“And [He also forgave] the three who were left behind [and regretted their error] to the point that the earth closed in on them in spite of its vastness and their souls confined them and they were certain that there is no refuge from Allah except in Him. Then He turned to them so they could repent. Indeed, Allah is the Accepting of repentance, the Merciful.” [Qur'an, 9:118]
We are taught that no matter we do, Allah’s doors are open. No matter how big your mistake or how far you have been, just return to Allah, subhanahu wa ta`’ala (exalted is He). He is there—and because He is at-Tawwab, He wants to accept your turning back to Him. It is like when we are taught as children to own up to our mistakes: “I won’t be mad at you,” our parents might say, “just tell me if you broke the vase.” But what happens if, after we turn back, or own up to our mistake, we suffer even more hardship?
This beautiful verse talks about that. Ka`b bin Malik, radi Allahu `anhu (may God be pleased with him), made a big mistake. He procrastinated at a time when the Muslims were in desperate need of everyone’s help and cooperation, until he could no longer contribute. He stayed behind during the Battle of Tabuk, and he had no legitimate excuse.
When the army came back more than a month later, Ka`b was worried. He contemplated lying to the Prophet ﷺ(peace be upon him). But he knew he could not do that, because he knew that even if he lied to the Prophet ﷺ, Allah (swt) knows that he did wrong. So he told the truth.
What do we imagine to be the response? He told the truth, so he should be let off easy, right?
This is where repentance shows its sincerity. The Prophet ﷺ told him (and two others who told the truth that they had no excuse not to join the expedition) to wait for Allah’s decree. In the meantime, none of the Muslims were allowed to speak to them. Ka`b felt terrible. He said to one of the Companions, “Do you know that I love Allah and His Messenger?” This continued for a long time.
Many of us would feel disheartened. We would wish that we lied. We would feel that our repentance was not accepted, otherwise why would we be punished like this? To add to that, some of the Christian Arab tribes heard about this and invited Ka`b (ra) to join them, saying they would support him.
What would you do? Imagine if you committed a sin, then repented. But after the repentance, all you find is hardship. Then you are tempted to sin again. Would you give up?
This story of Ka`b bin Malik (ra) teaches us not to give up after repentance. He refused their invitation, even though as the verse tells us, they felt that “the earth closed in on them”. He continued praying to Allah (swt). And the reward for that was being remembered in the Qur’an for eternity in the verse quoted above, as an example to all those who struggle after repentance. Allah (swt) will accept you.
Sometimes we need to learn from our mistakes. Being let off easy doesn’t help us, especially if we committed a wrong knowing it is wrong. Allah (swt) shows us in this example that even when it seems like He is punishing you, it is only for your own good. And if you are patient, and turn to Him even in that scenario, you will get something you could not have even imagined. As Allah (swt) reminds us:
“And whoever fears Allah – He will make for him a way out. And will provide for him from where he does not expect.” [Qur'an, 65:2-3]
Turning back to Allah—repentance—only brings good. Do not allow Shaytan (Satan) to mess with your head and tell you the reason you are facing hardship is because your repentance was not accepted. Allah (swt) has named Himself at-Tawwab, meaning He accepts ALL those who turn back to Him. He would never reject you and Allah never turns away the broken-hearted. Just be patient, and remind yourself that Allah is teaching you, like he taught Ka`b (ra). And remind yourself that, just like Ka`b (ra), Allah (swt) will give you something better than you could ever imagine.