How Can I Get Rid of Recurring Thoughts of Bad Things I’ve Done in the Past?

Answered by Ustadha Rukayat Yakub

Question: Asalaamualaykum,
I have recurring problem where I get negative flashbacks and thoughts about my past life and certain people keep coming into my head. Alhamdulillah, at one point I completely stopped,  but now these thoughts are coming up again and it is really my weak point because it’s holding me back from doing so many things such as praying etc. Also, as embarrassing as it is to mention, the thoughts start to form into “lustful” thoughts and I know it’s all from saitan but it’s still hard for me to stop. It has become even harder for me because I really do not have anyone to talk to about this as it is really embarrassing and so everything is kept to myself. It’s also making me very, very depressed and stressed because I cannot stop regretting the actions that I took in my past. I need some sincere advice on what to do, how to cope with this problem for it’s really ruining my life and if there are any duaahs to help my situation and most of all if you can please make duaah for me as this has been bothering me for years now and I need to let go of my past so I can move on with my life, InshAllah.
JazakAllah khair.

Answer: Bismillah

Assalaamu alaikum dear sister,

Alhamdulillah you recognize that you have a problem you need to address, it seems that there are three issues here:

1. Repentance

2. Controlling the lower self (nafs)

3. Dealing with the whisperings of shaytan.

Sidi Ahmad Zarruq  a 16th century Moroccan scholar wrote a book called the Poor Man’s Book of Assistance that deals exactly with these three issues, Shaykh Hamza Yusuf has a 16 CD set in which he goes over the book with commentary.  I sincerely advise that you get this set or read the transcripts available online,  at this blogger has transcribed the first 6 CDs of this series.

The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him peace, taught us that, the man of intelligence is the one who disciplines his soul and works for what comes after death

My main advice is to sincerely turn to Allah, never think what you did or are doing is too bad to be forgiven.  Know that Allah is forgiving; we just have to want to turn to him and to turn wholly to him.  The more you ponder on what you did, or what you are feeling, this the worst it gets, for that reason, we are told to do dhikr when we experience such whisperings.  Occupy your time with remembrance of Allah and service to His creation.

Once you have made repentance, there are 3 things that help you stay resolved, on the path of repentance:

1. Staying away from the people and places that lead you to want to go back to the things you are repenting of.

2. Suspecting your ego/lower self (nafs), the nafs wants us to trust it, so do not.  This means that we should be constantly aware of what it would rather do and actively abstain from this, this vigilance lets it know that you are aware of its inclinations but you will not let it control you.

3.  Preoccupy yourself with alternatives that fill the void of those things you want to remove. Do not do this in steps, you need to go ‘cold turkey’

You have stopped before, you can stop again, do not give up on yourself, Keep yourself in wudu, be vigilant about the prayer, engage in dhikr, seek Allah’s refuge when such thoughts come to you, and immediately renew your repentance, do not dwell on them , as this feeds the nafs. However it is important to recognize how you feel back into this, yet do not drwel on it, your the knowledge to safe guard you from falling into it again.

Duas for Repentance

Shaykh Ahmed Zarruq mentions that the Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him peace used to make much mention of

Ya Muqallib al-Quloob, thabbit qalbi `ala deenika

O Turner over of the Hearts, make steadfast my heart on your deen

The shaykh recommends this dua for people on the path of repentance, as well as saying,

la ilaha illa Ant, subhanaKa inni kuntu min ath-thalimeen.”  Quran 21:87

“None has the right to be worshiped but You (O Allah), Glorified (and Exalted) are You (above all that they associate with You). Truly, I have been of the wrong-doers.”

He mentions that this dua be said an odd number of times after every sajdah and also when you seek forgiveness of Allah.

My final piece of advice is to look at taking a class on the nature of the heart and ways of purifying the heart, Seekers Guidance currently has two such classes, the Purification of the Heart & Praiseworthy Character (from Ghazali’s 40 Foundations of Religion) and The Marvels of the Heart.  Taking a class with a teacher connected to the Messenger of Allah, Allah bless him and grant him peace, through a chain of teachers in sha Allah gives the student a solid practical foundation in how to purify the heart.

May Allah ta’ala give you success, aid and fill your heart with His love, ameen

Checked & Approved by Faraz Rabbani