Conditions of Repentance

What are the conditions of repentance?

In order for repentance to work, it must be real, it must fulfill certain conditions. First among them is that the person repenting should feel a sense of sadness and remorse. He should feel bad about what he did. If he does not feel bad, then repentance will not be accepted. Because Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has said:

“Remorse is repentance.”[1]

Remorse is the essence of repentance. Without remorse, there is no repentance. Also, we have to give up what we are doing. We cannot just say: “That is wrong”. If we are committing a sin, then we have to give it up.  We cannot continue to commit that sin while asking Allah for forgiveness, not being willing to let it go.  So if a person is, for example, smoking, and we know that smoking is haram, not makruh as some people say, but haram because Allah said very clearly:

"… Don’t kill yourselves …" [2]

"… Don't throw yourself with your own hands into destruction ..." [3]

So it is clear, it is haram. So if one realizes that and accepts it and he wants to turn back to Allah in repentance, then you do not turn to Allah and say, “Allah astaghfirullah”, “Forgive me” while you are blowing a puff of smoke. You are still smoking; that does not make sense; you have to give it up. You have to do something on your side to show your sincerity. So this principle of cessation, giving up, stop doing whatever sin that one is doing, has to be there for repentance to be accepted. Also one has to have the intention for the future not to repeat it. If one is still planning ahead that next year or next summer he is planning to do it again. What kind of repentance are we doing? What kind of repentance is this? It is useless.

Also among the things that are important for repentance to be acceptable is that one should leave one’s environment. If one is in a bad environment that has been the main reason why one is involved in that particular sin, then one has to go to another environment. You cannot remain in that environment because you are going to be drawn back into that same sin again. That is why Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) related a story about an individual, a mass murderer who has killed ninety nine people, and it caught him that he should seek repentance from God. So he went to an individual who was supposed to be a religious individual, but his knowledge of Islamic teaching was weak. He asked this pious individual: “Is there any repentance for me?” The man said, “You have killed 99 people, you are mass murderer, you expect to find repentance from God? No!” So the man was upset, no repentance, so he just killed this man also. Then after doing that he still felt puzzled. He said to himself: “May be I should seek repentance from God elsewhere.” So he went to somebody who is knowledgeable, a scholar, and he asked him, “Is there any repentance for me?” And the man said, “Why not? Why not? Why shouldn’t there be?” He affirmed for him that there would be repentance, even though he has killed a hundred people. But he said to him, “You must leave the town that you are in. You are in a corrupt town, an evil town. You must leave it and go to another town.” [4] So that was a condition for him to get his repentance accepted. And that his character would be changed following that act of seeking repentance from God.

Also we have to keep in mind that we cannot leave repentance until whenever. Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) has said:

“Allah, the most Gracious and Glorious, will accept His servant’s repentance until his death rattle begins.”[5]

When a person is on his death bed, and he feels his soul in his throat, he cannot speak, he is stumbling and staggering, if he seeks repentance at that point, it will not be accepted. It is too late. So there is a time limit. The other time limit which the Prophet (ﷺ) has mentioned was that:

“Allah will accept the repentance of anyone who seeks it before the sun rises in the west.”[6]

The sun rises in the west is one of the signs of the last day, the end of the world. If a person seeks repentance before that, not on his death bed, then sincere repentance will still be accepted.

With regards to the conditions for the acceptance of repentance, that was in the case where a person has the property of others. You have stolen some property, taken something that was not really yours, and you feel bad about it, and you promise yourself you will never do it again and everything else. But you still have the property. Your repentance will not be acceptable to Allah until you return that property. After you return it, then you seek Allah’s forgiveness. If you keep it because you feel, for example, shy, the person is going to find out, etc.  No, you find some way to give it back to them; do not use your shyness as an excuse to keep what is not yours. So you must get rid of it in order to get Allah’s forgiveness.

References:

[1] [Saheeh Ibn Hibaan (614)on the authority of Abdullah ibn Masoud]

[2] [Qur’an 4:29]

[3] [Qur’an 2:195]

[4] [Muslim (2766)on the authority of Abu Said al Khudri]

[5] [Ibn al Kataan in al wahm wa al Ihaam(5/823)]

[6] [Muslim (2703)]

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