An-Nisa · Juz 4 · Qur'an Tafseer

Repentance is Accepted until One Faces Death

In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful

Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 17 – 18

The previous ayah ended with a discussion on repentance. The present ayaat talk about the conditions under which repentance is accepted.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala says,

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala states that He accepts the repentance of the servant who commits an error in ignorance and then repents, even just before he sees the angel who captures the soul before his soul reaches his throat.

At this point, it should be noted that the Qur’an has used the words “in ignorance” which gives an impression that repentance may be accepted when a sin is committed unintentionally and unknowingly. But if it is committed deliberately, it will not be acceptable. However, according to some Companions, radhiAllahu ‘anhum, the word “jahalah” or ignorance here does not mean that a sinning person is not aware of a sin as sin or has no intention or volition to commit a sin.

[The Virtues of Repentance]

Instead, it means that it was the insensitivity and heedlessness of a person towards the evil end of sin and its ultimate punishment, which became the cause of his audacity to venture into sin, even though he knew a sin as sin and had approached it with intention and volition as well.

Mujahid and others said, “Every person who disobeys Allah by mistake, or intentionally is ignorant until he refrains from the sin.” Qatadah said that Abu Al-`Aliyah narrated that the Companions of the Messenger of Allah salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam used to say,

“Every sin that the servant commits, he commits out of ignorance.”

In his Tafseer, al-Bahr al-Muheet, Abu Hayyan has said, “This is just like what has been reported in a hadeeth that is ‘a person who commits zina will not be doing so while in a state of being a true Muslim.’ It means that the time when he succumbed to the temptation of this evil act that was the time when he was away from the demand of his faith. For this reason, Ikrimah said, ‘Everything one does in this mortal world – outside the framework of obedience to Allah – is ignorance.’ The logic is obvious since the person disobeying Allah is preferring short-lived pleasures over those ever-lasting and anyone who takes the punishment, which will last forever in exchange for this short-lived series of pleasures cannot be called rational, sensible or smart. Such a person would be called ignorant, even if he knows the evil of his actions and has all the intention and resolve to go ahead with it.

‘Ali bin Abi Talhah reported that Ibn `Abbas said about the ayah,

ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ

“and then repent soon after.”

[When Repentance Become Mandatory]

It means until just before the person looks at the angel of death. Hasan Al-Basri said that it means before his last breath leaves his throat.

Imam Ahmad recorded that Ibn ‘Umar radhiAllahu ‘anhu said that the Messenger salAllahu ‘alayhi wa sallam said,

إِنَّ اللهَ يَقْبَلُ تَوْبَةَ الْعَبْدِمَالَمْ يُغَرْغِر

“Allah accepts the repentance of the servant as long as the soul does not reach the throat.”

Mufti Muhammad Shafi Usmani writes, the phrase min qareeb or “soon after” indicates that the lifespan of man is limited in time and death, which he may think is far away, may actually be quite near.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

“It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.”

Ayah 18 – Whose Repentance is Not Accepted

Ayah 18 describes those who repentance is not acceptable with Allah, those who fearlessly go on committing sins their entire lives and when death stands on their head and the angels of death become visible, they start offering repentance.

How could their repentance be acceptable when they remained indulged in disobedience and sin and wasted all opportunities to repent while there was still time to repent?

Surely, when hope in continued living diminishes, the angel of death comes forth and the soul reaches the throat, approaches the chest and arrives at the state where it is being gradually pulled out, then there is no accepted repentance, nor a way out of that certain end. Hence Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala said,

وَلَيْسَتِ التَّوْبَةُ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ إِنِّي تُبْتُ الْآنَ وَلَا الَّذِينَ يَمُوتُونَ وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ ۚ

“But repentance is not [accepted] of those who [continue to] do evil deeds up until, when death comes to one of them, he says, ‘Indeed, I have repented now,’ or of those who die while they are disbelievers.”

Consequently, when the disbeliever dies while still a disbeliever and polytheist, his sorrow and repentance shall not avail him. If he were to ransom himself, even with the earth’s fill of gold, it will not be accepted from him. What is the worth of declaration of faith when one is facing the pangs of the withdrawal of the soul from the body? Such a confession has no worth.

Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala ends the address by saying, “For them We have prepared a painful punishment,” meaning torment that is severe, eternal and enormous.

[Conditions of Sincere Repentance]

What is Repentance?

In his Ihya al-Uloom, Imam al-Ghazali has identified three situations with regard to committing sins:

The first state is that of total sinlessness, that is no sin has ever been committed. This is either the hallmark of angels or that of the prophets.

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 who immediately after committing a sin, regret it and resolve firmly to not go near it in the future.

This tells us that failing to repent after committing a sin is a Satanic attribute. Therefore, it is the consensus of the Muslim scholars that Tawbah or repentance is obligatory.   

How generous is our Lord! A person spends his entire life disobeying Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala, yet when he repents sincerely before his death, not only are his sins forgiven but he receives much more in return such as entering the circle of Allah’s favored servants and becoming an inheritor of Jannah.

[Signs of Acceptance of Tawbah]

Lessons:
  • We learn that a person may commit a sin for several reasons. It could be that he did not know that it was a sin. Or it could be that he knew it was a sin but he fell for his temptations and committed an act of disobedience.

  • We learn after one realizes his mistake then he should not delay repentance because no one knows when they will take their last breath. One must sincerely turn to Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala in repentance immediately after realizing their mistake.

  • Repentance will not be accepted at the time of death, therefore do not miss your chances.

DOWNLOAD PDF: Tafseer Surah An-Nisa Ayaat 17 – 18

رَبَّنَا تَقَبَّلْ مِنَّا ۖ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ السَّمِيعُ الْعَلِيم  
“Our Lord, accept [this] from us. Indeed You are the All-Hearing, the All-Knowing.”
[Al-Baqarah 2: 127]

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