Ever since corrupt leadership engaged Nigeria in a tumultuous reverse gear of retrogression, Muslim scholars and preachers kept encouraging us to repent from our evil deeds and walk the path of righteousness so that Allah (SWT) would change our critical circumstances including insecurity, poverty, unemployment, hardship and under-development, which are currently the most crucial; and thereafter return our country to what it, hitherto, was as a peaceful, protected and prosperous nation.
Qur’an 13:11 reminds us that “Verily, never will Allah change the (good) condition of a people until they change it themselves (by indulging in sins) …”. Our current predicaments are conceivably the consequences of our collective but crude disobedience to Allah’s laws in addition to cycles of inhumanity of one or some of us against others. “To sin”, they say “is human”. This popular assertion derives from Qur’an 12:53 wherein Prophet Yusuf (Alayhi Salam, AS) is quoted as saying “Nor do I absolve my own self (of blame); the (human) soul is certainly prone to evil unless my Lord do bestow His mercy…” Scholars say it is because man, by nature, cannot avoid being sinful that Allah (SWT) is All-Forgiving and Merciful; ready to pardon those who seek forgiveness of their sins. That’s why they also say, “To forgive is divine”.
Many of us as sinners do not appear to care about the respite granted by Allah, the Forgiver of all sins, in order for us to repent and seek forgiveness over the sins we committed. The affirmation in Qur’an 12:53 (as quoted above) is the basis upon which Muslim jurists say repentance from every sin is an obligatory act on Muslims. For repentance to be meaningful, useful and effective; it must fulfil some basic conditions. Where the sin committed was strictly in disobedience of Allah’s injunctions, which did not involve any infringements upon the right(s) of others, three principles are required to guide a Muslim in his resolve to repent from wrongdoings. It is required that the sinner should: first, renounce the sinful act; second, remorsefully regret the sinful act; and third, resolve never to return to the sinful act. No repentance would have taken place where any of these three criteria is missing. Sincerity requires that the remorse should be on account of the ugliness of sins and the displeasure of God, and not from fear of the hellfire.
Where the sinful act over which repentance is sought involves the violation of other people’s right(s), the sinner is required to be guided by four principles. They include the three already mentioned in the preceding paragraph and one other as the fourth. This fourth one obliges the sinner to vindicate himself from the right(s) of others, which he had usurped. The vindication could come by returning the wealth or property he wrongly appropriated for himself back to its rightful owner; or either by seeking pardon from the offended person over such rights that may have been violated such as false accusation of adultery/fornication. Where the right-violator is not prepared to own up, he’s obliged to accept the punishment stipulated for the offence. If the offence, for instance, were of backbiting; the back-biter is required to admit his vicious act of back-stabbing before his victim. This is the foundation and nature of the genuine repentance as taught by the Sunnah of the Prophet (SAW).
Allah (SWT) in Qur’an 66:8 urges believers, “O ye who believe! Turn to Allah with sincere repentance: In the hope that Your Lord will remove from you your ills and admit you to Gardens beneath which rivers flow…” Imam Bukhari relates on the authority of Abu Hurayrah (Radiya-llahu Anhu, RA) that the Prophet SAW) said, “I certainly seek forgiveness (of my sins) from Allah and also turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times daily”. In a similar hadith related by Imam Muslim, the Prophet (SAW) said, “O ye people! Repent and seek forgiveness (of sins) from Allah, for certainly, I turn to Him (Allah) in repentance one hundred times every day”.
In another hadith related on the authority of Abi Hamza, Anna bn Malik, the Prophet (SAW) said, “Allah is most-pleased with His servant that turns to Him in repentance than any of you that found his missing camel that escaped into a vast land”. According to Imam Muslim’s version of this same hadith, the Prophet (SAW) is quoted as saying “Allah is most-pleased with His servant that turns to Him in repentance than the joy that came over one of you when he found his missing camel which escaped with his foodstuff and drinks while traveling in a vast land; and (the man) was so over-joyous that he said in error: ‘O you Allah! I’m you lord and Thou my servant’; even though he never meant to say that”. The simile of Allah’s pleasure in this hadith is meant to demonstrate the extent of Allah’s happiness with those who genuinely turn to Him in repentance.
As individuals, we claim every now and then to have abandoned our sinful path by renouncing our old but aberrant ways of doing things. We also make public pronouncements to illustrate remorse and an avowal of never to return to our unrighteous past. Disappointingly, there’s nothing to show in our private and public life that we are or have been sincere in our words and actions of repentance. The persisting crisis in nearly all sectors of the country’s wellbeing could be attributed to our being mere pretenders and jokers in our repentances. Nigerians in their respective capacities as public officers, civil servants, business men and women have simply refused to forsake their old sinful ways. A return to sin isn’t repentance. May Allah guide us to honest repentances over our sins, amin.