Repentance: Commentary on Surah Al Nisa – Part 4

Repentance: Commentary on Surah Al Nisa

Contributed by Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba’i commonly known as Allameh Tabataba’i, was one of the most prominent thinkers of philosophy and contemporary Shia Islam. He is famous for Tafsir al-Mizan, a twenty-seven-volume work of Quranic exegesis, which he worked on from 1954 until 1972.

Repentance In Its Full Significance: Summary


ven a human being, after acquiring natural good characteristics of generosity and benevolence, does show mercy to such persons when they are really sorry for the evil deeds they had done before. Then how much mercy will be shown by Him Who is the Most Merciful of all, the Most Generous of all and Who is the Refuge of the refuge-seekers?

Reply: This hypothesis is rebutted by the divine words:

“And repentance is not for those who go on doing evil deeds, until when death comes to one of them, he says: “Surely, now I repent,” nor (for) those who die while they are unbelievers” (4:18).

We have already explained that repentance and regret at that late hour is a falsity; man shows that remorse only because he now clearly sees the consequences of his sins, and looks at the misfortunes of
the next life rushing towards him.

Not every remorse is repentance, nor every repentance acceptable. See how Allah describes the condition of the guilty on the Day of Resurrection: “And they shall conceal regret when they shall see the punishment” (34:33).

There are many other verses describing their regret for what they had done and their plea to be sent back to this world in order that they could do good deeds, and its rebuttal that even if they were returned, they would do what they were forbidden to and that they were liars.

You should not imagine even for a moment that the earlier explained Qur’anic analysis of repentance is merely a mental exercise having no relation with realities. If you contemplate on human felicity and infelicity, goodness and wickedness, you will not get any result other than repentance. Look at a normal man in society, keeping in view the effect of education and bringing up on him. You will find that he by himself is devoid of sociological good and evil; his psyche is capable of accepting both imprints – without any preference to either.

Now, let us suppose that he wants to adorn himself with merit and virtue, to acquire piety and righteousness. It will not be possible unless all necessary factors join together to rescue him from the evil conditions he is surrounded with. In spiritual context, it is like the first returning of Allah to His servant.

Then comes the stage of taking himself out of, and away from, the shabby condition and the fetters of tardiness. It is a repentance like that of the servant returning to his Lord. Thereafter comes the final step of removing the rust of mischief and depravity from his heart, so that virtuous characteristics and light of goodness may take its place; because the heart cannot accommodate goodness and vileness together. This is equivalent to the acceptance of repentance and forgiveness – in the context of the subject under discussion.

The same process takes place in the matters of collective good of society in which man lives according to natural dictate. All the rules and effects which the religion considers important in matters of repentance are applied in individual and social context too, according to the natural trait which Allah has created in man.

Third: As may be inferred from all the verses of repentance, including the ones quoted in this discussion, repentance is a reality having real effect on human psyche. It reforms and prepares it for human good which contains felicity of this world and the next. In other words, repentance proves effective – when it does – in removing spiritual evils which pull man to all kinds of infelicity in this life and the hereafter and prevent him from settling on the throne of felicity. But so far as the rules of Shari‘ah and laws of religion are concerned they stay in their place. No repentance can waive them as no disobedience can remove them.

Nevertheless, there are some rules which have some links with repentance, and are waived if one repents. This is ordained, keeping in view the interest of the creation; but in no way it means that repentance, per se, waives any of the divine laws. Allah says:

“And as for the two who are guilty of it [i.e., indecency] from among you, afflict them both; then if they repent and amend, turn aside from them; surely Allah is Oft- returning [to mercy], the Merciful” (4:16).

“The punishment of those who wage war against Allah and His Messenger and strive to make mischief in the land is only this, that they should be killed or crucified or their hands and their feet should be cut off on opposite sides or they should be imprisoned; this shall be as a disgrace for them in this world, and in the hereafter, they shall have a grievous chastisement” (5:33).

“Except those who repent before you have them in your power so know that Allah is Forgiving, Merciful” (5:34). There are a few other verses of this import.

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