By Hamza Andreas Tzortzis
Last night I arrived in the USA. I am here to deliver a range of lectures at the MAS-ICNA conference in Chicago and the ICNA conference in Atlanta.
I delivered my first lecture last night and an American lady embraced Islām (more about that at the end of this post). The lecture focussed on forgiveness, repentance, sincerity and treading the spiritual path of purifying our hearts.
I started off by speaking about the ephemeral world (dunyā). The dunyā represents the illusory and empty nature of existence. It is a lowly theatre of desires and egocentricity. The dunyā is a barrier between us and Allāh. Attachment to it darkens and hardens our hearts, facilitates sins and insincerity. When we realise the illusory nature of the dunyā it balances and prioritises our lives to be aligned to goodness, worship, seeking paradise and Allāh’s pleasure.
To enlighten and soften our hearts there are a few things we need to do. Firstly we need to repent, secondly we need develop sincerity, and finally we need to tread a path of purifying our hearts.
Allāh tells us in the Qur’ān that in repentance lies our success,
“And O Believers, all of you, repent to Allāh in order that you may be successful.” Qur’ān 24:31
This success is gaining Allāh’s mercy and pleasure, and as a result entering a state of eternal bliss, which is paradise. Allāh is الرَّحْمَٰنُ (The Merciful) and the key to His mercy is repenting for our transgressions against our own souls. Repenting to Allāh is essentially turning back to Him and reestablishing the loving relationship we all yearn to have with Him.
Allāh has made it easy for us to gain His mercy, He reminds us that no sin is greater than His mercy,
“O my servants who have transgressed against themselves, despair not of the mercy of Allāh, verily Allāh forgives all sins.” Qur’ān 39:53
Ibn Taymiyyah elaborates on this verse and concludes that “no sin is too great for Allāh to forgive for the one who repents”. [Majmū’ al-Fatāwa]
Therefore we must never even be in a psychological state of despair. We must never despair and lose hope in Allāh’s mercy. The one who knows Allāh will achieve internal tranquillity and serenity, as they understand that their Lord is intensely merciful and loving.
It must be highlight, however, that we must practice repentance regularly as this elevates us and purifies our souls. The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) said that every human sins and the best of all sinners “are those who repent”. [Related by Tirmidhi]
Significantly Allāh rejoices at our repentance. Not only does turning back to Allāh purify our hearts and facilitates ultimate success, it also gains His pleasure. There is a beautiful story found in Sahih Muslim concerning this matter. The essence of the story involves a man who is traveling in a desolate land and his camel with all of his belongings runs off. After a period of time the man gives up looking for the animal and he submits to his fate. All of a sudden the camel reappears and out of pure joy he cries “Allāh you are my slave and I am your Lord”. Imagine the level of joy the man had to be in to make such a statement? Allāh rejoices in a way that befits His majesty and in a way that is transcendent. The point here is that He wants us to repent, He wants to forgive us, the door is open…we just have to make that small effort to walk through. We have no excuse. How can we alienate ourselves from Allāh’s mercy? Why do we chose Divine alienation and hell over a loving Lord? Its our choice.
Since repenting for our transgressions leads to purity and success, then what are the conditions of repentance?
There are four main conditions of repentance:
1. Give up the sin
2. Feel remorse and regret
3. Resolve never to go back to the sin
4. If the sin involves others such as theft of slander, the person must ask for their forgiveness and give the property back.
Allāh is so forgiving and merciful that if we were to return to the sin and repent, He would forgive us again. This doesn’t mean we take advantage of His mercy because each act of repentance has to be sincere.
The Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) said that Allāh said,
“O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you and I would not mind.” [Related by at-Tirmidhi]
The next thing we must achieve in order to enlighten and soften our hearts is (al-ikhlās) sincerity. Sincerity means doing something for Allāh’s pleasure, or to attain His reward or to remove ourselves from His punishment. Or it can be for all three reasons simultaneously.
In the Islamic spiritual tradition, not doing good deeds or acts of worship for Allāh alone is like chasing a mirage in a desert. The person thinks it is water but ends up quenching his thirst with hot sand. Allāh explains this in the Qur’ān,
“But as for those who are bent on denying the truth, their good deeds are like a mirage in the desert, which the thirsty supposes to be water – until, when he approaches it, he finds that it was nothing: instead, he finds God with him, and that He will pay him his account in full – for God is swift in reckoning!” Qur’ān 24:39
From a spiritual perspective doing good deeds and actions for other than Allāh is empty and meaningless. Everything that exists apart from Allāh is dependent, needy and has physical limitations. This should make us realise that we are solely dependent on Him. Therefore our good deeds and worship should be for His sake alone.
So how do we achieve sincerity? Here are some ideas,
1. Do one good deed or act of worship every day apart from the obligatory acts that no one knows except you and Allāh.
2. Know that without sincerity there is no reward for our deeds and worship, and that they mean nothing. With sincerity there’s no paradise only Divine alienation.
3. Take a snapshot of yourself before doing any act of worship and before doing any good deed and ask your self “who am I doing this for?”
4. Never give up the good deed just because you sense a lack of sincerity.
Being consistent with repentance and turning back to Allāh,and struggling to achieve sincerity is made easier by being on a path of spiritual struggle. In other words on a path of purifying our hearts. Here are some things we can do,
1. Engage in the remembrance of Allāh. The remembrance of Allāh polishes the heart and grants it peace.
“Indeed in the remembrance of Allāh do hearts find peace.” Qur’ān 13:28
This remembrance must adhere with Prophetic practice as the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) was the best worshipper and our guide in these matters. When we engage in the remembrance of Allāh we must be consistent and know what we are saying. Significantly we must become what we are saying, our hearts must yearn and feel the utterances we make.
2. Recite the Qur’ān. Reciting the book of Allāh heals our hearts and softens them to receive His mercy and guidance. As Allāh says,
“And We send down of the Qur’an that which is healing and mercy for the believers” Qur’ān 17:82
“This [Qur’an] is enlightenment for mankind and guidance and mercy for a people who are certain [in faith].” Qur’ān 45:20
3. Reflect on the Qur’ān. The more we reflect on the words of Allāh the more our hearts become unlocked to receive His guidance and mercy.
“Will they not, then, ponder over this Qur’an? – or are there locks upon their hearts?” Qur’ān 47:24
4. Supplicate to Allāh. He is the One who controls our hearts so ask and beg Allāh to purify and soften our hearts.
5. Call people to Allāh. By compassionately inviting people to Islām we spiritually elevate ourselves as Allāh says,
“And who could be better of speech than he who calls [his fellow-men] unto God, and does what is just and right, and says, ‘Verily, I am of those who have surrendered themselves to God’?” Qur’ān 41:33
6. Keep good company. We are social beings. We are affected by peer pressure and external social influences. There are so many Prophetic traditions that encourage good companionship. The book of Allāh explains to us the blessings of pious friendship. In chapter 18 of the Qur’ān, Allāh mentions the people of the cave. The story involves some youth and a dog. These youth were distressed by the polytheism that was emerging in their town and they wanted to be saved from such darkness and corruption. They wanted to affirm Allāh’s Oneness. As a result of their desire to be people of pure monotheism Allāh saved them by placing them in a cave. However, the story also includes a dog that was in the cave with them. So why mention the dog? One could argue it is not an essential part of the story. However if we scratch the surface and reflect deeper we find gems of wisdom. The dog in contrast to the human is seen as a lowly animal, however Allāh saved the dog because it happened to be with pious people who yearned for Allāh and affirmed His Oneness. Therefore, Allāh is teaching us a profound lesson: if Allāh can save a lowly animal just because it happened to be with good company, imagine what He can do to you if you have pious companions?
After the lecture an American lady approached me and she said said that she wanted to become a Muslim. Her friends had told her what Islam is and she was tearful and wanted to love Allāh and receive His love. I told her to unlock the door she had closed which prevented her from establishing that loving relationship. Allāh has given us free will and He cannot force us to love Him. I told her that since she believes Allāh is uniquely One, and is the Only Being worthy of worship, and that the Prophet Muhammad (upon whom be peace) is His final messenger then she should embrace Islām. I simply told her that if you want to fall in love with Allāh and that you have a strong intention to worship Him she should unlock the door she has closed and receive Divine mercy. She started to cry and embraced Islām, alhamdoulilah (perfect gratitude and all thanks belongs to Allāh).
As I write this I am on the plane to Atlanta to speak at the ICNA conference. I should be back in Chicago later this evening, insha’Allah (God-willing).