Answered by Shaykh Salim Ahmad Mauladdawila
Question: Assalamu alaykum
How to break the habit of sin?
I really want to stop a specific sin but I always get back to it.
Answer: Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim
Alhamdulillah, as they say, the first step in overcoming a problem is recognising that it exists. Overcoming the habit of sin is very difficult, as sin is something all humans fall into, and the only ones who are protected from it are the prophets and messengers. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said in a hadith, “All children of Adam are wrongdoers, and the best of the wrongdoers are those who repent”. The first step for the sinner, then, is sincere repentance. We should take the Prophet’s advice and turn to Allah frequently, as he said “O people! Repent to God and ask forgiveness of Him, for indeed I repent a hundred times a day”.
When we repent we should remember God’s pleasure in us for doing so, as this drives us to make our repentance more sincere. As the Prophet explained, “Verily God is more delighted with the repentance of His slave than a person who lost his camel in a land and then [unexpectedly] finds it”. God Himself says in the Quran, “O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of God. Indeed, God forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful” [39:53]. He also says, “O you who believe, repent to Allah with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow [on] the Day when Allah will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will proceed before them and on their right; they will say, “Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You are over all things competent” [66:8].
Once we repent, we need to strive to never return to the sin we committed. We do this by instilling in our hearts fear from God’s punishment and longing for His rewards. We do this so that we run from God’s wrath and towards his mercy, for it is said that “there is no place of salvation or refuge from God except with God”. We should ponder over the descriptions of Hell in the Quran and hadith. God describes Hell as “a Fire whose fuel is people and stones, over which are [appointed] angels, harsh and severe; they do not disobey God in what He commands them but do what they are commanded” [66:6]. Hell is described in hadith as being so large it takes a stone 70 thousand years to traverse it from one end to the other.
As for Heaven, God describes it in detail in various parts of the Quran. In Sura al-Insan, for example, God says of the people of Heaven, “And [God] will reward them for what they patiently endured [with] a garden [in Paradise] and silk [garments]. [They will be] reclining therein on adorned couches. They will not see therein any [burning] sun or [freezing] cold. And near above them are its shades, and its [fruit] to be picked will be lowered in compliance. And there will be circulated among them vessels of silver and cups having been [created] clear [as glass]” [76:12-15]. It is enough that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said in a Hadith narrated by Imam al-Bukhari that in Heaven God has prepared for his pious slaves “What no eye has seen, what no ear has heard, as what has not occurred to the heart of any person”.
Another important step in repenting is changing our habits. A hadith narrated by Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim tells that tale of a man who sought repentance from murdering 100 people. He was told by a learned man of his time that nothing stood between him and repenting, and that he should move from the land he lived in, as it was a place of evil, to a land of pious people busy with worship. We should take from this hadith the importance of recognising if one’s environment has a negative effect on their character and, if it does, one should be proactive in making a change. As much as we can, we should create positive environments for ourselves in terms of our occupations, acquaintances, and habits, though our change need not always be so great. Even simple things like changing our phone or computer’s wallpaper can have an impact. Playing Quran or nasheeds in the background while we go about our routines is also useful.
Finally, we should take a lesson from the chapter 66, verse 8 quoted. At the end of the verse, God describes the people of Heaven making that prayer, “Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You have power over all things”. Our lesson is to pray to God and make sincere dua that He enable us to make sincere repentance and make our hearts firm upon his obedience.
Another prayer narrated on the Prophet (peace be upon him) by Imam Ahmad and others is:
“اللَّهُمَّ حَبِّبْ إِلَيْنَا الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيِّنْهُ فِي قُلُوبِنَا،
وَكَرِّهْ إِلَيْنَا الْكُفْرَ وَالْفُسُوقَ وَالْعِصْيَانَ،
وَاجْعَلْنَا مِنَ الرَّاشِدِينَ”
“Allahumma habib ilayna al-iman wa zayinhu fi qulubina, wa karih ilayna al-kufr wal-fusuq wal-‘isyan waj’alna min al-rashidin”
Meaning, “O God, make faith beloved to us and beautify it in our hearts, and make disbelief, immorality, and sin hated by us, and make us of the rightly guided”.
This and many other prayers can be found in books of hadith, and it is recommended that we make such prayers constantly in the hope that God answers us. We should also pursue stories of those Muslims who were astray and were guided by God, and read about the hope that the pious have in their Lord. A good starting place is the Book of Fear and Hope in Ihya Ulum al-Deen. We should do this hoping that our Lord accepts our repentance and turns us away from sin for the remainder of our lives.
[Shaykh] Salim Ahmad Mauladdawila