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Quranic Terminology: Seeking God's Forgiveness


Quranic Terminology: Seeking God's Forgiveness


Was published in Arabic in December, 21, 2015

Translated by Ahmed Fathy


Seeking Almighty God's forgiveness and pardon is an Islamic act of worship deemed to be done always during one's lifetime. The Arabic term is (Isteghar) i.e. literally asking for God's pardon. This term is used in the Quranic text in various levels that we will explain below.


Firstly: Seeking God's forgiveness as an act of worship:

 Seeking God's pardon and imploring Him for forgiveness of sins is certainly an act of worship commanded by God in the Quran; yet, it is an act forgotten by the Muhammadans who falsely believe that Islam, according to the so-called hadiths (sayings falsely ascribed to Prophet Muhammad), is merely confined to five pillars in their bad heretic notions (the testimony, prayers, fasting, alms, and pilgrimage). Such false notion has led the Muhammadans to drop so many Quranic orders and notions of paramount importance for true believers in the Quran, chief among them are supplication and glorification of God, remembering Him in contemplations, meditations, and reflections, and seeking His forgiveness.  Here, we will give an overview of this latter act of worship ordained by God in all true celestial/divine messages that we have come to call now the Abrahamic religions.

1- Chief among the Quranic epithets that describe the pious who deserve to enter Paradise in the Afterlife is their prayers at night to seek God's pardon for their sins: "The pious are amidst gardens and springs. Receiving what their Lord has given them. They were virtuous before that. They used to sleep a little at night. And at dawn, they would pray for pardon. And in their wealth, there was a share for the beggar and the deprived." (51:15-19).

2- In pre-Islamic divine/celestial messages to people, we find the main command is to seek God's pardon and forgiveness for one's sins. To exemplify this, we find in the Quran that Noah said to his people the following: "I said, 'Ask your Lord for forgiveness; He is Forgiving." (71:10). Another prophet, Shuaib, said to his people the following: ""And ask your Lord for forgiveness, and repent to Him. My Lord is Merciful and Loving."" (11:90). Ancient Egypt witnessed several prophets who are not mentioned in the Quran; God asserts in the Quran that there are so many prophets who are not mentioned in the Quran: see 4:164. In Chapter XII, we deduct that Joseph and people around him used to mention and remember God even in ordinary speech; see 12:31. This is shown even when the Potiphar's wife declared her repentance in public; see 12:51-52, and even when one of her relatives advised her to ask God's forgiveness; see 12:29.

3- Several prophets' peoples used to implore God for forgiveness while fighting for God's sake in fierce battles: "How many a prophet fought alongside him numerous Godly people? They did not waver for what afflicted them in the cause of God, nor did they weaken, nor did they give in. God loves those who endure. Their only words were, "Our Lord, forgive us our offences, and our excesses in our conduct, and strengthen our foothold, and help us against the disbelieving people." So God gave them the reward of this world, and the excellent reward of the Hereafter. God loves the doers of good." (3:146-148).

4- God in the Quran orders those who believe in the erroneous concept of trinity to repent and ask for forgiveness, lest they should be subjected to painful torment in the Afterlife: "They disbelieve those who say, "God is the third of three." But there is no deity except the One God. If they do not refrain from what they say, a painful torment will befall those among them who disbelieve. Will they not repent to God and ask His forgiveness? God is Forgiving and Merciful." (5:73-74).

5- The unbelievers of the Qorayish tribe at the time of Prophet Muhammad used to ask God's forgiveness, as per their notions retained from the Abrahamic creed, though they denied the Quran. Their seeking God's forgiveness saved them from torment in this life, though they asked for it as proof that the Quran is truly divine: "And they said, "Our God, if this is the truth from You, then rain down on us stones from the sky, or visit us with a painful affliction." But God would not punish them while you are amongst them. And God would not punish them as long as they seek forgiveness." (8:32-33).

6- The Quran as the last and seal of divine message to humanity includes the call for seeking God's forgiveness: "Say, "I am only a human like you; it is inspired in me that your God is One God. So be upright towards Him, and seek forgiveness from Him." And woe to the idolaters." (41:6). "…A Scripture whose Verses were perfected, then elaborated, from One who is Wise and Informed. That you shall worship none but God. "I am a warner to you from Him, and a bearer of good news." "And ask your Lord for forgiveness, and repent to Him…" (11:1-3).

7- Believers in the Quran at the time of Prophet Muhammad were told in the Quran the following: "…So read of it what is possible for you, and observe the prayers, and give regular charity, and lend God a generous loan. Whatever good you advance for yourselves, you will find it with God, better and generously rewarded. And seek God's forgiveness, for God is Forgiving and Merciful." (73:20). In another verse, we discern that seeking God's pardon is linked as well to pilgrimage: "Then disperse from where the people disperse, and ask God for forgiveness. God is Most Forgiving, Most Merciful." (2:199). Believers are ordered in the Quran to implore for forgiveness and mercy from God: "And say, "My Lord, forgive and have mercy, for You are the Best of the merciful."" (23:118). Believers ought to ask forgiveness for themselves and their predecessors: "And those who came after them, saying, "Our Lord, forgive us, and our brethren who preceded us in faith, and leave no malice in our hearts towards those who believe. Our Lord, You are Clement and Merciful."" (59:10). Seeking God's forgiveness and pardon is an essential part of repentance and atonement: "Whoever commits evil, or wrongs his soul, then implores God for forgiveness, will find God Forgiving and Merciful." (4:110).

8- Seeking God's forgiveness is part of the acts of worship performed by prophets of God:

8/1: Moses asked for God's pardon on several occasions mentioned in the Quran: when he beat and accidentally killed an Egyptian man: "He said, "My Lord, I have wronged myself, so forgive me." So He forgave him. He is the Forgiver, the Merciful." (28:16) and when he felt angry with his brother: "And when Moses returned to his people, angry and disappointed, he said, "What an awful thing you did in my absence. Did you forsake the commandments of your Lord so hastily?" And he threw down the tablets; and he took hold of his brother's head, dragging him towards himself. He said, "Son of my mother, the people have overpowered me, and were about to kill me; so do not allow the enemies to gloat over me, and do not count me among the unjust people."He said, "My Lord, forgive me and my brother, and admit us into Your mercy; for you are the Most Merciful of the merciful."" (7:150-151). Solomon was tested by God and succeeded, and then, he said: "He said, "My Lord, forgive me, and grant me a kingdom never to be attained by anyone after me. You are the Giver."" (38:35).

8/2: Prophet Muhammad was commanded in the Quran to seek God's forgiveness and glorify His name and to keep his patience: "So, be patient. The promise of God is true. And ask forgiveness for your sin, and proclaim the praise of your Lord evening and morning." (40:55). When Muhammad was deceived by some of men surrounding him, God commanded him to seek His forgiveness: "We have revealed to you the Scripture, with the truth, so that you judge between people in accordance with what God has shown you. And do not be an advocate for the traitors. And ask God for forgiveness. God is Forgiver and Merciful." (4:105-106). When wars with unbelievers ended and Muhammad saw several groups of unbelievers convert to Islam, God ordered him to glorify His name and to seek His forgiveness: "When there comes God's victory, and conquest. And you see the people entering God's religion in multitudes. Then celebrate the praise of your Lord, and seek His forgiveness. He is the Accepter of Repentance." (110:1-3).


Secondly: Asking God's forgiveness for others:

1- All acts of worship are personal except asking God's forgiveness and pardon on behalf of others. That is to say, no one can perform prayers, fasting, and pilgrimage instead of someone else dead or alive. Yet, one can seek God's pardon and implore for God's forgiveness and mercy for the sake of others. This is an act of prayers. The reward of such act goes to the one who implores, not to the one(s) for whose sake we seek God's mercy and forgiveness. As for answering one's prayers and supplication, this is left for God to decide. The time of granting pardon and forgiveness is in the Day of Judgment, not in this life. This is none of our concern; we cannot mediate for the sake of others. What is important to us here is that our deeds, good and bad, are recorded in a register. It is a good deed to seek and implore God's pardon and mercy and forgiveness for oneself and for the sake of others who have sinned. This is recorded in one's register of good deeds at once, regardless of anything else.

2- Angels link their glorification of God to asking forgiveness for human beings: "The heavens above them almost burst apart, while the angels glorify the praises of their Lord, and ask forgiveness for those on earth. God is indeed the Forgiver, the Merciful." (42:5). Whereas there are certain angles who ask forgiveness for the sake of true believers in the coming Day of Judgment: " Those who carry the Throne, and those around it, glorify their Lord with praise, and believe in Him, and ask for forgiveness for those who believe: "Our Lord, You have encompassed everything in mercy and knowledge; so forgive those who repent and follow Your path, and protect them from the agony of the Blaze." (40:7).

3- Prophets used to ask God's pardon and forgiveness for other believers:

3/1: Noah said: "My Lord! Forgive me and my parents, and anyone who enters my home in faith, and all the believing men and believing women; and do not increase the wrongdoers except in perdition."" (71:28).

3/2: Muhammad was told to ask God's forgiveness for the sake of female believers who joined the faithful in the then city-state Yathreb: "O prophet! If believing women come to you, pledging allegiance to you, on condition that they will not associate anything with God, nor steal, nor commit adultery, nor kill their children, nor commit perjury as to parenthood, nor disobey you in anything righteous, accept their allegiance and ask God's forgiveness for them. God is Forgiving and Merciful." (60:12). Muhammad was told to ask God's forgiveness for the sake of those who were absent from the consultation councils in Yathreb: "The believers are those who believe in God and His Messenger, and when they are with him for a matter of common interest, they do not leave until they have asked him for permission. Those who ask your permission are those who believe in God and His Messenger. So when they ask your permission to attend to some affair of theirs, give permission to any of them you wish, and ask God's forgiveness for them. God is Forgiving and Merciful." (24:62). "It is by of grace from God that you were gentle with them. Had you been harsh, hardhearted, they would have dispersed from around you. So pardon them, and ask forgiveness for them, and consult them in the conduct of affairs. And when you make a decision, put your trust in God; God loves the trusting." (3:159). Asking God's forgiveness comes next to the testimony of Islam, There is no God but Allah, in the following verse, when Muhammad was ordered to ask forgiveness for his sake and the sake of male and female believers: "Know that there is no god but God, and ask forgiveness for your sin, and for the believing men and believing women. God knows your movements, and your resting-place." (47:19).

4- God tells us to ask forgiveness for our parents: "And lower to them the wing of humility, out of mercy, and say, "My Lord, have mercy on them, as they raised me when I was a child."" (17:24).


Thirdly: Seeking God's forgiveness for someone who is not yet deemed a doomed disbeliever:

1- We mean by this someone whom divine revelation does not name him/her as a resident of eternal Hell and will die as a disbeliever. Otherwise, if such a person is named, one cannot dare to ask God's forgiveness to that person. To exemplify this, the father of Abraham is mentioned in the Quran as a resident of Hell after the Day of Judgment, and so was told Abraham. "Abraham said to his father Azar, "Do you take idols for gods? I see that you and your people are in evident error."" (6:74). Another example in the Quran is one of the paternal uncles of Muhammad: "Condemned are the hands of Abee Lahab, and he is condemned. His wealth did not avail him, nor did what he acquired. He will burn in a Flaming Fire." (111:1-3). Hence, such two examples are linked to polytheism, unbelief, and aggression directed toward the believers. Unbelief is two types: in the heart in terms of false beliefs, and unbelief in demeanor in terms of physical and tangible aggression against others. The former type is God's concern; i.e. we must not be judgmental or fighting other because of their holding different faiths or beliefs. The other type is aggression toward peaceful human beings; this we should combat and defend ourselves and others if we possibly can. Both examples above combined both types of unbelief until death. Accordingly, one cannot dare to ask God's pardon for them; their fate was sealed. This rule does not apply to the rest of unbelievers and disbelievers who do not believe in the Last Day; on the contrary, believers are ordered in the Quran to exercise tolerance and pardon in general toward those who deny resurrection and the Last day…etc. "Tell those who believe to forgive those who do not hope for the Days of God. He will fully recompense people for whatever they have earned." (45:14).

2- Abraham endeavored to make his father believe truly, but his father insisted on his own misguidance. Abraham left his father, promising him that he will ask God's pardon and forgiveness for his sake: "…"I will ask forgiveness for you, though I have no power from God to do anything for you."…" (60:4). "He said, "Peace be upon you. I will ask my Lord to forgive you; He has been Kind to me.And I will withdraw from you, and from what you pray to instead of God. And I will pray to my Lord, and I hope I will not be disappointed in my prayer to my Lord."" (19:47-48). When Abraham left his father, he begot Ishmael and Isaac. Abraham later on saw his grandson, Jacob: "When he withdrew from them, and from what they worship besides God, We granted him Isaac and Jacob. And each We made a prophet." (19:49). Abraham used to pray to ask God's forgiveness for himself and for the sake of his parents: ""Praise be to God, Who has given me, in my old age, Ishmael and Isaac. My Lord is the Hearer of Prayers." "My Lord, make me one who performs the prayer, and from my offspring. Our Lord, accept my supplication." "Our Lord, forgive me, and my parents, and the believers, on the Day the Reckoning takes place."" (14:39-41). Thus, he used to pray for his father to be forgiven by God for years, hoping to find his father among the believers one day while he was still alive. "And make me of the inheritors of the Garden of Bliss.And forgive my father-he was one of the misguided." (26:85-86). When Abraham was told by God that his father will certainly die in his insistence on unbelief, he stopped asking God's forgiveness for his sake: "Abraham asked forgiveness for his father only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy of God, he disowned him. Abraham was kind and clement." (9:114).

3- Likewise, Muhammad used to ask God's pardon and forgiveness for the sake of his paternal uncle, despite the revelation of Chapter CXI in the Quran. His paternal uncle used to be aggressive toward believers and fought against Islam. That is why God has rebuked Muhammad in the Quran for that in the following verse: "It is not for the Prophet and those who believe to ask forgiveness for the polytheists, even if they are near relatives, after it has become clear to them that they are people of Hellfire. Abraham asked forgiveness for his father only because of a promise he had made to him. But when it became clear to him that he was an enemy of God, he disowned him. Abraham was kind and clement. God would never lead a people astray, after He had guided them, until He makes clear to them what they should guard against. God has knowledge of all things." (9:113-115).


Fourthly: Seeking God's forgiveness in repentance announced to others:

1-  There is repentance in one's heart and mind between one and God alone. "Whoever commits evil, or wrongs his soul, then implores God for forgiveness, will find God Forgiving and Merciful." (4:110). This type of repentance is acceptable to God because it is based on correcting one's faith and one's insistence on redressing and giving remedy for one's sins and mistakes by stopping the act of sinning and performing as many good deeds as possible to achieve expiation and atonement. "And I am Forgiving towards him who repents, believes, acts righteously, and then remains guided." (20:82). "And those who do not implore besides God any other god, and do not kill the soul which God has made sacred-except in the pursuit of justice-and do not commit adultery. Whoever does that will face penalties. The punishment will be doubled for him on the Day of Resurrection, and he will dwell therein in humiliation forever.Except for those who repent, and believe, and do good deeds. These-God will replace their bad deeds with good deeds. God is ever Forgiving and Merciful. Whoever repents and acts righteously-has inclined towards God with repentance." (25:68-71). Another type of repentance is one that requires being announced to others; i.e., when one seeks to attain forgiveness of those wronged by one. The brothers of Joseph exemplify this: "They said, "Father, pray for the forgiveness of our sins; we were indeed at fault." He said, "I will ask my Lord to forgive you. He is the Forgiver, the Most Merciful."" (12:97-98). Such type of repentance paves the way for sincere repentance in the heart and mind of the sinner. Announced repentance is not to be hypocritical to save oneself punishment in life. By the way, announced repentance annuls punishments in this life that the Quran orders for fornication and adultery, slander and libel, theft and robbery, and fighting against Islam. This will be detailed in an upcoming article. What concerns us here in this article is that announced repentance entails seeking forgiveness from others and declaring intentions of not committing sins anymore. This has been required in the Quran from the hypocrites: "Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you, and prayed for God's forgiveness, and the Messenger had prayed for their forgiveness, they would have found God Relenting and Merciful." (4:64). Hypocrites at the time of Muhammad used to refuse such announced repentance. That is why God says in the Quran to Muhammad: "It is the same for them, whether you ask forgiveness for them, or do not ask forgiveness for them; God will not forgive them. God does not guide the sinful people." (63:6). Some of these hypocrites used to mock poor believers who gave money for defensive wars, and Muhammad used to seek and implore God's pardon and forgiveness for the hypocrites, and that is why god says to him in the Quran: "Whether you ask forgiveness for them, or do not ask forgiveness for them-even if you ask forgiveness for them seventy times, God will not forgive them. That is because they disbelieved in God and His Messenger. God does not guide the immoral people." (9:80).             

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