Personal Development

How To Perform Repentance (Part 1)

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Just recently, I was asked about a topic known to all Muslims. However, in our daily lives, we tend to many times forget about this issue. In terms of practicality, we seem to forget how preposterously simple this act is and how we should really be doing it more often. Therefore, I decided to discuss it here in my piece.

I was asked, “How does one exactly perform Tawbah (Arabic for repentance)?” Is it a very difficult and long process where one has to go to an Imam or judge and ‘confess’ his sins, as is the case in some other religions? The answer is no. This is a matter between you and your Lord. This is obviously as long as the sin or evil deed you did does not involve another human being. In that case, a person would have to generally (though this is not always the case) go to that person and give him his right back. For example, if you stole or if you fought someone, you need to go back to that person and say that you’re sorry.

Normally however, Tawbah is something that is between you and Allah, your Creator, Sustainer, and Cherisher. And it’s something that we should really do often, not just in Ramadan, because Allah says, “Surely, Allah loves those who are Tawwabin – people who constantly repent to Him.” [2:222] Notice Allah did not say: “Allah loves the Ta’ibin (those who repent)”, but he said: Tawwabin, which means “those who constantly, over and over, repent to Allah.”

The Prophet ﷺ actually ordered us to do Tawbah, when he said: “Oh mankind! Do Tawbah (repent) to Allah and seek His forgiveness, for surely, I do so one hundred times every single day.” (Sahih Muslim). That is because this Tawbah is actually one of the purposes of our very creation as human beings. You see, it is part of our human nature that we sin and that we commit mistakes and errors. But this is so that we can return to Allah and seek His forgiveness. And really, this is what distinguishes some sinners from others because let’s face it – we’re all sinners. The only difference between us is our admission of committing the sin, the feeling that it was wrong, and the want to ask Allah for forgiveness. This point was clearly indicated by the Prophet in a hadith in Sahih Muslim. Abu Hurayrah narrated that he 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 and so He would forgive them.” So one of the purposes of our very existence is to constantly do Tawbah to Allah.

So, how do we repent to Allah?

Istighfar: Seeking Forgiveness

A person can ask Allah to forgive him for his sin(s) in general by simply doing Istighfar.  Istighfar linguistically means, “seeking forgiveness.” Practically, it means, “by sincerely saying the phrase Astaghfirullah (I seek Allah’s forgiveness)”. أَسْتَغْفِرُ اللَّه

This Istighfar can and should be done at any time, whether it be in your Salah, while resting, lying down, walking, talking, on the phone, driving, working, eating, playing, exercising, waiting in line, shopping, sitting in the Masjid, etc. Just recall your sin and say this simple phrase, sincerely from your heart.

One of our teachers who studied with Shaykh ibn Baz (may Allah be pleased with him), said that he noticed something amazing. It was that whenever Shaykh ibn Baz gave a lecture or had a class he noticed that the Shaykh’s lips never stopped moving while in the Q&A session; he was doing Istighfar even in the breaks between his speaking! And look at how simple it is, and yet so many people are neglectful of it, and waste their time in gossiping and chatting and so on. Our beloved Prophet Muhammad ﷺ used to do Istighfar at least one hundred times every day, even though Allah had already forgiven all of his sins, as stated in Surah al-Fath verse 2 and elsewhere. SubhanAllah!

Look at the example he was setting for his followers. And then, look at how seriously his followers took this matter. It has been narrated that one of the Companions of the Prophet ﷺ, a famous narrator of hadeeth known to us all – Abu Hurayrah – used to do this Istighfar 12,000 times every day. Can you imagine that?! He would find the time, throughout the day, to say أستغفر الله (I seek Allah’s forgiveness) 12,000 times daily!

Tawbah: Returning to Allah

Now, apart from Istighfar, which is “general”, there is a more specific way of seeking Allah’s forgiveness called Tawbah. This is translated as “repentance”, but from a literal perspective, it means, “returning back.”

Now Tawbah can be done from any sin one has committed, whether it is a major or a minor sin. But usually, Tawbah is done for the major sins because the Prophet told us that when we pray the five Prayers, fast Ramadan, and attend the Friday (Jumu’ah) Prayer, all of our minor sins are forgiven through them. Just by doing these simple acts, our sins are being forgiven… SubhanAllah. Another example is that at the end of every Salah, if you sit for a few moments, remember Allah, and say SubhanAllah (High is Allah above every imperfection and need – He is pure and perfect) 33 times, Alhamdulillah (All praise be to Allah) 33 times, and Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest) 33 times ~ and then say “La Ilaha IllAllah, wahdahu la shareeka lah, lahul mulk, wa lahul hamd, wa huwa ala kulli shay’in qadeer,” the Prophet told us “All of the person’s sins will be forgiven, even if they are as abundant as the foam of the sea!” (Sahih Muslim).

But now, for the major sins, a person is obligated to do tawbah for them to be forgiven.

Major sins are any sins that Allah or the Messenger has said that whoever does it, will be “punished”, or enter Hell, or receive the Anger or Curse of Allah, or other terms the Prophet may have used like “he is not one of us”, or “he is cursed”, or “I have nothing to do with someone who”, or a sin for which there’s a prescribed worldly punishment. Examples include lying, cheating, stealing, cursing parents, intentionally missing one of the five prayers, fornication and adultery, riba (usury/interest), intentionally listening to music, consuming intoxicants, murder, practicing magic, practicing “religious innovations”, gambling, oppression, pride/arrogance, using foul speech, cursing, backbiting, spying, intentionally disobeying a command of the Prophet, and so on. For these major sins, one is obligated to do Tawbah from them.

Some scholars, such as Ibn Taymiyyah, held a unique view that istighfar can be done with or without tawbah. They argued that in either case the “asking for forgiveness” may be accepted by Allah and the person may be forgiven for his deed and not punished in the Hereafter, even though he did not perform the complete repentance. For the major sins, the correct view, as shared by Ibn Uthaymin, seems to be that the person cannot just say: ”Oh Allah, forgive me”, and leave. He must also do the sincere repentance. Allah knows best.

Now, how does one actually perform Tawbah? Find out more in Part 2.

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AbdulBasit Khan currently lives in Lanham, MD where he gives weekly lectures at his local Mosque, PGMA. He grew up in the ADAMS Center community in Sterling, VA and moved to College Park, MD to attend Al-Huda School at the age of 11. After graduating from Al-Huda’s middle school and completing his hifzh, he began to volunteer at Prince George’s Muslim Association where he spent the next 8 years studying under the mentorship of many Imams, eventually becoming assistant Imam. His hobbies include reading beneficial works, listening to interesting talks and attending inspiring Islamic events. He feels that MYM is a beautiful medium for him to share some of his thoughts and be inspired by the musings of fellow youth.

31 Comments

  1. Avatar

    this is such a beautiful piece mashaAllah.

    I never knew that listening to music was a major sin-

    subhanAllah this piece was too good :)

    i pray that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gives you all good both in this world and the Hereaffter ameen, brother.

  2. Avatar

    is music really a major sin? is there a hadith about it or something? i’m really confused and i didn’t even notice that part the first time i read this article! I learned that some minor sins become major ones if you keep repeating them (like music) so I thought it was a minor sin if you do it once in a while.

  3. Avatar
    sulaiman saed haruna Reply

    Alhamdullillah. It is heartwarming when you we interact and share knowledge.I have really learnt a lot

  4. Avatar
    samir musa Reply

    my question is that;

    it is narrated that someone was praying to Allah in most humble condition but because his income,nourishment and clothes were from haram his prayer has not been answered;

    and also there is a hadith which has said that the prayer of a prostitute and a tax collector will not be answered by Allah at the time when he answers everyones request;

    does above hadiths mean that if any one is committing major sins even if he have perform optional Sallah or fasting,obligatory Sallah and other act of worships meant not directly for world but to get closer to Allah will not be acceptable by Him until they repent?

    i don’t perform any of the above actions but i want know the ruling to quench my thirst of knowledge.

    may Allah reward

  5. Avatar

    Can someone please transliterate this into a way I am able to pronounce? I am a convert, and unfortunately cannot read arabic. In sha allah one day I will learn.
    لا إله إلا الله وحده لا شريك له, له الملك, وله الحمد وهو على كل شيء قدير

    Jazaak Allah

    • Avatar

      It says: “Laa ilaaha illa Allah, wahdahu laa shareeka lahu, lahul-mulku wa lahul-hamdu, wa huwa ‘ala kulli shay’in qadeer.”

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      maryam aslam Reply

      Laa ilaaha illallahu wahhdahu laa shareeka lahu lahul mulku wa lahul hamdu wa hua ala kulli sha’ee’in qadeer.

  6. Avatar

    Assalaamualaikum. ” Intentionally listening to music ” is a sin.
    1) For example the person (He/She) knows the timing of the prayers and instead of listening to the AZAN of the prayers. The person was listening the music.
    2) For example the person is listening to music, on the way to the Mosque to pray. Instead the person could say any Surah on the way to the Mosque.

    I think this is the meaning of “Intentionally listening to Music”. I seek forgiveness if I have mentioned anything wrongly. May ALLAH bless all my brother and sisters. :)

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    Just one comment…the part where it says intentionally listening to music is a major sin is in correct because as you should know as the prohpet (saaw) entered makkah he was greeted by the song “talaa badru alayna” and he was going there to spread the religion of islam you would think if it was a major sin he would have told them it was haram. Now listening to vulgar music is a other thing.

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    M. Siddique Sorathia Reply

    Many forms of music, like sufi music are performed as prayers.

  9. Avatar

    JAK for this. I recently committed a major sin( one that I’ve been stuck in for a long time actually) and I want to get rid of it. Make dua plz :(

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    As-salam Alaikum Waramotulahi bro/sis. in our community most women dressing is not compere with the Shariah of Islam. in our market the type of cloth they sold is not in contrary to Shariah, most people are dressing nakedly, women would wore short trouser around opposite sex with little Hijab, religious knowledge is very reduce even in the house of those our Imams. we need prayer from the believer in other to weak their strength. if there is any advise; please advice on how to empower our sisters to able to use proper Hijab

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      To encourage yourself/others to wear PROPER ISLAMIC CLOTHES ,remind them that we are meant for Jannah.Therefore, we should be happy to wear clothes of Jannatis.Wearing clothes that compromise our Deen is the dressing of those you don’t believe in Allah,thus incurring SIN.Also, western clothing is very uncomfortable compared to a loose Kurta/cloak.NOTE :Dont be rough when addressing a person of his clothes,rather talk and encourage him This is more effective as it gives a sense of guilt.If a person don’t listen,just keep on trying.It dont matter if he listens,it matters if you gave him the message. Wasslm

  11. Avatar

    Assalamua’laikum, sir. I would like to know the practical way of repentance in Islam. For example; step 1, step2 and so on. How to avoid getting back to bad habits and how to know Allah. Thank you.

    • Avatar

      You might this page helpful in clarifying the conditions of repentance:
      https://islamqa.info/en/46683
      As for motivating yourself to stay away from sins, there are multiple ways you can do this. One way could be asking yourself before you are about to commit something sinful, whether you think it would make Allah pleased with you or not.
      You can read about Allah’s names and attributes to know about Him and feel closer to Him.

  12. Avatar

    I have read the quran and understand tawba. The problem is, JESUS’ BLOOD is the remission of sins and the only acceptable to God. and why our “tawba” as Christians, faith in Jesus’ sacrifice, ACTUALLY forgives sins with God. We become blameless. Your tawba is simply praying to allah/abbadon to forgive your sins, (Revelation 9:11) but it isnt accepting Gods gift for remission of sins. God does not hear it. Demons/Jinn do. (you are literally praying to the HEAD of all jinn, deceived by the Quran to think the god of this world is the real creator, when he is not)

    Surely you know the story of Cain and Abel. Abel’s sacrifice of blood was acceptable to God for remission of His sins. Cain’s sacrifice (of fruits) (no blood) was NOT.

    This is an allegoric prophecy for Christs coming final blood sacrifice for sins.

    Abel=Christian tawba – accepting Jesus’ gift
    Cain=Muslim tawba – denying Jesus’ gift

    So Muslim tawba does NOT get you into heaven, but Christian tawba does.

    If you do not accept Christs gift for sin, you will not be eligible to go to heaven.

    Might I also add, Cain slew Abel. Muslims slay Christians all over the world in the EXACT same way for the EXACT same reason. Anger that your repentance isnt good enough. Well it isnt. Christians do not slay Muslims. (The US president is not a Christian by the way, our government is evil, and what they have done to Muslims is BIBLICALLY wrong, and God abhors it.) A true Christian would NEVER kill a Muslim. Our God (Jesus) forbade it. Your quran instructs killing of infidels. I love Muslims as my fellow man as Jesus commanded and as a Christian. Im truly am sorry if I have offended you, but I am speaking the truth. I can show you through Gods Word, the Bible, that you ARE the ones being deceived, not me..

  13. Avatar

    Please make dua that Allah forgives all my sins boh minor and major inshaAllah

  14. Avatar

    jazarkallah khair brother for sharing this article
    Allah bless you
    I cried reading this

    Ameen

  15. Avatar
    Habibu Tijjani Reply

    JazakAllahu bi khair for your great contribution to islam and to the muslim umma at large.

  16. Avatar

    Very educational. Thank you. May Allah increase you in Knowledge.

  17. Avatar

    This made me cry thanks for sharing this very helpful mashaALLAH

  18. Avatar

    Mashallah for this beautiful article ben ibrahim there is a book called the prophets majesty look it up it will bring clearity to your thoughts

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    subhanAllah this piece of info was too good :)

    i pray that Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala gives you all good both in this world and the Hereaffter ameen, brother.

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