This statement of Oscar Wilde truly summarises the Islamic tradition where sinners like Malik ibn Dinar (d. 130 AH), ‘Abdullah ibn al-Mubarak (d. 181 AH), al-Fudhayl ibn ‘Iyadh (d. 187 AH), and many others, abandoned their sinful lives and lived on to become Saints after a sincere utterance of Astaghfirullah [I seek Allah’s forgiveness].
Many classical texts on Tasawwuf or Islamic Spirituality highlight that one’s spiritual journey begins with Tawbah or Repentance. Allah says in the Qur’an: ‘Believers, all of you, turn to God so that you may prosper.’ [Surah an-Nur 24:31]
Ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi (d. 741AH) comments on the above verse in his commentary Al-Tashil li ‘Ulum al-Tanzil:
“Repentance is an obligation upon every legally-responsible believer according to the evidences in the Book, the Sunnah and the consensus of the [Muslim] nation.
It has three obligations:
- Feeling remorse over the sin due to disobeying God, not due to some harm that may have come to one’s wealth or self.
- Refraining from the sin as immediately as possible, without procrastination or slackness.
- Resolving not to repeat it again; but if one does, then one renews the resolve.
It has three etiquettes:
- To acknowledge one’s sin along with feeling utterly broken.
- To increase in entreating God and beseeching His forgiveness.
- To increase in doing good works so as to erase past wrongs.It has seven degrees:
- Repentance of disbelievers from disbelief.
- Repentance of the sincere ones from major sins.
- Repentance of the upright ones from minor sins.
- Repentance of the devout worshippers from slackness.
- Repentance of wayfarers from the defects and vices of the heart.
- Repentance of the high-minded, scrupulous ones from doubtful matters.
- Repentance of those spiritually witnessing God from being distracted from God.The causes of repentance are seven:
- Fear of punishment.
- Hope of reward.
- Embarrassment of being held responsible.
- Love for the Beloved.
- The vigilance of the vigilant one who is near.
- Glorifying the station.
- Gratitude for numerous bounties.”