We All Sin, But Who Among Us Repents?
Committing sins and falling into error is an unavoidable human trait, such that Allah’s Messenger (peace be upon him) said, “By the One in whose hand is my soul, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would have swept you out of existence and would have brought about another people who commit sin, and then seek forgiveness, and He would then forgive them.” (Ahmad, vol. 20, p. 344; Al-Tirmidhi, vol. 4, p. 659) He also said, “All the children of Adam sin repeatedly, and the best of those who sin repeatedly are those who repent frequently.” (Sahih Muslim, vol. 4, no. 2749)
Repenting to Allah (Tawbah) is one of the greatest characteristics of people of faith; Allah says, ‘‘…and turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed.” (Qur’an, 24:31) He also 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 (on) the Day when Allah will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will proceed before them and on their right; they will say, “Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You are Able to do all things.” (Qur’an, 66:8)
Ibn Al-Qayyim defines repentance by stating that “the reality of repentance is to have regret for that which one has committed in the past, to disassociate oneself from it in the here and now and to have the resolve to not return to it in the future.” (Madarij Al-Salikin, vol. 1, p. 199)
When a servant happens to slip and disobey Allah, if he is righteous, two inseparable qualities are manifested. The first is swift remorse and return to Allah – the heart that is alive with Iman (faith) neither continues with disobedience nor continues transgressing; it is quick in resorting back to his Lord in repentance.
Allah says, “And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves (by transgression), remember Allah and so seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah? – and (who) do not persist in what they have done while they know.” (Qur’an, 3:135) He also says, “And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but then seeks forgiveness of Allah will find Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.” (Qur’an, 4:110)
He also says, “And Paradise will be brought near to the righteous, not far. (It will be said), ‘This is what you were promised – for every ‘Awwab’ and keeper (of His covenant). Who feared the Most Merciful unseen and came with a heart returning (in repentance).’” (Qur’an, 50:31-33) Ibn Kathir said, “Awwab means one who continually returns, repents and renounces.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathir, vol. 4, p. 229)
The second quality is not to regard disobedience as a trivial matter. The righteous Believer does not regard sinning as being insignificant regardless how negligible the sin is classified as being. This is remaining true to the saying of Allah’s Messenger, “Beware of small sins, for the example of slight sins is that of a group of travelers who broke their journey in a valley. Then one of them brought in a stick and another came up with another piece until they were able to gather enough to bake their bread. Remember! If a person is held to account for his small sins, surely they will destroy him.” (Ahmad, vol. 37, p. 467)
This is why our righteous forefathers, may Allah be pleased with them, would take the utmost care not to fall into sin (whether major or minor); Anas Ibn Malik said, “You people do deeds which seem in your eyes as minute as a strand of hair while we used to consider those very deeds during the lifetime of the Prophet as destructive sins.” (Al-Bukhari, vol. 11, no. 6492)
Abdullah Bin Mas‘ud said, “A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain, which he fears may fall on him; whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose and he just drives them away like this.” (Al-Bukhari, vol. 11, no. 6308) Abu Shihab (the sub-narrator) moved his hand over his nose in illustration.