COLLEGE PARK, MD –
One of my favorite stories of all time goes something like this:
A Muslim scholar from amongst the generation of the Taba’ ut-taabi’een (two generations after the companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) was traveling around Syria with a caravan when all of a sudden, they were ambushed by a group of thieves. The bandits took control of their caravan and circled up their camels and then placed all of the goods in the middle of the circle with their newly captured prisoners. The group of bandits began rifling through the goods looking for something to snack on and began eating from a bag of almonds and sugar. The scholar, who was sitting with the rest of the prisoners, noticed that all of the thieves were eating from these sweets, except for their leader. He called out to the leader and asked, “Why aren’t you eating?”. The leader turned to him and replied, “I’m fasting”. The scholar was shocked and asked him, “How can you be a thief who robs unsuspecting travelers and kills people while fasting at the same time?” In other words, “Do you think your act of religious devotion would be worth anything if you’re committing such treachery?” The bandit responded by saying something remarkable. He said, “‘Oh wise man, this is a door that I keep open between myself and God so that one day I will be able to enter upon God through it.’” The thief then let his prisoners go. A year later, the scholar was performing the Holy Pilgrimage in Mecca and he happened to see the same bandit amongst the crowd. He was so surprised and asked him “How is it that you are here?”. The man responded, “God called me back to Him through the door of fasting and I was able to leave my bad deeds behind.”
The shame of those deeds is something we can’t seem to shake and we walk through life with that weight still resting on our shoulders. For others among us who are still battling with certain character flaws, we often feel unworthy of doing good. Very similar to the scholar’s initial reaction, we think “How can I start doing more good when I’m involved in so much bad?”
Both perspectives are detrimental and keep us from reaching our true potential. How do we drop the yoke of shame once and for all and reclaim our identity as the amazing individuals we were meant to be?
As soon as we mess up, we’re visited by our good friends: self-doubt, hypocrisy, and inadequacy. They fill our heads with the usual, “How could you do that again?”, “Didn’t you learn your lesson last time?”, “You’re so fake, if people only knew the real you!” In those moments, hope in God is the answer.
As we learn in the authentic saying of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, “By Him in whose hand is my soul, if you did not sin Allah would replace you with people who would sin and they would seek the forgiveness of Allah and He would forgive them.” We’re not asked to go through life with a clean-sheet; mistakes are expected. But what makes us valuable is that when we do mess up, we have enough hope in God’s mercy to turn back to Him.
The bandit’s internal realization of this fact led him to action, but not only once or twice. He kept up with his fasting consistently over years until he was granted liberation. Do we value that freedom from our misdeeds enough to be as tenacious in achieving it? With this story in mind, it is easy to understand how a good deed with sincerity can be what turns our life around. What will that deed be for you?