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REPENTANCE (TAWBAH), PART 3: A PATH OF RETURN TO ALLAH

September 9, 2022

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

فَدَلَّٮٰهُمَا بِغُرُورٍ ۚ فَلَمَّا ذَاقَا ٱلشَّجَرَةَ بَدَتۡ لَهُمَا سَوۡءَٲتُهُمَا وَطَفِقَا يَخۡصِفَانِ عَلَيۡهِمَا مِن وَرَقِ ٱلۡجَنَّةِ‌ۖ وَنَادَٮٰهُمَا رَبُّهُمَآ أَلَمۡ أَنۡهَكُمَا عَن تِلۡكُمَا ٱلشَّجَرَةِ وَأَقُل لَّكُمَآ إِنَّ ٱلشَّيۡطَـٰنَ لَكُمَا عَدُوٌّ مُّبِينٌ (٢٢) قَالَا رَبَّنَا ظَلَمۡنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمۡ تَغۡفِرۡ لَنَا وَتَرۡحَمۡنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلۡخَـٰسِرِينَ (٢٣) قَالَ ٱهۡبِطُواْ بَعۡضُكُمۡ لِبَعۡضٍ عَدُوٌّ وَلَكُمۡ فِى ٱلۡأَرۡضِ مُسۡتَقَرٌّ وَمَتَـٰعٌ إِلَىٰ حِينٍ (٢٤) قَالَ فِيهَا تَحۡيَوۡنَ وَفِيهَا تَمُوتُونَ وَمِنۡهَا تُخۡرَجُونَ (٢٥)

So he (Satan) brought about their (Adam and Eve) fall through deception. And when they tasted of the (forbidden) tree, their nakedness was exposed to them, prompting them to cover themselves with the leaves of Paradise. Then their Lord called out to them: "Did I not forbid you from that tree and tell you that Satan is indeed your sworn enemy?" They replied: "Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers." Allâh said: "Descend, as enemies to each other [i.e. humans against Satan]. You will find in the earth a residence and provisions for your appointed stay.” He added: "Therein you shall live, and therein you shall die, and from there you shall be resurrected." (Quran 7: 22-25)



The Arabic word for repentance is tawbah ( توبة ), which means, “returning”. In reference to the servant (as in “taaba ilayhi”/ تاب إليه ) it means: a return to Allah (SWT) after sinning, to His Mercy and His close proximity after being distanced by disobedience, and reestablishing the relationship with Him on a better footing (in sha Allah). However, when used with reference to Allah Almighty (as in “taaba ‘alayhi”/ تاب عليه ), it literally signifies Allah returning to His servant - that is, Allah again turned to him/her with His Mercy and Grace, and accepted their repentance.



It is interesting to note that the word “tawwaab/ توّاب “ is used for both Allah (SWT) and man. This is unique, as none of His names or attributes in this intensive form, like Ghaffaar/Ever Forgiving, Wahhaab/Giver of all , Razzaaq/Ever Providing , etc., are truly used for man - except tawwaab, as seen in the Quran (al-Qurtubi). For example, “Indeed, Allah loves the tawwaabeen (plural of tawwaab or those who repent often)” in 2:222, and Allah is “al-Tawwaab (Ever Accepting of repentance), al-Raheem (Most Merciful)” in 2:37. On the other hand, the word “taa’ib/ تائب ”, used in the Quran and Hadith, which also means “to return'' (though not necessarily often), cannot be used to describe Allah; only those names and attributes used in the Quran and Sunnah in reference to Allah (SWT) are permissible. Many of the other names and epithets of Allah, however, can be used for man, but not in the same definitive way, like raHeem/merciful, ‘ali/lofty, Hakeem/wise, etc.



It is vital to remember too that only Allah, al-Tawwaab, alone has the authority to accept our repentance and forgive our sins. Those who disregard this principle fall into great error. No scholar, ‘wali’ or ‘saint’ or religious leader, dead or alive, has such a prerogative; all they can do, while alive, like everyone else, is pray for the sinner and seek Allah’s pardon. To believe otherwise is a notion that is doctrinally false and leads to blasphemy or shirk.



Tawbah, or to return to Allah Almighty and His obedience, and to turn away from disobedience and sin, is truly our attempt to reconcile the relationship we have with the Almighty after having displeased Him. That is why some scholars of tafseer (the exegetes) interpret the meaning of “tawbatan naśooHan/ توبةً نصوحاً ”, or sincere repentance (66:8), as that type that “mends a tear in a fabric and brings the two severed parts back together again”, making it look beautiful again. This way the sinner is reunited with Allah (SWT), and with the faith and the faithful, in a most desirable and laudable manner after the severance that results from sinning. Some of them add that it should be a “pure and clear” repentance, like the best honey available to man, and therefore the most delicious, the most nourishing and the most satisfying type.



Tawbah is, indeed, what Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (RA) calls “the prerequisite of life” ( وظيفة العمر ). Our scholars and teachers have said that when we commit a sin, we should do exactly what our first parents, Adam and Hawwa/Eve (AS) did: We should recognize that we have erred, feel removed, and experience remorse and shame for our deed. Then we must cease and desist immediately from the misdeed and resolve not to return to it. This must be followed by us sincerely repenting to Allah (SWT) and praying to Him for His pardon, using “the words/ كلمات ” (Quran 2:37) gifted to them by Allah and detailed elsewhere as the following (some of the context is given in the Quranic verses at the beginning of the article):


رَبَّنَا ظَلَمۡنَآ أَنفُسَنَا وَإِن لَّمۡ تَغۡفِرۡ لَنَا وَتَرۡحَمۡنَا لَنَكُونَنَّ مِنَ ٱلۡخَـٰسِرِينَ

Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.



This du’aa became, in essence, the prayer of the prophets and righteous after Adam (AS). For instance, Musa (AS) said: رَبِّ إِنِّى ظَلَمۡتُ نَفۡسِى فَٱغۡفِرۡ لِى “My Lord, I have wronged my soul, so forgive me” (Quran 28:16), and Yunus (AS) prayed with these words: لآ إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّآ أَنتَ سُبۡحَـٰنَكَ إِنِّى ڪُنتُ مِنَ ٱلظَّـٰلِمِينَ “There is no god except You. Glory be to You, how Perfect You are! I have certainly become one of the wrongdoers” (Quran 21:87). Prophet Muhammad (SAW) took the prayer to its ultimate, perfect form, calling it the master formula for seeking forgiveness ( سيد الاستغفار ):


اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لاَ إِلَهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ ، خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ ، وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ ، أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ ، أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ ، وَأَبُوءُ لَكَ بِذَنْبِي ، فَاغْفِرْ لِي ، فَإِنَّهُ لاَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ

O Allah, You are my Lord, none has the right to be worshiped except You. You created me and I am Your servant. I abide by Your covenant and Your promise as best I can. I take refuge in You from the evil consequences of my actions. I acknowledge Your favor upon me and I acknowledge my sin. So forgive me, for verily none can forgive sins except You.



He (SAW) added : “Whoever says this du’aa as they enter upon evening, then dies that night, they would enter Paradise; and if they say this as they enter upon morning, then dies that day, they would enter Paradise.” (al-Bukhari)



This supplication of repentance should be part of one’s dhikr (remembrance of Allah) or wird (routine utterances) daily after the Fajr and Maghrib ritual prayers, together with the other du’aas, dhikrs and formulas (of success) from the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) - all of which focus on returning to Allah (SWT) and strengthening the bond we each have with Him, while at the same time it allows us to taste from the sweetness of iman/faith at the start of each day and night.



We ask Allah Almighty to bless us with His acceptance and His pleasure. May He always guide us to the path of repentance and forgiveness, the path that leads eventually to Paradise. All praises are due to Allah, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful, Ever Forgiving, Ever Accepting of repentance. Blessings and Peace be upon Prophet Muhammad, his family and companions. And Peace be with you all.