Our noble brother, may Allāh have mercy upon him, outlines the importance of seeking repentence for one's sins, and the conditions that must be met in order for its acceptance by Allāh.
O brothers and sisters! It is upon us to seek forgiveness and repent for those sins we have committed, whether done openly or secretly! Indeed we all commit sins in actions and statements and that is why Allāh has ordered us in the Qurʾan to make tawbah and repent to Him, and if the believers make tawbah, Allāh will forgive them and they will inshāʾ Allāh be from the successful ones.
وَتُوبُوا إِلَى اللَّـهِ جَمِيعًا أَيُّهَ الْمُؤْمِنُونَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ
And turn you all together in repentance to Allāh, O Believers, that you may be successful.
[Sūrah al-Nūr, 24:31]
Allāh (subḥānahu wa ta ͑āla) also mentions in His Book,
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَى أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللَّـهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚإِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
Say: O My slaves who have transgressed against themselves! Despair not of the Mercy of Allāh, verily Allāh forgives all sins. Truly He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.
[Sūrah al-Zumar, 39:53]
This āyah is an āyah of mercy, of maghfirah, that wipes away any despair or sadness after the servant of Allāh has fallen into sin. It is an encouragement for the servant, do not to give up, and do not despair of Allāh’s Mercy, because to despair of the Mercy of Allāh is kufr, and it is just as bad as the one who feels safe from the plotting and punishment of Allāh.
As Allāh says,
إِنَّهُ لَا يَيْأَسُ مِن رَّوْحِ اللَّـهِ إِلَّا الْقَوْمُ الْكَافِرُونَ
Certainly no one despairs of Allāh's Mercy, except the people who disbelieve.
[Sūrah Yūsuf, 12:87]
The Prophet (ṣallallāhu ͑alayhī wa-sallam) said,
"Allāh is more delighted with the repentance of His servant than one of you would be, who suddenly finds his camel laden with supplies after losing it in a barren land."1
He was so happy that he committed kufr upon the tongue even though he did not mean it, this individual does not even know what his mouth is saying due to happiness; this is a parable of how pleased Allāh is with the servant who was lost in ḥarām actions; the servant is like the animal who has gone outside of its boundaries, so now he has to return back to Allāh.
Indeed the sins fall off of the person with tawbah and istighfār, just as the leaves fall from a tree. Ahl al-Sunnah do not make excuses for sins, they understand, that were it not that you committed sin, Allāh would have done away with us and created creatures that commited sin so he that could forgive them.
The Messenger of Allāh (ṣallallāhu ͑alayhī wa-sallam) said,
"If you did not commit sins, Allāh would have sweep you out of existence and replace you with another people who would commit sins, ask for Allāh's forgiveness and He would forgive them."2
Ahl al-Sunnah understand this well, this does not mean that Allāh loves for us to commit sin, but from Allāh’s qualities, is that he is al-Ghafūr, al-Wāsi ͑ al-Maghfirah, and in order for that to take effect he has creatures that fall into sin and realise this, and then seek forgiveness.
In order for one’s repentance to be correct and accepted, it has to be meet certain conditions, and from them are:
- Al-Ikhlās: Tawbah should be for Allāh and no one else
- To leave off the sin immediately, it is not correct to keep sinning and make tawbah
- Regret: the regret is the true tawbah
- Resolve never to commit the sin again, like the tawbah of Kaʾb ibn Mālik3 (raḍī Allāhu ͑anhū), who resolved never to lie, and he never lied, showing sincerity in his tawbah
- Tawbah has to be made at the time it iss accepted, not when the soul reaches the throat in death, like the tawbah of Firʿaun. It has to be before death or before the sun rises in the west
- Returning the people’s property and rights to them, or getting them to excuse you4
1 Narrated by Anas and collected in the ḥadīth collection of al-Bukhārī (eng. trans. vol.8 p.214 no.321) & Muslim (eng. trans. vol.4 p.1434 no.6611.
2 [Narrated by Abū Ayyūb & Abū Hurayrah & collected by Muslim (eng. trans. vol.4 pp.1436-7 nos.6620-2)]
3 For a detailed explanation, see the seminar: Explanation of the Ḥadīth of Kab ibn Mālik.
4 See the forum post entitled: Conditions for Making Tawbah.