Repentance is About Self-Improvement
Repentance (tawbah) is a spiritual necessity in Islam. As humans, who are not infallible, we will commit sins, and we will make mistakes, even with good intentions.
There can be no sincere making of tawbah for any sin or mistake without self-actualization, meaning that we have to first be aware that we are fallible beings, who need to take constant calculation of our intentions, thought processes and actions. The Qur’an states (59:19), “And be not like those who forgot Allah, so He allowed them to forget themselves; these it is who are the transgressors.” If we have knowledge of self, then it enables us to see our wrongdoing, which leads towards a feeling of remorse within us if we are connected to our souls. There cannot be true tawbah without having remorse. In fact, Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) stated, “Remorse is repentance.” (Ibn Majah & Ahmad)
Besides the characteristic of remorse, fear of earning the displeasure of Allah (SWT) is an aspect of sincere tawbah. The Qur’an says (79: 40 – 41), “And as for he who fears the station of his Lord and prohibits the soul from desires, then indeed paradise will be his abode.” Sincerity in tawbah does not mean that we will become sinless for the rest of our lives or become free from error; we will not be. In fact, we may, with sincere intentions, fear committing a sin and repeat it again in the future. Fear of being a part of tawbah is based upon the knowledge that if we keep committing particular sins we may not have the opportunity to seek forgiveness for them and die in a state in which our sins outweigh our good deeds, which means entrance into hell-fire.
Going back to self-actualization, not only should we be aware of our personal weaknesses but also the environments that feed those weaknesses. In other words, we need to see if we are engaged in activities and keep company with people that lead us to commit more sin. Therefore, tawbah should also have the feature of looking at the roots of what influences us to commit particular sins or mistakes.
Let’s ask ourselves some questions:
- When we make tawbah for back-biting, are we continuing to keep company with gossipers?
- If we have a problem with drinking or smoking hashish, do we listen to rap music that glorifies getting high?
- If we have a problem with arrogance or conceit, is it because we suffer from low self-esteem so we seek to feel better by putting others down?
These are just some examples of the type of inventory that we have to take to look at the roots of our behaviors of why we are doing what we do. Without taking such inventory, our tawbah is deficient.
There are many du’a about seeking forgiveness and tawbah in the Qur’an, ahadeeth and aathaar, which are good to learn. In saying that, my advice to you but firstly to myself is that once we realize that we have committed an unlawful act, which requires tawbah that we repent to Allah (SWT) with all of our hearts and in our native tongues if need be. Allah (SWT) knows what’s in our hearts, and He (SWT) understands English, Farsi, Swahili, Urdu, etc. The key is to be sincere and to seek self-improvement.
The Qur’an says (2:222), “Surely Allah loves those who repent often and those who purify themselves.” May Allah (SWT) make us of those whom He (SWT) loves. Ameen!
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