Repentance: Commentary on Surah Al Nisa – Part 5

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.


ourth: The basic purpose for which the institution of repentance has been established, (as is clear from the above discourse) is to get deliverance from the perdition of sin and disaster of disobedience because repentance is a means of success and is instrumental in achieving felicity, as is implied in the verse:?

“… and turn to Allah all of you, O believers! so that you may be successful” (24:31).

One of its benefits, apart from the above, is this: It preserves the spirit of hope, lest it be overwhelmed by desperation. Man cannot proceed straight on the path of life unless there is a perfect balance between
hope and fear. It is this equilibrium that attracts him to what is beneficial to him and repulses him from
what is harmful; otherwise, he would have perished. Allah says:

“Say: ‘O my servants who have acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the
mercy of Allah; surely, He is the Forgiving, the Merciful’” (39:53). ?

“And return to your Lord time after time and submit to Him before there comes to you the punishment, then you shall not be helped” (39:54).

Any scholar of human psychology will tell you that man perseveres in his efforts with zeal and ardour as
long as his labour seems to bear fruits. But if he finds his efforts going to waste, he feels dejected and
depressed, hope gives way to despair and his actions lose vigour and vitality. Often, he stops whatever
he was doing, as he feels that he can in no way achieve success; he loses heart and is overwhelmed by

Repentance is the only cure for this disease; it revives his heart even when he has reached the brink of
disaster and perdition.

Some people have misunderstood repentance and said that the establishment of the institution of repentance and calling people to avail themselves of its benefits was tantamount to inciting them to
commit sins and encouraging them to disobey Allah. When man is sure that if he committed a sin Allah
would accept his repentance, it will surely embolden him to violate the sanctity of divine law, to dive
headlong into the abyss of sins and crimes. He will go on committing sin after sin intending to repent after
each transgression.

But, in view of what we have explained above, there is no room for this misunderstanding. Apart from
the fact that the acquirement of virtues depends on the remission of sins, repentance is meant to keep the hope alive, and this revival of optimism has its own good effects. There is no question here of a man
committing a sin thinking that he would repent afterwards. This objection has missed the point altogether; because such a repentance is totally devoid of the reality of repentance. Repentance is
the renouncement of sins, and there is no renouncement in the situation mentioned by the objector.

Why? Because he had planned to repent before the sin, and with the sin, and after the sin; and how can
one feel remorse (i.e., repentance) before the action? The fact is that, in such cases, the whole activity –
the sin and the so-called repentance – taken together is one action with one intention; and that is
trickery and deception, with which he tries to deceive the Lord of the worlds. But the evil plan does not beset
any except its authors.

Fifth: Sin is an evil stand of man and has a bad effect on his life.

Consequently, he cannot repent, cannot turn away from it, unless first he realizes, and is sure of, its evil. This knowledge and certainty cannot fail to produce regret and remorse for it. Remorse is a particular psychological response to committing an evil deed. When that remorse takes hold, then a man may change his direction to do some good deeds, opposite to that evil one. This second step will be a proof that he has really repented and returned to his Lord.

This forms the basis of all the formalities and manners of repentance laid down by the Shari‘ah, e.g.,
expressing regret, asking for forgiveness, acquiring habit of doing good deeds, discarding evil deeds,
and other related things described in the traditions and the books of ethics.

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