THE GREATEST CRISIS facing man—in every age and place, personally and communally—is repentance, tawba.
Our first father, Adam, comes into the world in the midst of this emergency, with our mother Eve, and none of us shall escape it after them, until Allah’s grace purifies us on the Day of Judgment and carries us into the Garden of Delight. If we call this destiny “salvation,” then its road is repentance.
It is a sign of the vast corruption of our times (and let us defend no doubt about how utterly corrupted and corrupting is the life we live in the world today) that repentance for the sins of man has become no issue at all. We are not concerned about it as a creation. We don’t reorder ourselves around it as communities (not even religious communities). And we have little time in our day, our month, our lives to give second thought to the ravages of sin we strew about the world in our wake. We think they are mostly trifling, anyway.
This attitude, in fact, is the foremost block upon the way of salvation. We take our sins lightly, consider them minor, believe their punishments small (if they carry any at all), and dismiss as strange the idea that we have to repent these innocent acts we do, that everyone does. What, are we supposed to repent for being human?!
But how deluded we are, as we rush on to destroy ourselves by our own hands. Here’s the news. Bad tidings to you: That you think your sins are small is itself a big sign that you are misled, that you are astray. The sins you underrate are great.
Every day we do acts that we see as finer than frog hair that the Companions beheld as ruinous. Don’t believe me. Believe Anas: You indulge in acts of no more significance to you than a hair, while at the time of the Messenger œ, we saw them as major, destroying sins (Bukhâri).
The fact that you persist in doing these “slight” sins, moreover, means that you think your sins are so minor as to be of no consequence. How wrong you are. Ibn ¢Abbâs said: Any sin one persists in is great. And no sin one repents of is great (Bayhaqi).
The reason you think the sins you do are petty is because you don’t take time to reflect on how great the One you are sinning against is. No flash of insight into His terrible power strikes awe in your heart. Your understanding of His blessing upon you, His sustaining of you, His providing for you, His protecting of you, His guiding of you, His fashioning of you with His own Hand, His breathing life into you—your understanding of all of it fails.
You have made yourself heedless that this God punishes. So your fear of Him falters, which drains away your faith, the shield of your heart. It falls sick, and sickness corrupts, until your heart forgets its sins. How, then, will you make tawba from what you don’t even remember?
No, my soul. No sin you do is small because the One you have disobeyed is great. Look! That sin you see as a far off spec, it is a mountain. Your own desire uprooted it. Your strong whims raised it overhead. Look up! It is about to crush you. So weep, weep with regret at the destruction your eyes and limbs, your ears and tongue, your heart have carried you to.
How great now is the affair you deemed trivial! Who, tell me, who have you obeyed? That despised one, the one who disrespected your father, and swore to bridle his children like beasts? The one telling you there’s no need to rush to tawba? Your sins are small. Your time is long. Your death is far off.
And who have you disobeyed? The Lord of all the Worlds?! The One who upholds the heavens and cast colossal galaxies into them by the billions?! The One who created you and all there is?! The One who swore at the moment of your coming to life, by His word of truth, that He would most surely fill Hell with Satan and all who follow him?! Is that the One you have disobeyed?!
How unlucky you are, then, for your “little” sins. For your Lord is the Lord of even the smallest things, things smaller than you can possibly imagine. For there is not even an atom’s weight in the earth, nor in the heaven, that eludes your Lord. Nor is there anything smaller than that, nor larger, but that it is registered in a clear Heavenly Book [Sûrat Yûnus, 10:61].
You are heedless of your “little” sins. You have forgotten them. But He hasn’t. He will call you to account for them all. Welcome back, then, to the quaking remembrance of the most frightening âyah of them all:
So whoever does an atom’s weight of good shall see it. And whoever does an atom’s weight of evil shall see it. [Sûrat Al-Zalzalah, 99:7-8]