بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
It is the characteristic of man to sin. Unlike the Angels, Allah (SWT) has gifted us with free will. We can choose the straight path by following the guidance of the Quran and Sunnah, or we can stray by choosing other things as our guides but ultimately we are held to account for our choices. However, Allah in His infinite mercy has also given us the gift of Tawbah, repentance. We will discuss what Tawbah or repentance actually means and why this concept is so important in our faith as well as looking at ways in which we can increase this in our lives.
What is Tawbah?
Tawbah literally means to return to Allah from sin and Allah swt has actually made it an obligation on us to repent to Him. Even our noble Prophet Muhammad (may Allah’s peace and blessing be upon him), who is free from sin, asked more than 70 times a day and some report even 100 times a day for Allah’s forgiveness and repented to Him. In the Quran, it says: ‘Seek forgiveness from your Rabb, and turn to Him in repentance’ (Surah Hud 11:3). In this ayah even the command verb tense is used, emphasizing the sense of obligation. From this and many other scriptural evidences there is a consensus amongst the scholars of Islam that it is necessary to repent for every sin.
Tawbah doesn’t just consist of saying ‘Astagfirullah’ (I seek forgiveness from Allah) for our Tawbah to be accepted. If we sincerely want Allah’s forgiveness we must stop committing the sin we are seeking forgiveness for, we should to feel regret and sorrow for committing the sin and decide not to commit the sin again. A further condition included when we have committed a sin against someone else, is to also ask forgiveness from that person.
From this last part it is important to note we should be aware and respectful of our relationship with people and seek forgiveness from them also. Our actions are recorded and divided into three books: one book will be full of acts that Allah will not care about, every act written in the second book will be questioned about to the minute detail and in the third book none of the acts recorded here will be forgiven. The first book deals with our relationship with Allah alone; the third book records all acts of Shirk (equating partners with Allah) if Tawbah has not been sought for this before death it will not be forgiven. The second book records our relationship with other people. The Prophet pbuh was asked about the fate of a woman who had passed away, whether she was in Jannah to which he replied: ‘ask her neighbours’. In fact a Muslim is defined as someone whose: ‘hand and tongue you are safe from’ meaning essentially we should not harm people even with our speech.
The Gift of Tawbah
Tawbah is truly a gift from Allah. In so many areas of our lives we only have one opportunity for which we can never redeem ourselves. That one exam that can’t be re-set, that first impression that can’t be taken back, but Allah says of himself He is ‘the Oft-Forgiving’ Al Ghaffor.
The Prophet pbuh said ‘Allah the Exalted will continue to stretch out His Hand in the night so that the sinners of the day can repent and continues to stretch His Hand in the day so that the sinners of the night can repent until the sun rises from the west’ (Muslim).
Until the end of time whenever we wish to seek Tawbah from Allah we can! In fact Allah loves for us to do so: ‘Verily Allah is more delighted with the repentance of His slave than a person who has lost his camel in a dessert land and finds it (unexpectedly)'(Bukhari).
We must remember that when we seek repentance from Allah this is an act of ibadaah because we are aware that He is the only one who is able to forgive sins and seeking Tawbah is the first step in returning back to the Straight Path. As Allah says in the Quran:
‘And God wants to turn you in His Mercy, whereas those who follow [only] their lusts want you to drift away from the right path. God wants to lighten your burdens: for man has been created weak’ (An-Nisa’. 4:27-28).
Since the onset of creation, with the story of Prophet Adam (as), we see and experience the beauty of Tawbah- not that mankind is inherently sinful or some concept of original sin- nowhere in our Shariah does it state this. Rather, when we make mistakes, if we turn to Allah in sincere regret, seeking repentance we will find it. In a hadith Qudsi narrated by Anas ra Allah swt says:
“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.”
The Door of Tawbah – how to find the keys!
Unfortunately many of us are oblivious to our sins therefore we neglect to make Tawbah in the first place. We should inculcate Tawbah as a regular act of ibaadah. Rabia Ad Dadwiyya who lived in the time of the Tabieen said of the way people ask Allah for forgiveness: ‘Our Tawbah is in need of Tawbah’ meaning that we do not seek forgiveness in a way that is befitting the greatness of our Lord or the vastness of our sins. If the Tabieen were accused of being neglectful, the generation after the Prophet pbuh and stated as the best of people after his companions, , how must our Tawbah look like and more importantly how can we rectify this?
Know your sin and be sorrowful
Be aware when we are committing injustices to Allah and to people, whether we are neglectful of our prayers, not affording people the correct respect befitting another member of creation and be regretful of it. Said Ibn Abbas said of the believer that he: ‘sees his sins like he is standing at the bottom of a mountain and they destroy his faith’ whereas the disbeliever ‘sees his sin as a housefly, whipping it away sure that they will be forgiven’. In order for us to be sincere in our repentance we must recognize for what we are asking Tawbah for.
Making Dhikr – Remembrance to Allah
SubhanAllahi, walhamdulilahi wallahu Akbar, Laa ilaaha illallaahu wahdahu laa shareeka lahu, -mulku wa lahul-hamdu wa Huwa ‘alaa kulli shay’in Qadeer
Glory to Allah and praise is to Allah and he is the Most Great (each said thirty-three times). None have the right to be worshipped but Allah alone, He has no partner, His is the dominion and His is the praise and He is Able to do all things – ‘Whoever says this after every prayer will be forgiven his sins even though they be as the foam on the sea’ Muslim
However Imam An-Nawawi stresses that this only applies when it comes to sins against Allah ta’alaa.
Ask the people for forgiveness
As for wrong against people such as denying their rights, anger even backbiting and telling tales, nothing wipes this away except if the person wronged grants forgiveness. A further caveat is that we have to specify to the one wronged, the nature of the wrongdoing saying for example “I said such and such against you”. Having said this, in circumstances where one feels there may be more problems if the exact nature of the wrong is revealed some scholars have said you may ask for Tawbah and making dua for this person and to perform additional acts of ibaadah such as fasting, giving sadaqah (charity), and asking Allah to accept it on their behalf. Although one should seek guidance from Allah and people of knowledge regarding their personal circumstances before taking a course of action.
Salatul Tawbah is a simple prayer consisting much the same as an ordinary sunnah prayer of two rakats except that its entered into with the intention of seeking Tawbah from Allah swt. And as our Prophet pbuh said: ‘There’s no servant who commits a sin and then he purifies himself (performs wudhu) and then prays two rakahs and then seeks forgiveness of Allah except that Allah forgives him’ Ahmad, Abu Dawud, at Tirmidthi, An Nisa’, Ibn Majah
The scholars also say there are three things that a servant of Allah is forbidden to do when they have repented to Allah
-Don’t think about the sin afterwards
-Don’t visit the place in which the sin was committed
– Keep away from company with evil friends
‘Thinking and pondering over sin even if it’s just thinking about it, belittles the sin and makes it seem comfortable and easy making disobedience almost usual. Likewise visiting the place where the sin was committed can be a trap as it may lead to someone returning to sin, even if that was not his intention. The Prophet pbuh said: Whoever hovers around a forbidden area will be on the verge of falling into it’ Bukhari and Muslim. As for keeping away from the company of evil friends, good friends are those who help you in staying away from sin, if they ae people who encourage you to sin then as the prophet said:
‘Verily the example of a good companion and a bad companion is like that of a seller of musk and that who works in a blacksmiths bellows. So as for the seller of Musk then either he will grant you some, or you buy some from him or at least enjoy a pleasant smell from him. As for the one who works in a blacksmiths bellows then either he will burn your clothes or you will get an offensive odor from him’ Bukhari
Trust in Allah that he will accept you sincere Tawbah after all: ‘And He it is Who accepts repentance from His slaves, and He forgives sins and He knows what you do’ (Surah ash Shurah 42:25)
May Allah accept our repentance, overlook our sins and accept from us our good deeds
 Riyad us Saliheen – Imam Nawawi Ad Dimashqi Vol 1.Chapter 2 Repentance- Darussalam