The Prophet, peace be upon him, once remarked: ‘One of you sees the speck of dirt in his brother’s eye, but forgets the splinter in his own eye (yubsiru ahadukum al-qadhat fi ‘ayni akhihi wa yansa al-jidh‘a fi ‘ayni nafsihi).’ [Ibn Hibban, Sahih, no.1848]
Those who don’t think of their own sins often make up for it by dwelling (sometimes, obsessively) on the sins of others. The above hadith teaches us not to become blind to our own sins, yet always bang on about the sins of others. Each Muslim is duty bound by faith to guard against sins, the great and the small; outward and inward, as we would against a raging fire or lethal poison. A serious attempt to know our sins and to then repent is, in the long run, a lightening of the load and a healing: And repent to God, all of you O believers, that you may succeed. [24:31]
In acknowledging our sins, there is bound to be a shattering of some pretensions and the ego feeling some discomfort, yet that is a mere drop in the ocean compared to the anguish of a truck load of unexamined and unrepented sins that lurk in our hearts or stain our souls. Be it a missed prayer or fast; zakat unpaid; back-biting, tale-carrying or slandering; deceit and fraud in money matters or in buying and selling; a feud or a grudge held without lawful justification; ties of kinship severed and broken; denying someone their entitlement or right; the forbidden glance; an unlawful utterance – all of these are sins that must be stopped and repented for.
The Prophet, peace be upon him, once told us of a great tragedy of piety, so to speak, when he said: ‘Do you know who the poor one (muflis) is?’ On receiving the reply that the poor one among them is one who has neither wealth nor property, he stated: ‘The poor one in my nation is he who shall bring on the Day of Resurrection prayer, fasting and zakat, but will come having insulted this one, slandered that one, devoured the property of this one, shed the blood of that one, and beaten this one. This one and that one will be given some of his good deeds. But if his good deeds are exhausted before he pays his dues, some of their sins will be taken and cast upon him; and he will then be flung into Hell.’ [Muslim, no.2581]
A life unexamined and sins unrepented for make us spiritually poor; bankrupt, even! Acknowledging our sins to repent from them may dent our pride somewhat, or cause our conscience some dismay, but ultimately repentance relieves; it lightens; it heals. It is the difference between the pain felt from a decaying tooth – for which one needs to go to the dentist, and the more straight-forward pain which you can feel growing less and less painful once the tooth has been extracted.