He Apologized? We Have No Idea What an Apology Means

“An apology, if it is truly an apology, is no more than a hope and a prayer—that the damage you’ve done can be repaired, and that you will be forgiven by both your Lord and the ones you’ve wronged. An apology should never be shared for the purpose of silencing or dismissing those hurt by the original transgression. If it is, it is not an apology. Rather, it is a euphemism for telling the wronged that they that don’t matter and that their pain doesn’t have the right to be felt. In other words, it is merely another transgression itself.”

—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah

I didn’t expect it to hurt this much. I guess there are some things that really just tip the balance, and you don’t know how much you’re hurting until a single word causes your legs to give out from beneath you and you fall to your knees.

But that’s the best position to be in because you’re already kneeling before the Healer of hearts, and the prayers flow as effortlessly as the tears.

Yet still, when that single word comes from the mouth of a believer, the emotional pain is excruciating.

But no matter how much the initial words hurt, I know that the worst pain comes after the obligatory apology. That’s when it becomes official. My invisibility, I mean. And my punishment for hurting and tending to my wounds. Because to most people, apologies are not acknowledgements of wrongs. They’re decrees that no hurting—or healing—is allowed beyond that point.

So today, I don’t even hope for apologies. I just hope for my own healing and relief. If there were some way to just shut out the noise and simply live my life in peace, I would. Like claims of love uttered on the tongues of abusers, apologies in environments of racism and injustice have nothing to do with the ones who suffered the initial harm. In these environments, apologies are just licenses for the wrongdoers and their supporters to inflict more and more harm—unabated. So when I hear “He apologized!” I just cringe and wait for the blows to get more intense.

This is where the saying, “It gets worse before it gets better” is quite apt.

The sad thing is, sometimes the one issuing the apology is indeed sincere. Sometimes the one apologizing genuinely realizes he’s wrong and wants to make amends. But that doesn’t stop the mobs of #Istandwithhimnomatterwhat from using the apology as an excuse to keep the blows coming. But now they have the excuse, “He apologized! What else do you ingrates want?”

I’ve never understood the statement of an apology in the same context of getting irritated or angry with those harmed by the initial blow. An apology is supposed to be an admission of guilt and the hope for forgiveness, not a magic wand that makes the harm suddenly disappear—or magically turns the wrongdoer into the victim and the victim into the wrongdoer.

Wherever there is a necessary apology, there is necessary healing. And as a general rule, the latter takes much, much longer than the former. Sometimes the latter never comes. And since we, unfortunately, live in an ummah where healing is viewed as effectively impermissible once an apology comes, there really are some things that can only be redressed on the Day of Judgment.

And that’s where I find my peace. In fact, I’m getting to the point where that’s the only knowledge that gives me peace.

Because today, apologies aren’t apologies. They’re gag orders. And there’s nothing like the pain of being gagged right after you’ve been hurt.

So I await the Judgment of my Lord on this, for He is the best and swiftest of judges and the most qualified in settling affairs.

But I admit, I’m tired. I really am. It’s exhausting constantly finding your very existence under scrutiny when you’re doing nothing other than just living your life. And I certainly don’t like being reminded that my Muslim brothers and sisters think that my right to a dignified existence is up for debate just because my Lord has gifted me with melanin in my skin.

“But you’re not understanding what he was trying to say! He’s really sincere!”

Ugh. Why is it that so many Muslims believe agreement and understanding are synonyms? And why do so many of us equate disagreement with the assumption of evil in a person’s heart? And why is the alleged goodness of the wrongdoer consistently more important than the necessary healing of the ones who’ve been hurt?

I couldn’t care less about the good or bad in someone’s heart or intentions. I have no way of knowing about that anyway. But practically speaking, a person’s goodness has no benefit for me if it translates into emotional or physical harm in my life.

So no, please don’t tell me about how good the person is who harmed me and my people, and don’t tell me he apologized. Because in both statements is the clear message that he’s the only one who matters here. And that hurts more than the initial hurt itself.

Because I don’t know what else to say on this topic, I leave you with excerpts from my journal on the topics of apologies and the religious policing of emotional pain (better known as Muslims calling for “adab” and “respect” from those who’ve been hurt). For the record, none of these entries were written in light of the recent events; in fact, they were penned long before this tragedy occurred. But I share them in hopes that we’ll self-reflect on how we continuously harm our brothers and sisters in faith, sometimes in the name of faith—and thus continuously harm our own souls.

‘Justice before adab.

Yes, we hear “adab before knowledge,” but when someone has been terribly wronged and they speak up about it, justice comes before manners. They have every right to be outraged, and we have no right to police their words, so long as they’re not harming anyone.

It is ridiculous to speak about adab after a child has been viciously abused, a woman has been sexually assaulted or raped, or a man’s life is in ruins after being falsely accused.

Is their tone of speech and word choice really more important than their right to justice?

I find it very interesting that the demand for adab often comes from the same camp as the injustice itself. This is true for social-political crimes, and it is true for religious ones.

How often are we required to sit in utter “respectful” silence and listen to religious leaders speak lies about our religion, sometimes going as far as to condemn us to Hellfire or to declare that our personal halaal choices are haraam, often breaking up families as a result?

So no, I will not sit idly in “respectful silence” exercising this narrow definition of adab—which really just means giving oppressors free rein to ruin our lives without as much as a word being spoken against them.’

—excerpt of FAITH. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •


“I’m sorry” is often uttered more to relieve the speaker’s guilt than to express any genuine regret or intentions of making amends. In this, their words are merely an antiseptic for the bruise they suffered when they struck you, not an acknowledgement of your wounds or any desire to tend to them. This is why they often say, “I apologized! What else do you want?” whenever they see you’re still hurting—and why they continue to hurt you still.

It was never about your healing in the first place. It was about using “I’m sorry” to prove they’re a good person, and to quiet their own guilty conscience. So your lingering hurt is just further proof to their ego that they are mature enough to move on, while you’re the one “stuck in the past.” Meanwhile, they refuse to see that it’s not the past that’s crippling you. It’s the pain of unhealed wounds.

—excerpt of PAIN. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •

‘At a certain point, it really doesn’t matter how much good someone has done for you. The wounds of betrayal, humiliation, and harm sometimes run so deep that they cut right through the very life veins of all previous good and happiness. So be careful. There are some things an “I’m sorry”—and even sincere repentance to God—cannot fix. A person may forgive you, and even God may forgive you. But that doesn’t mean the person can handle your presence in their life ever again.’

—excerpt of PAIN. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •

‘Holding onto hatred and bitterness is not the same as not forgiving. We can let go of animosity and resentment by finding peace in knowing that God will deal with a person in the Hereafter—or that they’ll carry some of our sins. This allows us to live the rest of our lives with a clear, peaceful heart. So don’t let anyone guilt you into forgiving if you’re not ready yet, especially if you find more peace in knowing that God will deal with a person than in absolving them of accountability altogether. Yes, as a general rule, forgiveness is closest to righteousness. But God defines righteousness, and He’s the One who gave the wronged the option to choose.’

—excerpt of PAIN. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •

‘What I’m discussing has nothing to do with an individual person. It is addressing underlying issues that this incident has brought to light…But ultimately this is not about anyone apologizing to me or anyone else: This is similar to what African-Americans faced leading up to the Civil Rights Movement. Many White people made offensive jokes and statements about Black people, and as individuals, many of these White people apologized for their insensitive and offensive statements, and Black people accepted these individual apologies; but they did not abandon the entire Civil Rights Movement because a few people were sincere and upstanding enough to admit their mistakes. This is because the harm that these statements caused to an entire race of people still needed be addressed…Women are mistreated daily in the name of Islam, and this incident is only scratching the surface concerning what is *really* happening at alarming rates in homes and communities each day where women are concerned…But let us leave names out of it, because we are *all* suffering from this, and it’s not about who said what. It’s about our responsibility to our souls, and men’s responsibility to the women of this ummah. And, of this, the men are falling dangerously short— and the proof is that both leaders and laypeople actually imagine that this is about one man and his apology, and whether we accept it or not. May Allah guide us and help us.’

—Umm Zakiyyah, in response to a post re: Abu Esa’s offensive comments about women

• • •

‘We can accept someone’s apology and forgive their wrongs, but don’t say we must now keep quiet and behave as it never happened, or that we are now forbidden to clean up the damage that an apology cannot erase. The famous Companion Bilal (ra) was derogatorily called “son of a black woman” and forgave this wrong. The former slave Wahshi (ra) became Muslim after killing Hamza (ra), the uncle of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and the Prophet accepted him and never sought punishment for the crime—but we learn that the Prophet never got over the sadness that seeing Wahshi caused him because it reminded him of Hamza; so Wahshi was asked to “keep his face away” from the Prophet, which he did. And until today we narrate the story of Bilal to speak out against racism, and we narrate the story of Wahshi and the Prophet to highlight how apologizing and being granted forgiveness is for your *own* soul—not to dictate how others must handle the aftermath of your wrongs. So before you tell someone to “move on” and “stop talking about this already,” know that Islam does not give you this right; and your suggestion ignores others’ right—and obligation—to clean up the damage and root out the problem so that it, bi’idhnillaah, never happens again.’

— from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •

‘There is some pain that apologies simply cannot erase. But I definitely feel a sense of hope for the soul of the one moved to openly admit his mistakes. It shows he is on the road to recovery and repentance…even as his transgressions may have sent so many of us so deeply into pain that *our* road to recovery will elude us for quite some time.’

—from the journal of Umm Zakiyyah

• • •

I do not understand this word disrespectful.

I do not understand it.

But I heard it muttered alongside my name when I moved my lips while I was hurting.

They spoke of the rights of the one who struck me.

They spoke of the good of the one who slandered me.

And they spoke of the piety of the one who dismissed me.


I do not understand this word disrespectful.

I do not understand it.

But I heard it uttered after her name as she rushed away,

the cloth slipping from her head.

They spoke of the sanctity of the female body.

They spoke of the raging desires of the man near her.

But they did not speak of her

Or her pain.


I do not understand this word disrespectful.

I do not understand it.

But I heard it shouted from the pulpit after he wrote a song about Allah.

They spoke of the evil instruments of Shaytaan.

They spoke of the corruption of the rappers and singers.

But they did not speak of him

Or his soul.


I do not understand this word disrespectful.

I do not understand it.

But we whisper it in low voices, fearing it is carved on our souls.

So we do not move our lips when we are hurting.

We do not shield ourselves when they are striking us.

And we do not fault them when they slander us.

And we do not introduce ourselves to the world.


For we know religiousness is in silence.

And piety is in pain

So we submit to their dismissiveness.

And nod emphatically to their words.


We’ve made peace with not knowing who we are.

We find joy in denying our sadness.

But we smile.

Oh we smile!

Until the tears sting our eyes

Because now

They call us respectful.

—excerpt of PAIN. From the Journal of Umm Zakiyyah

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of twenty books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, and His Other Wife. In 2019, she launched UZ Soul Gear, a passion project fueled by her love of both art and inspirational reflections. UZSoulGear.com offers apparel, wall décor, and more, aimed at supporting and inspiring the soul-centered lifestyle.

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