Its not over ’til the Trumpets Blown – Sin and Repentance
[The following article is a mixture of notes taken from a course I attended, also including the actual comprehensive course notes provided. Course title: 'It's Not Over 'Til the Trumpet's Blown: Tawbah and Repentance,' taught by Shaikh Haithem Tamim of Utrujj Foundation www.utrujj.org].
This post is divided up by the following sub-headings:
a) Tawbah and Repentance
b) The cycle of Sin and Repentance
c) Where does Obedience Lie
d) Psychological Benefits of Tawbah
e) Tawbah in the Quran
f) Tawbah in the Sunnah
g) Duas for Repentance
h) Time for Tawbah
i) Conditions for Sincere Tawbah
j) Actions that follow Tawbah
k) Obstacle on your Way
l) Fruits of Tawbah
Tawbah and Repentance
'At-Tawwabba' comes from the root word 'Taba' which means 'to repent; to turn one’s self in a repentant manner, to turn with mercy'. So we turn back to Allah in repentance making us 'Tawaab: the one who keeps repenting', while Allah turns back to us with His Forgiveness and Mercy, making Him 'At-Tawaab: The Acceptor to Repentance, The Oft Returning'. At-Tawaab is one of the beautiful 99 Names/Attributes of Allah.
Although a Muslim is ashamed of his sins in front of Allah and the people, he benefits from repentance by becoming more God-conscious and appreciative of the Mercy of Allah. And, because he himself is a sinner, he recognizes his own weakness and will become more humble and forgiving of others. In this sense, sinning followed by sincere repentance is better for a Muslim than not sinning and becoming complacent in his religion.
Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyah was asked about sin: Is it good for someone? He said: "Yes, with the condition that it is followed by being remorseful and repentant, by seeking forgiveness, and by being sincerely moved (to submission) on the inside."
We have so many clouds hovering over our heads and hearts, by this I am referring to the distractions of Dunya - be they halaal or haraam, they come in the form of work, school, university, relationships, family etc. These things can throw pebbles, mud and rocks in our paths and the only way to unblock our way is to re-connect with Allah through doing Tawbah.
Sincere Tawbah is a quick fix solution, like an 'instant coffee', it refreshes and rejuvernates our souls and we can do it anywhere and everywhere. The best way to connect with Allah is of course through our Salaah, but after doing our five obligatory, it is not practical to do Salaah every other minute. Whereas 'sincere Tawbah', takes only a few seconds as it comprises of consciously realising one's sin, feeling remorse and guilt in the heart and mind and is then polished up by making a conscious intention to leave the 'sin' completely and to return to Allah(swt).
The cycle of sin and repentance
The Prophet(saw) said: "If you do not commit sins, then Allah will dispose of you and replace you with people who commit sins and then ask for forgiveness so that He forgives them." [Muslim]
Huh? So does that mean we should purposely sin otherwise we'll be wiped out? Of course not, this is not a license to sin and thankfully there is an explanation behind this hadith! This hadith tells us that:
1) It is part of our Human nature to sin, we are not like Angels who are always obedient. So the cycle of sin and obedience will continue till death. Since we are sin prone, we will at some point in our lives make mistakes or commit sins, so we must sincerely strive not to sin. If however, we do fall into sin (minor or major), we must then strive to repent.
2) When one sins (minor or major) and then realises it and repents, this realisation/recognition makes him humble. It highlights to us our weakness and shows us our place in front of Allah.
3) If sin does not make a person humble, he becomes arrogant. Or if by praying Salaah and Fasting as prescribed, a person manages to build an immunity to sinning, this can make the person start thinking that he is better, resulting in Pride, which is also a sin. If we do not seek repentance, it means we feel we are independent and our ego takes over.
4) Sin and seeking to repent gives us the strength and ability to forgive others, because we have erred ourselves. We become aware that all of us can fall weak and so must always remember that if we have not committed a particular sin, this is only due to Allah's Mercy, to think we are better than others is arrogance. We are longing for forgiveness ourselves and so should forgive those who have wronged us aswell.
5) The cycle of 'Sin' and 'Striving to Return to Allah' keeps the Human Soul in Balance.
Ibn 'Ataa 'Ilah As-Sakandari (d. 706H) said: "A (Ma'siya) disobedience that bequeaths humiliation and extreme need is better than an obedience that bequeaths self-infatuation and pride."
Key Point: If you have been obedient, don't spoil it by becoming prideful. Instead strive to acquire humbleness, hence bringing you closer to Allah. And if you have been disobedient, don't let this destroy you through despair. Instead strive to acquire humbleness, hence bringing you closer to Allah.
Where does obedience lie?
When we turn back to Allah, we turn back from sin to obedience, this is turning a negative into a positive. But how do we know what 'obedience' is? Our Fitrah is projected by our Heart and this is what tells us what obedience is, it is our internal navigation system. The following short story explains this:
The Messenger of Allah Muhammad (saw) said, "O Wabisah! are you come to ask what is (Al-Birr) righteouness and what is badness?" Wabisah said, "Yes, I am come for that." Then he(saw) joined his fingers and struck them upon Wabisah's breast, that made a sign towards his heart, and said, "Ask the question from thine own heart." This he(saw) repeated three times aloud and said, "Al-Birr/Righteousness is a thing from which thy heart findeth firmness and rest; and badness is a thing which throweth thee into doubt, although men may acquit thee."
1) So 'Righteousness' is when you feel 'Tranquility' in your heart while 'Wrongdoing' is when something 'Triggers' in your heart and you do not want the people to find out due to shame.
2) If you do something bad, i.e. you shout at your Mother and you no longer feel guilty or bad about this, this is an indication that your heart has become blocked and is no longer sensitive. You develop the 'I don't care' attitude. This attitude does not come overnight, it is an accumulation of persisting in sin and makes the heart numb. Likewise, if you are amongst sinners while they are sinning and you feel nothing, then again there is something wrong with the condition of your heart. You are spiritually ill and require help. Bear in mind though that while every sin is a mistake, every mistake is not a sin.
3) In order to recognise what is Right and Wrong though, it makes sense that one needs to have a sound heart, right? The Heart is the core, if this is sound, all else will be sound. If we have fed the right Knowledge into our minds and then use our tools of Wisdom as Allah has blessed us with, only then can we intelligently judge where obedience lies; which is why we need to Strive to Learn about our Deen and to Purify our Hearts by being constant in Dhikr and Tawbah.
4) We need to keep checking ourselves by taking regular account of our actions. Every night before we sleep, think about the days deeds. Did we hurt someone? Did we sit with people gossiping and not show any objection? What can we improve in ourself for the next day? Repent and Vow to Improve yourselves.
The psychological benefits of tawbah
Allah promises to forgive, so do not live in the past, or dwell on it. Doing so will destroy your future and you will end up burying yourself before you actually die. So instead, learn from your sin, accept Allah's gift of forgiveness, let go of the past and move on, live for the Aakihrah/Hereafter. Do do not underestimate the power that Allah has given you to repent, He(swt) is the All-Powerful.
Depression is a psychological condition and re-connecting with Allah is the cure. Although it is not a magic pill and requires mental training. (Please note, this does not mean you dismiss the role of doctors, there are certain conditions which require medication due to chemical imbalances).
The beloved Messenger of Allah(saw) said: "By Allah, I seek the forgiveness of Allah and repent to Him more than seventy times in a day." (Al-Bukhari)
And yet he(saw) was the best of mankind. So how many times do we repent? Allah loves consistency, so we should be consistent in sincere repentance. There are many wrongs you may have done in one day: perhaps you have not focussed on your Salaah or have missed it altogether; perhaps you are still not wearing hijaab, and if you are wearing it, you're a confused sort of hijabi because your head scarf is small enough to tie around one leg and your hour glass figure is on display; perhaps you wasted your time all day watching tv and neglected the Quran; perhaps you had a good old' gossip about Aunty G; perhaps you had an alcoholic drink with the boys/girls; perhaps you just couldn't keep your eyes off that girl/guy at work, even in her/his hijab/thobe, she's/he's lookin' well fit man (hmm); perhaps it was something alot more serious - it could be anything.
Or maybe even something good, distracted you from a more important deed or obligatory act of worship - e.g. you chose to read Quran for an hour after Asr Salaah thereby ignoring the guests who were waiting for you in your living room; or you chose to observe a voluntary fast even though your husband had asked you kindly not to that day, or you were reading a biography of Rasool(sws) and in doing so, you delayed your Salaah etc.
When our hearts are sound, we know when we are doing wrong and that eats us up with guilt, burden, fear and worry. So as soon as you realise your error, stop, repent and change your ways, learn and move on.
Seeking Tawbah sincerely, will help you to:
1) Regain confidence
2) Relieve you of your burden
3) Remove fear from the loads of guilt you are carrying
4) and remove depression and anxiety
All this because knowing that Allah has accepted you again will bring peace to your heart.
Tawbah in the Quran
Surah Al Baqarah, Verse 54: "And remember Moses said to his people: "O my people! Ye have indeed wronged yourselves by your worship of the calf: So turn (in repentance) to your Maker, and slay yourselves (the wrong-doers); that will be better for you in the sight of your Maker." Then He turned towards you (in forgiveness): For He is Oft- Returning, Most Merciful".
This command for Bani Israel to slay themselves to achieve Allah's forgiveness was exclusive only for them on that occasion alone. Because within less than 40 days of being without Musa(as), they turned to shirk by worshipping a golden cow. So insolent and ungrateful were they, that they could not stay on the right path without Musa(as) for such a short period of time - and Allah knows best. Anyhow, Allah has made it easier for the Ummah of Rasool(saw), we do not need to slay ourselves, all we need to do is turn to Him(swt) in repentance by purifying our hearts and deeds. And Allah says:
1) Surah Hud, Verse 3: "Seek ye the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance; that He may grant you enjoyment, good (and true), for a term appointed, and bestow His abounding grace on all who abound in merit!"
2) Surah Hud, Verse 52: "And O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him (in repentance): He will send you the skies pouring abundant rain, and add strength to your strength: so turn ye not back in sin!"
3) Surah An-Noor, Verse 31: "And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss."
4) Surah Al An'aam, Verse 54: "Verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful."
NB: If someone wrongs knowingly or unknowingly, the legality and punishment differs, but the door to repentance still remains open - always.
5) Surah Al Maida, Verse 39: "But if the thief repents after his crime, and amends his conduct, Allah turneth to him in forgiveness; for Allah is Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful."
6) Surah Maryam, Verses 59-60: "But after them there followed a posterity who missed prayers and followed after lusts soon, then, will they face Destruction, Except those who repent and believe, and work righteousness: for these will enter the Garden and will not be wronged in the least."
The main point to note in all these ayahs is: 'Istigfaar'. Allah promises to forgive, so be humble and accept this gift from Him(swt). When we admit our weakness through seeking help and forgiveness from Allah, we are recognising that it is none other than Allah who is sustaining our provisions and power. So repent, make the effort to better yourself, then rely on Allah. Be steadfast/istikaamah by repenting, so you keep coming back on track.
Tawbah in the Sunnah
1. Anas(ra) said: Allah's Messenger(saw) said: "Allah is more pleased with the repentance of his slave than anyone of you is pleased with finding his camel which he had lost in the desert." [Bukhari]
Imagine this: you are in the middle of an enourmous and really hot desert. The sun is beaming down on you and in fact you're in the middle of no-where, so you are very glad to have your camel with you. Your camel is carrying your life line: your water, food, your mobile phone, your map, your compass. You feel tired and decide to take shelter under a tree that you come across. You lay down and leave the camel to one side, and as the sun beams down on you, you nod off in to a deep sleep.
A little time passes and you awaken. You get up all of a sudden to find that your camel is not there, it has gone and taken along with it your life line: your food, water, mobile phone, compass etc! Ya Allah, what are you going to do now?!?! You are in the middle of a desert, you have miles and miles of nothing but sand around you, no animals or creatures (apart from the snake or spider that may crawl up on you), and no people! Its just you, alone with the sun beaming over you! You run from here to there frantically in search of your camel, but nothing, zilch!
You return to that tree in despair, thinking its better that you just give up, sleep and wait for death to come to you as with no water, no food, no shelter and no clue where you are - you have no chance of survival. So you lay down to sleep. Some time passes....
After a while you awake, and to your absolute amazement, what do you find standing quietly in front of you? None other than your camel, your life line! SubhaanAllah!! You jump up and scream with joy, this is THE happiest moment of your life, you have been given life again!
This man was rightly elated! He would have died very soon of dehydration and starvation had he not found his camel - do you understand his joy? Well check this: Allah is much much more happier than this when we turn back to Him(swt) in repentance, because He(swt) wants good for us, He(swt) wants us to do the right thing so we go to Jannah because He(swt) loves us!
2. The Prophet(saw) relates from His Lord(swt): "O my servants, you sin by night and by day, and I forgive all sins, so seek forgiveness of Me and I shall forgive you." [Muslim]
3. The Prophet(saw) said: "Regret is repentance." [Tabarani]
Also: "Remorse is Repentance." [Ibn Majah & Ahmad]
Sometimes we do tawbah wth our lips/tongues, but our heart does not care. This is not repentance, this is an attitude which needs to change. Even in a court, the verdict of a Judge will differ according to whether a person shows remorse or not. Of course, a judge can only 'judge' the defendant by his words as that is all he can see, but Allah can see in our hearts, so we cannot get away with mere lip service with Allah.
4. Abu Bakr(ra) heard Allah's Messenger(saw) say: "No man will commit a sin, then get up and purify himself, then pray, then ask Allah's forgiveness, without Allah forgiving him."
People have made this hadith the basis for Salatul Tawbah but there is no evidence for this specific named Salaah. But yes, it is good to perform two Nafl with an intention to do tawbah.
5. The Prophet(saw) said: "The one who repents from sin is like the one who never sinned." [Ibn Majah]
6. Then he recited: "And those who, when they do something to be ashamed of, or who wrong themselves, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their sins, and are never obstinate in persisting knowingly in (the wrong) they have done." [Al-Imran, V 135]
7. Ma'iz ibn Malik (who committed adultery) came to Allah's Messenger (saw) and said: "O Messenger of Allah, purify me!" Thereupon he(saw) said: "Go back, ask forgivenessof Allah and turn back to Him(swt) in repentance..." [Muslim]
The above dialogue between Ma'iz ibn Malik and Allah's Messenger(saw) shows us that even those close to him(saw) committed major sins. The purpose of mentioning this here is not to tarnish the angelic image we have of the companions. Instead, it is to bring home the fact that these sins are common, without belittling the severity of the sin, it is not the end of the world - only because we still have the chance to turn back to Allah as they (the companions) did.
In this specific situation, Ma'iz Ibn Malik had so much regret that he felt overburdened. He kept on going to our Rasool(saw) and asking to be punished. Rasool(saw) kept turning him away and telling him to repent and move on. Due to Ma'iz's persistence, he(saw) had to ask him graphic questions about his sin in the hope that whatever had happened would not warrant the hadd/punishment. Rasool(saw) asked Ma'iz, 'maybe you just touched the girl?', 'maybe you just kissed the girl?' etc'. But Maiz kept returning and kept insisting that he be punished.
Finally, our Rasool(saw) had to use the exact wording and asked Ma'iz if he had had intercourse with the girl, to this he replied 'Yes'. Even then, the Messenger of Allah did not not enforce the hadd/punishment. He(saw) went to Ma'iz's community to enquire about this man's mental status, to establish if this man was lying or imagining his sin etc, so he could avoid issuing the punishment. Only after much investigation was the hadd/punishment carried out.
This example shows clearly, that Allah has given us an easier and more preferable way out and so we should do tawbah, conceal our sin and strive to improve.
8. Abdullah bin Mas'ud related: "A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain which, he is afraid, may fall on him; whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose and he just drives them away like this." Abu Shihab (the sub-narrator) moved his hand over his nose in illustration. [Bukhari]
Of course we should care about the sin we have committed, but not to the extent that it destroys our lives, as this would then mean that you think your sin is greater than Allah's Mercy and Forgiveness.
Duas for Repentance
There are many hundreds of duas from the Quran and Sunnah which we can use to repent, or we can say whatever pours forth from our hearts. I have mentioned a few known duas below:
1. The Messenger of Allah (saw) used to say while prostrating: "Oh my lord, forgive me all my sins, small and great, first and last, open and secret." [Muslim]
2. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: "I seek refuge from you and turn to you in repentance." "Astagfirullah Wa 'atoobu Illayk". [Muslim]
After Surah Al-Nasr was revealed and our Prophet(saw) was nearing his last days in this world, he had started reciting this dua while in Sujood.
3. The Prophet(saw) also said: "O Allah, distance me from my sins just as you have distanced the East from the West, O Allah, purify me of my sins as a white robe is purified of filth, O Allah clean me of me sins with snow, water and ice." [Bukhari & Muslim]
4. Sa’d ibn Waqas reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, “The supplication made by the Companion of the Fish (Prophet Yunus) in the belly of the fish was, ‘La ilaha illa anta, subhanaka, inni kuntu minaz-zalimin, translated as: "There is no god but You(Allah), You are far exalted and above all weaknesses, and I was indeed the wrongdoer," (Surah Al-Anbiya, Ayah 87/88). If any Muslim supplicates in these words, his supplication will be accepted.” In another report we read, “I know words that will cause Allah to remove one’s distress. These are the words (of supplication) of my brother Yunus, peace be upon him,” (Tirmidhi).
Time for Tawbah
The Prophet(saw) said: "Allah will accept the repentance of His servant till his death-rattle begins." [Tirmidhi]
Abu Hurairah(ra) reported that the Messenger of Allah(saw) said: "Allah will turn towards anyone who turns in repentance before the sun rises from the place it sets." [Muslim]
When should we repent? The Sooner the Better, because we do not know if we will be alive the next second. Allah will accept repentance until the 'death rattle' begins. This is referring to the 'gar gara' noise as the soul is being pulled out.
If we are alive when Yawm Al Qiyamah/Judgement Day comes, then our repentance will be accepted only until the Sun rises from the West. Firaoun's tawbah was not accepted because he took Shahaadah when he was drowning, when he was entering the Aakhirah/Al-Ghayb.
Allah says in Surah Nisa, Ayah 18: "And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil deeds until death faces one of them and he says: "Now I repent;" nor of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them We have prepared a painful torment."
So what are we waiting for?
Conditions for sincere Tawbah
1) Leaving the sin (externally)
This is not just lip service. You must stop and change your course of actions physically. This is the sacrifice as you are leaving something you love. Allah will reward you for your struggle.
2) Feeling remorse over having committed the sin (internal)
Sometimes, you know you have done something wrong, but you loved doing it and this confuses the feeling of remorse. So you must keep telling yourself that Allah does not like 'that thing', so you regret it because you know its displeasing to Allah. Its a mental attitude you need to train yourself to adopt.
3) Resolve never to return to the sin (internal)
Resolve never to return to this sin again. If you feel weak, thinking: "I'm going to end up doing it again anyway, so I can't be bothered to repent," this is the wrong attitude to have! Do not let shaytaan stop you from repenting. Allah is stronger that you and I. He(swt) can make it change, so you just do your bit and leave Allah's part to Him. Intend not to go back, even if you do end up going back.
4) If it relates to the rights of another person, then to return the rights of property one wrongly took.
However of course if by you going to seek forgiveness from this person, it will cause problems for him/her, then do not approach that person, and do not be diseartened either. There is still a way. Allah is All Knowing, He(swt) knows the situation and your intention and desire to seek their forgiveness. Just be sincere in your heart, speak to Allah, purify your heart, ask Him(swt) to bestow His Mercy and Blessings on the person you wronged, ask Him(swt) to Forgive this person and to grant him/her with Piety and Success in this life and the next, keep this person in your duas.
If these conditions are truly met, then one can expect one's sin to be forgiven. However, one has to be very careful about how sincere one is in fulfilling the conditions. It is recommended to seek forgiveness a lot and to repent every time the sin comes to one's mind.
If one keeps repeating the sin, then one should find the root cause(s) of the sin and eliminate them. For example, if one falls into a certain sin because of the company one keeps, then it would be necessary to either stop keeping their company, or to change the nature of one's relationship with them.
Actions that follow Tawbah
The Prophet(saw) said: "Fear Allah wherever you are and follow up a bad deed with a good deed and it will wipe it out, and behave well towards the people."
- FEAR ALLAH (Internally) by having Taqwa, this includes having Love for Him(swt) too. Abu Bakr(ra) said: "Taqwa is about Fearing Allah, Following His Revelation and Preparing yourself for the Hereafter."
- FOLLOW A BAD DEED WITH A GOOD DEED (Externally), the bad deed gets wiped out. The Prophet(saw) did not specify the good/bad deed, he(saw) left it open to interpretation. This also creates a Desire in one to do Good.
- BEHAVE WELL WITH THE PEOPLE (Improve Character): Speak good, think good, do good, feel goodness. If you 'want' to do bad to others, then your character is flawed and requires improvement.
Obstacles on your way
1. Procrastination: You may not be alive the next second, so do not wait till later to repent. It may never come.
2. The pleasure of sins: The sin has become sweet and so is hard to give up, the person needs a replacement to help him. A shayook made a dua: "Oh Allah, as You have made them taste the sweetness of disobedience, make them taste the sweetness of emaan." There are certain pleasures you will never experience outside fold/remit of emaan.
3. The attachment of the heart - Addiction: When you try to leave something you are addicted to, be it smoking, drinking, clubbing, gossiping, facebook/twitter(!), it changes the course of your day/week/life. It takes immense effort, perserverance, and will power to break any addiction.
4. Weak willingness: will kill your will to leave it and repent: so you require Sacrifice, Willingness and Sincerity to remain strong.
5. Mistrust in Allah: Despair: Do not despair. If you were to go to Allah with a mountain of sins, Allah would forgive you. Allah says in Surah Zumar, Verse 53: “Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful."
6. Fear of coming back to sins: This is the whisper of shaytaan. Repel these negative thoughts with rememberance of Allah, with reminders of the punishments of sin and reminders of the rewards for struggling to abstain from sin. Be sincere, have faith in Allah.
7. Blaming Destiny: Do you ever hear yourself say: "Oh I did it cos its written in my destiny." Really, is that so? How did you know it was written before it happened? You didn't. Sometimes circumstances influence us to sin, so this is understandable, but we cannot blame bad habits on destiny. Instead, admit and confess that you may need help to break your habit and Allah will open a way for you to get help without doubt (you may even need counselling).
The Fruits of Tawbah
In hadith #599 narrated by Abdullah ibn Abbas in Sunan Abu Dawood, The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If anyone continually asks pardon, Allah will appoint for him a way out of every distress, and a relief from every anxiety, and will provide for him from where he did not reckon.
Allah the Almighty said: "O you who believe! Turn to Allahin sincere repentance! It may be that your Lord will remit from you your evil deeds and bring you into gardens underneath which rivers flow, on the day when Allah will not abase the Prophet and those believe and those who believe with him, Their light will run before them and on their right hands; they will say; Our Lord! Perfect our light for us! Verily, you are able to do all things." [At-Tahrim, Verse 8]
Allah the Almighty says: "For Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly and He loves those who keep themselves pure and clean." [Al-Baqarah, Verse 222]
"...Except those who repent and believe, and work righteouness: for these will enter the GARDEN and will not be wronged in the least." [Surah Mariam, Verse 60]
* Some of the Rewards for turning back to Allah: Allah will remit your evil deeds, He will bring you into Gardens with rivers flowing underneath, Your light will run before you on your right side, Allah will Love you and you will not be wronged at all.
[Notes complied from a course titled: 'It's Not Over 'Til the Trumpet's Blown: Tawbah and Repentance,' taught by Shaikh Haithem Tamim of Utrujj Foundation]