Editor’s Note: Karin Friedemann is a TMO columnist. The views expressed here are her own.
|Alphonse Dinet painting, courtesy clipart.com.|
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. (Quran 39:53)
The Quran states many times that those who repent to Allah will be forgiven and will get a second chance at life. However, repentance is usually defined as promising never to commit the sin again. But how about the multitudes, who engage in habitual sin?
Orthodoxy says these people are hypocrites and that their prayers are suspect. Do these people have the right to pray in congregation with the other Muslims? Naturally, what is regarded as a sin so obnoxious that others would not pray next to you varies from culture to culture and also according to gender and social class. Yet, for those who sins are so bad that they themselves feel embarrassed to go the mosque: should they also feel ashamed to keep salat in the privacy of their own homes?
Are sinners allowed to pray?
Seems like a silly question since the sinner is the one most in need of prayer, but this kind of black and white thinking – either your lifestyle is “Islamic” or it is not – has perhaps kept a lot of people who wanted to be saved away from God.
It can be hard for those who are trying so hard to do everything right, or even for those who refuse out of cynicism to participate in religion, to understand how close Allah remains to the sinner. As long as someone continues to err, there always remains a certain window that stays open. The benefit of recognizing one’s own shortcomings and using that as an approach to Allah sometimes works a lot better than the technique of asking God to recognize you for everything you did right.
It is very important for those people who are mired in sin, whose blood flows with toxic substances, whose ears are ringing from the abusive situation around them, whose mailboxes are filled with bills they cannot pay, whose floors are dirty, whose children are angry – to realize that the practice of prayer is beneficial to all! The practice of prayer is even more important to the sinner than it is to the devout abstainer, because once prayer is renounced, then the bad habits or addictions are all that the person has left to live for. Prayer needs to always co-exist with sin, for hope to continue.
If you have a sin that is hard for you to give up, you should ask Allah to make your true need clearer for you, the need that you are covering up with this habit. Some people eat chocolate because they are lonely. Many people eat cookies when their bodies are begging for fresh fruit. Some people smoke because they never got breastfed as a baby. Most of the stupid stuff we do is because we did not get the correct nourishment, nor the correct guidance.
That is why giving up prayer – just because one cannot live up to the “lifestyle” of shariah – is the last thing one should consider! If it’s too awkward to join the splintered parts of your life, don’t! You don’t have to. Pray in secret. This is America, so worship when and how you like. Don’t let the “good Muslim vs. bad Muslim” divide ruin your opportunity to seek peace and inner guidance.
Pray in the darkest, most secluded part of your home, when nobody is looking. Pray from the deepest parts of your heart that you would like to start using more often. Do not care what other people are doing or thinking. Do not care what the atheists are thinking, and do not allow yourself to care about what the fundamentalists are thinking about your prayer, as it is solely for Allah.
Call me an anarchist, but I think the strength and unity of Islam comes from the individual, and the freedom of each individual to have his own spiritual experience of the One God – or in some cases, various takes on the One God; in other words, the many Names.
Some may mourn the lack of a Caliphate, yet the disorganization of the Muslims is one of Islam’s great protections. There is nobody you can kill in order to get rid of Islam. There is no leader that you could imprison that would cause the path of Islam to vanish from the world.
We actually live in the most beautiful time of the world, ever. We are winning. Nearly half the people in the world are Muslims. All you have to do, if you want to know why you are alive and why you are going to die, is to ask the person next to you, who will very likely be able to give you a well thought out and detailed answer! Never before in the history of mankind has basic Islamic knowledge been so readily accessible to all people!
Oh Allah! It is better to pray alone in sin than to be with those who do not understand us, but please, Oh God, bring us to those who will not leave us alone in sin, but who will encourage us to pray with them in congregation and who will not ask us about our sins. But also, dear God, bring from among them those who will understand our unique wounds, who will know, yet overlook our shortcomings, who will push us forward into the ranks of those who do good!
Oh Allah, let us all invite humanity to share the peace of those who are content.