Penitence and Crying for Mercy
Source: Ain-al-Hayat, By: Allama Muhammad Baqir Majlisi
For the people of the Faith of Prophet Muhammad (S), Allah has termed penitence (Tawbah) as a major Bounty or Endowment. He has made the task easier by allowing it to be routed through Muhammad and his Holy Progeny (as). The process of penitence and cries for mercy (Tawbah wa astaghfar) for the people of the earlier prophets had to pass through a very difficult route.
Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) narrates that the Prophet of Allah (S) has said, “If a person plans to do a good act and, for some reason is not able to do it, even then Allah will enter it in the account of his good deeds! If the person performs one good deed, ten are entered in his account! When a person plans a foul deed, it will not be entered to his account till has has practically committed it! Then Allah asks the angels for awaiting expression of penitence (Tawbah wa astaghfar) by the sinner and when he performs some good deed, it is accounted in place of the sin he had committed.”
Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) says, “It is better a person abstains from sinning. But Allah considers such sinners his friends who do penitence and cry for mercy (Tawbah wa astaghfar) for their faults.”
Penitence from Sinning
Imam Muhammad Al-Baqir (as) says that Allah sent a Revelation to Prophet Dawood (as), “O Dawood (as)! Go to Daniel (as), My Creation, and tell him that he had been disobedient to Me. I forgave him, he again transgressed, I pardoned him! Warn him that if he transgressed a fourth time, I shall not forgive him!” When Prophet Dawood (as) conveyed this message to Prophet Daniel (as), he said, “O Prophet of Allah (as)! You have conveyed the message form Allah, the Creator! You have fulfilled your duty.” When it was dawn, Daniel (as) got busy in his supplications. He said, “O Allah! Your Prophet Dawood (as) conveyed Your Orders to me! By your Greatness and Majesty! If You don’t prevent me from sinning, I shall sin the more!”
It is narrated by an authentic source that the Prophet (S) has said, “If a person is penitent one year prior to his death, he will be pardoned.” Then he said, “One year is too long a period, if the person expresses penitence for his sins one-month prior to his demise, he shall be pardoned!” Again the Prophet (S) said, “One month too is a long period, if he is penitent a week before his death, the person will get forgiveness!” The prophet (S) again uttered, “One week is rather much, if the person expresses his regret for the sins a day before his death, he will be pardoned!” Finally the Prophet (S) said, “One day too is a longtime, if the sinner is penitent before witnessing the events of the Day of Judgement, he will be pardoned!”
It is said that as there is a remedy for pains and aches, so is there a remedy for sins in penitence and crying for forgiveness (Tawbah wa astaghfar).
Prophet Imam Ja’far As-Sadiq (as) says that a person commits a sin and then expresses penitence after a lapse of twenty years. His penitence is accepted and he is pardoned. An infidel forgets about his sins as soon as he commits them.” Then the Imam (as) said, “Whoever says ‘Astaghfar Allah’ everyday his seven hundred sins will be pardoned. By Allah, although it is not humanly possible to commit seven hundred sins during the span of a day!” The Imam (as) also added, “Prophet ‘Isa (as) passed through a place where a group of people were busy lamenting and crying. He asked someone the reason of the sorrow of those people. They said,’ The people are penitent over their past sins!’ The Imam (as) said,’ They must instead stop sinning to deserve Pardon from Allah’”
The Prophet of Allah (S) has said, “No person is closer to Allah than the one who was a sinner and had expressed penitence over his past acts!”
Amir’ul-Mu’mineen ‘Ali (as) said, “I wonder at the person who loses hope in the Munificence of Allah. It is the person who has the means to erase the sins!” Someone asked, “O Master! What is it?” Amir’ul-Mu’mineen ‘Ali (as) replied, “Crying for forgiveness! “Perfume oneself with penitence and cries for forgiveness (Tawbah wa istafghar) that the foul smell of sins does not pervade you.”
It is narrated that Maaz bin Jabl went to the presence of the Prophet (S) and started crying. The Prophet (S) asked about the reason of his crying. Maaz cried the more and said, ‘At the threshold of the mosque there is a handsome youth who is crying as if he has lost a son! He wishes to come to your presence!’ the Prophet (S) said, “Bring him along to me.” When the youth came to the Prophet (S) and greeted him, the Prophet (S) asked him the reason for his crying. The youth said, “Why shouldn’t one cry whose only sin is sufficient ground for consigning him to the Hell?” The Prophet (S) asked the youth, “Have you termed anyone a partner to Allah?” The youth said, “No!” The Prophet (S) then said, “Allah will forgive your sin even if it is as huge as a mountain!” The youth said, “My sin is larger than any mountain!”
The Prophet (S) said, “Allah will pardon your sin even if it is greater than the earth and all that is contained in it!” The youth said, “O Prophet of Allah (S)! My sin is even greater than that!” The Prophet (S) said, “Allah will forgive your sin even if it is greater than the entire universe and all its contents!” The youth continued to cry and said, “My sin is much more than all that!” The Prophet (S) got angry and said, “Tell me! Allah is Great or your sins are great?” The youth started rolling on the floor in shame and penitence. He said, “O Prophet of Allah (S)! My Allah is the Greatest! But my sin is sufficient for His punishing me!” The Prophet (S) said,’ Tell me, what is your sin?”
The youth said, “For seven years I committed thefts of the shrouds of the dead from their graves. Yesterday a pretty girl died. As usual I dug up her fresh grave by night and removed the shroud from her body. I had gone a little distance when I was empowered by the Satan. I thought why I should leave such a pretty body. Therefore I returned to the grave and committed copulation with the cadaver. I must have gone a little distance after the foul act that a voice said,’ O ill-fated brute! What have you done! When we both go to the Presence of Allah on the Day of Judgement, I shall be in this unclean condition! Allah will inflict on you the worst Retribution!”
The Prophet (S), after hearing this, stood up and told to his companions, “Remove this transgressor from my sight lest the lightning of retribution burns us along with him!” The youth left the presence of the Prophet (S) and hopelessly wandered in the hills of Medina. For full forty days he expressed intense penitence and cried for forgiveness. He cried and appealed to Allah that if his penitence deserved pardon, He must send a Revelation to the Prophet (S) about it. The Revelation came to the Prophet (S), “O Muhammad (S)! My creature came to you and expressed his penitence and cried for forgiveness! You sent him away d’Isappointed! Where would he go in appeal! Who can pardon him but Me!” Then a verse was revealed, the purport of which was that “those who are penitent of their sins and don’t perpetuate sins again, the pardon of such persons is the concern of their Creator.” When this verse was revealed, the Prophet (S) smiled, came out of his house, and inquired about the whereabouts of the youth, whose name was Bahlool.
The Prophet (S) approached Bahlool along with his companions and found him crying inconsolably and saying, “O Sustainer Allah! I am a penitent sinner! O Munificent Allah! If you have Kindness on me, communicate Your Pardon to me through the mouth of your Prophet (S)!” The Prophet (S) went near him and held his hands. Then he communicated to Bahlool the good news of his Pardon. Bahlool’s life thereafter was one of great piety.
Therefore, the sinners should know that it is never too late to mend. Penitence with the resolve not to sin again can be the cause of one’s Deliverance!
Types Of Sins
The sins from which the believers must express penitence are:
The First Type
They are the sins that have no punishment prescribed other than the Retribution on the Day of Reckoning. The example of such sins is men wearing raiment made out of silk. It is sufficient that the person is penitent and shuns use of the dress for the rest of his life.
The Second Type
These are the sins for which there is retribution in the Hereafter and punishment in this world too. For some of these sins the person has either to free a slave or give alms to the poor and deserving in addition to expressing penitence for the sin committed. There are certain Rights of Allah (Huqooq Allah), for the transgression of which there are Juristic (Sharaee) punishments prescribed. For example, if a person has taken intoxicating beverages. Till the Jurist (Hakim al-Shara) doesn’t know about his act, the person has to approach him to confess his sin and express his penitence. But it is better he abstains from revealing his act and silently expresses his penitence to Allah.
If in his sin, he has deprived men of their rights, he must first make amends for that. If there is no monetary rights of others involved in his act but he has encouraged some other person(s) to emulate him in committing the sin, then he should make efforts to set the person(s) right. Then he should express his penitence. If, while committing the sin he has become liable for Qasaas (punishment for causing physical injury), all the jurists agree that he must first inform those who have a right for the qasaas. He must tell them that he is liable to be executed or pay the Qasaas.
The persons who have the right for the Qasaas have the option to pardon or to charge the man. Then the sinner should express his penitence and take an oath to refrain from such act in the future. The sins for which the Sharia has prescribed punishment, for example, the sin of abusing someone, the subject of such abuse has the right either to punish the person or pardon him. If the subject doesn’t know about the abuses heaped on him, some jurists opine that the perpetrator of the abuses should not inform the person and quietly express his penitence over the act.
The jurists say that the prescriptions for the punishments are there irrespective of whether penitence expressed by the sinner or not. If these conditions are not fulfilled, there will be Retribution in the Hereafter. Some traditions indicate that fulfillment of these Juridical conditions are the precursors of the pardon for the sinner in the Hereafter. Complete penitence is total abstinence from the sin for the rest of the life of the person.
Amir’ul-Mu’mineen ‘Ali (as) says, “A person said ‘astaghfar Allah’ in the presence of the Prophet (S). The Prophet (S) said, ‘What do you know about asking forgiveness (astaghfar)? The Astaghfar has six parts to its meaning:
First: penitence over the past sins,
Second: firm commitment to Allah for not sinning again,
Third: Paying the rights of people from one’s own assets,
Fourth: Fulfilling the mandatory duties that were not performed in the past,
Fifth: Shedding the weight that was gained during the period one was sinning,
Sixth: Busying oneself in prayers with the same intensity with which the person indulged in the acts of sin.
One should say ‘Astghfar Allah’ if he abides by these conditions.”