بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
الحمد لله، والصلاة والسلام على رسول الله، وبعد:
إِنَّمَا ٱلتَّوۡبَةُ عَلَى ٱللَّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ ٱلسُّوٓءَ بِجَهَـٰلَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ يَتُوبُ ٱللَّهُ عَلَيۡہِمۡۗ وَكَانَ ٱللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَڪِيمًا (١٧) وَلَيۡسَتِ ٱلتَّوۡبَةُ لِلَّذِينَ يَعۡمَلُونَ ٱلسَّيِّـَٔاتِ حَتَّىٰٓ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ ٱلۡمَوۡتُ قَالَ إِنِّى تُبۡتُ ٱلۡـَٔـٰنَ وَلَا ٱلَّذِينَ يَمُوتُونَ وَهُمۡ ڪُفَّارٌۚ أُوْلَـٰٓٮِٕكَ أَعۡتَدۡنَا لَهُمۡ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا (١٨)
Allah accepts only the repentance of those who commit evil ignorantly and recklessly then repent soon after. Allah will forgive them as Allah is All-Knowing, All-Wise. But repentance is not accepted, from those who knowingly continue to do evil deeds, when death faces one of them and then says: "Now I repent!" nor those who die as disbelievers. For them We have prepared a painful punishment. (Quran 4: 17&18)
When it comes to repentance (tawbah), we have the full spectrum of attitudes and practices among people in general and among Muslims in particular. This applies especially to the “if”, “when” and the “how” we seek repentance from Allah Almighty. What, however, remains an absolute is that we all are sinners of different types of bad deeds and in varying degrees, and that we are all in need of regularly and consistently repenting to Allah (SWT). As believers, we have no choice but to follow the example of our beloved Prophet Muhammd (may Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him) in this regard; indeed we are in more need of it than he was (SAW) for verily Allah, Most Merciful, had pardoned him of all sins.
It was the sunnah (practice) of the Messenger of Allah (SAW) to constantly turn to Allah (SWT) and beg for His forgiveness on a daily basis. In fact, as we indicated before, repentance to Allah and seeking His pardon is obligatory and required on a continuous basis. This has been firmly established and emphasized by the plethora of Quranic ayaat and hadiths. The benefits of consistently repenting to Allah Almighty include being in obedience to Allah and His Messenger (SAW), who desire nothing but good for us and direct us to the path of felicity and success. In so doing, we would also be following the perfect example of the Prophet (SAW), who was the most obedient slave of Allah and the closest to Him, and the most concious and informed of all people. Most poignantly, he showed us the way to live a full and complete spiritual life, and fulfill the purpose of our existence in this world, may Allah’s Peace and Blessings be upon him and his family.
The Messenger of Allah (SAW) is reported to have said: "By Allah, I seek Allah's forgiveness and repent to Him more than seventy times a day." (al-Bukhari), and "O people, turn in repentance to Allah and seek his forgiveness, for I turn to Him in repentance a hundred times a day" (Muslim). Therefore, all we need to do is find a small window (or a few smaller ones) during the day, like after the daily prayers and when one gets up and goes to bed, etc., and repeat 70 or a 100 times, in the way the Prophet (SAW) did, saying:
أستغفر الله وأتوب إليه
(astaghfirullaha wa-atoobu ilayh)
I seek Allah's forgiveness and repent to Him.
And if for any reason you need an easier formula, then simply repeat:
I seek Allah's forgiveness.
Where we as human beings and Muslims do differ, though, is when it comes to sinning and repenting, as stated earlier. In the above ayah from Surat al-Nisa (4:17), Allah (SWT) reiterates that sins are committed due to jahaalah / جهالة (literally: ignorance), or being in some state of heedlessness that results in succumbing to disobedience and falling prey to Satan’s snares and ploys. Thus, those who truly obey Allah are considered as being informed and know that He, the Most Majestic and All-Powerful, alone is ever worthy of reverence and submission, and that they would not want to displease Him. They accordingly abandon the bad action(s) and return to Allah (SWT) promptly and in all humility, fearing the consequences.
On the other hand, the person that acts “recklessly” is behaving as if they are only thinking of fulfilling their worldly and immediate sensual desires and forgetting about their duty to Allah and the reward He has reserved for them. And, if that person knows that Allah will forgive them, but delays their repentance “until towards the end of their lives”, then this attitude is described as “compounded ignorance” (jahl murakkab / جهل مركّب ). Such a person is described as being like a hungry person who consumes poison to suppress their immediate need, and then hopes to administer the antidote after; this is done only by an ignoramus! May Allah protect us.
A true and sincere believer seeks Allah’s pardon immediately and regularly. In explaining “soon after” (4:17), the Companion Ibn Abbas (RAA) said that “repentance must be done before sickness and death”. This proves that repentance is better while one is healthy and has the capacity to do good AND bad deeds. This is also why Allah (SWT) in many places in the Quran mentions together tawbah and acting righteously. Some have compared seeking repentance when sick or dying to giving charity when a terminal illness befalls the rich person - when they have abandoned hope of living and do not have many choices. Giving preference to obedience over disobedience for fear of the consequences and hoping for receiving Allah’s pleasure and reward is certainly, when one is enjoying the blessings of life, wealth and health, better and more praiseworthy than when one is in a desperate predicament.
It is said that Bishr al-Hafi (RA), while sick once, was asked why he was not seeking repentance? He responded by saying that he will surely do so after Allah’s healing comes to him, if He wills, preferring to do so when well rather than when ill. He then added: “Do you not know that kings do not accept surrender from a captive whose limbs and neck are in chains; surrender is only given to one who is riding on his horse with a naked sword in his hand!”
Allah Almighty has, moreover, equated tawbah at the end of life (4:18, see above) to having already left this world without seeking repentance. Scholars have described this particular time at the terminal stage as the “lifting of the veil, and the recognition of the Angel of Death and of the signs of the Afterlife”. This is when iman (belief), repentance and all deeds are of no avail; these are only effective when the signs of the Afterlife are unseen. Hasan al-Basri (RA) said; “Tawbah is an option for the child of Adam, but only before death removes the soul”. Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (RAA), the Companion, is reported to have said that: “When the dying person sees the Angel of Death, their cognitive abilities (al-ma’rifah / المعرفة ) is lost”. They, therefore, are denied true tawbah as they experience mental incapacity and confusion, and sincere regret and determination (conditions for tawbah) cannot be envisaged at this point. And Allah knows best.
Yet, we must remain hopeful as long as Allah Almighty has given us life. And we must live as Muslims in a way that will not end, in the words of Hasan al-Basri (RAA), in “the pangs of death accompanied by the overwhelming anguish of missed opportunities”, or what we now popularly call ‘the fear of missing out (FOMO)’. Allah (SWT) invites us to prepare to meet Him in the most desirable manner with repentance and good deeds, and to avoid regrets and remorse:
قُلۡ يَـٰعِبَادِىَ ٱلَّذِينَ أَسۡرَفُواْ عَلَىٰٓ أَنفُسِهِمۡ لَا تَقۡنَطُواْ مِن رَّحۡمَةِ ٱللَّهِۚ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ يَغۡفِرُ ٱلذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًاۚ إِنَّهُۥ هُوَ ٱلۡغَفُورُ ٱلرَّحِيمُ . وَأَنِيبُوٓاْ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكُمۡ وَأَسۡلِمُواْ لَهُۥ مِن قَبۡلِ أَن يَأۡتِيَكُمُ ٱلۡعَذَابُ ثُمَّ لَا تُنصَرُونَ . وَٱتَّبِعُوٓاْ أَحۡسَنَ مَآ أُنزِلَ إِلَيۡكُم مِّن رَّبِّڪُم مِّن قَبۡلِ أَن يَأۡتِيَڪُمُ ٱلۡعَذَابُ بَغۡتَةً وَأَنتُمۡ لَا تَشۡعُرُونَ . أَن تَقُولَ نَفۡسٌ يَـٰحَسۡرَتَىٰ عَلَىٰ مَا فَرَّطتُ فِى جَنۢبِ ٱللَّهِ وَإِن كُنتُ لَمِنَ ٱلسَّـٰخِرِينَ . أَوۡ تَقُولَ لَوۡ أَنَّ ٱللَّهَ هَدَٮٰنِى لَڪُنتُ مِنَ ٱلۡمُتَّقِينَ . أَوۡ تَقُولَ حِينَ تَرَى ٱلۡعَذَابَ لَوۡ أَنَّ لِى ڪَرَّةً فَأَكُونَ مِنَ ٱلۡمُحۡسِنِينَ . بَلَىٰ قَدۡ جَآءَتۡكَ ءَايَـٰتِى فَكَذَّبۡتَ بِہَا وَٱسۡتَكۡبَرۡتَ وَكُنتَ مِنَ ٱلۡكَـٰفِرِينَ .
Say: "O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah, for Allah certainly forgives all sins. Truly, He is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful (53) And turn to your Lord in repentance and submit to Him, before the punishment comes upon you, for then you will not be helped. (54) And follow the best of that which is sent down to you from your Lord (the Quran), before the punishment comes on you suddenly while you are unaware! (55) So that no soul should say: ‘Woe to me that I was undutiful to Allah while being among those who mocked.’ (56) Or that it will say: ‘If only Allah had guided me, I would indeed have been one of the righteous.’ (57) Or say, when it sees the torment: ‘If only I had a second chance, then I would be one of the good-doers.’ (58) Not at all! My signs had already come to you, but you rejected them, acted arrogantly and were one of the disbelievers.”(59) (Quran 39:53-59)
May Allah, the Most Merciful and Ever-Loving, protect us and our loved ones. May we be blessed by the Light of the Glorious Quran and the Noble Sunnah, and to follow its guidance. May Allah grant us the benefit of its teachings and wisdom. May He bestow on us Divine assistance in fulfilling our duties and achieving Divine success. May Allah accept our repentance and give us long, productive lives, submitting always to His will. And may He allow us to die as believers, with the words of the shahadah (testimony of faith) on our tongues. Ameen, O Lord of the Universe.