The Prophet (Pbuh) is reported to have said: “A person who repents having committed his sins is like one who has committed no sins.” Every time we turn to God in repentance, He turns to us with forgiveness and acceptance. The emphasis, however, is always on our attitude being genuine.
The main and clear aspect of pilgrimage is that we hasten to respond to God’s call, wearing nothing of the ornaments, which are part of our custom. When we feel our dedication in this way and when our submission is truly genuine, God rewards us richly for our pilgrimage. He wipes off our sins. When we have finished, we start with our slate clean. We know that when we committed those sins, we wronged ourselves and we disregarded our duty to obey God. When we respond to His call with dedication and submission, as we do in the pilgrimage, He accepts our submission and erases our past sins.
Turning to God
God forgives anyone who turns to Him in genuine repentance, even when the sins he has committed are grave indeed. The Prophet is reported to have said: “A person who repents having committed his sins is like one who has committed no sins.” Every time we turn to God in repentance, He turns to us with forgiveness and acceptance.
Mere Verbal Repentance
The emphasis, however, is always on our attitude being genuine. Our dedication must be complete; our submission total; our repentance sincere. A person who declares that he has repented having done a particular sin, while at the same time he knows that if a chance offers itself anew, he will not hesitate to do the same sin again, will not qualify to be forgiven that sin. His repentance is merely verbal. He does not mean it because a good believer always regards his sins as something totally undesirable, even though at the time of committing them, he might have enjoyed them.
People commit adultery or fornication in order to satisfy their sexual desire. This indulgence may provide them, at the time of committing these actions, with pleasure, enjoyment and ecstasy. However, when they reflect on what they have done, they are genuinely sorry for having exceeded the limits set by God. That genuine regret, combined with a prayer for forgiveness and a resolve not to repeat the same sin, ensure that God looks compassionately on us and forgives us that sin.
Feelings and Intentions
If a person who, having committed a sin, says that he is sorry for doing it, yet he will nevertheless go back to it the next minute, if the chance offers itself. This is playing games with the great concept of repentance and forgiveness. God accepts no such verbal declarations, because they are devoid of any real substance.
Having said that, we must be clear that what counts is one’s feelings and intention at the time when one declares one’s repentance. If at that particular moment, a person is genuine in his repentance, then he is forgiven his past sins. If, nevertheless, he commits the same sin later, because he is too weak to resist the temptation, his weakness is not taken against him except in as far as the new sin is recorded against him. His case is similar to that of a smoker who, realising how injurious to health tobacco smoking is, decides to quit. He stops smoking, but after a few days he finds the going too hard and succumbs to the temptation to resume smoking. He lights up again. His decision to quit is good, but his weakness later does not mean that his decision was frivolous. It was genuine, but he could not carry it out.
Similarly, a person who commits a sin again after having genuinely repented it, is forgiven the earlier one because at the time when he declared his repentance, he was sincere. This is indeed a mark of God’s grace which He bestows on us in abundance. He knows beforehand that we will be going back to our sins, but He also knows that at the time we declare our repentance, we are genuine. He, therefore, accepts our genuineness and responds to it accordingly.
When God forgives us for something, He does not record it against us again. A person may commit the same sin many times, but if he genuinely repents every time he commits it, then he is forgiven that sin every time. Eventually, he will acquire, with God’s help, the necessary resolve and strength to be able to resist any temptation to go back.
If the attitude is one of playing games, thinking that one can commit all the sins one wants and then have his slate wiped clean because one offers the Umrah or the pilgrimage, then the attitude is one of carelessness and disregard to God’s commands.
It is very doubtful that God will accept such an act of worship in which one declares repentance when one has not actually repented. The fact that one intends to go back to it shows that the repentance is only verbal. A casual attitude cannot earn God’s forgiveness. It is imperative to resolve to make a clean break with the past and make the fact of worship a genuine beginning of a life of obedience to God and proper observance of His commandments.