What is Sincere Repentance?

Answered By Shaykh Faraz Rabbani

Question

How do you know if you are truly repentant? I always feel bad for my sins & ask forgiveness – (all past sins) but then I think am I only saying I’m sorry so I don’t go to hell or because I’m really sorry for it?

Answer

Allah Most High says, “Turn towards Allah, O believers, every one of you, so that you may be successful.” [Quran, 24:31]

And He says, “Ask your Lord for forgiveness and then turn in repentance to Him,” [Quran, 11:3] and He says, “O you who believe! Turn in sincere repentance to Allah.” [Quran, 66:8]

The Prophet (Allah bless him & give him peace) said, “The one who repents from sin is like the one who never sinned.” [Ibn Maja (3240)] He also said, “Remorse is repentance.” [Ibn Maja (4242) and Ahmad (3387)]

Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Allah will turn towards anyone who turns in repentance before the sun rises from the place it set.” [Muslim]

Imam Barkawi, the great Ottoman Hanafi faqih, grammarian, and sufi, defined repentance (tawba) in his Tariqa al-Muhammadiyya as,

“Going back from desire to sin, with the determination of not returning to it, in exaltation of Allah and out of fear of His punishment.” [al-Bariqa fi Sharh al-Tariqa, 3/139]

The Conditions for Repentance

The conditions for repentance are well known:

1. Leaving the sin;
2. Remorse over having committed the sin;
3. Resolve never to return to the sin;
4. (If it relates to the rights of another person, then to) Return the rights or property one wrongly took. [al-Bariqa fi Sharh al-Tariqa; Riyad al-Salihin]

If these conditions are truly met, then one can expect one’s sins to be forgiven. However, one has to be very careful about how sincere one is in fulfilling one’s conditions. It is recommended to seek forgiveness a lot, and to repent every time the sin comes to one’s mind.

If one keeps repeating the sin, then one should find the root cause(s) of the sin and eliminate them. For example, if one falls into a certain sin because of the company one keeps, then it would be necessary to either stop keeping their company, or to change the nature of one’s relationship with them.

So, what is true repentance?

Ibn Hajar mentioned that Qurtubi quoted 23 different definitions of true repentance (al-tawba al-nasuh) in his tafsir. Ibn Hajar mentioned the most important of these:

1. Umar’s words (Allah be pleased with him) that it is, “To sin and then never to return to it.”

2. To hate the sin, and the seek forgiveness for it every time it occurs to one, as Hasan al-Basri (Allah have mercy on him) said.

3. Qatada’s words (Allah have mercy on him), “To be genuine and truthful in one’s repentance”, which is what Imam Bukhari chose as the definition of true repentance in his chapter heading.

4. To have sincerity in one’s repentance.

5. To be concerned about one’s repentance not being accepted.

6. To be such that it does not need another repentance after it.

7. To be made out of fear and hope, and be accompanied by consistency in worship.

8. Like the seventh, but with the added condition that one desert those who assisted one in sin.

9. That one’s sin be between one’s eyes. [f: That is, one does not forget it.] [Ibn Hajar, Fath al-Bari]

Wassalam,
[Shaykh] Faraz Rabbani

Shaykh Faraz Rabbani spent ten years studying with some of the leading scholars of recent times, first in Damascus, and then in Amman, Jordan. His teachers include the foremost theologian of recent times in Damascus, the late Shaykh Adib al-Kallas (may Allah have mercy on him), as well as his student Shaykh Hassan al-Hindi, one of the leading Hanafi fuqaha of the present age. He returned to Canada in 2007, where he founded SeekersGuidance in order to meet the urgent need to spread Islamic knowledge–both online and on the ground–in a reliable, relevant, inspiring, and accessible manner. He is the author of: Absolute Essentials of Islam: Faith, Prayer, and the Path of Salvation According to the Hanafi School (White Thread Press, 2004.) Since 2011, Shaykh Faraz has been named one of the 500 most influential Muslims by the Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.