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The Meaning of Tawba (Repentance from Sins)


This post is a translation of a classical book by Sayyidina al-Shaykh al-‘Arif bi-Llah Abū-Hāmid Muhammad al-Arabī bin Muhammad al-Sā’ih al-Sharqī al-Umarī. He was born in the ancient city of Meknes, Morocco, in 1229 (1814), to a family who were direct descendants of Sayyidinā Umar al-Fārūq ibn al-Khattāb, may Allah be pleased with him.

He was a renowned nineteenth-century Moroccan scholar of Hadīth, Maliki Fiqh, Tazkiyyah un Nafs and Arabic poetry. His teachers included men like al-Faqih al-Muhaddith Sidi Abd-al-Qādir al-Kawhan, al-‘Allāmah Muhammad al-Hādi Bādu, Shaykh al-Sharīf Walīd al-Irāqi and other savants. He also exchanged Ijāzahs with many famous North African scholars.]

Being protecting of matters of Sharīʿah is only possible for the Muslim by him/her being swift towards tawba from each wrongful action committed.  It is also necessary to refrain from persistence [doing repeatedly] in sin.  One can avoid being considered as someone who is persistently sinning,  by making tawba for every sin committed (meaning “persistence” does not mean repeating the sin, rather it is repeating sins without making tawba).  If one repeatedly sins, let him renew his tawba for such repetition, even if this process occurs many times; there is no sickness for which a cure does not exist [the cure for sins is repentance].

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It is related in the ḥadīth: “One who makes istighfār is not considered persistent in sin, even if this occurs seventy times in a day”[1].  It was once said to Al-Ḥassan Al-Baṣrī: “a man commits a sin, makes tawba, and then commits a sin again, and he makes tawba again, until when? He replied: I do not see such a behavior as being anything other than part of the good traits of character of the believers”.

Ḥujjatul-Islām [Imām Ghazālī] raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him) explains: “Just as you have taken returning to sins as a habit, then also take returning to tawba as a habit, because through tawba you expiate your past sins, and it is very possible that you may have the fortune to die while in a state of tawba”.

The gist of the matter is that what is incumbent for the Muslim, is to comply to obedience and refrain from disobedience inwardly and outwardly.  What is required is to exert oneself and one’s capacity towards that, in accordance with the verse فَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُمْ “And fear Allah according to your capacity”[2].  This level of compliance to commands and refraining from sins can not occur except through one being particular about tawba from every sin that one commits, even if the [inevitable] decree of Allāh Taʿālā has determined that one repeats such sin several times in a day or night.  The servant is not ordained to do anything other than renew his tawba for that sin, or for repeating it if that happens to him; because this is a sin for which it is obligatory [wājib] to make tawba, and nothing other than tawba is obligated to the servant in relation to that sin.  One is not required to renew his pledge [of obedience to Allāh as a Muslim] as a result of sins, as one may mistakenly think.

This method of tawba is the way of the Kummal among the ʿĀrifīn [the gnostics who have attained a complete state of piety].


Tawba consists [first of all] of feeling remorseful [nadam]: meaning feeling pain in the heart and sadness from what originated from oneself, magnifying thereby the act of disobedience of Allāh Taʿālā, and out of fear of His retribution and anger.

Tawba also consists of having a strong and affirmed resolve not to repeat the sin committed.  However, this intent does not consist of going as far as giving an undertaking to Allāh Taʿālā that one will never disobey Him again.

Shaykh ʿAbdul-Wahhāb Al-Shaʿrānī raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him)  mentioned in his book Al-Ṭabaqāt that someone once said to a pious man: what do you think of me giving an undertaking or promise to Allāh Taʿālā that I will never disobey Him again? He replied: who could be more wrongful than you if you were to do that?  You would be challenging Allāh Taʿālā not to exert His decree on you…

Among the requirements of tawba is to utter istighfār [saying astaghfirullāh] with one’s tongue, at the moment of tawba.  It is in fact common [among the ʿulamā] to consider istighfār as being equivalent to tawba as in the previous ḥadīth “the one who utters istighfār is not considered as being persistent in sin”.  The ḥadīth is narrated by Al-Tirmidhī through Abū-Bakr Al-Ṣiddīq raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

Imām Aḥmad raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him) narrates in a ḥadīth of Ibn-ʿUmar raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), that Nabī ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) said: “Woe to those who are persistent in sin, those who persist in their wrongdoings while they are well informed”.

Aḥmad Al-Qasṭalānī[3] raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him)  explains: meaning those who are aware that whoever repents to Allāh will undoubtedly find Allāh acceptor of his repentance, yet they do not utter istighfār; Al-Qasṭalānī quotes Mujāhid [mufassir] and others as having interpreted this verse as such.   The verse in question is: وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُوا فَاحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُوا اللَّهَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا لِذُنُوبِهِمْ وَمَنْ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا اللَّهُ وَلَمْ يُصِرُّوا عَلَىٰ مَا فَعَلُوا وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُونَ

“And those who, when they happen to commit a shameful act or wrong themselves, remember Allah, then, seek forgiveness for their sins-and who is there to forgive sins except Allah?-and do not persist in what they have done, knowingly”

It is essential that one does not leave the practice of uttering istighfār under the [false] pretense that his heart’s condition is not in accordance with his tongue’s utterance.  This is so because it is a fact that once the tongue is accustomed to a certain utterance, it is only a matter of time for the heart to become accustomed to that utterance and thereby align its condition with the tongue.

Note: some ʿulamā have specified the period of time after which one is considered to be persistent in sin [by not making tawba], as being the time before the next ṣalāh; others have mentioned other lengths of time.  It is narrated in a ḥadīth: “The angels-meaning those who record deeds-wait for the wrongful one for the length of a sāʿa [moment]”.  It has also been narrated by Al-Samarqandī that the angels wait for six or seven sāʿāt.  If the person repents to Allāh in that time period, no sin is written against him, otherwise a single bad deed [only] is recorded against him.


The question of acceptance of tawba is a matter of khilāf [differing opinions] among the ʿulamā.  Is the acceptance of tawba by Allāh Taʿālā a matter of certainty [qaṭʿī] or is it only a matter of high likelihood [dhannī]?  The position of the majority among the ʿulamā [mashūr] is that the acceptance of tawba is a matter of certainty.  Tawba is also obligatory for repeating the sin, and it is also obligatory for intending to repeat the sin [even if one does not return to it after such intent], and this is a matter in which there is no khilāf .

There is also khilāf [difference of opinion] regarding whether it is valid to make tawba for certain sins only.  The correct position is that it is valid, even if what one makes tawba about is a minor offense, while one is persistent in committing numerous other offenses.

There is also khilāf [difference of opinion] about whether it is wājib [obligatory] to make tawba when one [simply] recollects a sin committed in the past or not.

The question is whether it is obligatory, or is it just praiseworthy [mustaḥab], except in the case where recollects it with happiness and contentment from having fallen into the sin, in which case it would be obligatory.  The correct position is that it is not wājib, and this is in accordance with Shaykh Aḥmad-Zarrūq[4]‘s statement in his book Al-Naṣīḥa: “Recollecting a sin does not make tawba obligatory, rather it is praiseworthy [mustaḥab] according to the most correct opinion, with the condition that one is not joyful in his recollection, in which case it would be obligatory to repent from such joy and contentment that one has fallen in the sin”.

Note: the one who finds it difficult to make tawba, let him abundantly read إِذَا جَاءَ نَصْرُ اللَّهِ وَالْفَتْحُ[5] , and the one who finds it difficult to control his ego, let him abundantly read حَسْبُنَا اللَّهُ وَنِعْمَ الْوَكِيلُ[6].  This has been mentioned by Shaykh Zarruq raḥimahullāh (may Allāh have mercy upon him).

[1]    Tirmidhī, narrated by Abū-Bakr Al-Ṣiddīq raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him).

[2]    Sūra At-Taghābun, 64, verse 15.

[3]    Renown Muḥaddith, commentator of the Bukhārī [Irshād Al-Sārī]

[4]    Renown Māliki scholar, from Fes (Morocco); was an accomplished scholar who marked his time and whose works became a reference in Tazkiyyah all over the world up to this age.

[5]    Sūra Al-Naṣr.

[6]    Sūra Al-ʿImrān, verse 173.

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Mukhtar Ba is a Muslim man in his early forties, who hopes one day to become among the Ṣāliḥīn. He has a strong interest in continuously acquiring and perusing Islamic knowledge. An Industrial engineer by profession, he has strived to assiduously seek sacred knowledge along with his professional activities since the early 2000s. This interest has led him to study with contemporary senior scholars in Mauritania and Senegal, his home countries. He has studied mainly the following subjects: Māliki Fiqh, Arabic grammar, Seerah Nabawiyya, Hadith, Aqeeda and Tasawwuf. He takes a particular interest in Tafsir of Quran, and has translated one volume (out of 6) of a classical Tafsir by a Senegalese scholar of the 20th century, organized in a similar fashion to the Jalalayn. One of his areas of interest is analyzing the intersection between modern issues and traditional sources of Islamic knowledge. He currently resides in Canada.



  1. Yasmin

    February 15, 2013 at 2:30 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this very important and informative post!

  2. Umme Hadi

    February 15, 2013 at 10:41 PM

    Masha Allah, Takabbal minna wa min kum.

  3. sajid

    February 16, 2013 at 12:00 AM

    Thanks for these sayings it really ignites our iman…

  4. Mukhtar

    February 16, 2013 at 4:51 AM

    Salaam to all.
    The web admin forgot to mention that this article is a translation of a few pages on tawba, from a book of Tasawwuf by a Moroccan scholar and pious man: Sidi Muhammad Al-Arabi Ibn Saih 1813-1892.
    I have only translated. May Allah make many benefit, amine.

  5. Abu Aaliyah

    February 16, 2013 at 7:30 AM

    Jazakallahu khayran for this translation; a much needed reminder and booster.

  6. Maijiddah

    February 16, 2013 at 8:20 AM

    Assalamu Alaykum. You did a good job of translating it as it is really informative. Jazak Allahu khairan may Allah make us among those who seek his mercy and forgivenesss at all times.

  7. Nii

    February 16, 2013 at 9:54 AM

    Jazakallahu khayr for this translation — it is from Allah’s SWT mercy that it came at such a needed time.

  8. LQ

    February 19, 2013 at 2:47 AM

    Thank you so much for your kind and generous guidances and very useful content for all people.God bless.

    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

      February 19, 2013 at 11:23 PM

      Dear LQ

      Our Comments Policy asks that a name or Kunyah be used while commenting and not a “statement”. Since your “name” was advertising (coupled with the URL) it has been changed. You are requested to use your name or Kunyah while commenting.

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  9. Zeeshan

    February 19, 2013 at 4:46 AM

    JazakAllah Khlairen for sharing this, it is a much needed reminder. May Allah SWT bless the person who wrote this Ameen.

  10. Sheryf

    February 21, 2013 at 2:42 AM

    Jazaakumullaah khayr!
    May Allaah forgive our sins and accept our tawba..til jannah. Ameeeen

  11. Dawud Israel

    February 25, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Awesome post!


  12. Anees

    March 1, 2013 at 12:13 AM

    Alhamdulilah, great piece of information.
    But I am not fully satisfied or hearing the hadith for the 1st time that: There is a WAIT TIME for our sins being registered.

    Can you please give more insight on that.


  13. moni

    May 25, 2013 at 11:17 AM

    Alhamdulillah! It’s one of the best meal for a sinner like me. Inshallah, I will repent and refrain from my sins.

  14. Istighfar

    September 13, 2013 at 1:57 AM

    Repent to Allah again. Into tawba again. Same ole trip it was baaack the en. So I made a big mistake. Try to seek Allah’s Mercyyyyy.

    To truly repent again is only sincere. True humility is only here. Honor is only in Allah’s commands and the hereafter. Subhan’Allahi amma yasifoon. To seek Allah’s Forgiveness again is better than to not cause of the same sin. Yes it is or no it’s not? Eheheh. To believe or not to believe. That is the question. Shame over sin is tawba. Feel ashamed to make Istighfar but still truly seek Allah’s Forgiveness. How much does your heart truly mean well for Allah’s commands? Tawba does not have limits except if it’s not truly within our hearts. The Truth is in your heart. Still, Allah’s Mercy and Justice is Greater than we don’t think. To go back to Islam is to accept Islam the first time. Repeating sin is not as bad as doubting Allah’s Forgiveness because of that. Wisdom has depths without a mere surface. So does sincerity, faith, humility, etc. The opposite of virtue is a mere surface or ego/shallow focus. We have to consider that true faith is deeply in the heart. Our heart is what counts. Though our flesh has to be disciplined by Allah’s Commands as well. Til Judgment Day. After the end of this life.

  15. milkias mieso

    March 10, 2015 at 4:18 AM

    jazaa kallaahu khaayral jazaai yaa ustaaz. because I see it very important things for muslim ummah

  16. kam

    March 18, 2015 at 6:24 PM

    thanks for allah

  17. dfggfgf

    February 1, 2016 at 1:53 PM

    Mashallah great piece of information

  18. hgfhgfgyhgh

    February 1, 2016 at 1:54 PM

    Mashallah very intresting info …

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