There are a number of challenges which make it difficult for one to be a practising Muslim in the 21st century, such as the endless variety of sins, unrestrained access to them, and the ridiculing of those who choose to unsubscribe from their dark past. Nevertheless, we have every right to be hopeful and optimistic. The ever increasing interest in the alternative lifestyle is hard to miss. I am referring to a growing group of people who bitterly regret their past, become fed up with sins, are tired of following the endless dictates of society, and find themselves in a desperate search for a way out of misery. They are ready to release themselves from the shackles of sin, as their tearful eyes gaze longingly now at the doorways of repentance.
However, this blessed group complains of obstacles that prevent them from completing their repentance or keeping it in place. This article represents a humble effort to convince the seeker of this alternative life path that those obstacles are illusionary. Nothing stands between you and an accepted repentance other than your willingness; the joy of being pure is not that farfetched after all. What are these perceived hurdles?
1) “It’s only a minor sin. Others are doing far worse! So why repent?”
In reality, such a statement could only be uttered by someone who does not see Allah in the light that He deserves. After being rejected year in year out, Prophet Nūḥ appealed to his people with powerful yet heart-melting words. They were words which brimmed with the love of Allah, glorification of Him, and an unmissable tone of grief, as he said:
مَا لَكُمْ لَا تَرْجُونَ لِلَّهِ وَقَارًا
“What is the matter with you that you do not attribute to Allah due grandeur?”
In other words, why do you not deem Allah as great? How is it that awe of the Lord above you has not engulfed you? How is it that your hearts fail to fall in submission to the Majesty of the Divine? Despite the difficulty of articulating this sentiment, every Prophet attempted to impart it to their people.
ʿAbd Allāh b. ʿUmar narrated that: “The Prophet ﷺ once recited the following verse on the pulpit:
وَمَا قَدَرُوا اللَّهَ حَقَّ قَدْرِهِ وَالْأَرْضُ جَمِيعًا قَبْضَتُهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ وَالسَّمَاوَاتُ مَطْوِيَّاتٌ بِيَمِينِهِ سُبْحَانَهُ وَتَعَالَى عَمَّا يُشْرِكُونَ
‘They have not recognised Allah with the recognition that He is worthy of. On the Day of Resurrection, the whole of the earth will be in His Grasp and the heavens rolled up in His right hand; glory be to Him, and may He be exalted above what they associate with Him.’”
ʿAbd Allāh continues:
ورسولُ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ يقولُ هكذا بيدِه ويُحَرِّكُها يُقْبِلُ بها ويُدْبِرُ يُمَجِّدُ الرَّبُّ نفسَه أنا الجبارُ أنا المتكبرُ أنا العزيزُ أنا الكريمُ فَرَجَفَ برسولِ اللهِ صلَّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّمَ المنبرُ حتى قُلنا ليَخُرَّنَّ بهِ
“During this moment, the Prophet ﷺ was moving his hand back and forth, telling us that Allah will praise Himself, saying: ‘I am the Compeller! I am the Supreme! I am the Mighty! I am the Generous!’ He was so animate that the pulpit shook so intensely till we thought that it was about to collapse.”
This is Who Allah was in the heart of the Prophet ﷺ. Therefore, no sin was ever deemed small by him. The same sentiment about Allah was shared by the Companions.
Anas b. Mālik provided the following vivid description for the second generation of Muslims:
إِنَّكُمْ لَتعمَلُونَ أعْمَالًا هي أدَقُّ في أعيُنِكُمْ مِنَ الشَّعْرِ كُنَّا نَعُدُّهَا عَلَى عَهْدِ رَسُول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم مِنَ المُوبِقات
“Today, you indulge in doings that you consider more insignificant than a strand of hair. However, at the time of the Prophet ﷺ, we considered those same doings as the most devastating of sins.”
You see, one may fall prey to a sin which is, in principle, a minor one. However, due to one’s carelessness, boldness, belittlement, and lack of shyness before Allah, a minor sin can in fact be transformed into a major one. This is not necessarily due to the actual sin itself, but because of the factors that surround it. “It’s only minor”, he argues. “Others are doing far worse”, she insists. At the juncture, let your response be:
لا تنظر إلى صغر الذنب ولكن انظر إلى عظمة من عصيت
“Do not look at the smallness of the sin, but consider the greatness of the One Whom you have disobeyed.”
The Prophet ﷺ said:
يَا عَائِشَةُ، إِيَّاكِ وَمُحَقِّرَاتِ الذُّنُوبِ، فَإِنَّ لَهَا مِنَ اللهِ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ طَالِبًا
“O ʿĀ’ishah, beware of the sins that are deemed insignificant, for they have pursuers from Allah.”
So, regardless of what your weakness may be, beware of allowing your heart to settle with it, as the one who knocks the doors of sins with contentment is very different to the one who knocks with burning guilt and a bleeding heart. How close is the latter to the mercy of Allah? Overcome this hurdle, turn to your Rabb, and repeatedly say, “Astaghfirullāh”.
2) “If I knew that Allah would forgive a person like me, I wouldn’t hesitate!”
Indeed, some may be ready at this very moment to revamp their lives, whether in areas pertaining to finances, clothing, relationships, weekends, social media, friends, and other facets as well. But before proceeding to transform their life, they might say: “I am only hesitant. Where’s my guarantee that a person of my doings can be pardoned?” You can rest assured that you are not the first to worry about this.
Abū Ṭawīl Shaṭab al-Mamdūd approached the Prophet ﷺ and said:
أَرَأَيْتَ رَجُلًا عَمِلَ الذُّنُوبَ كُلَّهَا، فَلَمْ يَتْرُكْ مِنْهَا شَيْئًا، وَهُوَ فِي ذَلِكَ لَمْ يَتْرُكْ حَاجَةً وَلَا دَاجَةً إِلَّا أَتَاهَا، فَهَلْ لَهُ مِنْ تَوْبَةٍ؟
“What would you say about a person who has committed every sin out there? He has not left a single one of them, whether minor or major. Can he ever be forgiven?”
The Prophet ﷺ asked:
“Have you embraced Islam?”
أَمَّا أَنَا فَأَشْهَدُ أَنْ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا اللهُ، وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ، وَأَنَّكَ رَسُولُ اللهِ
“I testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah, alone without any partners, and that you are the Messenger of Allah.”
The Prophet ﷺ said:
نَعَمْ، تَفْعَلُ الْخَيْرَاتِ، وَتَتْرُكُ السَّيِّئَاتِ، فَيَجْعَلُهُنَّ اللهُ لَكَ خَيْرَاتٍ كُلَّهُنَّ
“In that case, yes. Persist with the performance of good deeds, desist from sinning, and Allah will replace every sin of yours into a good deed.”
The man said:
“Even my treacherous ones? Even my monstrous ones?”
The Prophet ﷺ said: “Yes.” So the man walked away saying “Allāhu Akbar” over and over again till he disappeared.
Part of perfecting one’s repentance is being certain that Allah can erase every one of your crimes, and even replacing them with good deeds that you never did. He will do this with greater happiness than whatever joy you may experience for yourself, as illustrated by the Prophet ﷺ in one of the most jaw dropping narrations in this regard. He said:
وَاللهِ لَلَّهُ أَشَدُّ فَرَحًا بِتَوْبَةِ عَبْدِهِ مِنْ رَجُلٍ كَانَ فِي سَفَرٍ فِي فَلَاةٍ مِنَ الْأَرْضِ، فَآوَى إِلَى ظِلِّ شَجَرَةٍ، فَنَامَ تَحْتَهَا، فَاسْتَيْقَظَ، فَلَمْ يَجِدْ رَاحِلَتَهُ، فَأَتَى شَرَفًا، فَصَعِدَ عَلَيْهِ، فَأَشْرَفَ، فَلَمْ يَرَ شَيْئًا، ثُمَّ أَتَى آخَرَ، فَأَشْرَفَ، فَلَمْ يَرَ شَيْئًا
“By Allah, Allah is happier with the repentance of a believing servant than a person who set out on a journey in an open waterless desert. During the journey, he retreated to the shade of a tree and fell asleep. He woke up only to notice that his camel had ran away. He made his way to a cliff to look around but could not see anything. He went to another cliff but, again, he could not see anything.
فَقَالَ: أَرْجِعُ إِلَى مَكَانِي الَّذِي كُنْتُ فِيهِ، فَأَكُونُ فِيهِ حَتَّى أَمُوتَ قَالَ: فَذَهَبَ، فَإِذَا بِرَاحِلَتِهِ تَجُرُّ خِطَامَهَا (فَأَخَذَ بِخِطامِهَا، ثُمَّ قَالَ مِنْ شِدَّةِ الفَرَحِ: اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ عَبدِي وأنا رَبُّكَ! أَخْطَأَ مِنْ شِدَّةِ الفَرَحِ) قَالَ: ” فَاللهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ أَشَدُّ فَرَحًا بِتَوْبَةِ عَبْدِهِ مِنْ هَذَا بِرَاحِلَتِهِ
“He said to himself: ‘I shall go back to the shade and will remain there till death.’ As he sat in despair, he saw his camel making its way back as it dragged its reigns! At once, he seized it by its reigns and said: ‘O Allah! You are my slave and I am Your Lord!’ He made a mistake due to extreme joy. Allah’s happiness with one’s repentance is more intense than this man’s happiness with his ride.”
I am sure that you will now agree that this second hurdle is also just as imaginary as the first. So, without a second thought, say “Astaghfirullāh”.
3) “I want to repent today and right now, but family and peer pressure is crushing me.”
The following verses are sufficient in dismantling this third imaginary hurdle. Allah said:
فَإِذَا جَاءَتِ الصَّاخَّةُ (33) يَوْمَ يَفِرُّ الْمَرْءُ مِنْ أَخِيهِ (34) وَأُمِّهِ وَأَبِيهِ (35) وَصَاحِبَتِهِ وَبَنِيهِ (36) لِكُلِّ امْرِئٍ مِنْهُمْ يَوْمَئِذٍ شَأْنٌ يُغْنِيهِ (37)
“But when there comes the Deafening Blast. On that Day man will flee from his brother, and his mother and his father, and his wife and his children. Everyman that Day will have enough to make him careless of others.”
Commenting on this verse, ʿIkrimah said:
يَلْقَى الرَّجُل زَوْجَته فَيَقُول لَهَا يَا هَذِهِ أَيّ بَعْل كُنْت لَك ؟ فَتَقُول نِعْمَ الْبَعْل كُنْت وَتُثْنِي بِخَيْرٍ مَا اِسْتَطَاعَتْ فَيَقُول لَهَا فَإِنِّي أَطْلُب إِلَيْك الْيَوْم حَسَنَة وَاحِدَة تَهَبِيهَا لِي لَعَلِّي أَنْجُو مِمَّا تَرَيْنَ فَتَقُول لَهُ مَا أَيْسَر مَا طَلَبْت وَلَكِنِّي لَا أُطِيق أَنْ أُعْطِيك شَيْئًا أَتَخَوَّف مِثْل الَّذِي تَخَاف
“A man will approach his wife on the Day of Reckoning and will say to her: ‘What type of husband was I to you?’ She will say: ‘You were a wonderful husband’, and she will praise him. He will say: ‘So, I have a request from you on this day: that you gift me with just one good deed of yours. Perhaps Allah will save me from what you see.’ She will say: ‘You have requested something so small! However, I am afraid that I cannot fulfil your request. I fear what you fear.’”
In other words, the very same people whom you try to appease today at the expense of your religious growth will be the very same people who will disown you – along with everyone else – on the Day of Reckoning. Consequently, if that is the case, why then give people more attention than what they deserve? Why allow any mortal pressure to limit your relationship with Allah? Who are people?
Recall Allah’s instructions to His Prophet ﷺ when he was pressured by his locals to not pray, saying to him:
كَلَّا لَا تُطِعْهُ وَاسْجُدْ وَاقْتَرِب
“No, do not obey him, and prostrate and draw nearer.”
No human must slow you down en route to Allah. So, start your voyage towards Him, and with enthusiasm, say “Astaghfirullāh”.
4) “Friends are threatening me, saying that if I walk away, they will expose me.”
Undoubtedly, it is an unenviable situation to be in, one where a person’s ex-lover threatens to share compromising material to the world should they walk away from the relationship or change their ways. It is during such moments of vulnerability when key verses from the Qur’an are to be recalled:
إِنَّ كَيْدَ الشَّيْطَانِ كَانَ ضَعِيفًا
“Surely, the plotting of Shayṭān is weak.”
إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُدَافِعُ عَنِ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا
“Surely, Allah defends those who believe.”
Their plots will – with reliance upon Allah – wither away, becoming a memory of the past. Furthermore, even if they do have sensitive material against you, succumbing to their blackmail means that when you do eventually opt to repent, they would have only accumulated more material against you. This, therefore, is not a solution.
However, should a worst case scenario unfold where what you feared comes to pass, then offer an explanation: “Yes, I was mistaken. I was in a bad place and I have since amended my ways. What more can I do?”
With that said, it is healthy to occasionally remind oneself that the ultimate humiliation is not about being exposed before 100, 1000, or more people today. Rather, it is as if one’s sins are read out before the angels, jinn, Prophets, humanity at large, and Allah – the King Himself – on the Day of Reckoning. In the meantime, there are certain supplications which the reformed one who fears exposure must hold tight to.
Whenever the Prophet ﷺ feared a people, he would say:
اللهم إنا نجعلك في نحورهم ، ونعوذ بك من شرورهم
He would also say:
اللَّهمَّ استُر عوراتي وآمِن روعاتي
“O Allah! Cover my weaknesses and ease my fears.”
No cost is too great to pay for Paradise, nor is a dignified Muslim like yourself to be held at gunpoint by the allies of Shayṭān. With confidence and reliance upon He Who has never let you down, say “Astaghfirullāh”.
5) “I cannot forgive myself for what I’ve done, and it’s stressing me out.”
One may have indeed cried his heart out in the form of a wrenching apology to Allah, and followed through with all the necessary changes. Yet the ghosts of their sinful past never cease to haunt them, such that they continue to burn them in the heat of guilt. So what is one to do?
Firstly, it is important to note that in principle, such sentiments are positive signs of īmān, as “regret is repentance”.
The Prophet ﷺ said:
إِنَّ الْمُؤْمِنَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَأَنَّهُ قَاعِدٌ تَحْتَ جَبَلٍ يَخَافُ أَنْ يَقَعَ عَلَيْهِ وَإِنَّ الْفَاجِرَ يَرَى ذُنُوبَهُ كَذُبَابٍ مَرَّ عَلَى أَنْفِهِ فَقَالَ بِهِ هَكَذَا
“The true believer sees his sins as a mountain which he sits beneath, fearing that it may collapse on him at any moment. As for the rebellious one, he sees his sins as insignificant as a fly which lands on his nose, which he casually swats away.”
How beautiful are the words of al-Fuḍayl b. ʿIyāḍ, who once invoked Allah by saying:
واسوأتاه منك وإن عفوت
“How ashamed I am of myself, O Allah, even if You pardon!”
And how true are the words of Imam Ibn al-Jawzī, who said:
فأف والله لمختار الذنوب ومؤثر لذة لحظة تبقى حسرة لا تزول عن قلب المؤمن وإن غفر له
“How foolish is he who prefers brief moments of pleasure, the regret of which never leaves the heart of the believer, even if he is forgiven.”
Thus, even if sins are erased after repentance, there are certain sentiments that must never be erased. One of these sentiments is shyness from Allah, for repentance is a wound that never heals. Having said that, however, despair has no place in the heart of a believer. When such whisperings slow them down, a person should recall the words of Ibn ʿAbbās, who once said:
قد دعا الله إلى مغفرته من زعم أن المسيح هو الله ، ومن زعم أن المسيح هو ابن الله ، ومن زعم أن عزيرا ابن الله ، ومن زعم أن الله فقير ، ومن زعم أن يد الله مغلولة ، ومن زعم أن الله ثالث ثلاثة ، يقول الله تعالى لهؤلاء :
“Allah has invited to His forgiveness those who claim that Jesus is Allah, those who claim that Jesus is the son of Allah, those who claim that ʿUzayr is the son of Allah, those who claim that Allah is poor, those who claim that the Hand of Allah is stingy, and those who claim that Allah is one of three, saying to them all:
أفلا يتوبون إلى الله ويستغفرونه والله غفور رحيم
“‘Will they not repent to Allah and ask Him for forgiveness? And Allah is forgiving and merciful.’
ثم دعا إلى توبته من هو أعظم قولا من هؤلاء ، من قال أنا ربكم الأعلى وقال ما علمت لكم من إله غيري
“In fact, He invited to His forgiveness the one who did worse than this: the Pharaoh, who announced, ‘I am your lord the most high’, and said: ‘I do not know of a god for you other than me.’”
Ibn ʿAbbās concluded by saying:
من آيس عباد الله من التوبة بعد هذا فقد جحد كتاب الله
“So whoever causes people to despair from repentance after this has denied the Book of Allah.”
Surely you now see that this hurdle, too, is non-existent.
6) “To be very honest, I don’t feel particularly drawn to repentance. I’m really not up to much and keeping myself to myself.”
Whilst very few would actually articulate this objection in this manner, we do come across people who say: “Alḥamdulillāh, I don’t drink, I don’t fornicate, I don’t use interest, and I guard my chastity. So, I don’t feel the urgency of tawbah.” If you harbour a similar sentiment, then you have just discovered your loudest call for tawbah: a sense of having given Allah His dues.
Bear in mind that no one – not even the Prophets – can ever qualify for Paradise through their good deeds. It is only through Allah’s mercy that we attain salvation in the Hereafter. One cannot then remain unconcerned about turning to Allah and making tawbah. Similarly, we must also bear in mind that no sins are more hazardous than the internal ones, such as shirk (associating partners with Allah), riyā’ (showing off), ya’s (despair), and ghaflah (heedlessness), all of which for the most part lack physical manifestations. Thus, how can one then feel indifferent to tawbah? The point is that we have insurmountable deficiencies that scream out for tawbah.
Abū Bakr once said to the Prophet ﷺ:
عَلِّمْنِي دُعَاءً أَدْعُو بِهِ في صَلاَتِي
“Teach me a duʿā’ to say in my ṣalāh.”
Ponder over the person who is posing this question. This is the greatest person in all of humanity after the Prophets, as well as the very first adult male to embrace Islam. He dedicated his entire life and wealth – along with that of his family’s – for the service of Islam, and was guaranteed Paradise on countless occasions. Despite all of this, consider the duʿā’ which the Prophet ﷺ taught him to say:
قُلْ : اللَّهُمَّ إِنِّي ظَلَمتُ نَفْسِي ظُلْماً كَثِيراً ، وَلاَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلاَّ أنْتَ ، فَاغْفِرْ لي مَغْفِرَةً مِنْ عِنْدِكَ ، وارْحَمْنِي ، إنَّكَ أنْتَ الغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
“Say: ‘O Allah, I have oppressed my soul with great oppression, and none forgives the sins but You; so forgive me with a forgiveness from You and have mercy upon me. No doubt, You are the Most Forgiving, the Most Merciful.’”
If this is what Abū Bakr had to say, what then must our apology to Allah look like?
Nothing is more beautiful than the words of the penitent one who cries out in sincere remorse and searing regret while saying:
“My forelock, O Allah, is in Your Hands. I lower my face on the ground for You. My heart has surrendered to You, and my shadow prostrates to You.
“I knock on Your door with the desperation of a lost child, and I will not leave till You allow me in. After all, I have nowhere else to go; no god to go to but You, no escape but You, no shelter from my fears but You, no hearer and solver of my problems but You. I call upon You despite my pitiful state, and I implore You despite the vastness of my crimes. I, however, have come to learn that Your mercy is vaster than my crimes.
“Should You turn me away, then I am the imprisoned one despite my freedom, the lonely one despite my people, the exiled one despite my home, the bankrupt one despite my wealth, the ill one despite my health, and the dead one despite my life.
“O Allah, I ask You by virtue of Your Supremacy and my lowliness, Your Richness and my poverty, Your Power and my frailty, and Your Wisdom and my ignorance, that You restore back the īmān that I have wounded in my heart, erase the sins that I have accrued, and bring light back to the heart that I have darkened. Only You can do that, and my belief is that You will.
“I am content that You, alone, are Allah. I am happy that I know You, and happier that I worship You, so I beg You to be happy with me.
“I have raised my empty and sinful hands to You. I will not put them down till You fill them with Your forgiveness and acceptance. Never have You left a beseecher empty handed. You are too generous to leave my branch unleafed.”
 Al-Qur’an, 71:13.
 Al-Qur’an, 39:67.
 Narrated by Ibn Ḥibbān in his Ṣaḥīḥ, on the authority of Ibn ʿUmar.
 Muslim, Aḥmad.
 Al-Qur’an, 80:33-37.
 Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr.
 Al-Qur’an, 96:19.
 Al-Qur’an, 4:76.
 Al-Qur’an, 22:38.
 Abū Dāwūd.
 Transliteration: Allāhumma innā najʿaluka fi nuḥūrihim, wa naʿudhu bika min shurūrihim.
 Ibn Mājah, on the authority of Ibn ʿUmar.
 Ibn Mājah, on the authority of Ibn Masʿūd.
 Ṣayd al-Khāṭir.
 Tafsīr Ibn Kathīr.
 Al-Bukhārī and Muslim.