Last Updated on 23rd April 2021
Aqeel Ahmad Kang, Al Hakam
We have already zoomed past the first 10 days of Ramadan and from today (Friday, 23 April 2021), many of us will be entering the second third of the blessed month of Ramadan. A distinguishing feature of these 10 days is forgiveness. The Holy Prophetsa said:
هُوَ شَهْرٌ أَوَّلُهُ رَحْمَةٌ، وَأَوْسَطُهُ مَغْفِرَةٌ، وَآخِرُهُ عِتْقٌ مِنَ النَّارِ
“It is a month, the first third of which is designated for mercy, the middle third for forgiveness and the last third for deliverance from the Fire.” (Al-Jami‘ li-Shu‘ab al-Iman by al-Bayhaqi)
Hence, during these days, on the one hand, the gates of Allah’s vast forgiveness open for us and on the other, we get an opportunity to open our hearts and cleanse them by forgiving others.
Upon learning of how forgiving Allah is, one cannot help but be filled with immense hope. Istighfar, or seeking forgiveness from Allah, not only removes our sins, but also empowers and strengthens one against sin. It is the water that nourishes the tree of faith. It crushes the ego and makes us humble and more forgiving towards others. Hence, it is crucial for a believer to learn the various ways to attain Allah’s forgiveness during this blessed month. The Holy Prophetsa said:
مَنْ صَامَ رَمَضَانَ إِيمَانًا وَاحْتِسَابًا غُفِرَ لَهُ مَا تَقَدَّمَ مِنْ ذَنْبِهِ
“Whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all their previous sins will be forgiven.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Fadlu Lailat al-Qadr)
Allah, the Most Forgiving
The divine attributes of forgiveness and mercy are given great prominence in the Quran where God’s attribute of forgiveness has been mentioned more than 90 times. It is stated that He is al-Ghafoor (الغفور) and al-Ghaffar (الغفّار) – the Most Forgiving.
Even in the case of our closest relations, we observe that they may forgive our mistakes a certain number of times before refusing to do so any further. However, these attributes of Allah denote that He continuously and repeatedly covers the shortcomings of his servants, who, upon realising their mistakes, sincerely seek forgiveness. Such is the vastness of His forgiveness (مغفرة).
Again, in the case of our friends, we also see that they may still harbour malice or rancour in their hearts after they have claimed to forgive us. However, not only does our God never hold a grudge, but he also protects and shields us from the consequences of our own actions upon granting us forgiveness. That is a mere glimpse of the quality of His forgiveness.
In most places in the Holy Quran, along with the attribute of forgiveness, God’s mercy has also been mentioned. Hence, we often read the phrase “Most Forgiving, Merciful” (غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡم). It means that those who sincerely beseech God, calling upon Him with reference to His attribute of forgiveness, not only succeed in benefitting from this attribute of God but also from His immense grace and mercy.
For example, it states in Surah al-Nisa:
وَمَنۡ يَّعۡمَلۡ سُوۡٓءًا اَوۡ يَظۡلِمۡ نَفۡسَهٗ ثُمَّ يَسۡتَغۡفِرِ اللّٰهَ يَجِدِ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرًا رَّحِيۡمًا
“And whoso does evil or wrongs his soul, and then asks forgiveness of Allah, will [surely] find Allah Most Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah al-Nisa, Ch.4: V.111)
“Asking forgiveness”, as mentioned in this verse, is called istighfar (الإِسْتِغْفَار) in Arabic. There are two kinds of istighfar; that of the prophets and that of the common people.
In the case of the prophets, istighfar is a means of continuously protecting, nourishing and strengthening the roots of the tree of their faith. The other istighfar is that of the sinners, the roots of whose tree of faith have become exposed.
Hence, istighfar acts like the soil that covers and protects the exposed roots, which, if left uncovered, weaken and destroy that tree. However, even if one has not committed a sin and thereby exposed the roots of the tree of his faith, one should remember that humans are naturally weak. Thus, the essence of istighfar is to continuously seek strength from Allah so that our natural weakness does not come to light.
The Promised Messiahas states:
“Man possesses a weakness in human nature. As such, Allah the Almighty states:
خُلِقَ الۡاِنۡسَانُ ضَعِيۡفًا
“In other words, ‘Man is created weak.’
“It is this feebleness of man which, without the helping hand of God, leads to diverse forms of sin. The essence of istighfar therefore is that one should ever and always seek the succour of God and beseech Him so that human failing, which is frailty of the flesh and is inescapable, may not come to light […] At times, the meaning of this word is extended to apply to such people who have already committed a sin. In such cases, the meaning of istighfar or seeking forgiveness is that God may save them from the punishment of the transgression that has already been committed.” (The Honour of Prophets, pp. 33-34)
Hence, the primary meaning of istighfar is not that God may forgive and cover up a sin that has already occurred, but that He should grant us strength so that no sin should occur.
It is a proven fact that people who exercise regularly have a lower risk of developing many long-term conditions. In the same way, istighfar is the spiritual exercise that has been prescribed by no other than our Maker Himself. Regular istighfar is crucial for preventing diseases of the soul and for strengthening the soul.
The Promised Messiahas states:
“Remember, the Muslims have been bestowed two things; one for obtaining strength and the other for the practical demonstration of the strength that has been obtained. Istighfar is for obtaining strength. It is also called seeking help. The Sufishave said that as physical strength and power is fostered through exercise, in the same way, istighfar is a spiritual exercise. Through it, the soul obtains strength and the heart achieves steadfastness. He who desires strength should do istighfar.” (The Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 246)
The correct way to do istighfar
Istighfar is a prayer. When man prays whilst keeping in view his transgressions and shortcomings, it produces, and should produce, zeal and fervour. One should feel anguish in the heart and not just pay lip service to merely uttering, “Astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah” superficially whereas one’s attention is not on God but is elsewhere, for this would not serve any purpose.
The Promised Messiahas states:
“Istighfar does not mean to merely repeat the words of ‘Astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah’ […] There are many people who say that they offered istighfar in such quantity and praised and glorified God a hundred or a thousand times. However, when you question them about the meaning of istighfar, they are unable to answer. They remain dumbfounded. A person should continue to truly seek forgiveness within his heart with the intention that he may not have to bear the punishment of the wrongdoings and sins he has already committed.
“Furthermore, he should continuously implore God Almighty within his heart for help so that he may be enabled to act virtuously and so that He may safeguard him from wrongdoings in the future. Remember full well that words are of no benefit. One may also seek forgiveness in his own tongue that God the Exalted may forgive his previous sins, protect him from committing sins in the future and enable him to act virtuously. This is true istighfar.
There is no need for a person to wander about uttering the words of ‘Astaghfirullah, astaghfirullah’, whilst the heart is completely unaware of its essence. Remember that only those words reach God, which are uttered from the heart.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 9, pp. 372-374 [1985 edition])
Thus, the correct way of offering istighfar – seeking forgiveness – is to engage in istighfar in a way that develops tenderness, fervour, passion and the fear of Allah the Almighty within the heart.
How does istighfar differ from taubah (repentance)?
The Promised Messiahas states:
“Istighfar and repentance [taubah] are two separate matters. From one point of view, istighfar has priority over repentance, inasmuch as istighfar is the help and strength which are obtained from God and repentance means standing on one’s own feet.
“It is the way of God that when a person seeks help from Him, He bestows strength and with that strength, the supplicant stands on his own feet and thus possesses the faculty to do good. This means turning to God and this is the natural sequence of it.
“It is appointed for seekers that they should seek help from God in every condition. Till a seeker obtains strength from God, he can do nothing.
“The strength for repentance is acquired after istighfar. If there is no istighfar, the faculty of repentance dies. If you will thus follow up istighfar with repentance, the result will be as set out in the verse:
يُمَتِّعۡكُمۡ مَّتَاعًا حَسَنًا اِلٰۤي اَجَلٍ مُّسَمًّي
“[He will provide for you a goodly provision until an appointed term. (Surah Hud, Ch. 11, V. 4)]
“This is the way of God, that those who follow up istighfar with repentance will achieve high grades.” (Essence of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 245)
Would Allah still forgive me after everything I have done?
Allah says in the Holy Quran:
قُلْ يَا عِبَادِيَ الَّذِينَ أَسْرَفُوا عَلَىٰ أَنفُسِهِمْ لَا تَقْنَطُوا مِن رَّحْمَةِ اللّٰهِ ۚ إِنَّ اللّٰهَ يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ جَمِيعًا ۚ إِنَّهُ هُوَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ
“Say, ‘O My servants who have committed excesses against their own souls! despair not of the mercy of Allah, surely Allah forgives all sins. Verily He is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah al-Zumar, Ch.39: V.54)
The Quranic concept of forgiveness holds out a message of hope to the sinners. It encourages optimism and kills despair. The God of Islam is “Most Forgiving, full of mercy” (18:59). “He has taken it upon Himself to show mercy” (6:55). “His mercy encompasses all things” (7:157). Thus, according to Islam, the sinner is never beyond redemption.
This is elucidated through a narration in which the Holy Prophetsa tells the story of a person from the Bani Israel, who had killed 99 people but then felt remorse and sought repentance. He approached a monk and asked if repentance was still possible. The monk responded that, “No, there is no route left”. So, the man even killed that monk.
He felt remorse yet again and went on asking if his repentance could be accepted. A wise man told him that it was possible and that he should go to such and such town to seek forgiveness. However, en route to that town, he died. The angels of mercy descended upon him and so did the angels of punishment. They started arguing over him, each group claiming that he belonged to them.
Allah ordered the town to which the man was going to in order to seek forgiveness to draw closer to him, and the town from where he came to distance itself from him. Then He ordered the angels to measure as to which town the man was closer to. It turned out that he was closer to the town where he intended to go to seek forgiveness. Thus, Allah forgave him. (Sahih al-Bukhari, Kitab Ahadith al-Anbiaa)
This is the God of Islam, Who, rather than punishment, prefers forgiveness. His mercy is all-encompassing.
In another hadith (qudsi), the Holy Prophetsa said regarding His Lord:
“Allah, Blessed is He and Most High, said: ‘O son of Adam! Verily as long as you called upon Me and hoped in Me, I forgave you, despite whatever may have occurred from you, and I did not mind. O son of Adam! Were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky, then you sought forgiveness from Me, I would forgive you, and I would not mind. O son of Adam! If you came to me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and then you met Me while not associating anything with Me, I would come to you with forgiveness nearly as great as that.’” (Jami‘ al-Tirmidhi, Kitab al-Da‘waat an Rasulillahisa]
During last week’s Friday Sermon, Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa said:
“Some people, thinking that they will not be forgiven, fall deeper into sin. In reality, Satan puts this thought in their hearts and uses these ploys to distance them from God and such people then get firmly trapped in the grips of Satan.” (Friday Sermon, 16 April 2021)
The Promised Messiahas states:
“The thought of having committed a plethora of sins ought not to hold back a sinner from supplication. Prayer is an antidote. Ultimately, such a one will observe how prayers serve to foster within him an aversion towards vice. In the end, those steeped in sin who despair of the acceptance of prayer and do not seek recourse to repentance, lose faith in the prophets and their effects [i.e. such people then move away from religion].” (Malfuzat [English], Vol. 1, p. 4)
How do I know if Allah has forgiven me?
During a virtual Gulshan-e-Waqf-e-Nau of Khuddam from Mauritius, held on 13 December 2020, Huzooraa, while responding to a similar question by a Khadim, stated:
“After you have committed a sin, if you do istighfar, seek Allah’s refuge and come under His shelter, then you will [see] that you are not committing that sin [anymore]. Once you feel that you are not committing that sin, or any of the sins, [anymore] and you are now inclined towards the commandments of Allah the Exalted and you are now following the true teachings of Islam, then that is one way of knowing that your past sins have been forgiven. Then, do more istighfar so that you may not commit any sin again in the future.”
During another mulaqat with Khuddam from Germany, held on 9 February 2020, Huzooraa, while responding to a similar question by a Khadim, stated:
“If the person does not turn back to the same sins and mistakes, and he begins to hate those very things, then his repentance has been accepted. It is not necessary that Allah Almighty reveals to you that you have been forgiven […] Allah Almighty has His own ways. If you were informed that your repentance had been accepted, then you would commit a new sin every day and then seek forgiveness for it. Hence, Allah has kept us in suspense that we may continue to do istighfar and repent […] Even if your repentance is approved, continue to seek forgiveness and repent and Allah will continue to elevate your status and you begin to hate sin. This is true repentance. Do not worry about knowing it. Is not our goal to please Allah? […] All righteous people worry about is [that He is pleased.]”
Forgive, and you will be forgiven
As we seek to benefit from the divine attributes of al-Ghafoor and al-Ghaffar, it is also incumbent that we adopt the hue of these very attributes. What we wish for from God, we must give to His creation, for Allah says:
وَ اِنۡ تَعۡفُوۡا وَ تَصۡفَحُوۡا وَ تَغۡفِرُوۡا فَاِنَّ اللّٰهَ غَفُوۡرٌ رَّحِيۡمٌ
“And if you overlook and forgive and pardon, then surely, Allah is Most Forgiving, Merciful.” (Surah al-Taghabun, Ch.64: V.15)
The Holy Prophetsa said:
ارْحَمُوْا تُرْحَمُوْا وَاغْفِرُوْا يَغْفِر اللّٰهُ لَكُمْ
“Show mercy and you will be shown mercy. Forgive and Allah will forgive you.” (Al-Adab al-Mufrad, Kitab Rahmah, Baabu Rahmat al-Bahaim)
Thus, we owe it to our fellow creatures that we harbour no malice, hatred, prejudice or rancour against them. It is not easy! It requires that we crush our egos and humble ourselves for the sake of Allah.
The Promised Messiahas states:
“God desires a complete transformation in your being and He demands from you a death whereafter He should revive you. Hasten to make peace with one another and forgive your brethren their sins. For he who is not inclined to make peace with his brother is wicked and will be cut off because he is the cause of dissension. Part with your ego in every way and do away with mutual grievances. Be humble like the guilty, though truth be on your side, so that you may be forgiven. Do not feed your vanity, for those who are bloated cannot enter the gate to which you have been called […] The one who most forgives the transgressions of his brother is the more honourable among you.” (Noah’s Ark, p. 22)
May all our past sins be forgiven. May Allah the Almighty infuse in us, through His special grace, the strength and ability to abstain from sins in the future also. May the following prayer find fulfilment in all of us this Ramadan:
عَنْ عَائِشَةَ، أَنَّهَا قَالَتْ يَا رَسُولَ اللّٰهِ أَرَأَيْتَ إِنْ وَافَقْتُ لَيْلَةَ الْقَدْرِ مَا أَدْعُو قَالَ تَقُولِينَ اللَّهُمَّ إِنَّكَ عَفُوٌّ تُحِبُّ الْعَفْوَ فَاعْفُ عَنِّي
“It was narrated by Hazrat Aishara, who said, ‘O Messenger of Allah, what do you think I should say in my supplication if I experience the Night of Destiny [Lailatul-Qadr]?’
“He said, ‘Say, ‘Allahumma innaka afuwwun tuhibbul-afwa, fa‘fu anni [O Allah, You are Most Forgiving and love forgiveness, so forgive me].’” (Sunan Ibn Majah, Kitab al-Du‘a)