Repentance (Tawbah) in Islam

The word Tawbah (Repentance) in Arabic literally means ‘to return’. In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what God 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 central to Islamic belief as well. It is mentioned in the Qur’an.

“… and turn you all together in repentance to Allah O believers, that you may be successful” An-Noor (24:31)

In Surah al-Baqarah, it is written:

“Surely Allah loves those who turn unto him in repentance and loves those who purify themselves.” (2:222)

The importance of repentance to God has also been stressed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad, when he said

“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.”

The essence of tawbah is to return to God and to adhere to what He loves and renounce that which He dislikes. Tawbah is seen as a journey from the disliked to the liked.

The word tawbah is like the word taqwa, in the sense that the latter is used sometimes in a specific sense where it means, “immediately stopping from disobeying God or carrying out an obligation”. However, the meaning of taqwa is more general.

praying begging asking forgivenessRepentance only to God

Muslims do not view any human being as being infallible; they believe that infallibility belongs to Allah alone. Therefore they believe that the only source for forgiveness for a human is Allah. Muslims deny the authority of men to listen to another person’s confessions and then pronounce him forgiven of his sin. Islam does not have a priest class. This has meant that the connection between Allah and man has always been a direct one. Likewise repenting to anyone besides Allah is forbidden. In the Qur’an it is stated:

“Verily, those you call upon besides Allah, are only servants like yourselves.”( al-araaf(7):194)

God’s Mercy

Muslims view Allah as being infinitely merciful. At the beginning of every chapter (except one) of the Qur’an the verses “In the name of Allah, the beneficent, the merciful” will be found. In another saying Muhammad has mentioned that the mercy of Allah supersedes his wrath. It is also mentioned in the Qur’an:

“Say: O my slaves who have transgressed against themselves! Despair not for the mercy of Allah, verily Allah forgives all sins. truly he is oft forgiving, most merciful.” Az-Zumar (39:53)

Again, Allah says to the believers in a Hadith–ul-Qudsi.

“O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me, and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.”

Responsibility

At the same time Islam also expects the Muslims to be aware of their own sins. Ibn Mas’ood, a Muslim scholar, is reported to have said:

“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).”

Islam rejects the idea of original sin, nor does it subscribe to the philosophy of one man carrying another’s burden. Each individual will be held accountable for his or her own actions on Yaum al-Qiyamah (day of judgment). Before that day occurs however, an individual should constantly seek forgiveness from God and work to rectify the faults one finds within oneself. It is for this reason that Muhammad said

“Allah accepts the repentance of His servant, so long as death has not reached his collar bone.”

He also stated:

“O people! Turn to Allah in repentance and seek His forgiveness, for surely I make repentance a hundred times every day.”

“One who repents from sin is like one without sin.”

Muslims believe that forgiveness for one’s sins is not something that comes automatically; it is something that must be sought sincerely and with true devotion. It is only through Allah‘s mercy that one can hope to enter Paradise. Muhammad advised:

“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.”

Therefore in Islam, salvation rests on faith (which includes), good actions and hope in God‘s mercy. Furthermore, it is only Allah who can forgive our sins and He is not in need of any intercessor.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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