The 4 Rs of self-forgiveness

Last published 10 June 2021

This blog was written by Maaria Mahmood and Hadil Nour of the Muslim Youth Helpline, which has helped over 250,000 people since 2001.

Every day, we talk to young (and older) British Muslims who are going through difficult times. We provide a safe space where they can confide in someone who understands the sensitivities surrounding their faith and culture and who will listen to them without judgement. We offer support for a range of issues, including anxiety, identity and relationships, and we do this for free over the phone, on live chat, on WhatsApp and by email.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the Muslim community in London and beyond – calls to our helpline relating to mental health rose by more than 300% last year. Young people, in particular, have faced many emotional challenges during lockdown. We’re here to encourage positive self-thinking and help them find the way forward, whether that’s dealing with the change in routine, coping with bereavement or managing other concerns.

20 years on from launching our helpline, we know that there are still many barriers preventing Muslims from accessing mental health support. These include stigma within the family or community and fear of receiving culturally insensitive care. It takes courage to reach out for help.

One of the most common reasons why people contact us is because they are experiencing religious guilt. This is often because of behavioural addictions or substance misuse. As many young Muslims don’t feel they can talk to their family, friends or faith leaders about this, it can lead to feelings of shame, isolation and loneliness and even to depression or other mental health disorders.

We always say that breaking the cycle of religious guilt starts with forgiving yourself and we recommend the following technique, which helps to boost both mental wellbeing and physical health.

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The 4 Rs of self-forgiveness

Be merciful to others and you will receive mercy.

Forgive others and Allah will forgive you.

  1. Responsibility: Accept what has happened and show yourself compassion.
  2. Remorse: Use guilt and remorse as a gateway to positive behaviour change.
  3. Restoration: Make amends with whomever you’re forgiving, even if it’s yourself.
  4. Renewal: Learn from the experience and grow as a person.

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To give you just one example of the support we provide... Bilal got in touch as he was feeling guilty about drinking alcohol as a way of coping with some difficult news and his ensuing depression. He had been trying to reconnect with his faith but felt he wasn’t worthy of God’s forgiveness. We spoke with Bilal about his feelings and discussed how he could break the cycle of religious guilt and depression. One of our suggestions was that he fill his time with activities and hobbies that he enjoys as this can have a hugely positive impact on wellbeing. We also connected Bilal with a counselling service to help with his depression.

As we said in our recent podcast for Good Thinking, it can take a lot to forgive yourself and allow yourself to get the support you need but it’s a vital step in moving forward. Like many of the people we talk to, Bilal told us that he found it liberating to confide in someone else for the first time. By listening carefully to his concerns and not imposing any religious or moral beliefs on him, we helped Bilal to explore his emotions and find solutions that work for him.

With the COVID-19 pandemic having gravely impacted the Muslim community, it’s more important than ever that we continue to provide confidential, non-judgemental and empowering support. We’re here for all young Muslims – find out how to get in touch on the Muslim Youth Helpline website.

A message from us

Good Thinking provides a range of resources to support your mental health, including NHS-approved wellbeing apps and expert advice for faith and belief communities.

Five ways to good mental wellbeing & Islam (guide)

How to focus on rewarding activities (article)

London Muslim Communities video series

Muslim Youth Helpline podcast

Self-assessment (sleep, anxiety, low mood, stress and general wellbeing)

Self-compassion workbook

Urgent support (for young people)

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