You should know, may Allah (Azzawajal) have mercy upon you and me, that Allah (Azzawajal), glorified be He, has made repentance obligatory saying: "O you that have believed, turn to your Lord in a goodly way." (Al-Tahrim:8), and has granted us time to repent until the Scribes register the sin in our names. The prophet has said: "The Scribe on the left hand delays registering the sin of a Muslim for six hours. If he repents (within these six hours), and seeks Allah's forgiveness, they drop if off. If he doesn't, they write is down as a single sin." That is the first respite.
The second respite, even if it is registered, is until the appearance of death before our eyes. (If a man repents sincerely before that hour, it is taken off the records then).
But the problem with most people, is that they estimate not the Majesty of the Lord as they should. They disobey Him in multiple ways - day and night. To make things worse, there are some that are misled by the notion of what they call "minor sins", so that you will see them treating certain sins as inconsequential saying, for instance: "Of what harm will be a look (at that woman), or of what consequence a hand-shake with her?" In consequence, they stare freely at pictures of women in the magazines, or those appearing in the television. Some of them, when told about the sin in it, go a step further and inquire amusingly: "O.K. What's the magnitude of the sin involved? Is it a major one or minor?"
Compare this attitude with that of the Companions of the Prophet , on whom be peace, as recorded by Bukhari in his Sahih: 1. Said Anas, may Allah be pleased with him (to one of the followers): "You imagine certain sins to be more insignificant than a straw. But, at the time of the Prophet we used to count them among those that can destroy a man." 2. Ibn Mas'ud says: "A believer treats a sin as if it is a mountain over his head that may fall on him any moment. Whereas a regular violator looks at them as a fly that perked on his nose and he waived it away with his hand."
Will these people then learn something from the above, and from the hadith of the Prophet who said: "Beware of the minor sins. For the example of the minor sins is like that of a group of travelers who broke their journey in a valley. Then one of them brought in a straw. Another came up with another (and a third with one more) until with their collection they were able to gather enough t o cook their food. Remember! If a man is held for questioning (on the day of Judgment)for his minor sins, surely they will destroy him." In another version he is reported to have said: "Beware of minor sins. For they add on until they destroy the man."
The scholars say therefore that when minor sins are committed without any remorse, without the fear of Allah, and accompanied by contempt then they there is all the fear they will be counted as major sins. Hence the saying: "There isn't a minor with persistence, and there isn't a major with repentance." Hence we say to him who commits minor sins: 'Do not look at the sins if they are small or big. Look at Him in whose defiance you are committing them.'
It is hoped that these words about taking sins lightly will benefit those who are true in their faith, are not seduced by their delinquencies, nor are of those that insist upon their wrongs. These words will in fact benefit those who believe in the following words of Allah: "Tell My slaves: that I am v ery Forgiving, very Kind," (Al-Hijr: 49), and those who believe in: "But My chastisement is a severe chastisement indeed." (Al-Hijr: 50)
Conditions for the acceptance of repentance
The word tauba which is rendered as repentance in English, is not a simple term as most people believe. It is very rich in meaning and implication, and is not simply a word of mouth after which the sinner continues in his sins. Says Allah, Glorified be He: "Seek forgiveness of your Lord and then turn to Him in repentance." (Hud: 3). Do you notice how turning to the Lord in repentance has been added to the search for His forgiveness?
It is quite in keeping with its importance, therefore, that repentance should have, as the scholars have stated, conditions attached to it for its acceptance. They are as follows:Scholars have also mentioned some other conditions such as the following that we present with some examples.
First: Giving up of the sin itself. Second: Remorse over what has been committed. Third: A resolve not to repeat it, and, Fourth: Compensating those who have been wronged or obtaining their forgiveness.
First, the giving up of the sin should be for the sake Allah alone, and not for any other reason such as: fear of the people, inability to commit it, and so forth. He, for instance, who gives up a sin because it affects his position in the society adversely, or because it harm s him in his profession, is not a repenter. Nor is he who gave up for sake of his health such as he who gave up adultery from the fear of contagious diseases, or because it weakens his body or mind. Nor is he the repenter who gave up theft because the house was locked or he could not open the safe, or yet because he was afraid of the guards or the police. Neither is he a repenter who did not accept bribes because he feared the man offering it could be an informer. Nor is he a repenter who gave up wine or drugs because he had no money to buy. So also, he who could not do a thing because it was beyond his means, or out of his reach will not be counted as a repenter. For instance, if a habitual liar is affected by dumbness, or an adulterer who has become impotent, or a thief who lost his limbs; in all these cases, the feeling of remorse over what has been committed before, is a condition for a person to be called a repenter, even as the non-existence of the desire to go back to it is another condition. Hence the saying of the Prophet : "Remorse is repentance."
Allah, glorified be He, treats the man who has a strong desire to do a thing, but is incapable of carrying it out for some reason, as equal to one who does it. The Prophet is recorded as having said:
"There are four kinds of people in the world.
"First, he whom Allah gave wealth as well as knowledge. This man, he fears his Lord, does his duty to his kin, and knows what is Allah's right in it. He is at the highest level.
"Second, the man whom Allah gave knowledge but not wealth. But he is true of intention. He says, 'Had I wealth, I would have done such and such (good things).' Since he is true of intention, he and the first man are equal in reward. Third, the man whom Allah gave wealth but not knowledge. He spends his wealth without restraint, neither fearing his Lord, nor giving his kin their right, nor yet giving Allah His due. He will be at the lowest level.
And finally, he whom Allah gave neither wealth nor knowledge. He says, 'Had I been given wealth, I would have spent it in such and such (evil) thing.' He will be judged according to his intention. He and the man of the third category are equal in sin."
Second, the repenting man should additionally feel the regret in his heart and ill effects on his soul. That is, true repentance does not allow for taking pleasure from past sins, or desire to repeat the sin. How can he wish it when the harms are so numerous and so serious? Ibn Qayyim, may Allah be kind upon him, states many harms of sins in his book 'Ailments and Cures'. Some of them are as follows:
"Loss of knowledge - a weird feeling in the heart - difficulties in ordinary affairs - weakening of the body - loss of willingness to do the bidding (of Allah) - loss of barakah - loss of inclination to do good things - constrained feeling in the heart - birth of evil deeds - habituation to the sins - unworthiness in the sight of Allah - littleness in the esteem of the people - curses of the beasts upon him - feeling of inferiority in the heart - sealing of the heart - earning qualification for the curse of Allah - unresponsiveness for Allah to his supplications - corruption in the land and sea - loss of sense of honor - loss of shame - loss of blessings - descending of Allah's anger - settling of fear in the heart - increased likelihood of falling in the traps of Satan - an unhappy end - and, - punishment in the Hereafter."
Surely these are such harms and ill effects that no sane man would like to sin after he has known about them. But unfortunately, we find that some people give up one kind of sin only to succumb to another kind. There are various reasons for this. Some are as follows:
The belief that the new sin is less offensive in the sight of Allah. The base self has greater inclination to it than to the previous sin. The means for the new sin are more widely spread and easily available, as against the other kinds of sins the means of which may not be easily available. Because his pals also commit that sin, and it is difficult to part their company. Because such sins would be a means of earning a place of honor among certain people, a thing he would not like to relinquish, and so he continues in those sins. This happens with people who are at the helm of affairs. As it happened with the poet Abu Nuwas when another poet Abu 'Atahi reproached him over some of his failings. Said Abu Nuwas in reply:
Do you reckon me giving up these frivolities O' Atahi? Do you reckon me losing my position among my people?
Third, a sinner should hasten to repent, for procrastination in this affair is itself a sin that requires repentance.
Fourth, the fear that the repentance may not have been accepted at all. T his will help against a fall into the state of complacency and a false sense of security.
Fifth, feeling of the loss of what was lost in the past while the sinner was engaged in his sins. For instance the nonpayment of zakah in which were the dues of the poor (and for the payment of which means were then available).
Sixth, that the sinner should move away from the place where the sin was committed. For if he remains there the chances of him falling into the same sin exist.
Seventh, the sinner should abandon the company of those that helped him in the sin. Says Allah: "Friends that day will be enemy unto each other - save for the god-fearing." (Al-Zukhruf: 67). These bad companions will be cursing each other on the day of Reckoning. You should, therefore, dear repenting man, avoid these even now, keeping a safe distance from them. For if you keep yourself in close range of them you will fall prey to Satan again and succumb to their temptations, especially when you know that you do suffer some weaknesses. There are many instances of people going back to sins because they failed to abandon bad company.
Eighth, destruction of those things and articles that help in committing sins such as, for instance, wine, musical instruments, pictures, films, erotic literature and so on. These should be burned, broken, or destroyed as the case may be. This abandoning of all previous trappings at the threshold of repentance and perseverance is of extreme importance. And how often it has not been that the mere presence of these means of evil have tempted the owners back into the old sins after they had repented.
Ninth, he should now, in place of the bad companions, select those virtuous ones that will support him in his new resolve. He should begin to attend those assemblies where Allah is remembered much, and from where knowledge is disseminated. He should also fill in his vacant hours with useful activities in order not to allow Satan to wend his way and remind him of the past.
Tenth, rebuild his body - that had been fed with the "unlawful" so far - by feeding it with the "lawful" alone.
Eleventh, let him repent before the signs of death appear, and before the signs of the Last Hour arrive - such as the rising of the sun from the West for says a hadith: "Allah will accept the repentance of him who repented; before the gurgling of the throat." (meaning the last breath). And another hadith says: "Allah will accept the repentance of him who repented before the appearance of the sun from the West."
The exemplarary repentance
Here we shall give you examples of the exemplary way of repentance from the lives of the first regiment of Islam: the Companions of the Prophet.
Reports Burayda : "Ma'iz b. Aslami came to the Prophet and said, 'Purify me O Apostle of Allah, for I have wronged myself. I have adulterated.' The Prophet turned his back to him. He appeared the next day again and said: 'I have adulterated O Apostle of Allah.' The Prophet turned him away and sent word to his people to find out if the man was out of his mind, or whether they had found his behavior unusual. They told him that they did not know him but as a sober man, and from what they knew of him, he was a pious person too.
"Ma'iz came back a third time and the Prophet once again inquired of his people who testified once again that there was nothing wrong with the man. So that when Ma'iz came back a fourth time, a pit was dug for him in the ground and he was stoned to death.
Then (continues the narrator) came a woman and said to the Prophet , 'I have sinned O Apostle of Allah. So purify me.' The Prophet sent her back. When it was the second day she said, 'Why do you turn me back' Perhaps you want to avoid (punishing me) as you tried to avoid (punishing Ma'iz ). By Allah, I am pregnant with the sin.' He said: 'No? Really! Go back then until you have delivered.' She came back when she had delivered - with the infant bundled in rags. The Prophet told her, 'Go back and suckle the child until it begins to eat.' So she went away and came back when the child had begun to eat. She brought the child with a piece of bread in its hand. The child was then entrusted to a Muslim, a chest-high pit was dug for her, and the people were asked to stone her.
Khalid b. al-Walid threw a stone at her which hit her on the head and splashed blood on him. He cursed her. The Prophet heard him curse her and said: 'Careful Khalid! By Him in whose hands is my life, she has repented a repentance that, had an usurper of people's money through, unjustified taxes repented, he would have been forgiven.' Then following his order she was prayed over and buried."
Another report says that (when the Prophet prayed over her before her burial) 'Umar said: 'Do you order her stoned to death and then pray over her!?' He said: 'She repented a repentance (of such high order) that had it been distributed among seventy of the Madinans, it would have sufficed them (for their salvation). Do you know of anything better than this that she sacrifices herself for the sake of Allah Most High?'
Repentance wipes out previous sins
Someone may say : I would like to repent, but what's the certainty that I'll be forgiven? I would like to change my ways but my mind is invaded by uncertainties. Were I to be sure of being forgiven surely I would repent. The Answer is, this thought is nothing new. It used to worry even the Companions of the Prophet , on whom be peace. Here are two instances.
The first is related by Imam Muslim, may Allah have mercy on him, the story of 'Amr b. al-'As . narrated by himself. Says he: "When Islam had taken root in my heart I went to the Prophet , on whom be peace, and said: 'Spread out your hand so that I may take pledge.' He thrust forward his right hand and I held it in mine (without taking the oath). He asked, 'What's the matter with you 'Amr?' I said, 'Well. I would like to make it conditional.' 'And what's the condition?' he asked. I said, 'That I be forgiven.' He said, 'Don't you know 'Amr that Islam wipes out previous sins... that hijrah wipes out previous sins... and that Hajj wipes out previous sins?' "
The second has also been preserved by Imam Muslim. He reports Ibn 'Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, as saying that some people of the pagans had committed many murders and had indulged in excessive adultery in the days of ignorance (that is prior to the appearance of the Prophet ). They came to the Prophet and said: 'What you offer, and call us to is quite appealing. But if you could only let us know if there is the possibility of atonement for our previous sins'. Allah, glorified be He, then revealed the verse "(The true servants of Allah are those) who do not call upon another god with Allah, who do not slay the soul Allah has forbidden, save by right, and do not adulterate. And whosoever does that, he shall(surely) meet the price of sin." (Al-Furqan:68). Allah also revealed: "Tell them, O My slaves who have wronged their souls: 'Do not despair of Allah's mercy.' " (Al-Zumar:53).
Will Allah forgive me?
Sometimes a man asks: I would like to repent, but I have such a huge collection, and such a wide variety of evil deeds in my account that I do not know if Allah will forgive me.
Let me tell you in reply, my brother, that this is not your specific problem but that of many a young man who wants to repent his sins. Let me give you the example of a young man. He started his career of sin at a very early age. By the time he had reached seventeen years of his there was not a sin - major or minor - that he had not committed teeming up with people of all sorts - young and old. He had even committed indecencies with a little girl adding to the list of thefts committed on various occasions. Then he repented, began to do his tahajjud, fast every Monday and Thursday, and read the Qur'an after every morning Prayer. But, he used to ask, is this repentance acceptable (to Allah)?
Our Answer to him and to every sinner is that we should always turn to the Qur'an and sunnah to find out what they have to say about the problem at hand, and what is the cure and solution they offer. When we refer to the qur'an in this regard we find that Allah, glorified be He, tells us: "Tell them (O Muhammad ): 'O My slaves who have wronged their souls, do not despair of Allah's mercy, for Allah will forgive all the sins. He is indeed very Forgiving, very Compassionate, Turn to Him then, and obey Him (in all your affairs).'" (Al-Zumar:53,54). This then is the Answer which does not need further elucidation.
As for the thought that the sins are so numerous that Allah may not forgive them, it arises, first of all, from a lack of faith and knowledge of the magnitude of Allah's mercy. Secondly, it is because of the lack of appreciation of Allah's capability to forgive any number of sins. Thirdly, it indicates failure on the part of the penitent to come up with another important deed of the heart viz., "hope". And fourthly, it is lack of appreciation of the way in which repentance can wipe out sins. we shall therefore, discuss each of these points a little more in detail.
As for the first, it should be enough to quote Allah Himself who says: "My mercy has encompassed every thing." (Al-A'raf:56)
As for the second, a hadith qudsi should be enough to quote. Said the Prophet on whom be peace: "Says Allah, 'He who knows (and believes) that I forgive all sins, then I do forgive all his sins, and do not care - so long as he does not suggest partners unto Me." And the rule will be applied (continues the Prophet ) in the Hereafter."
As for the third, another hadith should offer the cure. The Prophet quotes Allah as having said: "Son of Adam! If your sins were to reach the limits of the sky, and then you seek My forgiveness, I shall forgive you, and I do not care. Son of Adam! If you will bring sins equal in volume to the earth and then you meet Me (on the day of Judgment) in the state that you would not have suggested partners unto Me, I shall give you in return forgiveness equal to the volume of the earth."
And, as for the fourth, another hadith of the Prophet should be enough for the purpose. Said he: "He who repented is like him who has no sin on him."
In addition, for the sake of every one who thinks that the forgiveness of his sins is a doubtful affair, we narrate the hadith that follows in the next section.