The State of Repentance
Imam Ibn ul Qayyim al Jawziyyah
The state of repentance, tawbah, is at the beginning, the middle and the end of all states of submission to the will of Allah. The servant who seeks the pleasure of Allah never abandons tawbah. He remains in the state of tawbah until his death. Whatever his state of belief, the servant makes tawbah his constant companion. Thus, tawbah is at the beginning and at the end of his servitude to his Creator. His need for tawbah at the end, just as at the beginning, overrides, and supersedes all other needs. Allah says: “And turn to Allah altogether (make tawbah), O you who believe so that you may succeed,” (24:31)
The verse above is contained within a Madinan Surah (revealed after the migration to Madinah), in which Allah addresses the people of emaan, who are the best of His creation. He calls upon them to make tawbah “turn in repentance” to Him after they had already believed, gone through hardships, trials of faith, executed patience, migrated and performed jihad. Allah then made success conditional on perfecting such tawbah, as the effect is often conditional on the cause. No one can hope for success, except: those who make tawbah. Allah says: “And those who do not make tawbah are indeed the dhaalimoon (wrongdoers).” (49:11)
Allah divides His servants into two categories only: the repentant and the wrongdoers. There is no third category. Allah calls those who do not make tawbah, “dhaalimoon” (wrongdoers and transgressors) and no one is more of a wrongdoer and a transgressor than a person who does not repent for his evil actions. This state is a result of a person’s ignorance of his Lord and the rights due to Him, as well as, his own defects and the evil of his deeds. The Prophet, sallallahu alayeh wa sallam, is reported to have said: “O people, make tawbah to Allah. By Allah, I make tawbah to Him more than seventy times each day.” (Bukhari)
His companions used to count for him in each congregation his saying one hundred times: “My Lord, forgive me and accept my repentance, for You are At-Tawwab (the One who accept repentance), Al-Ghafoor (The Oft Forgiving).” The Prophet, sallallahu alayhe wa sallam, is also reported to have said: “No one will be rescued (on the Day of Judgment) by his deeds. They (his companions) asked even you Messenger of Allah? He said, even me, unless Allah would grant me His mercy and Grace.”
May Allah’s blessings and peace be upon His Messenger, the most knowledgeable among His creation of Him, His Rights, His Greatness and what servitude He deserves. He is the most knowledgeable of servitude and its requirements and the most committed in servitude to Allah.
The Starter (Fatihah) of Tawbah
Tawbah is the return of the servant to Allah. It is also his turning away from the path of those with whom Allah is angry and those who are astray. This returning cannot be done except by Allah’s guidance to the Straight Path. The servant will not attain guidance except through Allah’s help and the servant’s submithrough tawheed. Suratul-Fatihah explains this concept in the most complete and eloquent manner.
Whoever appreciates Surat-ul-Fatihah and gives it is right estimate, through knowledge, contemplation upon its facts and by living its directives, will realise that one cannot recite it, with the true recitation of a servant, unless one makes sincere tawbah. The perfect guidance to the Straight Path cannot be attained with the indifference to sins or the persistence on sins. Indifference to sins negates the knowledge of guidance. Persistent sinning negates the intention and the will of the servant. Thus, tawbah will not be valid except after one recognises the sins, admits to them and seeks to rid oneself of their evil consequences.
Seeking Refuge from Sin
The first aspect of tawbah, then, is to see how one was taken away from seeking the pleasure of Allah, by committing sins. Next, one has to recognize that Allah didn’t safeguard him from sin. One should also ponder how happy one was while sinning and being persistent on the sin, while knowing with surety that Allah ever watches over whatever is done in the heavens or on the earth. If the servant had sought refuge in Allah, he would not have gone away from the guidance of obedience, “And whoever holds firmly to Allah, then he is indeed guided to a Right Path.” (3:101)
If one’s holding onto Allah is firm, one would never be forsaken by Allah, “And hold firmly to Allah, He is your Mawlaa (Protector) and what an excellent Mawlaa and what an excellent Naseer (Helper).” (22:78)
In other words, whenever we hold firm to Him, He will become our Protector and He will support us against our nafs (inclinations) and the Shaytan. These two enemies, the nafs and Satan, are the ones that do not leave the servant for even a moment. Their enmity is more harmful to the servant than the enemies from without. Attaining victory over such enemies is more difficult, and the servant’s need for such a victory is far more important. The degree of help rendered to defeat these enemies is dependent upon the degree of our dependence and holding onto Allah. If we do not hold firmly to Allah, we will go away from Allah’s protection. This is indeed the true loss. Allah could have aided us in staying away from sins, however, because we deserted Him, we were allowed to listen to any obey our nafs. If He wished to protect us, the sin would not have found a way to get to us.
When the servant becomes heedless of the consequences of sin, he finds pleasure when he satisfies unlawful desires. This pleasure in disobedience is evidence of his ignorance of the Greatness of the One of disobeys, and his ignorance of the evil consequences of sins and evil actions. His pleasure with sin has concealed all of this from his sight. In fact, his pleasure with sin is more harmful to him than perpetrating the sin itself. The believer can never have any pleasure from sin. He cannot have complete satisfaction with it. On the contrary, he would not even pursue it, except with grief in his heart. But the intoxication of the desires obscures one from feeling this remorse. When the heart becomes empty from such grief and one is happy with sin, then one should question his faith and weep for the death of his heart. If one were alive, he would be sad for the perpetration of any sin, big or small. The evil effects of sin, more times than not, go unnoticed in us and in our brothers and sisters in Islam. Diligences in constant self evaluation is necessary in leading us away from sin and its destructive ends. One can do this by focusing on the following.
1. The fear of dying before making tawbah.
2. Remorse about the good that was missed because of the disobedience of Allah.
3. Working seriously on regaining what has been missed.
If one becomes completely heedless then one becomes persistent, which means constant disobedience with the intention to perform the sin again and again. This by itself is another sin that could be far greater than the first. Part of the punishment for sin is that it leads to a greater sin, then another, and so on until it completely and certainly destroys the person if he does not repent.
Persistence on sin is another sin. Not attempting to rectify the sin means persistence on it and satisfaction with it. This is the sign of ruin. Worse than all of that, is the commission of sin in public when we are sure that Allah watches and sees everything from above His Throne. If we believe that Allah watches us, yet we proceed to commit sins publicly, this is a great contradiction. But if we don’t believe that He watches us, then we are completely out of the realm of Islam.
There are two considerations for a sinner: lack of embarrassment from Allah knowing that Allah’s sight watches over all, and lack of fear to go out of the deen. Therefore, one of the conditions of the acceptance of tawbah is that a person should firmly believe that Allah was watching and that He will always watch over him. He sees everything during the perpetration of sins.
The reality of tawbah is to return to Allah is not sound or complete without the knowledge of the Lord’s names and attributes and their manifestations within Himself and in the world. The repenting servant should know that he was running away from his Lord, captured in the grip of his enemy. He didn’t fall into the claws of his enemy except as a result of his ignorance of his Lord and his daring to go against Him. He should know how and when he became ignorant, and how and when he was captured. He should believe that tawbah requires great determination and complete awareness to rescue himself from the enemy and be able to return and run back, to his Lord Ar-Rahman ArRahim. He should realise that returning to his Lord is actually turning away from the road of destruction, where his enemy had taken him. He should know the number of steps taken away from his Lord and the efforts and obstacles that he must strongly work on to get back to the Straight Path.