Response: You have said in one of your answers that Muslims should refrain from grave sins and then indicated that other sins could be forgiven. Now recently I was approached by a brother concerning some contact that he has had with a member of the opposite sex. He was wondering how one deals with the issue of repeated grave sins due to one's weakness for desire. He is a knowledgeable brother, and so it came as a surprise to me. How should I answer him? I told him I would speak to you. He was quite depressed because he felt as though he had betrayed God over and over, yet he still loved God. So essentially how is the issue of a repeated grave sin dealt with and what advise should I pass on to this brother?
Comment: First of all, let me clarify some aspects of my response to the question you have referred to:
i) True believers avoid grave sins as murder, fornication and adultery (42:37). This obviously does not mean that they have a licence to commitlesser sins. It merely means that even if they 'blunder into' lesser sins (52:32), they seek forgiveness of their Lord by repentance (9:112), which means that they not only ask God for forgiveness but also show that they deserve it by making a sincere effort to avoid them in future.
ii) True believers do not allow a sin to engulf their lives (2:81), and they do not insist on their sins knowingly (3:135).
iii) God has made it obligatory on Himself to forgive a believer who 'blunders into' a sin and repents as soon as he gets a hold on himself. But those people who persist in serious sins till the end deserve no allowance (4:17-18). About those who are able to correct themselves after some time but before death overtakes them and before the opportunity to reform is lost for ever, the Qur'an is silent, which indicates that there is both hope and fear for them and that the rest of their lives should be spent in doing their best to avoid what they fear and to work for what they hope for. Since you have not indicated the exact nature of your friend's problem, it is rather difficult to say anything specifically as far as the strategy to tackle the problem is concerned. Some general suggestions are:
i) First of all, unless the girl is already married, your friend and the girl should try to get married to each other as soon as possible.
ii) Secondly, your friend should try to develop greater self-control and closer association with God. For this purpose, he might try the following:
a) Be regular in obligatory prayer and daily recitation of the Qur'an. Both these activities are truly useful when one understands the meanings and the significance and knows what one is saying. Occasional fasting (two or three times a month for instance) is also very effective in getting closer to God.
b) Include this prayer of the Prophet (sws) in his prayers:
O Lord! Purge my heart of hypocrisy and my effort of ostentation and my tongue of falsehood and my eye of intrusion, for You are Well-aware of intrusions of the eye and the secrets of the bosom. (Mishkah, Bab Jami'u'l-Du'a, Fasl III)
It must be remembered that this prayer, as most other prayers of the Prophet (sws), is as much a call for help as it is a vow to make the effort to deserve it.
c) Spend as much time as possible in the company of pious, God-fearing, and wise Muslims. Good company always helps. Perhaps much more than any other extraneous factor. Attending a weekly Dars (lecture) on the Qur'an, if possible, is also very useful in this regard as it becomes a reminder as well an opportunity to make good friends and socialise with pious people. Out there in the U.S., where the larger society is not Islamic, spending some time in an alternative, Islamic society is indispensable.
d) Spend more in the way of Allah. Your friend should try to involve himself in contributing something (including his efforts) to the cause of disseminating the message of Allah. Active involvement in contribution to this cause and perseverance and restraint in the face of opposition and persecution one encounters while working for it are absolutely opposite to the attitude of licentiousness and indulgence. To contribute meaningfully, he might have to lower his standard of living gradually (which does not mean earning less; it means spending less) so that he is able to avoid wasteful spending and extravagance and spend more in the way of Allah. It is hoped that the stir of this involvement will rekindle the light of God's love in his heart and enable him to fight temptation.
e) Seek the forgiveness of God continually. Again this must be done not only as a prayer and a call for help but also as renewal of the pledge to try sincerely to avoid the sin in future. Here's a relevant prayer of the Prophet (sws):
O Lord! Verily I have wronged my soul greatly, and no one can forgive me my sins except you; so forgive me with forgiveness from you; verily, you are the Forgiving, the Ever Merciful. (Bukhari, Babu'l-du'a qablu'l-salam)
iii) Your friend should also consider seeking professional help.
To sum up, a check-list would not be out of place here:
1. Try marrying the girl.
2. Try to have greater self-control and closer association with God by a) praying regularly and reciting theQur'an with an effort to understand the meanings of both; fasting occasionally, b) saying the prophet's prayer and thinking of it as a renewal of vow, c) spending time in the company of pious people, d) attending weekly Dars on the Qur'an, e) spending more in the way of Allah, f) contributing to the cause of spreading Islam, active involvement in this cause, and perseverance and restraint in the face of opposition to this contribution and involvement, g) avoiding wasteful spending and extravagance, h) regularly and frequently asking God for forgiveness and renewing the pledge to try sincerely to avoid the wrong going in future.
3. Seek professional help.