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4:17 Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful: Repentance from a deliberate sin

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Allah accept the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom.

Repentance from a deliberate sin


At this point, it should be noted that the Holy Qur’an has used the
words “in ignorance” which apparently gives an impression that the
repentance may be accepted when a sin is committed unintentionally
and unknowingly. But if it is committed deliberately, it will not be
acceptable. However, according to the explanation of this verse given
by the noble Companions, may Allah be pleased with them all, the
word, (ignorance) here does not mean that a sinning person
is not aware of a sin as sin, or has no intention or volition to commit a
sin. Instead, it means that it was the insensitivity and heedlessness of
a person towards the evil end of sin and its ultimate punishment
which became the cause of his audacity to venture into sin, even
though he knew a sin as sin, and had approached it with intention and
volition as well.

In other words, the word, or ignorance used here is in the
sense of carelessness or stupidity. This is supported by an evidence in
Surah Yusuf. Sayyidna Yusuf (Joseph) had said to his brothers: Here the brothers have been called,
, the ignorant ones, although what they did was not the
outcome of any error or forgetfulness but they had done that knowingly and with full deliberation. Yet, it is because of their heedlessness towards the evil end of their act that they have been called (ignorant).

Abu al-Aliyah and Qatadah report that the noble Companions, may
Allah be pleased with them all, agreed that, that is, ‘any sin committed by a servant of Allah is, anyway, an
act of ignorance, be it deliberate or otherwise.’

The master of exegesis, Mujahid said: “Every one who is doing anything in disobedience to Allah is, for that
matter, ignorant while doing it,” even though, on the outside, he may
appear to be a person of great learning. (Ibn Kathir)

In his Tafsir, al-Bahr al-Muhit, Abu Hayyan has said: “This is just
like what has been reported in a hadith , that is, ‘a
person who commits kina (adultery) will not be doing so while in a
state of being a true Muslim.’ It means that the time when he
succumbed to the temptation of this evil act, that was the time when
he was flung far off from the demand of his faith. For this reason,
Sayyidna ‘Ikrimah said that is, ‘everything one does in
this mortal world – outside the framework of obedience to Allah – is
ignorance.’ The logic is very obvious since the person disobeying Allah
is preferring short-lived pleasures over those ever-lasting; and, anyone
who takes the punishment which will last for ever and ever in
exchange for this short-lived series of pleasures cannot be called
rational, sensible or smart. Such a person would be universally termed
as ignorant, even if he knows the evil of his act and has all the intention and resolve to go ahead with it.

The gist of the discussion so far is that the sin that a man commits,
deliberately or mistakenly, gets committed due to nothing but ‘jihaat’
or ignorance. Therefore, there is a consensus of the entire Muslim
ummah on the principle that the repentance of a person who commits
some sin deliberately can also be accepted. (al-Bahr al-Muhit)

Incidentally, there is another point worth attention in the present
verse which prescribes a candition for the acceptance of repentance – that one should repent soon without delaying it. The Qur’anic words are: “Shortly thereafter.” What does “shortly” signify and how much
time will come within the limit of “shortly”? The Holy Prophet (S) has
himself explained this in a hadith in the following words: The hadah means that Allah Almighty accepts the repentance of His servant until the time he passes into the throes of death
and his soul struggles to get out of his rattling throat.

Muhaddith Ibn Marduwayh has narrated from Sayyidna ‘Abdullah
ibn ‘Umar (RA) that he heard the Holy Prophet (S)
saying: ‘A believing servant of Allah who repents from his sin a month
before his death, or repents a day or a moment earlier, Allah Almighty
shall accept his repentance, the condition being that the repentance
should be genuine and sincere. (Ibn Kathir)


In short, the explanation of “min qarib” (shortly thereafter) given by the Holy Prophet (S) himself tells us that virtually man’s whole life-time comes under “qarib” and, as such, any repentance
which is offered well before death shall be acceptable. However, the
repentance made by man while in throes of death is not acceptable.
Maulana Ashraf ‘Ali Thanas in his Tafsir Bayan al-Qur’an, has elaborated the subject by saying that man faces two conditions when close to death. Firstly, there is the condition of utter hopelessness when all
medicines and efforts fail and man comes to realize that death is
round the corner. This is known as the state of i.e., conscious
suffering. The second condition relates to what comes after, that is,
when the pangs of the departure of human soul begin and the fated
time of ghargharah (the onomatopoetic rattling sound emerging from
the throat, a herald of approaching death) comes close. This is known
as the state of i.e., total despair. The first condition, that is, the
condition of conscious suffering comes within the sense of “min gar”
and the repentance made at that time is accepted; but, the repentance
in the second condition, that is, the condition of total despair, is not
acceptable, for this is a condition when- the angels and things
belonging to the Hereafter may start appearing before the dying
person, and they are not included in the sense of “min qarib”

This explanation given by the Holy Prophet (S) has been
pointed out by the Holy Qur’an itself in the following verse (i.e. verse
18) where it is expressly mentioned that repenting, after the sure signs
of death are visible, is not accepted.

So, in the light of this explanation the addition of “min qarib” (shortly thereafter) in this verse serves to indicate that the very life span of man is limited in time, and death, which he may think is far
away, may actually be quite near.

“Relenting taken by Allah upon Himself’ is a form of promise the
fulfillment of which is certain. Otherwise the truth is that Allah
Almighty does not necessarily owe anything to anyone.

The second verse (18) describes those whose repentance is not
acceptable with Allah, those who fearlessly go on committing sins
throughout their entire lives yet, when death stands on their head and
the withdrawal of their soul is set in motion and the angels of death
start becoming visible, they start offering repentance. How could their
repentance become acceptable when they kept running wild with their
lives and wasted all opportunities of repenting while there was still
time to repent. This is very much like Pharaoh and his people who
called out while drowning that they were ready to believe in the Lord
of Musa (Moses) and Haroon (Aaron). Naturally, they were told that
their declaration of faith at that time was of no consequence, because
the time set for it was all over.

What is repentance?
After the literal explanation of these two verses, it seems necessary
to define Taubah or repentance and determine its real nature and
status. In his ‘Ihya’ al-‘Ulum, Imam al-Ghazali has identified three
different situations with regard to committing sins:

The first state is that of total sinlessness, that is, no sin has ever
been committed. This is either the hallmark of angels or that of the
prophets, may peace be on them. The second stage of getting involved
in sin comes when one takes the initiative and ventures into sin and
then repeats and persists with it, never feeling ashamed or regretful
and never thinking of stopping and abandoning it. This is the degree of
the satans and the devils. The third station belongs to human beings,
the children of Adam who, immediately after having committed a sin,
regret it and resolve firmly not to go near it in future.

This tells us that failing to repent after committing a sin is the
style of devils exclusively. Therefore, it is the consensus of the entire
Muslim ummah that Taubah is obligatory. The Holy Qur’an says:

(O those who believe, repent before Allah, a sincere repentance; may be your Lord removes from you your sins and
admits you to gardens beneath which rivers flow.)

How generous is the mercy of our Lord! A man spends a whole life time in disobeying Him. Nevertheless, when he repents sincerely
before his death, not only his sins are forgiven, but he receives much
more when he is admitted into the circle of favoured servants of Allah
and made an inheritor of Paradise.

In a hadfth, the Holy Prophet (S) has been reported to
have said: that is, ‘one who repents
from sin is loved by Allah and one who has repented from sin is like
one who had never committed a sin.’ (Ibn Majah)

According to some narrations, if a servant of Allah repents from a
sin and his repentance finds acceptance with Him, he is not only
absolved from having to account for it, but the very record in writing
posted by the angels is erased out from his book of deeds so that he
may not be disgraced either.

However, what is necessary is that the repentance is genuine and
is offered in sincerity. This repentance stands on three pillars. Firstly,
one should regret over and feel ashamed about what he or she has
done. According to hadith, that is, ‘Taubah is (another name
of) remorse’. Secondly, one should immediately leave off the sin he has
committed and he should, for the future too, firmly resolve to stay
away from it. Thirdly, one should think of making amends for what
has gone by, that is, he should try to take measures to rectify what has happened in sin to the best of his ability. For example, if he has missed a prayer or a fast, he should make up for it by doing what is
known as qadii(compensatory worship). If one does not remember the
correct number of such missed prayers and fasts, he should think,
calculate and come to an estimated number and then go on to offer
qada for these in all seriousness. If one finds it impossible to do so all
at one time, he could offer, with each due at its time, one qada of
each he missed throughout his life, which is commonly known as
‘urnriqada In the same way, one should do his best to make up, as and
when convenient, for obligatory fasts he missed by offering qada fasts.
May be one has not paid the obligatory zaka due on him; he should,
then pay the zakah due on him for previous years as well, paying it all
or paying it gradually. God forbid, if one has usurped someone’s right,
he should return it back to him and if he has hurt someone, he should
seek his forgiveness. But, should it be that one does not regret what he
has done, or, despite being regretful, he does not leave off that sin for
future, then, this repentance is no repentance even though it may be
said a thousand times, as so delightfully put in verse by a Persian
poet:

Repentance on the lips, rosary in hand
and a heart full of the taste of sin
Sin laughs at my style of seeting forgiveness!

The point being made here is that man, once he repents as stated
earlier, and despite having been in all sorts of sins, becomes a servant
dear to Allah. And should it ever be that, out of human weakness, one
does fall into sin yet another time, he should immediately renew his
repentance in the fond hope that this time, like every other time, Allah
Almighty shall, being Most-Forgiving, relent towards him. Let me
conclude with yet another Persian couplet which says:

This is the Court of My Presence,
not the Court of Despair.
Even if you have broken (the promise in) your repentance
a hundred times, come again!

References:

Shafi, Muhammad (2008). Maariful Quran. (Vol .1 pg. 363-368). http://www.islamicweblibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/maarif-volum1-english.pdf

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