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How to Break Free from a Sinful Habit – It’s NOT Just About Willpower

Sarah has been trying to quit drugs since she found out that it’s not allowed in Islam. She knows it’s bad for her health. She knows it can drag her to the hellfire. Yet she just can’t quit. Her hands seem to be dragged automatically towards drugs whenever she sees them.

Mike’s problem is more private. No one sees him when he commits it, but he knows that Allah knows. Still, somehow he feels powerless against the sin.

How do you stop committing a sin when it’s become a habit? You’ve repented many times, and still you go back to it. You know it’s sinful and it’s destroying you bit by bit, yet you can’t help doing it. The urge seems more powerful than you, taking control of your willpower, forcing you to act in a way you know you shouldn’t.

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How do you stop?

More willpower? But your willpower seems to shatter to pieces when the urge takes over.

Be stronger? But how do you become stronger?

Here are some ideas to strengthen your willpower and provide you with tools and shortcuts to win the fight against sinful habits.

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Remember Your Default State

What’s the default state of a human being? Our religion says that we are all born with a built-in conscience, called the fitrah. It’s an innate radar that can sense good and evil, making us love the former and hate the latter. It helps us know our true Lord even without being told about Him.

When we were children, we had our fitrah intact. But as we grew older, it gathered rust and dirt from the sins we committed. The distinction between good and evil grew vague as our fitrah got more and more rusty.

But here’s the point – your default, natural state is to love good things and hate the evil. No matter how many sins you committed in life, your fitrah is still there inside you. You just need to clean and polish it a bit, and it will be good as new.

You were not born with sinful habits, and you perhaps lived a long period of your life without needing them. No matter how hard it may seem, you have the potential to leave these sinful habits; it just means going back to your natural state.  

It’s a Hard Fight

Never, ever give up. What matters isn’t to be on track all the time, but to get back on track every time you slip.

Remember that you’re not alone. Even Adam (peace be upon him) fell into temptation. Remember what the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:

Every son of Adam commits sin, and the best of those who commit sin are those who repent. (Ibn Majah 4251)

Allah tests each of us, but in different ways. Don’t compare yourself with others; they aren’t fighting the same fight as you.

Find out the Reason

Whatever sinful habit we incur, there’s always an underlying psychological cause behind it. If you can trace that cause, you’ve won half the fight. But it needs deep self-reflection.

Observe your own actions and the circumstances in which you commit them.

Some root causes of sinful habits:

Avoiding Anxiety and Stress:

Anxiety is painful, and the brain tries to avoid thinking the painful thoughts by distracting itself with other things. On top of that, resisting the sinful habit can itself provoke stress, and the mind tries to get rid of it by doing the sin.

After much self-reflection, Sarah realizes that, every time she is stressed about something, such as before delivering an office presentation or after having a fight with her husband, she reaches out for the drugs for relief. 

Unfulfilled Need:

Needs are very powerful, and when you leave them unfulfilled, they can wreak havoc. Mike’s problem is that he has been trying to suppress his sexual needs, and since he doesn’t give them a halal outlet, they express themselves in sinful ways.

Trying to Fit in or Imitating Others:

The people around us influence our behavior more than we think. Consciously or unconsciously, we pick up their habits. Sometimes we just don’t want to be the odd one out.

Seek Refuge from Satan

Satan is the instigator of sinful habits. He’s the one who coaxes you to carry on, who makes your head spin with buzzing thoughts and raised emotions when you try to resist. Seek Allah’s protection from him. And protect yourself from all kinds of sins as much as you can so that Satan’s hold over your willpower is slackened.

Make a lot of dua. Allah is able to do all things. He can make this sin so hateful to you that you will never go near it.

Choose a Plan of Action

Once you know the root cause behind the sinful habit, it’s time to choose a plan of action.

If the cause is anxiety, choose an activity that helps you relax, such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing, exercise, or playing with your cats. When you feel stressed and the urge to do the sin comes, try to engage in your chosen activity instead. By practice and perseverance, the new activity will replace the sinful habit. 

If the cause is an unfulfilled need, find a halal way of fulfilling it. Mike, for example, should get married.

If it’s the third cause, surround yourself with pious friends and avoid people and situations that trigger the habit. 

Perform Good Deeds

You can strengthen your willpower and cleanse your heart by performing good deeds.

Perfect Your Prayer:

Allah says:

Indeed, prayer prohibits immorality and wrongdoing. (Quran, 29:45)

Engage with the Quran:

It heals diseases of the heart. (10:57)

Remember death, the destroyer of pleasures. (Ibn Majah 4258)

Fast to:

... increase consciousness of Allah. (2:183)

Perform Hajj and ‘Umrah:

You will come back as sinless as the day you were born. (Al-Bukhari 1521)

Consider Therapy

When a habit becomes a powerful addiction, it may be almost impossible for you to tackle it on your own. Seek professional help. As your intention is to get rid of a sin from your life, the money you spend for it will be a charity in sha’ Allah.