What is the essence of repentance?
The Prophet (ﷺ) has said, in general, as a general principle,
““Remorse is the essence of repentance.” 
So, it means that when we are looking at repentance as a principle, whether we are looking at the external actions or the internal deeds of the heart, then this key principle has to be there; remorse. What does it mean? What is remorse?
Remorse means that you feel bad. You feel bad about what you have done. If one does not feel bad, then what? One is likely to do it again. We cannot possibly be sincere when asking Allah for forgiveness if we do not feel bad about what we have done. This is where people get easily caught up in external rituals which have been promised to remove sin: So Ramadan to Ramadan, remove the sins between them. Okay, Ramadan, fast, making hajj. A person who makes hajj is acceptable to Allah, when he comes back, he is pure from sin like the day he was born. From prayer to prayer, Salah five times daily, between prayers, it removes sins, so we establish the prayer.
But without remorse, then these acts will not do it. This is why people all focus on the 15th of Sha’ban, isn’t it? They do not want to let it go. They bring the evidence, to show and to point out. They do not want to let it go because that is the day when all your sins will be forgiven. That one day. It is a nice start. You stay up at night in one day, fast a day and Ma sha' Allah, all the sins are gone. You are good for another year. It is easy. They do not want to let go of it. It is external. So, now at least the hadeeth about it was weak, people made the night into a ritual and fast and et cetera, based on a weak hadeeth. But people would go even beyond that, where there is no hadeeth at all. And they make up Jumu’atul Widah, this famous day in Ramadan, the last Friday of Ramadan, a person who catches that last Friday of Ramadan, all the sins will be forgiven. Sins of a lifetime will be gone, the last Friday of Ramadan. Where did that come from? There is no hadeeth on that one at all; completely fabricated. And people will make up because it is a short cut. Where is it coming from? From Shaytan, isn’t it? Because it is false, it is not true. It is short cut, people like this idea of short cut. What you just have to do is one thing, then it is all taken care of.
Like the Christians of the past during the Middle Ages, when the Pope used to issue certificate called indulgences. The indulgence paper says, your name, so and so is guaranteed a place in paradise, and signed and sealed by the Pope. How do you get that? Pay some money. They were sold. The Pope sold it as a means of income; papal indulgences. Short cut. We are attracted to that, it is easy.
And we have our own versions, when a person who has lived a sinful life dies, he leaves aside a set of money, have the mawlana come to the house and recite the whole Qur'an fifty times and then, In sha' Allah, all his sins will be taken care of. His money pays for a Mawlana to come and recite the Qur'an in his house after he is dead. So we have fallen into what they fell into. The Prophet (ﷺ) has said it, that you will follow the way of the people before you, inch by inch, foot by foot, until when one of them go inside a lizard’s hole, you will go inside behind them. And they asked, “You mean the Christians and the Jews?” He said, “Who else?” Who else?" 
So, we have to come to this basic point in terms of repentance. Remorse is the expression of our sincerity, we feel bad. If we are not sincere, then no repentance will take place. So then, what does it mean? It means that we have to stop and think, we have to reflect, we have to look at ourselves and really come to grips with what we are doing between ourselves and Allah. We have to come to grips with it, otherwise, it is all folly, the rituals of repentance will do nothing for us. So we have to stop, think and reflect until we really can feel it in our hearts, feel that it was wrong, feel that what I have done is not good. And when we reached that stage, then we can turn to Allah and seek His forgiveness and we can be forgiven. Not guaranteed, but we now have set the stage for forgiveness. Without this, there is no stage.
That is one repentance. And the rest of the hundred which we are encouraged to do daily have to be like that one. It is not like that the major one you do that and all the others can just be like: astaghfirullahastaghfirullahasastaghfirullahastaghfirullah …. You did one of those and then the ninety-nine of the other ones… No! The other ones do not work. Each and every one needs to be like that one. Meaning to say that if we are able to do one, a proper one, it is better than a hundred useless ones. This is reality. So the process of repentance means that we have to get to that one. Get to that first one so that we can truly repent. Having done the first one, then we can do a second one, and the third one, and then the way becomes clearer because we have begun to change internally. We are now reflecting as we never reflected before. So a real change can take place. But without that, we are just doing the ritual.
 [Narrated by Ahmad, 3558; Ibn Maajah (4252; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah.]
 [Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 1397; Muslim, 4822.]< Back to Questions