The Essence of Sincere Repentance

Bismillah

crying

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 Allah in humility after having disobeyed Him or transgressed His limits.

Allah has ordained regular repentance, or “istighfaar” – the act of seeking forgiveness from Allah – on all believers, because He has created mankind weak; i.e. all humans are innate sinners:

Man was created weak.” [Quran, Surah Al-Nisaa: 28]

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The trouble with human beings is that they can never, ever reach a state in which they will not commit sins. Those  whom Allah 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 Al-Bukhari]

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 Allah, 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 Allah 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 Allah’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 Allah 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 Ameen’).” [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 Allah’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 Allah:
    The believer usually falls immediately in prostration, or rushes to perform ablution and stand in nafl prayer. He is teetering between extreme fear of Allah’s anger and undying hope of His Mercy, as he recites the Quran 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 Allah 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’aa 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 Allah to forgive him:
    Reciting any of the masnoon du’aas for repentance narrated from the Prophet Muhammad [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم], or using his own words, the believer anxiously and sincerely asks Allah 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 Allah 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 Allah? 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 Allah, 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 Allah [صلی اللہ علیہ وسلم] say, “Allah 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 Allah? 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.

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24 responses to “The Essence of Sincere Repentance”

  1. Sister in Islam says:

    Assalamu alaikum wrb, Jazakallahu khair for this lovely piece of knowledge. Great reading on the day of Jummah!!

  2. Tajik says:

    Assalamu Alaikum
    this is pritty much it,mashaallah u have described very clearly. and i do beleive that the question we all should
    be asking ourselves is “what we have done wrong?” other than looking for a guilty

  3. Khalil says:

    Asalamu alaykum.

    MashaAllah. May Allah give us the tawfique to do acts of worship to obtain His Love and Pleasure. I remember when I wasn’t praying salah at all or practicing too much back when I was in high school. Then I read the entire translation of the Qur’an one summer and there were so many instances of feeling fear, hope and love of Allah during that period, alhamdulillah, so ever since then I started to practice. One verse I recall that really touched me (out of the many) was:

    And when it is said to them, “Come to what Allah has revealed and to the Messenger,” you see the hypocrites turning away from you in aversion. [4:61]

    I remember considering where I belonged when reading these verses.. and I knew I needed to make some changes.

  4. Umme Ammaarah says:

    Assalamu-alaikum and MashaAllah sister. we all need a regular dose of this particular kind of reminder. May Allah make us of those who actually are remorseful enough about their sins to spend the night shedding tears in front of Allah and asking forgiveness.

  5. pixie says:

    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.

    I guess, this is what is most difficult to do for a lot of people. Sure, we feel bad about the sin we are engaged in, and ask Allah to forgive us, but don’t stop doing it giving ourselves the justification that ‘we are not going to do it again’, ‘we needed to commit this haram act because this the way it works in my country e.g., bribing,lying to the govt.’, ‘i am comitting this sin for a later greater good’. May Allah stop us from being this person.

    and yeah,’what you don’t know about will not take away your peace of mind’ is a preTTy common defence mechanism, esp rampant in the when it comes to halal food. People don’t want to find out what’s in the food they eat because they’re scared they may have to give it up or atleast live with the feeling that they’re more concerned with pleasing their taste buds than pleasing Allah.

    and yeah, may Allah not make us of those who judge people for their sins while they commit it themselves.

  6. Umme Ammaarah says:

    Things that work for me:

    1. Reminding myself of the ayah – ‘I have not created men and jinn except to worship Me.’ surah 51 Al Dhariyat . If u really think about this verse, u will feel that everything u do except the time u spend in worship of Allah (ritual/otherwise) is such a loss

    2. Reminding myself of the punishment for a particular sin – i kept reminding myself that the difference between a kafir and a muslim is ‘Salah’, and it made my laziness for Salah go away Alhamdulillah

    3. Using other ppl as an alarm: Me and my sister were trying to banish ‘gheebah’ from our lives and made a pact that if any of us started to so gheebah the other would just say ‘G’ – it was unnoticeable for the most part to others, it stopped you, it wasnt as rude as saying ‘stop that, u’re comitting a sin’ so nobody would get defensive, and u got ajr as an added perk for stopping somebody else from sinning.

    4. watching HudaTV and PeaceTV regularly – ( ;) for those of us not lucky enough to be in the company of these wonderful shuyookh in real time, a lot of the time. links: http://www.peacetv.tv/watchpeacetv.php?mode=US256 , http://www.huda.tv/

  7. Umme Ammaarah says:

    Things that work for me:

    1. reminding myself of the ayah – ‘I have not created men and jinn except to worship Me.’ surah 51 Al Dhariyat . If u sit down and think about this ayah, u will feel like all the time u spend doing stuff other that ibaadah (ritual/otherwise) is such a loss

    2. Reminding myself of the punishment ordained for the particular sin : I was kind of lazy when it came to Salah and when i learnt and then, kept reminding myself that the only thing that separates a believer froma non-believer is Salah, Alhamdulillah, my laziness went away

    3. Using the people around you as alarms – My sister and i wanted to quit gheebah, and so we made a pasct that if any of us started, the other would say aloud ‘G’ – it was mostly unnoticeable to others, it stopped u from going on, it didnt make u defensive like the statement ‘stop that sin’ would make you, and u earned ajr for stopping the pther person from comitting a sin.

    4. watching a lot of HudaTV and Peace TV. – ( ;) for those of us who are not lucky enough to be in the company of these wonderful shuyookh in real time, a lot of the time. MashaAllah, these have really made a difference in my life, they are my anti-depressants, my personal pep-uppers. May Allah reward these efforts and bless us with many more like these. links – http://www.huda.tv/ , http://www.peacetv.tv/watchpeacetv.php?mode=US256

  8. Abdul Vakil says:

    As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa Rahmatullah,

    Tabarak’Allah ta’ala! Jazak’Allah khair and Barak’Allah feek for discoursing on a subject so very critical to our standing with our Rabb, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. Ma’sha’Allah, every principle touched on here has been sequenced and outlined seamlessly. May all those who set eyes on this article or strive to increase their understanding and intimacy with this topic benefit immensely. Ameen ya Rabb.

    Fi amaani Allah

  9. Mohammad S, says:

    Alhamdulillah! Just in time!

  10. Abd- Allah says:

    The prophet Muhammad peace be upon him said: “Fear Allah wherever you are, and follow up a bad deed with a good one and it will wipe it out, and behave well towards people.” (Tirmithi)

  11. nighat shah says:

    assalam alaykum sister sadaf,mashallah concience gaining article for many ppl,may ALLAH show us the right path and good company so that v can repent and seek his forgiveness on time……..

  12. Bismillah
    Wa Alaikumus Salam Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barakaatuhu,
    Jazaakumullah readers for your input and feedback. Especially to Brother Khalil and Umm Ammarah. We can learn from each other’s experiences so much, especially by knowing what made others like us come towards Allah. Whoever will read this article in the future might get an incentive to turn back to Allah and give up a life of disobedience, if they realize that others have been through the same path before them. We all are, literally, sinners, and we need reassurance from each other that hope is not lost — we can turn back towards Allah in sincerity any time, and will find Him Most Forgiving, insha’Allah. As long as we are sincere in our taubah!

  13. shahgul says:

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I thought, as Muslims we are supposed to conceal our sins, so as not to propagate them.

    Any way, I am asking for advice here. There is too much fitnah going on at our masjid these days. The sister’s circuit is particularly active in talking about brothers from two opposing parties. People are hurling accusations about good brothers. I realized that if I go to the masjid, it is impossible to avoid getting involved. I too am guilty of saying more than I wanted to. Therefore, I have stopped going to the masjid. This is causing even more guilt.

    I went to the masjid last week after a month. There was only one more sister for Ishaa. I thought “good!” After salah ended, this one sister asked me about 12 questions I did not want to answer. It was very difficult to get out of there politely, without gettin involved in a conversation.
    Yesteray, I went to my first Jumah after a long time. Mashallah, it was like drinking water after being thirsty for a long time. Inevitably, I got involved in 2 conversations I should not have had. This happened even before pryaying sunnah.
    Now I am contemplating what to do. I can’t stay away from the masjid, and can’t go there.

    • afreen says:

      assalamoalaikum

      masjid is a beautiful place… and acts like these are prohibited… even outside the masjid…

      just tell them u will not take part in the conversation that requires to talk about the negatives of other people. here are some comment

      lets let Allah judge …. i have enough actions of my own to ponder over
      you know that brother has so and so good quality did u know
      sister think about wat ur asking me and what could be wrong with it.
      The prophet pbuh told people not to reports to him others faults and weaknesses… lets follow his sunnah

      sometimes silence with a stern face…. also shuts people up really well

      hope this helps

  14. Sadaf says:

    Bismillah
    Wa Alaikumus Salam Sister Shahgul.

    You are right about concealing sins. We are asking readers to share with us their moments of taubah – how they felt when they turned to Allah, what they did to connect to Him (dua at night, long prostration, anything else?) and how they tried to rush forward in good deeds after that. Such stories provide inspiration to others to change their lives and come back towards a life of piety. Many people go through these defining moments in their lives, after which a visible change appears in their persona as Allah guides them to the right path, alhamdulillah.

    As for your problem – it really is the greatest fitnah today that Muslims are disunited. They are the first to hurl verbal attacks at their own brothers – even those who are doing good work by calling others to Islam – than at the enemies of Islam. I mean, who’d need enemies to do anything when we can trust our own fellow Muslims to tear us apart to shreds? The best way of avoiding this fitnah is to not answer these questions when anyone asks you. Please do continue going to the mosque, but when put on the spot, just say, “I’d like to not comment on this.” If you are firm in this stance, people will soon leave you alone, insha’Allah. Also, having unnecessary conversations at the mosque is something that should be avoided, especially at the Jumuah congregation.

    Allah knows best.

  15. Sis says:

    JazakAllahu khairan for this inspiring article!

  16. shahgul says:

    Jazakallah Khair, Sadaf. I will try, inshallah.

  17. Sadaf,

    “I’m fine the way I am, thank you!”
    that’s one of the biggest evils around :( :(

    great observation and awesome article.. a note of satisfaction for those who really understand what it means to sincerely repent!
    Jak. Ws.

  18. Abd- Allah says:

    ““I’m fine the way I am, thank you!”
    that’s one of the biggest evils around ”

    I agree. If we think we are perfect then we will never improve..

  19. afreen says:

    assalamoalaikum

    i was working on a presentation can i take some information in my presentation

  20. Fatima says:

    V much needed thanks it helped

  21. DR.Fiaz Fazili says:

    MY Q IS THERE ANY AUTHENTIC EVIUDENCE FROM QURAN -HADITH-SUNNAH–SAHABAH PRACTICES THAT THEY COLLECTED AT ANY PARTICULAR PLACE SOME OR WERE ASKED TO ASSEMBLE AT ANY PLACE FOLLOWING ANY CALAMITY–WITH THE INTENTION FOR COLLECTIVE TAUBAH-REPENTANCE-OR SEEK FORGIVENESS TOGETHER- REGARDING THIS I ASKED MSNY SCHIOLARS OF MEDINA UNIVERSITY0 THEY SAID TAUBA IS INDIVIDUAL–PLEASE WITH AUTHENTIC REFERENCES–DR FIAZ FAZILI MEDINA MUNAWARA

  22. Hal says:

    Salam everyone. Today, I have knowingly committed one of the highest level of sins, and that is fitnah. Due to having a minor argument with a close friend, I was determined to get her to talk to me again and hence, I made up a story about an acquaintance in order to gain back her attention and to be in my side after not talking to her for a mere 2 days. Even though my intentions for getting to talk to me worked in the end as the sympathized with the tweaked story I had “made up”, i know that this guilt I would have to carry and burden myself with for a long time. I love my best friend dearly and I feel utterly remorseful for what I had done in order to get her attention back. What should I do the next time I am tempted to do so again if I ever do so(Allah swt forbid)? Astaghfirullah. Begging for forgiveness and immersing myself in Quran readings is definitely going to be my utmost priority in order to burden my heart a little less. May we all be forgiven for our sins, Aamin.

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