Repentance for Sins in Islam
Mohamad Mostafa Nassar
Man is a being that can commit sins. There is nobody who can say, “It is impossible for me to commit sins.” Everybody approaches the pit of sins somehow and sometimes falls into it.
We continue our lives in a balance of the mind and heart. However, since man does not consist of the mind and heart only, sometimes we cannot control our will and commit sins by being aware or unaware of it under the influence of dominant feelings, primarily the soul, disobedient feelings, unbridled desires and irresistible illusions.
Actually, Allah created various means to make us approach Him, need Him and attract us to Him. For instance, He gave us the feeling of hunger to make us need sustenance and show that He was ar-Razzaq (the Sustainer) and made us stick to Him. As slaves, we asked from Him all of our needs; we recognized Him as the Sustainer, the real provider of sustenance. That is the name ar-Razzaq makes it necessary for us to feel hungry.
Similarly, we are sinners. Allah is the Forgiver. We make mistakes; Allah forgives us. We disobey Him; Allah pardons us. We repent; Allah accepts our repentance. Allah is al- Ghafur (the Pardoner), al-Afuww (the Pardoner), al-Ghaffar (the Forgiving), at-Tawwab (the Acceptor to Repentance). The sins that we commit take us to those names of Allah and lead us toward Him.
Thus, we know Allah by His names, al-Ghafur and al-Ghaffar. As Badiuzzaman says, “the name al-Ghaffar necessitates the existence of sins, and the name as-Sattar (the Veiler) necessitates the existence of mistakes.’ To put it more clearly, sins need to be committed so that the name of Allah, al-Ghaffar, will be manifest. Mistakes need to be made so that Allah will show that He does not display His servants’ mistakes and show that he is as-Sattar.
Our beloved Prophet expresses that nice reality beautifully as follows in a hadith:
By Him in Whose Hand is my life, if you were not to commit sin, Allah would sweep you out of existence and He would replace you by those people who would commit sin and seek forgiveness from Allah, and He would have pardoned them.”1
There should be as much repentance as the amount of sins
Man is deceived by his soul and devil; he cannot control his sins and his will, and then commits a sin; then he regrets doing it and repents time and time again. According to what we learn from hadiths, this state, in which a person applies his Lord with repentance due to his sins, pleases God Almighty.
Abu Hurayra (may Allah be pleased with him) narrates:
The Messenger of Allah reported from his Lord
A servant committed a sin and he said: O Allah, forgive me my sins.
And God Almighty said: My servant committed a sin and then he came to realize that he has a Lord Who forgives the sins and takes to account (the sinner) for the sin.
He then again committed a sin and said: My Lord, forgive me my sin.
And God Almighty said: My servant committed a sin and then came to realize that he has a Lord Who would forgive his sin or would take (him) to account for the sin.
He again committed a sin and said: My Lord, forgive me for my sin.
God Almighty said: My servant has committed a sin and then came to realize that he has a Lord Who forgives the sins or takes (him) to account for sin. O servant, do what you like. I have granted you forgiveness.”2
Imam Nawawi, the great hadith scholar, deduced the following judgment from the hadith:
Even if sins are repeated a hundred times, a thousand times or more and if a person repents each time, his repentance is accepted. Or, if he repents once for all sins, his repentance is valid.”
In another hadith, it is stated that if a person who repents repeats a sin seventy times a day, he will not be regarded as a person “insisting on committing sins”.3
The explanation of Hazrat Ali relating the issue is more interesting:
I wonder at a person who perishes although he has a prescription of salvation. That prescription is repentance.”
Besides, his names al-Ghaffar and at-Tawwab mean ‘one who forgives a lot, who accepts to repentance a lot, who pardons a person that repents whenever he commits a sin, who accepts to the repentance of a person whenever he repents’. If God Almighty forgave His slave only once in his life, He would not give him the opportunity to commit sins after that. That is, if Allah had not wanted to forgive, He would not have given us the feeling of asking for forgiveness.
On the other hand, it is a grant, grace and gift of God Almighty to forgive sins. As it is indicated in the hadith, man’s being punished due to his sins is the manifestation of justice. As Said Nursi stated, “God Almighty’s forgiving sinners is His grace; His punishing them is His justice.”
The generation of the Companions that were educated by the Prophet (pbuh) comprehended this fine point very well. They comprehended the high names of Allah very well and acted in accordance with them in their lives. When the hadiths that they reported are examined, it is not difficult to understand the level of that education and their capacity of comprehension.
For instance, Hazrat Anas informs us that no matter how many sins a slave has committed and no matter how many times he has asked for forgiveness, his request will never remain unanswered.
Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) says, “I heard the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say,
Allah stated: O son of Adam! I will forgive your sins no matter how many you have committed irrespective of their greatness as long as you pray to me and you expect forgiveness from me. O son of Adam! I will forgive you even if your sins are so many as to fill the skies if you ask forgiveness from me. O son of Adam! If you come to me with so many sins as to fill the earth, I will welcome you with so much mercy as to fill the earth if you have not associated partners with me.”4
In one of his hadiths, our Prophet tells us that when a slave regrets and repents due to a sin he has committed and turns to Allah, it is like the joy of a person in the desert who has nothing but a camel when he finds his camel after losing it:
Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His believing servant than a person who loses his riding beast carrying food and drink. He sleeps and then gets up and goes in search for that, until he is stricken with thirst. Then, he comes back to the place where he had been before and goes to sleep completely exhausted placing his head upon his hands waiting for death.
And when he gets up, lot there is before him his riding beast and his provisions of food and drink. Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His servant than the recovery of this riding beast along with the provisions (of food and drink).”5
Can a woman throw her child into fire?
The mercy and compassion of God Almighty is endless. They are enough for all of His slaves and the whole world. He does not leave His slaves who knows Him but cannot abandon sins and who are slaves of their souls on their own. In other words, God Almighty attracts the slave who approaches him to His area of mercy by creating various means.
That is, Allah did not create His slave to punish him; He did not send him to the world in order to find an opportunity to send him to Hell. A person will not throw his own child into fire due to his mistake; similarly, Allah will not deprive His slaves who know Him as their Lord of His endless mercy; He will not throw them into Hell.
Hazrat Umar gives us the good news of the Prophet when he narrates an occasion that he witnessed during the period of the Era of Bliss.
It was after a battle. There was also a woman who was searching for someone and whenever she found a child amongst the prisoners, she took hold of it, pressed it against her chest and provided it suck.
Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: Do you think this woman would ever throw her child in the fire?
They said: ‘she would never throw the child in Fire.’
Thereupon Allah’s Messenger (pbuh) said: Allah is more kind to His servants than this woman is to her child.6
The hadiths express the endless forgiveness and mercy of God Almighty. Similarly, the verses, which are unerring principles, remind us an important point after giving the general criteria. And that point is not to harm the consciousness of slavery and not to exceed the limits of respect toward the Lord.
One should not continue to commit sins after repenting, thinking that Allah will forgive anyway so that the secret of slavery will not disappear. The Quran points to that reality as follows:
And those who having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls earnestly bring Allah to mind; and ask for forgiveness for their sins,―and who can forgive sins except Allah?,―And are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done..”7
Spiritual elevation through sins
If the slave takes refuge in Allah more seriously due to his sin and turns to Him more sincerely, he can be elevated spiritually. The Quran defines that reality as ‘transforming sins into rewards’.
Unless he repents, believes, and works righteous deeds, for Allah will change the evil of such persons into good and Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”8
Not only does God Almighty forgive the sins of people who confess their crimes and sins, and regret what they have done, He also replaces the sins with rewards. Therefore, some scholars say, “there are some sins that are more useful than many kinds of worshipping for the believer”.
Everybody can make mistakes, or rather, everybody makes mistakes and commits sins. However, there some sinners who are good people. Our Prophet expresses the good aspect of committing sins as follows.:
Everybody makes mistakes, but the best ones of the sinners are those who repent and ask for forgiveness a lot.”9
A person who makes mistakes can both be a good person and be elevated to the state of a beloved slave of Allah by repenting. That glad tiding of the Quran is one of the best glad tidings presented to man by Islam:
Allah loves those who keep themselves pure and clean.”10
Our Prophet interpreted that verse as follows:
Doubtlessly, Allah loves His slave who repents again and again although he commits sins repeatedly.”11
Being really conscious of that love of Allah, our Prophet repented and asked for forgiveness seventy times a day and sometimes one hundred times although he did not commit any sins and he was protected from sins because there exists the rank and joy of love in repentance.
However, it is necessary not to misuse the issue by thinking of things like, “is it all right if we commit sins first and then repent since sins are transformed into rewards?”
Such an approach is contrary to the manners of slavery above all things. Such an attitude means to test Allah and to ignore the orders of the religion, that is, not to understand the essence of the issue. In many verses, it is stated that the authority to forgive belongs to Allah, that Allah will forgive whomever He wishes and will punish whomever He wishes; thus, attention is attracted to the balance of fear and hope.
Furthermore, will a person who commits sins by thinking, “I will repent anyway” have the opportunity to repent, will he live long enough to repent, does he have a life guarantee? And the most important of all, will Allah give him the opportunity to repent since his acts attract the wrath of Allah? It is necessary to take them into consideration?
A person who fulfills fard duties and avoids major sins is saved.”
However, the most important issue of a believer who is exposed to hundreds of sins every day is to try to avoid sins, to keep away from the sinful environments and not to approach the doors that are open to sins. He needs to drive away the evil and keep away from evil acts. He can reach taqwa only this way because it is fard to quit a haram and a major sin. To fulfill a fard duty is more rewarding than to fulfill a sunnah.
When taqwa is accepted as an attitude, turning away from sins only once despite the attack of thousands of sins will enable one to quit hundreds of sins, hence fulfill hundreds of fard and wajib acts. Thus, keeping away from sins with the intention of taqwa paves the way for many good deeds because, in our age a person who fulfills fard duties and avoids major sins is saved.”12
The Quran informs us about that salvation, that is, those who avoid major sins will reach bounties, grants and the bliss of Paradise:
If ye (but) eschew the most heinous of the things which ye are forbidden to do, We shall expel out of you all the evil in you and admit you to a Gate of great honour.”13
Then, “Give life to your life through belief, and adorn it with religious duties. And preserve it by abstaining from sins.”14
Sins were forgiven BEFORE JESUS
1. Muslim, Tawba 9.
2. Bukhari, Tawhid 35; Muslim, Tawba 29.
3. Musnad, 5:130.
4. Tirmidhi Daawat 98.
5. Muslim, Tawba 3.
6. Bukhari, Adab 19, Muslim, Tawba 22.
7. Aal-i-Imran, 3:135.
8. al-Furqan, 25:70.
9. Tirmidhi, Qiyama 49.
11. Musnad, 1:80.
12. Risale-i Nur Collection, 2:1632.
14. Risale-i Nur Collection, 1:5.