Repentance: How can one be forgiven?

Q569 :I came to work in Saudi Arabia a few years ago when I was over forty. In addition to having a worthwhile job I have had the benefit of having a new approach to life. I am a much better Muslim now. Previously, I did not attend regularly to my prayers and I did not keep up fasting in Ramadan and I committed other errors. Here, I have learned more about the importance of preparing for the life to come. I offered the pilgrimage and several Umrahs. I attend more regularly to my religious duties now. What worries me is what is to be done about my missed prayers and fasting. How do I offer them? How can I be forgiven for what I have missed?

A569 : The first thing I would like to say is to congratulate you on your new attitude. May Allah accept your repentance for your past negligence and strengthen your determination to fulfill your religious duties as a good Muslim. It is a great achievement for a Muslim to show consciousness of his religious duties at an early age and to offer prayers and attend to his other duties and lead a well-disciplined life. The Prophet mentions seven types of persons who will be sure to have the shelter which Allah extends only to the most virtuous and dutiful of His servants. These seven types include "a young man or woman who grows up in a life of obedience to Allah." The fact that the Prophet singles this type of person for such a great honor suggests that it is not practically easy for young people to observe their religious duties without fail. Many do miss some prayers and some find it too difficult to resist the temptation of joining friends to some sort of activity which involves disobedience to Allah. A young man may not experience any inclination to drinking alcohol, for example, and then he finds himself with a group of friends spending an evening in entertainment. As he sees many of them drinking, he may easily be tempted. This in itself may lead to other violations of Islamic injunctions. When such a person thinks about what he has done, he is torn between enjoying his pleasures and the need to repent. If he allows the latter course, he will be able to make amends for his mistake without difficulty. A person who allows himself a repetition of such practices will find himself moving away from what Islam requires of him. He will soon slacken in offering his prayers and may stop praying altogether. Once he does so, fasting becomes too difficult for him and he finds it much easier not to fast. Eventually, his behavior will run contrary to what Islam rules. If a person had trodden this path and went far away from what Islam requires of its followers, he can always turn back. Obviously turning back does not come by itself. There must be some development which causes a person to wake up after having been negligent of his duty for a long while. How people may waken to the fact that they must obey Allah and do what He has bid them is immaterial. The important thing is that when the awakening does take place, the person concerned seizes this opportunity and thanks Allah for giving him the chance to repent. According to Islam, the door to repentance and mending one's behavior remains open all the time. The only thing needed is for the person concerned to be genuine in his repentance and to resolve not to go back to his sinful ways. When repentance is genuine and sincere Allah accepts it and forgives the person's past errors. Our past sins do not stay with us, if we sincerely regret having done them. Every human being is liable to err in future. What is more is that we, the Muslim community, are commanded by Allah to overlook the past deeds of any person who declares that he has genuinely repented what he had done. Therefore, if someone used to drink alcoholic beverages and then he repents doing this, we treat him as one who does not drink. We never taunt him about his past drinking nor do we refer to him in our private conversations as a former drunkard. To us, he is as good as a person who never drank. The case of this reader is typical to people who come to realize that their past was nothing to be proud of. They turn to Allah, seeking his forgiveness and resolving to exert a double effort in the future to earn good reward in the hereafter. The question is always asked: What about my missed duties? As for prayers, it is time-relative duty. This means that when a prayer is missed and its time has lapsed, it cannot be offered again, except in one of these situations, namely, that it was missed as a result of forgetfulness or unconsciousness as in the case of sleep. Therefore a genuine repentance of having missed all these prayers is sufficient. Allah will certainly accept your repentance and He will forgive you the prayers you have missed. But I would like to add a word of advice: It is preferable in this case to offer what you can of voluntary prayers. As for fasting, the case is a little different. Because fasting can be done on days other than those of Ramadan, if it is missed for a legitimate reason, then it is better to compensate for missed days of fasting by fasting now, one day for each day missed. This may be very difficult for any person who has missed fasting for 25 years or more, however, he should try fasting as often as he can. It is not required that he fasts one month at a time for each month missed. He can fast one day at a time, as long as he has every intention of compensating for missed fasting. If one dies before he has completed what he should compensate for, then Allah will forgive him as he is aware of his intention to do the compensatory fasting. If one makes a habit of fasting one or two days a week, then he will soon find out that he is progressing well toward compensating for the missed duty. If the person in your situation cannot fast, then it is hoped that Allah will accept his repentance and forgive him what he has omitted of his religious duties.

Our Dialogue ( Source : Arab News - Jeddah )