allah, and who are involved in Islamic activities, that you will be thinking about drinking or flirting? Of course not.
You see, any time you want to make a serious change in your life, you must make an internal change and an external change. The internal change is a resolution, an intention. Also, it could be some private steps you take, such as doing your prayers or reading Qur'an. The external change is the alteration to your environment that complements and strengthens your internal resolutions.
In Sura al-Kahf, verse 27, the Prophet (saws) is told to keep the company of a particular group of people. Who are these special people that the Messenger of Allah himself, the best of Allah's creation is told to keep the company of? "Keep company of those who remember their Lord day and night."
In a well-known Hadith, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) succinctly tells us the value of a good friendship. He says, "The example of a good and bad companion is that of a perfume seller and a blacksmith. The perfume seller either gives you the perfume or tries to sell it to you, or you will get a good smell from him; but in the blacksmith's workshop you will either burn your clothes, or they'll be blackened by soot." (Muslim)
The Prophet is using this parable to demonstrate that the friends you associate with have an affect on you, whether you realize or not, and even if you don't do everything they do. If you spend time with good people you will come away with some element of goodness in you, just like the perfume that gets on you in a perfume shop. And if you hang out with people who are misguided and doing haram things, you will at least come away with the foul odor of sin, and at the worst you will get burnt yourself.
4. Your Self-Identity
Now we've come full circle, back to the question of your own self-identity. Like I said at the beginning, I think there are probably some root causes for your self-destructive behavior and at some point you will have to confront those. You will also have to change the way you think about yourself. Some of the words you used to describe yourself are: horrible sinner, confused, scared, hate myself. It's clear you have a very low opinion of yourself as a human being.
I think that if you perform Tawbah, purify yourself and begin to pray, that will be a huge relief to your soul and you will feel much better about yourself. Still, that pattern of self-loathing is not going to disappear overnight. You have to make a conscious effort to improve the way you think about yourself.
Try to repeat the following prayer (which is based loosely on the verses in Surat 6, al-An'am: 161 to 164) as often as you can, whether you are driving your car, or laying down to sleep at night, or just have a minute of free time:
I have turned my face to Allah as a pure person and a Muslim. Allah has guided me to a true path and a right religion. I am grateful to Allah and I thank Him. Truly my prayer and my sacrifice, my life and my death, are Allah's, the Lord of the worlds; He has no partner; with this I am entrusted, and I am with those who have submitted. Shall I seek a Lord other than Allah, the Sustainer of all things? Every soul is accountable for what it commits, and no soul shall bear the burden of another soul. And to Allah is my return.
Lastly, sister, remember that whatever you cannot do by yourself, you can do with Allah's guidance and help. Have faith in yourself as a Muslim and trust Allah to take care of you.
- Wael Abdelgawad, Zawaj.com Editor