It must first be mentioned that a person's direct contact with his Lord without any intermediaries is an important aspect of belief in the unity of Allah. Allah states in the Qur'an:
And when My servants ask you concerning Me - indeed I am near. I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon Me. [Surah al-Baqarah, 2:186]When we admit that repentance to Allah, then the confession of sin should also be only to Allah. In fact, one of the most superior invocations for Allah's forgiveness is that which the Prophet (SAW) used to supplicate:
I acknowledge before You Your favor upon me, and I acknowledge my sin. [Al-Bukhari & an-Nasa'i]By the grace of Allah we do not have to seek the intercession of a priest, a chair of confession, a certificate of pardon, etc. On the contrary, the Qur'an states:
Do they not know that it is Allah who accepts repentance from His servants? [Surah at-Tawbah, 9:104]As mentioned earlier, one is not obligated to go to the authorities and confess his sins, for he whom Allah has concealed his error should likewise conceal it himself. His repentance before his Lord will be sufficient. One description of Allah is "sateer," which implies that He is the one who conceals the sins & shortcomings of His creatures.
Those companions who confessed their crimes (such as Ma'iz, the woman who committed adultery & the man who kissed a woman in the garden) did so only because they chose to out of an intense desire to purify themselves. It was not binding upon them; rather, the told Prophet Muhammad (SAW) about their situations out of concern for the Hereafter. The Prophet (SAW) purposely tried not to pay attention to Ma'iz's disclosure, as well as that of the man. 'Umar's statement that Allah would have kept it secret if the man who kissed in the garden had not exposed it also indicates the same attitude. The Prophet (SAW) kept silent upon hearing 'Umar's statement, showing assent to the remark.
Therefore, it is not necessary to go to court and register a confession when Allah has concealed one's sin. Nor is it required to go to the imam of a Masjid or to request punishment or to seek the help of a friend to lash you indoors, as some people imagine. The following story illustrates how harmful it can be to consult ignorant people in religious affairs.
It was reported that a man wanted to repent, so he went to an imam, confessed his sins, & asked for a solution. The imam told him, "The first this you should do is to go to the court and confess your crimes there. They will punish you according to the Shari'ah (Islamic Law). Then we will consider how you can repent." When the man realized that he would not to be able to bear the legal punishment, he decided not to repent & went back to his former condition.
We must be reminded that this religion is a trust upon us, & it is of utmost importance that we seek its rulings from their proper source. Allah instructed us:
Ask the people of the message, if you do not know. [Surah an-Nahl, 16:43]And He said:
(He is) the Most Merciful, so ask about Him one well-informed." [Surah al-Furqan, 25:59]Not every imam or mu'adhdhin or professional speaker can give religious verdicts, nor can every writer or preacher deliver rulings. However, the common should know who to consult. Indeed, the Prophet (SAW) feared the appearance of a people who would misguide their subordinates through wrong rulings. One scholar has advised, "Knowledge itself is religion. Therefore, take care as to whom you obtain it from." So beware of pitfalls & seek trustworthy scholars in matters in which you doubt.
[Credit goes to 'I Would Like To Repent But!' by Muhammad Saleh al-Munajjid.]