April 27, 2001

Istighfar: Seeking Forgiveness from Allah


“Truly, Allah loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse
[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.”

Tawbah (repentance) and Istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah) are among
the most meritorious acts of virtue for the believers. Tawbah means feeling
remorse for our actions or omissions. Istighfar means expressing that remorse
in words and begging Allah for forgiveness.

The act for which we perform tawbah 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/her practice
of istighfar.

That is why all the Prophets (as) preached and practiced tawbah
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 (saw) a fact which was also
symbolized in his leading of all the prophets in Salah (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.

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 tawbah 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 (ra) 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. Verily, Allah forgives all
sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful”
[az-Zumar 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 (saw) 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 Syed-ul-Istighfar
(the master of forgiveness). A hadith explains its extraordinary 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 du’a
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.”

(courtesy of http://www.albalagh.net)

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