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> The Meaning of Istighfar by Imam Kalamazad
Articles Section > The Meaning of Istighfar by Imam Kalamazad Mohammed
Meaning of Istighfar:
Istighfar is derived from ghafara: he covered, veiled, concealed or hid; and ghafara Lahu dhanbahu means: He (God) covered his sin, crime or offence or forgave it, pardoned it. Istighfaral-Lahu signifies he begged of God forgiveness or pardon, he sought of God the covering or forgiveness or pardon of his sin, crime, offence, by word and by deed (Lane).
The Holy Quran has numbered as one of the qualities of the muttaqin (pious ones) the following:
And those who, when they commit an indecency or wrong their souls, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their sins (3:134).
And we are taught to pray thus:
And pardon us! And grant us protection! And have mercy on us! (2:286)
Maulana Muhammad Ali in his footnote to the above verse explains:
"Some of the words in which these prayers are addressed require to be explained. Isr means a burden which restrains one from motion, and, therefore, the burden of sin, as sin hampers the spiritual progress of man and restrains him from advancing spiritually. Ufu is from afw, which means effacing or obliteration, and generally indicates the effacing or pardoning of sins. Ighfir is from ghafr, which means covering with that which protects a thing from dirt. In religious terminology, the word ghafr is used, as Barmawi explains in Qastalani (commentary of Bukhari), as meaning protection which, he says, is of two kinds, protecting man from the commission of sin or protecting him from the punishment of a sin that he has committed. This is in accordance with what is said in the Nihayah where the Divine attributes Ghafir and Ghafur are explained as meaning One Who protects men from the commission of sins and faults and One Who passes over their sins and faults."
The Imam of the Age, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, has identified at least ten separate but related entreaties, contained in the prayer for istighfar, in Islam:
The following excerpts from the writings of the Imam shed further light on the matter. Before tackling the definition of istighfar, he encourages us, in this extract, to protect ourselves from the punishment of Allah through taubah (repentance) and istighfar.
"You ought to engage in taubah and istighfar. Without constant recourse to taubah and istighfar, what can man do? All the Prophets preached that God will forgive you if you make taubah and istighfar. So read salah and ask help of Allah to protect you from committing future sins and ask pardon for past sins and make istighfar repeatedly so that the innate inclination of man towards evil may not surface. Two propensities are found in the nature of man one is the power to earn goodness and to perform acts of righteousness, and the other is the attraction to evil works. The power to impede this attraction is the responsibility of Allah, Most High, and this tendency to evil lies hidden in man as fire is latent in stone" (Malfuzat, vol. 9, p. 372).
He then gives the meaning of istighfar:
"The meaning of istighfar is that no sin may be committed openly and the propensity towards evil may be suppressed. It is true that in spite of being sinless the Prophets of God also engaged in istighfar, but their istighfar was for the purpose of preventing future lapses. But, for the common people, another dimension of istighfar is that Allah may save them from the repercussions of past crimes or sins and forgive them their sins and protect them from future ones.
In one of his writings Mirza Sahib makes the point that the istighfar of the prophets of God was not only for sinlessness and perfection, but also for another noble and subtle purpose. He explains that when the prophets contemplated the favours of God and tried to count them, they realised they could not. So to express their human inability to thank their Creator adequately for His innumerable gifts they made istighfar in the hope that this prayer for forgiveness would make up for their inability to thank God fully. Or, in other words, their istighfar was for the purpose of making up for the shortfall in their thanksgiving.
Mirza Sahib goes deeper into the subject of istighfar as he explains:
"The laws of nature also testify that rules similar to those laid down by the Quran for the attainment to spiritual purification and real salvation obtain in the organic world also. We daily observe that diseases attack all fauna and flora fed on unwholesome diet for want of nutrition. For combating those diseases, nature has laid down that wholesome nutrition should be provided, and what is unhealthy should be stopped. Look at the trees, for instance. To keep themselves healthy they are provided with two faculties; one, that they continue burying their roots deep into the earth, lest being unattached they should dry up (this is to ward off unhealthy atmosphere and unhealthy food for the root), and second, that they draw in moisture from the earth through the tiny tubes of their roots (capillary attraction). (This is to feed on healthy sustenance.) By this combined process, the trees grow. For man, too, the Divine Dispensation has ordained a similar principle. That is, he succeeds in living a spiritually holy life only when, first, he truly and firmly holds himself fast to God and through istighfar he implants his self deep into the soil of God's love; and secondly, with penitence expressed in word and deed and complete turning towards God he drinks in the celestial water through the ducts of humility and meekness, and in this way he so draws this water into himself that he washes away the barrenness of sin, and purges himself of spiritual weakness.
As a matter of fact, the concept of istighfar is not limited to this earthly existence but extends into the life after death and is really "the pride of man" which leads to unimaginable progress and excellence as Mirza Sahib explains in his commentary of:
And those who believe with (the Prophet) their light will gleam before them and on their right hands they will say: Our Lord, make perfect for us our light, and grant us protection! Lo! Thou art able to do all things (66:8).
"This unceasing desire for perfection shows clearly that progress in paradise will be endless. For, when they will have attained one state of excellence they will not stop there but, seeing a higher stage of excellence, will consider that to which they will have attained as imperfect and will, therefore, desire the attainment of the higher excellence. When they will have attained this, they will yet see another higher excellence and thus they will continue to pray for the attainment of higher and higher excellence. This ceaseless desire for perfection shows that they will be endlessly attaining to excellence: the righteous will go on making progress and will never recede a step nor shall they ever be deprived of those blessings" (Teachings of Islam, p. 145).
He further amplifies the point in his footnote:
"The question may arise here as to the seeking of maghfirat after entry into paradise and obtaining Gods pardon. Such a question is, however, based upon ignorance of the actual meaning of maghfirat and istighfar. Maghfirat really means suppression of a defective state. The righteous will be continually praying to the Lord for the attainment of perfection and complete immersion in light. They will be ever ascending upwards and will regard every state as defective in comparison with a higher one to which they will aspire and will, therefore, pray to God to suppress the defective state that they may be able to get to the higher one. Their desire for maghfirat will, therefore, be endless, because the progress which they will have to make will also be endless. We can clearly see from this that the true significance of the word istighfar and also that the desire of it is really the pride of man, because it is the only thing which leads him on to the highest excellence which a man can possess" (p. 145).
To further underline the importance of istighfar, the following are some selections from the sayings of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh):
I swear by God that I ask Gods pardon and turn to Him in repentance more than seventy times a day.
Finally, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) gives us the best prayer of istighfar:
"O God, Thou art my Lord. There is no god but Thee. Thou hast created me, and I am Thy servant and hold to Thy covenant and promise as much as I can. I seek refuge from Thee from the evil of what I have done. I acknowledge Thy favour to me, and I acknowledge my sin. Pardon me, for none but Thee pardons sins."