Confession In Islam: Istighfar
Istighfar is derived from the root Ghafr “gh-f-r” (غ-ف-ر), which means the covering of a thing with that which will protect it from dirt.
Istighfar means to pray to God that he may protect the supplicant from the evil consequences and poisonous influences of his trangressions and misdeeds, both in this world and the hereafter. Astaghfirullah literally translates to “I seek forgiveness in Allah”. In a religious way, people can recite it during meditation or say it to others to show humility- to say that Allah is greater or that goodness comes from Allah. In popular culture, people can say this if they see something wrong or shameful (Urban Dictionary)
Necessity of Istighfar
Islam posits that human beings were created by Allah, with the ability to choose their own actions; either to do good deeds and obey Allah or choose to do evil and disobey. However, Allah in His immense mercy and wisdom, knowing the fact that human beings were prone to slips, and in order to prevent man from carry the burden of his sin(s) forever, opened the door of seeking Istighfar (forgiveness) for His servants who might have (mistakenly) committed sin or submitted to his desires and ignored the dictates of his conscience. Thus, Istighfar is the weapon of believers against the shaytan who tries to lead them into hell by inviting them to sin.
In the Qur’an
Istighfar and some other names from the same root- such as Ghafir, Al-Ghafoor, Ghaffar- occur in the Qur’an more than seventy times.
Quranic verses regarding Istighfar
In the Qur’an, there are numerous verses on the issue of Istighfar, in which Allah commands the believers to always seek His forgiveness and turn to Him. Some examples of these verses are:
- “And those who when they commit an indecency or do injustice to their souls remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their faults – And Who forgives the faults but Allah, and (who) do not knowingly persist in what they have done. (as for) these – their reward is forgiveness from their Lord, and gardens beneath which rivers flow, to abide in them, and excellent is the reward of the labourers.” [Quran3:135-136]
- O you who believe! Turn to Allah a (Tawba of Nasūh) sincere turning; maybe your Lord will remove from you your evil and cause you to enter gardens beneath which rivers flow”. [Quran66:8]
- “And whoever does evil or acts unjustly to his soul, then asks forgiveness of Allah, he shall find Allah Forgiving, Merciful”. [Quran4:110]
- “Will they not then turn to Allah and ask His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”. “Will they not then turn to Allah and ask His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving, Merciful”. [Quran5:74]
- “And you that ask forgiveness of your Lord, then turn to Him; He will provide you with a goodly provision to an appointed term and bestow His grace on every one endowed with grace, and if you turn back, then surely I fear for you the chastisement of a great day”. [Quran11:3]
- “And return to your Lord time after time and submit to Him before there comes to you the punishment, then you shall not be help”. [Quran39:54]
- In hadith, it was reported that: “The Prophet sought the forgiveness (Istighfar) from Allah,frequently and on daily basis.”
- “The Prophet is spoken of in a hadith as saying istighfar a hundred times a day,despite his infallibity”.
- According to the book of supplications (Hisnul Muslim),it was reported that; the prophet used to seek forgiveness in the morning and night.
- It is also quoted from the prophet stating that: “The more one prays for pardoning of his sins the more good deeds will be credited to his account and on the Day of Judgement and his deeds will appear shining.”
- Among the sunnah of the Prophet was that: “He never got up even from the smallest meeting without reciting Istighfar 25 times”.
- Another Hadith also mentions that: “The Holy Prophet recited ‘Astahghfirullah Wā tūbo ilaih’ seventy times everyday.”
Significance of Istighfar
- Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) safeguards the Supplicant against the evil consequences of his/her sins.
- Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) increases the blessings of Allah (both material and spiritual).
- Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) is one of the way of finding Inner peace and tranquillity.
- Istighfar purifies ones from the physiological results of sins.
- Istghfar turns up evil deeds to good deeds.
- Istighfar(seeking forgiveness) paves way for the acceptance of prayer.
- Allah forgives those who sincerely seek forgiveness unconditionally.
- The Prophet said: “Whoever makes Istighfar frequently, Allah will provide a way for him out of every distress and provide for him from sources he could never expect.”
Conditions for Istighfar
It is important to note the fact that seeking forgiveness (Istighfar) by reciting the phrase”Astaghfirullah” day and night without quitting or having the intention to quit the past sins or misdeeds is nothing but a mockery. This act according to Imam Ali was not only described as a mockery of our lord but also a kind of sin itself. Meanwhile, Imam Ali presented six conditions for a valid Istighfar, according to him, it was after these conditions have been met that we can now recite the phrase ‘Astaghfirullah’.
These six condition are thus:
- “To repent over the past sins or misdeeds.
- To make a firm determination never to repeat it (sins).
- To observe and discharge people’s rights.
- To fulfill all obligatory acts which have been ignored (in the past)
- To lose the body flesh grown as a result of unlawful earnings until new flesh grows on the bones of the body.
- To make the body taste the pain of obedience as you previously made it taste the sweetness of disobedience.”
Etiquette of Istighfar
Among the etiquette of seeking forgiveness (Istighfar) are:
- Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) during the dawn (sahar).
- Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) on Thursday night.
- Confession to one’s mistakes.
- Testimony of faith and submission to God.
- Appeals to the Prophet and His Household.
Istighfar of prophets
The Istighfar of an ordinary man was not a special case, since they are not infallible. But in case of the prophets and angels, such an act may be interpreted otherwise, because naturally, it contradicts the attributes of infallibility in them (prophets). Though, there are some relevant evidences showing the fact that prophets and the angels were also engaged in asking for divine forgiveness. [Quran3:118], [Quran42:5]
Sunni Points of View
According to some Sunni scholars, the fact that prophets asked for divine forgiveness makes it probable that they committed some major sins and so they asked God to turn their major sins into minor sins or asked Him to make them immune from insistence on minor sins. Some other Sunni scholars reject that they commit any major sins, but they think that they asked God to forgive some minor sins they committed before or after their prophecy. Others maintain that prophets asked God to forgive their unintentionally committed sins.
Shia Points of Views
Shii’a scholars and some jurisprudents hold the views that all prophets are Ma’sum, infallibles and sinless; they never commit neither a major sin nor a minor sin; neither intentionally nor inadvertently; and this applies to them from the beginning to end of their lives.
Therefore, Istighfar in the case of the Prophets should be interpreted and explained in different ways including the following:
- Istighfar of the Prophets might be to win the pleasure of God and attain His nearness.
- Istighfar of the Prophets might mean that they ask God to forgive them for neglecting some recommended acts (Mustahab).
- Istighfar of the Prophets might also mean asking God to forgive the sins of their people.
- Istighfar of the Prophets might mean that they ask God to safeguard them against sins in the future.
- Istighfar of the Prophets shows that they only care for God, rather than their spiritual rankings.
- Istighfar of the Prophets might mean that whenever they felt they have reach higher spiritual level,they will ask God to forgive their being in a lower spiritual level in the past (since prophets always ascend to higher levels of spirituality).
- Istighfar of the Prophets show their total Humility (since prophets always ascend to higher levels of spirituality).
رَبَّنَا إِنَّنَا آمَنَّا فَاغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَقِنَا عَذَابَ النَّارِ
Our Allah, we have faith in You: forgive us, then, our sins, and save us from the agony of the Fire
سُبْحَانَكَ تُبْتُ إِلَيْكَ وَأَنَا أَوَّلُ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ
Glory be to You! I repentance to You, and I am first of the Believers
اللَّهُمَّ إنِّي أسْألُكَ يَا اللَّهُ بِأنَّكَ الْوَاحِدُ الأحَدُ الصَّمَدُ الَّذِي لَمْ يَلِدْ وَ لَمْ يُولَدْ وَلَمْ يَكُنْ لَهُ كُفُواً أحَدٌ، أنْ تَغْفِرَ لِي ذُنُوبِي إنَّكَ أنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الَّرحِيمُ Allāhumma inn-ī ʾasʾalu-ka yā llāhu bi-ʾanna-ka l-Wāḥidu l-ʾAḥadu ṣ-Ṣamadu l-laḏī lam yalid wa-lam yūlad wa-lam yakun la-hu kufuwan ʾaḥadun, an taghfira lī ḏunūb-ī ʾinna-ka ʾAnta l-Ġafūru r-Raḥīmu
O Allah! I ask You, O Allah, You are the One, the Only, Self Sufficient Master, who was not begotten and begets not and none is equal to Him. Forgive me my sins, surely you are Forgiving, Merciful.
اللهم اغفر لي، وارحمني، واهدني، وعافني، وارزقني Allāhumma ġfir lī, wa-rḥam-nī, wa-hdi-nī, wa ʿāfi-nī, wa-rzuq-nī
O Allah! Forgive me, have mercy on me, guide me, guard me against harm and provide me with sustenance and salvation.
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia