Sinning may be recognized as a hereditary trait, for who resembles his father and does no evil? But if the father is restored after failing, let the emulation of him be at both poles, of the negative and the positive. Adam, may Allah exalt his mention, was struck with remorse and filled with repentance over his past deeds. Any of his children who follows him as a model of sinning only, and not in repentance, is mis-taken.
Dedication to untainted goodness is from the traits of the Angels. Devotion to uncor-rected evil is in the nature of devils. But, returning to good and correctness after slipping into evil and fault is human. So, inherent in man's nature is a duality of dis-position, two traits joining in him.
Every human being verifies his relationship with the Angel, Adam or the Devil. By keeping to the definition of man; the repentant proves he is related to Adam, may Allah exalt his mention, and the persisting in iniquity proves his relationship to the Devil. Confirmation of relationship to the Angels, however, by being exclusively dedicated to the good, is beyond the realm of possibility; for evil is firmly kneaded with good in man's nature, and it can only be refined by one of the two fires: the fire of repentance, or the fire of Hell. And it is up to you now to choose the easier fire, and to be prompt in embarking on the lesser discomfort before the choice is with-drawn to give way to the inevitability of either Paradise or Hell.
Since repentance holds such a place within the faith, it must be given the importance it deserves by explaining its true nature, requisites, motivation, manifestation, bene-fit, the difficulties barring it and the ways that facilitate it.
The nature of repentance
Repentance is a concept consisting of three successive and joined elements: knowledge, remorse and action. Knowledge is first, awareness second and action third. The first necessitates the second, and the second postulates the third.
As for knowledge, it is the realization of the magnitude of the sin's harm and its be-ing a barrier between man and his Lord. If one realizes this with certainty, this reali-zation will stir heartache as a result of the Beloved eluding him—because the heart is pained when it perceives the withdrawal of the Beloved. If the withdrawal occurred through one's own action, he/she is regretful of that alienating behavior. Such grief of the heart over behavior alienating the Beloved is called Regret.
When this anguish becomes overpowering, another inner state is induced, termed vo-lition and aspiration towards new behavior connected with the present, the past, and the future. Its connection with the present consists of the repudiation of the sin with which he was entwined. For the future, it involves the determination to abandon for-ever the sin which causes alienation from the Beloved. With regard to the past, it en-tails correction of what was omitted by doing good and performing the omitted act—if it is liable to such restoration.
Thus, knowledge is prerequisite and is the starting point of these blessings. By this knowledge I mean faith and certitude. To have faith is to accept as true that sins are a deadly poison. Certitude consists of the assurance of the acceptance of this truth, the removal of all doubt about it and finally its mastery over the heart so that whenever the illumination of this faith shines upon the heart it produces the fire of regret. It will, in turn, bring forth anguish as the heart perceives, through this illumi-nation of the light of faith, that it has become veiled from its Beloved. As one who was in darkness and on the verge of ruin, and, with the dispersal of clouds and the rending of a veil, the illumination of the sun shone and radiated upon him, and he saw his Beloved. Then the flames of love burn in his heart and these flames flare up in his will to rise to correct his ways.
Knowledge, regret, and the intent connected with abandonment of sin in the present and future, and correction of the sin perpetrated in the past are three successive con-cepts within this process. The term repentance refers to this totality. Frequently, the term repentance is used for the concept of regret alone, as if making knowledge a precondition, and abandonment a result and later consequence. It is in this sense that the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said as reported by Abdullah Ibn Mas’ud, may Allah be pleased with him: "Regret is repentance." [Ahmad and Ibn Majah]
The Obligatoriness and Excellence of Repentance
Proofs of the obligatoriness or wujoub of repentance abound in the Quran and the Sunnah. Allah Says (what means): "And turn to Allah in repentance, all of you, O believers, that you might succeed," [Quran; 24:31] And (what means): "And whoever repents and does good has truly turned to Allah with an (acceptable) con-version.” [Quran; 25:71] And (what means): "O you who have believed! Repent to Allah with sincere repentance: In the hope that your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which rivers flow." [Quran; 66:8] The word 'sincere' in the verse means genuine, faithful and free of blemish. Further, Allah denotes the excellence of repentance by saying (what means): "Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves." [Quran; 2:222]
The Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "He who repents of sin is like one who has never sinned." [Ibn Majah and At-Tabarani] He, sallAllahu alayhi wa sal-lam, also said: "Allah is happier with the repentance of His faithful servant than a man traveling through a desert. He has with him his camel with his food and water. At some point of his journey he halts and goes to sleep. He wakes up and his camel is gone. He starts looking for his camel but the heat and thirst are severe. So he says: "I will go back to my place." He goes back and falls asleep and then lifts his head and his camel is with him with his provisions intact. Allah's joy at the repentance of the faithful servant is more intense than that of the man on account of his camel." [Mus-lim] Some versions of this Hadeeth have it that in his great joy and desire to thank Allah, the man exclaimed addressing Allah: "O Allah! I am your master and You are my servant." And in a Hadeeth narrated by Anas, may Allah be pleased with him, the Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Allah Says 'O son of Adam! As long as you invoke Me and plead to Me, I will forgive you whatever you have committed, and I will not make much of it. O son of Adam! If your evil deeds reach the borders of the sky, and then you ask Me for forgiveness, I will forgive you. O son of Adam! If you bring forth the earth full of errors, then you meet Me while you do not associate any-thing (or anyone) with Me, I will bring forth for you its fill of forgiveness." [At-Tirmithi]
If one understands the meaning of obligatoriness of repentance: that it is the means to eternal bliss in the Hereafter; that achieving nearness to Allah is possible only through detaching one's heart from the vanity of this life, complete responsiveness to Allah, in search of intimacy with Him through constant remembrance and love; and that those enemies of Allah that keep one away from His presence, such as turning from Allah and following the devils' enchantments, distance man from Allah; then there is no doubt that renunciation of the path leading away from Allah is obligatory in order to achieve closeness to Him.
Renunciation, however, is achieved by knowledge, regret, and determination. As long as man does not know that transgressions are the causes for the remoteness of the Beloved, he will neither regret nor grieve over his travel along the devil's path. No doubt, these three elements are necessary in reaching the Beloved.
Among the various aspects of repentance are the abandonment of iniquities in the present; resolve to abstain in the future; correction of previous shortcomings. Of the obligation of these there is no doubt. As for regret and sadness over past offenses, surely this is obligatory. It is the very spirit of repentance which includes full rectifi-cation. It is a sort of pain one feels upon realizing how much of his/her lifetime has passed away and was wasted in sinning.
Promptness is essential in fulfilling the obligation of repentance
One should hasten in performing repentance, since repentance is accepted before one faces death. The Prophet, sallAllahu alayhi wa sallam, said: "Allah, the Exalted and Ever-High, accepts the repentance from the slave as long as he did not 'Yugharghir' (when his soul reaches his throat at the time of death)." [Muslim] And Allah Says (what means): "And of no effect is the repentance of those who continue to do evil until death faces one of them and he says: 'Now I repent.'" [Quran 4:18]
Sins are to faith what toxic foods are to the body. They keep accumulating—inside the body—until the component's elements change, imperceptibly; and until the com-position deteriorates and, suddenly, the man falls ill and dies. So it is with the sin-ner. If a man afraid of ruin in this passing world must, immediately and constantly, abandon toxic substances and harmful foods, so too, and even more so must he who fears eternal perdition.
Hurry, hurry, then, to repent before the toxic sins do their work on the spirit of faith, and the matter transcends physicians and their knowledge. After which seeking shelter will not avail nor will counsel and admonition, and man may be said to be among the damned, as it says in the Quran (what means): "Indeed, We have put shackles on their necks, and they are to their chins, so they are with heads (kept) aloft. And We have put before them a barrier and behind them a barrier and covered them, so they do not see." [Quran; 36-8-9]