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The word Tawbah(Repentance) in Arabic literally means 'to return'. In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allah has prohibited and returning to what He has commanded.
The subject of repentance is one which concerns all people who believe in God, and is vital one for the Muslims to understand because our salvation in the hereafter is dependent on our repentance to Allah, as is shown by Allah's order: Â«"And turn you all together in repentence to Allah O Believers, that you may be successful." Â»[Qur'an, Chapter 24: Verse 31]
In the Quran, Allah also tells us: Â«"Surely Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentence and loves those who purify themselves."Â» [Qur'an, Chapter 2: Verse 222]
This shows how pleasing our repenting is to Allah. Also, the Prophet, (peace be upon him) gave us an example of just how pleasing to Allah our repenting is. In an authentic hadith (saying of the Prophet) he said: â"Allah is more delighted with the repentance of His servant than one of you would be, who suddenly finds his camel laden with supplies after losing it in a barren land"â (1)
Try to imagine your joy if you were to suddenly retrieve everything you ever possessed after losing all hope of recovering what you had lost. Then think that Allah's delight is even greater than this when His slave repents to Him. So much so, that if man stopped repenting to Allah, Allah would replace us with another creation that would turn to Him for forgiveness. The Prophet PBUH said: â"If you did not commit sins, Allah would sweep you out of existence and replace you by another people who would commit sins, ask for Allah's forgiveness and He would forgive them."â (2)
The problem with many of us today is that we don't fear Allah, which means that we don't think twice about disobeying Him and therefore falling into sin. So perhaps we should think about the statement which Ibn Mas'ood (3) made: "A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain which he is afraid may fall on him, whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose and he just drives them away like this (and he moved his hand over his nose in illustration)." (4)
Someone might say, 'I want to repent but my sins are too many.' But Allah says in the Qur'an:Â« "O My salves who have transgressed agaisnt themselves! Despair not for the Mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. Truly He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful." Â»[Qur'an, Chapter 39: Verse 53]
Therefore, we should never lose hope or stop asking for Allah's forgiveness. Its importance is shown to us in a hadeeth in which the Prophet PBUH said:
â "O people! Turn to Allaah in repentance and seek His forgiveness, for surely I make repentance a hundred times every day." â(5)
Repentance is such a great act of worship that doing it can totally erase our sins altogether, as the Prophet PBUH said: â"One who repents from sin is like one without sin."â (6)
Only Allah can forgive sins
Forgiveness for our sins is not something that comes automatically; it is something that must be sought sincerely and with consciousness. Also we should remember that it is only through Allah's Mercy that anyone will ever enter Paradise. The Prophet PBUH advised:â "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and rejoice, for no one's good deeds will put him in Paradise." The Companions asked, "Not even you O Messenger of Allah?" He replied. "Not even me unless Allah bestows His pardon and mercy on me."â (7)
Therefore in Islam, salvation rests on faithm good actions and hope in Allah's mercy, all combined in truly unique manner which is not found in any other religion or system.
Furthermore, it is only Allah who can forgive our sins and He is not in need of any intercessor. The proof for this is in a du'a (supplication) which the Prophet PBUH taught his closest companion Abu Bakr(8): â"O Allah, truly I have wronged myself and none can forgive sins except you." â(9)
Therefore it is a complete waste of time asking forgiveness from the people such as "saints", pious people or even the Prophet PBUH himself. Allah says in reply to people who do such things: Â«"Verily, those you call besides Allah are only slaves like yourselves."Â» [Qur'an, Chapter 7: Verse 194]
It is important that we never despair of Allah's Mercy. No sin is too great to repent for -or too little for that matter. As one of the salaf(pious predecessors) said: "Do not look at the insignifance of your sins, but consider the greatness of The One you are disobeying." (10)
1. Narrated by Anas and collected in the hadith collection of Sahih Bukhari (Eng. trans. vol.8 p.214 no.321) & Sahih Muslim (Eng. trans. vol.4 p.1434 no.6611)
2. Marrated by Abu Ayyoob & Abu Hurayrah & collected by Sahih Muslim (Eng. trans. vol.4 pp.1436-7 nos.6620-2).
3. ABDULLAAH IBN MAS'OOD (d. 32H) was one of the earliest six to embrace Islam. Amongst the virtuous things that the Prophet PBUH said about him, was his saying: â"Affirm that which Ibn Mas'ood informs you." â[Saheeh -Ahmad & Others].
4. Collected in Sahih Bukhari (Eng. trans. vol.8 p.214 no.320).
5. Reported by al-Aghaar ibn Yasaar & collected in Sahih Muslim (Eng. trans. vol.4 p.1418 no.6523).
6. Hasan -Reported by Abu 'Ubaidah ibn 'Abdullaah & collected by Ibn Majah Authenticated by al-Albani
7. Reported by Abu Hurayrah & Aisha & collected in Sahih Bukhari (Eng. trans. vol.8 p.315 no.474).
8. All of Ahl-us-Sunnah are agreed on the fact that Abu Bakr was the most superior amongst all the companions. The Prophet said â"There is no one of greater help to me than Abu Bakr & he assisted me with his person, his property & he married his daughter to me." â [Hasan- at-Tabaraanee]. He was appointed Caliph after the death of the Prophet & died two years after him at the age of 63.
9. The full text of this du'a can be found in Sahih Bukhari (vol.1 p.442 no.776), Sahih Muslim (vol.4 pp.1419-20 no.6533), at-Tirmidhee & Ibn Majah.
10. Collected in al-Baihaqee's 'Sh'abul Eemaan' (5/430).
AHL US-SUNNAH WAL JAMAA'AH: A title used by the people who hold firmly to the example and teachings of the Prophet in the way of the companions of the Prophet and their sucessors. It is a name which distinguishes the people of truth from the people of innovation.
HASAN: Good; an authentic hadeeth -not as good as a 'sahih' hadith, but neverless authentic.
SAHIH: Authentic; the highest category of authenticity of hadeeth.