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Repentance: Revival of the Soul

The door to repentance is always openRepentance is not a verbal statement, rather it is an internal revolution. It is a psychological and spiritual state, a revolution of the mind. It emanates in the heart of the sinner with a deep feeling of loss and sorrow. This internal revolution brings about a return to the right path with a resolve not to commit the same sin again.

The door to repentance is always open

Allah says in the Holy Qu’ran, “Say: O my servants! who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (39:53)

The word tawbah (repentance) means literally to turn or return from one thing to another. One of Allah’s names is At-Tawwaab (He Who turns) and the verb from its root is used both for Allah’s turning toward man and man’s turning toward Allah. Our repentance refers to every level of turning away from our self and towards Allah.

Repentance is not a verbal statement, rather it is an internal revolution. It is a psychological and spiritual state, a revolution of the mind. It emanates in the heart of the sinner with a deep feeling of loss and sorrow. This internal revolution brings about a return to the right path with a resolve not to commit the same sin again.

Ayatullah Mutahhari explains repentance: “Repentance is an internal revolution of the human being against the self. Plants and animals do not act against themselves yet the human being has the ability to do so. The rise of one group of human being against another group is a natural and obvious matter since we expect the oppressed to arise against the oppressor. This is also true of the rise of one country or nation against another country or nation. But the rise of a person against the self is not so simple and obvious. Why does it happen? The reason is that, in spite of having one body, a human being is intellectually and spiritually a complex being. The human being is a mixture of animal ferocity and passion on the one hand, and of angelic qualities on the other. Sometimes the pig takes over the command as a lustful being, giving no choice to the ferocious beast, devil or angel within to act. Suddenly one part rebels against this rule and subverts it in favor of the domination of another of its aspects.

“A sinful being is one who is dominated by the beast or devil within by which the angel and its noble qualities are imprisoned. Repentance is the arising of the noble qualities within against one’s own mean and wicked aspects, putting an end to their domination and destroying all their force. Thus, repentance is a reaction of the holy and noble spirit of the human being against the lower animal self; a holy rebellion of the angelic side against the evil and beastly vices within.”

In a way, repentance is the reaction of the angelic or noble self of man after committing sin. Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) says in a du’a: “My God, offenses have clothed me in the garment of my lowliness, separation from Thee has wrapped me in the clothing of my misery! My dreadful crimes have deadened my heart”. If a human being is not spiritually dead and has not reached the point of death, if the heart has still some life-like characteristics, then sins are bound to make one sad. The degree of remorse and regret after sins is dependent on two factors: the intensity of sin we have committed (the degree of our crime and a measure how much we have hurt our angelic aspect of self), and our closeness with Allah. The closer we are to Allah, the more we will feel pained after sinning.

Ayatullah Mutahhari quotes a story from history and forwards a point on repentance and remorse: “The existence of a few fine and noble elements in a human being will make repentance possible. If one knows God, this repentance may take the form of turning to God. If not, it will take some other form and may even lead to madness. Bushr ibn Artas was a most cruel general of Mu’awiyah. A policy of Mu’awiyah was to send him or other equally hard-hearted men at the head of an army to penetrate the frontiers of Ali’s realm and do as much damage as possible. They were given a free hand to kill, burn, pillage and destroy. Bushr once attacked Yemen, committing many crimes including capturing and beheading two small sons of Ubaidullah ibn Abbas, Ali’s cousin, who was the governor there. His conscience later troubled him so much for this ugly deed that neither in his sleep nor while awake, even for a moment, could he forget it. Finally he went out and rode a wooden horse in the street with a wooden sword in one hand and a whip in the other, followed by groups of children hooting and laughing at him.”

Allah has allowed repentance because of unbounded mercy which He has made obligatory on Himself. “Say: O my servants! who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” (39:53)

“The Forgiver of the faults and the Acceptor of repentance, severe to punish, Lord of bounty; there is no God but He; to Him is the eventual coming.” (40:3)

But the doors of repentance are closed once death approaches: “And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says ‘Surely now I repent’, nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers. These are they for whom We have prepared a painful chastisement.” (4:18)

Muhammad ibn Muslim has narrated from Abu Ja’far (peace be upon him) that he said: ‘”O Muhammad ibn Muslim! Sins of the believer are forgiven to him when he repents from them. Therefore, the believer should perform his deeds afresh after repentance and forgiveness. But, by Allah! It is not but for the people of faith.” I said, “But what if he relapses into sins after repentance and forgiveness, and then repents again?” He said, “O Muhammad ibn Muslim! Do you think that a believer servant feels remorse for his sin and asks forgiveness from Allah for it and repents and then Allah will not accept his repentance?” I said, “Then if he does so repeatedly, commits sin and repents and asks forgiveness?” Then he said, “Whenever the believer returns asking for forgiveness and repenting, Allah the High, returns to him with forgiveness; and surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. He accepts repentance and pardons the evils. Therefore, be careful, lest you make the believers lose hope of Allah’s mercy.”‘ (Al-Kafi)

We conclude our discussion with reciting a part of a du’a, the Whispered Prayer of the Repenters (Taibeen) from Sahifa Sajjadia:

“My God, offenses have clothed me in the garment of my lowliness, separation from Thee has wrapped me in the clothing of my misery! My dreadful crimes have deadened my heart, so bring it to life by a repentance from Thee! O my hope and my aim! O my wish and my want! By Thy might, I find no one but Thee to forgive my sins and I see none but Thee to mend my brokenness! I have subjected myself to Thee in repeated turning, I have humbled myself to Thee in abasement. If Thou castest me out from Thy door, in whom shall I take shelter? If Thou repellest me from Thy side, in whom shall I seek refuge? O my grief at my ignominy and disgrace! O my sorrow at my evil works and what I have committed!”

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