Repentance in Islam
Tawba (Arabic: توبة) is a Quranic Arabic word that means “a retreat” or “a return”. Both the Qur'an and the Hadith incorporate the word to refer to the act of leaving what Allah has prohibited and returning to what He has commanded. In the Islamic theology, the word denotes the act of being repentant for one's misdeeds, atoning for those misdeeds, and having a strong determination to forsake those misdeeds. Because Qur'an and Hadith repeatedly mention and emphasize the act of atoning for one's misdeeds, tawba is of immense importance in Islamic tradition. For a Muslim, it is regarded as a major gateway to rectifying his life.
Today, the main sources of the word tawba are the Qur'an and the Hadith. The Qur'an mentions the word in several places, some of which are: 1) Sura 24, ayah 31; 2) Sura 25, ayah 70-71; 3) Sura 66, ayah 08.
The literal meaning of tawba is 'to return' or 'to retreat'. In Islamic Sharia, it means to turn or to retreat from past sinful and evil activities, and to firmly resolve abstaining from them in future. In Sura 66, verse no. 08 of the Qur'an, the word tawba has been associated with the word نصوح (nasūh) which means 'to make pure or sincere'. Thus tawba signifies sincere and faithful repentance, free from pretense and hypocrisy.
In the Quran
Like many other topics, the act of atoning (for one’s misdeeds) and seeking Allah’s forgiveness has also been discussed in the Quran with much importance. For those believers who have wronged themselves, the Qur'an asks them to become repentant, seek Allah’s forgiveness, and make a sincere tawba, and assures them that if they do this, Allah will forgive them, and exonerate them from their misdeeds:
And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss.—Quran , Sura 24 (Al-Noor), ayah 31
O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance, in the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which Rivers flow...—Quran , Sura 66 (Al-Tahrim), ayah 08
Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.—Quran , Sura 02 (Al-Baqara), ayah 222
The Qur'an also addresses the disbelievers and urges them to turn to Allah, upon which Allah promises to pardon them:
The Penalty on the Day of Judgment will be doubled to him (disbeliever), and he will dwell therein in ignominy,- 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. And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to Allah with an (acceptable) conversion.
In the Hadith
Like Quran, the Hadith also mentions and stresses the issue of tawba. In Sunan al-Tirmidhi, a Hadith is narrated:
Allah's apostle said, "Every son of Adam sins, the best of the sinners are those who repent."—Sunan al-Tirmidhi,Hadith no. 2499
Allah's apostle said,"If you wouldn't commit sin,Allah would sweep you out of existence and replace you by those who'd commit sin and seek forgiveness."
Allah's Apostle said, "Allah is more pleased with the repentance of His slave than anyone of you is pleased with finding his camel which he had lost in the desert."
Abu Hurairah narrates:
I heard Allah's Apostle saying,"By Allah! I ask for forgiveness from Allah and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day."
Since the issue of tawba or repentance arises from Islamic religious context, it can be understood well when discussed from that perspective.
Repentance to Allah alone
Islam does not view any human being as being infallible. Any human being can be subject to errors, Allah being the only perfect one. Thus the sole authority for the forgiveness of any human being corresponds to Allah. Muslims deny the authority of men to listen to another person's confessions and then pronounce him forgiven of his sin. Likewise repenting to anyone besides Allah is forbidden. The Quran states:
Verily those whom ye call upon besides Allah are servants like unto you.—Quran , Sura 7 (Al-Araf), ayah 194
Conditions of tawba
According to Islamic Sharia, when an act of tawba is performed by a Muslim, Allah generally accepts it. However, that tawba should be sincere and true. Muslim scholars agree upon the fact that if a person is not ashamed of his past misdeeds, or does not intend to forsake those, then his verbal announcement of tawba is an open mockery of repentance. Mere verbal repentance does not account for a true tawba. A sincere tawba has some criteria. Hazrat Ali was asked as to what is tawba, and he replied that tawba consists of six elements:
- to regret one’s past evil deeds;
- to carry out Divine duties (fard, wajib etc.) that were missed;
- to return the rights/properties of others that were usurped unjustly;
- to ask forgiveness of a person who has been wronged by him, physically or verbally;
- to make a firm resolve of avoiding the sin in future; and
- to employ oneself in Allah’s obedience, as he previously employed himself in Allah’s disobedience.
Tawba and the benevolence of Allah
According to Islamic sharia, a sincere tawba is always accepted by Allah. Allah says:
Verily, He is One Who forgives (accepts repentance), the Most Merciful.—Quran , Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayah 37
In numerous verses of the Quran, Allah describes Himself as being extremely generous, merciful, and forgiving towards His creations. In verse 22 of sura Al-Hashr, for example, He assures: “He is Allah besides Whom there is no God; the Knower of the unseen and the seen; He is the Beneficent, the Merciful”.
The use of the verse “In the name of Allah, the Benevolent, the Merciful” at the beginning of every sura (except one) further testifies to this fact. According to the narration of Quran and Hadith, Allah’s overarching mercy permits even the gravest sins to be pardoned by Him, provided the wrongdoer intends a sincere tawba. Allah says:
Verily, Allah forgiveth not that partners should be set up with Him; but He forgiveth anything else, to whom He pleaseth.—Quran , Sura 4 (An-Nisa), ayah 48
As such, becoming hopeless of the mercy of Allah is prohibited. The Quran declares:
Say: "O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah: for Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.—Quran , Sura 39 (Az-Zumar), ayah 53
Again, God says to the believers in a Hadith–ul-Qudsi.
“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 as it.”
In Islamic sharia, tawba is a twofold approach: a person first should be able to recognize and forsake his/her sins upon which Allah promises to forgive them. Islam expects Muslims to realize their mistakes and shortcomings, and to seek His forgiveness. Forgiveness for one's sins is not something that comes automatically; it is something that must be sought for, with sincereness and true devotion. Becoming indifferent to one's sins is seen as dangerous. Islamic Prophet Muhammad said:
A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain which, he is afraid, may fall on him; whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose and he just drives them away like this (and he moved his hand over his nose in illustration).
In hadith, Muhammad asked people to seek Allah's forgiveness: “O people, seek repentance from Allah. Verily, I seek repentance from Him a hundred times a day.” In Islamic sharia, submission to Allah is necessary not only for achieving God's forgiveness, but also for being worthy of entering into paradise. Muhammad said: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and receive good news because one's good deeds will not make him enter Paradise." The companions asked, "Even you, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Even I, unless and until Allah bestows His pardon and Mercy on me."
- Maulana Muhammad Shamsul Haq. Al-Muradif: Arabic Thesaurus. Dhaka: Islamia Kutubkhana. p. 58.
- Mufti Muhammad Shafi (2004). Ma'ariful Quran. Translated by Maulana Ahmed Khalil Aziz & Muhammad Taqi Usmani. Vol. 8; p.525.
- Quran 24:31 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 66:08 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- [Quran 02:222]
- Quran 25:69-71 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 7:194 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Ma'ariful Quran. Vol 2. p. 569.
- [Quran 2:37]
- [Quran 59:22]
- Quran 4:48 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 39:53 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Sahih Muslim, 35:6523
- Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:474