Monday, September 24, 2012

On the Subject of Repentance / Tawbah





O my Servants who have transgressed against themselves (by sinning)! Despair not of the Mercy of God. Indeed God forgives all sins: for He is Oft- Forgiving, Most Merciful. ~ Holy Qur’an 39:53


If any one does evil or wrongs his, her own soul but afterwards seeks God’s forgiveness, he, she will find God Oft-forgiving, Most Merciful. ~ Holy Qur'an 4:110







1.
Tawbah / Repentance: The Gate of all Gates

In the book “He Who Knows Himself Knows His Lord,” Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal writes in the chapter titled, The Veils and Repentance:
Whomsoever wants to attain this happiness (of beholding the Lord with the eyes of the Heart), let him (or her) first enter from the gate of all gates, which is “repentance” (at-tawbah). Repentance is named “the gate of the gates” because it is the first gate through which the devotee enters into proximity in the garden of the Lord.

And know that repentance is obligatory because Allah, Glorious is His Being says, “Repent to Allah, all of you, o faithful believers” (Q 24:31). And Allah also says, “O You who believe, repent to Allah, a sincere repentance.” (Q 24:31) and all the other ayat agree that repentance is obligatory.

The Messenger of Allah, sallallahu alaihi wa sallam said, “The repentant one is as one without sin; for repentance erases what happened before it.” And He also said, “The repentant one is Allah’s beloved.” Allah is exceedingly happy with the servant who repents.

Repentance is an immediately incumbent obligation, since avoidance of sin and obedience to Allah are an unceasing duty.


2.
Tawbah is Nourishment and Freedom from Burden

The fruit of accepting repentance (at-tawbah) is regret (an-nadima). Regret is a state of the heart.

Sidi al-Jamal continues: If you then look fairly and with compassion at yourself, you will see that your need for tawbah / repentance is greater than your need for food, drink and shelter, because sins veil you from beholding the Unseen and stand between you and the Beloved. The greatest veils between the servant and his Lord are the veils of sin, because these are made of darkness, where as other veils, even though wayfarer should seek to remove them, are made of light, and so they do not totally veil the servant.


3.
The Best Tool for Repentance

For activating the heart's preparedness for repentance, as practice, Sidi al-Jamal goes on to advice to repeat the phrase: “la ilaha illa’Llah” (there is no deity except Allah, no gods except One God), because by this continuous remembrance, Allah ignites an angelic lamp by which the inner darkness is expelled so that the blemishes and the diseases that stop the aspirant from attaining happiness manifest to him.

It is also narrated that Shaykh Abdul Qadir Jilani, may Allah sanctify his secret, used to advice to any man who came to him complaining about leaving a prayer or about not-being diligent in establishing it, to remember Allah by reciting “la ilaha illa’Llah.” And if another came to him complaining that he had committed adultery or that he drank intoxicants or that he committed any other offensive deed, the Shaykh would also advise him to practice the remembrance (az-Zikr).

Know that repentance is regretting or to be sorry for past sins; for the Messenger of Allah said, “Remorse is repentance.” Regarding the saying, “Repentance is also the determination not to return to commit the same sin again.” This naturally associates regret with repentance; for whoever sincerely repents is determined not to return to commit it again.

This repentance, that is regret of past sins, is the repentance of the common people, and, without doubt, it is acceptance to Allah. As for the repentance of the special ones, it is repenting of everything that keeps the heart busy from the remembrance of Allah, Possessor of Perfection and Glory. As for the repentance of the elite of the special, it is repenting from heedlessness, and from forgetting the Presence of Allah. Such is the repentance of the truthful ones (siddiqun), the intelligent ones, those who know the value of themselves, and those who know that every breath of theirs (with remembrance of Allah) is better than the lower world and what it contains (for the lower world contains nothing but soon-to-be-rotten corpses and selfish rivalry over perishing stuff). ~ Shaykh Muhammad al-Jamal, may Allah bless him and grant him good life


Art by David Adams via Flickr

4.
Someone asked

Someone asked, "What are the steps to achieving sincere repentance, especially related to a sin one upon reflecting, or that which comes to mind involuntarily a person still has feelings of pleasure associated to it. It is said that if you have these feelings then you have no sincerely repented, desperate to know how to reach this station. Help!"

Here are my two cents, may Allah forgive our imperfections:

All power and help comes from Allah, beside Whom there is no other agency of  power, help or transformation. La hawla wa la quwwata illa bi'Llah. First of all, under any circumstances, the one who longs to surrender to Allah, one who longs to attain the station of Taslim, it is always the best starting point to start with surrender. Surrender to the grace of God, first through this understanding that without the Grace, the Rahmah of Allah we have neither any hope for acceptance of any of our deeds (no matter how lofty we believe they are) nor forgiveness. The fact that our heart feels remorse / sadness over past sins and we are moved to ask for forgiveness - they are all from Allah's favor. It is His pure grace that while there are many who are heedless about their sins, He by His Grace, have bestowed the repenter with the inclination of repentance.

It is certainly a Sign of Allah's love for the servant that one has in his or her heart the inclination of repentance from past sins as Allah declares in the Qur'an: "Truly, Allah loves those who turn unto Him in repentance (at-tawwabeena) and loves those who purify themselves." (Q 2:222)

Allah loves to Forgive and forgiveness is His way of bestowing divine love to the faithful believers. So we can take consolation from this glad tiding that Allah has given us the inclination to repent and ask His forgiveness.

Also, it is a positive sign of a believer to be careful about sins or  transgressing the Limits which are prohibited by God. The Prophet said, “The believer regards his sins as if he, she were sitting beneath a mountain which he fears it may fall on him; whereas the sinner (munafiq) regards his sins as if a fly landed on his nose and he wiped it away.” (Al-Bukhari)

On the aspect of sincerity of repentance, it is a quality which demands great care, attention and mindfulness. Sincerity is not easy and its a lofty station. If sincerity were easy to attain, everyone walking on earth would be a saint. Among all the companions of our Master, only one was awarded the title "siddique" / sincere. Among millions of servants of God, only few rare ones can be called truly sincere.

On the subject of sincere repentance Allah says in the Qur'an:

O you who have believed, repent to Allah with sincere repentance - in the hope that your Lord will remove from you your misdeeds / imperfections / sins and admit you into Paradise beneath which rivers flow [on] the Day when Allah will not disgrace the Prophet and those who believed with him. Their light will proceed before them and on their right; they will say, "Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You have power over all things." (Q 66:8)

The Arabic word for repentance is Tawbah (literally means “to turn”) which essentially refer to turning towards Allah in humility after having disobeyed Him or transgressed His limits. The word itself provide a hint that it is demanded upon the servant to turn again and again towards Allah in the occurrence of the mistake or at the thought of it. Man is created weak and at the same time God has compensated human weakness through His promise of immense Divine forgiveness. If it were not for the recurrence of sin or the repeatable thought of it in the mind, the Divine Attributes of Ever Forgiveness would not be manifested.

God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance…
~ Romans 2:4 


al-Ghafir, al-Ghafur and al-Ghaffar: three Attributes of Allah

Shaykh Tosun Bayrak teaches: God has three separate yet connected divine attributes and they are namely: al-Ghafir, al-Ghafur and al-Ghaffar. All the three names point to the divine reality that He is the Most Forgiving One.

As for His Name al-Ghafir, it is the quality of hiding His servant's erroneous acts, mistakenly done acts, shameful acts in order that they be able to live with each other, have faith in each other and respect each other. Otherwise, if Allah al-Ghafir, in His mercy did not hide our faults, everyone would run away from everyone else. There could be neither a society nor a single family.

As for His name al-Ghafur, it hides our faults from the realms of spirits and angels just as He does in the human realm. The angles can see things we cannot see in this world. Through the baraka of this Name: al-Ghafur inscribed in the kingdom we find the respect and closeness from the spirits and angles from whom our sins are hidden, who constantly pray and send blessings on behalf of the self-surrendered ones and also so that we are not ashamed in the Hereafter.

And finally God's name, al-Ghaffar is the most encompassing in forgiveness. A man whose faults are hidden from others is saved from being ashamed in front of them, but he may still be ashamed of himself within himself. Everyone has a degree of conscience which suffers from his actions. Allah al-Ghaffar in His mercy hides a person's fault from himself and makes him forget in order to alleviate his suffering.

So by the beautiful name of al-Ghaffar God wills to hide the faults of his creatures even from themselves and it is a sign of unfathomable divine mercy. Take no blame upon yourself for that of your faults which God veils you even from yourself. The angels praise your sincere prayer and holy intention to be more close to purity. Its better that you seek forgiveness for both the faults that you are made aware or unaware.

So is that not enough for us to be grateful to Allah? And when we do, Allah shall increase His grace, increase His forgiveness and free us from the past mistakes and every inclination towards it.

Here is a supplication from the Quran that can be made frequently whenever the thoughts of past sins come to the mind:

Quran 3:8

Rabbana la tuzigh quloobana 
baAAda iz hadaytana 
wahab lana min ladunka rahmata. 
Innaka anta al-wahhab.

"Our Lord! Let not our hearts deviate
after You have guided us,
and grant us mercy from You.
Truly, You the Grantor of bounties without measure."

Along with it its worthy making supplication saying, "Our Lord, perfect for us our light and forgive us. Indeed, You have power over all things." (Q 66:8)

Beside these, a regular wazifa (spiritual practice) would be to recite "Astaghfirullah" which means, "O Allah I ask your forgiveness" abundantly. Other Istighfar statements are: "Astaghfirullaha wa Tubuh ilaih,' I ask forgiveness of Allah and I turn to Him. "Rabbighfirlee watub alayya innaka tawwabul ghafur," My Lord, please forgive me and accept my repentance. Indeed You are the Forgiver.

Another powerful statement of forgiveness is, "Astaghfiru Llahillazi la ilaha illa huwal Haiyyul Qayyum, wa tubu ilaih," I ask forgiveness of my Lord except Whom there is no other deity, He is Every Living, Eternal and I am turning towards Him.

Repentance by Sadiq M. Alam


5.
The Basics of Repentance and Going Further

Repentance is an holistic action that encompasses and affects all dimensions of time.

The most important adab / etiquette of repentance is that it must happen in the present, in here and now without delay. As for its consciousness, it extends both to the past and the future. Those who wishes to purify themselves, their karma, for them repentance is an action which is demanded to be frequent in the here and now and must not be postponed. The act of postponing repentance is another mistake. The moment one commits a mistake and one’s heart reminds one’s self, then and there repentance better be made. This is the element of here and now of repentance.

The past element of repentance is this: O God I acknowledge my mistake, my shortcoming and I am sorry for what I have done in the past. I have committed oppression on my own self and others, both unknowingly as well as knowingly. And I seek Your forgiveness, for You are the Sole Authority to Forgive and Possessor of Never Ending Forgiveness and I seek Refuge from Your Wrath and Disapproval to Your Mercy and Approval.

The future element of repentance is this: God I promise not to repeat my mistake, my shortcoming, my stupidity, my transgressing Your limits. Please enable me to be firm on my promise to You, please give me capacity not to commit this mistake for there is no power and transformation except through Your Power and Your Agency.

The above three when occur by the grace of God, then through God’s approval repentance is accepted. Even after this the thoughts may keep coming back because that is the nature of the mind which keeps whispering (waswasa). This demands greater vigilance and further asking of protection of God.

Generally, we who are imperfect in our action and deeds, even our act of repentance remains flawed. Thus the act of mistake, the falling from the mark (also known as Sin) keep coming back. This is because we are still far below from the rank of the sincere and truthful ones.

For such scenario persists it is advisable that one seek out those who are sincere and truthful, a spiritual elder and to obtain his or her companionship. It is through coming in contact with such beings who reminds us of God, sincerity in the heart is regained. One of the great reviver of Islam, Ashraf Ali Thanvi said, “Those who keep relationship with the friends of God, saints, even if they don’t attain perfection, they will at least become tayeb (one who repent). On the Day of Judgment if they are not raised with the perfected ones, they will surely be raised with the repentant ones.”

If one is lucky one may find those with whom one can take bayah or make promise or give pledge and recommit his or her act of repentance. We have precedence of this in the life of the Prophet where he took bayah or pledge of various group of people for various actions including their tawbah of the act of ignorance. The Sufi Master continues this tradition and help seekers make tawbah and renew their promise and repentance of following God's covenant and respecting the limits. Such a promise taken with a vicegerance of God (Khalifa, a Murshid) is far more powerful and effective in establishing the rights of repentance which is not to commit that act in the past, or a habitual sin which one is sorry for.

In the book titled Manazel e Suluk by Shah Hakeem Muhammad Akhtar of Karachi prescribed that if someone find it very difficult to leave any sinful act, he should keep company with a Shaykh who is Rabbani (Allah-wala / Godly). If he spends forty days under his guidance and wardenship, God willing, for that person it will be made very easy to leave the sins.

Ashraft Ali Thanvi gave analogy that just like as the egg of a hen when remains under the wings of the mother hen for twenty one days, it produce life inside the egg, not only that, the chic also comes out to the outside world by breaking the shell of the egg; similarly if a person stays for forty days with his Murshed, he will attain the renewed life of faith (imani zindagi) and deep relationship with God (nisbat ma’Allah).

The above is the classic Sufi prescription. In case of forty days are not possible to fulfill, even a lesser number of days can be taken. But a Murshid's role can be very transformative in terms of changing the heart and help it reach a station where any trace of the past sins, even it's memory, let alone inclination or obtaining pleasure from its thought - may completely be eliminated, by God's doing.

Last but not the least, the Path is very practical and organic and the inclinations of the nafs / self doesnt have to be repressed but there are prescribed ways in the Divine Law to channel it through permissible and recommended way. It would be advisable to contemplate about ways to control the inclinations within the limits of the Divine Law, which might altogether eliminate psycho-spiritual complexity/ conflicts regarding such scenario. May Allah help us all and make our journey easy for us.

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Answering to the question "What is Sincere Repentance?", contemporary Islamic Scholar Shaykh Faraz Rabbani provided a response on SunniPath which might be useful. Follow this link.


# Further:
* On Repentance from Riyad as-Salihin (The Meadows of the Righteous) by Imam Nawawi
* Repentance (Tawbah)
* Repentance for Sins
* Hadith of the righteous Imams on Tawbah
* Kitab al-Taubah
* The essence of sincere repentance
* The Mercy of Allah in Regard to Forgiveness
The Prayer of Repentance and Sincere Repentance in Islam
* Books by Sidi Muhammad al-Jamal
* Six Steps of Repentance | a Christian perspective
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