Tawbah or Repentance, is a very significant topic for us to know and hold on to dearly in our lives. We all have our shortcomings, but what is important is for us to return to Allah when we commit a transgression. The Quran says in Surah Al-Furqan
إِلَّا مَن تَابَ وَءَامَنَ وَعَمِلَ عَمَلًۭا صَـٰلِحًۭا فَأُو۟لَـٰٓئِكَ يُبَدِّلُ ٱللَّهُ سَيِّـَٔاتِهِمْ حَسَنَـٰتٍۢ ۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ غَفُورًۭا رَّحِيمًۭا
"As for those who repent, believe, and do good deeds, they are the ones whose evil deeds Allah will change into good deeds. For Allah is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
(Surah Al-Furqan, 25:70)
Therefore, let us learn together the true meaning of Tawbah and better equip ourselves with knowledge on its significance and conditions.
Tawbah is the act of repentance to Allah from any kind of sins or wrongdoings. A Muslim has to repent for anything that is forbidden in Islam. such as lying or backbiting. In the Quran and Hadith, the word Tawbah (to return) means returning from evil and unholy activities and firmly avoiding them in the future.
Tawbah is the first step of discipline, the key to guidance to the straight path and the means of purification for those who wish to be nearer to Allah.
Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَّصُوحًا
“O you who have faith, repent to Allah with sincere repentance.”
(Surah At-Tahrim, 66:8)
The Arabic word “Nasuh” means pure and authentic. Imam Al-Qurtubi comments on this verse, saying:
أَمْرٌ بِالتَّوْبَةِ وَهِيَ فَرْضٌ عَلَى الْأَعْيَانِ فِي كُلِّ الْأَحْوَالِ وَكُلِّ الْأَزْمَانِ
“The command to repent is an obligation upon all individuals in every circumstance and every time”
Even Rasulullah s.a.w. who was the most pious and sinless human being used to seek Allah’s forgiveness over 70 times a day.
The companion, Abu Hurairah r.a. said:
سمعت رسول الله صلى الله عليه وسلم يقول “والله إني لأستغفر الله وأتوب إليه في اليوم أكثر من سبعين مرة
I heard Rasulullah s.a.w. say, "I swear by Allah that I seek Allah's Pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day."
A sin is an act of transgressing upon what has been prohibited by Allah s.w.t. The one who commits it will be held accountable and is liable to its consequences, sometimes only in this world and other times in both worlds.
Sins are like flat tyres; it becomes unbearable to go anywhere if it is not changed at the right time. The last thing we want is for our sins to turn into habits that are difficult to break.
Something we may consider is that a sin that seems small may be huge in the sight of Allah s.w.t
Allah s.w.t. says in the Quran:
وَتَحْسَبُونَهُۥ هَيِّنًا وَهُوَ عِندَ ٱللَّهِ عَظِيمٌۭ
"Taking it lightly while it is (extremely) serious in the sight of Allah"
(Surah An-Nur, 24:15)
From an Islamic perspective, there are some sins which are extremely serious and would weigh more than others. These are known as Major Sins. Some scholars view Major Sins as transgressions that are grave and consequential in this world or the Hereafter. Here are some examples that are mentioned in the Quran:
1. Polytheism (Shirk) – It is the act of associating Allah with others in Divinity. This is the only sin which Allah considers unforgivable, as it violates the primary tenet of Islam, which is a pure Monotheistic belief of God
2. Black Magic or Witchcraft
Watch Mufti speaks: Have I Sinned Too Much To Be Forgiven by Allah? | Ramadan Letters From Mufti
Sins that would weigh less are known as Minor Sins; not because they are insignificant, but rather because they are not specifically mentioned in the Quran as demanding legal punishments or mentioned with stern warnings. These so-called “minor sins” are sometimes overlooked. A person may engage in them to the extent that it becomes a part of their lifestyle. Some examples are backbiting and bullying.
Allah s.w.t. says:
كَلَّا بَلْ رَانَ عَلَى قُلُوبِهِم مَّا كَانُوا يَكْسِبُونَ
“But no! In fact, their hearts have been stained by all (the evil) they used to commit”
(Surah Al-Mutaffifin, 83:14)
One who recognises that he or she is engaging, even in minor sins, must strive to be better. Being able to recognise the problem and feel remorse is indeed a blessing from Allah s.w.t. Hence, one should reciprocate by vowing not to repeat the same mistakes and seek His forgiveness.
As believers who sincerely care about Allah and the Hereafter, we must do our best to avoid both Major and Minor sins.
Listen to Podcast: Will Allah Forgive Me?
It is never too late. Those who believe that they may have conducted any wrongdoing or misdeed can sincerely repent for their mistake and seek Allah’s forgiveness.
Allah s.w.t. mentions in the Quran:
وَتُوبُوٓا۟ إِلَى ٱللَّهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ ٱلْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
“And turn to Allah altogether, O believers! So that you may succeed”
(Surah An-Nur: 24:31)
An example of the importance of repentance in Islam is acquiring Allah’s love. Allah s.w.t. loves a person who repents in His way. Although a person may have committed a big sin, if they repent sincerely, always do His commands and leave His prohibitions, the person may be blessed with Allah's love and forgiveness. As mentioned in the Quran:
إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ وَيُحِبُّ الْمُتَطَهِّرِينَ
“Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.”
(Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:222)
We know that sins are always associated with an accompanying sense of guilt that gets lodged in our hearts. While we can always turn a blind eye to those feelings of guilt, we know from experience that such guilt is responsible for slowly chipping away at our happiness. Tawbah, on the other hand, by its very nature, removes that guilt and fills our hearts with happiness.
For repentance to be accepted by Allah, it must fulfil a set of conditions as laid out by our scholars. Imam An-Nawawi recorded in his book Riyad al-Salihin as follows:
1. Stop committing the sin
There is no good in repenting from a sin, if you have no intention of giving it up and continue to do it over and over again. You have to abandon the sin and stop doing it immediately.
2. Regret having committed the sin
You have to be sincere about your repentance; you truly feel guilty and remorseful about what you have done.
Read: Powerful Duas for Forgiveness
3. Decide never to commit the sin again
Thus, repentance is the combination of our actions, feelings, and resolve.
Read: How To Pray Tahajjud and Perform Qiyamullail
It has been established that it is normal for human beings to make mistakes. The main thing here is to acknowledge the severity of our actions and to feel remorseful in order to bounce back from them. We should not and cannot be embracing our own sins, what more to be proud of them and show them to the world?
Abu Huraira r.a. reported that Rasulullah s.a.w. said:
كُلُّ أُمَّتِي مُعَافًى إِلَّا الْمُجَاهِرِينَ وَإِنَّ مِنْ الْمُجَاهَرَةِ أَنْ يَعْمَلَ الرَّجُلُ بِاللَّيْلِ عَمَلًا ثُمَّ يُصْبِحَ وَقَدْ سَتَرَهُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ فَيَقُولَ يَا فُلَانُ عَمِلْتُ الْبَارِحَةَ كَذَا وَكَذَا وَقَدْ بَاتَ يَسْتُرُهُ رَبُّهُ وَيُصْبِحُ يَكْشِفُ سِتْرَ اللَّهِ عَنْهُ
"Every one of my followers will be forgiven except for the Mujahirin (those who commit a sin openly or disclose their sins to the people). An example of this is a man who commits a bad deed at night which Allah has covered for him, then in the morning he says: “O people, I have committed such and such!” while his Lord had hidden it, but in the morning, he reveals what Allah has hidden.”
By understanding this Hadith, we can derive on a personal level that there is a difference between those who regretfully commit a sin but keep it in private between themselves and Allah s.w.t, and those who embrace their sin and shows it publicly without any remorse.
On a social level, if a person may have committed a sin and they are regretful for their misdeeds, then we should never define them by their flaws. It was narrated from Abu Hurairah r.a. that the Messenger of Allah s.a.w. said:
مَنْ سَتَرَ مُسْلِمًا سَتَرَهُ اللَّهُ فِي الدُّنْيَا وَالآخِرَةِ
“Whoever covers (the sin of) a Muslim, Allah will cover him (his sin) in this world and in the Hereafter.”
(Sunan Ibn Majah)
The doors of hope are always open with every breath we are blessed with. There are so many inspiring stories of people who rose back from their own undoing and became better individuals.
On the other hand, if a person embraces their transgressions, then we do not hate the person but to sympathise and try our best to advise them. We can let them know the wonders of our religion and that it is good for us. A sin should not be celebrated.
May Allah s.w.t. ease our affairs in repenting to Him with utmost sincerity whilst truly feeling remorseful for the mistakes we may have made in the past.
Success comes from Allah, and Allah knows best.
Read: Seeking Allah in Times of Distress
Join Ustaz Mizi Wahid and Ramli Abdullah this 11.11. in the next ADIL Knowledge Retreat as they share more about Repentance. Where do you start? How do we begin our journey of repentance? What are the Islamic teachings that we can put into practice?
In this onsite seminar moderated by local personality Fiza O, we will discuss step-by-step how to choose to be better at our own pace and tips on how we can seek help and support others. Register today!