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By: Abu Aaliyah (Surkheel Sharif)
'There are times where my heart feels clouded (innahu la yughanu 'ala qalbi); and I seek Allāh's forgiveness a hundred times a day,' said the Prophet, peace be upon him.1
Istighfar or “seeking forgiveness” of Allāh is not simply confined to when we commit sins. Rather, courtesy (adab) towards Allāh requires us to feel a sense of shyness (haya) before Allāh on account of committing what He considers disliked (makruh) too; even when no sin has been committed. At a loftier level of faith, those who are distracted from Allāh, even if momentarily, see this a lack of adab and a sort of transgression, for which istighfar is to be made.
Imām al-Nawawi holds that one meaning of the “cloudiness” mentioned in the above hadith refers to the Prophet's continuous dhikr, and heart's focus and presence with Allāh, being interrupted – albeit, for brief moments – out of having to occupy himself with the affairs of the ummah and the welfare of the people. He writes: 'Its cause is his being preoccupied with the affairs of the ummah and its welfare; waging war against the enemy and their harms; winning over hearts; and other such things. Even though such matters are from the greatest acts of obedience and the best of deeds, it is still a come down from the even more loftier degree and higher station of his being present with Allāh, exalted is He, spiritually witnessing Him, being vigilant of Him, and being emptied of everything else beside Him. Hence he sought forgiveness.'2
Thus, how can we not feel a sense of shame before Allāh when we are immersed in his graces, day in, day out, yet use them in acts of sin and disobedience to Him. Shuyūkh of suluk urge us to have a daily recitation (wird) of istighfar which we recite with the above thought in our hearts. Istighfar one hundred times in the morning, and again towards the day's end, is a good beginning, they say. One such way of carrying this out is to earnestly repeat: astaghfiru'Llaha wa atubu ilayhi – “I seek forgiveness of God and repent to Him.”
The Prophet, peace be upon him, mentioned that Allāh, exalted is He, said: 'O son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and place your hopes in Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done and shall not mind. O son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins nearly as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me, ascribing no partner to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.'3
Another hadith states: 'Whosoever takes to seeking forgiveness [of Allāh], Allāh shall appoint for him a way out of every difficulty, a relief from every anxiety, and provide sustenance from where he never expects.'4
Rabbighfirli wa tub 'alayya innaka anta al-tawwab al-rahim.
1. Muslim, Sahih, no.2702.
2. Sharh Sahih Muslim (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-'Ilmiyyah, 1995), 17:20.
3. Al-Tirmidhi, Sunan, no.3540, saying that the hadith is hasan sahih.
4. Abu Dawud, Sunan, no.1517; Ibn Majah, Sunan, no.3819.