Translations from Ibn Al-Qayyim’s Madarij Al-Salikin (Steps of the Seekers) | The Essence of Repentance (Tawbah) – 3 

Excuse of “Destiny” for Sinning

It is an established truth that there is no excuse or justification for sinning against Allah, opposing His commands, after knowing about them, and after having the capability to [choose whether to] do or reject sins. Were there an excuse for sinning, no sinner would ever deserve punishment and blame. Whoever claims that his sinful actions were simply predestined and that he could not have avoided them, such is an ignorant transgressor– otherwise he would know that his calamity is of his own doings.

It is his own nafs (self) that deserves all the blame for transgression, for it is the source of all evil. Truly, the human being is unappreciative (kanûd) of his Lord [Sûrat Al-¢Âdiyât, 100:6]. Ibn ¢Abbâs, Mujâhid and Qatâdah explain this (word kanûd) as ungrateful and argumentative in regard to the gifts of Allah. Al-Ḥassan explains this as one who keeps count of the calamities but quickly forgets the blessings. Abû ¢Ubaydah explains this as the one with no riches or land.

If it were not for one’s own ignorance, he would have known that he is obstructing his own way of salvation by making such excuses; he is the rock that is stopping the [flow of] water he needs to survive, while at the same time crying, “Water! Water!” He becomes the black cloud that prevents the sun of guidance from rising over his heart. As a poet has said, “An enemy does not harm an ignorant person the way [that person] harms himself.”

Woe to him! An oppressor in the guise of oppressed! He helps Satan against his Lord, making excuses of “destiny” [predestination, beyond his control] when sinning and, on the other hand, taking all the credit if he happens to do a good deed. He presents an argument against his Lord, one which he would not accept from his spouse or his son. If he were to ask his son to do something and if that son failed to oblige –arguing that his destiny prevented him from obeying his father’s orders– he would never accept this from his son and would hasten to punish him. Alas, he makes much the same foolhardy arguments when he sins against his Lord.

If your “destiny” were an argument for usurping your Lord’s rights, O ignorant one, would it not be an excuse for your wife or your son for usurping your own rights? Of course not. Indeed, if someone who wrongs you and then seeks excuses of “destiny,” you would only become angrier with him.

The Infinite Gifts and Forgiveness of One’s Lord

All this while Allah is showering favors upon you with each one of your breaths:

He has lightened your burdens, provided you all your provisions for your journey to Paradise, sent guidance to you, aided you in your journey, and bestowed upon you the faculties of sight, hearing, thinking and feeling.

He has informed you of good and evil, of the beneficial and the harmful, sent to you His Messengers, revealed to you His Book and made it easy for remembrance and understanding.

On top of all that, He helps you constantly with his noble army (of angels) who support and encourage you, fight your enemy and save you from it, and want from you that you not lean towards [that enemy] or get caught up in his snares. Alas, you are bent upon helping your enemy against your Lord’s blessed army:

Behold! We said to the angels, ‘Bow down to Adam’: They bowed down except Iblis. He was one of the Jinns, and he broke the Command of his Lord. Will you then take him and his progeny as protectors rather than Me? And they are enemies to you! Evil would be the exchange for the wrong-doers! [Sûrat Al-Kahf, 18:50]

Allah has commanded you to thank him, not because He needs you, but only so that He may increase His blessings and gifts upon you. You have made your ingratitude a cause of your own deprivation from some of His blessings. He ordered you to remember Him so that He may remember you in a better way. You have made your forgetfulness about Allah a cause for His forgetting you.

They forgot Allah, so he made them forget themselves. [Sûrat Al-Ḥashr, 59:19]

He has ordered you to ask Him so that He may give to you, [but] you were neglectful of asking Him. Still, He gave you enormous blessings without [your] asking –while you failed even to acknowledge them!

Hesubhânahu wa ta¢âla– calls you to His door and you fail to go to it; then He opens it for you and you fail to enter it. Still, He did not deprive you of His mercy; instead He says to you:

Whenever you come to me I will accept; if you come to me by night or by day I will accept; if you come towards me by an inch I will come to you by a cubit; if you come to me walking I will come to you running. If you were to meet Me burdened with a mountain of sins but without others as my equals or partners, I will come to you with even greater forgiveness; and if your sins were to reach the heavens and you sought my forgiveness, I would forgive you! And who can be greater than Me in generosity and charity?

My servants challenge me while I feed them in their beds. I create Jinn and Humans and they worship others besides Me. I provide them sustenance and they thank others besides Me. My charity and benevolence is descending incessantly upon them while their misdeeds are ascending up to Me. Whoever approaches Me I reach out to Him from far; whoever avoids Me I call him from near; whoever deprives himself for my sake I give in abundance; whoever wants my pleasure, I want the same as he does; whoever seeks my power, I soften the steel for him.

Whoever chooses me over others, I choose him over others. A good deed to Me is [worth] ten times to seven hundred times, [or] to many more times. A bad deed, however, earns nothing but its own recompense; and if one regrets [that deed], I forgive that sin for him.

I reward the slightest of good deeds and forgive much of your mistakes. My Mercy has overcome my wrath. My forgiveness has overshadowed my retribution. I am more merciful to my servants than a mother to her child:

Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His servant than is a man who lost his mount, belongings and food in a desert and searched for it until he gave up hope and slept under a tree awaiting his death –then all of a sudden he woke up and found it all next to him … Allah is more pleased with his repentance than this man is with the recovery of his mount. (Bukhari)

Ghairah for Such a Merciful Lord is Essential for Repentance …

[The opposite of finding excuses for one’s sins is ghairah, or, “protectiveness” for Allah. —tr.] Protectiveness and anger [against sinning] for Allah’s sake is part of the reality of repentance. From among the signs of greatness [inherent in] Allah’s prohibitions is knowing that the creation has no excuse in opposing the commandments and prohibitions of the Creator. [One’s own] disobedience to Allah must arouse displeasure and anger in the heart of a believer.

 

 

Written By

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.

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