Clearing Away the Harm of Your Sin
We all —at one time or another, to a greater or lesser degree— succumb to poorly intentioned acts of the heart (Part 1), and these lead to wrongdoing. The resulting actions of the tongue and limbs compromise our integrity. That is, they result in “sin.”
This human condition is part of the design of our creation by Allah—not a curse that has befallen us by an act of Adam and Eve, the progenitors of our human race.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Every son of Adam repetitively commits sins, and the best of those who repetitively commit sins are the ones who often repent.” (al-Tirmidhi)
He (ﷺ) also said:
“If you weren’t to commit sins, Allah would have wiped you out of existence and replaced you by another people who would commit sins. They would ask forgiveness from Allah and He would forgive them.” (Muslim)
Once a wrongdoing has occurred, our most praiseworthy, immediate response would be to examine the acts of our spiritual hearts and discover whether we have allowed this to happen deliberately or through lack of attention, and if so, how can we avoid a repetition of this fault? The more serious the sin, the more important it is to avoid it in the first place, or—God forbid, if it has already been committed— to ‘fix’ it without delay.
But first, are some sins more serious than others? What makes any wrongdoing serious?
Consider these Two Categories of Sin: Major sins and Minor sins.
1) Major sins (Kaba’ir), include every sin for which any of the following applies based upon the texts of the Quran and the authentic Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ):
- An action for which a prescribed punishment has been legislated for administration in this life
- An action for which a punishment has been associated with it in the Hereafter
- An action for which a reason is mentioned for earning the anger or curse of Allah
- An action for which it is mentioned that it indicates a negation of faith
2) Minor sins (Sagha’ir) are all types of sins other than the
However, one should not pretend that a minor sin is not harmful to his well-being and spiritual health, for even a minor sin can disrupt the functioning of a pure heart. Furthermore, there are various conditions that can cause a minor sin to turn into a major one. They include:
- Having made a conscious determination to carry out a minor sin
- Persistence in committing a minor sin again and again
- Thinking a minor sin to be insignificant, since it is ‘minor’
- Bragging about a minor sin and committing it in the public eye
Repentance is invited for each and every sin.
Allah accepts a person’s repentance as long as he is not already in the face of death, and, as long as the sun has not yet risen from the west. That is, ‘deathbed repentance’ is not acceptable, nor is that which takes place in the chaotic distress of the Last Hour — a time when all will see with forced clarity their wrongful rejection of Allah and His requirements of them. It is in the mercy of our loving Lord that if one is truthful in seeking repentance, his sins can be changed into good deeds, even in extreme cases:
On the authority of Anas who said:
I heard the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) say: Allah the Almighty said: O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it. (al-Tirmidhi, 34; Ahmad ibn Hanbal))
For Repentance to be Accepted
There are four conditions which must be met by us, individually, in order for repentance to be accepted by Allah:
- Discontinuation of that sin [if one realizes that a wrongdoing happens to be in progress].
- Feeling remorse and regret for having already committed
- Determination not to return to that sin in the
- If the sin is related to the rights of another person, then ensuring that the rights are returned to those to whom the injustices were done.
We naturally want some assurance that we are on the right track. How are we to judge whether we are sincerely repenting and thus how closely we qualify for Allah to wipe out sins from our personal record?
Those who repent are of four types:
1) A person who repents from all sins and is constant in repentance until his death, and intends not to return to committing sins. He only falls into small faults which no one of us is free from. This represents straightforwardness in repentance and this person is foremost in good deeds. This kind of repentance is called SINCERE REPENTANCE, and this applies to the SOUL IN COMPLETE REST.
2) A person who repents and performs the essential requirements pertaining to the religion, but continues to commits some sins un-intentionally. He commits them without having consciously determined to do so. Every time he becomes aware of a sin, he blames himself, regrets doing it, and is determined to stay away from what causes him to commit it. This is the ‘REPROACHING SOUL.’
3) A person who has repented and continues without committing sins for some time, but then his desire overtakes him and he commits some sins anew, while still making the effort to perform good deeds. He has stopped committing most sins even though he is well able to engage in them, if he would so choose; sometimes he has the desire for them. Then he is overtaken by one or two desires. Still, once he is done with committing any particular sin, he regrets and promises himself to repent and stay away from any new opportunity.
This is the ‘RESPONSIBLE SOUL’ but he must realize that the purity of his heart is in danger as long as he delays and gives respite to repentance. He needs to be aware that death may overtake him before his repentance takes place.
One of the greater signs of the Day of Judgment is that the sun will then rise from the west, and no longer from the east. Once this dramatic change has come into effect, no repentance will be accepted, and nobody’s turn to faith will be accepted if they were to decide to accept the offer of submitting to Allah in Islam after this occurrence.
Consider this saying of Allah:
“…except those who repent and believe (in Islamic Monotheism), and do righteous deeds, for those, Allah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [Surah al-Furqan, 25:70]
4) The one who repents and continues for a while then returns and commits sins without thinking of either repentance or remorse for what he has done. This soul is INCLINED TO EVIL, and there is a credible fear that he may have a bad ending.
Only the first category of the repentant believer is ideal and entirely acceptable for a committed Muslim. If you find yourself as belonging to the third or second categories, then make a concerted effort to upgrade to a higher category —as a temporary measure on your way to establishing the habit of sincere repentance (Category 1).
And if you recognize yourself as falling into the fourth group, then urgently and at all costs, throw yourself on the mercy of Allah and commit yourself in submission to His Guidance.
Behold, the only [true] religion in the sight of God is [man’s] self-surrender unto Him; [Surah Âl-‘Imrân, 3:19]
Self-Assurance of Your Sincere Repentance
Accordingly, the next question is how to be assured that you are being completely sincere and truthful with yourself —that your repentance is not a sham, a self-delusion.
If you have reason to doubt your own sincerity, it is time to set aside private time to discuss this with your own soul before Allah. If a day, or two, of private retreat is not enough to penetrate your inmost heart, then extend the time until you know you have truly come to terms with your uncompromising soul. Ask Allah to show you your weaknesses and to make you brutally transparent with yourself.
When the acts of the Believer’s spiritual heart are predominantly good and motivated by good intentions, that person is a ‘good’ person; his or her behavior is characterized by goodness. Goodness is a sign of a sincere Muslim and a major focus of Islam.
And so, We have bestowed this divine writ as a heritage unto such of Our servants as We chose: and among them are some who sin against themselves; and some who keep half-way [between right and wrong]; and some who, by God’s leave, are foremost in deeds of goodness: [and] this, indeed, is. a merit most high! [Surah Fâṭir, 35:32]
So then, what are the essential marks of goodness and sincerity that characterize a Muslim? Consider the following qualities.
Truthfulness is the basis of all well-intentioned and pure acts of the heart. The term sidq (truthfulness) covers all aspects of conducting oneself with a pure heart.
- Truthfulness in one’s speech
- Truthfulness in one’s intention and desire
- Truthfulness in one’s promises and in fulfilling them
- Truthfulness in one’s determination
- Truthfulness in one’s action, where his outward and inward are the same, such as humbleness in prayer
- Truthfulness in fulfilling the various virtues of Islamic living.
Truthfulness is the highest level of virtue, leading to a pure heart, virtues such as being truthful in one’s fear, hope, asceticism, pleasure, trust, love and all the acts of the heart.
Whoever is truthful in all of the above areas has reached the level of the truthful one.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Be truthful, for truthfulness leads to righteousness, and righteousness leads to Paradise. And a man keeps on telling the truth until he becomes a truthful person. Falsehood leads to al–Fajur (i.e. wickedness, evil-doing), and al-Fajur leads to the (Hell) Fire, and a man may keep on telling lies till he is written off, before Allah, to be a [confirmed] liar.“ (al-Bukhari and Muslim).
Whoever is confused in trying to distinguish truth from falsehood yet he is truthful in seeking the truth, without pandering to his desires, that one is likely to be successful in his search. If he is not successful in spite of having tried his best, then Allah will excuse him.
Lying opposes being truthful in one’s heart and in his actions. The first thing lying reaches to and corrupts in a person is the tongue; then it corrupts the actions of the limbs, and it does to the limbs just the same as it did to the tongue. After that, it spreads and becomes a part of his speech, his actions, and all of his affairs until he becomes surrounded by an inability to distinguish truth or to act upon it.
A person prone to lying will have grave difficulty in attaining to sincere intentions in his spiritual heart. He or she will first need to discover the healing power of repentance and to develop a love for truth.
Loving Allah, His messenger, and the community of believers is the means for gaining the sweetness of faith.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Whoever possesses the following three qualities will taste the sweetness of faith: The one to whom Allah and His Messenger become dearer than anything else; the one who loves a person and he loves him only for Allah’s sake; and the one who hates to revert to disbelief after Allah has saved him from it—just as he would hate to be thrown into fire.” (al-Bukhari and Muslim).
If the ‘tree’ of love is planted in the heart and is watered with sincerity and devotion to following the Prophet (ﷺ), it will bear all types of ‘fruit,’ continuously, bi idhni Allah.
Consider these Types of Love:
- Love of Allah, which is the basis of
- Love for what Allah has prescribed as His way of life for us, while “hating” what goes against that. This type of love is obligatory, an essential component in motivating Muslims.
- Love for those who, alongside Allah, are wrongly associated with the type of pure and unconditional love meant only for Allah. This is the love which the polytheists harbor for their gods. This type of love is the foundation of shirk and is forbidden to Muslims. Although it is love, this type is a corrupting force, serving to degrade Allah in our eyes and pulling us away from the only Source who can sustain us.
- Natural love, like the love for one’s parents and children, and the love for food and other such beneficial things intended for our comfort and enjoyment. This type of love is not only permissible but an act of worship when engaged in for the sake of Allah.
The Prophet (ﷺ) said:
“Renounce your [love of] this world and Allah will love you.” (Ibn Majah).
Trust means for the heart to rely entirely on Allah to bring good and to ward off harm. It means being confident in Him and seeking exclusively permissible means to fulfill one’s needs and desires.
To leave aside trust in Allah, means that there is a defect in one’s understanding of tawhîd—by which Allah alone is fully capable of providing whatever, in His knowledge, is needed by the one who asks of Him. Trust in Allah’s mercy and kindness should exist before one takes action in conducting daily life. Trust is a ‘fruit’ of certainty in Allah’s goodness and in His complete control of all affairs.
Consider these Types of Trust:
- The first is the OBLIGATORY type, which is the trust in Allah in things that He alone is capable of doing, such as providing true Guidance or permanently curing the
- The second is the PROHIBITED type, which is of two kinds:
- The greater shirk (shirk akbar). This is when someone relies entirely on things which Allah has created as means, and believing that these means independently bring benefit or harm (apart from the enabling power of Allah);
- The lesser shirk (shirk asghar). This is when someone relies primarily upon others for sustenance, while recognizing that this person is himself dependent upon another, more ultimate source. One’s attachment to him, however, is to such an extent that the providing person is seen as more than just a mere middleman for Allah’s provision.
- The third is the PERMISSIBLE type, which is to entrust another person or rely upon him/her to perform something within their capabilities, such as buying and selling. It is not permissible to say:” I rely on Allah and then you”; rather you should say: “I entrust to you…”
We continue in Part 4 with outward, behavioral characteristics of Muslims which are marks of their Love for Allah, their Trust in Him, and their Truthfulness as components of clean spiritual hearts.
I would like to acknowledge my debt of gratitude for assistance in writing this article to Al-Azhar Univeristy graduate, Mr. Ahmed Nagy, now Director of the online Firdaws Academy for English language teaching of the Qur’an, Arabic language and Islamic Studies <https://firdawsacademy.com>,where the author is a tutor.