Taking the Means to Allah’s Forgiveness: Tafsir al-Sa’di

In surah al-Nisaa’, Allah informs us of the following:

 إِنَّمَا التَّوْبَةُ عَلَى اللَّهِ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السُّوءَ بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِن قَرِيبٍ فَأُولَٰئِكَ يَتُوبُ اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِمْ ۗ وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا * وَلَيْسَتِ التَّوْبَةُ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ حَتَّىٰ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ إِنِّي تُبْتُ الْآنَ وَلَا الَّذِينَ يَمُوتُونَ وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ أَعْتَدْنَا لَهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا

The forgiveness on Allah’s part is only for those who do wrong in ignorance and then repent soon after. It is those to whom Allah will turn in forgiveness, and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise. * But forgiveness is not for those who do evil deeds up until, when death comes to one of them, he says, “Indeed, I repent now,” or of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them We have prepared a painful punishment. [4:17-18]

Commenting on this in his well-known book of tafsir, Sheikh ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Naasir al-Sa’di wrote:

توبة الله على عباده نوعان: توفيق منه للتوبة، وقبول لها بعد وجودها من العبد، فأخبر هنا -أن التوبة المستحقة على الله حق أحقه على نفسه، كرما منه وجودا، لمن عمل السوء أي: المعاصي { بِجَهَالَةٍ } أي: جهالة منه بعاقبتها وإيجابها لسخط الله وعقابه، وجهل منه بنظر الله ومراقبته له، وجهل منه بما تئول إليه من نقص الإيمان أو إعدامه، فكل عاص لله، فهو جاهل بهذا الاعتبار وإن كان عالما بالتحريم. بل العلم بالتحريم شرط لكونها معصية معاقبا عليها . ـ

Allah’s turning towards His slaves in forgiveness fall into two categories:

  1. Granting them the accord to make repentance, and
  2. Accepting their repentance from them after they have made it.

And here, Allah is informing us that the forgiveness which is incumbent upon Allah is a duty which He has enjoined upon Himself as a form of generosity and munificence from Him to whomever commits an evil deed – meaning an act of disobedience –

بِجَهَالَةٍ

in ignorance

meaning: while being ignorant of the displeasure and punishment of Allah that it entails and necessitates, and while being ignorant of Allah’s watchfulness over him, and while being ignorant of the decrease or obliteration of eemaan which it causes. Every one who disobeys Allah is ignorant of these considerations, even if he knows of the prohibition. In fact, knowledge of the prohibited nature of an act is a condition that must be in place for that act of disobedience to result in punishment.

ـ { ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِنْ قَرِيبٍ } يحتمل أن يكون المعنى: ثم يتوبون قبل معاينة الموت، فإن الله يقبل توبة العبد إذا تاب قبل معاينة الموت والعذاب قطعا. وأما بعد حضور الموت فلا يُقبل من العاصين توبة ولا من الكفار رجوع، كما قال تعالى عن فرعون: { حَتَّى إِذَا أَدْرَكَهُ الْغَرَقُ قَالَ آمَنْتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَائِيلَ } الآية. وقال تعالى: { فَلَمَّا رَأَوْا بَأْسَنَا قَالُوا آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَحْدَهُ وَكَفَرْنَا بِمَا كُنَّا بِهِ مُشْرِكِينَ فَلَمْ يَكُ يَنْفَعُهُمْ إِيمَانُهُمْ لَمَّا رَأَوْا بَأْسَنَا سُنَّةَ اللَّهِ الَّتِي قَدْ خَلَتْ فِي عِبَادِهِ } ـ

ثُمَّ يَتُوبُونَ مِنْ قَرِيبٍ

And then repent soon after …

this could be interpreted in one of two ways.

It could mean “and then repent before the time of death”, for Allah certainly accepts the repentance of a slave if he repents prior to the time of death and the ultimate punishment. But as for after the onset of death, then repentance is not accepted from the disobedient ones nor is any penitence accepted from the disbelievers. This is just as Allah said regarding Fir’awn:

حَتَّىٰ إِذَا أَدْرَ‌كَهُ الْغَرَ‌قُ قَالَ آمَنتُ أَنَّهُ لَا إِلَـٰهَ إِلَّا الَّذِي آمَنَتْ بِهِ بَنُو إِسْرَ‌ائِيلَ وَأَنَا مِنَ الْمُسْلِمِينَ * آلْآنَ وَقَدْ عَصَيْتَ قَبْلُ وَكُنتَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ

until, when drowning overtook him, he said, “I believe that there is no deity worthy of worship except that in whom the Children of Israel believe, and I am of the Muslims.” * Now?! When you had disobeyed before and were one of the corrupters? [10:90-91]

And Allah also said:

فَلَمَّا رَ‌أَوْا بَأْسَنَا قَالُوا آمَنَّا بِاللَّـهِ وَحْدَهُ وَكَفَرْ‌نَا بِمَا كُنَّا بِهِ مُشْرِ‌كِينَ * فَلَمْ يَكُ يَنفَعُهُمْ إِيمَانُهُمْ لَمَّا رَ‌أَوْا بَأْسَنَا ۖ سُنَّتَ اللَّـهِ الَّتِي قَدْ خَلَتْ فِي عِبَادِهِ

And when they saw Our punishment, they said,” We believe in Allah alone and disbelieve in that which we used to associate with Him.” * But never will their faith benefit them once they have seen Our punishment. This is the established way of Allah which has preceded among His servants. [40:84-85]

وقال هنا: { وَلَيْسَتِ التَّوْبَةُ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ } أي: المعاصي فيما دون الكفر { حَتَّى إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ إِنِّي تُبْتُ الْآنَ وَلَا الَّذِينَ يَمُوتُونَ وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ أُولَئِكَ أَعْتَدْنَا لَهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا } وذلك أن التوبة في هذه الحال توبة اضطرار لا تنفع صاحبها، إنما تنفع توبة الاختيار. ويحتمل أن يكون معنى قوله: { مِنْ قَرِيبٍ } أي: قريب من فعلهم للذنب الموجب للتوبة . ـ

ـ

And here He said:

وَلَيْسَتِ التَّوْبَةُ لِلَّذِينَ يَعْمَلُونَ السَّيِّئَاتِ

But forgiveness is not for those who do evil deeds… [4:18]

– meaning: acts of disobedience which are less than al-kufr (disbelief).

حَتَّى إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَهُمُ الْمَوْتُ قَالَ إِنِّي تُبْتُ الْآنَ وَلَا الَّذِينَ يَمُوتُونَ وَهُمْ كُفَّارٌ أُولَئِكَ أَعْتَدْنَا لَهُمْ عَذَابًا أَلِيمًا

… up until, when death comes to one of them, he says, “Indeed, I repent now,” or of those who die while they are disbelievers. For them We have prepared a painful punishment. [4:18]

And that is because repentance in that sort of condition is a repentance made under duress which does not benefit its doer; it is only one’s freely given decision to repent that actually would benefit him.

 ويحتمل أن يكون معنى قوله: { مِنْ قَرِيبٍ } أي: قريب من فعلهم للذنب الموجب للتوبة . فيكون المعنى: أن من بادر إلى الإقلاع من حين صدور الذنب وأناب إلى الله وندم عليه فإن الله يتوب عليه، بخلاف من استمر على ذنوبه وأصر على عيوبه، حتى صارت فيه صفاتٍ راسخةً فإنه يعسر عليه إيجاد التوبة التامة. والغالب أنه لا يوفق للتوبة ولا ييسر لأسبابها، كالذي يعمل السوء على علم تام ويقين وتهاون بنظر الله إليه، فإنه سد على نفسه باب الرحمة . ـ

Or, Allah’s statement,

 مِنْ قَرِيبٍ

(And then repent) soon after …

could be interpreted to mean “he repents soon after committing the sin which requires him to make repentance.”

So in this case, the meaning would be that whoever hastens to renounce the sin as soon as it happens, turn to Allah in repentance, and regrets having done it, then Allah will certainly turn to him in forgiveness.

This is in contrast to the one who continues, in his sins and persists in his faults so much so that they become a part of his ingrained characteristics, for then it becomes difficult for him to make a complete repentance. In most cases, such a person is not granted the accord to make repentance, nor are the means to do so made easy for him. Take, for example, the one who commits sins while having full knowledge, complete certainty, and total indifference towards the fact that Allah is watching him. Such a person has shut the door of mercy upon himself.

 نعم قد يوفق الله عبده المصر على الذنوب عن عمد ويقين لتوبة تامة [التي] يمحو بها ما سلف من سيئاته وما تقدم من جناياته، ولكن الرحمة والتوفيق للأول أقرب، ولهذا ختم الآية الأولى بقوله: { وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا } فمِن علمه أنه يعلم صادق التوبة وكاذبها فيجازي كلا منهما بحسب ما يستحق بحكمته، ومن حكمته أن يوفق من اقتضت حكمته ورحمته توفيقَه للتوبة، ويخذل من اقتضت حكمته وعدله عدمَ توفيقه. والله أعلم . ـ

Certainly Allah may grant any slave of his the resolve in the face of sins to be certain and intent upon  complete repentance which would erase whatever sins and crimes he had previously done. However, that mercy and granting of success is more fitting for those who are closer to it. Because of this, Allah concluded the first ayah with His statement

وَكَانَ اللَّهُ عَلِيمًا حَكِيمًا

and Allah is ever Knowing and Wise

Part of Allah’s vast knowledge is that He knows those who are truthful in their repentance and those who are false therein. So He repays each one of these according to what His wisdom necessitates.

And part of His vast wisdom is that He grants the accord to make repentance to whomever His wisdom and mercy demands and He abandons whomever His wisdom and justice demands and deprives them of His accord. And Allah knows best.

[Taysir al-Kareem al-Rahman pg. 184]

See also: Four Means of Attaining Allah’s Forgiveness: Imam al-Sa’di

See also: “Except the people of Yunus”: Tafsir al-Sa’di

See also: Consideration is given to the completeness of the conclusion, not the defects of the beginning

See also: Avoid the sins which prevent forgiveness and the acceptance of du’a: Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali

See also: Questions and Answers on Tawbah from Ibn Taymiyah

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One thought on “Taking the Means to Allah’s Forgiveness: Tafsir al-Sa’di

  1. Pingback: Four Means of Attaining Allah’s Forgiveness: Imam al-Sa’di | Tulayhah

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