How Does One Go About Repenting?

Question and answer details
A (25_female_Canada)
Salaam, I just want to start by saying that this is a wonderful site! Keep up the good work. The month of Ramadan was a wakeup call for me. I had decided before it started to fully dedicate myself for that month. Alhamdulilah it worked. During that month I felt different, but in a very good way. Happiest I've ever been really. Before all of this I used to sin on a daily basis. I did what I wanted when I wanted with no care or fear of consequences. I would feel guilty but that wasn't enough to stop me. My mom never gave up on me and prayed for me constantly. Here I am Alhamdulilah a better person but still a working progress. I went from wearing next to nothing to fully covering myself, I pray daily although it is a struggle at times. I don't speak/read Arabic and I am in the process of taking classes for that. I have a lot of work to do to be a good Muslim and I'm willing to work hard to get there with the help of Allah (SWT) Insha'Allah. My problem is that I’m afraid of my sins not being forgiven...I have committed sooo much sins ex: drink, smoke, intercourse, worked as a dancer etc...and that's not even half of it. How do I truly go about repenting? I have tried and do so on occasions but I would like to get someone else's opinion for once. And how does one let go of those past sins? I’m beyond ashamed of what I used to do. Thank you. Jazakallah Khair
Attia Zaidi

Wa alaiykum as salaam dear sister,  

Lucky you! It seems you’ve had an inspirational Ramadan! I congratulate you for taking steps towards living your life according to your values. Your question seems to be asking about guilt.  It seems that you have a lot of guilt and are asking for ways to alleviate that.

Guilt is an emotion and like any other emotion, it is an important one.  Guilt is usually a signal that something is wrong.  Uncomfortable feelings bring us to these realizations as they are meant to be signals when things aren’t aligned.  Things not being aligned in our life does not mean that something is wrong, it just means that something needs to be addressed so we can feel better. It is important to not ignore uncomfortable feelings and I am happy that you are reflecting on your emotions and trying to make sense of them.

When people begin to practice religion more strictly than before they go through various phases until they find a balance; the first phase is usually extreme.  They try to do everything perfectly, look down on others who don’t do things “correctly” and often feel guilty for messing up, even a little. There is a false idea that rules are simple (right or wrong) and have to be followed perfectly (i.e. strictly) in order to gain salvation. People who come from background where they did a lot of “wrong” things tend to be harder on themselves and feel that they have to compensate by doing everything correctly.

It is important to look at religion holistically.  There are 3 main parts to following Islam; Shariah (rules/laws), Aqueeda (theology/belief) and Ihsan (spirituality). You have come to have an increased value of the rules and are hopeful that this will make you feel better spiritually.  Do not forget, however, what Muslims are taught to believe in.  I encourage you to read or take classes and learn about the mercy of Allah and His forgiveness.  Our religion is based on mercy.  Though justice is never minimalized we are always taught that Allah is most Merciful.

I am not an Islamic scholar and cannot comment on what du’aas etc… there are to help you in your feelings of guilt. I advise you to consult the Ask the Scholar section of OnIslam for this point. I can tell you, however, that your guilt may be stemming from a false notion that you should have done things better in your past and now you have to correct things. There is no such belief in our faith. 

Our faith advocates that people do their best in every moment. In your younger years you did what you felt was best for you, even if it wasn’t aligned with your current value system.  We believe that whatever happens is for the best, even if we do not understand the reasoning behind it. Perhaps you can reflect on some possible benefits of your past experiences.  Your guilt is an indication that you have not made peace with your past and you may want to spend some time coming to terms with your past by reminding yourself of Allah’s mercy.

May you find peace in that which is good for you,

Wa salaam


 For further guidance, please try the following links:

Will I Ever Be Forgiven?
Change Your Life: 7 Spiritual Habits for You
Changing My Bad Habit
The Fruits of Real Repentance
Crippled with overwhelming guilt


About the Counselor:

Attia Zaidi is a writer, educator, social worker and mother. She has worked with the GTA's Muslim community for over 15 years in various capacities. Currently, Attia runs a small private practice offering therapy for Muslim families. You can find it at: http://www.restoreyourelement.com/

Disclaimer: The conceptualization and recommendations stated in this response are very general and purely based on the limited information that was provided in the question. If you feel you are going to harm yourself, or harm someone else, please seek immediate help by calling your country’s international hotline! In no event shall Onislam, it's volunteers, writers, scholars, counselors, or employees be held liable for any direct, indirect, exemplary, punitive, consequential or other damages whatsoever that may arise through your decision or action in the use of the services which our website provides.