Rulings regarding Repentance (1)

“All is well that ends well.”
The sins of a person may outnumber and nullify his earlier good deeds; if, however, he repents sincerely, his earlier good deeds return to his account. This is because his good deeds in Islam are obviously better than those of one who has not yet embraced Islam.

And about the latter the Prophet said, when asked by Hakim ibn Hizam (who was known for his love of charity) as to whether his deeds like freeing slaves, charity and kindness to kin before he embraced Islam would benefit him,

You have embraced Islam along with whatever good you did earlier. (Bukhari and Muslim)

Thus, we conclude that if a Muslim who committed sins repents sincerely, all his previous good deeds are still of benefit to him, and Allah knows best.

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Is the repentance of one who is incapable of committing the sin any more valid?

One issue related to repentance is whether the repentance of one who becomes incapable of committing a particular sin valid? In other words, is the repentance valid when one has no choice but to stop sinning (either because of external force preventing him from committing the sin or because of lack of opportunity to sin)?

It appears that such repentance is still valid, and in reality that does happen. If the conditions of sincere repentance, such as regret (nadam), are fulfilled, the repentance is accepted. Of course, sincere repentance implies that if one once again became capable of sinning, he would not do so.

Repenting from usurping others’ rights. How can one make amends?

If the sin consisted of harming other human beings, socially, mentally or financially, the repentant must undo the harm. The prophet is reported to have said:

Whoever has wronged his brother financially or in his honor, must compensate for it now, before the time when no Dinar or Dirham will matter, except for good and bad deeds. (Bukhari)

Another question arises that if the harm done was by way of slandering a person, such as in backbiting or false accusation, is it necessary to openly admit it by stating exactly (what one had done to harm the victim) and to confess before the target of their wrong, or would it be enough to confess one’s mistake without specifying how exactly one did it, or are both of these unnecessary.

On this, the scholars’ opinions are divided. Two opinions are narrated from Imam Ahmed.

(1)  Imam Shafi‘i, Imam Malik and Imam Abu Hanifah all consider it necessary to confess such a sin to the person who has been wronged. They argue using the aforementioned hadith, saying that when one slanders another person, he or she wrongs both Allah and the target of their slander; and in order to repent, the slanderer must repent to Allah by having regret for the deed as well as repenting to the wronged party by confessing.

They further give the analogy of a killer who must not only repent to Allah but also pay Qisas or retribution to the heirs of the killed. Similarly, a highway bandit must repent by returning the loot to its owner.

(2)  The other opinion on the issue is that it is not necessary to confess the sin of slander or backbiting to the wronged party and it is enough to sincerely repent to Allah by showing regret and by reversing the harm—as much as possible—done to the wronged.

For instance, the repentant person should undo the ill effects of his backbiting by mentioning the virtues of the wronged person in the same company where he had backbitten, and by generally being good to him and praying to Allah for him.

This latter is the opinion of our (Ibn Al-Qayyim’s) Shaykh, Imam Ibn Taymiyyah, may Allah purify his soul. The holders of this second opinion argue that confessing and notifying the victim of your slander may simply become a cause of more pain and hurt, of loss of trust, and even of enmity and war between the two parties.

Far from obligating us to do such harm, the legislator of the Shari‘ah (Allah) is more likely to have prohibited harmful confession. The compensation for financial or physical wrong, however, is different. In such a case, one should repay the amount or property unlawfully obtained in addition to repentance.

The analogy between repentance regarding financial or physical damage versus social damage (backbiting, false accusation, etc.), thus, is not valid.

What is lost by sinning, may it be regained by repentance?

From among the rulings regarding repentance is whether a servant may regain by repentance the status (with Allah) that one had before sinning. The correct opinion on this issue is that it depends: There are those who repent but do not regain their earlier status, and there are those who do regain it, and then there are those who may achieve even a higher status than the one they had before sinning. All this depends upon the condition of the repentant person after the repentance; it depends on their determination, perseverance, caution and readiness to compensate.

This can be understood by the parable of a traveler who is happily on his way, stopping and resting awhile and then continuing towards his destination. All of a sudden, he finds himself amidst a garden with tempting cool water, shady trees and beautiful flowers. Tempted, he descends there when suddenly an enemy who had been following him captures him, chains him and throws him into captivity, preventing him from his destination. He is on the verge of death and destruction. He grieves and regrets and calls for help. Then all of a sudden he finds his affectionate father coming to his rescue and undoing his chains and freeing him from the captivity. He helps him get back on his way, advising him to beware of the enemy that is laying in wait on the way.

If the traveler is intelligent and wise, he starts his journey once again with even more determination and caution than before, thus being prepared to reach his destination even more quickly. If, however, the traveler’s heart remains ensnared by the beauty of that trap, then the apparent sweetness of its water and deceptive shade of its trees, then his determination is going to be weaker and his heart less willing to pursue the journey.

The first wise traveler is like the one who repents sincerely and fully from the sin and comes back to Allah with even greater determination to please Him and with greater caution against the sins that distracted him from the journey. The second traveler is an example of the one who repents only half-heartedly while his heart still remains enamored with the sin. While the first traveler’s determination makes him even better than he was before his sin, the second traveler rank is lower and repentance less effective.

To be continued in Part 2, Insha’Allah.

Originally posted 2017-05-24 08:00:06.

Dr Ovamir Anjum

Uwaymir Anjum is the Imam Khattab Chair of Islamic Studies at the Department of Philosophy, University of Toledo. He is also professor of Islamic Intellectual History at Qatar University. He studies the connections between theology, ethics, politics, and law in classical and medieval Islam, with a subfocus on its comparisons with western thought. Related fields of study include Islamic philosophy and Sufism. His dissertation, published in 2012 by Cambridge University Press, is entitled Politics, Law, and Community in Islamic Thought: The Taymiyyan Moment. His translation of Ibn al-Qayyim's Madârij Al-Sâlikîn is forthcoming.


  • Ehtisham Malik

    May 24, 2017 - 8:05 am

    Deeba Yaqub

  • p4rv3zkh4n

    June 22, 2017 - 11:30 am

    Shams Ad-Din Imam Ibn Qayyim rightly pointed out that the station of repentance (tawbah) consists of the station of self-examination (muhasabah) and the station of fear (khawf & khashya); its (tawbah) existence cannot be contemplated without self examination and fear/reverance of Allah azza wa Jal.

  • p4rv3zkh4n

    June 22, 2017 - 11:43 am

    Al Hafiz Ibn Qayyim seems to consider the differences of various stations of the path of the seekers as arbitrary rather than completely different states. The stations do not necessarily go through linear progression in one’s path but rather Ibn Qayyim seems to suggest that all of the stations of suluk are nurioushments of the seeker’s heart that is needed all the tie in his spiritual journey.

    I believe Imam Ibn Qayyim is correct in his stating that the various stations of suluk are interrelated and that all acquired stations are to be hold onto till the end of the journey of one’s life.

    Imam Ibn Qayyim also emphasised the importance of The station of hope (raja) which comprises the stations of fear, seeking aid of Allah and station of iradah (preferring the Master’s Will over one’s own will). Again stressing the key relation between various stations in treading the path of suluk.

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