Among the most important names and attributes of God are al-rahman, “the merciful” and al-rahim, “the compassionate,” terms that we invoke at the beginning of every Quranic chapter, save one and, as per ritual, prior to anything we engage in. Numerous traditions from the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) and his family (pbut) emphasize recognizing these attributes. Perhaps the reason for this is that, in the journey of life, we seek a connection with God but may fall into the darkness of transgression on occasion. One of God’s blessings for us is that He has given us the door to his forgiveness and allowed us to repent when we slip and fall. The Almighty says in the Holy Quran, “However, God will accept the repentance of whoever repents and reforms himself after committing injustice; He is All-forgiving and All-merciful.”1 The moments when we get on our knees, prostrate, and ask the Almighty for forgiveness are among the most impactful moments in our lives.

How to Repent

 In Islamic tradition, there is a strong emphasis on the sincerity behind any act of obedience. For instance, our prayers, fasting, and other acts of worship will not reach God the way we hope  if our intention behind these deeds is not solely for Him. In a tradition from Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p), he states, “No act of [worship is acceptable] without [sincere] intention.”2 When it comes to repentance and seeking God’s forgiveness, there also is a need for sincerity and pure intention. God states, “Believers, turn to God in repentance with the intention of never repeating the same sin. Perhaps your Lord will expiate your evil deeds and admit you to Paradise wherein streams flow.” 3 Having a pure intention of repentance is the way that God will forgive our wrongdoings.

On one occasion, there was a man who said “Astaghfirullah” (I seek forgiveness from God) in the presence of Imam Ali (p). Upon hearing this, the Imam approached the man and said, “Do you know what asking forgiveness from God is?” The Imam continued, “It is something that stands on six foundations:

  1. Regret what you have done in the past.
  2. Make a sincere commitment with yourself to never commit that sin again.
  3. Return the rights of the people so that you may meet God in a state of purity where you are not indebted to anyone.
  4. Fulfill all your obligations that you have ignored in the past.
  5. One should [purify themselves through grief and weeping over his sins].
  6. Make your body feel the pain of submission in the same way it felt the pleasure of sin.”

Then the Imam continued by telling the man, “And when you have done this, then say “Astaghfirullah!”4

We learn from this narration from the Commander of the Faithful (p) that repentance is not just making a statement and moving on, but rather it has prerequisites and a certain depth to it. In another tradition, he further exemplifies this point. The Imam states, “Repentance has four pillars: regret with the heart, forgiveness with the tongue, actions with the body, and a commitment to not return (to that sin).”5 Certainly the door of God’s mercy and compassion is always open, yet it requires a firm commitment on our behalf to be recipients of His forgiveness.

 The Mercy of God

In many verses in the Holy Quran, God speaks about his mercy towards his creation. God states, “My mercy encompasses all things.”6 God wants us to understand that no matter what we have done in the past, we must know that it is never too late to repent and return to Him. God commands us in the Holy Quran not to be in a state of despair when it comes to His compassion, as it is a demonstration of a lack of faith and certainty in Him. He states, “Tell my servants who have committed injustice to themselves, ‘Do not despair of the mercy of God. God certainly forgives all sins. He is All-forgiving and All-merciful.’”7

In a beautiful supplication, Imam Zayn al-Abidin (p) said: “My God! You are the One who has opened a door to Your pardon and named it ‘repentance’ for You said, ‘Repent to God with unswerving (sincere) repentance.’ What is the excuse for him who remains heedless of entering the door after its opening?”8 These powerful words of our fourth imam illustrate the blessing of having the option to repent. These words should be an inspiration for us to commit ourselves to work to truly do our best to obey God.

Bits of Advice

1. Do not postpone seeking pardon: It is truly a gift and blessing from the Almighty that He has given us the opportunity to seek His forgiveness and pardon. Furthermore, He tells us in the Quran, “God loves those who repent and those who purify themselves.”9 Not only does our Lord accept our repentance, but He also loves those who repent. The least we could do is to admit our wrongdoings (in front of God) immediately after we engage in them and plead to God with sincerity and a conviction to never return to sin.

2. Feel remorse: As noted in the above tradition of Imam Ali (p), it is not enough to just ask God to forgive our sins, but we should feel a sense of remorse and sadness for breaking His laws. God states, “To those who commit bad deeds, but, then, repent and believe (in God), Your Lord will certainly be All-forgiving and All-merciful.”10 The verse is clearly demonstrating that it is not only about repenting, but also about belief and faith. And if that faith and belief truly reform, there will naturally be an intense feeling of regret within our hearts and souls.

3. Seek God’s forgiveness often: In Dua Kumayl of the Commander of the Faithful (p), we ask for God’s forgiveness “In this night and in this hour. For every offense I have committed, and every sin I have performed. And every evil thing I have concealed and every ignorant deed I have acted upon, those which are hidden, and those which are public. Those which I have concealed, and those which are evident.”11 There are sins which we have committed in our past and perhaps which we have even forgotten about. Thus, we should do our best to recall our past errors and to seek repentance every day (for instance, after prayers or before we sleep) to remind ourselves of our submission to our Creator.

1. The Holy Quran 5:39. Quranic quotations in this blog are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2. Al-kafi, vol. 2, p. 84.
3. The Holy Quran 66:8.
4. Nahj al-balagha, saying 417.
5. Mizan al-hikmah, vol. 1, p. 342.
6. The Holy Quran 7:156.
7. The Holy Quran 39:53.
8. Al-sahifah al-kamilah, The Whispered Prayer of the Repenters.
9. The Holy Quran 2:222.
10. The Holy Quran 7:153.
11. Dua Kumayl.

1.     {فَمَن تَابَ مِن بَعْدِ ظُلْمِهِ وَأَصْلَحَ فَإِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَتُوبُ عَلَيْهِ ۗ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ}
2.     روي عن الإمام علي إبن الحسين عليه السلام لا عمل إلا بنية
3.     {يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّـهِ تَوْبَةً نَّصُوحًا عَسَىٰ رَبُّكُمْ أَن يُكَفِّرَ عَنكُمْ سَيِّئَاتِكُمْ وَيُدْخِلَكُمْ جَنَّاتٍ تَجْرِي مِن تَحْتِهَا الْأَنْهَارُ}
4.     روي عن الإمام أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام أتدري ما الاستغفار؟ الاستغفار درجة العليين. وهو اسم واقع على ستة معان: أولها الندم على ما مضى. والثاني العزم على ترك العود إليه أبدا. والثالث أن تؤدي إلى المخلوقين حقوقهم حتى تلقى الله أملس ليس عليك تبعة. والرابع أن تعمد إلى كل فريضة عليك ضيعتها فتؤدي حقها. والخامس أن تعمد إلى اللحم الذي نبت على السحت (1) فتذيبه بالأحزان حتى تلصق الجلد بالعظم وينشأ بينهما لحم جديد. والسادس أن تذيق الجسم ألم الطاعة كما أذقته حلاوة المعصية فعند ذلك تقول أستغفر الله
5.     روي عن الإمام أمير المؤمنين عليه السلام التوبة ندم بالقلب، واستغفار باللسان، وترك بالجوارح، وإضمار أن لا يعود
6.    {وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ}
7.     {قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ}
8.     روي عن الإمام علي إبن الحسين عليه السلام في مناجاة التائبين عن إلهِي أَنْتَ الَّذي فَتَحْتَ لِعِبادِكَ بَابَاً إلَى عَفْوِكَ سَمَّيْتَهُ التَّوْبَةَ، فَقُلْتَ: ( تُوبُوا إلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَصُوحَاً )، فَما عُذْرُ مَنْ أَغْفَلَ دُخُولَ الْبابِ بَعْدَ فَتْحِهِ

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