You might say: “I want to repent, but my sins are many indeed. There is no kind of immoral act, no kind of sin, imaginable or otherwise, that I have not committed. It is so bad that I do not know if Allaah can forgive me for the things that I have done over the years.”
In response, I would tell you that this is not a unique problem; it is one that is shared by many of those who wish to repent. Let me give you the example of a young man who asked this question once. He began his career of sin at a very early age, and by the time he was only seventeen, he already had a long record of committing every kind of immoral act, major and minor, with all kinds of people, old and young alike. He had even abused a little girl. Added to this was a long list of thefts. Then he said: “I have repented to Allaah. I now pray tahajjud some nights, and I fast every Monday and Thursday, and I read Qur’aan after Fajr prayers. Will my repentance be of any avail?”
The guiding principle for us Muslims is to refer to the Qur’aan and Sunnah when we look for rulings, solutions and remedies. When we refer this matter to the Qur’aan, we find that Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning): “Say: ‘O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins)! Despair not of the Mercy of Allaah, verily Allaah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And turn in repentance and in obedience with true faith to your Lord and submit to Him…” [al-Zumar 39:53-54].
This is the answer to this particular problem. The matter is quite clear and needs no further explanation.
The feeling that one’s sins are too great to be forgiven by Allaah stems from a number of factors:
The absence of certain faith on the part of the slave in the vastness of Allaah’s mercy
A lack of faith in the ability of Allaah to forgive all sins
Weakness in one aspect of the heart’s action, namely hope
Failure to understand the effect of repentance in wiping out sins
We will answer all these points here:
It is sufficient to quote the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning): “… and My Mercy embraces all things…” [al-A’raaf 7:156]
It is sufficient to quote the saheeh hadeeth qudsi: “Allaah says: “Whoever knows that I am able to forgive all sins, I shall forgive him, and I shall not mind, so long as he does not associate anything with Me.’” (Reported by al-Tabaraani in al-Kabeer, and by al-Haakim; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4330). This refers to when the slave meets his Lord in the Hereafter.
This may be remedied by referring to the hadeeth qudsi: “ ‘O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and put your hope in Me, I will forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, if your sins were to reach the clouds of the sky, and you were to ask me for forgiveness, I will forgive you and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, if you were to come to Me with sins nearly the size of the earth, and you were to meet Me not associating anything with Me, then I would bring you forgiveness nearly the size of (the earth).’” (Reported by al-Tirmidhi; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 4338).
It is sufficient to quote the hadeeth of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “The one who repents from his sin is like the one who did not sin in the first place.” (Reported by Ibn Maajah; Saheeh al-Jaami’, 3008).
For those who find it hard to comprehend how Allaah may forgive such an accumulation of sin, we quote the following hadeeth:
The repentance of one who killed a hundred
Abu Sa’eed Sa’d ibn Maalik ibn Sinaan al-Khudri (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported that the Prophet of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “There was among the people who came before you a man who killed ninety-nine people. Then he asked about the most knowledgeable person on earth, and was directed to a hermit, so he went to him, told him that he had killed ninety-nine people, and asked if he could be forgiven. The hermit said, ‘No,’ so he killed him, thus completing one hundred. Then he asked about the most knowledgeable person on earth and was directed to a scholar. He told him that he had killed one hundred people, and asked whether he could be forgiven. The scholar said, ‘Yes, what could possibly come between you and repentance? Go to such-and-such a town, for in it there are people who worship Allaah. Go and worship with them, and do not go back to your own town, for it is a bad place.” So the man set off, but when he was halfway there, the angel of death came to him, and the angels of mercy and the angels of wrath began to argue over him. The angels of mercy said: ‘He had repented and was seeking Allaah.’ The angels of wrath said: ‘He never did any good thing.’ An angel in human form came to them, and they asked him to decide the matter. He said: ‘Measure the distance between the two lands (his home town and the town he was headed for), and whichever of the two he is closest to is the one to which he belongs.’ So they measured the distance, and found that he was closer to the town for which he had been headed, so the angels of mercy took him.” (Agreed upon). According to a report in al-Saheeh: “The righteous town was a hand-span closer, so he was counted as one of its people.” According to another report in al-Saheeh: “Allaah commanded (the evil town) to move away, and (the righteous town) to move closer, and said: ‘Measure the distance between them,’ and they found him to be a hand-span closer to the righteous town, so he was forgiven.”
What then can come between a person and repentance? Do you think that your sins are any greater than the sins of this man, whose repentance Allaah accepted? So why despair? The matter is even greater than this. Think about the words of Allaah (interpretation of the meaning): “And those who invoke not any other god along with Allaah, nor kill such life as Allaah has forbidden, except for just cause, nor commit illegal sexual intercourse – and whoever does this shall receive the punishment. The torment shall be doubled to him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will abide therein in disgrace; except those who repent and believe, and do righteous deeds; for those, Allaah will change their sins into good deeds, and Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” [al-Furqaan 25:68-70].
Stop and think about that phrase: “… Allaah will change their sins into good deeds…” [al-Furqaan 25:70]. This will explain to you the immense grace and favour of Allaah. The scholars have defined this change as being of two types:
Changing bad characteristics into good ones, so that shirk is changed into true faith, fornication into chastity, lies into truthfulness, treachery into trustworthiness, etc.
Changing evil deeds that one has committed into good deeds on the Day of Resurrection. Think about the words “…Allaah will change their sins into good deeds…”. It does not say that one bad deed will be exchanged for a good deed (of equal weight). It could be less, the same, or more, in number or in weight. It will depend on the sincerity of the one who repents. Can you imagine any greater favour than this? See how this divine generosity is further explained in the following hadeeth:
‘Abd al-Rahmaan ibn Jubayr reported from Abu Taweel Shatb al-Mamdood that he came to the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) [another report states that a very old man whose eyebrows had fallen over his eyes (i.e., he had sunken eyes) came and stood before the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) supporting himself with a stick] and said: “What do you think of a man who has committed every sin, not leaving out any sin, major or minor [according to another report: if his sins were to be divided among all the people of the world, they would destroy them]. Can such a man repent?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) asked, “Have you become Muslim?” He said: “I bear witness that there is no god except Allaah and that you are the messenger of Allaah.” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Do good deeds and keep away from evil deeds, and Allaah will turn them all into good deeds for you.” He asked, “What about my acts of treachery and immorality?” The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Yes, (those too).” The man said, “Allaahu akbar (Allaah is most great)!” and kept glorifying Allaah until he was out of sight.
(Al-Haythami said: a similar version was reported by al-Tabaraani and al-Bazzaar. The men of al-Bazzaar’s isnaad are the men of saheeh apart from Muhammad ibn Haaroon Abi Nasheetah, who is thiqah. Al-Majma’ 1/36. Al-Mundhiri said in al-Targheeb: its isnaad is jayyid qawiy, 4/113. Ibn Hajar said in al-Isaabah 4/149 that it meets the conditions of saheeh.)
At this point the one who is seeking to repent may ask: “When I was astray and not even praying, which meant I was beyond the pale of Islam, I did do some good deeds. Will I be rewarded for these deeds after I repent, or are they lost in the wind?”
The answer to this question may be found in the following hadeeth: ‘Urwah ibn al-Zubayr reported that Hakeem ibn Hizaam told him that he said to the Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him): “O Messenger of Allaah, do you think that I will be rewarded for the (good) things like giving charity, freeing slaves and upholding family ties that I did during the Jaahiliyyah (days of ignorance before Islam)?” The Messenger of Allaah (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “You became Muslim because of the good that you had already done.” (Reported by al-Bukhaari).
These sins will be forgiven, these evil deeds will be turned into good deeds, and these good deeds that were done during the days of jaahiliyyah will still count in your favour after you repent. What more could anyone possibly want?