Sometimes I feel that I want to write about repentance all the time. Perhaps this is because I am in my senior years and I see my further existence on earth as being a very short one. Perhaps also, I want to write about it, because I am also writing to myself as a constant reminder of the need for all of us to be constantly, or as much as possible, in a state of repentance. I cannot stress this enough, because of my realization that this is a very important door to spiritual change and growth. That is why many of the pious people have said that the path on which one is, has repentance at its beginning (and here I want to change things a little bit), repentance along its course (and not in the middle as they say), and repentance at its end. It appears from this, and I think that it is so, that one of the most important elements in spiritual development is abundance of repentance. It must be so! It is perhaps the major process of intense purification of oneself and the removal from one’s record all those deeds that are major stumbling blocks to one’s growth. When Nabi Muhammad (ﷺ) said that when one repents it is as if one has never done the deed, what more do we want from our Lord? Allah (ﷻ) has prepared so much for us and He has given us the means to attain countless virtues from Him.
One of the questions that arise is: “What does one do with the memory of bad deeds?” Some pious scholars are of the opinion that because after repentance one’s deed is totally removed from one’s Record, that one should also erase it from one’s memory. This is very difficult. One’s memory has the uncanny ability to always remind one of the past. Sometimes I think the memory is made of granite. Other scholars are of the opinion that one should remember the deeds of the past as a reminder to one, not only of one’s repentance, but more of one’s Lord’s Generosity in the granting of repentance. Both views are very valuable. The first view wants one to look forward to life and not to let events of the past, burden one’s passage. The other view wants one to look back, to remind one, of what can go wrong in life. We may choose whichever one we desire. They are there for us.
Repentance, of course, should be used as a means for a new spiritual direction or spiritual change. There is very little value in a repentance that is not followed by deeds that pushes one forward along the road of spirituality. In a sense we use repentance to change our lives, from a state of disobedience to one of obedience, from one void of spirituality to one filled with spiritual activities and exercises. In the many cases that I know, people changed the direction of their lives after repentance. In some cases, they used the ceremonies of the Hajj to obtain repentance, made a renewed commitment to Islam, and walked a road of patient obedience to their Lord.
I think, more than anything else, repentance is not only to have one’s record cleared, but it is more to start a new record of subservience, with all its practical implications, to one’s Lord. The assessment of the sincerity of one’s repentance does not lie in the repentance itself, but in what follows. It is perhaps for this reason that Allah (ﷻ) converts with repentance, all one’s acts of disobedience to acts of obedience. What this conversion means is that in a sense the record is not cleared but that all those deeds of disobedience on the record are converted to deeds of obedience. Let me repeat – what more do we want? There is so much generosity for us through the different attributes of our Lord; so many doors to enter, and so many paths to walk. I find this so overwhelming. It is as if our Lord is providing us with every possible means to come to Him in a state of piety. What more do we want? We say to our Lord: “O our Lord, we are in deep gratitude to Thee, amin.”
In these letters on repentance, I have mentioned the variety of benefits that flow from it. There are many benefits we know nothing about because that knowledge lies with Allah (ﷻ) and His Messenger (ﷺ). This, of course, applies to all our religious deeds. We talk of benefits or virtues or rewards but what these are and how they are applied are all outside our knowledge. Many of the things we talk about are in fact outside our knowledge. But that is another letter. I have said so far that repentance cleans one’s record of transgressions, or converts those transgressions to good deeds or takes one on a special spiritual path. Other than these, every time one repents, whether they are necessary or not, one’s spiritual status is raised by Allah (ﷻ). When we as servants appeal and call on our Lord, even for things which might not be necessary at the time, our Lord raises our status of servitude. And every time this status is raised, Allah (ﷻ) brings us nearer and nearer to a station of His at which we receive special blessings. So even if it is possible for one not to sin on a particular day, one should still ask for repentance as a means of working towards a station of major attainment. There is so much for us. We appeal to our Lord humbly as servants for one of those stations, amin.