It is beyond the scope of humans to refrain from sin altogether. However, we can strive against sinning in two main ways. The first is to always remain conscious of Allah (swt), so we can avoid falling into error to the greatest possible extent. The second is to repent sincerely to Allah (swt) whenever we err.
The Prophet (sa) said: “Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent.” (Ibn Majah) Repentance does not simply mean feeling guilty over a sin or viewing it as something detestable. Whether your sin is of a personal nature or you have wronged someone through your words, actions or attitude, remember to follow these four steps to try and compensate for your wrong.
- Acknowledge Your Sin
Repentance begins with admitting your sin both in your heart and through your words. Express your remorse and implore Allah (swt) for forgiveness. Adam (as) and Hawwa, having eaten from the forbidden tree, began their earnest repentance with these words: “Our Lord, we have wronged ourselves…” (Al-Araf 7:23) Similarly, Yunus (as), after disobeying Allah (swt), prayed: “…Indeed, I have been of the wrongdoers.” (Al-Anbiya 21:87) The prayer of Musa (as) is simple, yet so meaningful: “My Lord, indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.” (Al-Qasas 28:16)
If you have wronged someone, begin by apologizing to them. The brothers of Yusuf (as), who had cast him in a well during his childhood, later admitted: “By Allah, certainly has Allah preferred you over us, and indeed, we have been sinners.” (Yusuf 12:91) Learn to say you are sorry and that you regret what you said or did. Never let shyness or ego get in the way of your apology. Remember, admitting your sin or folly does not make you small; rather, it is a means of making up for a weakness inherent in human nature. Ken Blanchard, in his book “The One Minute Apology”, describes ‘surrender’ as the first major component of an effective apology. Always be willing to surrender your ego and adopt humility.
- Face the Consequences
Being remorseful is usually not enough; you must be willing to face the consequences of your transgression. Whatever trial you are put through as a result of your sin, be steadfast and resolute, knowing that it shall pass one day. Yunus (as) spent several agonizing days inside a sea creature and was then cast ashore, while extremely ill, but he never lost hope of salvation. Even more pertinent is the example of Musa (as) who, after mistakenly killing a man, had to give up all he had and live as a poor shepherd in rural Midian for nearly a decade, in stark contrast to his royal upbringing in Egypt. However, his greatest concern was being forgiven and guided by Allah (swt).
A possible consequence of hurting someone is being deprived of their trust or attention. Bear with it patiently, and if they want to get back at you, let them do so. Be willing to sacrifice and leave your comfort zone to regain the other person’s trust. The eldest son of Yaqub (as), after failing to protect his young brother in Egypt, despite assuring his father to the contrary, thus vowed: “So I will never leave [this] land until my father permits me or Allah decides for me, and He is the best of judges.” (Yusuf 12:80) This act demonstrated his desire to regain his father’s trust having initially failed in his duty.
- Take Corrective Action
Your remorse must always be accompanied by an eagerness to take corrective action against your earlier wrong. Even if your act does not reverse the damage entirely, it can make some difference, which may be significant in the sight of Allah (swt). Yunus (as), after recovering from his illness, preached the word of Allah (swt) to the people of Nineveh – something he had refused to do earlier. His persistent efforts bore fruit, when his people, against all odds, believed in Allah (swt) and transformed into an exemplary nation. The magicians at the time of Musa (as) compensated for their acts of sorcery by professing faith in a huge public gathering and remaining firm upon it despite Pharaoh’s threats of torture and crucifixion.
In the same way, an apology is incomplete, if you do not strive to practically make up to the wronged person. The trouble you bear in the process makes your apology credible and motivates you not to commit the same offence again. Ken Blanchard describes ‘integrity’ as the second main component of an effective apology. Integrity is manifested through practical efforts aimed at giving substance to your words. Therefore, make sure you are proactive, instead of offering a lazy excuse, when asking someone to be forgiven.
- Change Your Attitude
Once you have acknowledged your wrong, faced the aftermath, and taken corrective action, the last step is to reduce the likelihood of repeating that sin. Focus on what prompted you to err, eradicate its means, and change your attitude towards it by viewing it in a negative light. After Musa (as) vowed never to be a “supporter of the criminals” (Al-Qasas 28:17) again, he attained great righteousness and nearness to Allah (swt). Similarly, the Queen of Sheba, upon realizing the folly of worshipping the sun, immediately disowned her previous ways and devoted herself to Allah (swt) alone. The Quran also mentions how the brothers of Yusuf (as) reformed themselves, after they repented for their violent jealousy towards Yusuf (as).
Think often about your sins and errors, and how you can avoid them. If you wronged someone by acting selfishly, discover the joy of putting others’ interests before your own. If you hurt someone’s feelings because you spoke too soon, always remind yourself to keep your words in check. Remember, if you do not make a conscious effort to avoid repeating the same mistakes, your repentance may become a meaningless exercise, unlikely to be accepted by Allah (swt). On the other hand, striving to overcome and compensate for your sins and hurtful actions shall definitely be rewarded by Allah (swt), provide you inner peace, and bring about positive change in your life.
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