My inbox has been peppered with a number of requests for advice for those seeking to turn a new corner this Ramadan. In some of those letters, folks spoke of frustration, even a hopelessness, in their ability to overcome their souls’ desires and return to a God-pleasing lifestyle.
The first step is to know, as I wrote on Twitter, is to think of it like this:
It is very difficult to treat malaria in a swamp. The sincerity of tawbah (repentance) is similar.
The success of one’s tawbah will be greatly affected by one’s environment, thus, one should take every possible step to remove oneself from environments that are not conducive to achieving this goal. But beyond the condemnation of impermissible acts lies an important theological point in our religious tradition that is not accentuated enough. Namely, that is God’s mercy. While I do not wish to impart false hope for those engaged in grievous actions, nor do I wish to perpetuate a psychology of defeat. So these words of advice are an attempt to fall between these two.
The main point is to know that God has no need of us to go to hell. To be explicit, this is not the same as God not putting one in the Fire if one has earned it. That being said, the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه وسلم said eloquently:
كُلُّ بَنِي آدَمَ خَطَّاءٌ وَخَيْرُ الْخَطَّائِينَ التَّوَّابُونَ
“Every son of Adam sins and the best of those who commit sins are those who repent.” (Sunan Ibn Majah, hadith# 4251)
You (and Shaytan!) may say to yourself “why bother repenting?” You may feel that you are caught in a cycle: sin and repent. Over and over again. All the while, Shaytan will try and trick you into breaking this cycle. For it is better to be stuck in this cycle than to be mired in ceaseless disobedience. If you die while running from disobedience to repentance, then you have won. And if you die while running from repentance, do not lose hope: the emphasis should be placed on where you just came from, and not on what you’re running to. And your Lord is infinitely merciful.
مَنْ عَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَنْ أَسَاءَ فَعَلَيْهَا ۖ ثُمَّ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمْ تُرْجَعُونَ
“Whoever acts rightly, it is to their own good and whoever does evil, it is to their own detriment. Either way, you will be returned to your Lord.” (Qur’an, 45: 15)
And with God is all success. Ramadan mubarak.