Principles of Sufism: Repentance(Tawbah)
Before I get into the main body of this let’s talk about the book and it’s author. The book was written by ‘A’ishah al-Ba’uniyyah a Sufi master and poet she was born in Damascus and would later die there as well she is one of few Islamic mystic women whose views we have in writing. Her father was an Islamic magistrate(Qadi) so from a young age she grew up with Islamic theology and jurisprudence.
She was taught by the Sufi master Jamāl al-Dīn Ismā‘īl al-Ḥawwārī and his successor Muḥyī al-Dīn Yaḥyá al-Urmawī. At some point she moved to Cairo earned a legal degree and earned the right to issue legal opinions(Fatwas). Now as for this book it’s considered one of her defining works by modern scholars it’s intended as a beginners guide to the four principles of Sufism, Repentance, Sincerity, Remembrance and Love. I initially wasn’t sure how to write about this book since ‘A’ishah’s style of writing in this book is a bit different from what i’m used to she quotes other Sufi masters, The Quran and various Hadiths related to the topic and adds her thoughts on the topic here and there. So i’m going to quote stories,verses or thoughts from the author herself that I feel summarize the chapter and give my thoughts.
“Outward repentance is the return from blameworthy actions to praiseworthy ones and from foul words to righteous ones. Inner repentance, with which the Sufi folk are concerned, is to turn away from all things and toward God, mighty and glorious. Repentance is not valid without three things: remorse for sin, abstention from it, and the resolution not to return to it. When one of these conditions is not met, repentance is not valid. This is the rule for repentance for sin between the servant and His Lord”
So in the second paragraph of the first chapter ‘A’ishah lays out the basics of what Repentance means, not only is there the outward repentance of your actions changing there’s the inner repentance that to the Sufi is key you must go to God and express remorse and be sincere(which is the second principle!) promise never to do it again and avoid doing it again. A simple enough idea about repentance and one I for the most part believed in even as a Christian after all if you constantly hurt, steal from and otherwise sin against others or God there’s going to come a time where your apologies fall like the warnings of the Boy who cried wolf. You have to truly mean your apology both to God and the people your sin may have harmed. let’s look at the authors next paragraph that specifically talks about sins against fellow humans
“In the case of sins against another created being, such as injustice, slander and the like, repentance requires additional conditions such as giving just compensation, seeking forgiveness from the one slandered, and so forth. One should then strive to be free of liability as much as is possible by compensation, by settling accounts, and by seeking forgiveness. If one is unable to do that, then one should persist in seeking God’s help for remission of sins. When God, may He be glorified, knows that his servant is sincere, He forgives them and He reconciles him with his debtors by means of his beneficence and generosity”
Again a sensible idea if you sin against another you need to get their forgiveness and do something to make up for it, but they are by no means required to forgive you and if they don’t you can still find some comfort in knowing God has, and when you reach paradise God will reconcile you with that other person.
““ Abu Dharr, may God be pleased with him, related that The Emissary of God, God bless and cherish him, said, “One who does good for the rest of his life, God forgives him for what has passed, but one who does evil for the rest of his life, God will hold him to account for what has passed and for what is yet to come.” This is reported by al-Tabarani with an excellent chain of authorities.”
So to wrap up the first part of my series on The Principles of Sufism, the keys are going to God with sincerity, promising to avoid the sin and avoiding the sin as well as apologizing and earning the forgiveness of any people you may have harmed. Repentance is very important in my view as well as the Sufi view, there’s something profound and comforting about praying to God and there’s a certain comfort in knowing that while we may make mistakes it’s possible to be forgiven but forgiveness must be earned it’s not a guaranteed right even from God as said above you have to be truthful in repenting and make an effort not to make the same mistakes.