By Hamid Mahmood
Kullu banī ādam khaṭṭā’ wa khayr al-khaṭṭā’īn al-tawwābūn –
All the sons of Adam are sinners and the best of sinners are those who seek forgiveness.
The Qur’an gives a vivid description of the expulsion of Iblīs from the Heavens. “Get out of here! You are rejected: My rejection will follow you till the Day of Recompense”. To this the Iblis said, “My Lord, grant me respite till the day (the dead) are resurrected”. “Respite then is granted thee until the Appointed Day”… [upon hearing this the Iblīs replied] “then I swear by Your might! I will tempt them all, except your true servants”. A Hadith al-Qudsi further elaborates the Iblis saying ‘لا ازال اغوی بنی آدم، ما دامت ارواحھم فی اجسادھم’ “I will be tempting them till their souls remain within their bodies”. Allah then said, ‘فبعزتی و جلالی لا ازال اغفر لھم ما استغفرونی’ ‘By My majesty and My might I shall then be forgiving them whenever they seek forgiveness from Me’.
It is then made clear in the Qur’an that the Shaytān is an open enemy. In his enmity towards man he has sworn that he will make them all go astray. But, for insān there is much hope because Allah has taken an oath on His ‘izzah and jalāl that He will always be forgiving them whenever they seek forgiveness even if their sins reach the skies above. The Prophet (PBUH) out of his love and mercy told his companions that he himself repents 70 / 100 times a day to emphasise the significance of excessive istighfār. And once he said, ‘طوبیٰ لمن وجد فی صحیفتہ استغفاراً کثیراً’ ‘Glad tidings for the one in whose sahīfa (register of deeds) is found excessive repentance’. I feel at times that through seeking forgiveness one’s eyes are filled with tears, and yet he does not realise how near he has become to his Lord and neither that this one tear is sufficient to wipe away the sins he has committed and in essence to put out the fire of jahannam. On the other side Allah is now more pleased with His servant than the man, after having lost his camel with all the goods in the middle of a dessert, mistakenly – out of sheer joy and happiness – exclaims “Oh Allah You are my slave and I am your Lord”. Repentance then causes the sins to be wiped away from the register of deeds.
Repentance for me is about being human and being humble. The Prophet (PBUH) would often pray ‘الللھم اجعلنی فی عینی صغیراً و فی اعین الناس کبیراً’. For me as a Muslim istighfār gives me hope. A Sufi saint once told me, today when one is about to commit a sin he thinks that it’s all fine my Lord is all merciful (al-Rahīm) and all forgiving (al-Ghafūr) but then when the sin is committed he now loses all hope of salvation because he now ponders over ‘shadid al-‘iqāb (that Allah is just in punishing). The elder then said that we must change these thoughts ‘around’, hence before committing a sin ponder over shadīd al-‘iqāb and only once the sin has been committed think of Allah’s mercy and forgiveness and rather say to the sin, ‘you maybe big but nowhere as large and as vast as the forgiveness of my Lord’.
I always find comfort in the following istighfār because of its deeper meaning, which constantly remind me of being human; its prescription by the Prophet (PBUH); and it being known as sayyid al-istighfār ‘the Master supplication for forgiveness’:
اللَّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لا إِلَهَ إِلا أَنْتَ خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ وَأَبُوءُ لَكَ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَإِنَّهُ لا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلا أَنْتَ
O Allah! You are my Lord! There is no lord but You. You created me and I am Your slave, and I am faithful to my covenant and my promise to the best of my ability. I seek refuge with You from all the evil I have done. I acknowledge before You all the blessings You have bestowed upon me, and I confess to You all my sins. So I entreat You to forgive my sins, for nobody can forgive sins except You.
[Sahih al-Bukhari, al-Tirmidhi, Nasa’i and Ahmad]