Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah (751H) said:
There are two types of Istighfar:
- Istighfar that is mentioned alone; and
- Istighfar that is mentioned with Tawbah.
The Istighfar that is mentioned alone is found in the words of Nooh (peace and blessings be upon him):
“I said (to them): ‘Ask forgiveness from your Lord; Verily, He is Oft-Forgiving; He will send rain to you in abundance…’”
And in the words of Saalih (peace and blessings be upon him) :
“Why seek you not the Forgiveness of Allaah, that you may receive mercy?”
Allaah also said:
“…and ask Allaah for His Forgiveness. Truly, Allaah is Oft-Forgiving, Most-Merciful.”
“And Allaah would not punish them while you (Muhammad) are amongst them, nor will He punish them while they seek (Allaah’s) Forgiveness.”
Istighfar mentioned with Tawbah is found in the following verses from the Most Merciful’s speech:
“Seek the forgiveness of your Lord, and turn to Him in repentance, that He may grant you good enjoyment, for a term appointed, and bestow His abounding Grace to every owner of grace”
“Ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him, He will send you (from the sky) abundant rain.”
Also Prophet Saalih’s words to his people have Tawbah and Istighfar mentioned together:
“He brought you forth from the earth and settled you therein, then ask forgiveness of Him and turn to Him in repentance.”
And Shuayb’s speech as well has these two actions joined together.
“And ask forgiveness of your Lord and turn unto Him in repentance. Verily, my Lord is Most Merciful, Most Loving.”
Al-Istighfar is like Tawbah, and in reality it is. Contained in Istighfar is the request of Allaah’s forgiveness. Allaah’s forgiveness is the removal of the sin, its affect and protection from the sin’s harm…
Al-Istighfar contains at-Tawbah and vice versa. Both of these actions are included in each other. Whenever both of these words are mentioned together, al-Istighfar is protection from the consequence of any previous evil. At-Tawbah, on the other hand, is to return to Allaah obediently and the search of His protection from the sin’s effect in the future.
There are two sins. The sin that was committed. Hence a person does al-Istighfar – seeking protection from its harm and evil. And then there is the second sin – which is the one that is feared to occur in the future.
At-Tawbah is the resolution to avoid the sin and penitence to Allaah. Penitence to Allaah holds two things. The first is the act of returning to Allaah in order to be protected from the result of previous sin and evil. The second thing held in at-Tawbah is the search for protection against evil that might befall you in the future resulting from the evil of yourself and deeds.
The sinner is like a driver who takes a road that leads to his death. That road does not take him where he intended to go. He is ordered to take an alternative route and travel the road that leads to his safety. That alternative route takes him where he wanted to go and as a result he is successful.
Therefore in this instance there are two things that are necessary;
- Separation from something; and
- Recourse to a different way.
At-Tawbah is the recourse and al-Istighfar is the separation. Whenever these words are mentioned separately one is included in the other.
Allaah knows best, but that is why He said,
“And ask forgiveness of your Lord and turn unto Him in repentance”
This is the recourse to the path of truth after separation from the path of falsehood.
In conclusion, al-Istighfar is from the chapter of the removal of harm. And at-Tawbah is from the chapter of requesting a good outcome. Therefore, al-Maghfirah is protection against sin’s evil and at-Tawbah is the obtainment of good after the protection is sought. Each one is included in the other when mentioned alone.
Allaah knows best.
From: Madarajus Saalikeen, by Ibn Qayyim - Translated by Aboo Aaliyah Abdullaah ibn Dwight Battle