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Sanad Collective Repentance - Sanad Collective

Repentance

By Shaykh Hamdi Ben Aissa

God Most Glorious and Magnificent says: I did not become Angry with anyone as I became Angry with My Servant who saw his sin as greater than My forgiveness.

BismIllah arRahman arRaheem

The question was asked as to whether this saying is from the Prophet ﷺ.

This saying has no known chain to the Prophet ﷺ, but we find it mentioned widely in the books of the Pious Predecessors and reflected in their sayings, starting as early as the first century of Islam. One of the well-known Sages who mentions it is Abu Sulayman ad-Darani. None of the Pious Predecessors attribute the saying to the Prophet ﷺ. Rather, they say that this statement is one that has come in many of God’s Books, or that it is something God has revealed to many of His Prophets. And what encourages the Pious Predecessors to spread such a saying, and its like, is the correctness of its meaning and its accordance with what has come in the Quran.

“Say: O My Servants who have wronged themselves, do not despair of God’s Mercy, verily God forgives all sins, Verily He is the Most Forgiving, Closer to you than your closest relative!” (The Troops: Verse 53).

“and do not lose hope in the Unconditional Love of God; indeed, none despairs of the Unconditional Love of God of God except the disbelieving nation” (Words of Prophet Jacob, in Chapter Yusuf: Verse 87).

The message, then, is to never give up hope in God, but to see that His Love, His Acceptance, His Forgiveness are all there, are real and accessible to us the moment we ask. We just have to ask.  This knowledge will help us to not allow a bad deed become a block between us and Him, but rather, to know that with His Merciful Forgiveness, He can completely erase any deed.

This meaning is also expressed in the following teaching (Hadith) of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:

“Follow up a bad deed with a good one, the good one will erase the bad;”

as well as in the Quranic Verse:

“Be assured: good deeds drive away the bad ones” (Hud: Verse 114).

This, then, is the Islamic way of viewing sin: we must know a sin is not an immovable roadblock and indelible mark that condemns us to misery. Rather, we must see sins as something that can be completely wiped away by God, when we reach out for His Love, Grace, and Forgiveness.

Indeed, this is the lesson of the story of Satan (Iblis). God did not become as Angry with anyone else as He did with Iblis. And the reason was not because of the original sin or mistake Iblis committed, but due to Iblis’s failure to seek forgiveness – that is: his seeing his own sin as more real, and greater, than God’s Ability to Forgive.  Iblis gave up after his sin; he did not take the step of reaching out to God again. We know from a Prophetic Teaching that every single morning, God sends Angels to offer Iblis the chance to repent, even now. And Iblis responds: “It’s too late.” Thus Iblis is condemned only by his own refusal to seek an escape through the Most High. May we not be of those who imitate his answer to the offer of return and restoration that God continually sends us as well.

One of the interpretations of the Verse: “Satan threatens you with poverty” (ash-shaytan ya’idukum al faqr) (The Cow: 268), is that after you do a bad deed, Satan discourages you from seeking forgiveness by overcoming you with the thought that God will not forgive you or that your sin is too grave to be forgiven. We are taught to resist these Satanic arguments, because his goal is to make us repeat his history: i.e. the failure to repent. He tries with every human being to discourage them from reaching out to God. When the human being is down and despondent, that is when Satan comes in to kick them further into the gutter with his negative attitudes about God and his whisperings about the impossibility of redemption. One of the defences we can in fact use against this onslaught of negative despair is the very saying that is the subject of this article.

As we can see, Quranic and Prophetic teachings indicate clearly the correctness of the words of the saying:

God Most Glorious and Magnificent says: I did not become Angry with anyone as I became Angry with My Servant who saw his sin as greater than My forgiveness.

Furthermore, all the scriptural references we have examined serve to show that the above words are illuminated with the light of Revelation itself. Indeed, one can perceive the effect of this saying on the heart and one can also witness the way in which it brings many people towards good actions and empowers them to repent. When suffering in the depths of despair, threatened by Satan that God will never restore us, what beautiful words to hear and to grasp ahold of. In fact, it becomes our duty to share such words of hope with one another, lifting each other out of the gutter of despair and away from the clutches of Satan.

Some may venture to suggest that sayings such as this could encourage people to commit sins, saying simply: God will forgive me.  However, the reality is that such a concern is unfounded, because the saying about God’s forgiveness is directed towards a person who wants to have that forgiveness, but is feeling despondent about whether he will ever be granted it.  The saying is not directed to someone who wishes to commit a sin. One who wants to commit a sin does not need a saying or a verse to authorize his action; he will sin even without any saying or verse to back him up.  This saying is meant to remind people who are regretful of their sins that there is hope and there is always another chance. It is a saying that allows a person to realize they do not need to become the slave of whatever sin they committed – that they are the slave of God: God Who loves them, Who has the power to completely overlook and erase their sin, Who wants them to be liberated from any perception that He will not forgive them.

This is such an important teaching today, in a time when many Muslims are perfectionists. For a perfectionist, committing an error, let alone a sin, is devastating and they find it very difficult to deal with the reality of their own imperfection.  Thus, when they commit a sin, they tend to really lose all hope and become depressed and lost.  This saying can help light their way forward. We see then the blessing of our Pious Predecessors, who left such jewels for us to inherit.

Some of the Teachings of the Prophet ﷺ that have come to us through Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim go even further than the saying we are discussing in illustrating the insignificance of sin in the presence of God’s Mercy, Grace and Love.

The Prophet ﷺ said:

“A slave committed a sin and then said: O my Lord, I have committed a sin, so forgive me!
And God said: My slave knows that he has a Lord Who forgives sins and punishes for sins. I have forgiven My slave.
The slave committed another sin and then said: O my Lord, I have committed another sin, so forgive me!
And God said: My slave knows he has a Lord Who forgives sins and punishes for them. I have forgiven My slave. So let him do as he wills.”

In Sahih al Bukhari, on the authority of Abu Huraira, this scenario repeated itself three times. The Prophet ﷺ says:

“God said: I have forgiven My slave three times, so let him do what he wishes.”

Imam An-Nawawi says: “If one committed the same sin a hundred times, or even a thousand, or more, and made repentance each time, his repentance would be accepted. Or if he made repentance one time, for all the sins, his repentance is accepted.”

The meaning of the statement “let him do as he wishes or wills” is: As long as you commit sins and you repent, I have forgiven you.

This Prophetic Teaching (Hadith) might make an ignorant person imagine that it encourages us to commit sins, much more so than could be (wrongly) understood of the saying we have been discussing.

But in reality, all of these Teachings, sayings, and Verses are for the purpose of encouraging a person to repent. There is, especially in the above-mentioned Hadith, a subtle indication that it is not one of the conditions of repentance that one never falls into sin again. 

The well-known conditions of repentance which must be met in the moment of repentance are the following:

  1. that one stops committing the sin;
  2. that one feels regret and remorse over having committed it;
  3. that one resolves to not return to it (if one returns to it afterwards, it means he has committed a new sin, requiring new repentance, while his previous repentance stands, because he was sincere in it in that moment (not like a person who says he is repenting while his heart is still attached to his sin and he is perhaps even planning how to do it again)The Scholars have added a fourth condition:
  4. that if the sin was against a person or negatively affected another person’s rights, one must return their right(s) to them.

We now turn our attention to Verse 17 of the Chapter Women in the Holy Quran:

“Verily God’s turning in forgiveness is towards the one who commits evil in arrogant insistence, and then repents before the punishment comes. God will have forgiveness for those people, and God is ever Knowing and Wise.”

It is actually very unfortunate that in many places we find the following incorrect translation of the same Verse:

“The repentance accepted by Allah is only for those who do wrong in ignorance [or carelessness] and then repent soon after. It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise.” [Sahih International]

The word “jahala” which is translated wrongly as ‘ignorance’ actually means ‘arrogant insistence’ – that is: deliberately ignoring, as opposed to not knowing.  In essence, this is the definition of “wrongdoing” (the Arabic word in the Verse is “soo“). Wrongdoing can only be committed out of arrogant insistence – this is what makes it wrongdoing.  If wrongdoing is done out of ignorance – ie. total unawareness of the act being wrong, it is not considered wrongdoing.  God, then, is giving us a definition in the Verse itself of what doing wrong entails: it entails being in a state of arrogant insistence against submission to God – the latter being our true instinct and nature.  Only through arrogant insistence do we succeed in overriding that pure nature given to us by God. And then, we become doers of wrong.

A reader should realize, even when confronted with such an erroneous translation, that many other Verses and a clear understanding of God’s way of treating His creation all point to the knowledge that a sin done in ignorance, when someone does not know it is a sin, is not even considered a sin by God, to begin with. Therefore, such a ‘sin’ requires no repentance or forgiveness.

With this understanding, translation of the word “jahala” as “ignorance” is out of place even in terms of coherence with the Quranic and Islamic Message. The Prophet ﷺ said: “Certainly, God has pardoned for me my Community: their mistakes, their forgetfulness, and that which they have been forced to do under duress.” (ibn Majah, al Bayhaqi)

Verse 17 of the Chapter Women in fact comes right after verses in which God Most High speaks of the major sins of adultery and homosexual relations.  Even for such major sins, (which can even be repetitive – conducted with a spirit of “arrogant insistence”) God promises forgiveness if the person repents before punishment befalls them.

So, there is no limit to God’s acceptance of repentance. Let us consider the Prophetic Teaching which seems to indicate that some people will not be forgiven.  This Teaching states: “Three will never enter Jannah” or “There are three upon whom God will not look on the Day of Reckoning” or “There are three whose repentance will not be accepted” and continues on to mention the following categories of people: the aaq bi walidayh (one who is disobedient and evil towards his parents), the alcoholic, ad-duyouth (the man who has no sense of honour, allowing his wife, or mother, or daughter, or sister to laugh and joke around with men not related to her by close family ties), al mannan ala ma aataah (the one who reminds someone of what he has given him).

The meaning of this Teaching, in all its variations, is that if those sinners mentioned die in a state of insistence upon that sin, they will not enter Paradise, God will not look upon them with mercy, and God will not purify them from their state of insistence upon this sin.  The statement “their repentance will not be accepted” means their istighfar – that is, their uttering of the key word to seek forgiveness “AstaghfirAllah” – will not be accepted as long as they remain in that state of sin. There must be an acknowledgement of the wrongdoing, and a firm resolution to step away from it, in order for istighfar to have meaning.

Likewise, their prayer and anything in their ibadah (worship) will not be accepted while they are in a state of insistence on continuing their sin. The categories of sinners mentioned in the Teaching are spoken about specifically because their worship not being accepted is actually an exception to the rule.  The rule that normally applies is that if the human being, even if he is committing a sin, does an act of obedience at the same time, that act of obedience is accepted independently of any reference to the sin. The thief, for example, might steal but also pray and fast and go for Hajj. His prayer, fasting and Hajj are all accepted; they are not affected or cancelled out by his sin of stealing. A person mentioned a case to the Prophet ﷺ of a man who prayed the night prayer (Isha) and then went out and stole; the Prophet ﷺ said: “then, what you have described about how he prays will eventually prevent him from doing that other deed.”

Further exceptions to this rule are found in the case of one who practices magic, the hypocrite, and the one who turns his back on faith after having accepted it. Their good deeds or acts of worship are not accepted by God Most High as long as they are committing the sins of practicing magic, hypocrisy, and turning away from the faith.

Many types of sins that are punishable by sharia are subject to the process of istitaaba. In this process, the person committing the sin is brought before a judge and urged to repent. If he does repent, the judge can choose to pardon the person. However, in the case of practicing magic and some other types of major sins, this kind of urged repentance is not acceptable as a means of expiating the earthly punishment. Even if the magician repents, he is subject to the earthly punishment for his crime and cannot be pardoned by an earthly court. As for his pardon from God, there is no limit on this. Amongst God’s Names is the Accepter of Repentance: “and do they not know that God is the One Who accepts the repentance of His slaves?” (Repentance: Verse 104).

We have a magnificent example of God’s forgiveness of these grave sins in the Quran: God tells us of the magicians who repented and believed in Prophet Moses peace be upon him, and His acceptance of them and their turning back to Him.  This beautiful example serves to show that even practitioners of magic – such a grave sin in Islam –  can repent and reach a high level of faith, in fact, the degree of siddiqiya (ultimate closeness to the Divine).

Even the hypocrites are invited to repent to God and experience His complete pardon; God invites them specifically, in many verses of Quran, to return to Him and be fully accepted. Many hypocrites who did take up this noble invitation repented, and their repentance was fully accepted and they became wonderful people.

To conclude, it is clear in the light of Revelation, the words of the Prophet ﷺ and the words of the Prophets who came before, that the saying

God Most Glorious and Magnificent says: I did not become Angry with anyone as I became Angry with My Servant who saw his sin as greater than My forgiveness.

is correct in meaning. There is no problem in using this saying as long as its function is to encourage repentance, assist us to submit to our Lord, and inspire our hope in His Acceptance of us and renewal of our states.

 

Note: this saying is narrated by Abu Sulayman ad-Darani, who says that God revealed to some of His Prophets; and it was mentioned as well by Abu Nuaym in his book Hilya tabaqaat al asfiyaa.

This explanation is in response to Sister Nada’s question during the Shamail class about where we can find this Hadith and whether it is a Hadith Saheeh; I encourage everyone to ask questions but sometimes it might take a little while to provide an answer as it should be a complete answer.