One of the things that stops me from praying Salaah is that my mother will taunt me,” said a college-going girl to me once, “I know I should pray, but I am afraid that she will say, “After doing so many wrong things, now you are praying?””
What this girl was saying is true, although it isn't a good enough excuse to stop praying. Many people, often even your close friends and well-wishers, don’t let you forget your past misdeeds if they see you start to turn over a new leaf by praying regularly or donning the hijab. “Hundreds of men have seen you uncovered for years. Now you decide to cover yourself?” comes the taunt with a cocked eyebrow and a smirk.
One of the major obstacles that people face when they feel regret in their heart for disobeying Allah and then turn back to Him to start a new life with religious vigour, is that the people around them — their family and friends — most of whom were their companions and supporters in their “non-Islamic” lifestyle and habits — will ridicule them, throw their past in their faces, and outright relinquish their company.
Fear of people and of being socially ostracized keeps hundreds of believers from turning back to their Lord in sincere Taubah (repentance); the kind of repentance that brings about in them a permanent change for the better.
What is absolutely amazing is that the One being disobeyed has such a just system of retribution that He, despite being the Greatest Being of all, whose wrath is also the greatest, forgives in such an all-inclusive way that He erases a person’s sins and past misdemeanours entirely, without a trace, from their book of deeds. That person becomes as if he had never committed those sins in the first place. And this applies even to major sins, or “Kabaa’ir”, if their required expiation, if any, is given.
The pre-requisite for acceptance of repentance is that it is absolutely sincere and that the person compensate for his/her past misdeeds by rushing forth in good deeds.
However, one of the unique characteristics of Allah’s all-encompassing forgiveness is what no mortal or human system of justice, no matter how benevolent and lenient, could ever do: on the sincere repentance of a believer that is followed by an absolute turnaround and rushing forth in good deeds, Allah actually converts his or her past sins into good deeds!
Allah says in the Qur’an: “Except him who repents and believes and doth righteous work; as for such, Allah will change their evil deeds to good deeds. Allah is ever Forgiving, Merciful.” (25:70)
So, for example, if someone used to lie a lot in their past, or a woman did not observe hijaab during most of her youth, then they sincerely repent and do the opposite, Allah will write off all their lies as truths, and replace the woman’s years of staying uncovered as having instead been spent in dressing modestly.
Is there any system of human justice today in this world that takes a convicted criminal’s past “criminal record” and converts it into a record of honorable achievements? Nay, the world and its inhabitants are, on the contrary, quick to permanently label and tarnish individuals who commit crimes or misdemeanours, so much so that once their vice or mistake is well-known and out in the open, people don’t let them forget it — ever. Media and publications record and report the event to all corners of the globe. History writes them off as people who did such-and-such crimes, even if they changed for the better before they died.
Consequently, criminals and sinners are forever judged for the wrong things that they did in the past, so much so that it seems useless and futile for them to even try to turn over a new life. Even if they have a rare flicker of hope for renewal, it quickly wanes as they give in to the insinuations of Shaitan when he tells them: “There is no going back now. You are tainted for life as a thief/prostitute/atheist/polytheist. You might as well continue as you are.”
It is only Allah’s magnificent forgiveness and His benevolent system of retribution that can provide solace and often the only hope to regretful people who have committed crimes and indulged in vices.
Consumed with guilt, as they slump with tears of regret pouring down their cheeks, they can feel peace descend in their heart just by the knowledge that, even if the world shuns them, labels them, tarnishes their past reputation and refuses to forgive or forget their mistakes, the One above has not just forgiven them and wiped out their misdeeds from their records, but — depending on their sincerity and steadfastness on the path of righteousness — He will convert their past sins into good deeds!
And yet, how many of us who have gone far, far ahead in a life of vice and disobedience to Allah, often get deluded by thinking: “But I can’t turn back now. Allah won’t possibly forgive all the wrongs I have done.”
Well, think again. It is never too late.