As reported by the News Department of Imam Reza (A.S) International Foundation for Culture and Arts, although seeking forgiveness seems to be synonymous with words such as repentance and penitence, it is, in fact, different. Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) is asking to be forgiven by Allah, but repentance is the feeling of regret for committing sins and deciding to quit sins. Therefore, it is not possible to ask for forgiveness (istighfar) while one continues committing sins. Penitence also refers to the decision to stop committing sins in future, and is different from repentance and forgiveness seeking. Istighfar and the words derived from its root are repeated more than 40 times in the Holy Quran. Such references include recommending to do Istighfar (Al Emran/ 135), its effects (Naml/46), the Istighfar as done by the Prophets (Maryam/47), the effects of the Prophet Mohammad’s Itighfar on the forgiveness of the sinners (Nesa/64), and those deprived of Istighfar (Tawbah/ 113). But what is Istighfar? What are its characteristics? What effects does it entail?
The above-mentioned questions will, according to the first volume of The Encyclopedia of Imam Reza (A.S) published by Imam Reza (A.S) International Foundation for Culture and Arts, be answered as follows:
There should be honesty in forgiveness Seeking and what is uttered in that regard must be compatible with what there is in one's heart, limbs, and organs. Imam Reza (A.S) says: there are seven things which, if one does them without doing some other seven related things, It is as if he is deriding himself; One of such a things is seeking forgiveness in words while not really doing it from the bottom of the heart. (Madan al-Jawaher, p.60). “By doing so, one is deriding Allah”, he added (Kafi, v2, P.504). In another saying, Imam Reza (A.S) says: “seeking forgiveness is like a leaf which repeatedly moves and falls down; one who seeks forgiveness from Allah for a particular sin but continues committing that sin is deriding Allah” (Ayyashi Commentary, v2, p.206)
The value of Istighfar
Imam Reza’s words describing Istighfar reveals its value. He considers seven things as signaling the perfection of faith, one of which is Istighfar. (Madan al-Jawaher, p.60)
He considers Istighfar as one of the best kinds of prayers (Jame al-Akhbar, p.57) and a clear marker of being a Shiite. (Meshkat al-Anwar, p.247).
As stated by Imam Reza (A.S), even the Satan had been aware of the value of Istighfar; that is why he appeared before Imam Sadjad (A.S) and urged the Imam to pray for him to be forgiven by Allah. (Alhedayat al-Kobra, p. 214).
Furthermore, when asked about the reason behind performing Salat Al-mayyit, Imam Reza (A.S) replied: “the deceased one is, more than others, in need of intercession, istighfar, and Allah’s forgiveness”.
The Effects of Istighfar
Imam Reza (A.S) has expressed many effects for Istighfar including the forgiveness of the sins, cure of the diseases, forgiveness of the parents’ sins, increase in one's provisions, saving from the Hell, resurrecting with the prophet Muhammad, enjoying the divine munificence, removing the stink of the sins, accompanying the pure Imams in the Heaven, receiving the license for crossing The Sirat Bridge, being known as the blessed servant of Allah, helping to pay one's debts, helping to be granting children by Allah, entering heaven, and stabbing the Satan.
Those deprived of Istighfar
Imam Reza (A.S) says that in some cases, istighfar is ineffective, including the cases of obstinate unbelievers, rebellions, and hypocrites. Imam Reza (A.S) refers to the verse 80 of the Surah of Tawbah to validate such a remark. Another was the case in which the Prophet Mohammad’s wife had been accused of committing a sin. According to Imam Reza (A.S), the accuser visited Prophet Mohammad (P.B.U.H) and asked for repentance and forgiveness. The prophet (P.B.U.H) said: “my asking forgiveness for you is ineffective. How dare you defame a pious woman? Then he referred to verse 23 of Noor. (Al-borhan Fi tafsir al-Quaran, v4, p. 53)
Cases of Istighfar
In Islamic jurisprudence and ethics, Istighfar is considered obligatory in some cases. Imam Reza (A.S) refers to some of them: if someone who is performing hajj hunts or commits sins, he must do Istighfar. (Fiqh e Reza, p.127) If a believer commits murder, he must do repentance and seek forgiveness from Allah. (Fiqh e Reza, p. 270)