Prior to the birth of my second child I felt a strong desire to have a ‘spring clean’ of my house, otherwise known as the nesting instinct! I sorted through every cupboard and drawer, discarding things that were no longer useful and putting everything in its place (as a side note, 10 years on I could do with repeating this but I no longer have the hormonal motivation!).
While going through this process I reflected upon my conversion to Islam several years before, and how at that time, I undertook a similar process of sorting, not of my house, but of my life. I didn’t see becoming Muslim as an outright rejection of what had gone before, but as continuing within a new framework. And that meant sorting through my life and taking out the bits that no longer fit. Some were easier to part with than others, some I packed away in boxes to look at later.
For most reverts to Islam, the biggest new beginning they will have is taking their Shahada and becoming Muslim. In this act we are starting over, the same person, but living within a new framework, defined by our Creator. Allah tells us in no uncertain terms that all our previous sins are now forgiven, and we are starting with a clean slate:
“Say to those who have disbelieved, if they cease (from disbelief), their past will be forgiven” (Qur’an 8:38).
However, we should not reject our previous selves or experiences, remembering that while we may not have known Allah at this time, He knew us, and guided us to this point via our previous experiences. This is an opportunity for change and renewal, but should not come at the price of an outright rejection of all that went before.
As we live our life as a Muslim, we find that Islam, designed perfectly to fit the human condition, gives us repeated opportunity for renewal. At least once in our lifetime we hope to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, one of five pillars of Islam, from which we “emerge as sinless as a new born child” (Bukhari hadith). I have not had the privilege of performing the Hajj myself as yet, but from seeing other people return it is clear that it has a profound effect on the soul.
Every year we fast the month of Ramadan to the best of our ability, which contains so many opportunities within it to ask forgiveness for our past sins. Not only this, but by restricting our intake and food and drink, decreasing our bad habits, and increasing our ibaadah, we have the opportunity for our body to renew itself, and for our souls to break out of destructive habits.
Every week we have the day of Jumu’a. As sisters we may or may not attend the Jumu’a prayer, but we know that this is a special day, and a day in which we can ask forgiveness for any mistakes we have made:
“There is no day more virtuous than Friday. There is such an hour in this day that no Muslim will make dua in it except that his dua will be accepted. And he does not seek protection from anything except that Allah will grant him protection” (Tirmidhi Hadith)
Allah has also given us the precious gift of the obligatory prayers, ensuring we focus on Him five times a day. Each of these prayers is an opportunity for us to reflect on our actions and ask for Allah’s help in improving ourselves, and we are told that the simple act of making wuduu’ and praying has the power to wash away the minor sins from one prayer to the next.
The forgiveness of sins is an opportunity for renewal. Allah gives us clear instructions on how to ask for forgiveness, which must not only include sincere regret, but an intention to act differently in the future. This same structure can be seen in the popular idea of the ‘growth mindset’ within psychology.
Psychologists have suggested that people with a ‘growth mindset’ tend to be more successful. People with this mindset look at their mistakes and learn from them, to ensure a better outcome in the future. This is a positive and healthy mental attitude, which looks at mistakes as individual actions which are changeable, rather than as personality flaws which cannot be altered. It frees the individual to go forward without the burden of guilt or shame.
Further, we are encouraged in our education and raising of children to separate the action from the child – a child is not ‘naughty’, but they made a ‘bad decision’, implying that rather than being somehow innately flawed, they may make ‘good decisions’ in the future. Again we see this modern wisdom reflected in the teachings of Islam several hundred years ago. While the status of actions within Islam is generally stable, individuals are never beyond the forgiveness of Allah, if they repent and change their actions, the door is open for them.
If we look deeply at the wisdom behind this, it gives us a way of seeing both ourselves and others. Before I was Muslim myself, the first Muslims I really got to know managed to look past my lifestyle, and see something of value in the person inside. I try to see myself and others in the same way, and remember that no one is beyond the mercy of Allah. The wheel is always turning, and Allah may take the lowest human being, and transform them through repentance into one of His close friends, ameen.
About the author
Fatima-Minna lives with her husband and two lively little boys, and has a full time job that she enjoys. That doesn’t leave room for much else, but she continues to strive to be close to Allah and help her children to have a deep understanding of Islam.