زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ ٱلشَّهَوَٰتِ مِنَ ٱلنِّسَآءِ وَٱلْبَنِينَ وَٱلْقَنَـٰطِيرِ ٱلْمُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ ٱلذَّهَبِ وَٱلْفِضَّةِ وَٱلْخَيْلِ ٱلْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَٱلْأَنْعَـٰمِ وَٱلْحَرْثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَـٰعُ ٱلْحَيَوٰةِ ٱلدُّنْيَا ۖ وَٱللَّهُ عِندَهُۥ حُسْنُ ٱلْمَـَٔابِ ١٤
The enjoyment of ˹worldly˺ desires—women, children, treasures of gold and silver, fine horses, cattle, and fertile land—has been made appealing to people. These are the pleasures of this worldly life, but with Allah is the finest destination.
“Hate the sin, not the sinner.” It’s a phrase you hear often, but it’s problematic. It creates a perception there is something wrong with you for desiring something sinful when, in fact, that is not the case. The Prophet ﷺ said:
عَنْ أَنَسِ بْنِ مَالِكٍ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم “ حُفَّتِ الْجَنَّةُ بِالْمَكَارِهِ وَحُفَّتِ النَّارُ بِالشَّهَوَاتِ ” .
Anas b. Malik reported:
Paradise is surrounded by hardships and Hell-Fire is surrounded by desires.
The Prophet ﷺ recognised that sin is desirable and doing good is hard, at least on the outside. Piety is not something intrinsic; it is a choice to forego that which you desire in favour of what God desires, hoping for His pleasure, and believing it is ultimately better for you. Sin often feels good, and good deeds seem a burden. Stealing gets you something you want for free, lowering your gaze at sinful sights is difficult, controlling your temper in a moments anger feels impossible, yet we choose to do these because we understand the greater good within them. Similarly, the 5 daily prayers can be inconvenient, integrity can hold you back against cheating competition, charity can feel burdensome, yet the fulfilment we get from doing them and the net impact they have on society makes them all worthwhile. Perhaps this is why the Prophet ﷺ described hardships and desires as surrounding heaven and hell, but not within them; once you fall into them, you realise the true nature that lies within.
To struggle and overcome is greater than to never struggle at all. When the verses of surah Az-zalzalah were revealed, our Master Abu Bakr (ra) was found weeping. The verses describe the day of judgement and the accountability of every person before Allah ﷻ. Every atom of good and bad shall be weighed before Allah ﷻ on that day, and we will be held accountable for all of it. In his sorrowful state, he asked our Prophet ﷺ how anyone could be free of any sin? The Prophet ﷺ reassured him, stating:
لَوْلا أنَّكُمْ تُخْطِئونَ وَتُذْنِبُونَ فَيَغْفِرُ اللهُ لَكُمْ لَخَلَقَ اللهُ أُمَّةً يُخْطِئُونَ وَيُذْنِبُونَ فَيَغْفرُ لَهُمْ
Had you not erred and sinned, Allah ﷻ would have replaced you with a nation who erred and sinned so He could forgive them
Overcoming, even if we fall along the way, is what Allah ﷻ wished for us. We will sin, and it’s never too much or too late to turn back. Think of it as running on a treadmill away from God; no matter how far or how fast you run, you only need to step off it to return to Him. Allah ﷻ created us to love these things, and His test is in seeing whether we choose to succumb to them or not. We may struggle to adhere to what God has ordained, but we should never question our obligation to follow them. That is to claim we know better than Him; that He is somehow wrong in His command or prohibition. That is a red line. Be a sinner who repents, but don’t be a denier of His decree.
Remember, God’s commands and prohibitions do not benefit or harm Him; They are only there for our assistance. The prophet ﷺ states that Allah ﷻ declared:
يَا عِبَادِي! إنَّكُمْ تُخْطِئُونَ بِاللَّيْلِ وَالنَّهَارِ، وَأَنَا أَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا؛ فَاسْتَغْفِرُونِي أَغْفِرْ لَكُمْ. يَا عِبَادِي! إنَّكُمْ لَنْ تَبْلُغُوا ضُرِّي فَتَضُرُّونِي، وَلَنْ تَبْلُغُوا نَفْعِي فَتَنْفَعُونِي. يَا عِبَادِي! لَوْ أَنَّ أَوَّلَكُمْ وَآخِرَكُمْ وَإِنْسَكُمْ وَجِنَّكُمْ كَانُوا عَلَى أَتْقَى قَلْبِ رَجُلٍ وَاحِدٍ مِنْكُمْ، مَا زَادَ ذَلِكَ فِي مُلْكِي شَيْئًا. يَا عِبَادِي! لَوْ أَنَّ أَوَّلَكُمْ وَآخِرَكُمْ وَإِنْسَكُمْ وَجِنَّكُمْ كَانُوا عَلَى أَفْجَرِ قَلْبِ رَجُلٍ وَاحِدٍ مِنْكُمْ، مَا نَقَصَ ذَلِكَ مِنْ مُلْكِي شَيْئًا
“O My servants, you commit sins by day and by night, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness from Me and I shall forgive you. O My servants, you will not attain harming Me so as to harm Me, and you will not attain benefiting Me so as to benefit Me. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as pious as the most pious heart of any one man, that would not increase My dominion in anything. O My servants, were the first of you and the last of you, the human of you and the jinn of you to be as wicked as the most wicked heart of any one man of you, that would not decrease My dominion in anything.”
Our purpose in life is to work on aligning our desires to be that which Allah ﷻ wishes, recognising they may not be there to begin with. The process takes time; we can either trust Allah ﷻ and witness why His commands are better for us, or go it on our own and learn the hard way that the best route was His all along. The Prophet ﷺ said:
عَنْ أَبِي مُحَمَّدٍ عَبْدِ اللَّهِ بْنِ عَمْرِو بْنِ الْعَاصِ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُمَا، قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه و سلم “لَا يُؤْمِنُ أَحَدُكُمْ حَتَّى يَكُونَ هَوَاهُ تَبَعًا لِمَا جِئْتُ بِهِ”. حَدِيثٌ حَسَنٌ صَحِيحٌ، رَوَيْنَاهُ فِي كِتَابِ “الْحُجَّةِ” بِإِسْنَادٍ صَحِيحٍ.
On the authority of Abu Muhammad Abdullah bin ’Amr bin al-’Aas (may Allah be pleased with him) who said: The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “None of you [truly] believe until your desires follow that which I have brought.”
The word تَبَعًا literally means to follow. It requires trust in the person you see as your guide, and eventually you reach the destination promised. It doesn’t suggest you embody those qualities, but rather it is to have control of your urges and follow your leader instead. It recognises the difficulty of forgoing your desires, but you will eventually realise it is what is best for you. With time, as you experience the benefits your obedience brings, your desires will change accordingly and obedience becomes easier. After all, we only desire what is good for us, and once we see it, once we experience it, we follow it.
So whatever the sin you are struggling with, it’s ok. God knows how desirable it is and will always keep the door open for you to turn back no matter how many times you succumb. Do not hate yourself for feelings you have within you, but do not change God’s commands to accommodate them. Recognise them and recognise your greater desire to please God first and foremost, and pray to Him to help you overcome that which you are struggling with.
I’ll close with a beautiful statement narrated by Imam Ghazali in his Ihya. Its veracity is disputed, but its meaning is true. It’s narrated Prophet Dawud (as) was revealed this from God:
يا داود إنك تريد وأريد, وإنما يكون ما أريد, فإن سلمت لما أريد كفيتك ما تريد, وإن لم تسلم لما أريد أتعبتك بما تريد, ثم لا يكون إلا ما أريد
Oh Dawud, you desire and I desire, but only what I desire will come to be. If you submit to what I desire, I will fulfil all your desires, but if you do not submit to what I desire, I will exhaust you through pursuing that which you desire, but only what I desire will come to be