If there's one thing that has been surprisingly consistent in my life for the past 10 years, it is my tawbah ritual. Until very recently, I saw this has a dark patch of my life story. If I have to repent this much and so often, it means that I sin often, if I sin often then what kind of slave am I?
Firstly, falling into a sin is rarely something that just falls on me randomly. It usually is coming from far, it is preventable (most of the time), it is foreseeable. Again, I didn't realise this point until later. The symptoms are as follows: slowly but surely, the level of remembrance (dikr) will reduce, nawafil (voluntary actions) will stop gradually, the khushu' (focus) in prayer will diminish, carelessness will fill the heart. Once these symptoms appear and last over a few days, then falling and trespassing divine limits is an easy thing for the devil to suggest. You are already weak, your protection is down, you are -in other words- an easy prey.
Secondly, understand that one sin never comes alone. A sin will almost always be accompanied by other sins (buy one get a few free kind-of). It is said that sins open doors to other sins just as good deeds open doors to other good deeds. Look at your own life, isn't this pattern also true for you? This is very true and I ask Allah to make the doors of goods deeds forever open to us. Unfortunately, I do not escape from this rule and if I fall into a sin, it's usually several sins that occur and not just one. No matter what the sin is, whether big or fall, significant to your eyes or minuscule, as a believer every transgression is a source of anguish, pain and regret. A trick a lot of people fall into is minimising sins but if faith has truly entered your heart, the very moment you stumble out of the commands of the All-Mighty, you already know you're in the wrong. Personally, I have never committed a sin without being strangled with veils of regret and sorrow immediately upon the realisation of my mistake. Sometimes, I feel anger overcoming me. Sometimes, it is sadness. But disappointment is always present.
Now, once you are down.. how do you get back up? As for me, I cannot get back up and resume life until I have shown God how sorry, how regretful and ashamed I am for my transgression. Until I break down in front of Him (swt), until I acknowledge my errors, until my sighs of self-desperation become so heavy on my heart, until warm tears are shed, until I beg Him (swt) for forgiveness, until I plead for a fresh start and a new page with Him (swt).. until then, I can't get back to normal. But.. and there is a but. Reaching this emotional peak can take time: managing to find both the timing and the energy to do this soul-cleansing can take a few days. And let me tell you that these moments -especially if they turn into days/weeks/months- are difficult, excruciating and painful. They are difficult to bear because you know what wrong you've done yet life continues. Your obligations and duties are awaiting you. You are in spiritual crisis, but most likely no one knows your ordeal.
Maybe you're thinking 'duh, why don't you just repent then?' Like I've said, my tawbah routine is a 'give-it-all', I don't do 'half-hearted' or 'lip service' or 'quick and get over it' kind of repentance. It doesn't fulfil me. Again, this is a recent realisation. Now, I know that after a sin that has hurt my soul, I must make the time to do my ''ritual'' otherwise, I will remain unhappy and feeling down. For many years, I didn't know how to deal with sins and I struggled with mood swings but I am so grateful that Allah (swt) kept me striving nonetheless. A technique I used to use a lot back then was that as soon as I fell into a sin, I would immediately seclude myself in the masjid and if immediately wasn't possible then asap. This was systematic. I considered sins as dirt and cleaning myself was imperative. How do you clean yourself spiritually? For me, going to the masjid and reflecting on my mistakes was a wonderful way to do this soul-cleaning. This is one of the reasons why I am an advocate for sisters attending the masjid. The masjid has been a life-saver in my spiritual journey and I know it also is for many sisters. Do not prevent the female slaves of the Lord going to His house, please.
Many times, I had to conduct sisters' circles with the burden of fresh sins. Do you know how hard that is? But, alhamdulilah, I never let the whispers of shaytan tell me 'oh, who do you think you are telling them to be righteous when you're not even righteous yourself, go home'. I never allowed that to cross my mind. Every time, I would pick myself up, put on a brave face, deliver the reminder -which was a reminder to myself tbh- and go back home to grieve before repenting properly. No wonder why msot of the reminders I used to give tended to revolve around the topics of tawbah (repentance), taqwah (God-consciousness), muraqabatu-llah (closeness to the Lord) ect. Sisters would often compliment me for the heart-softening reminders unaware and oblivious to the fact that it was my hurt soul and heart that was speaking to them. This also helped me to keep level-headed, their compliments meant very little to me because I knew my own reality. How could their praise mean anything to me when I knew the battles I was fighting in secret?
The one time shaytan managed to plant a whisper in my mind was back in 2009, during Ramadan. This guy was supposed to be imprisoned in Ramadan right? I don't know how he pulled this one! A sister I loved and looked up to for the sake of Allah was fund raising for the drought that was happening in Somalia and she had asked me if I could go with her to collect money from the local Muslim businesses. I didn't hesitate a second. In my mind, I saw this as a unique opportunity for khayr and so I agreed to it. I left my house without telling my mother where I was going because I was afraid that she would object to me partaking in this. I met with the sister, she gave me the bucket and off we went. We were out that afternoon for hours, going from one store to another. My friend was doing all the talking and despite feeling rather awkward about the whole thing, I kept distracting myself by anticipating my rewards with the Lord.
With maghrib approaching, we stopped and each one of us returned home. I got back to my house to my mother who wasn't happy. I hadn't answered any of her calls. She asked me where on earth I had been all day. I told her that I went fundraising with my friend. Mom was definitely not pleased. I still remember how upset she was with me to this day. She was upset because I sneaked out of the house, because I had been wandering around outside for hours (I was raised not to 'wander' in town, not to expose myself to men ect), because she was unwell that day and had to step in the kitchen to prepare iftar, because I hadn't answered my phone. Things just seemed to pile up and add up that evening, and not in my favour. I didn't try to justify myself. The feelings of guilt and regret overcame me rapidly. I felt terrible. Suddenly, it was as if everything I was doing that afternoon became so bad. With my newly gained insight, it really felt like putting glasses on for the first time and I could finally see how wrong it was for us to 'fund-raise' on the streets (and btw, we even had police officers come to us and tell us what we were doing was illegal because we didn't have a registered charity, we stopped after that *oh dear*). It was against the modesty and shyness I thought I had in me. What was more devastating to me what knowing that mom was so angry with me. That feeling makes me feel pretty useless.
That night I requestioned everything. 'What's the point of going taraweeh now? What's the point when mom is angry with me? Oh, you're wearing jilbab? What's the point when you've been walking outside all day long, up and down? You don't even deserve this cloth of purity and modesty!'. Yeah, shaytan was giving his ultimate speech during this low moment. Finally, I decided to still go to taraweeh but I didn't wear my jilbab. I downgraded to abaya and khimar. I felt that it was what I 'deserved'. Alhamdulilah though, I quickly snapped out of it, repented to Allah and apologised to my mother. This was the only time that I allowed the whispers to overtake me. Whispers will come, especially after sinning 'you're such a hypocrite. How dare you show your good face to people ect' but you must keep going. How many times have I almost missed a dars (lesson) because I felt unworthy but, I still went. The hadeeth about people who attend circles of knowledge being forgiven motivated me.
Being pious is not a condition to command the good and prevent the evil. Command the good even if it's not something you do and prohibit the evil even if it's something you do. This is not hypocrisy even though you should fear hypocrisy. Not long ago, I read something that changed everything. EVERYTHING. It was a comment that is reported from Ibn Qayyim, the king of spirituality (I like to think we would have been such buddies if we lived in the same era :p). I will try to paraphrase it and translate it as best as I can.
'.. and it is something that Ibn Qayyim realised after tasting some of the fruits of sins and he found them to be sweet-tasting, that they transformed the dark pain into glad tidings and said 'If Allah wills for His slave goodness, He present him with sins that will break him (in repentance) and He (Allah) will grant a forgiveness to the extent of his breaking. And to this Hassan al-Basri added: 'if the slave sins and then repents, he will only increase in goodness with Allah'.
Are you reading this properly? 'he will only increase in goodness'? Ya Salaam
Reading this has been uplifting, comforting and simply the best thing. I now feel so privileged knowing that all the terrible sins I had committed were actually a means that lead me to 'break' myself to Him (swt) and a means of sweetness, of goodness and closeness to my Lord. I no longer feel guilty having to repent so often. Repentance is a gift. 'Breaking' yourself (al-inkisaar) is an amazing gift. Ibn Qayyin and Hassan al-Basri are right, the feeling after repenting is sweet.
How kind is Allah to give us such sweetness after the sourness of sins that we bring on ourselves by day and by night.
Thank You Rabbi..