SH.ARAFATAs people drown in shameful sins willfully and openly, they usually come to the point when they get 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. Sinful people sometimes 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? In this article, I will elaborate on one ayah to answer these questions.

Allah says in the Quran: “Say [to people], [Oh prophet], Oh 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 perpetrated. 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]   

            In his commentary on the Quran, Imam al-Razi made an in-depth analysis of the verse under discussion, expounding on how it unequivocally discloses Allah’s total forgiveness and all-comprehensive mercy. He wrote: “Know that this verse explores various aspects of Allah’s mercy. First, Allah referred to the “sinner” as “servant”—a word indicative of need, destitution 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.[1] Second, 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. Third, the relative clause “those 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! Fourth, Allah’s saying: “Never despair of Allah’s mercy” forbids the sinners from feeling hopeless.[2] In other words, this sentence urges them to be optimistic and hope for the best. Being the Most Gracious, Allah will abundantly fulfill His promise.[3] Fifth, [you may think that] it would be grammatically more appropriate if Allah said: “Never despair of my mercy.” 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.  

Sixth, by the same token, [you may think that] “Never despair of Allah’s mercy.” should be followed by “He forgives sins.” Yet, Allah repeated His name proceeded byإن - which means indeed or verily- to add more emphasis on His promise for showing mercy on the sinners once they turn to Him in repentance. Seventh, if Allah said, “Allah forgives sins”, it would be linguistically enough to refer to His forgiveness. However, Allah emphasized the sentence with all. Eighth, Allah described Himself as the “All-forgiving” which implies that His forgiveness is limitless. Ninth, Allah described Himself as the “All-merciful” which denotes something more than mere forgiveness. In a more detailed manner, the first epithet the “ All-forgiving” refers to removing away all that leads to getting punishment, while the other epithet the “All-merciful” refers to



[1] In his commentary on the Quran, 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 will 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!”

 [2]Accordingly, 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 Quranic verse. That is why despairing of Allah’s forgiveness is more dangerous than any other sin.[the writer]

[3] In his commentary on the Quran, Imam al-Baydawi says: “After describing “His servants” of “committing sins in great excess”, God forbade them from feeling hopeless of getting His forgiveness and mercy. Consequently, those who committed sins – but not in great excess – are forbidden from feeling hopeless in the first place.”      

     

providing them with all that leads to God’s mercy and blessings. Finally, 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.”[1] 

 

         No wonder, this verse was deemed 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, the whisperings of Shaytan or your negative self-talk keep you away from turning to Allah in repentance. Wa Allahu A’lam!

 



[1] Translated from Arabic by the writer. See al-Razi’s al-Tafsir al-Kabir.