[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] Istighfar & Tawbah

What’s the difference between Istighfar & Tawbah?

According to Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah, Istighfar (seeking forgiveness) is mentioned in the Qur’an in 2 ways – either by itself, or coupled with Tawbah (repentance).

If Istighfar is mentioned by itself, then Istighfar IS Tawbah. And Istighfar is not merely covering up sins, as most people think, but it is total removal of sins. It fully removes the sin, undoes its effects and prevents its evil. The essence of istighfar is that it earns a person the prevention from the evil of that sin. It also saves one from the punishment of Allah.

When both Istighfar and Tawbah are used together (always Istighfar first, followed by Tawbah), then the first (Istighfar) means asking for safety from the evil and harm of what has occurred, and the second (Tawbah) means returning to Allah and begging for safety from the evil of what one fears in future.

So here we are concerned with two things:
– The sin that has already occurred, and Istighfar in its specific sense is to seek protection from its evil effects; and
– The repetition of the same sin in future which we fear, and Tawbah is the determination to not do it again.
Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah


[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] The Station of Toma’aneenah (Tranquillity)

“O you the one in complete rest and satisfaction [toma’aneenah]!
Come back to your Rabb, well-pleased and well-pleasing unto Him!
Enter you, then, among My (honoured) slaves, and enter you My Paradise!”
[Al-Fajr 89:27-30]

Many of us have memorized these ayat by heart, but how far have we truly understood what they mean? A short reflection on these ayat has been posted, alhamdulillah. However in this particular post, we will focus on the writing of Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah.

He rahimahullah wrote that [toma’aneenah] means tranquility. It is the satisfaction of the heart with whatever circumstances that befall a person, without any feeling of anxiety or restlessness. How can one attain such peace and tranquility? Allah s.w.t. says:

Those who believed,
and whose hearts find rest [toma’aneenah] in the remembrance of Allah,
verily, in the remembrance of Allah do hearts find rest [toma’aneenah].
[Ar-Rad 13:28]

The only way we can truly attain such tranquility is by the remembrance of Allah s.w.t. Nothing else will cut it. There are two opinions regarding the meaning of this ayah, and the more sound opinion holds that the meaning of the remembrance of Allah is the Qu’ran – that only through the study, pondering, and deep understanding of the Qur’an will allow a person to attain toma’aneenah. This is because the heart can’t have toma’aneenah except by faith and certainty, and there are no means of attaining faith and certainty except through the Qur’an. The Qur’an is the means to attain certainty and firmness in faith, and to remove doubts. However, the benefit from the Qur’an will not be sound unless one’s heart perceives the reflections of His Rabb’s Names and Attributes, and His Laws, within himself and in everything around him within this universe. Those who refuses, Allah s.w.t. says:

And whosoever turns away blindly from the remembrance of Ar-Rahman,
We appoint for him a Shaitan to be an intimate companion to him.

[Az-Zukhruf 43:36]

Again, the sound opinion here is that Allah’s Remembrance is that which He sent to His Messenger sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam – i.e. the Qur’an. Whoever turns away from this, Allah will appoint a shaitan for him, who will misguide and deter him from the straight path even though the person may think that he is righteously guided.

But whosoever turns away from My Remembrance,
verily for him is a life of hardship
and We shall raise him up blind on the Day of Resurrection.
[Ta-Ha 20:124]

This is why the one that turns away from it will say, “O my Rabb! Why have you raised me up blind while I had sight (before)?” [Ta-Ha 20:125] And Allah s.w.t. will respond by saying, “Like this, Our Ayat came unto you but you disregarded them, and so this Day you will be neglected.” [Ta-Ha 20:126]

Therefore, the believers who ponder on the Qur’an, who study the Qur’an, Allah s.w.t. will deposit toma’aneenah in their hearts and souls. It is these people with toma’aneenah whom Allah s.w.t. will grant the joy, the delight, and the good news of admission into Jannah, and to be with those with toma’aneenah. So we return to the ayat:

“O you the one in complete rest and satisfaction [toma’aneenah]!
Come back to your Rabb, well-pleased and well-pleasing unto Him!
Enter you, then, among My (honoured) slaves, and enter you My Paradise!”
[Al-Fajr 89:27-30]

The ayah “O you with toma’aneenah! Come back to your Rabb…” therefore indicates that the soul will not return to Allah unless it is characterized by toma’aneenah. Meaning, to be eligible to be one of the righteous souls that will receive such a call from his Rabb, one needs to attain toma’aneenah first in this dunya. And for these people, there will be great happiness and a beautiful place for their final return: they will return to their Rabb, the Most High, and they will be from among His honored slaves, and they will be allowed to enter His Paradise. May Allah s.w.t. make us and our loved ones one of them – Allahumma ameen!

After internalizing the above, there are three hard-hitting lessons that I wish to focus:

Lesson #1
Attaining toma’aneenah is only through the remembrance of Allah s.w.t. i.e. the Qur’an.
If you do not strive to attain toma’aneenah in this dunya, then do not have the wishful thinking you will be that righteous soul whom Allah s.w.t. calls: “O you with toma’aneenah! Come back to your Rabb…”
Do not have the wishful thinking of ever achieving such high status in the Sight of Allah s.w.t. and ever receiving this prominent invitation from your Rabb if you yourself refuse to give time to ponder and study the Qur’an.
And if you turn away and neglect the remembrance of Allah s.w.t. while you’re still alive, then be ready to be neglected on the Day of Resurrection.
This is the most hard-hitting lesson of all, and it is a strong reminder for myself foremost.

In order to attain such toma’aneenah, and all other benefits through studying the Qur’an, one of the essentials that a person must strive to learn is the Beautiful Names and Attributes of Allah s.w.t., and then apply this knowledge in our everyday lives – meaning, for example, it’s not sufficient for one to know that Allah s.w.t. is Ar-Razzaq (The Provider) yet abandons his prayers to chase sales and profits. This person has not truly understand and internalize this knowledge. This person will not be able to attain toma’aneenah, and will not be qualified as the righteous soul mentioned in the ayat above.

Lesson #3
Those who refuse to give time for the Qur’an, those who turn away from it, not only will he never attain toma’aneenah, and not only will he never be the righteous soul whom Allah s.w.t. calls out in His invitation, but Allah s.w.t. will also appoint a shaytan for him as his close companion in this dunya. He will think that he is rightly guided, he will think he is safe, yet the shaytan has already misguided and deterred him from the straight path. May Allah s.w.t. protect us and our loved ones from ever be misguided – Allahumma ameen.

The Benefits of Attaining Toma’aneenah in the Dunya

Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah continued to write that toma’aneenah is more than tranquillity. It includes knowledge, faith and the attainment of what is known.

If the slave of Allah has toma’aneenah with Allah’s Commands, then he knows that Allah’s religion is the truth and that Allah will certainly support him and is sufficient for him and his family.

If the slave of Allah has toma’aneenah with Allah’s Decrees, then he knows that nothing will reach him except what Allah has already written for him. He knows that whatever Allah wishes will come to pass, and whatever Allah doesn’t wish will not not come to pass. Nothing will happen unless it is written, and if it is written, then nothing can stop it. Therefore, there should be no fear, worries, or concern for those with faith.

If an adversity occurs and the believer can do something, then he should do so. However, if he cannot, then he should not be annoyed or dismayed.

May Allah s.w.t. grant us all toma’aneenah.

Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah

[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] The Station of Firasah

Have you heard the term [firasah]? In the Malaysian local dialect, it’s known to mean intuition.

Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that [firasah] is a sense of insight / perception / visual acumen. It’s the ability to distinguish between truth and falsehood via one’s eye, ear and heart. And this firasah is a light which Allah s.w.t. deposits in the heart of His slave, enabling him to distinguish between right and wrong.

Firasah allows a believer to know more about a speaker’s hidden intention from the speaker’s speech and tone of voice than from physical appearance. In general, the sahabah had the most accurate and sharpest firasah. Abu Bakr As-Siddiq r.a. is considered to be the one with the greatest firasah in the ummah, and Umar Al-Khattab r.a. was the second.

Ibn Mas’ud r.a. said:

“There are three people with the sharpest firasah.

  1. The Egyptian who bought Yusuf a.s. and then said to his wife: ‘Make his stay comfortable, maybe he will profit for us or we shall adopt him as a son.’ [Q12:21].
  2. The other was the daughter of Shuaib, who said to her father with regards to Musa a.s.: ‘Hire him!’ [Q28:26]
  3. And Abu Bakr r.a., for he appointed Umar r.a. as his successor.”
  4. Another narration includes the wife of Fir’aun who said about Musa a.s.: ‘A comfort of the eye for me and for you. Kill him not, perhaps he may be of benefit to us, or we may adopt him as a son.’ [Q28:9]

Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that the strength of firasah is dependent on the strength of faith. A person with stronger faith has sharper firasah. Amr bin Nujaid said that Shah al-Kermani had sharp firasah and was never wrong. He also used to say that whoever does the following, then his firasah will never go wrong (insya Allah):

1. Lowers his gaze away from prohibitions,
2. Restrains himself from vain desires,
3. Constructs his interior according to muraqabah (knowledge that Allah is watching over us),
4. Constructs his exterior according to the Sunnah,
5. And accustoms himself to eat only halal.

Firasah is also connected with one’s sharp intellect. Ibn Al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that there are two factors in firasah. (1) One is the quality of one’s mind, the sharpness of the heart and the intelligence. (2) The second is the appearance of the signs and indications on others. When both factors are present, then one’s firasah may not be wrong.

And Allah s.w.t. knows best.
Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah

[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] The Station of Fear

Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that fear is one of the most important stations on the path of worshiping Allah and most beneficial for the heart. Allah s.w.t has praised those who possess the attribute of fear, saying:

“And such (are the believers) who are humbled by the fear of their Rabb.”
[Al-Mu’minun 23:57]

Fear of Allah’s displeasure and punishment is not only for the grave sinners, but it is also for the pious and observant believers, as in the following hadeeth:

‘Aishah the wife of the Prophet (ﷺ) said,
“I asked Rasulallah (ﷺ) about this Ayah:
And those who give that which they give, with their hearts full of fear… (23:60)
referring to someone who drinks alcohol and steals?”

He (ﷺ) said:
“No, O daughter of As-Siddiq.
They are those who fast, perform Salat, give charity
– while they fear that their Rabb will not accept it from them.
It is these who hasten to do good deeds, and they are the foremost of them (23:61).”

[Tirmidhi | Graded Hasan]

Al-Hasan commenting on this said, “By Allah, they (the Companions) obeyed Him and strove hard in it, yet they feared it might be rejected. A believer combines righteousness with fear in his heart, while a hypocrite combines evil with impunity.”

The true and praiseworthy fear is that which stops a person from the prohibitions of Allah. And another praiseworthy category of fear is to fear returning to the state of sinfulness and heedlessness after one has attained closeness to Allah.

Abu Uthman said, “Sincerity of fear is vigilance from sins, open and secret.” And Sheikh Islam Ibn Taymiyyah said, “The praiseworthy fear is that which prevented you from the prohibitions of Allah.”

🔖 Two Types of Fear: Khawf and Khashya
There are several words used in the Qur’an to refer the word [fear], but in this particular post, I will only highlight two that are mentioned in Ibn al-Qayyim’s book. Allah s.w.t. said:

“So fear them not, and fear [khawf] Me alone, if you are believers.”
[Ali Imran 3:175]

“So do not fear people, but fear [khashya] Me.”
[Al-Maaidah 5:44]

Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that scholars said [khawf] means:
– The anticipation of punishment.
– Allah’s lash with which He straightens up those who are fleeing from His door.
– To do away with careless sense of security by envisioning the great news (of the Last Day).

However, the word [khashya] is more specific – it is specific to the true knowers of Allah. Khashya is fear associated with the intimate knowledge (ma’rifa) of Allah, as Allah s.w.t. said: “Truly, those who fear [khashya] Allah from among His servants are the knowers.” [Fatir 35:28]

In essence, as what my teacher taught, [khawf] means a general fear, fear of something that is impending, eg. death, or the Day of Judgement. However [khashya] is fear with knowledge, a higher station of fear, for this fear never subsides within a believer’s heart who truly has knowledge.

For example, two people are attending a funeral processing, during which both of them are humbly reminded of their deaths to come. One of them is fearful [khawf] of this impending event. He fears for that day. However, one month or two months later down the road, he forgets about it and returns to sins and transgressions. But the other person is a person of knowledge, he has [khashya] – fear with knowledge, he steers away from all types of sins because he WHOLEHEARTEDLY KNOWS that Allah is Ever-Watching, Ever-Hearing. His fear does not diminish.

This is one of the reasons why – my dear sisters in faith, and my brothers in Islam – that the beautiful Names and Attributes of Allah s.w.t. is a critical branch of knowledge that every believer must try to learn. Only those who learn this knowledge will truly experience [khashya]. Subhanallah, it is a fundamental knowledge for any Muslim and extremely beneficial in all aspects of our lives, and more so for our Akhirah. May Allah grant us beneficial knowledge – Allahumma ameen.

🔖 Balancing Fear with Hope
Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah wrote that when fear exceeds boundary, it may bring hopelessness and despair. This is why it is important for a believer to balance his fear with hope. The heart in its journey towards Allah s.w.t. is like a bird whose head is love, and hope and fear are its two wings. When the head and the two wings are sound and healthy – the flight of the bird is good; but when the head is cut off – it immediately dies; and when either or both wings are deficient – the bird cannot properly fly and may become victim of a trap. The righteous predecessors preferred to strengthen the wing of fear during good times when heedlessness is feared, and to strengthen the wing of hope at times of calamity and when near death.

Fear is not the end in itself, but a means towards an end. When that end, i.e. Allah’s ultimate pleasure, is attained, then there is no longer need for fear. As Allah says to the people of Jannah: “There is no fear upon them, nor do they grieve.”

The one who fears Allah is a refugee
towards His Rabb’s [mercy] from his Rabb’s [displeasure].

Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah

[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] The Believers Can Never Have Any Pleasure From Sins

The believers can never have any pleasure from sin. On the contrary, he would not even pursue sin, except with grief in his heart. But intoxication of desires obscures us from feeling this remorse. When the heart becomes empty from such grief and we are happy with the sin, then we should question our faith and weep for the death of our hearts.

If one were alive, he would be sad for the perpetration of any sin – big or small.

Indeed, the evil effects of sin – more times than not – go unnoticed in us. Hence diligence in constant self-evaluation is necessary in leading us away from sin and its destructive ends. Do this by focusing on the following:

1. Fear of dying before one is able to make tawbah.
2. Remorse about the good that was missed because of the disobedience of Allah.
3. Working seriously on regaining what has been missed.
Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah (paraphrased)

[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] Seeking Refuge from Sin

The first aspect of Tawbah is to see how one was taken away from seeking the pleasure of Allah, by committing sins. And then, he has to recognize that Allah didn’t safeguard him from sin. And he should ponder how happy he was while sinning, and being persistent on the sin – despite knowing full well that Allah ever watches over whatever is done in the heavens or on the earth. If he had sought refuge in Allah, he would not have gone away from the guidance of obedience:

“And whoever holds firmly to Allah, then he is indeed guided to a Right Path.”
[Ali Imran 3:101]

If one’s holding onto Allah is firm, he would never be forsaken by Allah:

“And hold firmly to Allah, He is your Protector
and what an excellent Protector and what an excellent Helper.”
[Al-Hajj 22:78]

In other words, whenever we hold firm to Him, He will become our Protector and He will support us against our nafs and the Shaytan. These 2 enemies, the nafs and Shaytan, are the ones that do not leave the slave for even a moment. Their enmity is more harmful to the slave than the enemies without. Attaining victory over such enemies is more difficult, and the slave’s need for such a victory is far more important.

The degree of help rendered to defeat these enemies is dependent upon the degree of our dependence and holding onto Allah. If we do not hold firmly to Allah, we will leave Allah’s protection. And this is indeed true loss. For Allah could have aided us in staying away from sins, however, because we deserted Him, we were allowed to listen and obey our nafs.

If He wished to protect us, the sin would not have found a way to get to us.

Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah (paraphrased)

[Madaarij us-Saalikeen] The Condition of Success Is Through Tawbah

The Condition of Success Is Through Tawbah

“The servant who seeks the pleasure of Allah never abandons tawbah. He remains in the state of tawbah until his death. Whatever his state of belief, the servant makes tawbah his constant companion.

“And turn to Allah altogether (make tawbah),
O you who believe so that you may succeed.”
[An-Nur 24:31]

Allah made success CONDITIONAL on perfecting such tawbah. No one can hope for success, except those who make tawbah.

He s.w.t. divides His servants only into 2 categories: The Repentant, and The Wrongdoer. There is no third category. Allah calls those who do not make tawbah as “zalimoon” (wrongdoers and transgressors) and no one is more of a wrongdoer and a transgressor than a person who does not repent for his evil actions.”
Excerpt from Madaarij us-Saalikeen, by Ibn al-Qayyim rahimahullah