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REPENTANCE (TAWBAH), PART 2: A GIFT FROM THE ALMIGHTY

September 2, 2022

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:


فَتَلَقَّىٰٓ ءَادَمُ مِن رَّبِّهِۦ كَلِمَـٰتٍ فَتَابَ عَلَيۡهِ‌ۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلتَّوَّابُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ (٣٧) قُلۡنَا ٱهۡبِطُواْ مِنۡہَا جَمِيعًا‌ۖ فَإِمَّا يَأۡتِيَنَّكُم مِّنِّى هُدًى فَمَن تَبِعَ هُدَاىَ فَلَا خَوۡفٌ عَلَيۡہِمۡ وَلَا هُمۡ يَحۡزَنُونَ (٣٨)

Then Adam (AS) accepted from his Lord words [of prayer]... And He, Allah, (in turn) accepted Adam’s repentance. Surely, He is the Acceptor of (all) repentance, the Most Merciful. We said: "Descend, all of you! Then whenever there comes to you Guidance from Me, and whoever follows My Guidance, there shall be no fear on them, nor shall they grieve. (Quran 2: 37-38)



Very early on, as we start to read the Quran from the beginning, we come across the first mention of the creation story. And even though the order of the ayaat (verses) and suwar/surahs (chapters) in the Book of Allah are not presented in the same sequence of the chronological timeline of their revelation, this early reference (and subsequent retelling - often with shifts in emphasis) is very poignant: There is, significantly, therein a profound demonstration of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, in particular for those who believe, but who also, from time to time, stray from the straight path, the path we pray to be guided on and back to, and the one traversed by the beloved of Allah.



Allah (SWT), Most Sublime and Exalted, relates to us - humanity at large - how our common parents Adam and Hawwa/Eve (AS/PBUT) were seduced by our arch enemy, Satan the accursed one, who “caused them to slip” and subsequently their descend to the earth. This oversight or lapse was regarded as grievous, as Adam (AS) was a prophet and close to Allah. He could not bear the displeasure and reproach of Allah and was full of regret and remorse. Some scholars of tafseer (exegesis of the Quran) tell us that he was fearful that any utterance would bring more divine displeasure and/or he was dumbfounded and lost for words and a method of seeking forgiveness. He was also not as close (literally and figuratively) to Allah (SWT) as before. But Allah knows what passes through men’s hearts and will not leave His beloved in a state of anguish. And He is Most Generous and Most Loving and Compassionate, and seeing the agony of severance in Adam and Hawwa (AS), taught them through His Grace the words of a prayer so that they could beg humbly for pardon (tawbah/توبة).



Allah, the All-Forgiving and Most Beneficent, moreover, through His Bounty, pardoned Adam and Hawwa (AS), but Divine Wisdom had its own plan for them and their progeny - this new species, mankind, to be placed between the angels and the jinn. This descent of man to earth was another gift from Allah Almighty, as the honor of vicegerency or representative of Allah (SWT) - His khalifah (خليفة) on earth - was conferred upon the human being. Incidentally, the notion that the descension of Adam and Hawwa to the earth was a punishment is a false one: Allah had already destined this for us and had announced to the angels before creating Adam: “I am going to make a khalifah (deputy) on the earth” (Quran 2:30). And, furthermore, the command to descend was not withdrawn even after the pardon and the reestablishment of close ties.



However, the honor of instituting in humans the divine viceregency (khilaafah/خلافة) involves responsibility and accountability. They would be subject to the injunctions of the shari’ah, living with faith (imaan/إيمان) and virtue (salaaH/صلاح) on earth and restricted by the commandments and prohibitions of Allah. Yet, Allah (SWT), Most Bountiful, did not leave His servants without sending down to them His guidance, through revelation and messengers (peace and blessings be upon them all). And as a reward, for those who follow it faithfully, they shall be free from anxiety and sorrow - that is they shall not have to grieve about any loss in the past, nor to worry about some misfortune in the future or trepidation in the Hereafter.



Thus, Allah (SWT) bestowed on us the capacity to make spiritual progress and afforded us the opportunity of attaining a station denied even to the angels. But in giving us the power of choice and free will, however limited, we also have the propensity as human beings to consistently err and sin, and to fall and stumble in our spiritual journey, and to disobey the Divine Commands. The condition that follows sinning takes us away from the Mercy of Allah (SWT) and severs the bond between us and Him, a bond that becomes stronger as we obey and please the Beloved. But He (SWT) also gave us an exit strategy when we stray - this we now know as repentance/tawbah, or returning to Allah Almighty. Prophet Muhammad (SAW) is reported to have said:


عَنْ أَنَسٍ أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ قَالَ : كُلُّ ابْنِ آدَمَ خَطَّاءٌ وَخَيْرُ الْخَطَّائِينَن التَّوَّابُونَ

Anas ibn Malik (may Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: “Every child of Adam is a persistent sinner, and the best of the persistent sinners are those who constantly repent.” (al-Tirmidhi)


Allah, Most Gracious and Merciful, has showered us, starting with our first parents, with bounty after bounty, and perhaps the greatest one of all is repentance or tawbah. Our scholars remind us that repentance is not restricted by time, place, manner, language, etc. and this, in itself, is a great blessing from Allah Almighty. Imagine if it was confined to a certain day, week or month, or to a specific time of the day like from 3 to 3:30 am only? Or to one or a few places, like in Makkah or in a masjid only? Or to a particular mode of seeking repentance or to one language only? No, we can indeed repent to Allah at any time, in any place, in any manner, with any words, using any language, etc, and for that all praises are certainly due to Allah, Lord of the universe and the Ultimate Benefactor.


The special divine gift of tawbah is also conspicuously perceived in the wording of the ayah referenced above (2:37), according to Imams al-Zamakhshari and al-Alusi in their tafseers: Allah (SWT), in speaking about how He taught Adam (AS) the words of a prayer to offer his repentance properly, uses the word “fa-talaqqaa/فتلقى”, which means immediately accepting and welcoming someone or something very eagerly and with great anticipation and gratitude; this indicates the attitude of Adam (AS) in receiving the words, after experiencing remoteness from (the Mercy of) Allah (SWT) as a result of his mistake. As to what those actual words are, in sha Allah we will discuss in the next article, Part 3 of Repentance. I will leave you here with the following beautiful anecdote narrated by al-Imam al-Bayhaqi (RA) that also reflects the love and brotherhood between true believers:

Ibrahim ibn al-Utroosh reported that Ma’ruf al-Karkhi (may Allah have mercy on him) was upon the Tigris River and we were with him as we passed by some young people in a boat misbehaving. We said to Ma’ruf, “O Abu Mahfuz, do you not see these people on the water disobeying Allah Almighty? Pray to Allah against them!” Ma’ruf raised his hands to the sky and he said, “O Allah, my Lord, my Master! O Allah, I ask You to bring them joy in the Hereafter as You have brought them joy in this world!” One of his companions said, “We asked you to pray AGAINST them! We did not ask you to pray FOR them!” Ma’ruf said, “If Allah brings them joy in the Hereafter, then He has accepted their repentance and it will not harm you at all.” (Shu’ab al-Iman, 9/70)