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Even if one tries his best to follow all ofthe steps and means that help one purify his soul, the nature of man is suchthat, in general, he is bound to falter every now and then. In fact, theProphet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said, “All humans continually commit sins. The best of thosewho continually commit sins are those who repent often.”
When a person falters and sins, though,that is not the end of the matter. As long as he has not reached the moment ofdeath, the door to repentance will remain open to him. He need not despair—aslong as he brings himself to account and repents to Allah for the sins andtransgressions he has committed. Allah clearly states,
“Say: O My servants who have transgressed against their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allah for Allah forgives all sins, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”
The true repentance includes (1) stopping oneself from the sin that one iscommitting, (2) feeling remorse and (3) having the sincere intention to neveragain return to performing that sin. In essence, it isa true return to serving Allah, as is the human’s purpose in this life. Withoutthese components, the individual has not truly or completely repented to Allah.
Ibn Taimiyyahperceptively pointed out that it is more important to repent from wrong beliefsthan it is to repent from evil desires. He explains his reasoning behind thisargument by stating,
If someone does not performan obligatory deed or does perform an evil deed, while he believes in itsobligation [for the former] or its evil [for the latter], then that belief willurge him on to do the obligatory deed and will keep him from the evil deed.There will not be something constantly urging him or keeping him from doingsuch deeds. In fact, the urging and preventing forces will be fighting eachother. This means that sometimes one will overtake the other and vice versa andhis soul will be watching over him. Sometimes he will perform the obligatorydeed and sometimes he will not perform it. And sometimes he will perform theevil deed and sometimes he will not perform it. This is the case with manyevildoing Muslims who sometimes fulfill rights and other times do not and whosometimes do evil deeds and other times do not because the desires arecontradicting in his heart [that is, the desire to do good and the desire to doevil are both in his heart and are competing against each other] since he hasin his heart the foundation of faith that orders him to do good and keeps himfrom evil. But at the same time he has desires and lusts that call him to theopposite of that.
But if the person performsdeeds that he [wrongfully] believes are obligatory or he leaves deeds believingthey are forbidden, then the driving forces to leave or perform the deed willbe constant in his heart and that is much more serious than the first case[mentioned in the paragraph above]. This person must make taubah tocorrect his beliefs first and to find the truth. And this can be much moredifficult than the first case if there is nothing driving him to leave hisfalse beliefs‑ as the person in the first case has something urging him toleave his evil deeds...
In reality, every time someone commits asin, he is actually distancing himself from Allah—as is clearly implied in thehadith quoted earlier stating that one draws closer to Allah by fulfilling theobligatory deeds and then the voluntary deeds. If that is the case, thebeliever should immediately seek to remove the negative effect of any sin. Thisis accomplished by not persisting in sin but by returning to Allah, repentingto Him and seeking His forgiveness. Indeed, it is truly heart moving how in thesame set of verses, Allah speaks about the believers committing faahishah(shameful acts) and harming their own souls and yet describing them as theinhabitants of paradise. Their key is that they stop their sin and earnestlyseek Allah’s forgiveness.
“And those who having done something to be ashamed of or wronged their own souls earnestly bring Allah to mind and ask for forgiveness for their sins—and who can forgive sins except Allah? And are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done. For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens with rivers flowing underneath, an eternal dwelling. How excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)”
Indeed, Allah is very pleased with theservant whenever he repents. By repenting, the servant demonstrates his beliefthat Allah is compassionate, forgiving and merciful. He is also showing hisawareness that, deep in his soul, he does not wish to displease Allah or tomove away from what pleases Allah. The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessingsof Allah be upon him) stated, “Allah is moredelighted by the repentance of His believing servant than [the delight of thefollowing person]: A person in a waterless desert having his food and drinkupon his camel who sleeps and wakes to find his provisions having been lost. Hesearches for them until he is about to be overtaken by thirst. He says tohimself, ‘I shall return to the place where I was and I shall sleep until Idie.’ He put his head upon his pillow ready to die. Then he awakes to find hiscamel and his provisions, food and drink with him. Allah is more delighted withthe repentance of the believing servant than that [person] is with [finding]his provision.” Allah’s greatpleasure is a very special reward for the repentant. Indeed, when the believerrealizes this fact and keeps this in mind, the drive to repent from all of hissins and shortcomings becomes very strong in his heart.
The importance of repentance for thepurification of the soul cannot be overstated. It is the final pouring out ofthe human towards his Lord to remove all remaining blemishes and impuritiesfrom the soul, such that the soul is ready to be entered into Allah’s paradise.No matter how pious a soul is, there will undoubtedly be shortcomings withrespect to the rights of his Lord. These shortcomings, many of which werealready touched upon while discussing contemplation since there is a strongrelationship between such contemplation and the move to repent, include thefollowing:
(a) A person’s acts ofworship and obedience to Allah will many times (if not almost always) fallshort of his maximum potential. Indeed, being overly pleased and satisfied withone’s act of worship is very dangerous for the soul. In fact, those who aretruly aware of their relationship with Allah are even more earnest in theirseeking of Allah’s forgiveness after they complete an act of worship. Theyunderstand that they have some shortcoming in their act of worship, such as notbeing completely attuned to their prayers. The Prophet (peace and blessings ofAllah be upon him) taught all believers to ask for Allah’s forgiveness threetimes as soon as one had finished the obligatory prayers. This practice isreflective of this fact that one can find shortcomings even in his acts ofworship.
(b) The believer willnever be able to thank Allah completely for all of the bounties that Allah hasbestowed on him, no matter how obedient he is to Allah. For example, how can anindividual completely thank Allah for Allah’s bounty giving him life in thefirst place? Hence, the individual must repent to Allah for this inability tothank Him completely or sufficiently.
(c) There may even besome portion of “acting for the sake of show” (riyaa’) in some of anindividual’s deeds. If this is the case, then he definitely must repent toAllah for that aspect.
Hence, even the pious must always seek torepent to Allah and ask for His forgiveness. Ibn Taimiyyah wrote,
The servant is always betweena blessing from Allah that requires his thanks and a sin that requires theseeking of forgiveness. Both of these circumstances, by necessity, are alwayswith the servant. He is constantly moving among the blessings and bounties ofAllah and he is always sinful and in need of repentance and asking forforgiveness. For that reason, the chief of all humans and the leader of thepious, Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), would seekforgiveness in all situations.
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allahbe upon him) himself used to repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness more thanone hundred times a day (as recorded by Muslim).
Besides removing the sins from a person,sincere repentance plays other important roles in purifying the soul. Forexample, it aids the person in truly humbling himself before his Lord. As thebeliever recognizes his weaknesses and sins, he realizes that he has no rescueexcept to turn to Allah humbly, seeking Allah’s forgiveness for his errors.This brings him closer to Allah, even though what led him to this particularstage was a sin that he had committed (such is the mercy and grace of Allah).As he considers more of his sins (through taking himself to account for hisdeeds) and sincerely repents from them, he realizes how far he has strayed andhis heart sincerely and humbly tries to submit completely to Allah in theproper way given his abilities.
Repentance is a door that is always openfor the person to rectify his ways. No matter how evil a person has become andno matter how many sins he has committed, there is no excuse for him not tomend his ways and to try to purify his soul. A powerful reminder of this factis Allah’s words while mentioning those who burned the believers alive in theincident discussed in soorah al-Burooj. Allah says about them,
“Those who persecuted the believers, men and women, and do not turn in repentance will have the penalty of Hell: they will have the penalty of the Burning Fire”
Obviously, then, the door torepentance will be open to any sinner and he need not despair.
Thus, once the person sets himself on theright path, Allah willing, he need not allow what he did in the past to preventhim from getting closer to Allah by performing pious deeds. Some scholars evenargue that his state after repenting shouldbe even better than his state beforehand, as he has experienced the sin,realized how wrong it was, turned wholeheartedly to Allah and has vowed tochange his ways. As long as one does change and mend his ways, he need not lookback at his sins as necessarily evil in the long-run for his spiritualpurification. He may have learned a great lesson from that act and it may havehelped him reform himself in a way that would not have been possible withouthis experiencing a need to repent, while that repentance further uplifted hissoul via the joy of returning back to one’s Lord.
By the grace and mercy of Allah, the pathof purification and increasing one’s faith is uncomplicated and clear forwhoever wills to follow it: It is about correction of one’s beliefs andunderstandings while following that up with the proper implementation in one’sactions and deeds.
This is a pathconsistent with one’s natural inclinations but one has to be serious aboutfollowing it. Even when coming upon the path, one cannot be complacent andassume that nothing will shake him or remove him from that path. No, indeed, hemust always be conscious of his faith and what state of health it is in. Heshould constantly seek those means and measures that he finds support and helphis faith. Additionally, he must be aware of and avoid those factors thatdamage the health of his faith and prevent him from following the StraightPath.
All along, he should be seeking Allah’sguidance. Whenever he slips from the path and errs, he should try toimmediately return to Allah, seek his forgiveness and ask Allah to set himaright once again on the beautiful path of purification and faith.
- Recorded by Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi, ibn Maajah and al-Haakim. According to al-Albaani, it is hasan.See al-Albaani, Saheeh al-Jaami, vol. 2, p. 831.
- If the sin also involved the rights of other humans, one must, if possible, also rectify the wrong that he has done.
- Ibn Taimiyyah, “Risaalah fi al Taubah,” vol. 1, pp. 237 238.
- Recorded by Muslim.
- Ibn Taimiyyah, Majmoo, vol. 10, p. 88.
- It should be noted that this chapter is entirely based on portions of the author’s Purification of the Soul. For more details concerning the topics discussed herein, the reader is referred to that work.