By Dr. Jasser Auda
(If you find yourself having less hope in God when you make a mistake, then realize you are only relying on your work.)
I have an intention to start a spiritual journey to God (Exalted be He), but the question is: where should I start? What are my necessary supplies and provisions in this journey? Should I recall the good deeds I have done and take them as my provisions in this journey?
The answer given by Ibn `Ata’illah in this word of wisdom is: No. I should not rely even on my good deeds. I should start my journey to God putting my trust on Him alone, and hoping only for His Mercy and Bounty.
One might ask: Is not receiving God’s Mercy a result of my good deeds? Does the Godly Mercy stop? Does the Godly Bounty end?
The answer is: No. “If God were to take men (immediately) to task for all the evil that they do (on earth), He would not leave a single living creature upon its face.” (An-Nahl 16:61)
Therefore, I should rely on God’s Mercy and Bounties despite my shortcomings. This is the right course for the right start.
The right start has to be accompanied also by offering repentance of sins and errors. According to God’s laws in His Universe, if I want to add something to any place, there should be a space for this addition. If I want to fill my heart with light and God’s remembrance, I should first completely empty my heart of filth, darkness, and sins.
Only then filling my heart with goodness becomes very easy or according to the Sufi expression, (one has to divest his heart of bad characteristics before filling it with good ones, then having peace in his heart deriving from unceasing devotion to God). Therefore, I start the journey with repenting to God of my shortcomings.
And (always), O you believers – all of you – turn unto God in repentance, so that you might attain to a happy state! (An-Nur 24:31)
Hope in God
In addition to repentance, there is another important meaning that Ibn `Ata’illah emphasizes in this word of wisdom, that is of hope. I have to take repentance and hope as my companions in my journey. As for the question on how to relate repentance to hope in this start, this is what Ibn `Ata’illah explains in this word of wisdom.
Ibn `Ata’illah (may God be merciful to him and be pleased with him) says: (If you find yourself having less hope in God when you make a mistake, then realize you are only relying on your work.) This means: among the signs, through which you know that you are relying and putting your trust on you deeds not on God’s Mercy and Bounty, is that your hope in God (Glorified and Exalted be He) decreases when you sin and err, then you start to repent to God.
For Sincere Repentance
There are some conditions attached to repentance. First, you should feel remorseful for the sin you have committed. Second, you should give up that sin. Third, you should have a strong will never to sin again. Fourth, if the sin you have committed has to do with people’s rights, you have to give this right back.
If you want to offer a sincere repentance, you have to meet these conditions.
The first condition is feeling sorry for the sin you have committed. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said; “Repentance means feeling sorry (for having disobeyed God)”. (Ibn Hibban & Ibn Majah)
The second condition is to refrain from committing the sin. You cannot continue committing the sin and at the same time you claim that you are demonstrating repentance. This is clear hypocrisy.
The third condition is to have a strong will never to sin again, i.e. you cannot feel regret about your sin and give it up, while you have an intention to commit the sin again next week or so. If happens that you committed the sin again, you have to renew the repentance, renew your deep feeling of regret and your will not to sin again.
God is Most-Forgiving and Forbearing, Most Merciful and Compassionate. He does not mind accepting one’s repentance again and again. On the contrary, God feels happy when His servant repents to Him every time he sins.
As for the fourth condition, scholars said that if the sin you have committed has to do with people’s rights, you have to give this right back. For example, if you unlawfully take something from someone, you have to give it back. If you do someone an injustice, you have to remedy this injustice. You have also to acknowledge people’s rights and seek their pardon if you take their money or speak ill of them.
Ibn `Ata’illah supposes that you have fulfilled these conditions. But here we are talking about one of the ethics attached to repentance, which is that of hope. Ethics are different from conditions. If you fulfill the conditions, you have also to fulfill the ethics. You should cherish hopes that God will accept your repentance.
These it is who may look forward to God’s grace: for God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace. (AL-Baqarah 2:218)
Sometimes, hope is lost when one asks himself: how should I look forward to God’s grace after committing such sins and how is God going to accept my repentance?
This feeling will affect one’s hope in God’s mercy and eventually may lead him to a state of despair and hopelessness.
And who-other than those who have utterly lost their way-could ever abandon the hope of his Sustainer’s grace? (Al-Hijr 15:65)
In this connection, Ibn `Ata’illah says that, no matter how grave one’s sins are, they should not affect his hope in God’s mercy. If one repents sincerely to God, God, surely, will accept his repentance. The Prophet is reported to have said “One who has repented of a sin (sincerely) is like one who has never sinned at all.” (Ibn Majah)
Rest assured that if you offer a sincere repentance, God will accept it no matter how grave your sins are. These sins are nothing in God’s sight. God says in the Divine Hadith: “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 you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, I would forgive you.” (At-Tirmidhi)
Therefore, hope should not be affected by the gravity of the sin. Rather, one should make a sincere intention to repent to Allah of the sins and look forward to His Mercy. God says in the divine hadith: “I am as My servant expects Me to be. So, let him think of Me as he wishes.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
The article is excerpted from “Some of Al-Hikam Al-Ataiyyah” (The Path to God: A Journey with Ibn `Ata’illah’s Words of Wisdom In the Light of the Quran, the Prophetic Tradition, and Universal Laws of God- By Dr. Jasser Auda