‘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.
It is narrated that someone said: Astaghfirullah (I seek God’s forgiveness) before Imam ‘Ali (a). He said to him. “May your mother mourn for you! Do you know what istighfar is? Verily istighfar is a degree of the ‘illiyyun (people of high station) and it is a word that means six things.
First is remorse over the past.
Second, the resolution not to return to it ever.
Third, to return to creatures their (formerly usurped) rights so that you meet God Almighty in a state of purity in which no one has any claim against you.
Fourth, that you fulfil every duty that you neglected in order to satisfy your obligation in respect to it.
Fifth, that you attend to the flesh of your body that has grown on unlawful nourishment so that it melts away as a result of grief and mourning and your skin adheres to your bones, after which new flesh grows in its place.
Sixth, that you make your body taste the pain of obedience in the same way as it earlier tasted the pleasure of sins. When you have done these things then say 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 doTawba, 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.
Merit of Tawba
1. It makes man a beloved of God
2. Evils are turned into good deeds
3. Praiseworthy Prayer of Angels
4. The repentant will go to Paradise
5. Tawba gives happiness in life
6. Prayer are accepted by Tawba
7. Tawba Brings good tidings from God
8. Any number of sins will be pardoned through Tawba
9. Breakingof Tawba does not nullify repentance
10. The Door of Tawba is open forever
(Follow the source link at the end of the article for more information on each merit)
Repentance should be Instant
Shaykh Bahai writes in Arbaīn: There is no doubt aboutTawba 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)
Elsewehere 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 utterTawba 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.
An enlightening story: Wine changed into Vinegar
Sabzewari writes in his book Misbahul Qulūb that when the order prohibiting wine-drinking was revealed a caller was sent by the Messenger of Allah (S) who announced that henceforth no one shall consume liquor. By chance, one day the Holy Prophet (S) was passing through a bylane when a Muslim man also entered it carrying a bottle of wine in his hand. He was terrified on seeing the Holy Prophet (S) and he said ferverently to the Almighty Allah, “I repent for this and I shall never drink again. Please save me from disgrace.”
When the Messenger of Allah (S) came near he asked,“What is there in the bottle?”
“It contains Vinegar,” replied the man. The Holy Prophet (S) put forward his hand and asked the man to put a little bit on his palm. When the Prophet (S) examined it, it was indeed vinegar. The person was overwhelmed with emotions and he began to weep and say, “By Allah! It was wine!”
“But before this I had repented and begged Allah not to disgrace me,” He added.
The Messenger of Allah (S) said that it was true, “Allah changes the sins of repenters into good deeds. “They are the ones whose sins are changed into good deeds by Allah.”