An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

What is Repentance?

After the literal explanation of these two ayaat, it seems necessary to define Tawbah or repentance and determine its real nature and status. In his Ihya al-Ulum, Imam al-Ghazali has identified three different situations with regard to committing sins:

The first state is that of total sin-free, that is, no sin has ever been committed. This is either the hallmark of angels or that of the prophets, may peace be on them.

The second stage of getting involved in sin comes when one takes the initiative and ventures into sin and then repeats and persists with it, never feeling ashamed or regretful and never thinking of stopping and abandoning it. This is the degree of the satans and the devils.

The third station belongs to human beings, the children of Adam who, immediately after having committed a sin, regret it and resolve firmly not to go near it in future.

This tells us that failing to repent after committing a sin is the style of devils exclusively. Therefore, it is the consensus of the entire Muslim Ummah that Tawbah is obligatory. Allah says in Surah Tahreem ayah 8,

O those who believe, repent before Allah, a sincere repentance; may be your Lord removes from you your sins and admits you to gardens beneath which rivers flow.”

How generous is the mercy of our Lord! A man spends a whole lifetime disobeying Him. nevertheless, when he repents sincerely before his death, not only his sins are forgiven, but he receives much more when he is admitted into the circle of favored servants of Allah and made an inheritor of Paradise.

In a hadeeth, the Prophet salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam has been reported to have said that one who repents from sin is loved by Allah and one who has repented from sin is like one who had never committed a sin. [ibn Majah]

According to some narrations, if a servant of Allah repents from a sin and his repentance finds acceptance with Him, he is not only absolved from having to account for it, but the very record in writing posted by the angels is erased out from his book of deeds so that he may not be disgraced either.

However, what is necessary is that the repentance is genuine and is offered in sincerity. This repentance stands on three pillars.

Firstly, one should regret over and feel ashamed about what he or she has done. According to hadeeth‘Tawbah is (another name of) remorse’.

Secondly, one should immediately leave off the sin he has committed and he should, for the future too, firmly resolve to stay away from it.

Thirdly, one should think of making amends for what has gone by. He should try to take measures to rectify what has happened in sin to the best of his ability. For example, if one has missed obligatory fasts, one should do his best to make up as and when convenient for obligatory fasts he missed by offering qada fasts. May be one has not paid the obligatory zakah due on him; he should, then pay the zakah due on him for previous years as well, paying it all or paying it gradually. God forbid, if one has usurped someone’s right, he should return it back to him and if he has hurt someone, he should seek his forgiveness. But, should it be that one does not regret what he has done, or, despite being regretful, he does not leave off that sin for future, then, this repentance is no repentance even though it may be said a thousand times, as so delightfully put in verse by a Persian poet:

Repentance on the lips, rosary in hand
And a heart full of the taste of sin
Sin laughs at my style of seeking forgiveness!

The point being made here is that man, once he repents as started earlier and despite having been in all sorts of sins, becomes a servant dear to Allah. And should it ever be that, out of human weakness, one does fall into sin yet another time, he should immediately renew his repentance in the fond hope that this time, like every other time, Allah shall, being Most-Forgiving, relent towards him. another Persian couplet says:

This is the Court of My Presence,
Not the Court of Despair,
Even if you have broken (the promise in) your repentance
A hundred times, come again!

(Taken from Maaruf-ul-Qur’an by Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani)

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