Forgiveness is to regret one’s wrongdoing and ask God or the person we have wronged to overlook, hide, and forget what we have done. Forgiveness in the Quran discusses seeking forgiveness from God and forgiving others as well.
The topics covered in this article are:
Forgiveness in the Quran: Purity From Sins
وَ سارِعُوا إِلى مَغْفِرَةٍ مِنْ رَبِّكُمْ وَ جَنَّةٍ عَرْضُهَا السَّماواتُ وَ الْأَرْضُ أُعِدَّتْ لِلْمُتَّقينَ ﴿133﴾
And hasten towards your Lord’s forgiveness and a paradise as vast as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the Godwary. 1
The word musāriʿah (مسارعة) means intense speed; which is praiseworthy in performing good actions and is detestable in performing bad actions.
In most instances, the Quran places forgiveness in contrast to heaven and this is because heaven is a place for pure people. Therefore, if someone is still marred with the impurity of sins, they cannot enter it; unless Allah purifies him/her through forgiveness. 2
Forgiveness in the Quran: The Prophet Seeking Forgiveness on Behalf of Believers
فَبِما رَحْمَةٍ مِنَ اللَّهِ لِنْتَ لَهُمْ وَ لَوْ كُنْتَ فَظًّا غَليظَ الْقَلْبِ لاَنْفَضُّوا مِنْ حَوْلِكَ فَاعْفُ عَنْهُمْ وَ اسْتَغْفِرْ لَهُمْ وَ شاوِرْهُمْ فِي الْأَمْرِ فَإِذا عَزَمْتَ فَتَوَكَّلْ عَلَى اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُتَوَكِّلينَ ( ﴿159﴾
It is by Allah’s mercy that you are gentle to them; and had you been harsh and hardhearted, surely they would have scattered from around you. So excuse them, and plead for forgiveness for them, and consult them in the affairs, and once you are resolved, put your trust in Allah. Indeed Allah loves those who trust in Him. 3
The Battle of Uḥud (أُحد) was lost because the believers did not obey the Holy Prophet Mohammad (peace be on him and his household) and left their posts. This verse was revealed after the battle when they came to the Prophet, regretful of their actions.
The verse asks the Prophet to overlook their mistakes and pardon them and to seek forgiveness for them from Him. In other words, God is saying: Overlook your rights regarding their disloyalty towards you and the pain you had to face in the battle due to them and I am mediating on their behalf to you. And regarding their disobedience of My commands, you be their intermediary and seek forgiveness on their behalf from Me. 4
This verse clearly indicates that the Prophet is an intermediary between the people and God in seeking forgiveness for them.
Forgiveness in the Quran: Obedience of God is For Ourselves
وَ ما أَرْسَلْنا مِنْ رَسُولٍ إِلاَّ لِيُطاعَ بِإِذْنِ اللَّهِ وَ لَوْ أَنَّهُمْ إِذْ ظَلَمُوا أَنْفُسَهُمْ جاؤُكَ فَاسْتَغْفَرُوا اللَّهَ وَ اسْتَغْفَرَ لَهُمُ الرَّسُولُ لَوَجَدُوا اللَّهَ تَوَّاباً رَحيماً ﴿64﴾
We did not send any apostle but to be obeyed by Allah’s leave. Had they, when they wronged themselves, come to you and pleaded to Allah for forgiveness, and the Apostle had pleaded for forgiveness for them, they would have surely found Allah all-clement, all-merciful. 6
An important point to notice in this verse is that disobedience of God and turning to the oppressors is expressed as wronging ourselves. This indicates that it is only ourselves who benefit from obeying God and the Prophet and disobedience is a type of oppression against ourselves.
The verse also explicitly states that coming to the Prophet and seeking his mediation for the forgiveness of our sins is effective and a reason for the forgiveness of our sins and God’s mercy on us.
If this act was one of polytheism the Quran would never ask us to perform such an act. It is clear that the Prophet is not the one who forgives and only seeks forgiveness from God. Similarly, a person must first repent and turn away from sinning and then benefit from the Prophet’s asking on his behalf too. 7
Forgiveness in the Quran: Sins Can be Atoned For
وَ مَنْ يَعْمَلْ سُوءاً أَوْ يَظْلِمْ نَفْسَهُ ثُمَّ يَسْتَغْفِرِ اللَّهَ يَجِدِ اللَّهَ غَفُوراً رَحيماً ﴿110﴾
Whoever commits evil or wrongs himself and then pleads to Allah for forgiveness, will find Allah all-forgiving, all-merciful. 8
Apparently, the word sūʾ (سوء) refers to treachery and crimes against others, while wronging oneself refers to the sins between a person and God. In the first instance, the forgiveness of sins depends on asking others for forgiveness. The sentence, will find Allah all-forgiving, all-merciful, indicates that one’s repentance will be accepted.
According to a narration in Nahj al-Balāghah (نهج البلاغة), one who is successful in seeking forgiveness will not be deprived of it. The verse intends to explain that sins can be atoned for; whether they are in relation to God or others. 9
Forgiveness in the Quran: Forgiveness and Blessings
وَيَا قَوْمِ اسْتَغْفِرُوا رَبَّكُمْ ثُمَّ تُوبُوا إِلَيْهِ يُرْسِلِ السَّمَاءَ عَلَيْكُم مِّدْرَارًا وَيَزِدْكُمْ قُوَّةً إِلَىٰ قُوَّتِكُمْ وَلَا تَتَوَلَّوْا مُجْرِمِينَ ﴿52﴾
‘O my people! Plead with your Lord for forgiveness, then turn to Him penitently: He will send copious rains for you from the sky, and add power to your [present] power. So do not turn your backs [on Him] as guilty ones.’ 10
Even though the sentence, plead with your Lord for forgiveness, is in the command form, it is a conditional sentence, that is, it seeks to explain that if you seek forgiveness and turn to Him, He will send abundant mercy for you from the skies and increase your strength. 11
Individual forgiveness and repentance will not change the fate of a society; rather, a society must transform for Divine help to arrive. 12
Therefore, seeking forgiveness is not something that will help us only in the Hereafter; rather it is something that will also change our material situation.
Forgiveness in the Quran: Prayers for Forgiveness
There are numerous verses that are prayers seeking forgiveness from God. Some of them are discussed below.
Forgiveness in the Quran: The Angels’ Prayer
الَّذِينَ يَحْمِلُونَ الْعَرْشَ وَمَنْ حَوْلَهُ يُسَبِّحُونَ بِحَمْدِ رَبِّهِمْ وَيُؤْمِنُونَ بِهِ وَيَسْتَغْفِرُونَ لِلَّذِينَ آمَنُوا رَبَّنَا وَسِعْتَ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ رَّحْمَةً وَعِلْمًا فَاغْفِرْ لِلَّذِينَ تَابُوا وَاتَّبَعُوا سَبِيلَكَ وَقِهِمْ عَذَابَ الْجَحِيمِ ﴿7﴾
Those who bear the Throne, and those who are around it, celebrate the praise of their Lord and have faith in Him, and they plead for forgiveness for the faithful: ‘Our Lord! You embrace all things in mercy and knowledge. So forgive those who repent and follow Your way and save them from the punishment of hell. 13
Before the angels seek forgiveness from God, they first praise His vast mercy and knowledge. The reason for them choosing these two attributes is God blesses the needy through His mercy and knows their needs due to His knowledge.
The way which the angels refer to in the verse is the religion of Islam and the verse therefore means that since your mercy and knowledge are vast, forgive and save from punishment those who believe in your oneness and uniqueness and have returned to you by accepting the religion of Islam, which is the ultimate goal and purpose of seeking forgiveness. 14
Two Groups of Believers
رَبَّنَا وَأَدْخِلْهُمْ جَنَّاتِ عَدْنٍ الَّتِي وَعَدتَّهُمْ وَمَن صَلَحَ مِنْ آبَائِهِمْ وَأَزْوَاجِهِمْ وَذُرِّيَّاتِهِمْ ۚ إِنَّكَ أَنتَ الْعَزِيزُ الْحَكِيمُ ﴿8﴾
Our Lord! Admit them into the Gardens of Eden, which You have promised them, along with whoever is righteous among their forebears, their spouses and their descendants. Indeed You are the All-mighty, the All-wise. 15
The next verse continues with the prayer of the angels where they seek forgiveness for those who are worthy of entering heaven from among their forebears, spouses, and descendants.
From these verses it is clear that the angels’ prayer is for the believers in general and also that they have divided them into two groups:
- The believers who have repented themselves and followed God’s path (i.e. Islam) and God has promised them heaven
- Believers who are not such; however, they are worthy of entering heaven
And the angels consider the first group as the followed and the second as those who follow them. 16
The Etiquette of Prayer
According to the verse, the etiquette of praying is that one first glorifies and praises God, then exalts and describes His attributes and then asks for what he needs; in this case, forgiveness. 17
Forgiveness in the Quran: The Effects of Forgiveness
The following are some of the effects of seeking forgiveness according to verses of the Quran:
- As mentioned in one of the verses above, abundant rain and increase in one’s strength. 18
- Good provisions and God’s grace for those who are worthy: Plead with your Lord for forgiveness, then turn to Him penitently. He will provide you with a good provision for a specified term and grant His grace to every meritorious person… 19
- Wealth and children and heaven and its blessings: And aid you with wealth and sons, and provide you with gardens and provide you with streams. 20
- Prevention of punishment: … nor will Allah punish them while they plead for forgiveness. 21
- Forgiveness of sins: … Plead to your Lord for forgiveness. Indeed, He is all-forgiving. 22
Forgiveness in the Quran: Forgiving Others
الَّذِينَ يُنفِقُونَ فِي السَّرَّاءِ وَالضَّرَّاءِ وَالْكَاظِمِينَ الْغَيْظَ وَالْعَافِينَ عَنِ النَّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ يُحِبُّ الْمُحْسِنِينَ ﴿134﴾
Those who spend in ease and adversity, and suppress their anger, and excuse [the faults of] the people, and Allah loves the virtuous. 23
The verse is explaining some of the attributes of the pious and God-wary. The first attribute is that they are always generous and giving charity whether they are in a state of ease or difficulty themselves.
The second attribute is that when someone wrongs them, they swallow their anger. However, simply swallowing one’s anger is not enough as its possible one might control their anger but it is possible spite and animosity remains in their heart. In order to erase this, one must pardon and forgive the other person. This does not, however, apply to one’s enemies who want to harm us as this would only make them bolder.
The verse also talks of a higher level of forgiveness and pardon and that is to answer the other person’s wrongdoing with good. In short, the verse advises one to first control our anger, then to empty our hearts of hostility, and finally also remove any hostility from the other person’s heart. 24
Forgiveness in Hadith
Ali ibn Abi Talib (peace be on him) states:
“If I am angry when shall I vent my anger – when I am unable to take revenge and it be said to me, ‘better you endure’ or when I have power to take revenge and it be said to me, ‘better forgive’?” 25
(The narration wishes to state that it is when we have the power to punish but we forgive, that it is a virtue; otherwise, forgiving when we do not have the power to punish is not actually forgiveness but endurance).
The True Meaning of Astagfirullah (استغفر الله)
Someone said in the presence of Ali (as): ‘Astaghfirullah’ (I ask Allah’s forgiveness). Ali (as) asked: Do you know what ‘istighfār’ (asking Allah’s forgiveness) is? ‘Istighfar’ (استغفار) is meant for people of a high position. It is a word that stands on six supports:
- To repent over the past;
- To make a firm determination never to revert to it;
- To discharge all the rights of people so that you may meet Allah quite clean with nothing to account for;
- To fulfil every obligation which you ignored (in the past) so that you may now do justice to it;
- To aim at the flesh grown as a result of unlawful earning, so that you may melt it by grief (of repentance) till the skin touches the bone and a new flesh grows between them;
- To make the body taste the pain of obedience as you (previously) made it taste the sweetness of disobedience.
On such an occasion you may say astaghfirullah. 26
Forgiveness is of different types. Sometimes it is forgiveness that we seek from God for our sins and sometimes it is us as human beings forgiving one another.
It also has material as well as spiritual effects and blessings and certain rules of etiquette apply when seeking forgiveness from God which have been explained above.
- [3: 133]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol 4, p. 27.
- [3: 159]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 3, p. 142.
- See: [12: 96-97].
- [4: 63]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol. 3, p. 451.
- [4: 110]. Qara’i translation.
- Qarashi, A. A. Tafsīr Aḥsan al-Ḥadīth. Bethat Publications. Vol. 2, pp. 447-448.
- [[11: 52]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 10, p. 444.
- Tafsīr Nūr. Commentary of Surah Hud. Verse 52
- [40: 7]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 17, pp. 468-469.
- [40: 8]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr al-Mīzān. Vol. 17, p. 469.
- Tafsīr Nūr. Commentary of Surah Ghafir. Verses 6-7.
- See [11: 52].
- [11: 3]. Qara’i translation.
- [71: 12]. Qara’i translation.
- [8: 33]. Qara’i translation.
- [71: 10]. Qara’i translation.
- [3: 134]. Qara’i translation.
- Tafsīr Namūna. Vol 3, pp. 96-98.
- Nahj al-Balāghah (English translation). Part 2, Letters and Sayings, hadith 194.
- Ibid. hadith 417.