You might say: “I want to repent, but my sins are many indeed. There is no kind of immoral act, no kind of sin, imaginable or otherwise, that I have not committed. It is so bad that I do not know if Allaah can forgive me for the things that I have done over the years.”
In response, I would tell you that this is not a unique problem; it is one that is shared by many of those who wish to repent. Let me give you the example of a young man who asked this question once. He began his career of sin at a very early age, and by the time he was only seventeen, he already had a long record of committing every kind of immoral act, major and minor, with all kinds of people, old and young alike. He had even abused a little girl. Added to this was a long list of thefts. Then he said: “I have repented to Allaah. I now pray tahajjud some nights, and I fast every Monday and Thursday, and I read Qur’aan after Fajr prayers. Will my repentance be of any avail?”
The guiding principle for us Muslims is to refer to the Qur’aan and Sunnah when we look for rulings, solutions and remedies. When we refer this matter to the Qur’aan, we find that Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Say: ‘O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allaah, verily Allaah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And turn in repentance and in obedience with true faith to your Lord and submit to Him…” [al-Zumar 39:53-54].
This is the answer to this particular problem. The matter is quite clear and needs no further explanation.
The feeling that one’s sins are too great to be forgiven by Allaah stems from a number of factors:
The absence of certain faith on the part of the slave in the vastness of Allaah’s mercy
A lack of faith in the ability of Allaah to forgive all sins
Weakness in one aspect of the heart’s action, namely hope
Failure to understand the effect of repentance in wiping out sins
We will answer all these points here:
It is sufficient to quote the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning): “… and My Mercy embraces all things…” [al-A’raaf 7:156]
It is sufficient to quote the saheeh hadeeth qudsi: “Allaah says: “Whoever knows that I am able to forgive all sins, I shall forgive him, and I shall not mind, so long as he does not associate anything with Me.’” (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, and by al-Haakim; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4330). This refers to when the slave meets his Lord in the Hereafter.
This may be remedied by referring to the hadeeth qudsi: “ ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and put your hope in Me, I will forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, if your sins were to reach the clouds of the sky, and you were to ask me for forgiveness, I will forgive you and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, if you were to come to Me with sins nearly the size of the earth, and you were to meet Me not associating anything with Me, then I would bring you forgiveness nearly the size of (the earth).’” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4338).
It is sufficient to quote the hadeeth of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The one who repents from his sin is like the one who did not sin in the first place.” (Reported by Ibn Maajah; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3008).
For those who find it hard to comprehend how Allaah may forgive such an accumulation of sin, we quote the following hadeeth:
The repentance of one who killed a hundred
Abu Sa’eed Sa’d ibn Maalik ibn Sinaan al-Khudri (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “There was among the people who came before you a man who killed ninety-nine people. Then he asked about the most knowledgeable person on earth, and was directed to a hermit, so he went to him, told him that he had killed ninety-nine people, and asked if he could be forgiven. The hermit said, ‘No,’ so he killed him, thus completing one hundred. Then he asked about the most knowledgeable person on earth and was directed to a scholar. He told him that he had killed one hundred people, and asked whether he could be forgiven. The scholar said, ‘Yes, what could possibly come between you and repentance? Go to such-and-such a town, for in it there are people who worship Allaah. Go and worship with them, and do not go back to your own town, for it is a bad place.” So the man set off, but when he was halfway there, the angel of death came to him, and the angels of mercy and the angels of wrath began to argue over him. The angels of mercy said: ‘He had repented and was seeking Allaah.’ The angels of wrath said: ‘He never did any good thing.’ An angel in human form came to them, and they asked him to decide the matter. He said: ‘Measure the distance between the two lands (his home town and the town he was headed for), and whichever of the two he is closest to is the one to which he belongs.’ So they measured the distance, and found that he was closer to the town for which he had been headed, so the angels of mercy took him.” (Agreed upon). According to a report in al-Saheeh: “The righteous town was a hand-span closer, so he was counted as one of its people.” According to another report in al-Saheeh: “Allaah commanded (the evil town) to move away, and (the righteous town) to move closer, and said: ‘Measure the distance between them,’ and they found him to be a hand-span closer to the righteous town, so he was forgiven.”
What then can come between a person and repentance? Do you think that your sins are any greater than the sins of this man, whose repentance Allaah accepted? So why despair? The matter is even greater than this. Think about the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning): “And those who invoke not any other god along with Allaah, nor kill such life as Allaah has forbidden, except for just cause, nor commit illegal sexual intercourse – and whoever does this shall receive the punishment. The torment shall be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein in disgrace; except those who repent and believe, and do righteous deeds; for those, Allaah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [al-Furqaan 25:68-70].
Stop and think about that phrase: “… Allaah will change their sins into good deeds…” [al-Furqaan 25:70]. This will explain to you the immense grace and favour of Allaah. The scholars have defined this change as being of two types:
Changing bad characteristics into good ones, so that shirk is changed into true faith, fornication into chastity, lies into truthfulness, treachery into trustworthiness, etc.
Changing evil deeds that one has committed into good deeds on the Day of Resurrection. Think about the words “…Allaah will change their sins into good deeds…”. It does not say that one bad deed will be exchanged for a good deed (of equal weight). It could be less, the same, or more, in number or in weight. It will depend on the sincerity of the one who repents. Can you imagine any greater favour than this? See how this divine generosity is further explained in the following hadeeth:
‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Jubayr reported from Abu Taweel Shatb al-Mamdood that he came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) [another report states that a very old man whose eyebrows had fallen over his eyes (i.e., he had sunken eyes) came and stood before the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) supporting himself with a stick] and said: “What do you think of a man who has committed every sin, not leaving out any sin, major or minor [according to another report: if his sins were to be divided among all the people of the world, they would destroy them]. Can such a man repent?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) asked, “Have you become Muslim?” He said: “I bear witness that there is no god except Allaah and that you are the messenger of Allaah.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and Allaah will turn them all into good deeds for you.” He asked, “What about my acts of treachery and immorality?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Yes, (those too).” The man said, “Allaahu akbar (Allaah is most great)!” and kept glorifying Allaah until he was out of sight.
(Al-Haythami said: a similar version was reported by al-Tabaraani and al-Bazzaar. The men of al-Bazzaar’s isnaad are the men of saheeh apart from Muhammad ibn Haaroon Abi Nasheetah, who is thiqah. Al-Majma’ 1/36. Al-Mundhiri said in al-Targheeb: its isnaad isjayyid qawiy, 4/113. Ibn Hajar said in al-Isaabah 4/149 that it meets the conditions ofsaheeh.)
At this point the one who is seeking to repent may ask: “When I was astray and not even praying, which meant I was beyond the pale of Islam, I did do some good deeds. Will I be rewarded for these deeds after I repent, or are they lost in the wind?”
The answer to this question may be found in the following hadeeth: ‘Urwah ibn al-Zubayr reported that Hakeem ibn Hizaam told him that he said to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “O Messenger of Allaah, do you think that I will be rewarded for the (good) things like giving charity, freeing slaves and upholding family ties that I did during the Jaahiliyyah (days of ignorance before Islam)?” The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “You became Muslim because of the good that you had already done.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari).
These sins will be forgiven, these evil deeds will be turned into good deeds, and these good deeds that were done during the days of jaahiliyyah will still count in your favour after you repent. What more could anyone possibly want?
What should I do when I have sinned?
You might ask: “If I commit a sin, how can I repent from it straightaway? Is there anything that I should do straight after committing a sin?”
The answer is that there are two things which should be done after committing a sin. The first is to feel remorse in one’s heart and to be determined not to repeat the sin. This is the result of fearing Allaah. The second is to undertake some physical action to do different kinds of good deeds, such as praying salaat al-tawbah (the prayer of repentance). Abu Bakrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) said: “I heard the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) say: ‘There is no man who commits a sin, then gets up, purifies himself, prays two rak’ahs then asks Allaah to forgive him, but Allaah will forgive him.’” (Reported by the authors of Sunan; see Saheeh al-Tagheeb wa’l-Tarheeb, 1/284). Then he recited this aayah (interpretation of the meaning): “And those who, when they have committed faahishah (illegal sexual intercourse, etc.) or wronged themselves with evil, remember Allaah and ask forgiveness for their sins; – and none can forgive sins but Allaah – and do not persist in what (wrong) they have done, while they know.” [Aal ‘Imraan 3:135]
Other saheeh reports describe how to perform the two rak’ahs which will expiate for sin. In summary:
He should perform wudoo’. “There is no-one who performs wudoo’ and performs it well, but his sins will fall from the washed limbs with the water or with the last drop of water.”
He should do wudoo’ well. Doing wudoo’ well includes saying “Bismillaah” at the beginning, and reciting some du’aa’s afterwards, such as “Ash-hadu an laa ilaaha ill-Allaah wahdahu laa shareeka lah, wa ash-hadu anna Muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasooluhu” or “Allaahumma’j’alni min al-tawwaabeen wa’j’alni min al-mutahhareen (O Allaah, make me one of those who repent and make me one of those who are purified)” or “Subhaanak Allaahumma wa bi hamdika ash-hadu an laa ilaaha illa anta, astaghfiruka wa atoobu ilayk (Glory and praise be to you O Allah. I bear witness that there is no god but You. I seek Your forgiveness and I repent to You).” Saying any of these du’aa’s after wudoo’ will bring a great reward.
He should stand and offer two rak’ahs of prayer.
He should not make any mistakes or forget any part of the prayer.
He should not let his thoughts wander.
He should concentrate properly and think of Allaah whilst praying.
Then he should seek the forgiveness of Allaah.
The result will be that his previous sins will be forgiven, and he will be assured of Paradise. (Saheeh al-Targheeb, 1/94,95)
This should be followed with more good deeds and acts of obedience to Allaah. When ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him) realized that he had made the mistake of disagreeing with the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) during the Campaign of al-Hudaybiyah, he said: “Because of that I did many deeds,” i.e., righteous deeds, as expiation for that sin.
Think about the example given in the following saheeh hadeeth:
The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “The one who does bad deeds then does good deeds is like a man who wears a tight coat of mail which almost chokes him; when he does a good deed, it becomes a little looser, and as he does more good deeds it becomes even looser, until it falls off him and drops to the ground.” (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer; see also Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2192).
So good deeds release the sinner from the prison of disobedience, and bring him forth into the brave new world of obedience to Allaah.
Ibn Mas’ood said: “A man came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) and said: ‘O Messenger of Allaah, I found a woman in a garden and I did everything with her (kissing and fondling) except that (intercourse), so do with me as you will.’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) did not say anything, and the man went away. ‘Umar said: ‘Allaah covered his sin. He should have covered it himself.’ The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) followed the man with his gaze and said: ‘Bring him back to me.’ So they brought him back, and (the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) recited to him: ‘And perform al-salaah (prayer) at the two ends of the day and in some hours of the night. Verily, the good deeds remove the evil deeds (i.e., small sins). That is a reminder for the mindful (those who accept advice)’ [Hood 11:114 – interpretation of the meaning].” According to the report narrated by ‘Umar, Mu’aadh said: “O Messenger of Allaah, is this just for him or does it apply to all the people?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “No, it applies to all the people.” (Reported by Muslim)
O slave of Allaah, Allaah has opened the gate of repentance for you, so why not enter it? It was reported that repentance has a gate whose width is like the distance between East and West [according to another report: its width is like the distance travelled in seventy years]. It will not be closed until the sun rises from the West. (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer; see Saheeh al-Jaami’, 2177).
Listen to the call of Allaah: “O My slaves, you err night and day, but I forgive all sins, so ask Me for forgiveness and I will forgive you.” (Reported by Muslim). So why not seek forgiveness?
Allaah stretches forth His hand at night to forgive those who have done wrong during the day, and He stretches forth His hand by day to forgive those who have done wrong during the night. Allaah loves our apologies and pleas, so why not turn to Him?
How beautiful to Allaah are the words of the one who repents: “O Allaah, I ask You by Your power and by my own shame to have mercy on me. I ask You by Your strength and my own weakness, by Your self-sufficiency and my own dependence. To You I submit my lying, sinful forelock. You have many slaves besides me, but I have no Master except You. I have no refuge or escape from You except with You. I beseech you in the manner of a poor and destitute man, I pray to you with the prayer of one who is humble, I call upon you with the supplication of one who is blind and afraid. This is a plea from one whose head is humbled before You, whose nose is in the dust, whose eyes are filled with tears and whose heart has submitted to You.”
It was reported that one of the righteous people was passing through the street when he saw an open door out of which came a boy who was crying and weeping, followed by his mother who was pushing him out. She shut the door in his face, and went back inside. The boy went a short distance away, and stood there, thinking, but he could find no other refuge than the house from which he had been expelled and no one else who would care for him as his mother would. Broken hearted, he went back, and found the door still locked. So he lay down on the doorstep and went to sleep, with the tear marks still streaking his face. A little while later, his mother came out. When she saw him in this state, she could not help herself. She embraced him, kissed him and started to weep, saying: “O my son, where did you go? Who would care for you except me? Didn’t I tell you not to disobey me and not to make me punish you, when Allaah has made me merciful and caring towards you?” Then she picked him up and went back inside.
But the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) told us: “Allaah is more compassionate towards His slaves than this mother towards her child.” (Reported by Muslim).
There is no comparison between a mother’s compassion and the Mercy of Allaah, which encompasses everything. Allaah rejoices when His slave repents to Him, and we can never despair of goodness from a Lord who is rejoices. Allaah rejoices more over the repentance of a slave when he repents to Him than a man who was travelling through the wilderness and stopped to camp awhile in an isolated and dangerous place, but he had his camel by his side, with his food and drink loaded on it. He sought out the shade of a tree, where he lay down and went to sleep. When he woke up, his camel had disappeared, so he went looking for it. He came to a hill and climbed it, but he could not see anything. He climbed another hill and looked around, but he could not see anything. When heat and thirst overcame him, he said: “Let me go back to where I was and sleep there until I die.” He went back to the tree and lay down in its shade, despairing of ever seeing his camel again. Whilst he was lying there, he opened his eyes, and saw his camel standing next to him, with its halter dangling and his food and drink still loaded on it, so he grabbed hold of its halter. Allaah rejoices even more when the believer repents to Him than this man rejoiced over the return of his camel and his supplies.”
(Compiled from saheeh reports; see Tarteeb Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4/368)
You should know that sincere repentance brings contrition and humility before Allaah, and the pleading of the one who repents is dearly beloved to the Lord of the Worlds.
The believing slave still remembers his sin, and is filled with sorrow and regret. He follows his error with so many acts of obedience and goodness that Shaytaan may even say, “Would that I had never led him into this sin in the first place!” Thus some of those who repent may become better after repenting than they ever were before.
Allaah will never forsake His slave who turns to Him in repentance.
Imagine a boy living with his father, who gives him the best food and drink, dresses him in the finest clothes, gives him the best possible upbringing, and gives him money to spend. He takes care of all the boy’s interests. But one day his father sends him on an errand, and an enemy comes and captures the boy, ties him up and carries him off to enemy territory. Now the way he is treated is the opposite of the kind treatment his father gave him. Whenever he remembers his father’s kindness, his heart is filled with anguish and grief because of the blessings that he has lost. It so happens that while he is still a prisoner of the enemy, and about to be executed by them, he suddenly turns towards his father’s home, and he sees his father standing nearby. He runs to him and throws himself into his arms, crying “O my father, O my father! Look what has happened to your son!” with tears streaming down his cheeks. He clings tightly to his father even though the enemy runs after him to snatch him back, and catches up with him.
Do you think the father will give the boy back to the enemy and abandon him? What then do you think of One Who is more merciful towards His slaves than any father or mother towards a child? How do you think Allaah will respond when a slave flees from his enemies and throws himself at His door, rolling in the dust and weeping, saying “O Lord, have mercy upon the one who has no one to show him mercy except You, no supporter except You, no place of refuge except You, no helper except You, one who is poor and in need of You, one who beseeches You. You are his place of refuge, You are his Source of protection. There is no escape or refuge from You except with You…”?
Let us move on, then, to good and righteous deeds, to the company of righteous people, to avoiding deviation after having been guided aright. May Allaah be with you.