Repentance (Tawbah ) means that one feels regret and filled with remorse for his or her sins, turns to Allah with the intention to obey Him. According to truth-seeking scholars, repentance signifies a sincere effort to no longer oppose the Divine Essence in one’s feelings, thoughts, intentions, and acts, and to comply sincerely with His commands and prohibitions. Repentance does not mean being disgusted with what is bad or prohibited and thus no longer engaging in it; rather, it means remaining aloof from whatever Allah hates and prohibits, even if it seems agreeable to sense and reason.
Repentance is usually used with Nasuh, literally meaning pure, sincere, reforming, improving, and repairing. Tawbah Nasuh (genuine repentance) means a pure, sincere repentance that perfectly reforms and improves the one who feels it. One who feels such a sincere, heartfelt, and true remorse for the sin committed seeks to abandon it, thereby setting a good example for others. The Qur’an points to this when it mentions true repentance: [O you who believe! Turn to God in true, sincere repentance.] (At-Tahrim 66: 8).
Categories of Repentance
There are three categories of repentance which are as follows:
- The repentance of those who cannot discern Divine truths. Such people are uneasy about their disobedience to Allah and, conscious of the sinfulness clouding their hearts, turn toward Allah in repentance saying, for example: “I have fallen or committed a sin. Forgive me, or I ask for Allah’s forgiveness.”
- Those half-awakened to Divine truths beyond veils of material existence, who feel an inward pang of sinfulness and remorse right after thinking or doing anything incompatible with the consciousness of always being in Allah’s presence, or after every instance of heedlessness enveloping their hearts, and who immediately take refuge in the mercy and favor of Allah. Such people are described in the following Hadith: “One who sincerely repents of his sin is as if he had never committed it. When Allah loves one of His servants, his sins do not harm him. Then he recited the verse: ‘Assuredly, Allah loves the oft-repentant and those who always seek to purify themselves.’”
- Those who live such a careful life that, their eyes sleep but their hearts do not, their hearts are awake. Such people immediately discard what-ever intervenes between Allah and their hearts and other innermost faculties, and regain the consciousness of their relation to the Light of Lights. They always manifest the meaning of: [How excellent a servant! Truly he was ever turning in contrition (to his Lord)] (Sad 38: 44).
Repentance means regaining one’s essential purity after every spiritual defilement, and engaging in frequent self-renewal.
Stages of Repentance
- Feeling sincere remorse and regret.
- Being frightened whenever one remembers past sins.
- Trying to eradicate injustice and support justice and right.
- Reviewing one’s responsibilities and performing obligations previously neglected.
- Reforming oneself by removing spiritual defects caused by deviation and error
- Regretting and lamenting the times when one did not mention or remember Allah, or thank Him and reflect on His works. Such people are always apprehensive and alert so that their thoughts and feelings are not tainted by things that intervene between themselves and Allah. (This last quality is particular to people distinguished by their nearness to Allah.)
If one does not feel remorse, regret, and disgust for errors committed, whether great or small; if one is not fearful or apprehensive of falling back into sin at any time; and if one does not take shelter in sincere servanthood to Allah in order to be freed from deviation and error into which one has fallen by moving away from God, any resulting repentance will be no more than a lie.
A Muslim should cry:
I’m sorry for the mistakes I make.
And, I know of none that can be retrieved.
They’re like the water over a dam.
To flow back, it cannot be achieved.
There are things I wish I had never said.
Now, I wish that I had bit my tongue instead.
To make another feel that pain,
For those thoughtless words, I am disdain.
Repentance is an oath of virtue, and holding steadfastly to it requires strong willpower. The lord of the penitents, peace and blessings be upon him, says that one who repents sincerely and holds steadfastly to it has achieved the rank of a martyr, while the repentance of those who cannot free themselves from their sins and deviations, although they repent repeatedly, mocks the door toward which the truly repentant ones turn in utmost sincerity and resolution.
One who continues to sin after proclaiming a fear of Hell, who does not engage in righteous deeds despite self-proclaimed desires for Paradise, and who is indifferent to the Prophet’s way and practices despite assertions of love for the Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, cannot be taken seriously. This is also the case with one who claims to be sincere and pure-hearted, but spends his or her life oscillating between sin and repentance.
An initiate’s first station is repentance, while the second is Inabah (sincere penitence). While repentance requires the training of feelings, thoughts, and acts in order to move them from opposition to acceptance and obedience, sincere penitence demands a critique of the authenticity, sincerity, and sufficiency of that acceptance and obedience. Repentance is a progressing or journeying toward Allah—that is, seeking to do what is pleasing to Allah and refraining from what is forbidden by Him. Sincere penitence is striving to live an upright life so that one may seek Allah’s pleasure in all actions and thoughts.