Repentance: Question & Answers

Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid

You may say, I would like to repent but I do not know what is involved in it. I am beset by doubts concerning its various aspects, such as how do I now compensate for the rights of Allah that I neglected or the rights of the people that I usurped, and so forth. In what follows therefore, we present some questions and their Answers concerning some common problems that people face and in which they need guidance.

Question 1: I fall into a sin and then repent, but my base self overcomes me and I fall into it again. Does this nullify my earlier repentance leaving the previous sins intact, unforgiven?

Answer: In the opinion of the majority of scholars it is not conditional for a repentance to be accepted that the penitent does not fall into the same sin again. It is conditional that the sin be given up immediately and that there should be true feelings of regret in the heart. This should be accompanied by the firm intention not to fall into it again. Now, with these conditions met, if he falls into it again, then this will be considered a new sin altogether requiring a new repentance and with no connection with those of the past.

Question 2: Is repentance over a particular sin acceptable while I am a victim of another?

Answer: Yes, repentance over a particular sin is acceptable even if the repentant insists on another sin which is of a different nature and not the same as the one he has repented. To take an example, if a man repents having accepted "interest money", but not drinking wine, his repentance over the interest money is acceptable, and vice versa, but if he repents simple interest but not compound interest then his repentance is invalid. So also if he repents drugs but insists on drinking wine, or vice versa, then that repentance is invalid too. It will also be incorrect and unacceptable if a man repents adultery with a woman but commits it with another. In all these cases they have only shifted from one variety of sin to another within the same kind.

Question 3: I have neglected many rights of Allah in the past, such as Prayers, fasts, zakah. Am I required to repeat them or compensate for them?

Answer: So far as the five-time Prayers are c oncerned the preferred opinion is that the repetition or compensation, (or what is known as qadah in Arabic), is not obligatory for the reason that Prayers are obligatory at a particular time and once that time has elapsed, there is no way to offer them.

[The author has expressed the view current in Saudi Arabia. The opinions of the four Imams, however, is that if a Prayer is intentionally missed, then, first it should be repented for, and second, it should be compensated for with a Prayer similar to it as soon as possible,. And the predominant opinion is that such qadah should be given preference over the nawafil. See "Al-Fiqh 'Ala Madhahab al-Arba'ah" for further details.] (Ed.) However one ought to seek Allah's forgiveness and offer as many un-obligatory Prayers (nawafil) as possible. As for fasts, yes, if a man was a Muslim at the time they became obligatory and he did not fast, then their performance is required accompanied by feeding of a poor Muslim for every day of fast that was not observed during previous years. And always a day for a day, no more no less.

Example 1: A man did not fast three days of the Ramadan of the year 1400 A.H., and five days of the Ramadan of the year 1401 A.H., and all out of negligence then he must now fast 8 days, and feed eight poor Muslims in compensation.

Example 2: A girl attained maturity in the Ramadan of the year 1400 A.H. but out of shame and modesty did not inform anyone of her periods, and, rather, continued fasting say for eight days of the cycle. Then she repented. With that she has to redo the eight days of fast.

It may also be pointed out here that this is the predominant position. A minority opinion is that the ruling for fasts is the same as that for the Prayers, that is, there is no qada for fasts in the case of a person who did not fast and did not have a valid reason for not fasting.

As for him who did not offer the obligatory zakah, it is necessary for a repentant to offer them for all previous unpaid years, for, it is, from one angle, Allah's right, while from another, poor people's right. (See Madarij Al-Salikin for further details).

Question 4: If the sin involves a right of man then what form should repentance take?

Answer: The basis for the Answer is the tradition of the Prophet  who said: "He who has a right of his brother on him, be it of the nature of money or honor, let him compensate for it before he is made to compensate for it on a Day when there will be neither Dinar nor Dirham to deal with. Instead, if he has a good deed in his account it will be taken away from him and given to the person he had wronged. And if he has no good deed in his account, sins of the other person will be taken from him and added to his account." (Bukhari). Accordingly, the repentant can escape the questioning only by either giving back the people wronged their due or seeking their forgiveness. If they forgive, he need not worry, but if they do not, then he must return their dues.

Question 5: I have done some backbiting involving a man or a group of people, or, have slandered some people with what they didn't have anything to do. Is it a condition of repentance that I should inform them and seek their pardon. And if this is not required then how do I repent?

Answer: The Answer will depend on the nature of the interests of the people involved. If the case is such that if he were to inform them of what he had once said about them, it would not be likely to increase their anger, then, he should do that and seek their forgiveness. He may then tell them - in general terms, and without offering details - that he had wronged them in the past by expressing such sentiments about them that were not right and just, and that now he has repented and seeks their forgiveness.

But if the case is the opposite, that is, the fear is that if he told them of the previous backbiting or slander, they will - and in most cases that is most likely to happen - be angry with him, or will not be satisfied with the general terms, rather, will demand to know all the details, which is sure to provoke them to anger, then, in such a case, it is not obligatory on him to let them know and seek their forgiveness. For the shari'ah does not order increase in injury and wrongs. And informing a person who was in a happy mood, of things that will evoke feelings of distress or anger, is something against the purpose of the shari'ah which believes in the spread of happiness and brotherliness. In fact, sometimes such info rming may give place to animosity where there was love. In such situations it is enough to repent in the following manner.

  • Evoke in oneself the feelings of regret, and seek forgiveness from Allah accompanied by the conviction that it was an abominable and unlawful thing in which he had indulged.
  • Try and make up for what he had said earlier before others by denying the presence of things and qualities he had alleged were in them and clear the person or persons involved.
  • Follow up by mentioning and asserting good qualities of those he had spoken ill of in the presence of the same people in whose company he had slandered them.
  • Defend the people he had slandered when they are ill spoken of in his presence.
  • Pray to Allah in secret to forgive the sins and shortcomings of those he had wronged. (See Madarij Al-Salikin, and Al-Mughni with explanatory notes for further elucidation).
You must note, dear brother Muslim, that there is a difference between the material right s of the people and non-material rights, between backbiting and defamation. When the material rights are returned to the people, they are put to some use and cause increase in happiness, and therefore they must not be put under the mattress. Whereas non-material rights, such as those concerning a man's honor, when returned to the people can only cause increase in distress.

Question 6: How does a murderer repent for his sin?

Answer: A murderer has three rights on him. That of Allah, that of the murdered person, and those of his or her immediate kin. As for Allah's right it cannot be requited but with true repentance.

The right of the immediate kin can be required by the murderer by handing himself over to them in order that th ey: a) either turn him over to the authorities for execution, b) accept monetary compensation from him, or c) forgive him.

The right of the person himself who was murdered cannot be compensated for in this world. Some scholars are of the opinion - and this seems to be the preferable opinion - that if the murderer is true in his repentance, Allah will clear him of his sin and compensate on his behalf by satisfying the person murdered on the Day of Judgment.

Question 7: How does a thief repent?

Answer: If the thing he has stolen is still in his possession it should be returned to the owner. If it has been used or disposed off, then an amount equivalent of its value should be returned to the owner - unless the owner will forgive.

Question 8: I find it extremely difficult to go back to those whom I had stolen from, nor can I ever confess to them in order to win their forgiveness. What shall I do?

Answer: It is not necessary for you to face the embarrassment of informing them yourself, or offering compensation in person. You can send their dues to them say by post or through another man without revealing your identity. You can also place the thing in their sight without their knowledge, or say to them if you have to go in person that "someone" - who doesn't like to reveal his name - says this is your property. In short, the important thing is to return to the people their property.

Question 9: I used to steal some money on and off from my father's pocket. Now I do not know how much I stole. Nor can I admit to him now. What shall I do?

Answer: Try and estimate to the best of your memory, the total amount you have stolen, and return it. And there is no harm if you return it as secretly as you stole.

Question 10: I stole from some people. Now I have repented. But I do not know where they live. Or, another may say: I embezzled some money from a firm which has wound up its business. Or yet another person may say: I pilfered some material form an establishment which has shifted its premises. What shall I do now?

Answer: In all these cases the requirement on you is to search for them to the extent of your means. If you find them return them their right. If the owner or owners have died, then their right should be returned to their immediate kin. However, if you cannot locate them then spend in charity equal amounts on their behalf. Allah will give them the reward of this charity. And if they are unbelie vers Allah will compensate them in some way or the other in this world itself, since there are no rewards for the unbelievers in the Hereafter.

This is similar to the story that Ibn Qayyim has written in his Madarij Al-Salikin (1/388). He states that a soldier of a Muslim regiment stole from the war spoils. Then, after some time, he repented and took with him what he had stolen and reported to the Commander of the regiment But the Commander refused to accept it back saying: 'And how do I return this to the soldiers, seeing that they have dispersed.' The man then went to a scholar - Hajjaj b. Sha'ir seeking his advice. Hajjaj told him: 'Man! Allah knows each soldier's name and address. Send one fifth of the amount to the government, and spend the rest in charity in their name and Allah will give them the reward.' The man did so. And when the news reached Mu'awiyya b. Sufyan who was then the ruler, he said: 'That I had been the man who gave that ruling, is dearer to me than half of what I rule over.' Imam Ibn Taymiyya has also given a similar ruling. (See Madarij)

Question 11: I swindled some money from some orphans. Then I invested it in a trade and it proved to be very profitable so that it came back to me manifold. But fear of Allah has overtaken me and I want to repent. How do I do it?

Answer: The scholars have expressed different opinions. The nearest to truth seems to be that you return the entire original sum to the orphans plus half of the profits: as if you and they had been partners with their capital and your labor. Hence the division.

This ruling has come from Imam Ahmed. It is also the opinion of Ibn Taymiyya which his disciple Imam Ibn Qayyim prefers. This also applies to the situation in which you have rust led a cattle which gives birth to calves. The cattle must be returned and the calves must be split. If the original cattle dies then its price plus half of its calves must be returned.

Question 12: A man works in an air-transport company. He steals away a tape-recorder. After many years he repents. Now should he return the same transistor radio, or a similar model or its price, especially when the original model is not sold in the markets now?

Answer: He must return the same pie ce along with an additional amount equal to the reduction in that occurred due to its usage. Of course it is to be accomplished in a suitable manner.. However if he is afraid of being dishonored then he can give in charity the same amount for the man whose property it was.

Question 13: I used to have interest money with me. But I have spent it all. Now I want to repent. What's due on me?

Answer: Nothing is due on you except repentance and seeking of forgiveness from your Lord, even though it was a serious crime seeing that Allah (swt) did not declare war in the Qur'an against any kind of sinner except the one who takes interest money.

Question 14: I purchased a car with money some of which had been earned in a lawful manner and some in an unlawful manner. I have it in my possession. What should I do now?

Answer: If a man purchases a thing that can not be physically divided, such as a car or a house, and it has been purchased with money that had been earned partly lawfully, and partly unlawfully, then what is to be done is to separate out the same amount as that was unlawful and spend it in charity in order to purify that item. And if the unlawful portion was due to other people, then it must be returned to them in the manner described above.

Question 15: What shall a man do with profits he made from selling cigarettes, while it has got mixed up with other lawful money?

Answer: He who did business with things that are prohibit ed in Islam, such as musical instruments, blue-film cassettes, cigarettes etc., ought to give away in charity all the profits he made from them. This will be a means of purification and will not be counted as spending in the way of Allah, for Allah is Pure and does not accept but the pure. And if this money gets mixed up with other earnings, as in the case of a shop owner who sells many other items, then if he can compute the amount of profits made from them, let him do it in the hope of purifying the rest of his earnings.

In other words he who has some money earned through unlawful means and he intends to repent, then:

1. If he was an unbeliever at the time of earning the money, he is not obliged to atone for them or seek their purification. For the Prophet  did not demand from his followers that they purify their wealth after coming into the fold of Islam. 

2. If he was a Muslim at the time of earning the money, well aware of its unlawfulness, then he should separate it out at the time of repentance.

Question 16: A man used to accept bribes. Then Allah guided him to righteousness. What shall he do with what he used to earn was bribes?

Answer: There can be two situations.

1. Either the bribes he used to a ccept were from those that had been wronged who had to offer bribe as a means of obtaining what was their right, in which case the repentant should return the their amounts or articles or whatever. For what he took from them is considered as having been taken by force or through deceit.

2. Or the bribe was taken from a man like he himself was before repenting. That is, someone who usurped the rights of others. This amount may not be returned to him. Instead the repentant should spend it on the poor and the destitute (without any hope of rewards for this spending). He must, nevertheless, repent the harm he caused to some people by giving their right away to others who had no right to them but obtained them on the strength of bribes.

Question 17: I used to do unlawful things and used to get paid for them. Now I have repented. Do I have to return the amounts thus earned?

Answer: Yes, one who commits unlawful deeds and accepts pay offs for them, should get rid of the amounts made when he repents. But such amounts should not be returned to those who paid them.

For instance, when a call-girl repents, she should not return her wages of sin to her customers. When a singer repents he should not return the wages he earned to the band he belonged to or the people who paid. When a man who used to sell wine or drugs repents he should not return the amounts to those who used to buy from him. Nor should he who used to swear for others as a false witness return the amounts he earned to those for whose benefit he used to swear. The reason being that if he returns the amounts to him who paid, then he will be depositing with him both the unlawful money as well as the unlawful commodity that he took through bribe or wages of sin. Therefore it will be enough if he gets rid of such unlawful earning himself. This is the preference of Sheikh al-Islam Ibn Taimiyyah as well as his disciple Ibn Qayyim as stated in his Madarij.

Question 18: There is another problem that has been wor rying me for some time, namely, I committed fornication with a woman. How do I repent. Can I marry her in order to cover up the whole affair. And another man says he committed fornication outside of his country, and he knows that the woman conceived and delivered a child. Is this his child? And is it obligatory on him to bear the costs of the child's upbringing?

Answer: Questions of this sort are asked so often and by so many that it is time Muslims paid serious attention to their reformation in the light of the Qur'an and sunnah, in order that such things do not occur in the first place. Special stress is to be laid on lowering of the gaze, forbidding of hand shakes between men and women, wearing of the full veil, prohibition of meetings in secrecy in particular and mixing of sexes in general, discouraging of travel to non-Muslim countries, and early marriages. As for the question about one who committed fornication, there can be two situations.

1. Either the man did it by force, that is, raped the woman, then such a man should send her the amount of mahr (marriage-gift), as compensation for what harm he caused her. As for himself, he should sincerely repent. And, if the matter has reached the courts of law, and they know of the man, then he should be punished according to the shari'ah law. See Madarij 1/366.

2. Or, he has he had sex with a woman who had consented to the act. There is nothing due from such a man except repentance. Neither the child is his, nor is the cost of upbringing due on him because it is an illegal child and must be attached to the mother and not to the father.

The man's marriage to the woman, for the sake of covering up the issue, is also not lawful. For Allah says: "An adulterer does not marry but an adulteress or an idolatress. And an adulteress does not marry but an adulterer or an idolater." (Al-Noor: 3)

It is also not lawful to marry a woman who is pregnant with adultery, even if the man has fathered the baby in the womb, as it is also not la wful to marry a woman about whom it is not known if she is pregnant or not. Nonetheless, if he repents, and she also repents, and she is proved to be not carrying a child then it is allowed that he marry her and begin a new life.

Question 19: Supposing - and may Allah save us from such a thing - that I sinned with a woman and then we married. And after many a year we both repent. What is required of us now?

Answer: So long as both of you are true in your repentance, it is required of both of you to get married anew in the presence of a wali (legal guardian of the woman) and two witnesses. But it is not necessary that it be done officially. It will suffice even if the whole proceeding takes place inside a house.

Question 20: A woman says she married a virtuous man. But she had committed things before marriage that Allah disapproves of. Now her conscience pricks her. She would like to know if it is necessary for her to confess to her husband what she used to do before marriage?

Answer: No, it is not necessary for either of the two spouses to inform the other of what they used to do before their marriage. Let her or him who happens to have fallen in such evils screen himself or herself even as Allah has screened them. A true repentance should suffice.

As for him who married a virgin, but it became apparent to him that she is not so, for reasons of promiscuity committed before marriage, then it is his right that he should take back the mahr he paid her and let her go. Nevertheless, if he finds that she has truly repented, then, if he lays a cover on the affair and retains her in marriage, surely he will be rewarded for it by Allah.

Question 21: What is required of a man who repents homo sexuality?

Answer; It is obligatory on both of them - the active and the passive partners - to repent to Allah urgently, passionately and sincerely for it is not known if Allah sent such combination of punishments as He did in the case of the people of Lut  who used to commit this filthy crime. The combination of punishments was as follows:

1. They were blinded and left groping, as Allah said: "We blinded them."
2. A thunderous cry (tore their hearts).
3. Their towns were turned upside down.
4. Allah rained upon them stones of baked clay and destroyed them completely.

Accordingly the punishment in Islam for sodomy is death whether the two involved are married or unmarried. Said the Prophet: "Whomsoever you find committing the act, kill them: both the active and the passive partners."

Question 22: I have repented. But in my possession are some of the unlawful things such as musical instruments, cassettes, films etc. Shall I sell them - keeping in view that they will fetch me a very good price?

Answer: Sale of such banned articles is disallowed in Islam. Said the Prophet : "When Allah declares a thing unlawful then He declares sale-purchase of such things also unlawful." Also you know that when you sell it to someone he will put them to evil use, and you will become one who aided him. While Allah says: "Do not co-operate in unlawful affairs."

As for worldly losses, have faith that what is in store with Allah is worthier and longer lasting. He will, in His Mercy and Generosity, give you a goodly reward.

Question 23: I was a misguided man spreading un-Islamic ideologies such as secularism, an writing stories and articles eulogizing atheism, and using my poetry as a vehicle to spread corruption and liberalism. Then Allah turned to me in favor and brought me forth from darkness into Light. Now how shall I repent?

Answer: This of course is a great blessing of Allah and a favor. We pray to Allah that He grant you perseverance. As for those who were engaged - whether with their tongue or pen - in opposing Islam by spreading ideologies and faiths opposed to Islam, or by spreading innovations, or corruptions, they should do the following:

1. Announce their repentance and renounce all that they used to spread of antagonism to Islam, in order that the renunciation becomes well known, and so that no one can claim to be misguided by their disowned writings. This renunciation is a thing obligatory and conditional for the acceptance of repentance. Says Allah: "Save for those who repent, make amends and show clearly, it is to such that I turn, and I am very Forgiving, very Compassionate." (Al-Baqarah: 160)

2. They should now onwards engage themselves in the spread of the truth of Islam, spend their energies in defending its teachings, and educating the people in their religion.

3. They should use their power of speech or writing to counter-attack the forces of falsehood, in exposing their tricks, plans and strategies, even as he used to co-operate with them in opposing Islam and thus become a sword in the defense of Islam. So also, it is binding on him who convinced another man, even if in a private meeting, against things declared unlawful by Islam, such as, for instance, interest taking, to get in touch with the person he was instrumental in changing his opinion and let him know of his own changed opinion.


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