Repentance is ultimately the goal that we all seek. All sane people are conscious of their numerous sins, and those who believe in Allah and His Messenger ﷺ (may Allah exalt his mention) recognize that they will be held accountable for their sins, and therefore desire to be free of the evil consequences of their misdeeds. Islam offers man the ideal way by which he may be released from the burden of his sins.
The word Tawbah (repentance) in Arabic literally means ‘to return’. In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allah has prohibited and returning to what He, Almighty, has commanded.
The subject of repentance is one that concerns all people who believe in Allah, and is vital for the Muslims to understand because our salvation in the Hereafter depends on our repentance to Allah, as Allah commands (what means): "…And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, that you might succeed." [Quran 24:31]
Allah also Says (what means): "…Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” [Quran 2:222]
One may have a real intention to repent, but there may be some obstacles to the path of repentance. If this is the case, then he needs to act without hesitation and remove those obstacles to clear the way to a happy soul.
The postponement of repentance may be the result of either a deliberate desire to prolong the illicit pleasure derived from the sin, or doubt on the part of an ignorant sinner whether or not Allah would accept his repentance.
However, we have to be certain that Allah will guide us to success and safeguard us against our malice. We also must be confident that Allah forgives our sins and that He, and only He, can judge us. It is only His Judgement that is worthy of our worry and anxiety. So we should fear Him only because sincere repentance removes all sins and disobedience.
The door of repentance is always open, until…
The door to repentance is always open and will not be closed in the face of any repentant person, regardless of his sins. Expect this gate to have two locks: death and the approach of the Day of Judgement. The first was mentioned in the Hadeeth: "Allah accepts a slave’s repentance unless his death approaches." [At-Tirmithi]
The other was mentioned in the Hadeeth: "Whosoever turns to Allah in repentance before the sun rises in the West, Allah will forgive him." [Ahmad]
Allah Says in the Quran what means: "But repentance is not [accepted] of those who [continue to] do evil deeds up until, when death comes to one of them, he says: ‘Indeed, I have repented now,’ or of those who die while they are disbelievers…” [Quran 4:18]
O heedless soul! Hasten to repent before the knock of death sounds and the time of repentance runs out. Do not get caught dying in a state of disobedience to your Most Merciful Lord. Satan gives you long hope and empty promises; he delays your repentance until your heart becomes as callous as a rock by being adamant in sin and disobedience, and you would therefore meet your Lord in a wretched state. If the door of repentance is closed to you, it will never open to you again.
What keeps us from repenting?
1. Taking sins lightly:
The problem with many of us today is that we do not fear Allah, which means that we do not think seriously about disobeying Him and therefore fall into sin, without giving any real thought to it. Hence, we should think about the statement which Ibn Mas’ood, may Allah be pleased with him, made: "A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain which he is afraid may collapse on him, whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose which he just drives away like this (and he waved his hand across his face to illustrate this)." [Al-Bukhari]
The Prophet ﷺ said: "Take caution against minor sins, because such sins are like a group of people who temporarily settled in the middle of a valley. Then, they decided to make a fire, so each one of them brought a stick until they were able to make it, so they baked their bread. Thus, minor sins (when they accumulate) may destroy the one who commits them." [Ahmad]
2. "What is the point? I will only end up doing it again"
Such an approach is the result of a misunderstanding. Indeed, one of the conditions of repentance is having a real intention not to return to the same sin. This, however, does not mean that Satan will never tempt you to commit the same sin again. Thus, if you have failed yourself, and you returned to the same sin, it does not mean that your first repentance was a lie. You should hasten to make additional repentance, with a real intention not to return to this sin, keeping in mind that Allah’s mercy extends over everything.
3. "Allah is forgiving, so let me sin"
When reminded of repentance and the hideousness of disobedience, some people would respond that Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. An atheist once said in sarcasm: "You should commit as many sins as you can because you are heading towards the Lord who is Most-Generous." There is no doubt that such a view is complete ignorance of the religion of Allah, because Allah’s mercy is close to the righteous and not to the wrongdoers.
4. "I am destined to be a sinner"
Some people may choose to blame Al-Qadr (fate) for their sins. For example, if you ask any of them, "Why do you not perform the Prayers? Why do you not fast? Why do you drink or smoke? Why do you not repent from your disobedience?" They would respond by saying: "This is Allah’s Qadr" or: "I am doomed to do this." This is definitely a grave misconception and an evasion of the truth. Believing in Al-Qadr does not mean that one is destined to commit sins. It is true that Allah has written all human beings’ deeds, good or bad, and only He knows the unseen, but the believer is not forced to perform a good deed, nor is he forced to commit any disobedience. Instead, he has been granted the ability to reflect, reason and then make a decision freely. Al-Qadr is only responsible for the calamities and blessings that an individual may confront because he can do nothing about them. For example, if a couple were to marry and have three children, then this is their Qadr. It is impermissible to fault Al-Qadr for our sins and disobedience because doing so is akin to being in confrontation and showing dissatisfaction with Allah.
Repentance wipes out all sins, major and minor:
Being confused, some people may think that repentance is only required for major sins. It should be noted that repentance from all sins is obligatory.
Even the Prophet ﷺ who was sinless, asked Allah to forgive him on a daily basis. The Prophet ﷺ is reported to have said: "O people! Make repentance to Allah. I swear by Allah that I make repentance to Him more than seventy times every day." [Al-Bukhari]
Therefore, we all need to fear Allah, ask His forgiveness and be aware that there is no sin that is minor with persistence, and no major sin with seeking Allah’s forgiveness (i.e. if the minor sin is repeated many times it becomes a major one.) Thus, sincere repentance wipes out all committed sins.
Someone might say: "I want to repent but my sins are too many." But Allah Says what means: "Say: ‘O my slaves 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." [Quran 39:53]
Therefore, we should never lose hope or stop asking for Allah’s forgiveness. Its importance is shown to us in the Hadeeth in which the Prophet ﷺ said: "O people! Turn to Allah in repentance and seek His forgiveness, for I make repentance to Him a hundred times every day." [Muslim]
Repentance is such a great act of worship that doing it can erase all our sins altogether, as the Prophet ﷺ said: "One who repents from sin is like one without sin." [Ibn Maajah]