Answers to Everyday Issues – Part 66: Istighfar and sympathy for non-Muslims, disbelievers or polytheists


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Guidance regarding basic Islamic issues that Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa, has given on various occasions in his written correspondence and during MTA programmes is being published officially below for everyone’s benefit.

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Someone from Algeria asked Hazrat Amirul Momineen, Khalifatul Masih Vaa whether seeking mercy for a non-Muslim, disbeliever, or polytheist, or seeking forgiveness for them [istighfar], are the same thing, or if there is a difference between these two matters. 

Huzoor-e-Anwaraa, in his letter dated 8 September 2022, provided the following answer to this question:

“Feeling compassion for someone is entirely different from praying for their forgiveness. The command for compassion is universal, which means to show empathy and mercy towards someone, not to inflict any form of excess upon them, and to always strive for their well-being. Under the influence of this sentiment of mercy, Prophets and Messengers are prepared to sacrifice even their lives for the guidance of people. This is expressed by Allah Almighty regarding the esteemed character of our lord and master, the Holy Prophet Muhammad, the chosen one, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, in the Holy Quran in the following words:

لَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفۡسَكَ اَلَّا يَكُوۡنُوۡا مُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ

“‘Haply thou wilt grieve thyself to death because they believe not.’ (Surah ash-Shu‘ara, Ch. 26, V. 4)

“The Promised Messiahas, while discussing this sentiment of empathy amongst the prophets, states:

“‘[E]very Prophet longed that all the disbelievers of their time who opposed them should become Muslims but this wish of theirs was never fulfilled; so much so, that Allah the Exalted, addressing our Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: 

لَعَلَّكَ بَاخِعٌ نَّفۡسَكَ اَلَّا يَكُوۡنُوۡا مُؤۡمِنِيۡنَ

“‘That is: ‘Will you grieve yourself to death why these people do not believe?’ [Surah ash-Shu‘ara, Ch. 26, V. 4] 

“‘This verse shows that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, prayed with such fervour and pathos that the disbelievers should believe, that it was feared lest the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, should himself die on account of this grief. This is why Allah the Exalted said to him not to grieve so much for these people and not to subject his heart to anguish to such a degree because those people were unmindful about believing and their aims and objectives were different. In this verse, Allah the Almighty has pointed out that: ‘O Prophet (may peace be upon him)! You pray for the guidance of these people with such determination, complete concentration, pathos, and putting your soul in hardship, that there is nothing lacking for the efficacy of your payers. However, the prerequisite for the acceptance of a prayer is that the person for whom the prayer is made should not be overly biassed, heedless, and evil-natured; in such cases, the prayer will not be accepted.’’ (Barahin-e-Ahmadiyya Part V, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 21, p. 226)

“The Holy Prophet’ssa compassion was not only pivotal for the spiritual guidance of humanity but also reflected in his conduct in affairs related to this world, where he displayed the utmost kindness and empathy towards everyone. He also taught his followers to treat others with mercy and compassion. Hence, the Holy Prophetsa said:

“‘He who does not show mercy to others, Allah the Almighty does not show mercy to him.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab at-tawhid, Bab qawlillahi tabaraka wa ta‘ala: Qul ud‘ullaha awid‘u r-rahmana ayyan ma tad‘u fa lahu al-asma’u l-husna)

“And this compassion encompasses humans and animals, Muslims and non-Muslims, friends and foes, slaves and free individuals alike. It is the teaching of Islam’s mercy that the Holy Prophetsa instructed that even in warfare, when enemies are slain, their bodies should not be mutilated. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab al-maghazi, Bab qissati ‘ukl wa ‘urayna)

“As far as the matter of seeking forgiveness [istighfar] is concerned, the term ‘istighfar’ means to pray to Allah Almighty that He, through His Grace, covers every weakness, evil, and state of sin. Istighfar is performed by an individual for oneself as well as for others. [The infallible] Prophets and Messengers of God Almighty also need it, as do those who commit sins and errors. Likewise, the scope of istighfar encompasses this world and its fruits are also manifested in the life hereafter. The Promised Messiahas, elucidating the subject of istighfar, states:

“‘Istighfar which strengthens the roots of faith, has been defined by the Holy Quran in two ways. The first meaning of Istighfar is to stop committing sin, which overwhelms a person when he is separated from God, and to anchor one’s heart in His love, and to seek His help by losing oneself in Him. This istighfar is characteristic of those who are so close to God that they consider even a momentary separation from Him worse than death. They continue to seek God’s forgiveness so that He may forever keep them immersed in His love. The other meaning of istighfar is to free oneself from sin, to hasten towards God and to be captivated by His love—just as a tree is held firmly by the earth—so that, by growing in piety, the human heart may escape from the aridity and decay of sin. Both these states are called istighfar, because ‘hafr’, from which the word istighfar is derived, means to cover up and suppress. Hence istighfar means [to pray] that God continues to overlook the sins of one who immerses himself in His love and does not allow the roots of human weakness to be exposed; rather, He envelopes him in the mantle of His Divinity and bestows upon him a part of His holiness. Or that God may cover up the root that has been exposed due to sin and protect it from the adverse effects of this exposure.’ (Sirajuddin ‘Isa’i Ke Chaar Swalon Ka Jawaab, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 12, pp. 346-347)

“While discussing the theme of seeking forgiveness on another occasion, Huzooras stated:

“‘The reason why God’s Prophets and Messengers have such a powerful attraction that thousands of people are drawn to them, and love them, and are ready to lay down their very lives for them, is that their own hearts are filled with great love and compassion for mankind, and their love exceeds even the love of a mother, and they desire the welfare of mankind even at the cost of their own suffering. Their true love, therefore, draws the fortunate hearts towards them. 

“‘If man, despite being ignorant of the unseen, can somehow learn about the hidden love someone has for him, why cannot God, Who is All-Knowing, learn about a man’s true love for Him? Love is a wonderful thing. Its fire consumes the fire of sin and extinguishes the flame of disobedience. There can be no question of ‘punishment’ where there is perfect and true love. One of the signs of true love is that the lover dreads the very thought of being estranged from his beloved. He thinks himself doomed at his smallest fault, and sees the beloved’s displeasure as a deadly poison. He is also beset by a great longing to meet his beloved, and absence and separation take the very life out of him. That is why he does not only regard as sinful, actions which are regarded as such by the common man—e.g., murder, adultery, theft and bearing false witness—rather, he considers even the slightest estrangement from God, and the slightest inclination towards anything other than Him, as a grave sin. He, therefore, constantly seeks forgiveness (istighfar) from his Eternal Beloved. Since he can never bring himself to accept separation from Him at any time, the slightest neglect—which he might commit due to his human weakness—appears to him like a mountain of sin. It is for this reason that those who enjoy a holy and perfect relationship with God always occupy themselves with istighfar. A true lover is always apprehensive lest his beloved should become annoyed with him, and his heart is filled with the thirst to please Him perfectly, and he is not content even when God Himself informs him that He is pleased with him. Just as a drunkard is not satisfied with drinking once and is constantly asking for more, in the same way, when the spring of Divine love gushes forth in a man’s heart, he naturally wants to win God’s pleasure as far as possible. Thus, greater love leads to even greater istighfar. This is why those who are perfect in their love for God are constantly seeking Allah’s forgiveness, and the surest sign of a sinless person is that he occupies himself in istighfar far more than other people. The true meaning of istighfar is to pray to God that He may remove the possibility of any transgression or error which a person might commit due to the weakness of human nature, and that He may cover his faults and not allow them to be exposed. The meaning of istighfar also extends to the common people, and, in their case, it means: to pray to God that He may protect the supplicant from evil consequences and poisonous influences of his transgressions and misdeeds, both in this world and the hereafter.

“‘The source of true salvation, therefore, is personal love for God, which, in turn, draws His love through man’s humility, supplication and constant istighfar.’ (Chashma-e-Masihi, Ruhani Khazain, Vol. 20, pp. 378-380)

“As for seeking forgiveness [istighfar] for others, the Quran and sunnah have also provided guidance in this matter. It is instructed that forgiveness should not be sought for such polytheists and hypocrites about whom it becomes clear that they are enemies of God and are certainly destined for Hell. (Surah at-Tawbah, 113) Therefore, when Allah Almighty informed Hazrat Ibrahimas that his father was an enemy of Allah, he ceased to seek forgiveness for him.’ (Surah at-Tawbah, 114)

“Due to the mischief of the hypocrites of Medina and the troubles they caused for the Holy Prophetsa and the Muslims, Allah Almighty issued a stern warning in the Holy Quran against them, declaring them disobedient and destined for Hell. Yet, despite this, as Allah Almighty had given the Holy Prophetsa the choice to seek forgiveness for them or not (Surah at-Tawbah, 74-80), the Holy Prophetsa, based on this authority granted by Allah, led the funeral prayer for Abdullah Ibn Ubayy Ibn Salul, the leader of the hypocrites, and sought forgiveness for him upon his death. However, Allah then expressly forbade the Holy Prophetsa from performing the funeral prayers for such hypocrites and from praying for them. (Surah at-Tawbah, 84) (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab at-tafsir, Bab qawlihi: istaghfir lahum aw la tastaghfir lahum in tastaghfir lahum sab‘ina marra fa lun yaghfira Allahu lahum)

“In fact, the teaching of forgiveness in Islam contains a profound wisdom that was absent in the teachings of earlier religions. Thus, Islam instructs us to pray for guidance and strive for the reformation of every enemy as long as there is hope for their improvement. For instance, during the Battle of Uhud, when the Muslims suffered losses and the Holy Prophetsa himself was injured, someone requested that he curse the opponents of Islam. The Holy Prophetsa responded, ‘Allah the Exalted has not sent me as a curser or reviler; rather, He has sent me as a Messenger of God’s Word and a mercy.’ Subsequently, the Holy Prophetsa prayed to Allah, ‘O Allah, guide my people, for they do not know the reality of my station and Islam.’ (Shu‘ab al-Iman li l-Bayhaqi, Fasl fi hadbi n-nabiyyi sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallama ‘ala ummatihi wa ra’fatuhu bihim, Hadith 1428)

“In the same vein, another narration states that the Holy Prophetsa supplicated before Allah, pleading, ‘O Allah, forgive my people, for they are opposing Islam due to their ignorance (of Islam and my status).’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab ahadithi l-anbiya’, Bab hadithi l-ghar’; Al-Mu‘jam al-Kabir by al-Tabarani, Hadith 5562)

“Islam emphatically instructs its followers to be filled with compassion towards all of humanity, irrespective of their religion, community, race, or ethnicity. They are urged to constantly strive for the guidance and spiritual advancement of others, while also being empathetic in worldly matters. Except for those idolaters, hypocrites, and enemies of God, whose damnation has been confirmed by Allah Almighty, the followers of Islam should persist in seeking forgiveness for all others.”

(Compiled by Zaheer Ahmad Khan, Head of Records Department, Private Secretariat, London and translated by Al Hakam.)

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