The Repentant and the Command to Repent


عن أبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قالَ: قالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم: «‏ وَالَّذِي نَفْسِي بِيَدِهِ لَوْ لَمْ تُذْنِبُوا لَذَهَبَ اللَّهُ بِكُمْ وَلَجَاءَ بِقَوْمٍ يُذْنِبُونَ فَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَ اللَّهَ فَيَغْفِرُ لَهُمْ».  رواه مسلم وأحمد.


Narrated Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him: the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “By the One in Whose Hand is my soul, if you were not to commit sins, Allah would replace you with a people who would commit sins and then seek forgiveness from Allah; and He would forgive them.”  (Related by Muslim and Ahmad).

Allah, the Creator and the Most Knowledgeable, describes the son of Adam in His Holy Book as follows: {And man was created weak} (Surah 4, verse 28). The word ‘weak’ aptly describes the son of Adam, no matter how lofty he considers himself and how arrogantly he tries to elevate himself.  Not only is man weak in his body, but he is also weak in the face of temptations and self-desires.

When disease strikes the son of Adam, only then does he realize the limitation of his strength; when sickness cripples his limbs, only then he realizes the fragility of his health; and when old age overtakes him, only then he realizes the little power he possesses. Likewise, in the face of strong temptations and desires, man realizes how weak he is in controlling his inner self–except for those whom Allah gives strength.

Thus, the Muslim is urged to seek Allah’s help in all of his affairs, to present his needs before the Mighty One, and to ask for His forgiveness and pray for redemption. While Allah is Most Merciful to His creation, the son of Adam is asked to follow Allah’s commands and refrain from disobedience.

But since man is weak and will inevitably commit sins, the Prophet ﷺ instructed the Muslim in the hadith above to seek forgiveness from Allah the Exalted, as soon as one slips and commits a sin. The Muslim is urged to repent of his sin and promise His Lord to abandon that sin. The Muslim is also commanded to ask for Allah’s forgiveness and to feel regret over his slip and transgression.

There are two common misconceptions concerning the above hadith. First, this hadith is not an invitation to commit sins; indeed, Allah is displeased when His commands are violated and has created Hell for those who disobey Him. Instead, the hadith is an invitation towards repentance: Allah loves repentance so much that He would rather see weak people inevitably slip and repent, instead of seeing strong people who never slip and thus have no need to repent. Thus, this hadith should not be considered an excuse to commit sins; rather it should be looked at as encouragement to abandon sins whenever they happen, to repent, and to return to Allah and fulfill His obligations.

The second misconceptions is the notion that whoever commits sins is in Hell. The hadith dispels this notion by reminding the Muslim of the great mercy of Allah and of his vast forgiveness. Indeed, an inkling of this limitless mercy can be seen in the following authentic hadith:

عَنْ أَبِي مُوسَى، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ: « إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَبْسُطُ يَدَهُ بِاللَّيْلِ لِيَتُوبَ مُسِيءُ النَّهَارِ، وَيَبْسُطُ يَدَهُ بِالنَّهَارِ لِيَتُوبَ مُسِيءُ اللَّيْلِ، حَتَّى تَطْلُعَ الشَّمْسُ مِنْ مَغْرِبِهَا».  رواه مسلم.

Abu Musa reported that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “Allah, the Exalted and Glorious, stretches out His Hand during the night so that the sinner of the day may repent; and He stretches out His Hand during the day so that the sinner of the night may repent. (He accepts repentance) before the sun rises from the west (i.e. before the Day of Judgment).”  (Related by Muslim).

Allah’s mercy has no bounds; it is limitless and eternal. Part of seeking Allah’s mercy is repenting to Him, as the following hadith urges:

عن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه عن النبي صَلّى اللهُ عليهِ وسلَّم قال: « لو أخطأتم حتى تبلغ خطاياكم السماء، ثم تبتم لتاب عليكم». رواه ابن ماجه.

Narrated Abu Hurayra, may Allah be pleased with him, that the Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: “If you committed sins until your sins reached the sky, then repented, Allah would accept your repentance.”  (Related by Ibn Majah).

Thus, the Muslim should never despair of the vast mercy of Allah, but should always seek it and do his best to receive it. The Muslim is urged to return to Allah and to take advantage of this great bounty before it is too late. Now there is time for repentance while we are alive. As for those who indulge in sins and ignore Allah’s commands, then they may be punished.  Allah the Exalted has given us this warning in Qur’an in the most gentle way. Allah says:

53.{Say: “O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves (by committing evil deeds and sins), do not despair of the Mercy of Allah. Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Truly, He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”

  1. And turn in repentance to your Lord and submit to Him, before the punishment comes upon you, then you will not be helped.
  2. And follow the best of that which is revealed to you from your Lord (i.e. this Qur’an, do what it orders you to do and keep away from what it forbids), before the punishment comes upon you suddenly while you do not perceive!
  3. Lest a person should say: “Alas, my grief that I was undutiful to Allah (i.e. I have not done what Allah has ordered me to do), and I was indeed among those who mocked [at the truth]”.
  4. Or (lest) he should say: “If only Allah had guided me, I would have been among the pious and righteous (Muttaqun).”
  5. Or (lest) he should say when he sees the punishment: “If only I had another chance (to return to the world) then I should indeed be among the doers of good (Muhsinun).”} (Surah 39, verses 53-58).

Thus the sensible Muslim is the one who takes heed of the warning of His Lord and tries his best to follow His command to get His reward. The prudent Muslim is the one who is forewarned and tries to resist temptations and self-desires to attain eternal bliss, and if he slips and commits a sin then he soon repents and returns to Allah the Exalted. And the wise Muslim is the one who repents to Allah during day and night, and tries to get the greatest share of Allah’s limitless mercy by constantly asking His forgiveness and vast bounty and by trying his best to follow Allah’s commands and avoid things He has forbidden.  And Allah knows best.

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