All of us are sinful. We commit sins and don’t even realise how we are suffering from their consequences. Our sins are not just between us and Allah. They directly impact our families, communities and, ultimately, the entire Ummah. Sins take us far away from Allah and incur His anger and punishment. Sins remove barakah and weaken the heart and the body. Sins deprive us from doing good deeds, prevent our duʿās from being accepted, result in a horrible death and lead to suffering in the hereafter.
Ibn al-Jawzī (raḥimahullāh) said, “Sins are like a chain around the neck of the sinner. One can only be released from it through istighfār (seeking forgiveness) and tawbah (repentance).”
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Indeed, when the servant commits a sin, a black dot appears on his heart. When he desists, seeks forgiveness and repents, his heart is polished clean. But if he commits a sin again, it increases until it covers his heart. And that is the ‘rān’ (rust) which Allah mentioned: ‘No indeed! Rather what they have been doing has rusted their hearts (83:14)’” (Tirmidhī).
Sins can seal the heart to the extent that one’s heart becomes numb and no longer accepts any reminder or any form of good. This can lead to one becoming desensitised and not considering a sin as a sin. Sins are the biggest obstacles in our journey to Allah. Sins ruin the heart and make it diseased. Just like a sick person cannot enjoy food, the diseased heart cannot enjoy the sweetness of worship and īmān. The reason why our hearts may feel hollow, or our worship may feel ‘empty’ is due to our sins. Thus, istighfār has to be an essential part of our lives.
“Whoever does not feel contentment of the heart and cannot experience the sweetness of īmān and the light of guidance, then he should increase in repenting and seeking forgiveness.” – Ibn Taymiyyah (raḥimahullāh)
Just as we must make istighfār for our sins, we must also ask Allah to forgive the deficiencies in our worship and good deeds. We can never fulfil the rights of Allah and worship Him as He deserves to be worshipped.
A Sincere Tawbah
Tawbah (repentance) is the hallmark of the believer: truly turning with one’s heart to Allah, and humbly apologising to Him.
Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says, “O believers! Turn to Allah in sincere repentance, so your Lord may erase your sins and admit you into Gardens, under which rivers flow…” (66:8).
For tawbah to be sincere, we have to:
- stop committing the sin;
- feel a deep sense of regret and remorse over the sin;
- firmly resolve to never return to that sin;
- make amends if we have wronged another person (e.g. ask their forgiveness or supplicate for them).
We should reflect on all the sins we have committed throughout our lives. We should feel very bad at having sinned, and we should reflect on our negligence in worshipping Allah. We should think over how Kind and Generous Allah is to us, and how we use these very same blessings to disobey Him. We should think about how Allah al-Sittīr (The Concealer of sins) does not expose us despite the multitude of our sins. This should fill our hearts with a deep sense of shame and remorse.
The scholars have mentioned that a sincere tawbah can make a sin the means for a person to enter Paradise. A person may commit a sin, but subsequently makes tawbah. His tawbah is so sincere that he constantly thinks about the sin. This causes him to fear it, regret it, weep over it and feel ashamed in front of his Lord due to it. He stands before Allah, broken-hearted with his head lowered in humility. He constantly begs and cries to Him in duʿā, and he tries to atone for the sin by doing other good deeds — to the extent that Shayṭān says, “I wish I had not made him fall into that sin”. Thus, this one sin becomes the cause for him entering Paradise.
Tawbah is a gift from Allah. We can only make tawbah if Allah allows us to do so (tawfīq). Allah turns towards us first, after which we turn to Him in repentance; and then He accepts our repentance. Allah says,
ثُمَّ تَابَ عَلَيْهِمْ لِيَتُوْبُوٓا إِنَّ اللهَ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيْمُ
“…Then He turned towards them, so that they may repent. Surely, Allah is the Acceptor of repentance, the Very Merciful” (9:118).
Sometimes Shayṭān may delude us into thinking that we still have time, and that we will make tawbah in the latter part of our lives. However, there is no guarantee for life. We should make tawbah today, so that we do not regret it when it is too late. It has been said that if the deceased in the grave were able to communicate with us, they would tell us that their greatest desire would be to be able to return to the world, even for a fraction of a moment, and make sincere tawbah to Allah (ʿazza wa jall).
“The best day in a servant’s life is undoubtedly the day in which he turns to Allah in repentance, and Allah accepts His repentance” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
Allah Loves to Forgive
There is no one who forgives like Allah. No matter what we may have done, Allah is waiting for us to turn to Him with sincerity and humility, and beg Him to forgive us. He is al-Ghafūr (The All-Forgiving) and al-Ghaffār (The Most Forgiving). He (ʿazza wa jall) says, “Say, (O Prophet, that Allah says,): O My servants who have transgressed against their souls! Do not lose hope in Allah’s mercy, for Allah certainly forgives all sins. He is indeed the All-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (39:53).
Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says in a ḥadīth qudsī: “Son of Ādam, as long as you call upon Me and hope in Me, I will forgive you despite what you do, and I do not care. Son of Ādam, even if your sins were to reach to the clouds of the sky, then you seek forgiveness from Me, I will forgive you. Son of Ādam, even if you were to come to Me with nearly an earth full of sins, and then you meet Me, not having associated anything with Me, then I will surely bring you as much as the earth in forgiveness” (Tirmidhī).
Ibn Rajab (raḥimahullāh) outlined three essential means of attaining forgiveness in the above hadīth:
- Calling Allah with hope, knowing that only He forgives.
- Asking Him for forgiveness, despite the magnitude of one’s sins.
- Tawhīd; this is the greatest means of forgiveness. If even a speck of tawhīd was placed on a mountain of sins, it would turn them into good deeds.
Allah (ʿazza wa jall) is Free of all need, and yet we find His messengers telling those who reject Allah: “Can there be any doubt about Allah, the Originator of the heavens and the earth?! He is inviting you in order to forgive you your sins…” (14:10).
Not only does Allah forgive, but he loves those who constantly repent and seek His forgiveness. From His immense kindness, He instructs His angels – including the Bearers of the Throne – to supplicate for our forgiveness! The Prophet ﷺ explained that Allah’s delight at His servant’s repentance is greater than the delight of a person who was travelling in a desert, lost all his belongings, and then unexpectedly found them.
As humans, we struggle to forgive each other, let alone reciprocate evil with good. Allah, on the other hand, does not only conceal and forgive, but He also “changes their evil deeds into good ones” (25:70). Moreover, He showers us with worldly blessings as a result of us seeking forgiveness, including wealth, children and strength (see 71:12 and 11:52). Allāhu Akbar!
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “A believer will be brought close to his Lord on the Day of Judgement and He will place him within His Veil. Then, He will make him confess his sins by saying: ‘Do you recognise this?’ He will reply: ‘My Lord, I do.’ Then He will say: ‘Indeed I concealed them for you in the world, and I am indeed forgiving you for them today.’ Then the record of his good deeds will be given to him.” (Bukhārī)
Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) wrote:
‘In this world, the sinner can be purified in one of three rivers:
A river of sincere repentance;
A river of good deeds that drowns the sins;
A river of calamities that wipe away his sins.
If these do not suffice in purifying him, then he will be purified in the river of Hell-fire in the hereafter. Therefore, when Allah intends good for His slave, He enters him into one of these three rivers, so he comes purified and cleansed on the Day of Judgement, not requiring the fourth purification.
So swim in the river of repentance and doing good deeds, and have patience in the river of calamities. And do not neglect these before a day comes when you will be drowned in the river of Hell-fire, whose fuel is men and stones.’
Tawbah & Inabah
Tawbah is an essential ingredient in every stage of a servant’s journey to his Lord, and it is something we must renew all the time. It is inevitable that we are going to sin; but each time we sin, we should rush to make tawbah, so that the sins do not corrode our hearts. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) writes, “The state of tawbah is at the beginning, the middle and the end of the servant’s journey to his Creator. The servant who seeks the pleasure of Allah never abandons tawbah. He remains in the state of tawbah until his death”.
One of our key life goals and duʿā’ should be to reach the level of inābah. Inābah is the stage after tawbah and it consists of repeatedly turning to Allah with love and humility; and to turn away from other than Him. Ibrāhīm (ʿalayhis-salām) was described as ‘munīb’ (11:75), a person of inābah. Allah says,
“But Paradise will be brought close to the righteous and will no longer be distant. ‘This is what you were promised — for everyone who turned often to Allah in sincere repentance and preserved (His commands); who were in awe of the All-Merciful without seeing Him; and have come with a heart which is munīb (turned in devotion to Him)” (50:31-35).
May Allah al-Tawwāb (The Acceptor of repentance) always turn to us so that we turn to Him. May He always accept our tawbah and grant us the gift of inābah.