About verse 54: وَإِذَا جَاءَكَ الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ (And when to you come those who believe ... ), there are two interpretations given by leading authorities in Tafs.ir:
1. Most of them have declared it to be related to previous verses and event. In support, they refer to the narration about the event when the chiefs of Quraysh demanded through Abu Talib that his nephew should first remove the poor people around him, with whom they could not sit, and then they would come and listen to him, and think about it. Thereupon, it was Sayyidna ` Umar ؓ who advised that it did not matter much, for Muslims were sincere friends and if requested they would move out of the sitting so that the chiefs of Quraysh could listen to the Word of Allah and become Muslims.
But, in the previous verses, came the command against this advice that this should never be done. Doing this would be cruel and unjust. The revelation of this verse made Sayyidna ` Umar ؓ realize the gravity of his error. He feared he had become a sinner by advising against what was the will of Allah. He came to tender his apology for it.
Thereupon, the present verses were revealed to comfort him. In gist, the Holy Prophet ﷺ has been asked here to assure them that there will be no retribution for their past mistakes. In fact, not simply that there will be no retribution for the mistake, but that they will also be blessed in many ways by the most merciful Allah. He has also been asked to tell them about His Law that if a Muslim does something evil in ignorance, then gets alerted, repents and corrects his ways for the future, Allah Almighty will forgive him his past sins - and will also not deprive him of His blessings in this world and in the world to come. According to this explanation, these verses were revealed as related to this particular event described in previous verses.
2. Some commentators have taken these verses to be carrying an independent set of rules for guidance. These relate to people who have committed a sin, then felt ashamed of what they did, and repented, and corrected their ways.
A little deliberation will show that there is no contradiction between the two sayings - because it is universally agreed that an in-junction of the Holy Qur'an which has been revealed in the background of a particular event, subject to the condition of its words and subject being general, shall not remain restricted to that event, instead of which, it shall have the status of a general injunction. Therefore, even it were to be granted that the said verses did come to be revealed about the event mentioned, still then, this injunction shall have the status of a general rule of conduct which will cover every sinner who gets alarmed even after having committed the sin, then feels ashamed, repents, corrects and turns watchful for the future.
Now let us turn to a fuller explanation of these verses. It is said in the first verse (54): وَإِذَا جَاءَكَ الَّذِينَ يُؤْمِنُونَ بِآيَاتِنَا فَقُلْ سَلَامٌ عَلَيْكُمْ ۖ كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ ; It means: When those people come to him who believe in His Ayat ( the word, 'Ayat', at this place, could mean the Ayat or Verses of the Qur'an, and the Ayat or general signs of the perfect power of Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu as well), the Holy Prophet ﷺ has been instructed to address them by saying: سَلَامُ عَلَیکُم (Peace be upon you). Here, 'Salamun Alaikum' could have two meanings. It could either mean: Convey to them the Salam or greetings of Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu - which is the highest honour they could receive. Given this interpretation, that becomes the best antidote for the heart-break of poor Muslims, about whom the chiefs of the Quraysh had said that they should be removed from the gathering before they come. Or it could also mean: You give them the good news of their being safe and protected - that is, if they have fallen short or even made a mistake in what they have done, that will stand forgiven, and that they shall stay protected against all sorts of calamities.
In the next sentence of the verse: كَتَبَ رَبُّكُمْ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ , the promise of additional favour and reward has been made by saying : You tell these Muslims that Allah has taken it upon Himself that mercy shall be shown to them. Therefore, let them not be frightened or nervous. First of all, by using the word, Rabb, the assertion in the verse has been provided with a proof - that Allah is your Nurturer, Nour'isher, Sustainer. It is obvious no nurturer would let what is being nurtured go to waste. Then, the mercy which was promised by that Rabb has been further clarified through a weighty, yet endearing, statement that their Rabb has prescribed this mercy on Himself'. It is obvious when even an average good person would not go back on his promise, how could this be ever imagined when referred to the Lord of the Worlds Himself, specially so when this promise has been preserved as a written document.
Based on a narration of Sayyidna Abu Hurairah ؓ has been reported in the Sahih of Al-Bukhari and Muslim, and in the Musnad of Ahmad, that the Holy Prophet ﷺ said: When Allah Ta` ala created the whole creation and determined the destiny of everyone, then, in a Book with Him on the ` Arsh, He wrote: اِنَّ رَحمَتِی غَلَبَت غَضَبِی (My Mercy is dominant over My Wrath).
And Sayyidna Salman ؓ says: We have seen written in the Torah, when Allah created the heavens and the earth and the entire creation in them, He divided His mercy in a hundred parts. One part from this He distributed all over the creation - and wherever any effect of this mercy is found among human beings, animals and other elements of creation, that owes itself to this same part. The mutual love and concern found among parents and children, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives, among relatives, neighbours and friends, are all the outcome of this share from the mercy of Allah. The rest of the ninety nine parts of mercy have been kept by Allah Ta` ala for Himself. There are other narrations in which this has been described as a Hadith from the Holy Prophet ﷺ . This goes to show the quality and extent of Allah's mercy for His creation.
It goes without saying that no ` Ibadah (worship) or ` Ita` ah (obedience) can be good enough so as to be considered as presentable before Allah Jalla Sha'nuhu - neither by an angel nor by a human being. We should not see our ` Ibadah and Ita` ah and good deeds in isolation. If we were to look at them as related to the highest of the high, we would humbly realize that what we have been able to do was not any better than what is simply bad. Still one has to be thankful for being able to do what was possible specially when no human being is free of real evils and sins- unless protected by Allah. Under this situation, justice would have demanded that no one remains safe from a general punishment. But, what is actually happening is that every human being is being showered with the blessings of Allah all the time. This, then, is the direct outcome of that mercy which the great Lord-Nourisher of the universe has put it down in writing as His responsibility.
Every Sin is Forgiven by Taubah [ Repentance ]
This perfect mercy of Allah appears mentioned in the form of a rule in the third sentence of verse 54: أَنَّهُ مَنْ عَمِلَ مِنكُمْ سُوءًا بِجَهَالَةٍ ثُمَّ تَابَ مِن بَعْدِهِ وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَنَّهُ غَفُورٌ رَّحِيمٌ It means: One of you who happens to have done something bad by having acted ignorantly, then repents after that and corrects his conduct, then Allah Almighty is most forgiving, He will forgive him his sins; and He is very merciful, so forgiveness alone will not be considered enough, for he will be blessed with rewards also.
From the word, " جهَالَةٍ " (Jahalah; literally: ignorance, used in the sense of acting ignorantly) one may think that this promise of forgiveness is valid only when a sin is committed in a state of ignorance, not knowing what is being done - and the commitment of a sin knowingly would be considered excluded from the purview of this injunction. But, this is not true - because Jahalah (ignorance) here means acting ignorantly which refers to the act of ignorance, that is, one ends up doing something as would have been done by one who is ignorant and unaware of the outcome of his or her act. It is not necessary that the doer of the act be ignorant in reality. This is confirmed by the use of the word Jahalah itself - as the word, Jahalah has been used here in-stead of using the word, Jahl, most likely to point out to this refinement in meaning. The reason is that Jahl (also meaning ignorance) is an antonym of ` Ilm (Knowledge) while Jahalah stands in contrast to forbearance and dignity. In other words, the word, Jahalah is employed, in usage, to ignorance which is demonstrated practically, indeed. A little thought will reveal that a sin, whenever it is committed by someone, comes about to be because of this practical ignorance. Therefore, some pious elders have said that a person who acts against any command given by Allah and His Messenger is Jahil (ignorant). It refers to this very practical ignorance. For this, it is not necessary to be uninformed and lacking in knowledge - because countless definitive statements of the Holy Qur'an and Sahih Ahadith (Nass) prove that every sin can be forgiven by making Taubah (repentance), whether committed by heedlessness or ignorance, or knowingly and deliberately through self-wickedness or a blinded following of (the drum-beats of) one's own desire.
At this point, it is also worth noticing that the promise of mercy and forgiveness made to sinners in this verse is conditioned with two things: (a) Taubah (repentance), and (b) the Islah of ` Amal (the correction of misdeed). Taubah means being ashamed of the sin. Says the Hadith: التوبۃ النَّدَم اِنَّمَا (Taubah or repentance is another name of Nadamah, that is, being ashamed of or having remorse).
As for the second condition, that is, the correction of deed, it means that one should see to it that what happened before will not be repeated in the future. So, this process of trying to better one's doings includes the making of a firm determination not to go near that sin ever again by fully auditing and checking one's behaviour at all times, and also included here is that all rights belonging to someone which have been violated or compromised because of that sin, should be compensated to the best of one's capability. They may be the Rights of Allah (Huququllah) or the Rights of the Servants of Allah (Huquq al-‘Ibad). Example of the rights of Allah are: Usurping someone's property unlawfully, to attack someone's honour, and to cause pain to someone by using bad language or causing such pain in some other manner.
Therefore, for Taubah (repentance) to be total and complete, the way it is necessary to first feel ashamed of the of the past sin, then seek forgiveness from Allah Ta` ala, then resolve to keep one's conduct correct and straight in the future and never go near that sin again – similarly, it is also necessary that the prayers (Salah) and fasts (Sawm) which were missed due to heedlessness should be replaced by doing Qada for them. Then, any Zakah which has not been paid earlier should be paid now. If there is a shortcoming in taking care of what was obligatory in Qurbani (Sacrifice) or Sadaqatul Fitr. ( post-Ramadhan charity for the poor and needy), that should be paid off. If one has not done his or her Hajj, despite its being Fard, an absolute obligation, one should do it now; and if it is not possible to do so personally, one should arrange to have it done on his or her behalf (Hajj Badal). And if, one does not have the time to arrange for an authorized proxy for Hajj, and does not have the convenience to personally make up for whatever was missed and the Qada' of which had become due - during his lifetime - then, he or she should make a Wasiyyah (will) so that their inheritors or heirs could take care of paying the Fidyah (ransom) of the obligations her bee against him or her, or make arrangements for Hajj on half. In short, for ` the correction of deed,' the correction of the future conduct only is not enough - it is also necessary to make amends by paying off for obligations left unperformed in the past.
Similar is the case of the Rights of the Servants of Allah (Huquq al-'lbad). If someone's property has been taken unlawfully, it should be returned to him, or have him forgive it. And if someone has been caused pain physically or verbally, forgiveness must be sought from the aggrieved person. And if, it is not possible or within one's control to have him forgive it - for example, he dies; or goes away to a place the address of which is not known - then, the way out is that one should make it a point to keep praying for his forgiveness before Allah Ta` ala consistently. If so, it can be hoped that the holder of the right will be pleased and the person who was unable to have the forgiveness of the deceased during his lifetime will become absolved of what was due on him.