The following is a transcript of a Q&A session of the Essentials of the Islamic Tradition course by Ustadh Abdullah Misra.
The Conditions of Repentance (tawba)
The conditions of making tawba are that first a person leaves the action that they are doing. Let’s take for example a common action that affects people: let’s look at pornography. One of the ways to make tawba from that is, first of all, that they leave what they are doing, meaning that they stop: they actually close the computer, they close the phone, and get away from it. Then there is remorse, and then there are tears, and there is tawba. One maybe goes to the sink – you do not need to do this formally – just saying sorry to Allāh, going to make wuḍū’, and praying two rakʿas, and crying to Allāh, and begging Him to forgive one for the mistake, and begging Allāh to wipe that mistake away, and to take them out of their bad habits or their weaknesses. And to continuously do that every single time one slips.
The way that you know your tawba is accepted is if you stop that sin. Now, that does not mean that you do the tawba once and then that’s it, finished. Even if you slip again, and again, and again, you come back again, and again, and again, with the firm belief that if one keeps making tawba from the sin that Allāh will take it away and accept the tawba, and basically rescue that person from that sin.
The Third Step
The third thing – the first is having regret and the second is leaving the sin – is that they resolve never to do that again. They should stop doing the sin as soon as possible, which means that once you are aware that there is something that is wrong, they should stop themselves. Do not say “Okay, well, just a little bit more.” “Just wait till this, wait till that.” Instead remove yourself from the situation, and then resolve never to do it again. So, regret in the heart and tawba, sincere tawba with tears if possible, and resolve never to do it again. Even if one feels like “You know what? I am so weak, I do not know if I am ready to make this promise,” one says “No, Allāh, for Your sake, I need Your help! Help me! Strengthen my heart and make it easy for me to completely leave this forever!” And then refrain.
If it involves the rights of another person, one must restore that person’s rights. If they stole from someone, they must give that money back, or something else similar. Or apologize to that person unless going back to them will cause more harm.
Some people say that the last part of tawba is to not go back to the places where you engaged in the act. What that means is: do not go back to the company that you had. In the olden days a lot of sin was about the company that you kept. It is still like that, but here is the trick: these days we do not have physical, actual company anymore. We have virtual company. And rather than going out to a bad part of town to do your wrong things… It started with the invention of the radio, then the TV, where sins were coming into the home. Now it has happened where our sins can be with us all the time, because we have got this little phone, this smartphone – may Allāh protect us from its evil and harms in every way physical, mental, spiritual, and emotional – this little phone is following us around everywhere. And behind it is an Internet that is saying “Come look at me! Come access me! I have every single sin freely available!” And for the first time in human history everything has been available to see in such a way that nobody will know. There is no veil anymore between one’s heart and one’s raw desires. This is a great danger. A great danger.
I am sorry for using an example that is very specific, but I feel like we do not actually talk about this stuff enough in order to help get it out of our lives. And that is why were are all suffering, right?
So, what do you do? Do you get rid of the phone? No. One can do things like asking oneself “When do I usually fall victim to this sin?” – maybe when they are alone with their phone or alone with their laptop, in the bathroom or in the bedroom, or at a certain time of night. Or saying “Bismi Llāh” before using the phone, making dhikr while one is using the phone, or making wuḍū’ and holding the Qur’ān while one uses the phone or Internet. Resolving never to use the phone while the entire house is asleep. Resolving never to use the phone or Internet when one is alone in a room. And making a promise to Allāh, saying “If I do this, I will give a certain amount of money in charity.” “I will pay 20 dollars,” or “I will pay 200 rupees every single time,” or something like that. Something that pinches a little bit or maybe more, something that hurts a little bit but not too much. Let’s say the equivalent of a fancy meal outside. And if you do that enough times the nafs itself will say “You cannot afford to make this mistake.” And then it will start to wean one away from those situations and warn one when one’s desires start to arise, or when one starts to feel that they are getting close to the place where they used to sin, then a spidey sense or a tingling will go off in their heart. And then they will be able to withdraw from that because they have had a bit of time away from the sin.
So that is an example using one type of sin. But there are many other ways of doing that too. Other ways are just completely disconnecting. Just completely saying “You know what? I do not want to be on the Internet. I do not want to be on anything else.” Taking a trip, going somewhere else, and trying other things to complete one’s desires in a ḥalāl way, or to control them. E.g. lowering the gaze, these types of things