The Spirit Of Islam
TAUBA (repentance) and istighfar (seeking forgiveness from Allah) are among the most meritorious acts of virtue for the believers. Tauba means feeling remorse for our actions or omissions. Istighfar means expressing that remorse in words and begging Allah for forgiveness. “Truly, Allah loves those who repent, and He loves those who cleanse themselves.” [Al-Baqarah 2:222]. “O Allah! Make me among those who, when they commit an act of virtue, feel good, and when they commit a mistake, they seek forgiveness.” [Ibn Majah]
The act for which we perform tauba and istighfar is not necessarily a sin, or an act of disobedience to Allah; it also includes our shortcomings. As we realise Allah’s immense favours to us, all of our thankfulness and devotion clearly appears to be inadequate. As we realise the grandeur of Allah, Most High, our acts of worship and obedience clearly are seen to be insufficient. The higher a person is on the scale of taqwa, piety and God consciousness, the greater is this sense of inadequacy. Consequently the greater is his practice of istighfar. That is why all the prophets, alayhimu salam, preached and practices tauba and istighfar. We do not have to invent any sins—inherited or personal— to explain their repentance. In fact all the prophets were free of sin, as Allah appointed them as role models for humanity and Allah did not send defective role models.
The leader of all the prophets was the Holy Prophet (PBUH), a fact which was also symbolised in his leading of all the Prophets in Salat (prayer) in Jerusalem during Isra. And what did the Prayer Leader of the Prophets use to do after every prayer? He used to say “astaghfirullah” (I seek Allah’s forgiveness) three times! This is the istighfar that comes out of the highest level of God consciousness! He taught us to perform istighfar profusely, as he himself practiced. The Companions have reported that he used to do istighfar hundreds of times during the course of a day. Tauba and istighfar are the essence of our servitude and submission to Allah. Istighfar is also a means of enhancing that consciousness of Allah and strengthening our relationship with Him. We turn to no one except Allah in repentance. We confess our deepest errors, shortcomings, failures, and sins to Him and Him alone. We seek His forgiveness, knowing that He alone has knowledge about all our deeds and thoughts and He alone can forgive us and save us from the consequences of our actions. Istighfar, thus, is a most intimate conversation with Allah. And during that conversation we are at our humblest. We can see why tauba and istighfar are the essence of our servitude and submission to Allah!
We need istighfar to constantly purify and cleanse our heart. We are not born in sin, but we are born in weakness. We are prone to fall prey to the many temptations that are part of our test in this life. And when we do fall and commit a sin, it produces a dark spot in our heart. A famous hadith, reported by Abu Huraira (RA), describes this process. When a person shows remorse and repents, that dark spot is removed. Otherwise it will stay there and grow with each additional sin.
A time may come when his heart is full of darkness because of un-repented sins. We can see this gradual darkness of the heart as people advance in their sinful behaviour. In the beginning they have a lot of inhibitions. They commit the wrong hesitatingly and feel bad about it. If they do not turn back, they get used to it, so it just feels normal. Then a stage comes when vice becomes virtue and virtue vice. They defend and advocate evil and shun good.
— Courtesy: Albalagh.org