Repentance in Islam
This article contains too many or overly lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (October 2017)
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Tawba (Arabic: توبة alternatively spelled: tevbe or tawbah, Turkish: tövbe) is the Islamic concept of repenting to God due to performing any sins and misdeeds. It is a direct matter between a person and God, so there is no intercession. There is no original sin in Islam. It is the act of leaving what God has prohibited and returning to what he has commanded. 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 (remorse, resolution, and repentance). If someone sins against another person, restitution is required.
The literal meaning of the Arabic word tawba is "to return" and is repeated in the Qur'an and hadith (sayings of the Islamic prophet Muhammad). In the context of Islam, it means to turn or to retreat from past sinful and evil activities, and to firmly resolve abstaining from them in future. In Quran 66:8, 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 Islamic scripture
In the Quran, there is a complete surah (chapter) titled At-Tawba, which means "The Repentance". As with other topics, the act of atoning (for one's misdeeds) and seeking God's forgiveness has also been discussed in the Qur’an, and given 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. It assures them that if they do this, God will forgive them, and exonerate them from their misdeeds:[original research?]
And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards God, that ye may attain Bliss.— Quran, Sura 24 (Al-Noor), ayah 31
O ye who believe! Turn to God 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 God loves those who turn much (to Him), and He loves those who purify themselves.— Quran, Sura 02 (Al-Baqara), ayah 222
God accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will God turn in mercy: For God is full of knowledge and wisdom. Of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil, until death faces one of them, and he says, "Now have I repented indeed;" nor of those who die rejecting Faith: for them have We prepared a punishment most grievous.— Quran, Sura 04 (An-Nisa), ayah 17–18
The Qur'an also addresses the disbelievers and urges them to turn to God, upon which God promises to pardon them:[original research?]
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 God will change the evil of such persons into good, and God is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to God with an (acceptable) conversion.
- 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."
- In Sahih al-Bukhari, Anas ibn Malik narrates:
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."
Allah's apostle said,"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."
The Prophet said, "Amongst the men of Bani Israel there was a man who had murdered ninety-nine persons. Then he set out asking (whether his repentance could be accepted or not). He came upon a monk and asked him if his repentance could be accepted. The monk replied in the negative and so the man killed him. He kept on asking till a man advised to go to such and such village. (So he left for it) but death overtook him on the way. While dying, he turned his chest towards that village (where he had hoped his repentance would be accepted), and so the angels of mercy and the angels of punishment quarrelled amongst themselves regarding him. Allah ordered the village (towards which he was going) to come closer to him, and ordered the village (whence he had come), to go far away, and then He ordered the angels to measure the distances between his body and the two villages. So he was found to be one span closer to the village (he was going to). So he was forgiven."— Sahih Bukhari 3470
A man kissed a woman (unlawfully) and then went to the prophet and informed him. Allah revealed: "And offer prayers perfectly At the two ends of the day And in some hours of the night (i.e. the five compulsory prayers). Verily! good deeds remove (annul) the evil deeds (small sins)." (11:114). The man asked Allah's messenger, "Is it for me?" He said, "It is for all my followers."
A person came to Allah's Apostle said: Allah's messenger, I have committed an offence which deserves imposition of haad, so impose it upon me according to the Book of Allah. Thereupon he said: Were you not present with us at the time of prayer? He said: Yes. Thereupon he said: You have been granted pardon.
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:[original research?]
Verily those whom ye call upon besides Allah are servants like unto you.— Quran, Sura 7 (Al-Araf), ayah 194
Tawba and the benevolence of Allah
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 Quran and Hadith, Allah's overarching mercy permits even the gravest sins to be pardoned by Him, provided the wrongdoer intends a sincere tawba.
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
"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."
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. Islamic 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.
- 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.
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.[original research?] 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).
Another important perspective on repentance in Islam is that a person should always seek God's forgiveness even when they are not apparently guilty of any particular sin. This is because there are many subtle natures of sin involving immorality which escape notice, and also because it is a Muslim's duty to turn towards God.
- In hadith, Muhammad asked people to seek Allah's forgiveness:[original research?] "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.[original research?] 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."
Demerits of turning away from tawba
Turning away from repentance or postponement of tawbah, was attached with some ill-effects including the follows:
- He who turn away from tawbah was refers to as an Unjust.[Quran 49:11][original research?]
- He who decide to postpone his repentance till their last breath, his repentance shall not be accepted.[Quran 3:90][original research?]
- Postponement of tawbah according to Islam was seen as a great sin.
- Glossary of Islam
- Index of Islam-related articles
- Itmam al-hujjah
- Islamic views on sin
- Islamic views on piety
- Metanoia (theology)
- Muslim theology
- Outline of Islam
- Teshuva, a similar concept in Judaism
- B. Silverstein Islam and Modernity in Turkey Springer 2011 ISBN 978-0-230-11703-7 page 124
- "Tawbah - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". www.oxfordislamicstudies.com. Retrieved 2018-08-25.
- "Repentance - Oxford Islamic Studies Online". www.oxfordislamicstudies.com. Retrieved 2018-08-25.
Arabic tawbah. A major theme of the Quran, mentioned over seventy times and with an entire surah (9) titled for it. Usually described as turning toward God, asking forgiveness, and being forgiven. Islam has no concept of original sin, need for atonement, or ecclesiastical confession. Repentance and forgiveness are a direct matter between the individual and God, requiring no intercession. In cases of sin against another person, restitution is required. In cases of sin against God, repentance, remorse, and resolution to change one's behavior are considered sufficient. Although classical scholars emphasized the individual dimension of repentance, many revivalists and reformists have tied individual actions to larger issues of public morality, ethics, and social reform, arguing for reimplementation of the Islamic penal code as public expiation for sins. Sufis understand repentance as a process of spiritual conversion toward constant awareness of God's presence. Muhammad reputedly requested God's forgiveness several times daily.
- "Islam | religion". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2018-08-25.
In order to communicate the truth of Divine Unity, God has sent messengers or prophets to human beings, whose weakness of nature makes them ever prone to forget or even willfully to reject Divine Unity under the promptings of Satan. According to the Qurʾānic teaching, the being who became Satan (Shayṭān or Iblīs) had previously occupied a high station but fell from divine grace by his act of disobedience in refusing to honour Adam when he, along with other angels, was ordered to do so. Since then his work has been to beguile human beings into error and sin. Satan is, therefore, the contemporary of humanity, and Satan’s own act of disobedience is construed by the Qurʾān as the sin of pride. Satan’s machinations will cease only on the Last Day.
Judging from the accounts of the Qurʾān, the record of humanity’s acceptance of the prophets’ messages has been far from perfect. The whole universe is replete with signs of God. The human soul itself is viewed as a witness of the unity and grace of God. The messengers of God have, throughout history, been calling humanity back to God. Yet not all people have accepted the truth; many of them have rejected it and become disbelievers (kāfir, plural kuffār; literally, “concealing”—i.e., the blessings of God), and, when a person becomes so obdurate, his heart is sealed by God. Nevertheless, it is always possible for a sinner to repent (tawbah) and redeem himself by a genuine conversion to the truth. There is no point of no return, and God is forever merciful and always willing and ready to pardon. Genuine repentance has the effect of removing all sins and restoring a person to the state of sinlessness with which he started his life.
- D. Beaulieu, Peter (2012). Beyond Secularism and Jihad?: A Triangular Inquiry Into the Mosque, the Manger, and Modernity. University Press of America. p. 88. ISBN 978-0-7618-5837-9.
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Repentance or Tawbah in Arabic literally means 'to return'. In an Islamic context, it refers to the return to the right way which is the way God commanded and to abandon what God has prohibited (Bahnasi, 1989). Many Qur’anic verses about repentance refer to Allah as the source of forgiveness. For instance, “Whosoever repents after his crime and does righteous good deeds [by obeying Allah], then verily, Allah will pardon him [accept his repentance]. Verily, Allah is Often Forgiving, Most Merciful (Al-Ma’idah 5:39). Another more general Qur’anic verse states: “Our Lord! Thy Reach is over all things, in Mercy and Knowledge. Forgive, then, those who turn in repentance, and follow Thy Path; and preserve them from the Penalty of the Blazing Fire "And grant, our Lord! That they enter the Gardens of Eternity, which Thou hast promised
- Mufti (2004). Ma'ariful Quran. Translated by Maulana Ahmed Khalil Aziz & Muhammad Taqi Usmani. Vol. 8; p.525.
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- Quran 24:31 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 66:08 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 02:222
- Quran 04:17 and Quran 04:18
- Quran 25:69–71 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
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- Quran 11:114 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 7:194 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 2:37
- Quran 59:22
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In the Quran, "shirk" (Arabic for "partnering" or "associating" anything with God) is the one unforgivable sin: "God does not forgive the joining of partners with him: anything less than that he forgives to whoever he will, but anyone who joins partners with God is lying and committing a tremendous sin" (4:48).
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Shirk: Associating others with God, the only unforgivable sin in Islam if the person dies in such a state
- Quran 4:48 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Quran 39:53 (Translated by Yusuf Ali)
- Hadith Qudsi contained in Jami At-Tirmidhi and Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, #34 on http://cmje.usc.edu/religious-texts/hadith/qudsi.php
- Oliver Leaman (2006). The Qur'an: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 535–6. ISBN 978-0-415-32639-1.
- Ma'ariful Quran. 2. p. 569.
- Sahih Muslim, 35:6523
- Sahih al-Bukhari, 8:76:474
- Bilal Philips, Abu Ameenah. Salvation Through Repentance (An Islamic View). pp. 28–31.