In the Name of Allah, the Most Compassionate, the Dispenser of Grace
The 15th Night of Sha`ban - A Time for Repentance
Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar
A well known hadith prophetic tradition related from the Companion Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) informs us that Allah, the Most Compassionate, descends to the lowest heaven in the last part of every night and He calls out to His creation: “Is there anyone who is seeking my forgiveness; so that I may forgive him?” (Bukhari & Muslim) But the night of the 15th Sha‘ban is different from other ordinary nights because it is a night during which Allah’s divine forgiveness is more munificent and available from the very beginning of the night.
During this night Allah turns with special mercy and attention towards His creation and forgives those who repent and seek forgiveness. This view is supported by the following hadith contained in the collections of al-Tabarani, Ibn Hibban, al-Bayhaqi. The Companion Mu`adh ibn Jabal (may Allah be pleased with him) relates that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Allah, the Most Compassionate, looks at His creation during the night of the 15th of Sha‘ban and He forgives all His creation except someone who associates others with Allah (mushrik) or one intent on hatred (mushahin) especially towards his parents.” I advise myself and you to seek Allah’s forgiveness during this special night and to seize this new opportunity to repent for transgressions against our own souls, our parents and others and to strive to become more conscientious Muslims and caring human beings.
It might be useful at this sacred time to remind ourselves of how central seeking Allah’s forgiveness should be to our practice as conscientious Muslims. There are two key features of the Islamic perspective on forgiveness that I wish to highlight. The first is to understand that the conscientious Muslim is not one who expects or claims to be sinless, but rather one who is fully aware of his/her human frailty and constantly acknowledges it by turning to Allah for forgiveness. The affirmation of human frailty and seeking Allah’s forgiveness is powerfully illustrated in the Qur'anic narrative of our ancestral parents, Adam and Hawwa (peace be upon both of them) in surah al-`Araf, Chapter, 7 Verses 19-23. In these verses Allah, the Sublime, instructs Adam and Hawwa (pbut) to enjoy whatever they desired from the Garden of Eden with only one restriction. Allah warned them to stay away from one particular tree. They complied with this injunction until Satan was able to beguile them with the following whisperings:
وَقَالَ مَا نَهَاكُمَا رَبُّكُمَا عَنْ هَذِهِ الشَّجَرَةِ إِلَّا أَنْ تَكُونَا مَلَكَيْنِ أَوْ تَكُونَا مِنَ الْخَالِدِينَ
"Your Lord has only forbidden you from approaching this tree lest you [both] become angels or immortal beings."
So by deceit Satan lured them with the promise of infallibility and immortality. In other words, Adam and Hawwa (pbut) disobeyed Allah’s command because they believed that if they were to become like angels they would be sinless, flawless and live forever. Here our ancestral parents displayed a pervasive human weakness that we have inherited, which is to aspire to be infallible and sinless like angels and to live everlasting lives. After realizing their transgression and recognizing their human frailty, Adam and Hawwa (pbut) repented with the following supplication: "Our Lord! We have wronged our own souls: if you forgive us not and bestow not upon us your mercy we shall certainly be lost."
From the above verses from the Glorious Qur’an we can conclude that the conscientious Muslim is not one who believes or claims to be sinless but rather one who is fully aware of his/her human frailty and constantly acknowledges it by turning to Allah, the Most Merciful, for forgiveness. By embracing forgiveness the human being liberates him/herself of arrogance and constantly seeks out the Mercy and Grace of Allah. Such a disposition is beautifully illustrated in the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) who is reported to have said in a hadith recorded in al-Bukhari: “I swear by Allah, that I seek Allah’s forgiveness and repent to Him more than 100 times a day.”
Moreover, Allah, the Most Compassionate, describes the characteristics of a good Muslim in surah ali-`Imran, chapter 3, verse 135 as follows:
“They (the believers) are those who if they commit an indecency or transgress against their own souls they remember Allah and ask His forgiveness for their sins –
And who can forgive sins except Allah?
[In addition] they do not willfully persist in doing wrong they had committed.”
The second feature of the Islamic perspective of forgiveness is the countless verses in the Glorious Qur’an that reminds us that Allah, the Sublime, is ‘oft forgiving, most merciful’ (innahu huwal ghafur al-rahim). In surah al-Zumar, chapter 39, verse 53, Allah powerfully reminds us never to despair of His boundless Mercy and Grace:
“Say [O Muhammad]: O my servants who have transgressed against their own souls,
Do not despair from the mercy of Allah –
Allah forgives all sins
And He is the All Forgiving, the All Merciful.” (39:53)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has taught us many different ways in which to seek Allah’s forgiveness, through supplications, giving of charity, restitution and acts of kindness to our family and others. In particular, Islamic teachings considers the pleasure of the parents, being good, kind, helpful, considerate, respecting and caring to them, as one of the things that wipes away our sins in this world. It is reported that Abdullah Ibn 'Umar (may Allah be pleased with him), said: “A man came to Allah's Prophet (pbuh) and said: 'O Prophet! I have committed a major sin. Do you think that I can repent to Allah from it?' Allah's Prophet (pbuh) asked the man: "Do you have a mother living?" The man answered negatively. Allah’ Prophet (pbuh) further asked the man: "Do you have a maternal aunt living?" The man answered positively. Allah's Prophet (pbuh) said to him: "Be kind, caring, helpful, good, respectful and kind to her.” (Tirmidhi)
In the above example the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) suggests that atonement for sins can be achieved first through caring for our mothers and if they have passed on, our aunts and other close relatives.I would like to conclude with one of the best supplications for forgiveness that the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) taught us to recite: