Repentance: Commentary on Surah Al Nisa – Part 7

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.



The Messenger of Allah (S) said, inter alia, in his last sermon: “Whoever repents one year before his
death, Allah will turn (mercifully) to him.” Then he said: “Surely, a year is too long; whoever repents one
month before his death, Allah will turn (mercifully) to him.”

Then he said: “Surely a month is too long; whoever repents one day before his death, Allah will turn (mercifully) to him.” Then he said: “Surely a day is too long; whoever repents one hour before his death, Allah will turn (mercifully) to him.” Then he said: “Surely an hour is too long; whoever repents while his soul has reached here” – and he pointed with his hand to his throat – “Allah will turn (mercifully) to him.”3

Imam As-Sadiq (‘a) said when he was asked about the word of Allah, 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”: “That is, when he looks at the affairs of the next world.”

The author says: al-Kulayni has narrated the first tradition in al-Kafi through his chain from as-Sadiq (‘a); it is also narrated through the Sunni chains, and there are other traditions too of the same import.

The second tradition gives the explanation of the verse; also, it explains those traditions which say that
repentance in presence of death is not accepted. Accordingly, “in presence of death” means ‘when man knows that the process of death has begun, and sees the signs of the hereafter’; it is at that point that the door of repentance is closed against him. But if a man is unaware of his impending death, then there is no snag in acceptance of his repentance. Some of the following traditions have similar meaning.

Zurarah has narrated from Abu Ja‘far (‘a) that he said: “When the soul reaches here”, pointing to his larynx, “then there is no repentance for the knower; but there is repentance for the ignorant.”4

It is reported in Ad-Durr Al-Manthur that Ahmad, al-Bukhari (in his at-Tafsir), al-Hakim and Ibn Marduwayh have narrated from Abu Dharr, that he said: “Surely the Messenger of Allah (S) said: ‘Surely Allah accepts repentance of His servant, or forgives His servant, until the curtain comes down.’ It was asked: ‘And what is the coming down of curtain?’ He said: ‘The soul goes out while a polytheist.’

Ibn Jarir has narrated from al-Hasan that he said: “[A report] has come to me that the Messenger of Allah (S) said: ‘Verily Iblis said when he found that Adam had cavity [in his body]: “By Thy honour! I will not leave his cavity as long as there was soul inside him.” Then Allah, the Blessed, the High, said: “By My honour! I will not come between him and repentance as long as there was soul inside him.”5’

‘Ali al-Ahmasi has narrated from Abu Ja‘far (‘a) that he said: “By Allah! None gets deliverance from sins except he who confesses them.” Also he has narrated from the same Imam (‘a): “Enough is remorse for repentance.”6

It is narrated in al-Kafi through two chains from Ibn Wahb that he said: “I heard Abu ‘Abdillah (‘a) saying: ‘When the servant repents, a sincere repenting, Allah loves him and covers him.’ I said: ‘And how does He cover him?’ He said: ‘He makes his two angels forget what they had written against him; then He inspires his limbs and the areas of the earth to conceal his sins. Thus, he meets Allah – when he meets Him – and there is nothing to give evidence against him concerning his sins.’

“Muhammad ibn Muslim has narrated from Abu Ja‘far (‘a) that he said: “O Muhammad ibn Muslim! sins of the believer are forgiven to him when he repents from them. Therefore, the believer should perform his deeds afresh after repentance and forgiveness. But, by Allah! it is not but for the people of faith.”

“I said: ‘But what if he relapses into sins after repentance and forgiveness, and then repents again?’ He said: ‘O Muhammad ibn Muslim! do you think that a believer servant feels remorse for his sin and asks forgiveness from Allah for it and repents and then Allah will not accept his repentance?’ I said: ‘Then if he does so repeatedly; commits sin and repents and asks forgiveness?’

Then he said: ‘Whenever the believer returns asking for forgiveness and repenting, Allah the High, returns to him with forgiveness; and surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful; He accepts repentance and pardons the evils. Therefore, be careful, lest you make the believers lose hope of Allah’s mercy.’”7

Abu ‘Amr az-Zubayri narrates from Abu ‘Abdillah (‘a) about the words of Allah: “And most surely I am most forgiving to him who repents and believes and does good, then continues to follow the right direction” (20:82).

That he (‘a) said: “This verse has an explanation, which explanation is proved [by the fact] that Allah does not accept any deed from any servant except from him who meets Him with fulfilment of that explanation, and with that condition which Allah has imposed on the believers.

And he said: “Repentance with Allah is only for those who do evil in ignorance; Allah means that every
sin which the servant does – although he may be aware of it – he is ignorant when he thinks in his heart
to disobey his Lord; and Allah has spoken about it quoting the talk of Yusuf to his brothers:

“Do you know how you treated Yusuf and his brother when you were ignorant?” (12:89).

So, he charged them with ignorance because they planned in their hearts to commit sin against Allah.”8

The author says: The text of the narration is not free from confusion and disarray. Apparently, the earlier portion is meant to show that good deed is accepted when the servant fulfils its condition and does not destroy it. After all, repentance is acceptable only when it restrains and prevents the repenter from sin – even for a limited time.

And probably the text:

“Repentance with Allah is only for those who do evil in ignorance, then turn (to Allah) soon, so these it is to whom Allah turns (mercifully), and Allah is ever Knowing, Wise” (4:17).

Is a new topic, to show that the phrase “in ignorance” in this verse is an explanatory clause, and that sin in general is ignorance – it has already been given as an alternative explanation in the commentary.

This latter part is narrated also in Majma‘ ul-Bayan from the same Imam (‘a).

  1. See the Eng. transl. vol.6, pp.145-217 (ed.)
  2. See the Eng. transl. vol.4, pp.279 – 82 (tr.)
  3. Man la Yahduruh Al-Faqih.
  4. At-Tafsir al- ‘Ayyashi.
  5. Ad-Durr Al-Manthur.
  6. Al-Kafi.
  7. Al-Kafi.
  8. At-Tafsir, al-‘Ayyashi.
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