To Err is human. Being a human we ought to be fallible and in our life, sooner or later we do commit mistakes. This realization of committing of mistake is what differentiates us from animals, as the animals are not conscious of them committing a mistake. Therefore, committing mistakes is quite natural, but not realizing their committing is something that we ought to avoid.
Islam also realizes that humans make mistakes and intentionally or unintentionally they commit sins. Islam does not expect humans to not commit sins, rather what it wants from them is to realize their mistakes and repent upon their sins. Therefore, Islam does not expect humans to become angels, rather it expects them to be themselves and repent on whatever mistake that gets committed by them.
The lines below discuss the importance of repentance in Islam and how can a Muslim repent on his or her sins.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in a hadith:
“O mankind! Do Tawbah (repent) to Allah and seek His forgiveness, for surely, I do so 100 times every single day.” (Saheeh Muslim)
According to Islamic ideology, Prophets are Massoom, meaning that they cannot commit sin. Thus, if Prophet (PBUH) repented whilst being a Prophet, then it stands as a clear message to the rest of Muslims that no matter how righteous we think we are we are never beyond the level of repentance and in every case we ought to repent. Therefore, a Muslim ought to keep on repenting regardless of whether he or she has committed a sin or not.
At another place, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said:
“I swear by the One in whose hand is my soul! If you did not commit sins, Allah would have surely gotten rid of all of you, and He would have surely brought another people who would commit sins – so that they would then seek Allah’s forgiveness (for their sins) and so He would forgive them.” (Muslim)
From this hadith it is evident that repentance on sins is one of the purposes of human existence. Allah realizes that humans are ought to commit mistakes. He does not want humans that do not commit any sin, rather to Him what matters is humans who commit sins despite all their refraining, but as soon as they commit any sin they repent for it. Therefore, the virtue of repenting on sin supersedes the evil of committing the sin.
Repenting on Sins:
Although there is no set way of seeking forgiveness of Allah, one can do it any way one thinks it feasible, however, there are some elements that should be present in the repentance of a Muslim. The presence of these elements ensures that the repentance is true, and the truth of it then further increases the chances of its acceptance.
The first thing that should be present in the repentance of a Muslim, regardless of how it is being done is remorse. A Muslim must realize and feel remorse for whatever sin he or she has committed. If one commits a sin and then stays arrogance about it and does repentance as a formality without any remorse on what he or she has done, then the chances of that repentance being accepted are minimal. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said in a hadith:
“Remorse is repentance.” (Ahmed)
Therefore, if the element of remorse is void in the Tauba that a Muslim makes, then no matter how glorified and effortful the Tauba is, the chances of it being accepted are little, whereas, a simple Tauba that shows the true remorse that the Muslim feels on the sin has a greater chance of being accepted.
Another important element that is expected to be present in the Tauba that a Muslim makes is sincerity. Tauba is a matter between the Lord and His subject, therefore, the element of sincerity needs to be there. Tauba is not something which one could do or which one does for the sake of showing to the people, rather the act of it rises from the heart of a person, therefore, with heart comes sincerity. Therefore, the repentance done for the sake of reputation or for showing people who remorseful you are on the sin that has been committed, is not Tauba, rather it is hypocrisy and does not stand a chance in the court of Allah. When making Tauba a person must sincerely believe in his or her heart that the Tauba they are making is just for the purpose of seeking forgiveness from Allah and there is no other ulterior objective associated with it.
Refrain From The Sin:
The act of Tauba is exploited when a person thinks of Tauba as just an act without any implications. People commit a sin, they are remorseful of it, they repent on it, however, afterwards they commit the sin again. Moreover, there are people who make a habit of it, who think of repentance as a pass that allows them to commit a sin again. This notion is wrong and repentance stands for resolving not to commit the sin again. If a Muslim is doing Tauba with the taught in mind that after this Tauba he or she is relieved of the sin and they can again commit the sin is wrong. Tauba stands for true repentance, and once one asks of Tauba for a particular sin, then he or she must refrain and resolve from not committing that sin again. Therefore, a Tauba that is done with the thought of committing the sin again whenever the chance becomes available is not Tauba, rather it is the misuse of a sacred act loved by Allah.
When it comes to repentance, the most common trait observed in majority of Muslims is that we delay in repenting. When we commit a sin, we think of repenting later, and this later never comes and within that a person commits other sins as well. As humans we have no guarantee of life, therefore, when there is no guarantee of the next breath, then how can we postpone Tauba to a particular time? A Muslim must realize that there is no ‘later’ when it comes to Tauba, rather a Muslim must repent as soon as he or she commits a sin and never postpone repentance for a particular time in life.
Keep On Repenting:
Another misconception that people have pertaining to Tauba is that they think that there is some sin or some amount of sinning beyond which the hope of their forgiveness is lost, therefore, such people never turn back and continue on with the same life of sinning. Moreover, those who repent on their sin once, and if despite their best efforts they commit the sin again, they also lose hope of forgiveness and do not repent. Both these notions are wrong, a Muslim must realize that the door of forgiveness is never closed and a Muslim can and a Muslim should keep on repenting after every sin he or she commits. A Muslim must never give up repentance, but that does not mean that a Muslim should make a habit of committing a sin and then repenting on it. Rather, sin must be avoided as much as possible, however, once it gets committed, one must repent immediately regardless of how grave it is.
In short, Repenting should be a major element of the life of a Muslim. The intensity with which Muslims refrain from sin, they should turns that intensity into submission and remorse in the form of repentance once they commit a sin. Above all, one should never lose hope and give up on forgiveness, rather seek forgiveness continuously and frequently.