Istighfar: Seeking Forgiveness from Allah
Posted: 27 Muharram 1421, 21 April 2001
"Truly, Allah loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse
themselves." [Al-Baqarah 2:222].
"O Allah! Make me among those who, when they commit an act of virtue, feel good,
and when they commit a mistake, they seek forgiveness." [Ibn Majah]
Tauba (repentance) and istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah) are among the most
meritorious acts of virtue for the believers. Tauba means feeling remorse for our actions
or omissions. Istighfar means expressing that remorse in words and begging Allah for
The act for which we perform tauba and istighfar is not necessarily a sin, or an act of
disobedience to Allah; it also includes our shortcomings. As we realize Allah's immense
favors to us, all of our thankfulness and devotion clearly appears to be inadequate. As we
realize the grandeur of Allah, Most High, our acts of worship and obedience clearly are
seen to be insufficient. The higher a person is on the scale of taqwa, piety and God
consciousness, the greater is this sense of inadequacy. Consequently the greater is his
practice of istighfar.
That is why all the prophets, alayhimu salam, preached and practices tauba and
istighfar. We do not have to invent any sins---inherited or personal--- to explain their
repentance. In fact all the prophets were free of sin, as Allah appointed them as role
models for humanity and Allah did not send defective role models.
The leader of all the prophets was Prophet Muhammad a fact which was also
symbolized in his leading of all the prophets in Salat (prayer) in Jerusalem during Isra.
And what did the prayer leader of the prophets use to do
after every prayer? He used to say "astaghfirullah" (I seek Allah's forgiveness)
three times! This is the istighfar that comes out of the highest level of God
consciousness! He taught us to perform istighfar profusely, as he himself practiced. The
Companions have reported that he used to do istighfar hundreds of times during the course
of a day.
Tauba and istighfar are the essence of our
servitude and submission to Allah.
Istighfar is also a means of enhancing that consciousness of Allah and strengthening
our relationship with Him. We turn to no one except Allah in repentance. We confess our
deepest errors, shortcomings, failures, and sins to Him and Him alone. (In contrast,
Christianity made a fatal mistake when it instituted confession to priests. As Martin
Luther (1537) observed, "What torture, rascality, and idolatry such confession has
produced is more than can be related.") We seek His forgiveness, knowing that He
alone has knowledge about all our deeds and thoughts and He alone can forgive us and save
us from the consequences of our actions. Istighfar, thus, is a most intimate conversation
with Allah. And during that conversation we are at our humblest. We can see why tauba and
istighfar are the essence of our servitude and submission to Allah!
We need istighfar to constantly purify and cleanse our heart. We are not born in sin,
but we are born in weakness. We are prone to fall prey to the many temptations that are
part of our test in this life. And when we do fall and commit a sin, it produces a dark
spot in our heart. A famous hadith, reported by Abu Huraira, Radi-Allahu unhu, describes
this process. When a person shows remorse and repents, that dark spot is removed.
Otherwise it will stay there and grow with each additional sin. A time may come when his
heart is full of darkness because of un-repented sins. We can see this gradual darkness of
the heart as people advance in their sinful behavior. In the beginning they have a lot of
inhibitions. They commit the wrong hesitatingly and feel bad about it. If they do not turn
back, they get used to it, so it just feels normal. Then a stage comes when vice becomes
virtue and virtue vice. They defend and advocate evil and shun good.
Today, unfortunately, we see so many examples of this all around us. In the
"everything goes" post-modern world, good and evil do not mean anything anymore.
Then there is a whole crop of misguided psychologists who are ready to assure you that the
only guilt you should feel is for feeling guilty in the first place! Is it any wonder that
in the English language the word sin is now normally used to describe things that are
delicious, attractive, fun, and highly desirable? That this darkness of the heart should
be considered enlightenment only completes the inversion.
But there is hope for those who seek hope. No matter how corrupt we might have become,
we can always make a U-turn. We can repent and seek forgiveness from our Beneficent and
Merciful Creator Who is always ready to forgive those who turn to Him in sincerity.
"O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of
Allah. For Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful."
[Az-Zumr, 39:53] Further a hadith declares: "When a person has repented from a sin,
it is as if he had never committed that sin."
The Prophet Muhammad has taught us many words of repentance and it is good if we
learn, understand, and use them. Of these one has been mentioned as syedul-istighfar. A
hadith explains its extra ordinary significance: "If a believer says this with
complete faith and sincerity in the morning and dies before that evening, he will enter
paradise. If he says it during the night and dies before the morning, he will enter
paradise." This powerful dua is our daily pledge of allegiance. We will do well to
memorize it in Arabic and never let a day or night go by without saying it with full
consciousness: "O Allah! You are my Lord. There is no God except You. You created me
and I am Your slave. To the best of my ability, I will abide by my covenant and pledge to
You. I seek Your protection from the evil of my own creation. I acknowledge Your favors to
me and I admit my sins. So please forgive me for no one can forgive sins except You."