I would like to consult you about something. I have a very dear friend whom I was unable to reform; verily, righteousness is only in Allah's Hands. This brother loves religiousness and read many of religious books. He grew a beard but he was afflicted by loving of desires, especially, women and unlawful things. Although my friend does not commit adultery, he is addicted to browse pornographic sites and masturbation, moreover he has no will. He cannot keep to the ordinances of Allah, even Salah he cannot keep, and very lazy in matters of obedience and even in the matters of worldly life. Now, he is a student in the university, but misses many lectures and he does not attend but few to the extent that he was dismissed from the university more than once. Although his high scientific level and thought, he was subject to failure in many subjects which he studies at the university. Consequently, he was deprived of admitting to tests which led to decrease his accumulative rate although he studies something he loves very much, moreover, he masters many other subjects. In short: My friend has a work crisis not knowledge-based crisis. He reads a lot about high vigor, self-development, hope, and about the importance of activity and work. However, he was not able to proceed one step in the right direction. He hated himself and despaired to reform it until he thought he was created for Hell, not for Paradise and thinks that his death is better than his life. He suffers many crises: financial, worldly, and scientifically at the university. He fears of scandal and his psychological status is very bad to the extent that he thought of suicide. Notwithstanding, he wishes good for himself and wants to live a real happiness. He wants to be successful in both his worldly life and the other, but he has a low-vigor and no energy. He wishes to get rid of desires and to go forth safely in the obedience of Allah, but he is unable to follow the path of guidance and is not able to bear its difficulties, No power nor strength save in Allah, the Most High, the Most Great. He tries a lot to abide by the purified Shari`ah of Allah, keeps to Salah, abstains from turmoil, indecencies, and other sins and evils, but his efforts are always failure and cannot continue, but he would discontinue in the middle of the way. When he discontinues, he gets despair and feels that there is no benefit for him in this life, by Allah (may He be Exalted) One whose aid is to be implored! I have summed up his status in short, do you have a treatment for him? May Allah reward you the best, made you keys for goodness, and guide to Allah (may He be Exalted).
My dear questioner:
What you have sent to us is not a question, but a fine piece of art of high style. It is a precise description to the condition of your friend as it also provides diagnosis and explanation along with description, so there is no much to say after your description. You have said that your friend does not suffer a crisis in understanding or knowledge, but a problem of action and application, and this is correct. A observer from a distance may judge your friend harshly and consider him of weak faith, but on the contrary, I feel the power of his faith penetrates the lines of your message. He is a form of a person who believes in his principles strongly, but the requirements of weak souls hinder him from abiding by this faith. He has a weak will and if the person who has such will is out of faith, he would commit major sins from the first day, he circulates and approaches them, but does not fall in them. Yes, the things which he is doing are unlawful, but they are minor sins.
If he insists on doing them, they will turn out to be major sins because minor sins turn to be major when the doer commits them continuously without seeking forgiveness. However, he repents and makes up his mind -as you describe - then his will weakens and he is driven by his whims and desires. Such people are among those whom the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him) said about: "The expiation of sin is sorrow," and his saying: "If you commit sins until they reach the heavens then repented, Allah will forgive your sins." and his saying: "Verily, a (believing) servant commits a sin and when he does that, he remembers his fault and grieve for it. When Allah looks at him while he is distressed with his fault, he forgives him before a person begins to expiate with Salah and fasting." All the mentioned Hadiths are weak, but there is nothing weird in the concept of repentance in Islam.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) says in the Divine Hadith which he narrates from his Lord (may He be Exalted): "O son of Adam: If you call and ask Me, I shall forgive what you had done (no matter how much is it) without giving care. O son of Adam: If your sins reached sky then you sought My Forgiveness, I shall forgave you without giving care. O son of Adam: If you come to me with as much amount as the dust of the earth then you come to Me without associating anyone with Me in worship, I would replace them with forgiveness." It is an authentic Hadith and it has many similar Hadiths to the same effect.
Verily, the door of repentance in our merciful and great religion is incomparable and if you want to search for such Hadiths, you will not be able to mention all the Hadiths of repentance, but I mentioned the first Hadiths -although they are weak- because they make "regret" a cause for forgiveness. Regret is the first step in repentance, where there is no persistence and arrogance with regret; regret is always accompanied by repentance and forgiveness. Let us focus on the causes which you knew and remembered. These are the causes according to your words: "He wishes reformation for himself, wants to live a true happiness, and wants to be successful in his worldly life as well as the other, although he is dejected and low-spirited." This is the main problem: low-spirit and low-vigor, Is there a cure for these diseases? The answer is: Yes. There is a long-way treatment, but I hope that it would contain cure and remedy if Allah wills. Sufis have engaged themselves long time ago with this old matter and called it "sport" If you mention the word sport, they will not think of running, football, and these known kinds of sports that people practice, but they understand it as "fighting one's own desires." Al Ghazaly wrote in length about this topic in his book "Al Ihya'." It is present in the third quarter of his book which he called as "the portion of things that cause destruction." I do not advise that you read "Al Ihya'" submissively and accept every word written there, but read it critically, so what is useful (which is a lot) we act accordingly and what was out of mystic confusions (which is also a lot) we skip. Al Ghazaly defines this sport in his book as approaching the good conducts and keeping a way from the bad ones until this becomes a disposition and not a mere artificiality.
To sum up this idea -in our modern language- when a person compels himself to do something difficult then continued to restrain himself and fighting its desires one time after another, in the end, he will do it easily without fatigue. For example, a person who fights his desires to offer the Fajr Salah, he will find difficulty in leaving his warm bed and get up to offer Salah. However, in the second time, this difficulty will be reduced a little bit, one percent for instance, then it shall be reduced a little bit in the third or in the fourth time. It continues to diminish until offering Salah becomes an easy thing.
This is part of "The art of strengthening the will" which is something possible by practice. I personally think that "the will" can be strengthened as you strengthen any muscle in the body by continuous practice. So, an athlete who wants to have strong arms exercises repeatedly by lying on his stomach, fix his arms along with his chest, and grow stature then moves his body away from the ground one time after another. However, he does not start with fifty "pressures" from the very beginning because he will not stand them, but he will begin with two or three and keep them for days then he increases them for some days and repeats the same thing again. He continues increasing the number of pressures one time after another for days and exerts hard efforts to continue until it comes the day when the fifty pressures become as easy as the three pressures he did in the first day.
What this athlete did with the muscles is what a person can do with his will. If a person is a victim to smoking and his habit is to smoke 30 cigarettes, he decides to smoke 29 cigarettes and resist his desire to smoke the 30th cigarette and repeats the same thing in the next day and in the following days. In the fifth day, he decreases the number of the smoked cigarettes to 28. He keeps resisting himself with his will until he gives up smoking altogether.
Let your friend do the same thing with himself in order to give up his bad habits: Let him resist his desire in sleeping and in leaving his lectures even once a week. Let him increase it twice a week, and continues to do that for weeks. He keeps on increasing his attendance a bit by bit until he likes attendance and hates absence. Let him also give up his bad habits as he does with his study: If he is used to do bad matters a day after another, let him fight his self-desires once every day. When he does that for three days, he should do it one more time and be firm not to lose the progress he had achieved until he becomes skillful in doing that once every four days. He keeps on separating between a verb and another until he lives many days free of trouble. So, he gets used to his new life and gives up what he used to do.
This style rescues its doer from the painful setbacks because severe compulsion cannot be borne by a weak self, so it may fall and retreat. That means, if he makes up his mind to give up what he does suddenly without doing it gradually or without practice, he may not succeed in this. If he fails to reform himself, he will return to the previous condition with despair. You have denoted to this when you said: "His tries will be failure and cannot continue, moreover, he should stop in the middle of the road and when he stops, his heart is possessed by despair and feels that there is no benefit of his life." If he had a strong will, he would have succeeded. As for giving up bad actions suddenly, it probably succeeds. However, if we know that his will is strong, it is better not to make him go through a road in which the possibility of setbacks and retreat is high and it is better for him to follow the road gradually and after practice. This is the only way to strengthen the will: by practice and persistence. If will gets strength, it turns the conditions of a person upside down until a person finds that he was reborn again. It is suitable to denote here that psychiatrists do not recognize this "will" in the examples I had mentioned before. However, if they use this term, they do not use it but to distinct between behaviors that are committed by free will which is "volitional attitudes" and the behaviors that a person does against his free will which is "involuntary attitudes." They justified the behaviors of a person when he does something and does not do another by responding to the will of his ownself. They are just "desires" from which a person chooses or leaves. When the alarm is fired in the morning, you will have the desire to stay in bed, continue sleeping, and the desire to keep the job and earn money. Consequently, your second wish surpasses the second, so you get up from your bed reluctantly, prepare yourself, and go to work. This is a simple example for what we do when we are compelled to balance between a desire and another.
What psychiatrists say is correct. Will bears a comprehensive meaning more than to be confined to the difficult and useful things because you need a will to read a useful book and to watch a silly movie. Moreover, a person needs a will to go to the mosque or to a casino and by will a person fasts and breaks the fast. Thus, you find that every act we do "voluntarily" needs "a will" to do it. Let us specify the term we use in our talks and writings by saying: "strengthening the good will" and goodness is a general word which is proper to the worldly life and the matters of the Hereafter.
I have found out that the best thing that compromise between the psychological science and the Qur'anic text is that we consider that the good desires -by the psychological term- is "the reproaching soul" which the Qur'an has mentioned, whereas the bad desires are "the bad soul which incite evil." When we strengthen the good will in ourselves or strengthen the good will and the good intentions in ourselves, everything we do in reality is to give victory to the pious soul over the bad one, so we supported the first will to the second in our life. They are not two souls according to the view of scholars where each one has one soul, but it is the inclination of oneself to goodness or evil: "And by Nafs (Adam or a person or a soul, etc.), and Him Who perfected him in proportion;" "And shown him the two ways (good and evil)?" Whenever we reinforces the will and the desire of goodness in ourselves, the good soul will grow bigger than the reproaching one and the evil one becomes smaller, thereby we can achieve -by the will of Allah- goodness and success in the world as well in the Hereafter.