How many times has your conscience piped up to you at some time along the day with a “I should not have done that,” followed by a feeling of remorse and guilt; of wanting to undo a damage caused, of wishing for things to have gone along a better route? How many times do images of some of your past actions flash back at you, making you queasy and uncomfortable, wanting to go back to that time and living those moments again, without doing those wrong actions?
The word “taubah” in Arabic (توبة) literally means “to turn”. This word and its renditions have been used at many instances in the Qur'an, but its essence is the same: to turn towards Allāh in humility after having disobeyed Him or transgressed His limits.
Allāh has ordained regular repentance, or “istighfaar” – the act of seeking forgiveness from Allāh – on all believers, because He has created mankind weak; i.e. all humans are innate sinners:
“Man was created weak.” [Qurʾān, Surah Al-Nisaa: 28]
The trouble with human beings is that they can never, ever reach a state in which they will not commit sins. Those whom Allāh has blessed with higher ranks of righteousness and “taqwa“, can reach a level, in which the magnanimity and regularity of their sins is greatly reduced, but no believer can ever rest at peace about not committing a sin in the future.
Abdullah bin Masood [رضى الله عنه] said, “The believer regards his sin as if he were sitting beneath a mountain which he fears may fall on him; whereas the sinner regards his sin as if a fly lands on his nose and he wipes it away.” [Mishkat and Sahih Bukhāri]
The state of the believer is, therefore, sometimes, that of utter anguish: he hates to disobey His Master; he wishes there was some way to guarantee that he won't commit a sin in the future; that he won't ever anger His Lord again – but the intelligent and knowledgeable believer knows that this is not possible. Consequently, he is never at rest about the fact that no matter how much he hates to displease Allāh, there will be times when he inadvertently will.
Therefore, the wise believer takes the following proactive steps in order to minimize the regularity and severity of the sins he commits:
- He strives to gain knowledge of the levels and types of sins. He wants to know which sins anger Allāh more and which anger Him less;
- He focuses on racing forward in good deeds, so that his book of good might outweigh his book of bad on the Day of Account-taking;
- He tries to convey the message of Islam, commanding what is good and forbidding what is evil, to mankind in general, by any and all means available, in order to ensure that he is constantly reminded of what actions and qualities he has to stay away from;
- He seeks to stay in the company of pious people as much as possible, so that he is able to realize his sin as soon as he commits it, and so that his chances of falling into graver sins are minimized;
- Last but not least, he makes repentance an integral and regular part of his life, knowing that, being human, whatever sins he will inevitably commit, can not be washed away except with daily, heartfelt, sincere repentance, or taubah; and by following them up with lofty good deeds that appease Allāh's wrath.
In the Qur'an, a special mention has been in reference to taubah, describing it with a word that is mentioned elsewhere to denote the highest level of purity and sincerity – Nasoohaa.
يايها الذين امنوا توبوا الى الله توبة نصوحا
“O you, who believe, turn towards Allāh with sincere repentance…” [Surah Al-Tahreem 66:8]
In the Qur'an, some of the Prophets have used another form of this word to denote their well-wishing for their nations:
“I but fulfill towards you the duties of my Lord's mission: I am to you a sincere and trustworthy adviser ('Naasih āmīn').” [Surah Al-A'raaf 7:68]
The same root is used for the term “Naseehah” – pure, well-intended and sincere advice. The difference between taubah and “taubah nasoohaa“, is therefore, the level of sincerity and truth with which it is enacted. Ali Bin Abi Taalib [رضى الله عنه] describes the following 6 traits of this special kind of taubah:
- 1. Stopping the sin immediately:
Sincere repentance can not be initiated if the believer is still committing the sin. Cessation of the wrong action is the first, prerequisite step towards repenting from it. So whether it is gheebah, slander, abuse, earning money via unlawful means (e.g. usury, indecency, tabarruj, etc.), leaving obligatory prayers, lying etc. unless the sin is abandoned, repentance can not begin.
- 2. Feeling intense, all-enveloping regret and remorse for having committed the sin:
This might be embodied as a state of deep sorrow, brought on by fearing Allāh's wrath and displeasure, at having done wrong. It can perhaps feel as a heavy physical burden on the chest, with an overall sense of foreboding and gloom. The higher the level of the believer's piety, the sooner he experiences this state of anguish, and the stronger is his regret. He might cry in privacy, with deep sobs shaking his body and hot tears wetting his face, as he regrets what he has done. He can not carry on his day-to-day activities feeling like this, so he hastens to the next step.
- 3. Confessing the sin to Allāh:
The believer usually falls immediately in prostration, or rushes to perform ablution and stand in nafl prayer. He is teetering between extreme fear of Allāh's anger and undying hope of His Mercy, as he recites the Qurʾān with full concentration, his body humbled and submissive. His bending (rukoo) and prostration (sujood) are long and intense. His eyes are flowing with hot tears of regret. He admits to Allāh that he has wronged his soul, that he has disobeyed Him.
Alternatively, other means can be used to confess one's sin. The believer might immediately raise his hands in du‘ā’ in privacy, or he might recite the Qur'an, after which he can confess in silent whispers to the One closest to him, that he has committed a sin.
- 4. Asking Allāh to forgive him:
Reciting any of the masnoon du'aas for repentance narrated from the Prophet Muḥammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم], or using his own words, the believer anxiously and sincerely asks Allāh to forgive him.
- 5. Resolving firmly to never commit that sin again:
In his heart, he resolutely vows to never even go near the action that caused him so much regret and guilt; that made His Lord angry with him, ever again.
- 6. Returning the dues to the one who was wronged or offering expiation for that sin, if necessary:
The believer should then apologize to the person he has wronged, or return what he has unlawfully taken, if the sin he committed was one concerned with the rights of other human beings; else, he should offer expiation if it is required, if the sin he committed has a specified expiation ordained in Islam as part of repentance from it. E.g. the sin of having intercourse with one's wife during the day in Ramadan is that of fasting 2 months consecutively or feeding sixty needy people. The taubah for leaving obligatory Ramadan fasts or Zakaah on assets in the past, for example, necessitates that the Muslim keep the missed fastsin addition togiving an expiation for them;and topay the zakaah left unpaid, during those previous years.
“I'm fine the way I am, thank you!”
Many people do not listen to words of advice or to the message of Islam, nor attend gatherings of knowledge or dhikr, because they do not want to end up feeling guilty for the way of life they are leading. They have their long-term friends, their social activities that involve unlawful things, their chosen professions, which too, have their share of impermissible aspects; they have their die-hard destructive habits and negative personality traits. They disobey Allāh with a carefree abandon that they know will vanish if they agree to listen to the Qur'an or ahadith. They want to go on as they are, unbothered and complacent about life in general, without wanting to get into the nitty-gritty of halal and haram; of Islamic restrictions and worries. At times of happiness, they feel a temporary elation and euphoria that passes all too quickly; at times of loss and sorrow, they feel an aching emptiness, an abysmal dead-end that stifles them.
To these people, I say: “Where will you run from Allāh? For how long will you escape Him? For how long can you delude yourself about the purpose of your life? You don't want to give up your life, your pleasures, your desires, your friends and your stylish look for the sake of Allāh, but then why do you, at times, feel so empty, so alone? Why do you sometimes ask yourself, “Is this all there is? Isn't there more to life than just eat, drink and be merry?” Why do you feel pangs of guilt for doing wrong things? Why does the thought of death terrify you? Why do you have a feeling of impending doom, that surely 'God' will severely punish you one day?”
If you really feel you are better off than an 'Islamically-restricted' believer, with a heart that feels no remorse for disobeying your Creator, and no love for Him, no recognition of who He is and what He wants from you, you are worse off than the person who experiences bouts of regret over his sins that keep him awake at night and make him rush forth with tearful repentance!
Anas Bin Malik [رضى الله عنه] narrated: “I heard the Messenger of Allāh [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] say, “Allāh the Almighty said: O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great at it”.” [Al-Tirmidhi, no. 3608]
With the recent events in Ghazah leaving all Muslims outraged, aggrieved and confused about what brought them on, and what they can do to alleviate their brothers' suffering in Palestine, it should be realized that the Muslim ummah must now strive to do 'collective' taubah or communal repentance. If each and every Muslim in the ummah today, were to repent with absolute sincerity – taubah nasoohaa – only then can we, as a whole, expect the Ever Merciful One to turn towards us again and forgive us, alleviating us from the destructive antagonistic onslaught of the non-believers and enemies of Islam.
Recommended reading: I Want To Repent, But……
What did you do to endeavor to have your repentance accepted by Allāh? Any poignant moment in your life, when you felt overwhelmingly humbled and close to your Creator, convinced that He had accepted your taubah? Share your story with us by leaving a comment below.