The Regret that Man Feels in the World
Turn to your Lord and submit to Him before punishment comes upon you, for then you cannot be helped. Follow the best that has been sent down to you from your Lord before the punishment comes upon you suddenly when you are not expecting it. (Surat az-Zumar, 54-55)
When one is in mortal danger, his "conscience" starts to swiftly account for his life and appraises his life and actions. If this person did not live by the religion (deen) of Allah and did not engage in good deeds in this world, then he will be overwhelmed by grief and great regret. Many things that were neglected throughout his life appear suddenly and with clarity before his eyes. Maybe for the first time in his life, he realizes how close death is. He acknowledges that he did not lead a worldly life that entitles him to paradise. He becomes aware that he has been ungrateful to Allah and he feels that this will not be left unanswered. A dreadful fear which he never experienced before surrounds him, and he understands that only Allah can save him from the situation he is in. Then, he promises Allah to remain thankful and right and always to remember this situation. He implores to Allah earnestly to be saved from the danger he is in. He asks just to be saved and to be given just one opportunity to stay alive...
However, after surviving such a mortal danger, some people do not remain true to their words and promises that they previously gave to Allah. As soon as Allah saves such a person, he returns to his former ways. The feelings of regret and submission are replaced by feelings of ingratitude. He forgets what he thought and realized at the moment he faced death. With the confidence of having overcome the danger, he turns away from Allah as if he was not the one who experienced regret and earnestly implored to Allah before. He resumes his life with even more attachment to the world, as if he had not been in a vulnerable situation a short while ago. In the Qur'an, several examples depict the psychological state of such people:
It is He Who conveys you on both land and sea so that when some of you are on a boat, running before a fair wind, rejoicing at it, and then a violent squall comes upon them and the waves come at them from every side and they realize there is no way of escape, they call on Allah, making their religion sincerely His: "If You rescue us from this, we will truly be among the thankful." But then, when He does rescue them, they become rebellious in the earth without any right to do so. Mankind, your rebelliousness is only against yourselves. There is the enjoyment of the life of the world and then you will return to Us and We will inform you about what you did. (Surah Yunus, 22-23)
When harm occurs to you at sea, those you call on vanish except for Him alone! But when He delivers you to dry land, you turn away. Man truly is ungrateful. Do you feel secure against Him causing the shore to swallow you up or sending against you a sudden squall of stones? Then you will find no one to be your guardian. (Surat al-Isra, 67-68)
As emphasized in the verse above, how can one be sure that he will not face a similar or a totally different danger again? Alternatively, how does one feel assured that he will be saved for another time? No doubt one would never guarantee that these things would not happen. Also keep in mind that getting out of danger will not make any difference in one's life. Ultimately, one will die one day, exactly when one exhausts the time determined for him. Then he will feel regret but this will not be of any benefit to him.
Such is the common psychological state of those that live apart from the religion (deen). Allah explains this situation as follows:
When harm touches man, he calls on Us, lying on his side or sitting down or standing up. Then when We remove the harm from him he carries on as if he had never called on Us when the harm first touched him. In that way We make what they have done appear good to the profligate. (Surah Yunus, 12)
When harm touches people they call on their Lord, turning to Him in repentance. But then, when He gives them a taste of mercy from Him, a group of them immediately associate others with their Lord. (Surat ar-Rum, 33)
The people depicted in these verses turn to Allah when they are faced with difficulty. Yet no sooner do they come out of this difficulty than they forget the promises they made to Allah and show ungratefulness. This attitude explains that the regret they felt actually arose from the helplessness one feels in a state of difficulty.
The regret peculiar to believers however is much different from the regret mentioned above for it brings the most benefit to man. True regret is not forgotten at once. It prompts one and even produces fundamental changes in one's character. One who feels sincere regret in his heart lives the rest of his life bestowed to him in compliance with Allah's consent, hoping for Allah's mercy and forgiveness. When circumstances change or a new opportunity is granted, he never dares to return to his former way of life, being aware that such ungratefulness means a loss for him.
Allah in the Qur'an relates the psychological state of the people facing death aboard the ship so that it may give a warning to all people. That is because their disposition exists in every individual's ego. So drawing a lesson from this example described in the verses above, one should seriously avoid this negative aspect of one's soul and take a sincere audit of one's conscience. Then, he should ask the following questions to himself:
"What kind of a psychological state would I be in, had I been in a similar situation? What would make me regret? What radical changes would I promise myself to make in my character, provided I was saved from the danger? What would I give up doing and what decisions would I sincerely put into practice?"
To consider these and act accordingly, being physically in danger is not necessarily essential. It is all possible that someone failing to consider such a possibility might experience it very soon. Or, he may never face such danger for a lifetime. In both cases however, one thing is certain: when the moment of death destined for a person meets him, he will suddenly find the angels of death next to him. At this very moment when he fully acknowledges the fact of death, if he failed to lead his life in the way of Allah, he would definitely have things to regret.
To avoid regret in this world and the hereafter, the only thing to do is to turn toward Allah, be mindful of one's duties to Allah, and fulfill the commands of Allah as stated in the Qur'an. Death is too close, so man should never delay doing the things that he is held responsible for. He should put his sincere decisions into action with patience and determination. The sincerity and closeness to Allah should be the sincerity one feels in times of danger and helplessness, if not more.
The most important fact to be remembered is the following: the main purpose of man's existence in this world is to serve Allah and be a servant who earns His good pleasure. Everything except this namely, one's success, possessions, family, career, etc -- are only the means whereby one may get closer to Allah. The efforts of those who endeavor solely to attain those means unconsciously, forgetting and ignoring that these favors are granted to them by Allah so that they turn to Him and render their thanks to Him, will be in vain -- unless Allah wills otherwise. Temporary benefits attained in this world can be of no help to man in the hereafter. In the Qur'an, our Almighty Lord Allah states that these are the sorts of people who will be most overwhelmed with grief:
Say: "Shall I inform you of the greatest losers in their actions? People whose efforts in the life of the world are misguided while they suppose that they are doing good." Those are the people who reject their Lord's Signs and the meeting with Him. Their actions will come to nothing and, on the Day of Resurrection, We will not assign them any weight. (Surat al-Kahf, 103-105)
Provided that one attains the good pleasure of Allah in this world by way of his attitude and morals, Allah will certainly protect him both in this world and beyond. However if he loses this opportunity in this world, he will regret this terrible error at the moment the angels of death appear to him. This error, unlikely to be compensated for, will be a cause for eternal regret -- unless Allah wills otherwise. In the Qur'an, Allah describes the regret that people feel in His Presence as follows:
He will say, "Oh! If only I had prepared in advance for this life of mine!" (Surat al-Fajr, 24)
"... He said, "Oh, if only I had not associated anyone with my Lord!" (Surat al-Kahf, 42)
"... Alas for me! If only I had gone the way of the Messenger!" (Surat al-Furqan, 27)
A person who would not like to desperately utter these words should, right at this moment, submit to our Lord and live by the principles laid by our Creator.
One Should Take Heed From the Regret Felt in This World
The life of this world is an important opportunity granted so that man can earn the perfect and eternal life of the hereafter. Those who do not make use of this opportunity and live a life far removed from the religion of Islam will regret every moment they spent in the world when they see the torment in the hereafter. This is due to the fact that these people had been warned several times and been informed about the existence of the two abodes -- hell and paradise. They had also been informed that their conduct would dictate which abode they would earn, just as the Prophet (saas) said, "The world is the farm of the hereafter." (Ihya' al-ulum, iv, 14.)
Allah mercifully provides training for mankind about this feeling of regret in this world by stimulating one's thoughts and feelings through the experience of regret, so that he may avoid reaching this irreversible end. In addition, Allah gives people a certain amount of time so that they can purify themselves from their mistakes and flawed attitudes. During one's lifetime, every human being is offered the opportunity to repent and lead the rest of his life in the way of Allah.
Viewed from this point, the feeling of regret is actually a great opportunity that Allah grants to man. This is because after such deep regret, if one turns to Allah, Allah grants him eternal salvation in response to his sincerity. Conversely, if one heedlessly ignores these warnings and opportunities, then his punishment will be regret and grief that he will not be able to be saved unless Allah so wills it.
In the Qur'an, Allah illustrates various examples of people who regretted their mistakes. These feelings of regret urged a group of people to turn to Allah and saved them from repeating their mistake for the rest of their lives. Yet another group totally forgot about this regret in time, and out of recurring ignorance, returned to their former rebellious selves.
Allah informs us in the Qur'an of the regret experienced by the three people who did not take part in a battle during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad (saas) as an apposite example of repentance stemming from regret:
Allah has turned towards the Prophet, and those who fled (their homes) and the helpers who followed him at the "time of difficulty," after the hearts of a group of them had almost deviated. Then He turned towards them -- He is All-Gentle, Most Merciful to them -- and also towards the three who were left behind, so that when the earth became narrow for them, for all its great breadth, and their own selves became constricted for them and they realized that there was no refuge from Allah except in Him, He relented towards them so that they might repent. Allah is the Ever-Returning, the Most Merciful. (Surat at-Tawba, 117-118)
As we learn from the verses above, the three people who were left behind suffered a great regret in their hearts. Consequently, they realized that the only way to be saved from this regret was to repent and seek refuge in Allah. This is the sincere regret that mobilizes people, changes them, and urges them to correct their mistakes. Such sincere people will lead a life in compliance with Allah's consent and hope for Allah's compassion and mercy. Allah informs us in the Qur'an that He surely accepts repentance from His servants and forgives them:
Except for those who repents and have faith and act rightly: Allah will transform the wrong actions of such people into good - Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful - for certainly all who repents and act rightly have turned sincerely towards Allah. (Surat al-Furqan, 70-71)
But as for those who do evil actions and then subsequently repent and have faith, in that case your Lord is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful. (Surat al-Araf, 153)
But I am Ever-Forgiving to anyone who repents and has faith and acts rightly and then is guided. (Surah Ta Ha, 82)
It is also stated in the Qur'an that those nations to whom the prophets were sent regretted their wrong doings. Likewise, the people of the Prophet Moses (pbuh) who couldn't wait for him to return from Mount Sinai with Allah's message forgot Allah and reverted to idol-worship. Allah describes this nation's great regret for their sin as follows:
After he left, Moses' people adopted a calf made from their ornaments, a form which made a lowing sound. Did they not see that it could not speak to them or guide them to any way? They adopted it and so they were wrongdoers. When they took full stock of what they had done and saw they had been misled, they said, "If our Lord does not have mercy on us and forgive us, we will certainly be among the lost." (Surat al-A'raf, 148-149)
Allah emphasizes regret once again in the Qur'an in the story of the owners of the garden. Allah granted them a garden as a favor. However, they grew arrogant, appropriated the garden for themselves, and forgot to be grateful to Allah. Hence the punishment they received caused them to regret their actions and turn towards Allah. The verses concerning the owners of the garden as follows:
We have tried them as We tried the owners of the garden when they swore that they would harvest in the morning but did not say the redeeming words, "If Allah wills." So a visitation from your Lord came upon it while they slept and in the morning it was like burnt land stripped bare. In the morning they called out to one another, "Leave early for your land if you want to pick the fruit." So they set off, quietly saying to one another, "Do not let any poor man into it today while you are there." They left early, intent on carrying out their scheme. But when they saw it, they said, "We must have lost our way. No, the truth is we are destitute!" The best of them said, "Did I not say to you, why do you not glorify Allah?" They said, "Glory be to our Lord! Truly we have been wrongdoers." They turned to face each other in mutual accusation. They said, "Woe to us! We were indeed inordinate. Maybe our Lord will give us something better than it in exchange. We entreat our Lord." (Surat al-Qalam, 17-32)
But when the conditions change or they are given a new opportunity, most people forget the warning, which is supposed to make them regret, repent and encourage them to do good deeds. Those who ignore the warnings and return to their former attitudes will surely be punished unless they repent in time as was the case with Thamud, the people of the Prophet Shelah (pbuh). These people blatantly rejected the warnings of the Prophet Shelah (pbuh), although they knew that they would regret their inevitable doom. Surely Allah will never break His promise in bringing forth His command. Allah informs us of this fact, which will be a lesson for all people in the Qur'an:
He said, "Here is a she -- camel. She has a time for drinking and you have a time for drinking-on specified days. Do not do anything to harm her or the punishment of a terrible day will come down on you." But they hamstrung her and woke up full of remorse, for the punishment did come down them. There is certainly a Sign in that, yet most of them are not believers. Truly your Lord is the Almighty, the Most Merciful. (Surat ash-Shu'ara, 155-159)
One has to remember that Allah is just. He does not leave any fault unanswered; yet He also generously rewards the good deeds done for Him. He gives glad tidings of His mercy and paradise to those who turn towards Him with sincere repentance. Considering these, one should ask oneself the following: being aware of the intense trouble a temporary regret causes in this world, is it worth taking the risk of a regret that may last forever? Not to forget that this will be the regret one would suffer in the never-ending afterlife in hell...
Surely, nobody would risk feeling such regret in the hereafter. In this case, what one has to do is apparent: every single person in this world still has the time to seize this opportunity. The one who capitalizes on this favor of Allah will not only be saved from the fire but will also be the heir of the blessings of this world and the eternal hereafter.
Therefore, every person who endeavors to attain these blessings and avoid the regret of the Companions of the Fire needs to devote himself to earning the pleasure of Allah. One needs to unconditionally follow the route bringing man out of darkness into light. Allah lays down this route in the following verses:
It is He Who calls down blessing on you, as do His angels, to bring you out of the darkness into the light. He is Most Merciful to the believers. Their greeting on the Day they meet Him will be "Peace!" and He has prepared a generous reward for them. (Surat al-Ahzab, 43-44)