Returning to Allah

* First published in

Musa alayhis salaam led the elders and men, the women and children of Bani Israeel to the mouth of the raging sea. With nothing to defend themselves, they turned back to see Fir’own, furious, and his henchmen – blades sheathed – racing towards them. They cried to Musa, as recorded in the Qur’an:

And when the two hosts saw each other, the companions of Musa said, “Indeed, they shall catch us” (Ash-Shu’ara 26/61).

But Musa knew that Allah would not allow the da’wah to be wiped away and annihilated. Allah recorded Musa’s alayhis salaam reply, which radiated with the eman of a Prophet and Messenger:

He [Musa] said, “Nay! Indeed my Lord is with me, and He will guide me” (Ash-Shu’ara 26/62).

Immediately, Allah ta’aala commanded Musa:

Then We inspired Musa, “Strike with your staff the sea.” And it parted, and each portion became like a great towering mountain / And We advanced thereto the others [Fir’own’s party] / And We saved Musa and those with him, all together /Then We drowned the others (Ash-Shu’ara 26/63-66).

When Fir’own slipped out of the sea and ached with the pangs of death, he said:

…when drowning overtook him, he said, “I believe that there is no deity except that in whom Banu Israeel believe and I am of those that submit” (Yunus 10/90).

Ibn Abbas explains that on the day Fir’own slipped out of the sea, and knowing that death loomed, Jibraeel came to him and began kicking dirt into his face and mouth, for fear that Fir’own would plead for the Mercy of Allah, and he would be granted it.

But as Allah revealed to Fir’own and those who would wait till the gargling of the soul to do tauba:

Now (you believe) while you refused to believe before and you were one of the corrupters (Yunus 10/ 91).

Istighfaar means to seek forgiveness from Allah ta’aala with one’s tongue and heart. Allah subhaanahu wa ta’aala informs us:

And whoever does evil or wrongs himself but afterwards seeks Allah’s forgiveness, he will find Allah Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful (An-Nisaa’ 4/110).

And from the authority of Abu Hurayrah, Allah’s Messenger sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam said:

“(I testify) by He who holds my soul in His Hands, were you not to err, Allah ta’aala would have taken you (all) away [and] He would have brought a people that would err, and then ask Allah for forgiveness, so He would forgive them” (Muslim).

Today, in sha Allah, we shall take a tiny glimpse of the aayaat that speak about istighfaar, the seriousness of sin in the eyes of the early generations, the conditions of an accepted repentance, and what are some of the etiquettes when making du’a:

1. Istighfaar is a Characteristic of Those to Whom Allah shall Grant Success

Allah says:

(The evil dwellers of Hell shall say),“Our Lord, remove us from it (Hellfire), and if we were to return (to evil), we would indeed be wrongdoers / He [Allah] will say, “Remain despised therein and do not speak to Me / “Indeed there was a party of My servants who used to say, ‘Our Lord, we have believed, so forgive us and have mercy upon us, and You are the best of all who show mercy.’ / “But you took them in mockery” (Al-Mu’minoon 23/107-110)…

Then Allah says:

Indeed, I have rewarded them this Day for their patience; they are indeed the ones who are successful (Al-Mu’minoon 23/111).

2. Istighfaar Opens the Doors of All Goodness, in this Life and the Next

During the Khilaafah of Ameer Al-Mu’mineen ‘Umar Ibn Al-Khattab radi Allahu anhu, a drought befell the Muslims of Madinah. Calling for the congregational rain prayer (Salaat Al-Istisqaa’), Umar ascended the mimbar and during his khutbah, he recited no more than those verses that dealt with istighfaar. He recited that day the words of Allah, speaking of what Nuh alayhis salaam said to his nation:

I [Nuh] said, “Ask forgiveness (Istighfaar) from your Lord; Verily, He is Oft-Forgiving / He will send upon you (rain from) the sky in showers / And give you increase in wealth and children, and provide for you gardens, and provide for you rivers” (Nuh 71/10-12).

3. Istighfaar is an Indication of Those Most Beloved to Allah

Abu Hurayrah radi Allahu anhu narrates that he heard Allah’s Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam say:

“By Allah, I ask Allah for forgiveness and return to Him in a single day more than seventy times.”

And in the story of Ayyub, Allah describes him:

(We said), “And take in your hand a bunch (of grass) and strike with it and do not break your oath.” Indeed We found him patient, an excellent servant. Indeed, he was one who repeatedly turned back (to Allah)” (As-Saad 38/44).

4. The Seriousness of Sin

I remember in Madinah University when we were studying Islamic criminal law and the Hadith of Maa’iz was the topic of discussion for the day. It was such a dramatic moment, leaving many students reflecting on istighfaar and how sincere Maa’iz must have been.

What happened was that Maa’iz had committed zina (fornication) and had come to the Prophet saying, “O Messenger of Allah, I have committed Zina!” Rasul Allah sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam avoided him so that perhaps Maa’iz would desist and save himself from the punishment, but Maa’iz kept stepping in the face of Allah’s Messenger and repeated, “I committed zina! I committed zina!”

When Maa’iz had said it again and again, Allah’s Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam asked him a series of questions. “Are you mad?”


“Are you intoxicated (and he requested someone to smell his breath)?”


“Did you enter her?”


Allah’s Messenger then asked him slowly, “What do you want from all this?”

And Maa’iz said, “I want you to purify me!”

It is people like Maa’iz whose repentance to Allah was so blessed that the mercy from it could have extended to all the inhabitants of Madinah.

Hilaal Ibn Sa’d said, “Don’t look at the meagerness of your sin, look at who it was that you disobeyed.”

5. Conditions of a Sincere Repentance

Anas radi Allahu anhu narrates, Allah’s Messenger sal Allaahu alayhi wa sallam said:

“All the children of Adam make mistakes, and the best of those that make mistakes are those who repent the most” (Tirmidhi).

Imam Nawawi rahimahullah wrote that repentance (tauba) is required for each sin. If that disobedience only concerns the slave and Allah – not concerning anyone else – then there are three conditions for the repentance’s acceptance:

  1. That he desists from the sin
  2. That he feels sincere regret for what happened
  3. That he feels determination to never return to that sin.

If one of these three were missing, his tauba would be deficient.

A fourth condition is added if the sin involves the right of another human being: That he frees himself from the right of that human.

Thus if he stole something, he should return it. If he physically hurt someone, he should give that person the opportunity to hurt him back or ask forgiveness. If he slandered someone, he should ask that person for his pardon…all this so long as a greater evil does not result in him informing the other party.

On a final note – after heavy rainfall, Hisham Ibn Hasan was walking behind Al-Alaa’ Ibn Ziyaad through the sloppy muddy streets of their village. He noticed Ibn Ziyaad avoiding all the treacherous puddles, until someone bumped him and his sandal slipped into the puddle. Forced by the momentum, Ibn Ziyaad had to carry through to the other end of the unforgiving mire.

After they had reached their destination, Ibn Ziyad turned to Hisham and said, “Just like we avoided all those puddles on our way to this destination, so should as Muslim avoid the disobedience of Allah throughout his journey to the Hereafter. And just as you saw the momentum of falling into the puddle, such is the similitude of sin; when someone falls into it, it carries him deeper and deeper.”