Reality of Repentance (Tawba)
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
‘Tawba’ or repentance is a part of the all compassing mercies of the Most Merciful Lord. It is one of the avenues of His unbounded indulgence that He has kept always open for His slaves. Had it been closed, no one would have ever attained salvation, such is human inclination towards evil.
The Kind and Wise Lord therefore ordained Tawba (repentance) to be a cure for diseases of the soul and a means of purifying indecent deeds, whereby Tawba can wash away man’s sins so that he can obtain eternal salvation.
Indeed, fortunate is one who appreciates the value of this gate of Divine Mercy, benefits from it and becomes Allah (S.w.T.)’s most beloved slave, and is thankful to Allah (S.w.T.) for His limitless bounties; and highly unfortunate is the one who remains deprived of Divine Mercy even though the paths leading to it are open to him.
On the Day of Judgement (Qiyāma) man will find excuses and say: O My Lord! I was unaware and ignorant; was chained by passions and desires and hence could not remain steadfast in the face of satanic instigations. In reply to these excuses he will be told: Did We not keep the doors of Tawba (repentance) always open for you? Were you entrusted highly difficult tasks and ordered to perform a duty beyond your power? Were the conditions of Tawba beyond your ability?
Reality of Tawba
The Holy Prophet (S) said, “To be ashamed of one’s sins is Tawba.”
Imam Baqir (a.s.) says, “Repenting on one’s deed is enough Tawba.” (al-Kāfi)
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) said, “There is no man who Allah did not forgive who had felt ashamed of his misdeed. Whenever a man feels ashamed of his fault and then begs pardon of Allah He forgives all of his sins.”
Repenting over ones sins with heartfelt remorse is Tawba. Man should understand that Allah (S.w.T.) will be displeased with him if he commits a sin and he should not forget that his Lord is able to see whatever he does. It is like a man who, despite being warned by friends, invests all of his wealth in a bargain and consequently loses everything and becomes bankrupt and then repents. It is also like a sick person who eats something that a doctor had prohibited and, as a result becomes serious. He then gets nothing but disgrace.
Repentance, The cause of giving up of sins
The stronger a person’s faith in the Almighty, Qiyāma (Hereafter), Holy Prophets (a.s.) and the sayings of the Holy Imams (a.s.), the more acute will be his feelings of guilt and for the sins committed, he will bear this feeling of repentance continually in his heart.
Together with a feeling of shame and remorse, Tawba also includes a firm decision to give up sins forever because if a person does not have a strong will to refrain from sins it only indicates that he was not truly ashamed. Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.) says, It cannot so happen that a man has really felt ashamed and yet he did not give up sins.
When a man repents over his misdeeds it is necessary that he should make the utmost effort to keep himself away from sins. If the sin is about non-performance of duties like Salāt (daily prayers), Siyyam (Ramzan fasting), Zakat (poor tax) and Hajj pilgrimage, then, after expressing repentance he should perform Qaa (repeat to make good) of those duties. If the sin was regarding rights of people, like usurping someone’s property or money, then he should return it immediately to the owner, and if the owner is not alive then to his heirs.
If he does not know the heirs of the owner, then he should give away the dues in the path of Allah (S.w.T.) on behalf of the original owner. If he had shown disrespect to someone he should beg pardon of him and should try his best to please him. If the matter involves Diyat or Qasās (blood money or retaliation) he should hand over himself to the concerned person so that he may either take Qasās or blood money, or pardon him, if he so pleases. If the sin involves Hadd or punishment, like Qaaf (wrong allegation against anybody) then he must surrender himself to the authority so that he may be either punished or pardoned.
But if he is loaded with crimes for which Allah (S.w.T.) Himself has fixed punishments, like adultery, then it is not necessary for him to present himself to the Islamic court and to confess. In this case it is enough to merely repent over his sin and to make a firm decision to give up the sin forever and to pray for pardon. If the sins are Greater Sins for which punishment (hadd) is not fixed like listening to songs and music etc., then according to traditions a person should be sincerely repentant and beseech Allah (S.w.T.) to pardon and forgive him.
Once a man came to Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.) and exclaimed loudly: “Astagfirullah”. The Hazrat said, “May your mother mourn you! Do you understand what Istighfar is?”
For the word ‘Istighfar’ to be meaningful a person must first undergo a mental reformation. Which means that he is sorry and shameful about the earlier misdeeds, and has resolved to give up sin forever. He must pay the dues (rights) of others so that when he dies he meets his Lord Almighty without others’ having any claim on him. He must perform all the duties obligatory on him without fail. If his flesh and blood were made up of unlawful earning he should be fearful and worry about the punishments of Hell to such an extent that his body becomes extremely thin and lean and only thereafter it should be rebuilt on lawful food. He must worship Allah (S.w.T.) so much that his body experiences hardships and atones for the unlawful pleasure enjoyed by it.
When these conditions are fulfilled, then you should utter Astaghfirullah.
All religious scholars have agreed that Tawba is obligatory for all sins. Muhaqqiq Tusi (r.a.) writes in his Tajrīd al-Kalām and Allamah Hilli (a.r.) writes in its commentary that Tawba is the means of making up for spiritual losses suffered, and wisdom therefore dictates that Tawba is compulsory.
Allah Almighty says in Surah Nūr’s verse 31: “And turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful.”
He also says in Surah Tahrīm (Ayat:8): “O you who believe! Turn to Allah a (Tawba of Nasūh) sincere turning; maybe your Lord will remove from you your evil and cause you to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow.”
What is Tawba of Nasūh?
Allamah Majlisi, in Sharhe Kāfi, quotes the commentators about meaning of Tawbatan Nasūh:
1. To repent purely and piously in the presence of the Lord. Repentance should not merely be due to a desire of Paradise and fear of Hell, it should be due to a feeling of shame and remorse for not obeying Allah’s commands. Tusi (r.a.) writes in Tajrīd al-Kalam. “It is not Tawba to worry about sins for fear of Hell.”
2. The Tawba should be such that it may serve as a lesson even to others. A person should repent with such sincerity and such persistence that by observing his repentance other sinners may also be inclined towards Tawba. In this way he also becomes a means of guidance for others.
3. Nasīhat (admonition) or advice is like sewing. So the clothing of religion which was torn into pieces because of sins can be stitched by the threads of Tawba. Such repentant people are also called Awliyaullah (Friends of Allah).
4. He should give Nasīhat (admonition) to himself so thoroughly and honestly and perform such a Tawba that all soot of sins may vanish from the walls of his heart. His worship should be so intense that the radiance of Faith removes the darkness of sins totally. He must be so involved in performing good deeds that his bad deeds are fully compensated for.
A great religious scholar says: It is not enough to do Tawba, which would effect only a superficial cleansing of the soul. His worship to Allah (S.w.T.) should be to such an extent and his obedience to Allah (S.w.T.) is implicit, such that his sins are totally obliterated, and his heart and soul is purified with a thorough cleansing. The more his worship the purer will be his heart. A repentant must necessarily look at his past so that each and every sin can be repented for. For instance, if he had enjoyed nonsense songs and maddening music in a dance party he should now pay more and more attention to the recitation of Qur’an, Hadith, religious discourses, sermons etc.
He should regularly recite the holy Qur’an. It must be remembered that the letters (text) of the holy Qur’an must not be touched in a state of impurity. If he had entered a mosque in a state of impurity, he should now sit in Ihtikaf in the Masjid by way of compensation. If he had viewed prohibited scenes earlier now he must try his best to see more and more those things, the seeing of which draws Divine Reward like the text of the holy Qur’an, faces of one’s parents, company of good and pious people. Similarly he should look at the signs of God’s Might and draw wisdom from it. After doing Tawba he must give people their rights. He should spend the better portion of his wealth in the path of Allah (S.w.T.) on the poor and needy. If he has backbited a faithful he must compensate for it by praising his good points. In short, he must try and make up for his misdeeds in whatever manner possible and to whatever extent possible.