Revelation of Mystery (Kashf al Mahjub)

Repentance (Tauba توبہ) and its Collieries

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Chapter XVIII (b)

Repentance (Tauba توبہ) and its Collieries


You must know that tauba توبه (repentance) is the first maqam (station) for the seekers moving on the way to the Truth, just as purification is the first step of those who desire to serve Allah. Hence Allah has said:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَّصُوحًا

“O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance.” (Q 66:8). 

وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ جَمِيعًا

“Turn ye all together towards Allah,“ (Q 24:31).

And the Prophet (peace be upon him) said:

ماس شيء احب الي الله من شابٍ تاءبٍ

“There is nothing that Allah loves more than a youth who repents”;

and he also said:

التاءب من الذنب كمن لا ذنب له

“He who repents of his sins is even as one who has no sin”;

then he added,

اذا احب الله عبد الم يضره ذنب

when Allah loves a man, sin shall not hurt him,” then he recited

إِنَّ اللّهَ يُحِبُّ التَّوَّابِينَ

for Allah loves those who turn to Him constantly,” (Q 2:222).

When the Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked about the signs of repentance, he replied, “regret”. And “sin shall not hurt him” means that he will not become an infidel on account of sin, and neither his faith will be weakened. When sin cannot cause loss to one’s faith, then that loss of sin which leads one to deliverance is actually not a loss.

Etymologically tauba توبه means “return”, therefore, it is said تاب اي رجع  that tauba really involves the turning back from what Allah has forbidden through fear of what He has forbidden.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,

الندم توبه

penitence is the act of returning.”

This saying comprises of three things which are involved in tauba, namely:

-          the first condition of tauba (repentance) is to regret for the previous disobedience of the command of the Truth,

-          the second condition is not to commit any sin in the prevailing situation, and

-          finally determine not to sin again.

-          These three conditions involves in repentance, because when one is wholeheartedly regretful, the other two conditions make part of repentance. Similarly nadamat ندامت (contrition) may be due to three causes:

-          The first is the fear of Divine chastisement while having an eye on his wrong doings and feel regretful of his evil actions.

-          The second cause could be the desire of Divine favor and certainty that it cannot be gained by evil conduct and disobedience therefore, he is regretful to his evil actions in struggle to gain Divine favor.

-          The third cause is that he feels shame of ever present Allah and feels regretful on being disobedient to Him.

In the first case the penitent is taib تاءب (repentant), in the second case he is munib منيب (a penitent), and in the third case he is auwab اواب.

Similarly, tauba (repentance) has following three maqam.

-          Tauba توبه (repentance), for fear of Divine punishment;

-          Inabat انابت   (penitence) for desire of Divine reward; and

-          Aubat اوبت for the sake of obeying the Divine command.

Tauba توبه (repentance) is the degree of the common believers, and implies repentance from grievous sins. Allah said,

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا تُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّهِ تَوْبَةً نَّصُوحًا

O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance.” (Q 66:8). 

Inabat انابت (penitence) is the maqam (station) of the saints and elects of Allah, for whom He said,

مَنْ خَشِيَ الرَّحْمَن بِالْغَيْبِ وَجَاء بِقَلْبٍ مُّنِيبٍ

who feared (Allah) Most Gracious unseen, and brought a heart turned in devotion (to Him):” (Q 50:33).

And aubat اوبت is the characteristics of the Prophets and Apostles, for Allah said,

نِعْمَ الْعَبْدُ إِنَّهُ أَوَّابٌ

how excellent is Our service! Ever did he turn (to Us)!“ (Q 38:30,44).

Repentance (tauba) is to return from grievous sins to obedience, penitence (Inabat) is to return from minor sins and to step in the valley of love and aubat is to return to Allah after disregarding own self. Hence, the difference between turning to obedience from sins, to love from devilish thoughts, and from own self to Allah, need no explanation.

Tauba (repentance) has its origin in the stern prohibitions of Allah and in the heart’s being aroused from the slumber of heedlessness and immediately comprehending own faults. When a man recognizes his evil conduct and repulsive deeds he tries to seek deliverance from them, and Allah opens the door of repentance for him and leads him back to the pleasantness of obedience. According to the opinion of Sunnis and all the Sufi Sheikhs, a man who has repented of one sin may continue to commit other sins and nevertheless receive Divine recompense for having abstained from that one sin. And this is also possible that through blessing of that recompense he might abstain from other sins, i.e. suppose someone is habitual of drinking and fornication and later on he repent from fornication but remain committed to drinking, under such situation his repentance to fornication would be lawful and right. But the a sect of the Mutazilites hold that no one can properly be called repentant unless he avoids all grievous sins. But their doctrine is wrong, because a man is not punished for the sins that he has not committed.  When one renounces or do not commit certain kinds of sins he has no fear of being punished for that, consequently, his repentance is admitted and becomes effective. 

Similarly, if he performs some religious duties and neglects others, he will be rewarded for those which he performed and will be punished for those which he neglected. Moreover, if anyone who does not have the means or vigor to commit a sin, and still he repents, he is repentant, for nadamat ندامت (contrition) is one of the kinds of repentance. In prevailing condition he regretted on his past sins and through that repentance he has gained contrition and firmly resolved not to commit it again, even though he should have the power and means of doing so at some future time.

As regards to the manners and definition of repentance, the Sufi Sheikhs hold diverse opinions. Sahl b. Abdullah and a group of Sheikhs have the opinion that:

التوبته ان لا تنسي ذنبك

“Repentance consists in not forgetting your sins,”

And that one should remain conscious about them, so that later on because of good deeds he may not be misled to conceit, for regret and shame on evil doings has preference over good deeds. One who remembers his misdeeds is never affected by vanity.

Junaid and others take the opposite view and say that:

التوبته ان تنسي ذنبك

“Repentance consists in forgetting the sin.”

They argue that the penitent is a lover of Allah, and the lover of Allah is in contemplation of Him, and in contemplation it is wrong to remember sin, for in contemplation remembering of sin is itself a sin. Because one wasted some time in committing the sin and rest of the time he wastes in remembering it, for mentioning of oppression is a veil of sincerity.

This controversy goes back to the difference of opinion concerning mortification and contemplation which has been discussed in the doctrine of the Sahlis.

Those who hold the taib تاءب (penitent) to be self-dependent regard his forgetfulness of sin as heedlessness, while those who hold that taib تاءب (penitent) dependent on the Truth regards his remembrance of sin as polytheism. Hence, if penitent is with self attributes his pertinacity is still resolvable and when he is annihilated to his attributes then it is not right to discuss his trait. Therefore Moses while his attributes were subsistent said (words of Quran),

تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ

to Thee I turn in repentance,” (Q 7:143). 

But the Prophet (peace be upon him), while his attributes were annihilated, said,

لا احصي ثناء عليك

I cannot render Thy due praise.”

In short, the mention of grief while in proximity is itself a grief. It behooves the penitent not to remember his self, and then why the remembering of his sins. Indeed, remembrance of sin is a sin, because it is the place of dislike and sin is also a hateful thing therefore, its remembrance and mentioning would also be hateful, as it is not lawful to mention of even other than sin. Since mention of a crime is a crime, similarly to forget the crime is also a crime, for remembrance and forgetfulness is connected to your self. Junaid said that he read many books, but never found anything as instructive as this verse:-

اذا قلت ما اذنبت قالت مجيبةً     حياتك ذنب لا يقاس به ذنب

 “When I asked my beloved, what is my sin? she said in reply:

Your existence is such a grievous sin that all other sins are worthless before it.” When in the proximity of beloved physical presence is unlawful, then what to talk of his attributes!

In short, repentance is a divine strengthening and sin is a corporal act. When contrition prevails over the heart the body has no means of repelling it. As in the beginning no human force could prevent repentance, so how any of his acts could prevent repentance in the end. Allah has said.

فَتَابَ عَلَيْهِ إِنَّهُ هُوَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ

and His Lord turned towards him: for He is Oft Returning,” (Q 2:37).

There are many verses in the Quran to the same fact, which are too well known to require citation.

Repentance is of three kinds:

-          The first one is from immorality to the way of rectitude;

-          the second is from right to what is still more right, and

-          finally from self hood to Allah.

About the first kind of repentance Allah says:

وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا فَعَلُواْ فَاحِشَةً أَوْ ظَلَمُواْ أَنْفُسَهُمْ ذَكَرُواْ اللّهَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُواْ لِذُنُوبِهِمْ

“And those who having done something to be ashamed of, or wronged their own souls, earnestly bring Allah to mind, and ask for forgiveness for their sins –“ (Q 3:135).

The second kind of repentance is of Moses who said,

ُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ

to Thee I turn in repentance,” (Q 7:143).

The third kind of repentance is the saying of Prophet (peace be upon him) who said,

وانه ليغان علي قلبي واني لاستغفر الله في كل يوم سبعين مرة

“whenever (seeing the higher maqam, from the lower maqam) I feel veil on my heart, I repent seventy times a day.”

It is bad and blameworthy to commit sin and praiseworthy to incline to repentance. First kind of repentance is for common people and its commandment is very clear. Until the right path is not met with, occupying the mid way is tranquility and veil.

The second kind of repentance is praiseworthy and this is the repentance of the elects. It is impossible that they should repent of sin or disobedience. Don’t you see that whole of the universe is sore for the vision of Allah but Moses repented, because he desired for vision of the Truth with his own volition, and in love personal volition is a taint. Moses renounced his personal volition by saying “ُبْتُ I turn in repentance,” but the people thought he had renounced the vision of Allah.

And as to the third kind of repentance, it belongs to the degree of divine love and those who love Allah they repent not only of the imperfection of a station below the station to which they have attained, but also of being conscious of any maqam (station) or state. Hence, the maqamat (stations) of Prophet (peace be upon him) were continually growing and when he reached the higher station, he used to beg pardon for the lower station and repent from seeing it.

It is not incumbent to remain away from that sin for which repentance has been preferred, for only firm commitment not to commit the sin is sufficient. But still if circumstances force one to commit the same sin again to which he repented, still he would be rewarded for being refrained from that sin for a particular period. Many novices of this path have repented and gone back to wickedness and then once more, in consequence of an admonition, have returned to the true Path. Some elder related that he repented seventy times and went back to sin on every occasion, until at the seventy first time he became steadfast.

Abu Umru Ismail b. Nujaid[1] related that as a novice, he repented in the assembly of Abu Uthman Hairi and remained steadfast in repentance for some time. One day suddenly the evil thought prevailed over him and he fell into error. He left the society of Sheikh, and even whenever he saw him from afar his guilt caused him to flee from his sight. One day unexpectedly he came across of him and the Sheikh said to him:

“O son, do not associate with your enemies unless you have sufficient strength to counter it, for an enemy see your faults and rejoice and if you have no faults, enemy will feel sorrow. If you must sin, come to us, that we may bear your affliction, so you do not achieve the object of your enemy.”

The heart of Abu Umru got disgusted of sins and then he remained steadfast on his repentance.

Someone having repented of sin returned to it and then repented once more. He was regretful and felt ashamed and thought that with what face he should turn to Allah. He heard heavenly voice, saying:

“You obeyed Me and We recompensed you, then you abandoned Me and I showed indulgence towards you; and now if you will return to Me, My door of mercy is open for you.”

Dhu al-Nun says:

توبة العوام من الذنوب و توبة الخواص من الغفلة

“Ordinary men repent of their sins but the elects repent of their heedlessness.”

The ordinary men shall be questioned of their outward behavior but the elects shall be questioned concerning the real nature of their conduct. Heedlessness is a pleasure to ordinary men, but a veil to the elect.

Abu Hafs Haddad says:

ليس للعبد في التوبة شي لان التوبة اليه لا منه

“Man has no part in repentance, because repentance is divine guidance to him from Allah and not from Man.” According to this, repentance is not man’s effort rather one of Allah’s gifts, a doctrine which is closely akin to that of Junaid.

Abu al-Hasan Fushanji says:

اذا ذكرت الذنب ثم لا تجد حلاوته عند ذكره فهو التوبة

“When you remember a sin and feel no delight in it, that is repentance,” it is because the remembrance of a sin is either due to regret or due to delight or desire.

One who remembers his sin regretfully he is repentant, whereas one who remembers his sin with a desire and plan is a sinner. The desire of the sin is more evil than the act of sin, for the sin is a short-lived act, but its desire is perpetual. Therefore, one who commits himself in sin for a moment is better than who keeps his heart object of evil desires day and night.

Dhu al-Nun says:

التوبة توبتان و توبة الاستحياء فتوبة الا نابة ان يتوب العبد خوفًا من عقوبة و توبة الاستحياء ان يتوب حياء من كرمه

“The repentance is of two kinds,

-          the repentance of return and

-          the repentance of shame:

The former is repentance through fear of Divine punishment; the later is repentance through shame of Divine clemency.”

The fear is caused by revelation of Allah’s Majesty, while the modesty is caused by vision of Allah’s Beauty. So one burn with the fire of fear of His Majesty and the other is enlightened by the light of His Beauty and one is in a state of sobriety and other in state of intoxication. Those who feel modesty are intoxicated, and those who feel fear are sober.

This discussion is very lengthy but I have preferred brevity.


[1] Abu Umru Ismail b. Nujaid Nishapuri, companion of Junaid, died in Mecca 366 A.H.


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