Do wudu and prayer (salah) eliminate all sins? How should we understand the hadiths regarding the issue?

Details of the Question
I have committed so many sins. If I perform five daily prayers regularly and sincerely, will my sins be cleared as if I had a bath in a river?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

According to what is reported from Abu Hurayra, he heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say, 

“What do you think? If one of you had a river flowing past his house and he had a bath five times a day in that river, would there be any dirt on him?”The Companions said,

"There would be no dirt left on him." The Messenger of Allah said,

“Five daily prayers are like that. Allah eliminates the sins through five daily prayers.”(Bukhari, Mawaqit 6; Muslim, Masajid 283)

Yes, it is understood from this narration that when man performs five daily prayers truly, his minor sins between prayers will be forgiven. However, one should not commit sins depending on this hadith. In other narrations, it is stated that "religion is sincerity". Besides, it is necessary to repent from sins and to decide not to commit it again no matter what the sin is.   

When a person makes wudu, he is cleared from material dirt as well as spiritual sins, which are like spiritual dirt. The prayers a person performs contribute to it. A slave's repentance is one of the deeds that Allah likes the most. It is necessary to evaluate them as a whole and act accordingly.

The following verses exist in the chapter of Aal-i Imran:

"And those who having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls earnestly bring Allah to mind; and ask for forgiveness for their sins,―and who can forgive sins except Allah?,―And are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done.

For such the reward is forgiveness from their Lord and gardens with rivers flowing underneath an eternal dwelling; how excellent a recompense for those who work (and strive)!" 1

That is, the acceptance of repentance by Allah depends on the condition that the person does not insist on committing that sin without any excuse.

- What happens if a person keeps committing a haram deed because he cannot control his soul and he uses his friends as an excuse?

A hadith regarding the issue is as follows:

"When a believer commits a sin, a black spot appears in his heart. If he stops committing that sin and asks Allah for forgiveness, his heart is cleared from that black spot. If he continues committing that sin, the black spot gets bigger. The phrase "the sin covering the heart" in the Quran is used in this sense."2

Yes, the following statement expresses a significant fact: "Within each sin is a path leading to unbelief." A person who keeps committing a sin gets used to it in time and cannot abandon it. This habit leads him to spiritual dangers gradually. He starts to believe that he will not be punished for it in the hereafter and he even holds the view that Hell should not exist. That is, the seed of sin in the heart can be germinated and transformed - God forbid - into an oleander tree.3

In order to avoid this danger and to be freed from the delusions of Satan, it is necessary for such a person to repent from that sin as soon as possible and to control himself.

References:

1. Aal-i Imran, 3/135-136.
2. Ibn Majah, Zuhd: 29.
3. Lem'alar, p. 7; Mesnevî-i Nuriye, p. 115.

(bk. Mehmet PAKSU, Sünnet ve Aile)

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