As people drown in shameful sins willfully, they usually come to the point of getting bored of the life of sin that makes them feel unworthy and unsatisfied, no matter how comfortable their life may seem. They desire to start a meaningful life that is full of purity and enlightenment. However, they hear their hearts beat with burning, impressing questions: Can Allah forgive us? Will He accept our repentance in spite of the untold sins we committed? What assures us that we will be forgiven? In this article, I will elaborate on one verse that speaks of God’s firm promise for forgiving the sins of those who turn to Him in repentance. We believe that God’s promise is eternally honored and cannot be broken.
Allah says in the Quran: “Say O My servants, who have committed sins in great excess against their own selves, never despair of Allah’s mercy; indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He alone Who is the All-forgiving, the All-merciful.”[39:53]
In their collections of the Prophet’s (S) sayings, Imam al-Bukhari and Imam Muslim mentioned the reason why the above-cited verse was revealed. They narrated, on the authority of Ibn Abbas (R), that some polytheists killed a lot of people and committed adultery excessively. Then they came to the Prophet (S) and said: “All that you are preaching is so great, only if you tell us that there is forgiveness for what we committed. In accordance with their wish, the verse was revealed along with a more detailed one which reads: “And they [the close servants of Allah the All-merciful] are the ones who do not invoke any other god besides Allah. Nor do they kill a soul -which Allah has forbidden to be killed- except for a just cause. Nor do they commit illicit sexual intercourse. For whoever commits these sins shall meet a severe penalty: torment shall be multiplied for him on the Day of Resurrection, and -in disgrace - he shall abide therein forever —except for those who repent and believe and do righteous deeds; for then God shall change their misdeeds into good deeds. And Allah is All-forgiving, All-merciful. And for those who repent and do righteous deeds, Allah will surely accept their repentance.”[25:68-71]
Imam al-Razi and other commentators on the Qur’an meditated on the (Q. 39:53), the verse under discussion, and noticed that it clearly disclosed Allah’s total forgiveness and all-comprehensive mercy so powerfully that each word in the verse gave great assurance for the forgiveness of sins. Let us meditate on each word and how it contributes to clearing up the doubts that Devil casts in our hearts regarding divine forgiveness.
Allah referred to the “sinner” as “servant”—a word that implies need and humbleness. Allah being the Most Merciful, the Most Gracious is generously expected to shower the needy and the poverty-stricken with mercy and blessings.
2. My Servants
Allah associated the sinners with Himself by using the possessive pronoun “My”. This association is so honorable that it guarantees them salvation from any kind of torment in the Hereafter. Remember that being “servant of Allah” is the highest level of faith one could aspire to reach. Given the fact that the verse addresses the sinners, one is left with the impression that “sinners” can turn into “saints”.
3. Who Committed Sins Excessively
Imam al-Qushayri imagines two groups of people listening to this verse: the pious and the wicked. Then he records their immediate reactions to the beginning of the verse “O My servants”. He writes: “When Allah said: “O My servants”, the pious – with their heads held high – presumed that the verse would address them. On the other hand, the wicked bowed their heads in shame – saying in despair: “Who are we to think that this call is for us? But rather, when Allah said: “Those who have committed sins in great excess,” the situation changed roots and all. Those who hung their heads in shame revived and felt worthy while the pious whose hearts swelled with pride lost their upper hand and felt embarrassed! Furthermore, Allah is promising forgiveness for the sinners who left no sin uncommitted. If Allah invites those sinners to repent, do you think He will reject those who draw close to Him? Never let the Devil make you feel hopeless, no matter how many times you slip.
4. Against their own selves
The relative clause “who have committed sins against their own selves” signifies that the sins they committed did not cause Allah any harm but caused them a lot of harm. Hence, it would be enough for them to bear the consequences of their sins in this present life, and there would be no need to inflict them with additional harm in the Hereafter!
5. Never despair
We know a lot of forbidden acts in Islam. Now add to that list of prohibitions the following sin: “giving up on gaining Allah’s mercy and forgiveness”. Therefore, it is a major sin to feel despair of getting Allah’s forgiveness, no matter how heinous your sins might be. Believing that Allah is not going to forgive you is like distrusting this Qur’anic verse. That is why despairing of Allah’s forgiveness is more dangerous than any other sin.
6. Of Allah’s Mercy
It is grammatically expected for the verse to say “never despair of My mercy” without repeating the word Allah on the assumption that the verse started with: “O my servants.” However, Allah said, “Never despair of Allah’s mercy,” simply because the word “Allah” is the greatest and most supreme of Allah’s names. Therefore, the mercy associated with Allah must be the greatest and most supreme of its kind.
This word corresponds to إنin Arabic which is meant to add emphasis to the sentence that follows.
8. Allah Forgives all sins
If Allah said, “Allah forgives sins”, it would be linguistically enough to refer to His forgiveness. However, Allah emphasized the sentence with “all” to dispel any doubt that may occur to our minds.
9. Indeed, it is He alone who is …
The Arabic style with which the verse is closed “Indeed it is He alone Who is …” places emphasis on the fact that forgiveness and mercy are exclusive to Allah; that is, no one could ever be forgiven or showered with mercy except through Allah. In fact, this “exclusiveness” is highly expressive of the perfection of Allah’s forgiveness and mercy.”
10. The All-Forgiving, the all-Merciful
Here Allah describes Himself as the “All-Forgiving” which refers to removing away all that leads to getting punishment and the “All-Merciful” which refers to receiving Divine blessings.
No wonder, this verse was considered by some of the Prophet’s (S) companions, like Ali ibn Abi Talib (R) and Ibn Mas’ud (R), as the most inspiring and hopeful verse in the Quran. Ibn Abbas (R) is reported to have said: “Having read this verse, driving people to despair of Allah’s mercy is a gross denial of Allah’s Book.” All in all, do not allow bad friends, satanic whisperings or negative self-talk keep you away from turning to Allah in repentance.