Misinterpretation of 4:17

Repentance is acceptable by God only from those who commit wrongdoings out of ignorance,
then repent soon after. Those will be redeemed by God. God is Knowledgeable, Wise.

On first reading of 4:17, it may seem that God will forgive sins only if they are committed in ignorance. This understanding would imply that the repentance of those who commit sins knowingly would not be accepted by God!
However, this understanding contradicts other Quranic verses where God asserts that He forgives all sins except shirk (4:48). What then is the correct understanding of 4:17 that does not contradict other verses?

When reading 4:17, it is important to pause at the words "out of ignorance". The implication of these words, in the context of 4:17 and other Quranic verses, plays a key role in resolving this inquiry. To further elaborate on this matter, we refer to the story of prophet Joseph in the Quran. Under consistent pressure from the wife of his master to succumb to her immoral wishes of adultery, Joseph, unyielding in his will not to anger God, pleaded:

He (Joseph) said, "My Lord, prison is preferable to me than what they are inviting me to. Unless You avert from me their scheming, I will succumb to them and be among the ignorant ones." 12:33

In the words
"I will succumb to them and be among the ignorant ones" we have the clue to resolve this matter.
Joseph was fighting off the evil wishes of this woman because he knew that if he succumbed he would be committing adultery which was forbidden by God.
Joseph pleaded for God's help so that he would not be among the ignorant ones.
Joseph was not ignorant of what constitutes adultery. If Joseph had yielded to the pressure of this woman, he would have committed adultery, but not out of ignorance, so why did he say that he would be one of the ignorant? The answer is clear; Joseph would have been among the ignorant ones simply because he would have disobeyed God.

This glorious verse tells us that all who disobey God, even if they know they are committing a sin, are indeed acting in ignorance. It is an act of ignorance because disobeying God entails choosing a temporary worldly gain over God's lasting blessings and rewards, which are far better and longer lasting:

Whatever you are given is for the enjoyment of the worldly life and its adornment, while what is with God is better and longer lasting, so will you not reason? 28:60

The meaning is further confirmed in the story of Noah:

Noah called out to his Lord saying, "My Lord, my son is of my family and Your promise is the truth, and You are the Most Just of all judges."
He said, "O Noah, he is not of your family. He is an unrighteous work. So do not ask Me what you have no knowledge of. I advise you lest you be among the ignorant." 11:45-46

The above two verses tell us the following:
1- Noah pleaded with God to save the life of his son.
2- God told Noah not to ask what he has no knowledge of, otherwise he would be one of the ignorant.

The question here is how can asking a question make a person ignorant? After all, people ask questions in order to gain knowledge, so how can asking questions make anyone ignorant?
The ignorance in this case would not be a result of asking, but that Noah would have been one of the ignorant if he disobeyed God's command not to ask what he has no knowledge of. Once again, we have in these verses confirmation that disobeying God is an act of ignorance.

With the correct understanding, we can read 4:17 in a new light. The words in 4:17 tell us that the mere fact of disobeying God is an act of ignorance. Thus, when God speaks of those who commit sins out of ignorance, God is in fact speaking of all offenders. It follows that God forgives the repentance of all offenders.

Finally, the Quran gives us a deciding factor in the acceptance of repentance in the following verse:

O you who believe, repent to God a sincere repentance. It may be that your Lord will wipe out your bad deeds and admit you into Gardens beneath which rivers flow. 66:8

The deciding factor for the acceptance of the repentance is not whether the offender realises that he/she is committing a sin or not, but whether the repentance is sincere or not.