By Khwaja Mohammad Zubair
10 August 2011
Indeed, it is more than an act. It reflects a moment of decision when one makes up one’s mind to give up a course of action and simultaneously adopt another course.
Taubah is not merely the negation of the past; it is essentially a contract with the future. Taubah is personal in that no one else needs to know about it.
You do not have to go into a confession to make clean breast of all your sins, nor do you have to appear in a sack cloth and ashes to convince any authority that you have truly turned penitent.
While punishment relates to the act of a wrong and satisfies social conscience, Taubah deals with the wrongness of the act and satisfies the conscience of the individual concerned. This is because wrongness continues even after the act has been determined and punished.
Taubah is the result of man’s understanding of the wrongness of an act and his determination not to repeat the act. Once he has come to this decision, he turns to God for mercy and forgiveness. God knows His creatures more than anyone else. He is aware of man’s weaknesses. How quickly does man succumb to temptation! But for God’s guidance, he would stumble at every step. So when man turns to God in repentance he finds Him most considerate and most merciful.
This process of repentance and forgiveness started with Adam. There is the whole history of it in Sura 20, verse 115: “Before this We made a covenant with Adam. But he forgot his part. He was of poor resolve!”
Man often forgets his part of the contract and fails in his resolve. God is ever willing to renew the contract. It is for man to avail himself of God’s mercy and this he can do by entering into a fresh resolve with a clear determination to honour his part of the contract.
When Adam violated the covenant he found himself exposed. He desperately tried to cover himself but was transfixed, as it were, by a cosmic eye.
In mute helplessness he turned to God for mercy: “Adam then sought forgiveness in the words he learnt from God Who turned to him in compassion and granted him reprieve. He is most compassionate and forgiving” — 2:37.
When Adam realised that he had violated the covenant, he was in anguish and longed to return to the path of obedience. He had an overwhelming urge to seek forgiveness from God but could not express himself. God turns to him in compassion and taught him the words of repentance.
The original meaning of the word Taubah is to revert or turn back. For man, Taubah means that he abandons the course of defiance and reverts to obedience. In relation to God, Taubah means that He reverts to a penitent person and extent to him His mercy.
The verses quoted above bring out two aspects of man’s character: an inherently weak resolve and a strong urge to make amends. When a person repents he does not explain his conduct. He says: “Admittedly I have committed a wrong, but given an opportunity, I shall make amends.” In this sense, Taubah means asking for an opportunity to improve oneself. And this is how Taubah becomes a contract for the future.
I now present the Quranic concept of repentance by referring to the relevant verses. I have tried to follow as far as possible the order in which they were revealed. In Surah 25, verses 70-71 describe how one will be punished for one’s sins and then refer to the exception.
“Except those who repent and adopt faith and right conduct, the past of such people will be transformed into good, for God is most merciful. One who repents and acts righteously truly reverts to God.
This is explained in Tafheemul Quran by Syed Abul Ala Maududi thus:”This is a message of hope for those whose past may be replete with sins but who are prepared to reform themselves.
This message came as a declaration of general amnesty which reclaimed millions of people in the depraved Arab society of the time. It kindled a spark of light and guided them to the right path. Had they been told that punishment for their sins was inevitable and they could not escape their past, they would have been plunged into a bottomless pit of evil from which there would have been no recovery.
Remission and hope for forgiveness alone can extricate a man from the vicious circle of sin. Once he loses hope he turns into a veritable devil.”
There were several incidents during the time of the Holy Prophet which illustrate the profound effect of Taubah on the life of persons who had gone astray. Translation from the Quran? By Altaf Gauhar.
Source: The Khaleej Times