Allah Almighty has made human beings weak; they need to be guided and are prone to making mistakes and committing sins. Some do so out of ignorance of the laws set by Allah while; yet there are some, who even though blessed by knowledge, are led to sins because of their desires, emotions or the conditions around them. When a person sins and realizes that he has done something wrong he is overcome by remorse and an overwhelming feeling of guilt. If not dealt with in the correct manner, these feelings of guilt can greatly affect one’s self-esteem, may weigh him down and make him lose interest in doing good deeds.
Fortunately, one of the many treasures of Islam, is that Allah doesn’t leave His servants to rot in their remorse and guilt, once they realize their sin. Mentioned as Al-Ghafoor (the most forgiving) in more than 90 places in the Glorious Qur’an, He offers every sinner chances of redemption and repentance. He says: “Say, ‘O My servants who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning), do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful’.” (Qur’an, 39:53)
Al-Ghafoor comes from the root ‘ghafara’, which means to cover, conceal, and shield. Some of us might have committed sins that are too many, and at times too shameful, to even think about. But when Allah forgives a sin, He covers it and conceals it. Al-Ghafoor is the One who does not expose the sins of His servants. He protects His servants from the consequences of their sins, screens them and forgives them even though He is All-Knowing of the wrong they committed.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) clarified this when he narrated in a Hadith Qudsi, “Allah the Exalted said: ‘O son of Adam, if you call upon me and place your hope in me, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you have sins piling up to the clouds and then ask for my forgiveness, I will forgive you without any reservation. O son of Adam, if you come to me with enough sins to fill the earth and you meet me without associating a partner with me, I will come to you with enough forgiveness to fill the earth’.” (Sunan Al-Tirmidhi, 3540)
For the one who believes in the mercy of the Almighty, guilt is a powerful means to direct his heart back to the one whose doors of tawbah (repentance) are always open. Allah says: “O you who have believed, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow…” (Qur’an, 66:8)
Even if a person commits sin time after time, his sin is forgiven every time if he follows his sin with repentance – if his repentance each time is sincere. There are three conditions of sincere repentance: Giving up the sin, regretting it and resolving never to go back to it. If one of these three is missing, then one’s repentance is not sincere.
It was said to Al-Hasan: Shouldn’t one of us feel too shy to ask his Lord to forgive his sin, then do it again, then ask for forgiveness, then do it again? He said: ‘The Shaytaan wishes that you would have this attitude so do not tire of asking for forgiveness. I do not think this is anything other than the attitude of the believers, i.e., every time a believer sins, he repents.’
Umar ibn Abd Al-Azeez said: ‘O people, whoever commits sin, let him seek the forgiveness of Allah and repent. If he does it again, let him seek the forgiveness of Allah and repent, and if he does it again, let him seek the forgiveness of Allah and repent. For it is sin, which hangs around a person’s neck, and doom comes from persisting in sin.’
Knowing that Allah forgives should give us much hope. But we should balance fear and hope so that we do not purposefully disobey Him and say that we will repent later. We need to stop doing wrong deliberately and rush to repent from the greatest sins which are disbelief, polytheism and hypocrisy, as well as sins like neglecting religious duties like prayer, charity, obedience to parents, spreading the message of Islam and also for sins like backbiting, slander, envy, suspicion, cheating and wasting time in useless things.
The Prophets and Messengers being so righteous and pure used to acknowledge their mistakes too and turned to Allah in repentance all the time. Prophet Adam and his wife accepted their mistake and said: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves, and if You do not forgive us and have mercy upon us, we will surely be among the losers..”” (Qur’an, 7:23). Similarly Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) said: “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” (Qur’an, 28:16) Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Sometimes I perceive a veil over my heart, and ask Allah for forgiveness one hundred times a day.” (Muslim, 2702)
If this was the practice of the messengers of Allah (peace be upon them all), then what about the rest of us, whose lives are full of shortcomings and sins? Certainly we have a greater need to accept our mistakes, stop and turn to the One who loves the repentance of his disobedient servants and invites them to seek forgiveness every single night.
Indeed, Allah is the Most Merciful and Most Kind. He gives respite even to the worst of sinners so that they realize their mistakes and turn back to Him. His rights are too great for His servants to be able to fulfill them. And indeed, His favors and blessings are too many for them to be able to enumerate them. The only way to safety and relief then, is for us to wake up from our sinful slumber, and let our guilty hearts lead us to repent to Al-Ghafoor every morning and every night.
Originally posted in Arab News