‘Tawbah’: The Arabic word for repentance is significant during Ramadan

It is closely linked to - but different from - forgiveness

Tawbah, the Arabic word for repentance, is significant in Ramadan. The National
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As the end of Ramadan approaches, it is only fitting we explore the word intricately connected to the intention of fasting.

This week’s Arabic word of the week is closely connected to – and usually only ever used in association with – religious thoughts and concepts.

Tawbah, which means repentance, is an important aim or theme during the holy month. It's a concept that is fundamentally important in Islam and one that is positioned as accessible to all who truly surrender to its meaning.

Tawbah, a noun, comes from the word taba, which is made up of the three Arabic words – tah, alif and bah.

Taba is a verb that encompasses a particular set of actions involving the concept of repentance. It is the act of repentance that entails the feeling of regret or guilt over continued thought, actions or behaviour.

This is followed with the admission of these wrongdoings and the immediate stopping of this behaviour, followed by an enforced assertion upon the self through thought and action to not repeat this behavior.

Tawbah is an action-based word, meaning that one has to actively abstain from behaviour they have commonly indulged in the past, to receive grace, mercy and forgiveness.

It’s important to note that tawbah and the word for forgiveness, samaah, are related, but are two very distinct concepts.

Forgiveness means the pardoning or releasing someone of the guilt or wrongdoing of an offense they committed. But it may not necessarily mean forgetting, but to move on without any negative feelings.

One can forgive someone for their wrongdoing even if that person is not aware or doesn’t admit to fault on their behalf.

Repentance, however, must involve acknowledging one's own wrongdoing, expressing remorse and taking steps to make amends. It also involves a change in behaviour and the commitment to avoid repeating the actions in the future.

Repentance focuses much more on the wrongdoer taking ownership and actively seeking to amend themselves and to those they may have harmed.

This is another difference between the concepts of forgiveness and repentance. People are able to forgive, but only God can both forgive and grant complete absolution for the one who repents.

In fact, another meaning for the word taba, the origin of the word Tawbah, also refers to the act of God accepting repentance and granting grace upon the person who seeks it.

Tae’ib is the word used for the person who repents and tawab is one of God’s names in Islam, meaning he who accepts repentance and also grants it.

Al Tawbah is the 9th surah, or chapter, in the Quran and is considered an important one.

The surah has 129 verses that focus on themes such as loyalty and faith, the need for repentance, the consequences of betrayal, and the distinction between those who believe and those who actively work against believers.

The connection between Tawbah and the holy month is a significant one.

Ramadan is reserved as a time of spiritual reflection and to seek forgiveness, seeking mercy and to repent for sins or wrongdoing.

Fasting, prayer, acts of worship and charity are opportunities for people to sincerely repent and seek God’s forgiveness, not only through actions undertaken during the holy month, but as a first step in one’s own journey of transformation to be a better person.

Updated: April 05, 2024, 6:02 PM