The human being has a tendency to incline towards sin when it is defeated by the desires of its nafs and when it loses the enlightenment of faith and its spirituality. When the moral support from the conscience decreases, discernment and spiritual depth also disappear. A serious weakness appears in the road to becoming a person of integrity. Sins become like sweet music to the nafs and are committed without feeling the heaviness of their evil consequences.
Whereas mankind comes to this world immaculately pure, like a clean and clear mirror of innocence. Religion then is a manifestation of mercy bestowed upon mankind by Allah in order to preserve this primal purity. Consequently if a servant has been able to preserve the purity within his nature and benefitted from the spirituality of religion, he will then be able to draw back the veils of heedlessness. This will then allow him to feel the enormity of his sin in his conscience, if he so happens to commit one. Having thus been injured, the virtuous feelings that have been hidden away in his inner world will be awakened. With great sorrow, his heart will burn with regret and he will open it up to his Lord with teary eyes. This burning and regret is called “tawba”. The cries for forgiveness that come after and flow from the heart, are termed “istigfar”.
Sins are obstacles to entering Paradise; in contrast tawba which is strengthened by good deeds and a penitent heart, are means of protection from the fire.
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said:
“When a servant commits a sin, a black stain is imprinted upon his heart. If he abandons that sin and embraces istigfar and inclines towards tawba, his heart is then polished. If he does not do so and turns back towards the sin, the black spots increase and consequently cover the entire heart. This is the situation that Allah Most High has mentioned in the Qur’an:
“No indeed! Rather what they have earned has rusted up their hearts”. (Mutaffifin, 83:14) (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 83/3334)
It has been stated in another hadith:
“The biggest concern of a person is the anxiety of sin; its cure is to do istigfar in the darkness of the night”. 
Whenever one commits a sin, which can happen to everyone as a result of being human, one must immediately repent and ask for forgiveness and turn back towards Allah. Almighty Allah praises his pious servants that he is pleased with as follows:
““Those who, when they act indecently or wrong themselves, remember Allah and ask forgiveness for their bad actions (and who can forgive bad actions except Allah?) and do not knowingly persist in what they were doing. (Al’i Imran, 3:135)
“The part of the night they spent asleep was small and they would seek forgiveness before the dawn”. (Adh-Dhariyat, 51:17-18)
Almighty Allah informs us in many verses that He will forgive those servants of His who repent with sincerity. In fact, He states that He will transform the sins of those who turn towards him with sincere repentance into good deeds:
“…except for those who make tawba and have faith and act rightly: Allah will transform the wrong actions of such people into good – Allah is Ever-Forgiving, Most Merciful”.(Furqan, 25:70)
The Blessed Prophet (pbuh) has said:
“Allah Most High, opens up His hands at night time, in order to accept the repentence of those who commit sins by day. And for those who commit sins at night time He opens up His hands during the day. This continues until the sun rises from the place it sets, that is, until the Day of Judgement”. (Muslim, Tawba, 31)
The most important condition for tawba is sincerity and genuineness. One who continually breaks their tawba has obviously become a plaything of Satan. Almighty Allah states:
“Allah’s promise is true. So do not let the life of this world delude you and do not let the Deluder delude you concerning Allah”. (Luqman, 31:33)
On the other hand, tawba and istigfar are means to free oneself of pain both in this world and the next. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated that:
“With the following verses Allah Most High revealed to me two assurances for my community:
Allah would not punish them (as a whole) while you were among them.
Allah would not punish them as long as they sought forgiveness. (anfal, 8:33)
“When I part from them (my community) I leave for them (the second assurance, that is, istigfar which will prevent Allah’s punishment and protect them until the Day of Judgement”. (Tirmidhi, Tafsir, 8/3082).
Tawba and istigfar are two of the most effective means to approaching Allah, because their true nature is that they indicate genuine regret and the seeking of refuge in Allah. Istigfar, which has an important place in turning towards Allah and in the heart’s gaining an elevated rank, is the unique means to purifying oneself from spiritual blemishes. An acceptable tawba will raise the veils and remove the obstacles that lay between the servant and his Lord, and will leave one subject to the love of Allah Most High. As such, almighty Allah states:
“Allah loves those who turn back from wrongdoing and He loves those who purify themselves”.(Baqara, 2:222)
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) gave the following example to describe the pleasure of our Lord when people make tawba to Him:
“The pleasure of Allah Most High when any one of you repent from his sins is greater than the pleasure of one who is travelling through the isolated desert and loses his camel which is carrying his food and drink. When all his attempts to find it fail, he loses all hope that he ever will and he lies down under the shade of a tree. Suddenly he sees his camel at his side and he sticks to his halter and, not knowing what to say out of extreme happiness he says:
“O Allah! You are my servant and I am your Lord”.(Muslim Tawba 7: Tirmidhi, Qiyamah, 49, Deawat, .99)
In another hadith, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) explains the benefits of istigfar:
“If a person never abandons asking Allah for forgiveness, Allah Most High will show him a way out of all distress, and freedom from all sadness, and will provide for him from where he would never have expected”.(Abu Dawud, Vitir, 26/1518; Ibn-i Maja, Adab, 57)
Thus the most important matter for the servant is to purify his soul and cleanse his heart. What has been explained thus far about tawba and istigfar are only the beginning of this state. Once one has entered through the door, righteous deeds are a must. After one has performed the obligatory, necessary and sunnah deeds in the correct manner, one must also adopt beautiful virtues such as extreme care in guarding others’ rights, compliance to the rights of the parents, giving out for the sake of Allah, and seeking nearness to all of creation by showing mercy, compassion and forgiveness towards them.
Scenes of Virtue
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) stated:
“O people! Repent towards Allah and ask forgiveness from Him. For I make tawba to Him one hundred times a day”. (Muslim, Zikir, 42)
The fact that the Messenger of Allah made tawba and istigfar to Allah continually, even though all of his past and future sins were forgiven, is an important lesson for his community as well as being gratitude for the favours that Allah bestowed upon him.
The Blessed Prophet, who knew that the most vital duty of the slave is to remember Allah and to worship Him at every instant, did tawba and embraced istigfar at every opportunity believing that he needed to increase the amount of worship he did. He also used to do tawba and istigfar for his community.
Ibn-i Omar states:
We used to hear the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) say 100 times in a single sitting:
رَبِّ اغْفِرْ لِى وَتُبْ عَلَيِّ إِنَّكَ أَنْتَ التَّوَّابُ الرَّحِيمُ
“O Allah! Forgive me and accept my tawba. Because You accept tawba much and you are very merciful”. (Abu Dawud, Vitir, 26/1516; Tirmidhi, Deawat, 3434)
The tawba and istigfar carried out by Allah’s Messenger were not due to any mistake or fault on his part, but were rather in order to acquire a nearness to Allah Most High and to gain His pleasure. Because the Prophet was in a state of continuous spiritual growth, he would continually make istigfar for each previous state and degree.
During his last days, the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) would frequently say:
سُبْحَانَ اللهِ وَبِحَمْدِهِ أَسْتَغْفِرُ اللهَ وَأَتُوبُ اِلَيْهِ
“I absolve Allah of all of those attributes that do not befit the position of divinity and I give praise Him.
The Prophet’s wife, Aisha once asked him:
“O Messenger of Allah! I hear you saying these words often. What is the reason for this?”
The Prophet replied:
“My Lord informed me that I would see a sign within my community. Ever since I have seen this sign I have been saying this glorification. I saw that sign in the following verse from chapter Nasr, which points to the conquest of Mecca:
“When Allah’s help and victory have arrived and you have seen people entering Allah’s religion in droves, then glorify your Lord’s praise and ask His forgiveness. He is the Ever-Returning”.(Muslim, Salat, 220).
The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) also taught his community different ways of doing istigfar. The most important of these is the Sayyid’ul Istigfar, which he explained in the following hadith:
“The highest form of istigfar is for the slave to say the following:
اَللَّهُمَّ اَنْتَ رَبِّى لاَاِلَهَ اِلاَّ اَنْتَ خَلَقْتَنِى وَاَنَا عَبْدُكَ وَاَنَا عَلَى عَهْدِكَ وَوَعْدِكَ
مَااسْتَطَعْتُ اَعُوذُبِكَ مِنْ شَرِّ مَا صَنَعْتُ اَبُوءُ لَكَ بِنِعْمَتِكَ عَلَىَّ َاَبُوءُ ِذَنْبِى
فَاغْفِرْلِى فَاِنَّهُ لاَيَغْفِرُ الذُّنُوبَ اِلاَّ اَنْتَ
“O Allah! You are my Lord. There is none worthy of worship but You. You created me. And I am your slave. I will keep my promise that I gave to You from before time immortal to the best of my ability. I seek refuge in You from the evil of the mistakes that I have made. I declare to You in Your presence, and with indebtedness for the favours that you have bestowed on me and I admit my sins. So forgive me, because there is none other who can forgive sins but You”.
The Blessed Prophet (pbuh) continued:
“Whoever reads this Sayyad’ul istigfar by day with full conviction of the heart of its good rewards and virtues, will be of Paradise if he dies before the night. And whoever reads it at night believing fully in its rewards and virtues, then he will be for Paradise if he dies before the morning”.(Bukhari, Dawat, 2, 16; Abu Dawud, Adab, 100-101)
It is necessary to do tawba and istigfar and then to strengthen them by immediately performing a righteous deed afterwards. Ibn-i Omar explains:
“Somebody once came to the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and asked:
“I have committed a great sin. Is there any chance of tawba for me?”
The Messenger of Allah asked:
“Is your mother still living?”
The Companion replied “no”.
“Well do you have an auntie”, he asked.
The Companion replied:
“Yes, I do”.
When the Prophet heard this he said:
“In that case treat her well. The maternal auntie is like the mother”.(Tirmidhi, Birr, 6; Ahmad, II, 13-14)
Here the Prophet advised his Companion who had been full of regret and carrying out istigfar to strengthen his tawba with good deeds. He made it known that good deeds and righteous acts can act as penance for bad deeds and thus eliminate them.
One night the Prophet Muhammad saw Bilal in his dream. The next morning he called Bilal, the muezzin, and said to him:
“Bilal! Last night I heard the clicking of your shoes in front of me. Tell me which it is of your deeds that has taken you to Paradise ahead of me?”
“O Messenger of Allah! Whenever I commit a small sin I immediately rise and pray two rounds of the prayer. And whenever I lose my ablution I immediately renew it”.
Upon this the Prophet said:
“This is the reason”.
Thus whenever we do anything wrong it is necessary for us to make tawba without losing time and to embark upon righteous deeds.
Ka’b bin Malik , who, due to his negligence left it too late to participate in the Tabuk Expedition and who then missed the convoy as a result, immediately made tawba and istigfar because of his mistake and was so full of regret that the world in all its greatness became a very narrow place for him. When he received news that his tawba had been accepted, he immediately prostrated out of happiness. (Ibn’i Majah, Salat, 192). Later, he wished to give out charity and thus entrusted all of his wealth to the Prophet. But the Messenger of Allah advised him to give out half of his wealth and leave the other half for his family. (Bukhari, Megazi, 79).
This is because Allah’s Messenger accepted people’s charity according to the state of their heart. He did not want them to later regret what they had given out and have their reward diminished.
Almighty Allah delivers from all manner of distress those of His servants who make tawba and istigfar and bestows upon them many favours. One time, four people came to Hasan al Basri with their complaints. One complained of drought, another of poverty, another about the infertility of his fields, and the last one complained that he had no children. They asked for his help. This great saint advised each of them to do istigfar. Those around him said:
“These people’s problems and distress were all different and yet you advised them all the same thing”. Hasan al-Basri answered them by reciting the following verse from the Qur’an:
“Ask forgiveness of your Lord. Truly He is Endlessly Forgiving. He will send heaven down on you in abundant rain and reinforce you with more wealth and sons, and grant you gardens and grant you waterways.(Noah, 71:10-12) (Ibn-i Hajar, Fethu’l-Bari, XI, 98; Ayni, Umdetu’lKari,Beirut ts. XXII, 277-278)
To delay making tawba by succumbing to the temptation of Satan is like wasting one’s life which is one of the worst things one can waste. A smart believer should hurry to repent for his sins and prepare himself for the moment of his last breath.
According to certain narrations a tailor once asked a righteous man:
“What do you have to say about the hadith of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) which says: “Allah Most High will accept the tawba of a person while the soul has yet to reach the throat” (Tirmidhi, Dawat, 98/3537). That righteous man asked the tailor:
“Yes this is true. But tell me, what is your profession?”
“I am a tailor, I sew clothes”.
“What is the easiest thing about tailoring?”
“To take my scissors and cut the cloth”.
“How long have you been doing this for?”
“For 30 years”.
“When your soul reaches your throat will you be able to cut cloth?”
“No I would not”.
“O tailor! If you will not be able to do what you have been doing for 30 years with ease and which you struggled with for a while in order to learn to do, then how will you be able to make tawba at that moment if you have never done it in your whole lifetime? Make tawba now while you still have your strength and power! Otherwise forgiveness and a good end may not befall you at your last breath… Haven’t you ever been given advice to hurry to make tawba before death comes to you”. (Munavi, V, 65)?”
Upon this the tailor immediately repented with all sincerity and became a righteous man.
The Prophet informed us that however people live that is how they will die and however they die is how they will be raised up”.
Bayazid-i Bistami once came across a doctor who was preparing some medicine. He asked him:
“O doctor! Do you have the cure for my sickness?”
The doctor asked:
“What is your sickness?
“The sickness of sin” he replied.
The doctor lifted his hands to both sides and said:
“I do not know the cure for the sickness of sin”.
At that moment an insane young man (majzoob) who happened to be there interrupted:
“I know the cure for your sickness” he said. Bayazid happily said to him:
“Tell me young man”.
The young man, whom the people thought was insane but who was in actual fact a true learned person, described the cure for the sickness of sin as follows:
“Take 10 drams of the tawba root and 10 leaves of istigfar. Put them in the mortar of your heart. Grind them with the pestle of tawheed. Sift them through the sieve of fairness. Knead them with your tears. Cook them in the oven of love and remorse. Swallow 5 spoons from the resulting paste every day; and nothing will remain of your illness”.
Bayazid’i Bistami who was listening intently, sighed and said:
“Woe to those who think they are clever and call wise ones such as yourself insane”.
In short, mankind is not immune from making mistakes and so must always have tawba and istigfar on their lips. He must also register and reinforce his intention with good deeds. Istigfar and good deeds are a necessary requirement of being a slave of Allah. It is said in a verse from the Qur’an:
“Mankind! Allah’s promise is true. Do not let the life of this world delude you and do not let the Deluder (Satan) delude you about Allah”. (Fatir, 35: 5)
To delay repenting for one’s sins to the last part of one’s life by following one’s nafs and Satan, is the biggest deception whose end result will be loss. In that case it is necessary to repent and ask for forgiveness and to be sincere and become upright with good deeds. Just as this state protects one from misfortune and troubles, it also allows one to attain to Divine favours and bounties.
. Deylemi, al Firdaws bi Me”suri”l Hıtab, Beirut, 1986, I, 136
. See Muslim Jannah, 83 Munavi, V, 663