Question: What are your recommendations concerning the manners of istighfar, which is a means of purification for believers?
Answer: While beginning to make istighfar, one should first remember the greatness of God Almighty and make due glorification. There are many statements of the noble Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, related to this issue reported by the Companions. By these reports, we should begin to ask God’s forgiveness as follows:
اَللهُ أَكْبَرُ كَبِيرًا وَالْحَمْدُ لِلهِ كَثِيرًا فَسُبْحَانَ اللهِ بُكْرَةً وَأَصِيلًا لَا إِلٰـهَ إِلَّا اللهُ وَحْدَهُ نَصَرَ عَبْدَهُ وَهَزَمَ الْأَحْزَابَ وَحْدَهُ لَا شَرِيكَ لَهُ
(God is great infinitely, praise be to God abundantly, and glory be to God night and day incessantly. There is no deity but God, He is One. He has supported His servant, and He alone defeated the enemy troops. He has no partners.)
After expressing the greatness of God with these words, invoking blessings on the Beloved Messenger of God is very important in terms of the acceptance of the istighfar. Salawat, or invoking peace and blessings on the Prophet, is an ever-accepted supplication. Words of salawat are a very important means for establishing a connection with the Pride of Humanity. Turning to God by having the Prophet, who ever-turned to his Lord with his prayers, as an intercessor will be a special means for being honored with proximity to God. Also, it is possible to ask forgiveness for all Muslims before beginning istighfar, as we do before the Prayer of Need (Salatu’l-Hajah). As it is included among the prayers of the saints known as Abdal,1 it is possible to habitually recite the following litany in one’s recitations of the dawn and dusk:
اَللّٰهُمَّ اغْفِرْ لِأُمَّةِ مُحَمَّدٍ اَللّٰهُمَّ ارْحَمْ أُمَّةَ مُحَمَّدٍ
(My God, forgive the followers of Muhammad! My God, have mercy on the followers of Muhammad!)
Thus you will have made a good wish for all Muslims. In addition, all of these serve as a prelude for making an istighfar to be accepted by God. You can even hold the humble consideration of seeing yourself as one the most blameworthy one among all Muslims, adding yourself to the prayer and say: “My God, forgive me and the followers of Muhammad! My God, have mercy on me and the followers of Muhammad!”
Seeking Forgiveness through the Most Beautiful Words
After such an initiation, a believer should turn to God with the petition of forgiveness of his or her sins with the following blessed words of the Qur’an in the form of prayer:
لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ سُبْحَانَكَ إِنِّي كُنْتُ مِنَ الظَّالِمِينَ
(“There is no deity but You, All-Glorified are You [in that You are absolutely above having any defect]. Surely I have been one of the wrongdoers [who have wronged themselves].”) (al-Anbiya 21:87)
أَنِّي مَسَّنِيَ الضُّرُّ وَأَنْتَ أَرْحَمُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
(“Truly, affliction has visited me [so that I can no longer worship You as I must]; and You are the Most Merciful of the merciful.”) (al-Anbiya 21:83)
رَبِّ اغْفِرْ وَارْحَمْ وَأَنْتَ خَيْرُ الرَّاحِمِينَ
(“O my Lord, forgive me and have mercy on me [always treat me with Your forgiveness and mercy], for You are the Best of the merciful.”) (al-Muminun 23:118)
رَبِّ إِنِّي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي
(“My Lord! Indeed I have wronged myself, so forgive me.”) (al-Qasas 28:16)
رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لِي وَلِوَالِدَيَّ وَلِلْمُؤْمِنِينَ يَوْمَ يَقُومُ الْحِسَابُ
(“O our Lord! Forgive me, and my parents, and all the believers, on the Day on which the Reckoning will be established.”) (Ibrahim 14:41)
رَبَّنَا اغْفِرْ لَنَا ذُنُوبَنَا وَإِسْرَافَنَا فِي أَمْرِنَا وَثَبِّتْ أَقْدَامَنَا وَانْصُرْنَا عَلَى الْقَوْمِ الْكَافِرِينَ
(“Our Lord! Forgive us our sins and any wasteful act we may have done in our duty, and set our feet firm, and help us to victory over the disbelieving people.”) (Al Imran 3:147)
In addition to the prayers mentioned in the Qur’an, there are very beautiful words of prayer that can be recited for making istighfar. For example, the great Companion Abu Bakr asked the Messenger of God to teach him a supplication he could recite during the Daily Prayers. The noble Prophet taught him the following one:
اَللّٰهُمَّ إِنّـِي ظَلَمْتُ نَفْسِي ظُلْمًا كَثِيرًا وَلَا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ فَاغْفِرْ لِي مَغْفِرَةً مِنْ عِنْدِكَ وَارْحَمْنِي إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْغَفُورُ الرَّحِيمُ (My God I surely did much wrongdoing to my own soul, and You are the only one to forgive sins. Grant me a special forgiveness from Your side, and have mercy on me. You surely are the Forgiving, the Merciful.)2
It is most appropriate to recite this prayer, which can be recited during the Daily Prayers at the prostration position and after the final sitting (tahiyyat right before giving the salam to both sides), as an important means to seek God’s forgiveness.
Another prayer, famously known as “Sayyidu’l Istighfar,” (the master of istighfars) is a very important one in this respect:
اَللّهُمَّ أَنْتَ رَبِّي لَا إِلٰهَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ خَلَقْتَنِي وَأَنَا عَبْدُكَ وَأَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ مَا اسْتَطَعْتُ أَعُوذُ بِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ أَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَيَّ وَأَبُوءُ لَكَ بِذَنْبِي فَاغْفِرْ لِي فَإِنَّهُ لَا يَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ إِلَّا أَنْتَ
(“O God, You are my Lord, there is no deity but You. You have created me, and I am Your servant. I try my best to keep my covenant with You. I seek refuge in You from the evil of what I have done. I acknowledge Your favors upon me and I acknowledge my sins. So, forgive me, for truly no one forgives sins except You.)”
The Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him, stated that whoever recites this prayer at daytime with true belief in its reward and excellence and passes away before the evening, that person will be one of the dwellers of Paradise. And whoever recites this prayer after nightfall with true belief in its reward and excellence and passes away before the morning, that person will also be one of the dwellers of Paradise.3
Keep Imploring until You Really Feel Purified!
It is also possible to prostrate oneself and keep reciting the following prayer until really feeling contentment and being purified:
يَا حَيُّ يَا قَيُّومُ بِرَحْمَتِكَ أَسْتَغِيثُ أَصْلِحْ لِي شَأْنِي كُلَّهُ وَلَا تَكِلْنِي إِلَى نَفْسِي طَرْفَةَ عَيْنٍ
(O the Living, O the Self-Subsistent, for the sake of Your mercy I beg for help. Rectify for all my states and leave me not to myself even for the blinking of an eye!)
Some narrators of this prayer made the following addition, “…not even for shorter than that,” which means, “Leave me not to myself even for a moment shorter than the blinking of an eye!”
Another prayer of the Prophet that he recited upon waking up can be expressed as the voice of the heart:
سُبْحَانَكَ اللّٰهُمَّ أَسْتَغْفِرُكَ لِذَنْبِي وَأَسْأَلُكَ رَحْمَتَكَ، اَللّٰهُمَّ زِدْنِي عِلْمًا وَلَا تُزِغْ قَلْبِي بَعْدَ إِذْ هَدَيْتَنِي وَهَبْ لِي مِنْ لَدُنْكَ رَحْمَةً إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ الْوَهَّابُ
(Glorified are You, O God! I seek Your forgiveness for my sins, and I ask You for Your mercy. O God! Increase my knowledge, and let not my heart stray after You have guided me, and grant me Your mercy, for truly You are the One Who bestows.)4
Additionally, everybody should take their own mistakes, faults, and sins into consideration and say: astaghfirullah/subhan Allah, thousands of times every day. It is reported that the famous Companion Abu Hurayrah said subhan Allah 12,000 times a day. When others expressed that it seemed too much, he replied that he was saying it in proportion with his sins.5 I do not think that blessed Companion had a sin. Abu Hurayrah came from Daws6 and joined the scholarly group of Ashab al-Suffa (People of the Bench), who stayed near the beloved Prophet for a long time. He reported the Prophet’s sayings more than any other Companion and was a great source of reference after the Messenger of God himself; I would call him the Lion of Daws. However, with respect to his high level of piety Abu Hurayrah saw it as a necessity. When we consider our own life, tainted with sins, even making istighfar 30,000 times a day is not too much.
It is also possible to recite the istighfars of great spiritual guides as included in the compilation, The Imploring Hearts (Al-Qulub ad-Daria). For example, Hasan al-Basri was a person of dizzying spiritual depth who severely criticized his soul. If possible, one can read his recitation that he distributed over the days of the week in the same way. After beginning his words by invoking peace and blessings on the Prophet, Hasan al-Basri mentions that he committed so many sins, and then he similarly ends with peace and blessings upon the Prophet. Actually, the prevalent ethos of his time and his personal character would not allow for sins anyway; it was impossible for him to have such sins mentioned in the prayer, one who spent his days and nights worshipping and who was dedicated to striving on the righteous path. Still, it seems that he asked forgiveness even for things that passed his imagination. As we are not better than him in terms of our religious life, we are in no better position in terms of sins. Therefore, it will be too little even if we repeated his nightly recitations twice every night.
When one concludes the words of imploration overflowing from the heart to the tongue, it is better to invoke peace and blessings on the Prophet (salawat) again, given that a prayer between two acceptable prayers will be accepted as well; thus, enveloping our petition for forgiveness between salawat will make it more likely to be accepted.
Let me mention one final point: every word uttered for the sake of seeking God’s forgiveness must be pronounced consciously. As words spoken heedlessly show disrespect to God Almighty, they can also be taken as a lie. For this reason, every word uttered should be coming from the bottom of one’s heart, and they should leave a trace when they pass. So much so that when one opens up to God with this consciousness and ask forgiveness, he or she must be uneasy with the shame of their sins, shiver with remorse, and the heart should virtually come to the verge of stopping.
1. The term Abdal (plural for badal) is usually translated as “Substitutes.” The term is used to describe the “men of the Unseen” who have certain degrees of knowledge of God, who are supported by God, and who, with their refined hearts and purified souls, are open to certain Divine mysteries. These Substitutes are the pure, honest saints who help people with their affairs without being seen and who function as veils in the reflection of Divine Acts. When one of the Substitutes dies, he is replaced by another saintly person. (Ed.)
2. Sahih al-Bukhari, Da’awat, 17; Sahih Muslim, Dhikr, 48
3. Sahih al-Bukhari, Da’awat, 2
4. Sahih al-Bukhari, Da’awat, 7–8; Sahih Muslim, Dhikr, 59
5. Ibn Abi Shayba, Al-Musannaf, 5/345
6. Daws was one of the tribes of Arabia living in the south of Mecca.
This text is the translation of “İstiğfar-2“