Series: In the Light of Sunnah, In the Footsteps of Our Salaf – Part 9 – Tawbah (Repentance)

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Allah Ta’aala beseeches His slaves: “And turn, all of you, in repentance towards Allah, Oh you believers, that per chance you may succeed!” (An Noor 31)

Further in Surah Hud; the call of the Anbiya(Prophets): “Seek forgiveness from your Rabb (Lord) and thereafter turn to Him in repentance…”

Our Nabi Sayyidina Muhammad (وسلم عليه الله صلى) who was the living commentary of the Quran said on the authority of Imam Muslim who has narrated by his chain of narration to Al Agarr Ibn Al Yasaar Al Muzani (RAU) that Rasoolullah (وسلم عليه الله صلى) said: “Oh you people. Turn in repentance towards Allah and seek His forgiveness, for verily I turn towards in repentance (towards Him) one hundred times daily! [Muslim]

Alhamdulillah we have covered in this series “In the light of Sunnah, in the footsteps of our Salaf” to some degree of detail the topics of;

1-Niyyat (intention) and 2-Ilm (knowledge) as the first two prerequisites of living a life of Ubuddiyyah (worship and servitude to Allah Ta’ala) for which we have been created. Now, let us look into the third prerequisite and area of effort required to further perfect our ubudiyyah ; Tauba (repentance).

Imam Ghazali in his monumental work “Minhaj al-Abidin (The road map for the obedient slaves (of Allah) has the likened the journey to Allah to a journey through seven steep and difficult mountain passes (عقبات) the third of which is “Tauba”. He says; Taubah is compulsory for the person seeking to live a life of Ubudiyyah for two reasons;

One: To acquire Allah’s Tawfiq (ability) to perform Ibadah since being bound by sins will prevent one from moving in the direction of Allah’s obedience and hasten towards His service! Similarly the weight of sins prevents agility in doing good works and zeal in Allah’s obedience.

Furthermore the persistence in committing sins will eventually blacken and harden the heart whereupon one would find oneself enveloped in darkness, then sincerity and purity of intent and deed would disappear and one would find no taste or sweetness in Ibadah even if he were to engage in it!

Then finally this state of affairs could eventually drag one to disbelief and eternal doom. May Allah Ta’ala save us all by His mercy, amen!

This is illustrated by the Ayah:

 “Nay, but in fact their hearts have been corrupted and rusted by what they have earned (by their evil actions).”

The commentary of this ayah from Rasoolullah (وسلم عليه الله صلى) has been narrated by At Tirmidhi, An Nasaa’ee, Ibn Majah, Ahmed and others;     

“Verily if the believer (مومن ) commits a sin it becomes a black spot on his heart. If thereafter he repents it is cleansed. If, however he increases (in sin) the (black spots) go on increasing and that is (the explanation of) “Nay but the hearts have become rusted…”

Imam Ibn Kathir narrates the explanation of Imam Al Hasan Al Basree (RA).

 “It (the rusting of the heart) is the sin that blinds the heart and then (that heart) consequently dies!”

Furthermore how would one present himself before Allah Taa’la and seek His closeness in intimacy while being covered with the filth and impurity of sins!?

Even the angels cannot bear the presence of a person in such a state as indicated by the Hadith of Rasoolullah ﷺ as narrated by Imam At Tirmidhi and Imam Abu Nu’aim on the authority of Ibn Umar (Allah be pleased with him):

 “When the slave of Allah tells a lie the Angel (appointed to him or any angel in close proximity) distances himself from that person one mile due to the foul odour of his action!”

In summary, the one persistent in Allah’s disobedience will not find Taufiq, nor the desire, nor the lightness of heart, mind, and body to perform Ibadah, just as he would never experience the sweetness and quintessence of Ibadah if at all he were to engage in the same, as a result of the ominous effects of sins and forsaking Taubah!

Imam al Fudhail says:

 “If you are unable to stand (in prayer) in the night and fast in the day, know that you are deprived and shackled by your wrongdoing (sins)!”

The second fundamental reason for the necessity of Taubah is; to acquire acceptance (قبول) of our ‘Ibadah. Just as the creditor does not accept gifts from one who is in debt to him, Taubah from Allah’s disobedience is a Fard on us and a debt due to Allah Ta’aala. Whereas most of the ‘ibadah that we perform other than the Faraidh (obligatory) is Nafl (non obligatory) which is the likeness of gifts. So do we expect Allah to accept our gifts of nafl, when the debt of Fard Taubah remains due!!

And how can our abstaining from Halal food or sleep, in the case of fasting and tahhajud for example, be accepted by Allah while we persist in Haram sins and Allah’s disobedience in so many areas of our lives!?

And how can we call out to Allah Ta’aala in dua and His praise expecting to be answered while He is angry with us!?

Therefore, for our ‘Ibadah and life of ubudiyyah to be accepted by Allah, we all need to hasten towards Allah with Taubah Nasuh as a top priority.

 “Oh those who believe, turn to Allah in sincere repentance, per chance your Lord will cover your faults, and enter you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow …!”

The meaning and definition of sincere taubah

Taubah, in the Arabic language basically means to turn back, or around to the direction from where one has come. In this case it is as though we were fleeing from our Lord and Benefactor, Allah Ta’aala and Taubah would be to turn back and flee towards Him!

 “And flee towards Allah! Verily I am a clear warner”

To turn back to Allah, to turn back from sins and a disobedient life to a life of ubudiyyah and Allah’s obedience.

As for the technical Sharee’ definition of the Ulama have written exhaustively on this subject. We will focus on a very concise but comprehensive definition mentioned by Imam al Ghazali from his Sheikh Imam Abu Bakr al Turtoushi;

“To choose conscientiously to desist from sin, the like of which in terms of status had been previously committed, in glorification of Allah and fear of His anger”

Taubah is essentially an action of the heart, although its effect manifests in the limbs of the body as well. So we could say that Taubah Nasuh is basically the purification of the heart from sin.

That stated, let’s return to Imam al Turtoushi’s definition. His definition comprises of four conditions:

  1. To desist from sin conscientiously. This implies that one must leave sins with resolution and determination that he will not return to sin. Without determination he would be classified as one merely resisting sin, not a Ta’ib (one who performs Taubah) since he may and usually would return to sin!
  2. To desist from sin “the like of which had been committed”. To desist from sin that has not been committed is taqwa not taubah! For example, Rasoolullah ﷺ was a muttaqi (one who exercises taqwa) in relation to kufr since he never committed it, whereas Umer RAU was a Ta’ib (one who exercises taubah) from kufr as he had committed it in Jahiliyyah.
  3. “The like of which in terms of status” means that the sin which the Ta’ib chooses to desist from is similar to the sin committed in terms of gravity and seriousness. For example an old man now physically incapacitated who had previously committed adultery and highway robbery when strong and fit is not capable of choosing to commit those sins now as he is physically incapable, so there is no meaning in his choosing to desist from something that he is incapable of doing! However, he is capable of desisting from other sins which are at an equal status of severity and consequence to adultery and highway robbery such as lying, false accusations of infidelity (قذف), backbiting (غيبة), slander (نميمة) etc.

Having understood this principle it becomes apparent that actually Taubah Nasuh (sincere repentance) requires desisting from all branches of sin, since all branches of sin are equal in status from the stand point that they all equate to Allah’s disobedience although their severity might vary in terms of their impact on the one who had committed them.

It must also be noted that all branches of sin are grouped in a status below the status of Bid’ah (innovations in deen), therefore, the Ulama have stated that to be afflicted with committing all sins together is a lesser calamity than to be involved in Bid’ah, as Biadh brings about distortion and destruction of deen! Thereafter, the status of Bidah is lesser to the status of Kufr (disbelief).

It must also be noted that some forms of Bid’ah which are innovations in Aqaid (beliefs) may also enter into the state of kufr as they are actually themselves disbelief!

In summary therefore, Taubah Nasuh from any branch of sin requires desisting from all branches of sin. And Taubah Nasuh from any Bid’ah requires desisting from all forms of Bid’ah and Taubah Nasuh from any form of kufr requires desisting from all forms of kufr.

That said, one may argue that if a person has made taubah from adultery, for example, while continuing highway robbery etc, his taubah from adultery will still be considered valid as per the opinion of most Ulama.

In reply we would say, granted. However, that taubah would be considered a “partial” Taubah in respect of that particular sin. However we are defining Taubah Nasuh which is a total and complete Taubah.

The last condition of Taubah Nasuh is that the sole motivation for desisting from sin is: “In glorification of Allah and in fear of His wrath” Otherwise if one refrains from sin for any other purpose or reason, that obviously is not Taubah! Other reasons that may motivate one to refrain from sins or prevent him from the same may include: Some worldly benefit, fear of people or seeking their praise, personal weakness, poverty, or simple change in mood etc.

InshAllah in the next edition we will look at implementation by the help of Allah Ta’aala and His Tawfiq.


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