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Fatwas: Part Twenty-Two
The Rules of Acceptable Repentance

The Rules of Acceptable Repentance

Published in March 9, 2018

Translated by: Ahmed Fathy



1- We have received this question via email from a young man: (... Dear Sir ... The feelings of remorse and the sense of guilt are killing me! I have repented and atoned for almost all my small and grave sins that I could think of, as far as I can remember; of course, I know exactly how many times I have committed the sin of fornication; I feel I must be flogged to be purified; I fear that God will not accept my repentance unless this penalty is exacted on my body ... Yet, other people say that no flogging is necessary and that Satan is making me cast doubt on my sincere repentance and that God may not accept it ... Is my repentance entails being flogged or not? I cannot engage into self-flagellation, I suppose; shall I enlist the help of the religious police in my country?! What about the resulting scandal, humiliation, and embarrassment/mortification?! ... I'm in a muddle! How come that one would know that God has accepted one's repentance? If no flogging is required, what am I to do to atone for my sin of fornication? Any advice? Thank you ...).

2- In our reply to this message, we assert here that sincere repentance from one's heart/mind/soul does NOT entail exacting any corporeal punishment; those who committed fornication and then remembered their Lord, repented, and atoned by performing many good deeds within piety are among the ones who readily implored the Lord God and supplicated to Him for pardon and forgiveness; God promises them Paradise: "And race towards forgiveness from your Lord, and a Garden as wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous. Those who give in prosperity and adversity, and those who restrain anger, and those who forgive people. God loves the doers of good. And those who, when they commit an indecency or wrong themselves, remember God and ask forgiveness for their sins - and who forgives sins except God? And they do not persist in their wrongdoing while they know. Those - their reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens beneath which rivers flow, abiding therein forever. How excellent is the reward of the workers." (3:133-136). Those pious ones who sinned and then remembered the Almighty God and implored Him for forgiveness and pardon while insisting on never to commit the same grave sin(s) again will be pardoned by God, because those who avoid grave sins and repent by atoning for their sins by performing many good deeds are promised by God that their small sins will be overlooked and that they will enter into Paradise: "If you avoid the worst of what you are forbidden, We will remit your sins, and admit you by a Gate of Honor." (4:31).

3- In the points below, we discuss the rules of acceptable repentance.  


Firstly: repentance must be dedicated entirely to God:

1- God asserts the following in the Quran.

1/1: God is the Accepter of repentance: "Forgiver of sins, Accepter of repentance, Severe in punishment, Bountiful in bounty. There is no God but He. To Him is the ultimate return." (40:3); "It is He who accepts the repentance of His worshipers, and remits the sins, and knows what you do." (42:25).

1/2: God urges real believers to readily repent: "God intends to make things clear to you, and to guide you in the ways of those before you, and to redeem you. God is Most Knowing, Most Wise. God intends to redeem you, but those who follow their desires want you to turn away utterly." (4:26-27).

1/3: God urges all people to readily repent.

1/3/1: This is addressed to both types of believers; i.e., in terms of behavior and/or in terms of faith inside souls/minds/hearts: "...And repent to God, all of you believers, so that you may succeed." (24:31); "O you who believe! Protect yourselves and your families from a Fire, whose fuel is people and stones. Over it are angels, fierce and powerful. They never disobey God in anything He commands them, and they carry out whatever they are commanded." (66:6); "O you who believe! Repent to God with sincere repentance. Perhaps your Lord will remit your sins, and admit you into gardens beneath which rivers flow..." (66:8); this is addressed to Muhammad's wives: "If you repent to God, then your hearts have listened. But if you band together against him, then God is his Ally, as is Gabriel, and the righteous believers. In addition, the angels will assist him." (66:4).

1/3/2: This is addressed to those peaceful ones who disbelieve in terms of what lies inside their hearts (i.e. they harbor polytheistic tenets and they reject the Quranic monotheism): ""And ask your Lord for forgiveness, and repent to Him. He will provide you with good sustenance until a stated term, and will bestow His grace on every possessor of virtue. But if you turn away, then I fear for you the punishment of a Tremendous Day."" (11:3).

1/3/3: This is addressed to those disbelievers in terms of aggressive, violent behavior; i.e., who launched military attacks of aggression against the innocent, peaceful ones: "Say to those who disbelieve: if they desist, their past will be forgiven. But if they persist - the practice of the ancients has passed away. Fight them until there is no more persecution, and religion becomes exclusively for God. But if they desist - God is Seeing of what they do." (8:38-39).  

1/3/4: This is addressed to hypocrites; i.e., those who pretend to believe in the Quran but they do not, as God urges them to repent by this severe warning: "The hypocrites will be in the lowest level of the Fire, and you will find no supporter for them. Except those who repent, and reform, and hold fast to God, and dedicate their religion to God alone. These are with the believers; and God will give the believers a great reward." (4:145-146).

1/3/5: This is addressed to sinners and disobedient ones who committed many grave sins: "Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves: do not despair of God's mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is indeed the Forgiver, the Clement."" (39:53).

1/3/6: This warning is addressed to those who reject the faith as they have the chance to repent: "How will God guide a people who disbelieved after having believed, and had witnessed that the Messenger is true, and the clear proofs had come to them? God does not guide the unjust people. Those - their penalty is that upon them falls the curse of God, and of the angels, and of all humankind.Remaining in it eternally, without their torment being eased from them, and without being reprieved. Except those who repent afterwards, and reform; for God is Forgiving and Merciful." (3:86-89).

2- The condition of acceptable repentance is that it is dedicated only to God; He has commanded Muhammad in the following verse to recite the Quran to people to urge them to repent and that he (i.e., Muhammad) is urged to repent: "Thus We sent you among a community before which other communities have passed away, that you may recite to them what We revealed to you. Yet they deny the Benevolent One. Say, "He is my Lord; there is no god but He; in Him I trust, and to Him is my repentance."" (13:30). "Whoever repents and acts righteously has inclined towards God with repentance." (25:71). 


Secondly: the timing of repentance:

1- To repent as early as possible and soon enough within one's lifetime is better to have enough time to apply this repentance and atonement by performing many good deeds within righteousness/piety and fear of the Almighty Lord God; this early repentance is the best type of repentance rendered acceptable by God: "Repentance is available from God for those who commit evil out of ignorance, and then repent soon after. These - God will relent towards them. God is Knowing and Wise." (4:17).

2- In contrast, God never accepts the repentance of those who repent when it is too late for them when they are dying: "But repentance is not available for those who commit evils, until when death approaches one of them, he says, "Now I repent," nor for those who die as disbelievers. These - We have prepared for them a painful torment." (4:18).

3- The repentance that has occurred within the age of 40 is accepted by God if it is sincere and real and results in racial changes to the better within a pious life filled with righteous, good deeds: "...Until, when he has attained his maturity, and has reached forty years, he says, "Lord, enable me to appreciate the blessings You have bestowed upon me and upon my parents, and to act with righteousness, pleasing You. And improve my children for me. I have sincerely repented to You, and I am of those who have surrendered" Those are they from whom We accept the best of their deeds, and We overlook their misdeeds, among the dwellers of Paradise-the promise of truth which they are promised." (46:15-16).

4- As for those who repent in their old age, it is up to God to decide to forgive/pardon them or not: "Others are held in suspense, awaiting God's decree, as to whether He will punish them, or accept their repentance. God is Aware and Wise." (9:106). Those in their old age who committed many grave sins and disobeyed God's Word has no enough time within the remaining duration of their lives to activate/apply their repentance in the form of many good deeds within piety to atone for their sins; they must readily perform as many of them as possible before they die, and never to hesitate in this matter or do nothing, so that God would accept their repentance if deemed sincere; the judgment of their repentance rests only with God.


Thirdly: the requirements of repentance:

1- In a nutshell, repentance is correction of one's faith/belief by beginning  a new, piety-based phase within one's relation with Almighty God and to (re)double good deeds within the Quranic monotheistic guidance: "And I am Forgiving towards him who repents, believes, acts righteously, and then remains guided." (20:82).

2- This is detailed further in these Quranic verses: "When those who believe in Our Verses come to you, say, "Peace be upon you, your Lord has prescribed mercy for Himself. Whoever among you does wrong out of ignorance, and then repents afterwards and reforms-He is Forgiving and Merciful."" (6:54); "As for those who commit sins, and then repent afterwards and believe - your Lord, thereafter, is Forgiving and Merciful." (7:153); "But he who repents, and believes, and does righteous deeds, may well be among the winners." (28:67); "But towards those who do wrongs in ignorance, and then repent afterwards and reform, your Lord thereafter is Forgiving and Merciful." (16:119).

3- We perceive here the mechanism of repentance: to perform as many good deeds as possible to atone for the bad deeds and sins and to make God overlook them since the repentance is sincere: "And those who do not implore besides God any other god, and do not kill the soul which God has made sacred - except in the pursuit of justice - and do not commit adultery. Whoever does that will face penalties. The torment will be doubled for him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will dwell therein in humiliation forever. Except for those who repent, and believe, and do good deeds. These-God will replace their bad deeds with good deeds. God is ever Forgiving and Merciful. Whoever repents and acts righteously has inclined towards God with repentance." (25:68-71).

4- This verse applies to sinners who have repented sincerely: "But for whoever has done wrong, and then substituted good deeds in place of evil deeds, I am Forgiving and Merciful." (27:11).

5- Donating money for charity (alms/zakat to the poor, the needy, etc.) is among the main good deeds of righteousness to confirm one's repentance: "And those who patiently seek the presence of their Lord, and pray regularly, and spend from Our provisions to them, secretly and openly, and repel evil deeds with good ones. These will have the Ultimate Home." (13:22); "These will be given their reward twice, because they persevered; and they counter evil with good; and from Our provisions to them, they give." (28:54).

6- Zakat/alms/donations activate repentance and render it acceptable and sincere: "Others have confessed their sins, having mixed good deeds with bad deeds. Perhaps God will redeem them. God is Forgiving and Merciful. Receive contributions from their wealth, to purify them and sanctify them with it; and pray for them. Your prayer is comfort for them. God is Hearing and Knowing." (9:102-103).


Fourthly: special cases of repentance:

1- Those who have committed many grave sins must follow the best of God's commands within His Word in the Quran to atone for their sins as much as they can; the pious ones who will be the dwellers of Paradise are of two types: the Forerunners and those on the Right. This is as per their quality and quantity of their good deeds within piety and monotheism, of course. there are those who perform extra prayers at night and those who donate money to the poor and needy and prefer them to themselves despite having little money to give: "Say, "O My servants who have transgressed against themselves: do not despair of God's mercy, for God forgives all sins. He is indeed the Forgiver, the Clement." And turn to your Lord, and submit to Him, before the retribution comes upon you. Then you will not be helped. And follow the best of what was revealed to you from your Lord, before the punishment comes upon you suddenly, while you are unaware." (39:53-55).

2- Hypocrites who repent will be saved and will not enter into Hell and will be among the believers in Paradise: "The hypocrites will be in the lowest level of the Fire, and you will find no supporter for them. Except those who repent, and reform, and hold fast to God, and dedicate their religion to God alone. These are with the believers; and God will give the believers a great reward." (4:145-146).

3- Those preachers and clergymen of the earthly, man-made religions who spread and propagate falsehoods and lies (e.g., hadiths, fiqh, and narratives) and conceal the Quranic Truth must repent and announce to people who they were in the wrong and they show the Quranic Truth so as not to be cursed by God: "Those who suppress the proofs and the guidance We have revealed, after We have clarified them to humanity in the Book - those - God curses them, and the cursers curse them. Except those who repent, and reform, and proclaim. Those - I will accept their repentance. I am the Acceptor of Repentance, the Merciful." (2:159-160).



1- On the Last Day, no repentance will be accepted regarding the ones who die as sinners and/or disbelievers/polytheists who lived as such all their lives; their fate is Hell as they have not repented when they had the chance during their lifetimes before they die: "As for those who disbelieve and die disbelievers, even the earth full of gold would not be accepted from any of them, were he to offer it for ransom. These will have a painful torment, and will have no supporters." (3:91).

2- This Quranic fact is asserted and repeated within the following verses: "As for those who disbelieve, even if they owned everything on earth, and the like of it with it, and they offered it to ransom themselves from the torment of the Day of Resurrection, it will not be accepted from them. For them is a painful torment. They will want to leave the Fire, but they will not leave it. For them is a lasting torment." (5:36-37); "For those who respond to their Lord is the best. But as for those who do not respond to Him, even if they possessed everything on earth, and twice as much, they could not redeem themselves with it. Those will have the worst judgment; and their home is Hell - a miserable destination." (13:18); "If those who did wrong owned everything on earth, and the like of it with it, they would redeem themselves with it from the terrible suffering on the Day of Resurrection. But there will appear to them from God what they never anticipated. There will appear to them the evils of their deeds, and they will be surrounded by what they used to ridicule." (39:47-48).

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