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Bismillah al-Rahman al-Rahim

islam from inside ☰

On Repentance

Sura 9, Verses 102 to 106

Tafsir sura 9: 102 to 106 Repentance
Sura 9: 102 to 106 reads as follows: “And others have confessed their faults, they have mingled a good deed and an evil one; (perhaps) Allah will turn to them (mercifully); surely Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.”
“Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing.”
“Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance from His servants and takes the alms, and that Allah is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful?”
“And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did.”
“And others are made to await Allah's command, whether He chastise them or whether He turn to them (mercifully), and Allah is Knowing, Wise.”(Qur'an 9:102-106)

These verses emerged as the result of a precarious situation faced by Muslims when a near rebellion rose up in Medina while the Prophet was away at Tabuk with the main force of his followers. They describe the condition of the second of two groups of people involved in the rebellion - those who were temporarily swayed by specious arguments but whose hearts were not full of rancor but merely clouded with confusion and doubt. The other group were the hypocrites, some of whom were known but many of whom would only emerge at a later time in a series of attempts to create dissension. They are mentioned in this verse:

“And from among those who are round about you of the dwellers of the desert there are hypocrites, and from among the people of Medina (also); they are stubborn in hypocrisy; you do not know them; We know them....”(Qur'an 9:101)

The hearts of the hypocrites were overthrown by ill-feeling, scheming, and by the continuous deception that was necessary to conceal their malice towards the believers and maintain their belief in the superiority of their own concealed ideology. Their attempts to deceive others ensared them in a series of self-deceptions that caused them to lose the reality of their own nature. By immersing themselves in malicious and impostrous behavior it was as if they entered a maze of distorting mirrors so that they were no longer capable of knowing their true image, their true self, their true belief. Driven by their loathing of the Prophet they were caught in the trap of feeding their lower nafs with their malice and anger - this became the decider of their actions, the source from which their decisions and their deeds sprang. The lower and higher became transposed in them - so they gave themselves over to that which was lower and less worthy and became stubbornly resentful of the demands of that which is higher and more worthy since it took away from the more visceral gratification of a resentful and spiteful ego.

Then the second group is mentioned:

“And others have confessed their faults, they have mingled a good deed and an evil one; perhaps Allah will turn to them (mercifully)....”(Qur'an 9:102)

This verse indicates that, by contrast, there are those who mix good and bad - but that which is evil in their actions emerges from a temporary succumbing to their lower nature rather than a wholesale immersion in it. When clarity returns to them, they see this temporary slipping as a fault and stuggle to correct it wheras the hypocrite's egos will not allow such a correction and in fact will drive them to further hostility.

For these others, even though they slip and falter they nevertheless struggle to see themselves and measure themselves according to the higher standards and criteria set for human beings in the Qur'an. They have not turned away from this goal as they know that any movement towards it, no matter how halting and stumbling that movement, is better than irredeemably slipping backwards off a precipice. It is as if there is an attractor, a model of what a human being should be, and out of a natural attraction to this model people struggle forward and measure themselves against it. Some have temporarily strayed or deviated but rather than justify their error they turn in repentance to regain what has slipped from them. There is some recognition within them of the reality of the covenant and bond which they have, through ignorance or error, violated. They fall short but what is important is the attraction and the attempt at movement - as long as these are present, the Qur'an states that Allah will turn to them Mercifully.

Note: We are asked to be mindful of our creation by Allah - and to remember from where we emerged as a human being. Before man emerged into this world - God asked all the human souls “Am I not your Lord? And they replied, Yes! Of this we bear witness!” (Qur'an 7:172) The Qur’an reminds us of this pact and asks us, while we are in this world to awaken to an internal recognition of the reality of this witness if possible (to return (tha is, to turn in repentance) towards this covenant) or to, as Muslims, consent towards it even if we do not comprehend it's overwhelming reality.
“Take alms out of their property, you would cleanse them and purify them thereby, and pray for them; surely your prayer is a relief (solace) to them; and Allah is Hearing, Knowing....” (Qur'an 9:103)

Here, as part of His mercy, God is asking the Prophet to intervene on behalf of these Muslims. He is bringing them to actions that will strengthen them in their inner selves and make their forward motion less halting, less faltering, less prone to slipping. The giving of charity is a form of repentance - it is a movement from inner repentance - a mental repentance to outer confirmation of that repentance through concrete action. Often a person can make a mental determination, and then let the actual effect of that determination, that repentance slip away by not actualizing it through word, action, or deed.

It is important to follow up an inner decision by some positive concrete action to cement and reinforce the inner by the outer. Often this only happens in a negative manner - we grow angry and make a negative inner determination and then don't hesitate to follow this up by words of anger or actions demonstrating our anger. But, depending on the circumstances, this may be a reinforcing of a lower aspect of our nafs. The anger originates from our lower self - then we act on that, reinforcing and strengthing something that has a low origin, a low nature. However, when we make an inner repentance we often leave it within us, not concretizing it through an outer word or action. Leaving that repentance as solely an inner repentance is also a giving in to our lower selves, as it is perhaps stubborness or pride or laziness or distraction that locks it within us, not allowing it to emerge and take on a greater, more established reality.

Here, Allah is bestowing a gift of guidance on these Muslims who have repented inwardly, by directing them to a strengthening of their repentance - drawing it from the amorphous, unformed repentance within their soul, into a concrete, actualized repentance whose reality is demonstrated through action. And this in turn, as in a feedback loop, acts upon their inner selves, purifying and lifting their nafs from its stumble. It is as if they have stumbled and fallen and Allah has lifted them to their feet so they can continue on towards their goal. And he has strengthened them and made them grow inwardly.

“Do they not know that Allah accepts repentance from His servants and takes the alms, and that Allah is the Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful?” (Qur'an 9:104)

The alms go to those who are in need of alms - but the effect of a pure repentance backed by concrete action is that the action is lifted, exalted. It enters the presence of Allah, it elevates beyond this world, so that it becomes like a prayer, a type of worship whose spirit rises up and presents itself before God. “And Allah accepts the repentance...and takes the alms.” The alms are given as a concrete symbol of repentance, the repentance is to Allah (although its benefit is to us) - it is seeking forgiveness from Allah - the outward sign of the repentance is sadaqa, it is offered to Allah since all repentance is to Him, and His acceptance of the alms is a sign of His Mercy towards the one who repents.

Why is it that Allah accepts the repenter with such mercy - especially when the sin commited might be a serious sin. It is perhaps because the repentance is a sign of life within the inner spirit of the person - the reason Allah asks for the repentance to take a concrete form is to feed that spirit and strengthen it while it's effects are manifestly present.

“The spirit must be fed and strengthened with sincere worship and devotion. But when it is starved, the subsequent uneasiness is terrible....The reason is that an exalted power is imprisoned, denied, derided, and locked within us....Repentance is a reaction of the exalted spirit within the human being against the lower self; a holy rebellion of the spirit against the degradation and corruption occuring within.” (Mutahhari, “Spiritual Discourses”)

God provides His help and guidance - His reinforcement to that aspect of the human self that reacts against wrongdoing. This is through His Mercy, His acceptance, and His strengthening (by the action of giving alms) of the aspect of the human soul that turns from wrongdoing.

“And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did.” (Qur'an 9:105)

Here, the importance of action is given a solid thump of reinforcement. We all have inner convictions and determinations, we all have intentions and aims that are beneficial to ourselves and to those around us. For many of us these convictions and determinations and intentions often live and die within us - for if a determination goes neglected for too long without any attempt to realize it, it may fade and die. If we try and manifest it in action, in character, we will achieve varying degrees of success but God rewards according to the firmness and purity of intention. The truth of that firmness and purity manifests in the sincerity and strength of our efforts to intelligently actualize that intention. However, an intention that remains only in the realm of our imagination and never emerges from the domain of vagueness is perhaps not as firm an intention as we believed. So we are counselled to pray for purity and firmness of intention and to act on intention to bring it from the realm of mental construct to realization in character, behaviour, and deeds.

The importance of action is paramount - whether the act be a word, a character trait, or a physical action - it is important to bring out into the external world that good which is swimming within your complex internal world - to guide the outer through the inner. Those whose intentions are low, base, crude, and destructive work day and night to manifest their acquisitive, grasping intentions and ambitions in the world - why should those who seek the opposite leave it sleeping within themselves.

This is not an easy task - but the stress laid on it and the elaborations on it made elsewhere in the Qur'an make it clear that it is necessary to make the effort to manifest the inner spirit in the outer world - to impact the human and societal environment in positive, beneficial ways arising from what is best within oneself. Find what is best within yourself, choose something of which you have a correct understanding and knowledge, deepen that knowledge, and act with sincere intention and, as the Qur'an commands, in the most beautiful (ihsan) manner since “...He desires to manifest to you, which of you is best in action” (Qur'an 11:7)

After that, if there are errors or slips or failures in realizing the goal or in what is done, don't worry, as 9:105 says, “...the Knower of the unseen and the seen...will inform you of what you did.” Intentions and actions will not be lost - they will first and foremost be manifest in all their dimensions to Allah. Then in a lower degree, they will be be manifest to the Prophet, and finally, in a lower degree to the believers. “Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers....” (Qur'an 9:105) There are profound connotations to this verse concerning the manner in which these actions will become known to the Prophet and the momineen (believers).

“And others are made to await Allah's command, whether He chastise them or whether He turn to them (mercifully), and Allah is Knowing, Wise.” (Qur'an 9:106)

Others who seek forgiveness are in a state of suspension awaiting the decision of what their status will be (following the events of Tabuk). These are those who seek mercy but their repentance is shadowed with doubt because they still harbor an internal reluctance. They have placed themselves in a middling state between hypocrisy and repentance - they are on the fine edge of these two states. And this verse is encouragement to them to awaken what is necessary within themselves to choose the path of repentance. The path to attaining repentance has already been made clear in the preceding verses - the process of sincere inner struggle and outward establishment and concretization of that sincere repentance has been described and the hope of mercy made clear. Now they are in a suspended state and they can toggle themselves, through the nature that is within them, to a state of repentance - or they can grow proud and stubborn and turn to hypocrisy. The verses are a profound encouragement to them to seek the exalted staus of repentance[1] and its accompanying mercy and transformation.



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    Origins of Repentance

  • 1 – “If man, after his rebellion and expulsion from the abode of original creation, does not repent and take up the path that leads back to the origin, he finds that he is estranged from himself and the world around him. Thus unreconciled, he embarks upon various attempts to interpret and justify the world, man, and the human situation, which includes his own profound alienation.

    Man’s reality goes back to his connection, relation, and bond with God. It transcends space and time and lies in eternity. Hence in the divine interpretation of man, which is man’s true interpretation, there is mention of God speaking with man in the morning of pre-eternity and before there was any space or external and concrete existence. Hence the covenant made between God and man in that dialogue, on terms that spoke of man’s obedience to Him and the avoidance of the worship of Satan, is not in any way colored by the demands of time and space. This covenant then, once it has dusted itself free of temporal limitations, makes time and space themselves sacred and gains the capacity and potential to be fulfilled in all periods and all places. God in the Qur’ān says, “Did I not charge you, O children of Adam! that you should not serve Satan? Surely he is your open enemy, and that you should serve Me; this is the right way.” (Qur'an 36: 60, 61) “And there is not a thing but with Us are the treasures of it, and We do not send it down but in a known measure.” (Qur'an 15:21)

    The primordial covenant is an ever-present reality for man. Consequently the path of repentance and return to God is always open. God is forever calling man. He calls him to repent and calls Himself the Accepter of repentance. He says, “O you who believe! turn to God a sincere turning....

    When Adam (upon him be peace)...fell from paradise, God showed him the path of repentance. Adam accepted this path and repented, and God accepted his repentance. This is described in the Qur’ān in the following manner, “Then Adam received (some) words from his Lord, so He turned to him mercifully; surely He is Oft-returning (to mercy), the Merciful.

    “The prophets and saints are exemplars for humanity who have remained true to the divine covenant throughout human history and, as a result, each and every one of them is a source of grace in the natural world. They are like... springs which, every once in a while, surge forth onto the plane of temporal history and create thereby a culture and civilization that is rooted in the sacred and in accord with man's heavenly dimension....”(Excerpted from Existence and the Fall by Hamid Parsania - translated by Shuja Mirza)

    The coming and going of things to and from this world in two arcs of descent and ascent – along with the names that are given to the stages of this movement – can be seen to be a cyclic movement.... The apex would be the Absolute Being; the first stage down would be the treasure house (also called jabarūt, divine decree, guarded tablet, the world of intellects, the world of ideas). The next stage would be the isthmus (also called dominion, measure, imaginal world). The last and bottom stage would be the natural world. In this hierarchical representation of being, all things and realities – both simple and composite – are seen to descend from God. (This includes) the Qur’an itself, “Surely We sent it down on the Night of Decree.”

    Every higher level surrounds, envelops and comprehends the levels lower than it. Subsequently, every lower level falls under the dominion of the level above it. Every dominion – with respect to that which it encompasses and dominates – can be referred to as a “heaven”. Correspondingly, every dominated realm – in comparison to its dominion – can be called an “earth”. In the same way that light and water descend from the sky to the earth of this lower and natural world, Divine Grace and Mercy is showered down from the spiritual skies and heavens to the realms below and the kingdom hereunder. Hence, the affairs of the earth are made and managed (encompassed) by (the higher realms). “He regulates the affair from the heaven to the earth…

    (quoted from Shuja Mirza's translation of “Existence and the Fall” by Hamid Parsania)

  • 1 – “See also: Transparency Before God

    2 – “See also: The Living from the Dead

    3 – “See also: Shards of Knowledge

    4 – “See also: A Children's Story

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