The Stages of Repentance (Tawba)
By: Shaheed Ayatullah Abdul Husain Dastghaib Shirazi
Repentance should be Instant
Shaykh Bahai writes in Arbaīn: There is no doubt about Tawba being compulsory because, just as poison destroys man’s body so do sins (destroy his soul). After consuming poison it becomes essential for one to go immediately for treatment to save ones life. Likewise it is compulsory for a sinner to resort to Tawba immediately after sinning so that his Dīn (religion) may not be destroyed. The sinner who delays repentance takes a very big risk. The first risk is that if he continues to remain alive he may indulge in another sin (because a sincere Tawba implies that he has made a firm resolution not to commit that sin again). The second danger is that if death takes him suddenly he will die unrepentant. Allah (S.w.T.) says:
What! do the people of the towns then feel secure from Our punishment coming to them by night while they sleep? What! do the people of the towns feel secure from Our punishment coming to them in the morning while they play? What! do they then feel secure from Allah's plan? But none feels secure from Allah's plan except the people who shall perish. (Surah Al-A’raaf 7:97-99)
Elsewhere He says: And spend out of what We have given you before death comes to one of you, so that he should say: My Lord! Why didst Thy not respite me to a near term, so that I should have given alms and been of the doors of good deeds. And Allah does not respite a soul when its appointed term has come, and Allah is Aware of what you do. (Surah Munāfiqun 63:10-11)
In the explanation of this verse it is said that a man, at the time of his death, tells the angel of death: Please give me just one day’s respite so that I may repent for my sins and be prepared for the journey to the Hereafter. Izrāīl says: The days of your life are now over. The person says: Just give me only an hour’s respite. Comes the reply: Even the moments of your life are over. The door of Tawba is now closed for you.
When a person sins and does not do Tawba, his heart darkens (polluted) as he commits more and more sins the dirt accumulates on his heart. It then becomes a vicious circle, the darkening of the heart leads to further sins, and the sins lead to further darkening of the heart. A stage is finally reached when his heart is irreversibly polluted and cannot be cleansed. Such a heart is referred to in narrations as a black heart.
Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) says, For human hearts nothing is more harmful than a sin. When the mirror of heart becomes black because of sins the blackness covers the entire soul. Then man tumbles down from his original position and gets separated from truth.
According to another tradition he also said, “Such a sinner will not be able to do any good.”
Such a man will not give up sins and hence the wisdom of doing good will be snatched away from him and he will not be able to perform Tawba till his last moment. If he will utter Tawba from his mouth it will remain limited to his lips. His heart will not support his tongue. As it is not a true Tawba it will not prove effective.
Stages of Tawba
Tawba means returning toward God. Repentance can be:
1. Turning from Kufr (unbelief) to Imān (Faith), to come out of a state of doubt into a state of trust and certainty. Similarly to give up Batil (untrue or false) belief and to accept the doctrine of Haqq (Truth).
2. To leave sinfulness and disobedience and to turn towards obedience. To give up opposition and accept obedience.
3. To come out of the uncomfortable atmosphere of sins, erring and to enter the shade of knowing the Lord and then to fulfill the duties of slavery. To give up carelessness and to remember Allah (S.w.T.) more and more. To hate injustice and oppression and to love faithfulness.
Tawba is a must for all. Tawba enhances the stage of a person’s Marefat (recognition) which he can obtain by worship and thanksgiving. Full Marefat cannot be achieved by any amount of worship, thanksgiving etc. The holy Prophet (S) who is the highest of all creation, says, “My Lord! I have not recognised You as is Your right to be recognised. I have not been able to worship You as was Your right to be worshipped.”
Thus even the Holy Prophet (S), despite his eminent position in virtue, the purity of his worship and the abundance of his thankfulness. The Holy Prophet (S) says, “I recite Istighfar seventy times a day.”
The Method and recommended rituals of Tawba
The fires ignited by sins are fierce and there is no running away from them. A sinner should realize that disobedience to Allah (S.w.T.) is showing haughtiness to the Almighty, which brings down Allah (S.w.T.)’s wrath and punishment, and Allah (S.w.T.)’s wrath and punishment are too dreadful to bear, even the earth and sky cannot withstand them. Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.) says,
“The calamities are so severe that they can destroy both the earth and the sky as the heat of this fire cannot be compared with the heat of the worldly fire.”
The Holy Prophet (S) said, “If someone is extracted from the fire of Hell and thrown into a burning oven of this world (this life before death) he will be able to sleep with ease in it. It is not difficult to burn in an oven of this world but the fire of Hell is absolutely intolerable.”
Surely the Might of Your Lord is Great. (Surah Al-Burūj 85:12)
And in Surah Muzzammil, the Lord says, Surely with Us are heavy fetters and a flaming fire and food that chokes and a painful punishment. (Surah Muzzammil 73:12-13)
These Ayats describe the intensity of our Lord’s anger and the harshness of His punishment.
As we have mentioned, Tawba is a sincere feeling of shame and remorse experienced by the heart. The more the grief and sorrow in the heart the nearer the repentant will be to Divine acceptance of Tawba. The greater the sin, the deeper should be the sorrow. A man who has sinned is like a man whose lifetime earnings are burnt away. This realization will create intense grief and restlessness which will enhance the effectiveness of his Tawba.
Tawba is therefore compulsory for a sinner if he wants to save himself from the horrible fate that awaits him. The loss will naturally create intense grief and restlessness. He should weep so much, remembering his sins, and he should continue to beg pardon of Allah (S.w.T.) restlessly so that when his end comes, the angel of death give him good tiding. His tears and entreaties put off the fire of hell.
His crying removes the darkness of his heart.
The Holy Prophet of Allah says, “A repentant becomes like the one who had never sinned; rather, better than him.”
The Almighty Allah says, Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to Him)…
This means that by weeping in fear of Allah (S.w.T.)’s chastisement and by reforming one’s character through good deeds, man can achieve nearness to Allah (S.w.T.). Allah (S.w.T.) is pleased with such an attitude.
Imam Sajjad (a.s.) prays to Almighty Allah, “My Lord! Grant me the Tawfīq of such a repentance which takes me to the point of Your love.” (Sahīfa al-Sajjadiyah)
“My Lord! Make me reach You through Tawba.” (Du’a Abu Hamzah Thumali)
Repentance of Prophets, increase in remorse
Tawba is remorse of the heart. The more the remorse, the more easily sins are pardoned. Therefore, beg more and more pardon. The best course is to ponder over the verses of the Holy Qur’an. Especially read the events of the past prophets like Nuh, Dawūd, Yūnus, Yahya, Ayyub (a.s.). How much they wept while they were not even sinners like us. They wept to attain Allah (S.w.T.)’s nearness and to increase their status. As we have indicated earlier, study the stories of the repentant and obtain lessons therefrom. We shall narrate some such stories at the end of this book.
Perfection of Tawba, Siyyam, Ghusl and Salāt
Before doing Tawba the following should be done:
1. Fasting three days: Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) says, “The one who wants to do Tawbatan-Nasūh should fast on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
2. Ghusl al-Tawba: A man used to enjoy music, songs and dance parties. He was badly accustomed to this evil. One day he approached Imam Riďa (a.) and said: I was madly addicted to song and music. Now I want to repent. Kindly tell me what I should do? The Imam said, “Get up! Take a bath. The holy Prophet (S) has said: There is no one whom Allah did not forgive if that man had made a repentance corresponding to his sins.”
Then he said, “Get up, take a bath and make a as-Sajda (prostration) for Allah.” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
3. To recite two or four rakat Salāt: Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) says, “A man who wants to repent should first perform Wuzu (ablution), then perform two rakats (units) of prayer and then seek pardon from Allah. God forgives him because He has said in the Holy Qur’an thus: “And whosoever does evil or acts unjustly to his soul, then asks forgiveness of Allah, he shall find Allah forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah an-Nisā'’ 4:110)
It is written in Kitab al-Iqbal, that the Holy Prophet (S) used to ask his companions on Sundays of Zilqad, “O people! Who from you wants to do Tawba?”
The companions replied: O Messenger of Allah! All of us want to repent. Then he used to say,
First perform ablution and Ghusl (bath), then offer four rakats of prayer. In every rakat recite Surah Ikhlas thrice, and Muawwazatain (Surah Falaq and Surah Nās) once after Surah Fatiha. Then recite Istighfar seventy times. Finally recite Lā Hawla wa lā Quwwata illa billāhil a’liyyil A’zīm. Then recite a brief Du’a, preferably this:
íÇÚÒíÒ íÇÛÝÇÑ ÇÛÝÑáí ÐäæÈí æÐäæÈ ÌãíÚ ÇáãÄãäíä æÇáãÄãäÇÊ ÝÇäå áÇ íÛÝÑ ÇáÐäæÈ ÇáÇ ÇäÊ
‘Yā A’zīzo, Yā Ghaffāro, Ighfirlī unūbi Wa unūbi Jamī’il Mo-minīna wal Mo-mināt. Innahu lā yaghfiruz unūb illa ant.’
Then he said, “Anyone from my Ummah (community) who does this will hear a voice from the sky that his repentance (Tawba) has been accepted and his/her sins pardoned. An angel in the Arsh (Throne) will say: “Those who were displeased with you (in the worldly life) will be pleased with you on the day of Qiyāma”. Another angel will announce: “O Believing Slave! Your grave will become wide and bright. Another angel will say: Your parents are pleased with you and, due to your performance, they too have entered the Mercy of Allah. Your provision in both this world and the Hereafter will be abundant. Hazrat Jibrīl (a.s.) says: At the moment of your death I will come to you along with Izrāel (the angel of death) and recommend to him to retrieve your soul with ease.”
The companions submitted: O Messenger of Allah! What if somebody performs this deed in any other month? The Holy Prophet (S) said, “Yes, he too will get the reward mentioned by me. These are the words taught to me by Jibrīl during the night of Miraj (ascension).”
Istighfar, Repeated Repentance and the Early Morning Worship
Recitation of Istighfar: and one should recite the supplications taught by the Holy Imams for Tawba, especially the Sahīfa al-Kamilah, particularly its supplication No. 31 that is related to repentance. Similarly its 15th Munajat (prayer) is also regarding Tawba. One must ponder over its meaning and implication and should obtain lessons therefrom, thereby trying to bring conformity between one’s word and deed.
Repeated Repentance and Istighfar
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) said, “The Holy Prophet (S) was reciting Istighfar hundred times a day and was praying for his Maghfirat (salvation) though he had not committed a single sin.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia, Kitabal Jihad)
It is also mentioned by him, “The more one prays for pardoning of his sins the more good deeds will be credited to his account and on the Day of Judgement his deeds will appear shining.” (Usul al-Kāfi)
Imam Riďa (a.s.) says, “The example of Istighfar is like that of a leaf trembling and making noise in the air. The one who recites Istighfar but does not stop sinning makes a mockery of God.” (Usul al-Kāfi)
Imam Ja’far Sadiq (a.s.) says, The Holy Prophet (S) never got up even from the smallest meeting without reciting Istighfar 25 times. (Usul al-Kāfi)
Another Hadith mentions, “The Holy Prophet (S) recited ‘Astahghfirullah Wā tūbo ilaih’ seventy times everyday.”
Saiyyid bin Tawūs, in his book Nahj ud-Dāwāt writes that the Holy Prophet (S) has said that a man who is inflicted by poverty and hardship should recite ‘Astahghfirullah Wā tūbo ilaih’ thirty thousand times. The Lord Almighty will surely end his troubles. The narrator says this has been proved true by experience.
Selecting Morning Hours for Repentance
It is highly beneficial if man repents over his past misdeeds at any time or any place. But if he does so waking up in the last part of the night before daybreak, the effect is miraculous. All sins of the reciter will be pardoned, Insha’Allah.
The Holy Qur’an has ordered at several places for such prayers. Allah (S.w.T.) considers such worshippers as His hallowers and worthy of Paradise. It is mentioned in verse 17-18 of Surah Zariyat, “They used to sleep but little in the night. And in the morning they asked forgiveness.”
The 17th Ayat of Surah Āli- ‘Imran says, “And those who ask forgiveness in the morning times.”
Amir ul-Mu’minīn (a.s.) said that Allah (S.w.T.) says, “Had there not been those who loved My Might and who filled My Mosques and those who worshipped Me for forgiveness in the early hours of the dawn, I would certainly have chastised them.” (Wasa’il ul-Shia)
Hazrat Luqmān tells his son, “My dear son! Is not the cock wiser than you? It wakes up before dawn and asks forgiveness but you remain asleep!” (Mustadrak ul-Wasa’il)
There are many traditions regarding the merits of waking up in the early hours of the morning.
It is preferable (Mustahab) to recite ‘Astahghfirullah’ 70 times and Al A’fwa 300 times in the Qunut of Vatr prayer. Allah Almighty has granted a Praised Position (Maqame Mahmūd) to His dear Prophet and He fulfils every aspiration of a believer through this early awakening. It is said that those who reach a high position reach it only through such early awakening.