How to do Tawbah? It’s not difficult at all, from a physical perspective.
But firstly, the scholars have derived, from the Qur’an and statements of the Prophet Muhammad, that certain conditions must accompany the tawbah for it to be valid and correct. Shaykh Ibn `Uthaymeen mentions the following in Sharh Riyaadh as-Saliheen:
1. Sincerity - It’s very important that the person is not repenting for any other purpose, or reason (for example, for the sake of reputation, to be seen by others or to get closer to them, or because one is unable to continue the sin for whatever reason); the sole intent & purpose in him doing this Tawbah has to be to return to the proper submission to Allah. He/she is doing this, to seek Allah’s forgiveness for his/her sins, and to attain His Pleasure.
2. Remorse – It is so important to feel regret and remorse for the sin that one has committed. This is based on the hadeeth of the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) [recorded by Ahmad and others; Shaykh al-Albaani said it is saheeh], wherein the Prophet said: اَلنَّدْمُ تَوبَةٌ ”Remorse is repentance.” This, by the way, is a unique hadeeth. For the Prophet (صلى الله عليه وسلم) put it in such a way that a listener would assume that remorse is all that Tawbah is. And it is. Nothing more. Just have regret, and that’s it.
So if a person doesn’t have this feeling of regret and is happy that he did what he did, then the repentance is unacceptable. This actually defeats the entire purpose of Tawbah because if you don’t truly in your heart feel bad or sorry for what you did, then why are you repenting?
3. Stop The Sin - The repenting person must stop committing the sin. Stop the sin immediately. One can’t do Tawbah and then say, ‘Yeah, I did Tawbah, but I’ll leave this sin when I graduate.’ Or, ‘Once I get married.’ Or, next year. Or tomorrow. Right away, the person should leave it. If a person does Tawbah, but he is still involved in that sin, then that Tawbah is invalid. Note that the issue here is that it is necessary that the person leaves off the act as a starter. We’re not talking about whether the person falls back into that sin again later on (which will be discussed in the next point Insha’Allah). However, what we’re saying here is that if the person never left the sin to start with, then the Tawbah was not valid.
You know, for example, if a person is looking at something that is ‘forbidden for him to look at’ and says “O Allah, forgive me”, but simultaneously, he is continuing that act – that’s unacceptable. Leave the act. Stop it.
This is taken from the words of Allah in Surah Aali `Imraan, verse 135:
وَلَمْ يُصِرُّوا عَلَى مَا فَعَلُوا وَهُمْ يَعْلَمُون
“And they do not knowingly persist in what they have done.”
4. Resolute Intention – One must be determined and have a resolute intention that they will never repeat that sin again, that I’m not going to return back to that particular (major) sin. If the person claims to repent, but he knows that if he could get the opportunity to perform that sin again, he would do so, then he has not repented properly. However, what if someone, after doing the Tawbah, falls back into that sin (although he did not intend to do that sin again)? Does that nullify his Tawbah? The answer is No. This won’t affect his original repentance and it is still good. However, now he/she needs to repent anew for the new sin he/she has committed. The person has to go back, do Tawbah again, and vow never to return to that sin again. One may ask, what if that person falls back into that same sin again? The Tawbah is still valid. But now they need to go back and do Tawbah to Allah again (there’s in fact a hadeeth in the Saheehs of al-Bukhaari and Muslim that describes a person in a similar situation, but I won’t mention it here).
5. Repent on time! – The Repentance has to be done in a time when it is accepted. That is all times except for the following:
a. When the sun is rising from the west – If you say, ”I believe now” at that time, it’s too late. If you repent then, sorry. The Door of Repentance is closed :(
b. When a person is in the agonies of death and sees the Angels of Death. A prime example would be Fir`awn, who, in essence, said the Shahaadah and quickly repented when he saw the Angels of Death and Jibreel – therefore, his Tawbah was not accepted. And SubhaanAllaah, even for this arrogant and oppressive tyrant, Angel Jibreel (عليه السلام) began throwing dirt and mud into the mouth of Fir`awn, “because he was afraid that Allah’s mercy may reach him”. Allah’s mercy is just so vast and incredibly enormous…
c. When the Dajjaal (the ‘Antichrist’) appears.
So now, having said all the conditions for repentance, here is how to actually do it:
It’s mentioned in 1 simple hadeeth of the Prophet (may Allah send peace & blessings on him). The Hadeeth is saheeh and is recorded by Abu Dawood & An-Nasaa`ee. Abu Bakr narrated that the Prophet (صلوات الله وسلامه عليه) said:
“There is no one who commits a sin, goes and performs Wudoo`(ritual ablution), and then prays 2 Rak`ahs (two units of prayer) after which they seek Allah’s forgiveness, except that He forgives them.”
After this, the Prophet recited the Words of Allah (3:135):
والذين إذا فعلوا فاحشة أو ظلموا أنفسهم ذكروا الله, فاستغفروا لذنوبهم – ومن يغفر الذنوب إلا الله – ولم يصروا على ما فعلوا وهم يعلمون
“And those (people) who, when they have committed a Faahishah (a major sin, an immoral sin) or wronged themselves, remember Allah and implore forgiveness for their sins – And who can forgive sins but Allah alone? – and do not knowingly persist in the wrong that they did.”
And based on this hadeeth, some of the Fuqahaa` have derived what is called as-Salaat at-Tawbah (The Prayer for Repentance). This Salaah is done after a person does a sinful act that requires repentance [i.e. a major sin].
So if a person wants to show remorse and do sincere Repentance, then he/she should simply, as the Prophet said, perform wudoo`, pray these 2 Rak`ahs, and after the Prayer, sincerely ask Allah to forgive him/her for that sin. The person should also mention the sin before Allah; a person shouldn’t just say, “O Allah, forgive all the sins I’ve done”, but rather he should do muhaasabah & and recall the major sin he did and mention it to Allah & seek His forgiveness for it. No doubt, when one does this Tawbah sincerely, with the conditions of Tawbah in mind, his/her sin will be forgiven by the Most Merciful & Most Forgiving.
Note: There are some scholars who say that one cannot definitively say that a repentance that meets all of its necessary conditions will be accepted by Allah. Instead, the person hopes for this. He is under the will of Allah – if Allah wills, He may punish him, and if He wills, He may forgive him. However, Ibn Rajab (رحمه الله تعالى) answers their arguments and refutes them by stating that one can definitively say that a true repentance is accepted by Allah. This is also supported by the statement of the Prophet wherein he said: اَلتَّائِبُ مِنَ الذَّنْبِ كَمَنْ لاَ ذَنْبَ لَهُ “The one who repents (does Tawbah) from a sin, is like one who did not sin at all” (Recorded by Ibn Maajah, and has a hasan chain of narration). Of course, we hope in Allah and have the best hopes. However, it is a promise from Allah that the one who sincerely does Tawbah to Him will be forgiven. And Allah wants and loves to forgive the person, as Allah said: والله يريد أن يتوب عليكم ”Allah wants to accept your repentance.” (4:27)
> Shaykh Sidenote - Some have also commented on the part of the Hadeeth where the Prophet said, ”goes and performs Wudoo`”, and have said that after this Wudoo` particularly, the person should recite the du’aa’ that the Prophet (ص) taught us to say:
اَللَّهُمَّ اجْعَلْنِي مِنَ التَّوَّابِيْنَ, وَاجْعَلْنِي مِنَ الْمُتَطَهِّرِيْنَ
O Allah! Make me from those who constantly repent to You, and from those who purify themselves.”
So this is, by Allah’s permission, the way to perform Tawbah.
A reflection after having discussed all of this – Isn’t it interesting how easy ‘Repentance’ is? How preposterously simple it is to have one’s sins forgiven and erased? How Merciful Allah is! And we know that if a person did this Tawbah during their life from their sins, then by Allah’s Mercy, their Hereafter will be good and happy. However, if a Muslim died without ever doing this ‘Repentance’ from their sins, then they have no guarantee; Allah may forgive them, or punish them first.
How simple, but the striking question is: “When Tawbah is so easy, how come so many Muslims die without performing it?” I want to repent, but… In fact, that is the title of the beautiful book by Shaykh Muhammad Saalih al-Munajjid (أريد أن أتوب ولكن). And al-hamdulillaah, the book is available in English, and is also available online (free) for anybody to read & benefit from – at the Shaykh’s website: www.islamqa.com.
So I say, in conclusion, every sinner, which is all of us, should do his best to turn to Allah and seek forgiveness from Allah. Allah is so pleased with the repentance of His servants and is willing to forgive them. Instead of feeling complete despair for past sins, everybody should realize that the door to repentance is open. Furthermore, due to the effects of repentance and the change in one’s heart in the process, one may be in a better state after repentance than he was before he committed the sin. This was the case, for example, with Adam (عليه الصلاة والسلام). Adam committed a sin. He then felt remorse and his heart turned sincerely to Allah with repentance. Thereafter, his faith & belief were better than before. Allah says:
وعصى آدم ربه فغوى – ثم اجتباه ربه فتاب عليه وهدى
“Thus Adam disobeyed his Lord, and so he went astray. Then his Lord chose him, and accepted his repentance, and gave him guidance.” (20:121-122)
And really, this is true. As Ibn al-Qayyim said, one of the righteous predecessors said:
“Surely, a servant commits a sin by which he enters Paradise. And another servant does a good deed by which he enters the Fire.” So the people around him were shocked! They knew that good deeds bring one to Paradise, while sins bring one to the Fire. So they said to him: ”How is this? How can that be?” So then he explained the situation of both. He said: “The one who committed the sin, constantly thought about it, which caused him to fear it, regret it, weep and cry over it, and feel ashamed in front of his Lord because of it. He stood before Allah, broken-hearted, with his head lowered in humility. So this sin was more beneficial to him than many acts of obedience, since it caused him humility & humbleness, to the extent that this sin became the cause for him entering Paradise. And as for the doer of good, he didn’t consider that good to be a favor from his Lord. Rather, he became amazed with himself. This increased his arrogance & pride, which lead him to destruction in Hell.”
I ask Allah to make you and me from those who continually do Tawbah to Him, and have humility, for that is the key to success in this world & the next.