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Am I Worthy of Repenting?

Concept of Istigfar and Tawbah in Islam

A man (Israeli) who had killed ninety nine people wanted to find out if there was any chance for forgiveness for him. He was directed to a monk who replied in the negative. This outraged him and he killed the monk. He did not quit in his quest for repentance and was directed to a scholar who replied that ‘Who stands between you and repentance?’ and instructed him to go to another city where he won’t be reminded of his sins and would be surrounded by good company. The man set on his journey and died on the way. The angels and mercy and torment, both came to the scene. The angle of torment argued that the man had been a big sinner and deserves punishment, while the angel of mercy put forth the case that he turned to Allah with a repenting heart. An angel was sent to arbitrate and measure the distance between the lands and was he sent to heaven as he was closer to his destination.[1]

This story highlights that Allah is indeed Al-Ghafoor Ar-Raheem (The Forgiving, The Merciful) and forgives those who turn to him. It highlights the Islamic concepts of maghfirah and tawba that Allah is willing to forgive the worst of sins as long as the slave is willing to turn to Allah sincerely and seek repentance. Allah Subhanawatala says:


“Say, O My servants who have transgressed against themselves [by sinning], do not despair of the mercy of Allah . Indeed, Allah forgives all sins. Indeed, it is He who is the Forgiving, the Merciful.” [Surah Zumar 39:53]

Now what is the difference between maghfirah and tawbah? This short paper will look into the Islamic concept of maghfirah (forgiveness) and tawbah (repentance), proofs from Quran and authentic Sunnah, conditions of tawbah as well as benefits of tawbah and istigfar on the Muslim.

In many instances in the Quran, istigfar is mentioned alongside tawbah. For instance, if we look at the following verse:


“So will they not repent to Allah and seek His forgiveness? And Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” [al-Maaidah 5:74]

The word istigfar means seeking forgiveness and is derived from the word “ghafara” or clothe oneself to protect from harm. By seeking forgiveness, Allah covers the sin and protects the Muslim from punishment. “Tawba” is derived from the world “taba” which means to turn back to Allah in repentance. It is more encompassing than istigfar and includes turning away from that sin.[2] Ibn Rajab explains that the two words are complimentary in meaning, however if they are mentioned together, “Istigfar implies the verbal act of requesting forgiveness while tawba implies both removing oneself from the sin with both the heart and body accompanied by the feeling of remorse.”[3]

The only precondition for tawbah to be accepted is that the person does not associate partners with Allah. If the person dies in the state of shirk, then the doors of mercy are closed to him.[4] Now, let us look at the proper way of seeking forgiveness and turning to Allah. The Most Merciful says:


“And those who, when they commit an immorality or wrong themselves [by transgression], remember Allah and seek forgiveness for their sins – and who can forgive sins except Allah? – and [who] do not persist in what they have done while they know.” [Ale Imran 3:136]

This verse highlights the importance of not persisting on a sin in order for forgiveness to be accepted and the importance of immediately turning to Allah without despair. Scholars have generally outlined the conditions for effective tawbah, so that it is accepted by Allah, as follows:[5]

  1. To desist from committing the sin
  2. To feel remorse for committing it
  3. To decide not to recommit it
  4. If the sin involves rights of others, then one must try to undo the wrong

But what happens if he repeats the sin although he did tawbah? Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “All sons of Adam continually commit sins. The best of those who continually commit sins are those who repent often.”[6] Abu Hurairah (RA) said that the Prophet (pbuh) said,

A man committed a sin and then said, ‘O my Lord. I’ve committed a sin. Forgive me.’ Upon this Allah (swt) said, ‘My slave acted a sin. He knows that he has a Lord who forgives and punishes for sins. I’ve forgiven him his sin.’ The man committed another sin and said: ‘Oh my Lord. I’ve committed a sin. Forgive me.’ Upon this Allah (swt) said, ‘My slave committed a sin. He knows that he has a Lord who forgives or punishes for sins. I’ve forgiven him his sin.’ The man then followed up with another sin and said, ‘Oh my Lord. I’ve committed a sin. Forgive me.’ Upon this Allah (swt) said, ‘My slave committed a sin. He knows that he has a Lord who forgives and punishes for sins. I call you to witness that I’ve forgiven My slave. So let hi do what he wants.’”[7]

These proofs reiterate the fact that humans are weak and although they may resolve to never repeat the sin, they may falter. However, they must not despair and return back to Allah and seek forgiveness as long as the certainty (death) has not arrived.

Hasan al-Basri is reported to have said, “Out istighfar demands istigfar” meaning that we should not say “astagh-fi-rullaha” as a mere exercise of the tongue, but rather with conviction and not willing to repeat the sin as detailed earlier. Ibn Taymiyyah (RH) emphasizes that in addition to seeking forgiveness from sins we have committed, one must also seek tawbah from wrong beliefs as this might lead them to committing sins without knowing and repenting for them.[8]

The benefits of turning to Allah in forgiveness are numerous. First and foremost, without repentance, the mercy of Allah and gateway to Jannah are closed. No human can earn jannah based on his deeds alone, but only by the mercy of Allah Azzawajal. This is evident in Surah Fatir: 45 and al-Nahl:61. Repentance not only helps wipe out sins but also helps make up shortcomings in obligatory acts such as lack of kushoo in salah or elements of riyah in good deeds. No human can ever thank Allah for all the blessings bestowed upon him and he has to ask his Rabb to forgive him for all his shortcomings.

Repentance helps the salve strengthen the bond with Allah and deepens his dependence on Allah’s mercy. True repentance acts as a catalyst for change in the believer, refreshing his soul and strengthening his commitment towards purification. He feels the burden and remorse of his evil deeds being lifted and replaced with the pleasure of truly reaching out to Allah for forgiveness. Few things in life replace the pleasure of love and closeness one feels after privately asking Allah for forgiveness, with hope and fear, accompanied by tears flowing through one’s cheeks.

In conclusion, human beings are created with shortcomings and are prone to sinning and error, albeit in different degrees. And hence Allah has commanded man to seek forgiveness and taubah sincerely. Allah loves the slave who turns repeatedly to Allah. We should not despair and lose hope, but keep asking for forgiveness, with a strong intention not to repeat the sin as well as undo any wrong we have done, until death comes knocking on our doors.



Al-Hashimi, A. A. (2014). Sayings of the Salaf. Retrieved January 1st, 2014, from http://www.sayingsofthesalaf.net/

An-Nawawi, A.-I. A., & Yusuf, H. S. (1999). Riyad-us-Saliheen. Riyadh: Darussalam.

Niamatullah, A. E. (n.d.). Is there a difference between Istighfār and Tawbah? Retrieved 1 1, 2014, from Alternative Entertainment: http://alternativeentertainment.wordpress.com/2009/12/14/is-there-a-difference-between-istighfar-and-tawbah/

Zaheer, S. I. (2001). Ishraq Al-Mani. Banglore: Iqra Welfare Trust.

Zarabozo, J. a.-D. (2008). Commentary on The Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi. Denver: Al-Basheer Company for Publications and Translations.

Zarabozo, J. a.-D. (2002). Purification of the Soul: Concept, Process and Means. Denver: Al-Basheer Company for Publications and Translations.


[1] (An-Nawawi & Yusuf, 1999)

[2] (Niamatullah)

[3] (Zarabozo, Commentary on The Forty Hadith of Al-Nawawi, 2008)

[4] Refer to Surah al-Nisaa 4:116

[5] (An-Nawawi & Yusuf, 1999)

[6] (Zarabozo, Purification of the Soul: Concept, Process and Means, 2002)

[7] (Bukhari and Muslim) (Zaheer, 2001)

[8] (Zarabozo, Purification of the Soul: Concept, Process and Means, 2002)

  1. Idris Zubair
    January 24, 2014 at 2:26 pm

    Aa. I am receiving this post too late. What is the reason?

    Idris Zubair


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