– Writer and Researcher
My 4-year-old daughter Salma is attending her first classes in kindergarten. Miss Zainab, her respectful teacher, taught her how to write the alphabet in both Arabic and English, as well as how to draw some interesting objects: a duck, a bird, and a watermelon. Salma started practicing and training on exploring her new world of figures, alphabet, and simple objects. She started drawing them on her notebook; then her experience shifted gorgeously to drawing on the white walls of our apartment.
Her mother and I started blaming her for what she was doing and warned her many times against repeating it. As an overactive child, she is not that easily deterred or stopped. She continued drawing on her favorite palette—the white walls of our long-awaited apartment. Whenever I reproached her, she apologized and then did it again. I discovered that after she apologized, it seemed that she was relieved from the psychological burden that she felt from my sharp looks.
Later, I tried something else. I thought it would be a better deterrence if I did not accept her apology or give her any attention when she did the same bad thing. To be frank, till now, I cannot forget her look and the feeling of despair and disappointment she felt because I had ignored her! I also felt that she only had two options: either she would develop a psychological complex, or she would play havoc and spread “mischief” on the walls.
Now, let’s leave the microcosm of my child and have a wider look at our world. Imagine that the doors of mercy are closed and that any mistake automatically and inevitably admits one to hell. What would the case be? What do you expect of a sinner who has lost every hope of forgiveness? Could he try to be a good man any more or to amend his ways? Absolutely not; after all, why bother doing so when it is too late?
Here we can perceive the greatness of the Islamic institution of tawbah. Islam teaches that it is never too late for a faithful Muslim to repent to Allah and to regret the sin he has committed. Hence, it is better to immediately start a new leaf and let bygones be bygones. As long as one is sincere in his repentance, Allah will accept it from him and forgive all his sinful deeds:
“Do they not know that it is Allah Who accepts the repentance of His servants and receives (approves their) charity, and that Allah is the Relenting, the Compassionate?)” (At-Tawbah 9:104)
Nevertheless, what if there is no way that a person will repent? What if there is not the least chance that he will apologize, repent to Allah, and seek His forgiveness?
The answer is simple: If there is no chance that the sinner will repent and that Allah the Almighty will accept his repentance, the sinner faces one of two outcomes, one as bitter as the other. He will either develop a psychological complex, or play havoc and spread mischief on earth.
To clarify this, if someone commits a sin and he knows for sure that he will not be able to compensate for it or repent in order to be relieved from the scourges of sinning, he will dismay and feel all the despair that is on earth. Moreover, nothing whatsoever will alleviate his bitter feelings. However, Islam does not like its adherents to live in dismay or to be in a state of endless despair. A Muslim should always be optimistic and aspire for what is not only good, but the best.
The second outcome a sinner faces if there is no chance of his choosing to get his sins abolished and forgiven is that he will be careless about everything and will start spreading mischief on earth. When someone loses all hope of forgiveness, he feels that he has lost everything and has nothing left to lose. Thus, he starts doing all sorts of evil that can be imagined of a person who has nothing to deter him, or to appeal to his mind or soul to bring him back to the fold of reason and true faith.
The famous example of this is the incident of the man from the earlier Children of Israel who killed 99 people and thought it was high time to repent and start a new leaf. He searched for someone to help him by showing him the way and was referred to a worshiper. Upon hearing his awful story, the worshiper frightened him by claiming that all the doors of goodness were closed before him and that whatever he would do, Allah the Almighty would not forgive him. Upon that, the man added the worshiper to the list of his victims. Then he searched further for someone to guide him. He was referred to a scholar who appeased his heart and assured him that the gate of repentance was wide open and no one could close it before Allah’s creatures. Upon hearing that, the man repented and died as a faithful believer and was finally admitted to Paradise by the grace of Allah.
It is a sign of Allah’s utmost mercy that He instituted repentance (tawbah) for the sinful worshipers to come back to Him seeking His forgiveness and pardon. Repentance is thus an open door for inspiring hope; one’s feeling regret and remorse is the first step towards the straight path, the path of Allah, His messengers and the believing men and women. Allah Almighty says,
“Allah accepts only the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; it is they whom Allah will forgive and Allah is Ever All-Knower, All-Wise.” (An-Nisaa’ 4:17)
Repentance also fills one’s heart with hope in the limitless mercy of Allah. Repentance is the last defense against despair and psychological complexes, and all people need this Islamic institution of repentance. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated that all humans are prone to mistakes and sins, but that “the best of them are the oft-repenting.”
Another thing that is important here is the meaning of the collocation “tawbatun nasuh,” which occurs frequently whenever any scholar or da`i is talking about tawbah and its procedures. Tawbatun nasuh is the sort of repentance that has no hesitation whatsoever in it. It is repentance with full and complete commitment on the part of the person who performs it seeking Allah’s forgiveness.
Again, and as a further sign of Allah’s mercy showered on His creatures, if a person repents and then sins, and then he repents once again, Allah the Almighty forgives him and pardons his bad deeds:
“Say: “O My servants who wronged against their souls, do not despair of Allah’s mercy! For Allah forgives all sins; for He is indeed Forgiving, Compassionate.” (Az-Zumar 39:53)
To conclude, Islam cares for disseminating the spirit of hope within the life of the individual and the community as a whole. It is also firmly committed to abolish the psychological complexes from the life of its adherents and works against the accumulation of the bad and destructive effects on their respective lives. Almighty Allah says in His Ever-Glorious Qur’an,
“And turn to Allah all of you, O believers! So that you may be successful.” (An-Nur 24:31)
Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation, Misr University for Science & Technology (MUST); Former Editor-in-Chief of the Electronic Da`wah Committee (EDC), Kuwait; Former Deputy Chief Editor and Managing Editor of the Living Shari`ah Department, www.islamOnline.net; Member of the International Union of Muslim Scholars (IUMS); and member of the World Association of Arab Translators & Linguists (Wata). You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.