The word Tawbah (Repentance) in Arabic literally means 'to return'. In an Islamic context, it refers to the act of leaving what Allaah has prohibited and returning to what He has commanded.
The subject of repentance is one which concerns all people who believe in God, and is vital one for the Muslims to understand because our salvation in the hereafter is dependent on our repentance to Allaah, as is shown by Allaah's order:
"AND TURN YOU ALL TOGETHER IN REPENTANCE TO ALLAAH O BELIEVERS, THAT YOU MAY BE SUCCESSFUL" [An-Noor (24):31]
In Soorah al-Baqarah, Allaah tells us:
"SURELY ALLAAH LOVES THOSE WHO TURN UNTO HIM IN REPENTANCE AND LOVES THOSE WHO PURIFY THEMSELVES." [2:222]
This shows how pleasing our repenting is to Allaah. Also, the Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam gave us an example of just how pleasing to Allaah our repenting is an authentic hadeeth in which he,Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam said:
"Allaah 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)
Try to imagine your joy if you were to suddenly retrieve everything you ever possessed after losing all hope of recovering what you had lost. Then think that Allaah's delight is even greater than this when His slave repents to Him. So much so, that if man stopped repenting to Allaah, He would replace us with another creation that would turn to Him for forgiveness. The Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam said:
"If you did not commit sins, Allaah would sweep you out of existence and replace you by another people who would commit sins, ask for Allaah's forgiveness and He would forgive them." (2)
The problem with many of us today, is that we don't fear Allaah, which means that we don't think twice about disobeying Him and therefore falling into sin, which we give no real tought to. So perhaps we should think about the statement which Ibn Mas'ood (3) radi Allaahu 'anhu, made: "A believer sees his sins as if he were sitting under a mountain which he is affraid may fall on him, whereas the wicked person considers his sins as flies passing over his nose and he just drives them away like this (and he moved his hand over his nose in illustration)." (4)
Someone might say, 'I want to repent but my sins are too many.' But Allaah says:
"SAY: O MY SLAVES WHO HAVE TRANSGRESSED AGAINST THEMSELVES! DESPAIR NOT FOR THE MERCY OF ALLAAH, VERILY ALLAAH FORGIVES ALL SINS. TRULY HE IS OFT FORGIVING, MOST MERCIFUL." [Az-Zumar (39):53]
Therefore, we should never lose hope or stop asking for Allaah's forgiveness. Its importance is shown to us in a hadeeth in which the Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam said:
"O people! Turn to Allaah in repentance and seek His forgiveness, for surely I make repentance a hundred times every day." (5)
Repentance is such a great act of worship that doing it can totally erase our sins altoghether, as the Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam said: "One who repents from sin is like one without sin." (6)
ONLY ALLAAH CAN FORGIVE SINS
Forgiveness for our sins is not something that comes automatically, it is something that must be sought sincerely and with consciousness. Also we should remember that it is only through Allaah's Mercy that anyone will ever enter Paradise. The Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam advised: "Do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and rejoice, for no one's good deeds will put him in Paradise." The Companions asked, "Not even you O Messenger of Allaah?" He replied. "Not even me unless Allaah bestows His pardon and mercy on me." (7)
Therefore in Islaam, salvation rests on faith (which includes), good actions and hope in Allaah's mercy, all combined in truly unique manner which is not found in any other religion or system.
Furthermore, it is only Allaah who can forgive our sins and He is not in need of any intercessor. The proof for this is in a du'aa (supplication) which the Prophet Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam taught his closest Companion Abu Bakr(8):
"O Allaah, truly I have wronged myself and none can forgive sins except you." (9)
Therefore it is a complete waste of time asking forgiveness from the people such as "saints", pious people or even the Prophet Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam. Allaah say in reply to people who do such things:
"VERILY, THOSE YOU CALL UPON BESIDES ALLAAH, ARE ONLY SLAVES LIKE YOURSELVES." [a;-A'raaf (7):194]
It is important that we never despair of Allaah's Mercy - no sin is too great to repent for... or too little for that matter. As one of the salaf (Pious predecessors) said: "Do not look at the insignifance of your sins, but consider the greatness of The One you are disobeying." (10)
- Narrated by Anas and collected in the hadeeth collection of al-Bukhaaree (eng. trans. vol.8 p.214 no.321) & Muslim (eng. trans. vol.4 p.1434 no.6611)
- Marrated by Aboo Ayyoob & Aboo Hurayrah & collected by Muslim (eng. trans. vol.4 pp.1436-7 nos.6620-2).
- ABDULLAAH IBN MAS'OOD (d. 32H) was one of the earliest six to embrace Islaam. Amongst the virtuous things that the Prophet, Sallallaahu 'alaihi wa sallam said about him, was his saying: "Affirm that which Ibn Mas'ood informs you." [Saheeh - Ahmad & Others].
- Collected by al-Bukhaaree (eng. trans. vol.8 p.214 no.320).
- Reported by al-Aghaar ibn Yasaar & collected in Saheeh Muslim (eng. trans. vol.4 p.1418 no.6523).
- HASAN - Reported by Abu 'Ubaidah ibn 'Abdullaah & collected by Ibn Majah Authenticated by al-Albaanee
- Reported by Aboo Hurayrah & 'Aa'ishah & collected by al-Bukhaaree (eng. trans. vol.8 p.315 no.474).
- ALL of Ahl-us-Sunnah are agreed on the fact that Abu Bakr, radi Allaahu anhu was the most superior amongst all the Companions. The Prophet, said, "There is no one of greater help to me than Abu Bakr & he assisted me with his person, his property & he married his daughter [Aa'ishah] to me." [HASAN - at-Tabaraanee]. He was appointed Khaleefah after the death of the Prophet & died two years after him at the age of 63.
- The full text of this du'aa can be found in Saheeh al-Bukhaaree (vol.1 p.442 no.776), Muslim (vol.4 pp.1419-20 no.6533), at-Tirmidhee & Ibn Majah.
- Collected in al-Baihaqee's 'Sh'abul Eemaan' (5/430)
( source: http://www.islamworld.net/repent.html)