In Sura 74 of the Quran we read the following verse.
[74:38] Every soul is trapped by its sin.
(٣٨) كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ
And you will see this verse translated in various ways.
The literal translation for this verse is that “Every soul is pledged/bound by what it earned.”
This root for the word pledge رَهِينَةٌ / rahīnatun is only used three times in the Quran (74:38, 2:283, 52:21).
[2:283] If you are traveling, and no scribe is available, a bond shall be posted to guarantee repayment. If one is trusted in this manner, he shall return the bond when due, and he shall observe GOD his Lord. Do not withhold any testimony by concealing what you had witnessed. Anyone who withholds a testimony is sinful at heart. GOD is fully aware of everything you do.
وَإِنْ كُنْتُمْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ وَلَمْ تَجِدُوا كَاتِبًا فَرِهَانٌ مَقْبُوضَةٌ فَإِنْ أَمِنَ بَعْضُكُمْ بَعْضًا فَلْيُؤَدِّ الَّذِي اؤْتُمِنَ أَمَانَتَهُ وَلْيَتَّقِ اللَّهَ رَبَّهُ وَلَا تَكْتُمُوا الشَّهَادَةَ وَمَنْ يَكْتُمْهَا فَإِنَّهُ آثِمٌ قَلْبُهُ وَاللَّهُ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ عَلِيمٌ
The other occurrence of this root is in in 52:21, and note how similar the Arabic is to the 74:38.
[52:21] For those who believed, and their children also followed them in belief, we will have their children join them. We never fail to reward them for any work. Every person is paid for what he did.
(٢١) وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَاتَّبَعَتْهُمْ ذُرِّيَّتُهُمْ بِإِيمَانٍ أَلْحَقْنَا بِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَمَا أَلَتْنَاهُمْ مِنْ عَمَلِهِمْ مِنْ شَيْءٍ كُلُّ امْرِئٍ بِمَا كَسَبَ رَهِينٌ
What is the significance of this word choice in 74:38? The word رَهِينَةٌ rahīnatun is when one puts up a pledge; not as a promise, but as a security deposit for the fulfillment of an agreement such that if the contract is not fulfilled then the borrower forfeits their security deposit. Think about when someone rents a home or stays at a hotel the owner of the property will have the individual place a security deposit such that if the property is damaged the owner is entitled to the deposit that was left with them.
These kind of transactions are considered some of the safest investments for investors because if the borrower fails to make payments the lender can always come and claim the asset. So in this arrangement the borrower has a lot to lose, but the lender has much less to lose if the deal falls through.
So how does this example relate to our arrangement with God in this world? God provided us with everything: our physical bodies, minds, provisions, environment, etc. But what was the collateral we put up for this in case we fail to live up to our end of the agreement? It was our souls.
[6:12] Say, “To whom belongs everything in the heavens and the earth?” Say, “To GOD.” He has decreed that mercy is His attribute. He will surely summon you all on the Day of Resurrection, which is inevitable. The ones who lose their souls are those who disbelieve.
قُلْ لِمَنْ مَا فِي السَّمَاوَاتِ وَالْأَرْضِ قُلْ لِلَّهِ كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ لَيَجْمَعَنَّكُمْ إِلَىٰ يَوْمِ الْقِيَامَةِ لَا رَيْبَ فِيهِ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ فَهُمْ لَا يُؤْمِنُونَ
[39:15] Therefore, worship whatever you wish besides Him. Say, “The real losers are those who lose their souls, and their families, on the Day of Resurrection.” Most certainly, this is the real loss.
(١٥) فَاعْبُدُوا مَا شِئْتُمْ مِنْ دُونِهِ قُلْ إِنَّ الْخَاسِرِينَ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَأَهْلِيهِمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَلَا ذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْخُسْرَانُ الْمُبِينُ
[42:45] You will see them facing it, humiliated and debased, and looking, yet trying to avoid looking. Those who believed will proclaim: “The real losers are those who lost their souls and their families on the Day of Resurrection. The transgressors have deserved an everlasting retribution.”
وَتَرَاهُمْ يُعْرَضُونَ عَلَيْهَا خَاشِعِينَ مِنَ الذُّلِّ يَنْظُرُونَ مِنْ طَرْفٍ خَفِيٍّ وَقَالَ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا إِنَّ الْخَاسِرِينَ الَّذِينَ خَسِرُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَأَهْلِيهِمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ أَلَا إِنَّ الظَّالِمِينَ فِي عَذَابٍ مُقِيمٍ
But what did we promise we would do for the opportunity and power God has given us for this life?
[2:62] Surely, those who believe, those who are Jewish, the Christians, and the converts; anyone who (1) believes in GOD, and (2) believes in the Last Day, and (3) leads a righteous life, will receive their recompense from their Lord. They have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.
إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ
[98:5] All that was asked of them was to worship GOD, devoting the religion absolutely to Him alone, observe the contact prayers (Salat), and give the obligatory charity (Zakat). Such is the perfect religion.
(٥) وَمَا أُمِرُوا إِلَّا لِيَعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ مُخْلِصِينَ لَهُ الدِّينَ حُنَفَاءَ وَيُقِيمُوا الصَّلَاةَ وَيُؤْتُوا الزَّكَاةَ وَذَٰلِكَ دِينُ الْقَيِّمَةِ
The typical next argument someone will make is how are they supposed to know about this if they were never introduced to the Quran. God informs us that prior to our coming to this world we were all witness to this information.
[7:172] Recall that your Lord summoned all the descendants of Adam, and had them bear witness for themselves: “Am I not your Lord?” They all said, “Yes. We bear witness.” Thus, you cannot say on the Day of Resurrection, “We were not aware of this.”
وَإِذْ أَخَذَ رَبُّكَ مِنْ بَنِي آدَمَ مِنْ ظُهُورِهِمْ ذُرِّيَّتَهُمْ وَأَشْهَدَهُمْ عَلَىٰ أَنْفُسِهِمْ أَلَسْتُ بِرَبِّكُمْ قَالُوا بَلَىٰ شَهِدْنَا أَنْ تَقُولُوا يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِنَّا كُنَّا عَنْ هَٰذَا غَافِلِينَ
Additionally, God provided us with innate knowledge to distinguish between good and evil and to worship God alone.
[30:30] Therefore, you shall devote yourself to the religion of strict monotheism. Such is the natural instinct placed into the people by GOD. Such creation of GOD will never change. This is the perfect religion, but most people do not know.
فَأَقِمْ وَجْهَكَ لِلدِّينِ حَنِيفًا فِطْرَتَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي فَطَرَ النَّاسَ عَلَيْهَا لَا تَبْدِيلَ لِخَلْقِ اللَّهِ ذَٰلِكَ الدِّينُ الْقَيِّمُ وَلَٰكِنَّ أَكْثَرَ النَّاسِ لَا يَعْلَمُونَ
[91:7] The soul and Him who created it.
(٧) وَنَفْسٍ وَمَا سَوَّاهَا
[91:8] Then showed it what is evil and what is good.
(٨) فَأَلْهَمَهَا فُجُورَهَا وَتَقْوَاهَا
[91:9] Successful is one who redeems it.
(٩) قَدْ أَفْلَحَ مَنْ زَكَّاهَا
[91:10] Failing is one who neglects it.
(١٠) وَقَدْ خَابَ مَنْ دَسَّاهَا
If we want to redeem our soul we need to maintain our connection with God. We do this through worshiping God alone, commemorating God, making God our priority throughout our day, and most importantly through our Contact Prayer (Salat).
[29:45] You shall recite what is revealed to you of the scripture, and observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), for the Contact Prayers prohibit evil and vice. But the remembrance of GOD (through Salat) is the most important objective. GOD knows everything you do.
(٤٥) اتْلُ مَا أُوحِيَ إِلَيْكَ مِنَ الْكِتَابِ وَأَقِمِ الصَّلَاةَ إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنْكَرِ وَلَذِكْرُ اللَّهِ أَكْبَرُ وَاللَّهُ يَعْلَمُ مَا تَصْنَعُونَ
[20:132] You shall enjoin your family to observe the contact prayers (Salat), and steadfastly persevere in doing so. We do not ask you for any provisions; we are the ones who provide for you. The ultimate triumph belongs to the righteous.
(١٣٢) وَأْمُرْ أَهْلَكَ بِالصَّلَاةِ وَاصْطَبِرْ عَلَيْهَا لَا نَسْأَلُكَ رِزْقًا نَحْنُ نَرْزُقُكَ وَالْعَاقِبَةُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ
In signal processing, there is an expression of burying a signal in noise. As an individual sins they are adding more noise to their connection with God and thus losing their ability from being able to distinguish between the right path from the wrong path. The Salat strengthens this signal and reduces the noise in our life. The is the reason that the root of the word Salat is و ص ل which means to join.
[13:19] Is one who recognizes that your Lord’s revelations to you are the truth equal to one who is blind? Only those who possess intelligence will take heed. [13:20] They are the ones who fulfill their pledge to GOD, and do not violate the covenant. [13:21] They join what GOD has commanded to be joined, reverence their Lord, and fear the dreadful reckoning. [13:22] They steadfastly persevere in seeking their Lord, observe the Contact Prayers (Salat), spend from our provisions to them secretly and publicly, and counter evil with good. These have deserved the best abode. [13:23] They enter the gardens of Eden, together with the righteous among their parents, their spouses, and their children. The angels will enter to them from every door. [13:24] “Peace be upon you, because you steadfastly persevered. What a joyous destiny.” [13:25] As for those who violate GOD’s covenant after pledging to keep it, and sever what GOD has commanded to be joined, and commit evil, they have incurred condemnation; they have incurred the worst destiny.
When a person loses this connection with God then they will fall delinquent on their mandatory contributions that that they pledged when they agreed to come into this world, and just like a person who runs delinquent on their mortgage payments month after month that causes them to ultimately lose their house – that person will also ultimately lose their souls on the Day of Judgment.
And what do you call someone who is up-to their eyes in debt? Trapped.
[74:38] Every soul is trapped by its sin.
(٣٨) كُلُّ نَفْسٍ بِمَا كَسَبَتْ رَهِينَةٌ
Luckily God has given us a life long chance to be redeem our souls, and as long as we are alive we have the opportunity to set things right (saleh).
[2:245] Who would lend GOD a loan of righteousness, to have it repaid to them multiplied manifold? GOD is the One who provides and withholds, and to Him you will be returned.
(٢٤٥) مَنْ ذَا الَّذِي يُقْرِضُ اللَّهَ قَرْضًا حَسَنًا فَيُضَاعِفَهُ لَهُ أَضْعَافًا كَثِيرَةً وَاللَّهُ يَقْبِضُ وَيَبْسُطُ وَإِلَيْهِ تُرْجَعُونَ
But I know many people are hearing the whispers of the devil, e.g. I have done too much sin, there is no redemption for me, I don’t deserve to go to Paradise…
[24:40] Another allegory is that of being in total darkness in the midst of a violent ocean, with waves upon waves, in addition to thick fog. Darkness upon darkness—if he looked at his own hand, he could barely see it. Whomever GOD deprives of light, will have no light.
أَوْ كَظُلُمَاتٍ فِي بَحْرٍ لُجِّيٍّ يَغْشَاهُ مَوْجٌ مِنْ فَوْقِهِ مَوْجٌ مِنْ فَوْقِهِ سَحَابٌ ظُلُمَاتٌ بَعْضُهَا فَوْقَ بَعْضٍ إِذَا أَخْرَجَ يَدَهُ لَمْ يَكَدْ يَرَاهَا وَمَنْ لَمْ يَجْعَلِ اللَّهُ لَهُ نُورًا فَمَا لَهُ مِنْ نُورٍ
Notice that the above verse is describing darkness upon darkness, yet God does not say the individual cannot see their hand. Instead, it says they can barely see it. If you are reading this now, and what you are hearing is resonating with you even the slightest amount then their is hope for you because deep down you still can see the truth.
Imagine being completely in debt and God providing you a simple lifeline that will cost you nothing and will instantly provide you relief? God does this through the act of repenting and reforming God can wipe your sins and transform them into credit if you open your heart to God.
[25:63] The worshipers of the Most Gracious are those who tread the earth gently, and when the ignorant speak to them, they only utter peace. [25:64] In the privacy of the night, they meditate on their Lord, and fall prostrate. [25:65] And they say, “Our Lord, spare us the agony of Hell; its retribution is horrendous. [25:66] “It is the worst abode; the worst destiny.” [25:67] When they give, they are neither extravagant, nor stingy; they give in moderation. [25:68] They never implore beside GOD any other god, nor do they kill any soul—for GOD has made life sacred—except in the course of justice. Nor do they commit adultery. Those who commit these offenses will have to pay. [25:69] Retribution is doubled for them on the Day of Resurrection, and they abide therein humiliated. [25:70] Exempted are those who repent, believe, and lead a righteous life. GOD transforms their sins into credits. GOD is Forgiver, Most Merciful. [25:71] Those who repent and lead a righteous life, GOD redeems them; a complete redemption.
So no matter how much sin you have committed and how astray you believe you are know that you can instantly be admitted back to God’s kingdom just by simply repenting and reestablishing your pledge with God.
[39:53] Proclaim: “O My servants who exceeded the limits, never despair of GOD’s mercy. For GOD forgives all sins. He is the Forgiver, Most Merciful.”
(٥٣) قُلْ يَاعِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنْفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِنْ رَحْمَةِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ