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What's Wrong with Guilt?

Dajjal & the Self-Help Movement

  • Introduction:

    Learn to love yourself. Build your self-esteem. Don't feel guilty, learn to forgive yourself.

    Such mantras of the self help movement pervade popular media, talk shows, business motivational literature, teen counseling, and drug addiction counseling. They are often referred to by television stars, psychiatrists, psychologists, desk calendars, CEOs, and New Age "religious" material.

    Initially they sound good. They appear to be sound advice. And they are repeated so often that they quickly make the transition from advice and opinion to popular belief and eventually way of life. Close examination of the application of these phrases reveals a tremendous destructive element to them. An analysis of guilt will illustrate the point.

  • Definition of Guilt:

    Guilt (gilt) n. [ME. gilt < OE. gylt, a sin, offense] 1. a) the act or state of having done a wrong or committed an offense; culpability, legal or ethical b) a painful feeling of self-reproach resulting from a belief that one has done something wrong or immoral 2. conduct that involves guilt; crime; sin. (Source: Webster's New World Dictionary, Second College Edition)

    As mentioned in the definition, guilt is a "painful" experience. We have all learned this on our own. No dictionary is needed to call attention to the pain of guilt. Knowledge of guilt as a painful, self-reproachful feeling is not the problem. The problem lies in understanding the significance of it and acting accordingly.

    Enter the self help movement...Quite appropriately, the self help movement, too, defines guilt as a painful, unwanted experience. But rather than addressing the act, thought, or intentions which have brought guilt about, the self help tendencies are to encourage and train people not to feel guilt at all.

    "Self judgment is one of the main characteristics that leads to depression. The word 'should' is a judgmental word." (a popular talk show 11/3/01)
    That the pain of guilt is somehow bad, negative, counterproductive, or destructive.

    In actuality, guilt is quite the opposite. It is a healthy, productive, protective, and positive feeling that motivates, trains, and encourages correction of one's mistakes, and thus may serve to prevent future mistakes. Similar to the pain of touching a hot stove causing an immediate withdraw reaction, guilt has the potential to intiate withdrawal from committing regretful and sinful acts. Just as we remember the painful consequences of touching the stove, we remember the pain of doing wrong.

  • Self-Esteem:

    To esteem the self is to raise it up. This is not necessarily a good thing. Islam literally means "submission" and Muslim literally means "one who submits". They are words that by their very nature require humility. It is humility that places one's forehead on the ground in prayer, not self-esteem.

  • Guilt and Fever:

    Just as a fever indicates that something is wrong, and may serve a protective function, so too with guilt. When one feels febrile, the search begins for a source of the fever, be it infection, blood clots, cancer, whatever. Once the source is found, it is addressed.

    Guilt should evoke a similar response. Once the source of the guilt is known, it should be addressed. If you have wronged someone, set out to correct the wrong. If you have committed a sin, seek the forgiveness of Allah. Guilt and remorse are necessary for one to even know that a wrong has been committed. If the guilt is masked, ignored, or replaced with some other "positive" feeling, the source of that guilt is never addressed.

  • Guilt and Regret as Conditions of Tawba (Repentance):
    "...Seek the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance..." (Holy Qur'an 11:3)

    Seeking repentance is not merely a verbal request. It has conditions. According to the scholars of Islam, these include: #1 Immediate cessation of the sin, #2 Regret for what is past, #3 Determination not to return to the sin, and #4 Restitution of victims’ rights, or seeking their forgiveness. These are all necessary and cannot be divorced from each other.

    "And those who do not make tawbah are indeed the dhaalimoon (wrongdoers)." (Holy Qur'an 49:11)

    Were we to adopt the self help notion of guilt as destructive and harmful, we would be less likely to fulfill the other conditions of repentance. If we feel no regret, we would not be inclined to stop the wrongdoing.

    The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: "Remorse is repentance." (Reported by Ahmad and Ibn Maajah; Saheeh al-Jaami’)

  • Following Conjecture:

    On an individual level, masking and denying guilt has the potential to encourage sin and wrongdoing. Far worse, however, it calls the entire prophetic tradition in to question. The way of the prophets (peace be upon all of them) was to encourage good, forbid evil, and teach repentance. If the "painful" sense of knowing that a wrong was committed is removed, the need for repentance is forgotten. Following the guidance and the sunnah of the prophets (peace be upon them), then, becomes a thing of the past.

    Furthermore, the very people espousing these mantras are basing their teachings on mere conjecture. Clearly, they are not recipients of revelation, and they are not encouraging the way of the prophets. Instead, the call is to "feel good about yourself", to find peace in self-esteem.

  • Conclusions:

    Self help and motivational literature attempt to replace natural, protective feelings with contrived, fleeting, and destructive feelings. Part of the deception of the self help literature is that it often encourages good, while simultaneously removing the means for the self to forbid evil. Undermining repentance undermines the prophetic tradition...precisely the goal of a Dajjalic order.

    Allah knows best.

    Related Articles:

  • I Want to Repent, But...
  • The State of Repentance: Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah
  • Repentance
  • Humbleness
  • Islamic Psychololgy Online
  • The Fall of the Family: by Abdal Hakim Murad
  • In Search of a Cerebral Paradise: Antidepressants, Materialist Science, & the New World Order

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