Question: It is stated in the Qur’an that wrongdoers will feel remorse on the Day of Judgment: “On that Day, the wrongdoer will bite at his hands, saying (with remorse), ‘Oh, would that I had taken a way in the company of the Messenger. Oh, woe is me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend!’” (al-Furqan 25:27–28). What kind of mistakes is this remorse related to? What are the points to be careful about in this world, in order not to feel remorse in the next one?
Answer: The verse begins by referring to “that day,” a dreadful one, and then describes how a wrongdoer will bite at his hands in remorse on such a day of grimace and grief. “Biting at one’s fingers” is an idiom in Arabic and it describes a state of remorse in deep feelings of woe, grief, and yearning.
Then the wrongdoer will express his deep regret for not having followed the way of the Prophet: “Oh, would that I had taken a way in the company of the Messenger.” His regret, however, is not limited with that; he will further express his remorse by saying, “Oh, woe is me! Would that I had not taken so-and-so for a friend!” That is, “I wish I had not fallen in with such and such wrongdoers and unbelievers and sided with them. I wish I had not followed in the footsteps of evildoers and transgressors and thus taken the wrong way!” However, saying “I wish” in the next world will not help at all. On the contrary, it will double the remorse. In other words, as it will only mean wasting one’s breath, it will only add to the suffering. Just as those words can be uttered in the Hereafter, they might be uttered when the dying person’s soul comes up to the throat as he is about to leave this world for the intermediate life of the grave, the first step toward the eternal afterlife. No matter when they are uttered it is definite, however, that these words express deep remorse by somebody who blatantly wasted the great chances that they had.
The Greatest Kind of Regret
Even though there are many sins and wrongs that will burn people within and make them say “How I wish” with a deep sorrow, the foremost of them is unbelief, because the entire universe proclaims God—letter by letter, word by word, phrase by phrase… When somebody leaves aside all biases, gives a fair ear to creation, and tries to read this universe like a book of wisdom, they will discover that everything in the universe points to the Almighty Creator. Owing to this evident truth, the great scholar Imam Maturidi stated that even the peoples who did not have a Messenger from God to guide them are responsible for knowing Him. Nevertheless, even if such people cannot know God Almighty in detail with His Attributes and Names within the framework of a Divine teaching, they can come to the conclusion that this splendid universe has a Creator. Umar ibn al-Khattab’s uncle Zayd voiced this thought before the advent of Islam: “I know that there is a Creator, but I do not know what am I supposed to do. If only I knew what He wishes me to do, so that I could exert myself to carry it out.”1 In short, the greatest “I wish…” to make one seized with remorse is to give one’s last breath as being devoid of faith.
Forsaking faith after having found guidance is another grave sin to make one grimly say “I wish…” in the next world. There is a thin veil between belief and unbelief and there is always the risk of finding oneself on the other side with the slightest move. For this reason, we believers ask from God for guidance to the Straight Path forty times in total through the five Prayers we offer every day. And then by stating “to the path of those whom You have favored,” we wish to be on the path of the rightly guided ones. As stated in another verse (an-Nisa 4:69), those whom God has favored are the Prophets, truthful (siddiq) ones, martyrs, and righteous (salih) ones. This is the wish we repeat forty times a day. Right after that, we seek refuge in His greatness and mercy and ask for being saved from deviating “to the path of those who have incurred His wrath and of those who are astray.” It is nothing but a delusion to be confident for having found right guidance and to see oneself immune to a possible fall or deception by Satan. Nobody has a guarantee to keep on the righteous path until they give their last breath. People who feel confident at this issue put their own faith in danger. A man who does not worry about his end is a man to be worried about his end. For this reason, one must shake with the fear of straying to unbelief after having found guidance and be constantly vigilant about it. A believer should constantly implore God not to leave him or her alone with his or her carnal soul and seek refuge in Him against whisperings and goading of devils. Faith is an invaluable treasure that makes one eligible for Paradise, gains the good pleasure of God, and lets one witness Divine Beauty. There are jinn and human devils lying in wait to steal it. What befalls believers is to treasure their faith, protect it against attacks, and being constantly alert in this respect.
The Weaknesses That Can Make One Sink into the Ground
Being taken by human and Satanic intrigues (Hücumat-ı Sitte, or “The Six Assaults”) Bediüzzaman mentions at the end of “The Twenty-ninth Letter” might also make one stray from the Straight Path and say “How I wish…” grimly in the other world. Actually each one of the human weaknesses he explains is powerful enough for a believer’s spiritual downfall. Namely, as love of status or fame is such a virus, fear is no less powerful. The same goes for greed, racism, egotism, laziness, and love of comfort. Given that each one has the potential to bring a believer down, having all of these does not make one just fall, but rather makes one sink deep into the ground. Even a person within the circle of faith is under the constant risk of being overtaken by them. For instance, love of fame can easily mar the essence of the good deeds a person does in the name of serving faith. Another person can present distinguished works and secretly wish to become famous, which eventually makes him sink deep into the ground. In addition, giving in to such negative feelings invites other types of negativities as well. For example, if love of fame seizes a person, you cannot know what further sins it will cause that person to commit. All of these are possible dangers within a circle of faith, and they will cause grim remorse in the next world. One who lays personal claim on the success granted by God, as a result of failing to adopt the principles of sincerity2 as guidelines, will say, “I wish I had not fouled up all of those good deeds for the sake of worldly appreciation and applause; I wish I had not set sail to the void for the sake of nothing! I wish I had not be taken by deadly currents…” They will agonize in useless woes and laments of perpetual remorse. Grimly, their wail will be to no avail; on the contrary, it will only double the suffering of their misfortune.
Shields to Protect from Feelings of Remorse in Vain
For this reason, believers should act sensibly in this world. On the one hand, they should count being saved from unbelief as the greatest favor of God; on the other hand, they should shun from the alleys that may cost them their faith. As Bediüzzaman stressed, there is a pathway to unbelief in every kind of sin. The Messenger of God stated that every sin leaves a dark spot on the heart, which can cover the entire heart in time3 (unless removed through repentance). Every dark spot forming on the heart is an invitation to another one. In the Qur’an, God Almighty refers to the hearts contaminated and darkened with evil: “…By no means! But what they themselves have earned has rusted upon their hearts (and prevents them from perceiving the truth)” (al-Mutaffifin 83:14). If people do not remove sins darkening the heart through repentance and asking forgiveness, God Almighty will seal up their hearts: “God has set a seal upon their hearts…” (al-Baqarah 2:7) and “…a seal has been set upon their hearts” (at-Tawbah 9:87). These hearts become unable to receive anything from the pure message descended from heavens, and they end up continually saying “How I wish…” in the next world. In order not to fall into the grip of useless remorse, what needs to be done here is trying to carry out the responsibilities of servanthood to God without any flaws, in a balance of fear and hope. Realizing this depends on a heart in awe of God. The Messenger of God referred to a certain man and stated that if his heart had been in awe of God, so would have been his body parts.4 Awe of God in a believer’s heart will be reflected in the behaviors of that person; in time, even the body parts of that believer begin to shake with the awe of God—so much so that this shaking can be perceived by some in the iris of their eyes. On the one hand, a believer doubles up on feeling the greatness of God; on the other hand, if he or she trusts the immensity of His mercy and leads a life of such sensitivity and balance, this will be a means of deliverance from woes and regrets in the next world.
At the same time, people can prevent the negative factors to ruin their afterlife by attending circles of religious talks—or “sohbet-i Canan” (talk of the Beloved). As Süleyman Çelebi stated:
“Constantly say God’s name with every breath
It is with God’s name everything becomes complete.”
Another Sufi (Yahya of Taşlıca) poet voices the same truth thus:
“I wish my love was shared by all people of the world
If only all of our words could be talk of the Beloved.”
If we make mention of Him everywhere we go and make our gatherings blessed with His name, and make our time gain a depth uncontainable by dimensions, then we put a stop to so many negativities that might make us feel regret in the other world.
Saying “I Wish…” in the Sense of Asking Forgiveness
Question: Can there be useful examples of “I wish…” as opposed to useless ones? What should be our criteria?
Answer: As there are useless kinds of “I wish…” to be uttered in the next world, there are positive kinds of “I wish…” that are acceptable, and even laudable, in Islam. Those uttered by our master Abu Bakr are of this type. As it is known, he once said, “I wish I had asked the Messenger of God about the meaning of the verse referring to one who dies leaving behind no lineal heirs, so that I would not leave the issue to the judgment of scholars.” He voiced the same regret about the judgment concerning the share of a grandmother’s inheritance, as it is not openly stated in the Qur’an. He also expressed similar regrets about some political decisions he had to make. In my opinion, such phrases of “I wish…” are uttered as a consequence of deeply felt suffering and a feeling of self-criticism, which stem from comprehending religion correctly and rendering it the spirit of one’s life. They took Abu Bakr the Truthful to a great spiritual level beyond our comprehension. Imagine that the Pride of Humanity confirmed Abu Bakr’s worth by stating that if Abu Bakr’s faith were to be weighed against the faith of all people, his faith would weigh heavier.5 He was the greatest truthful one who realized through God’s grace—within two years and ten months (of his caliphate)—what others could not achieve in one and a half centuries. He did not simply overpower different lands as tyrants did, but poured the inspirations of his soul into them. Every place he went or turned his eyes came to life with the teachings of the Prophet. Indeed, he was the one who prepared the ground for the great conquests and breakthroughs realized during the next caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab. Therefore, his statements of “I wish…” added to the worth of that great figure, whose worth was already greater than the totality of all people.
In the same way, there are positive kinds of “I wish,” for every believer to elevate their ranks. For example, “I wish I had made better use of my youthful days in terms of worship! I wish I could spare two hours for a hundred units of Prayer every night! I wish I could save myself from carnal desires! I wish I could thoroughly restrain my hands, feet, sight, and hearing even while carnal desires boiled over at youth. I wish I had not turned my gaze anywhere else and not beheld anything else except for what is oriented toward seeking the good pleasure of God…” Even though one did not fulfill certain things previously, such statements of remorse, which express a resolution to take positive action to make up for what one has missed so far, actually lead to a person’s spiritual progress. If left to the other side, it will mean nothing but anguish and misery, whereas those we make here can be considered as istighfar (asking forgiveness). We say, “Astaghfirullah,” at remembering such things; we then feel ashamed of saying it only once and say, “Alfu-alfi Astaghfirullah,” (I ask forgiveness for a million times) and continuously seek refuge in God with a spirit of heartfelt penitence and remorse (tawba-inaba-awba).6 So when believers knock the door of Divine mercy with all of these “Astaghfirullahs”, God will hopefully not leave their petitions unanswered and will treat them with His immense mercy and grace.
1. Sahih al-Bukhari, Manaqib, 24
2. Nursi, Bediüzzaman Said, The Gleams, The Twenty-first Gleam, New Jersey: Tughra Books, 2008
3. Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Tafsir al-Surah (83) 1
4. Al-Hakim at-Tirmidhi, Nawadir al-Usul, 2/172
5. Bayhaqi, Shuab al-Iman, 1/69
6. For a detailed explanation of these concepts of Tawba, Inaba, and Awba, see Fethullah Gülen, The Emerald Hills of the Heart, Vol. 1.
This text is the translation of “Faydasız ve Faydalı ‘Keşke’ler“