Repentance or ‘Tawba’ as it is known in Islam is very different from the concept of repentance in Christianity. Especially when compared to Catholicism, wherein the hierarchy of priests is “divinely empowered” to grant absolution to sinners when they repent, by penalizing them with a few dozen “Hail Marys.” In Islam there is no such thing as a religious hierarchy of popes, cardinals, bishops and dioceses that grants absolution, nor repentance via “proxy.” In Islam, all Muslims are equal and make Tawba or seek repentance directly from Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala), no intercession required.
Ar-Rahmaan is an attribute of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala), as well as the name uniquely used for him and by him which means, The Merciful. “The” in the English language refers to a thing specific, whereas in Arabic “the” implies all-inclusiveness; hence Ar-Rahmaan is best translated as The Most Merciful. By implication, the mercy of Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) exceeds the collective mercy of each and every created thing or being in existence. Muslims are assured in Qur’an of his mercy and sincerely believe that the Mercy of Allah prevails over his wrath by far.
Muslims believe that regardless of the sins they may have committed, Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) will forgive them, except for the sin of committing blasphemy (Shirk). Shirk is the most heinous sin in Islam, Shirk is tantamount to denying Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala). Shirk is praying to, giving credence and or recognition to objects and created beings instead of to Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) but if the sinner repents sincerely, then Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) will forgive.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) says in the Qur’an, “And verily, I am indeed forgiving to him who repents, believes (in My Oneness, and associates none in worship with Me) and does righteous good deeds, and then remains constant in doing them (till his death).” (Ta-Ha 20:82)
However, repentance in Islam is conditional. The way to repent, is to pray two raka’ats Tawba (prostration of repentance), preferably when one is alone. Thereafter, lift your hands in a begging motion and pour out your heart to the creator and sustainer of the universe. But, in order to do so, one must have faith in Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) and must believe in his Oneness and feel the assurance that your repentance will be accepted. Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) will forgive believers their vilest sins, but he may not forgive even the minutest sin of someone who associates partners with him.
Proper belief is therefore a primary imperative for repentance. One also has to feel genuine remorse and shame for the wrongs done or the sins committed and even shed some tears. A firm resolution must be made to give up committing sins and an oath taken to refrain from further sins, however strong the temptation or the urge. One also has to make restitution for sins committed; for example if you stole something from someone you are obliged to return it. Or if you swindled a family member out of their inheritance, it must to be returned. Lastly, one has to apologize to the aggrieved persons and beg them for their forgiveness. When one happens to slip for some reason, immediate repentance will strengthen one’s new resolve. These are the prerequisites of repentance; else repentance on its own would just be a superficial begging.
Allah (Subhaanahu Wa Ta’aala) says in the Qur’an: “…except the one who repents, becomes a true believer, and starts doing good deeds, for then Allah will change his evil deeds into good, and Allah is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful.(Qur’an 25:70)