Tawba (Repentance) does not need much. It does need for you to think that you are at a level in which you can face Him. He tells us in the Qur’an:
“Indeed, Allah loves those who are constantly repentant and loves those who purify themselves.” (Qur’an, 2:222)
Allah subhanahu wa ta`ala (exalted is He) loves those who always return to Him. Imagine being beloved to Allah (swt) because you always go back to Him. Nothing deters you—not your sins, nor your heedlessness. You go because you know you have a Lord who accepts you turning back to Him.
Sometimes what prevents us from returning is the feeling of “I’m not good enough.” Or even that we feel we cannot become better. But Ibn Ata’illah says:
“When a person commits a sin, this is accompanied by darkness. Indeed, disobedience is like a fire, and darkness is its smoke. It is like someone kindling a fire in a room for seventy-years. Do you not think that the roof of that room will be blackened? In the same way the heart is blackened by disobedience. And nothing wipes it clean except repentance to God. Humiliation, darkness, and being veiled from God are thus natural accompaniments of disobedience. But when you repent to God, the effects of these sins disappear.”1
The key to relieving ourselves of these burdens is precisely to return—because the act of returning erases all of that. When you return to Allah (swt), it should not be something heavy. It should actually be a liberating act. If you come home and find that your clothes are dirty, you would remove them. You would take a shower. And what happens afterwards? You feel good. You feel clean. You may get dirty again tomorrow. You will avoid getting dirty, but it may happen. And then you shower again when you get home. We don’t avoid taking a shower because we are sick of getting dirty. The feeling of being cleansed again is much too great, much too invigorating.
And Allah is so Generous, so Merciful, so accepting of our return to Him, that the following things happen:
- Forgiveness of the sin: Allah (swt) says, “The revelation of the Book is from Allah, the Exalted in Might, the Knowing. The forgiver of sin, acceptor of repentance […]” (Qur’an, 40:2-3). When He forgives you, Allah (swt) protects you from the effect of your sin on the Day of Judgment.
- Erasure of the sin: Allah (swt) tells us about Himself, “And He pardons much,” (Qur’an, 42:34). This means the sin is as though you never did it.
- Replacement of the sin with good deeds: Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “Except for those who repent, believe and do righteous work. For them Allah will replace their evil deeds with good. And ever is Allah Forgiving and Merciful,” (Qur’an, 25:70).
This is the highest level of acceptance of your tawba. Allah (swt) will change the ghafla (heedlessness), the mistakes, and the sins into good deeds. You may see mountains of good deeds on the Day of Judgment and think to yourself, “When did I do that?” and you will be told that Allah (swt) accepted your tawba and turned all the bad into good.
And this is just with regards to sin. Sometimes our return to Allah (swt) is when we decide we want to do more, that we want to become better. When you return to Allah (swt) in this way, or by leaving sins, the greater thing that happens is that you become one of the people that Allah (swt) loves. And if Allah (swt) loves you, He will show it in His affection because He is al-Wadud. So why then do we not return to the One who accepts our turning back to Him?
The conditions of repentance from sin are the following, as stated by some scholars:
- You regret what you did; you recognize that it is wrong: This does not mean that you hate yourself. If you hate yourself, then you don’t want good for yourself.2 However, you see the act that you did or the state that you are in as something that is not good, and which should change.
- Stop the sin at that moment: Sometimes we don’t stop the sin because we think we will not be able to continue in desisting, that we will slip back into it. It’s ok. Just stop it at the moment. Don’t sabotage yourself with negative thinking. It’s like saying, “I’ll cut myself now because I will probably cut myself tomorrow.” That’s silly.
- Intend never to do the sin again: In Huda’s article about well-formed goals, she gives us ways to help achieve our goals. Only use positive language and use the present tense. Tell yourself that you are doing good now. And ask Allah (swt) to help you. But what if you fall into it again? Remember: hate the sin, not yourself. Allah (swt) tells us in the Qur’an that He will tell the people of Jannah (Paradise), “Indeed, this is for you a reward, and your effort has been appreciated,” (Qur’an, 76:22). It is your striving that is rewarded.
- If your sin has to do with the rights of another person, you should return the rights of those you have violated if you can. If you cannot, then make du`a’ (supplication) for them.
Someone may ask, so what do I do afterwards? I was a person in ghafla. I didn’t do that much bad nor was I striving for closeness to Allah (swt). Or I lived my life in complete disobedience, and I don’t know how to turn that around. The answer is to take it step by step. Your return to Allah (swt) was the first step, a beautiful step. The next step is to work on yourself and work on your surroundings. Pick something that you need to work on, and something that you need to stop doing. Work on them for a while until they become habit, or are easier to do. Then add. Don’t be discouraged if you feel that your development is slow and you didn’t suddenly turn into “Super-Muslim.” Remember that the Prophet ﷺ (peace be upon him)said:
“The most beloved of actions to Allah are the most consistent ones even if little in amount.” [Bukhari]
Start with what is obligatory, because that is what brings us close to Allah (swt). Then add the extra. You can do them simultaneously of course, but don’t prioritize the extra over the foundation. Many of us are familiar with Allah’s saying:
“Nothing endears My servant to Me more than doing of what I have made obligatory upon him to do. And My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with the supererogatory (nawafil) so that I shall love him.” [Bukhari]
And what is crucial is to get aid from a good friend, your spouse, your mentor. Even if you don’t have that now, keep seeking it—Allah is the Guide, and He is ar-Razzaq (the Provider), and He will provide. But let us take the first step in returning.