1بِسْمِ ﷲِ الرَّحْمٰنِ الرَّحِیْمِ
2نَحْمَدُہٗ وَنُصَلِّیْ عَلٰی رَسُوْلِہِ الْکَرِیْمِ
In matters of religion, the question of salvation and intercession is so grand and pivotal an issue that all the objectives of following a religion culminate in it. Moreover, in order to test the truth and veracity of any religion, this alone is the clear and distinct hallmark by which it may be ascertained with full confidence and satisfaction that such and such religion is, in actuality, true and from God. Furthermore, it is absolutely true and correct that a religion which has not addressed this question adequately or which has been unable to clearly and distinctly demonstrate from among its followers current examples of those who have attained salvation, needs no further argument to establish its falsehood. However, a religion which has truly exhibited the real essence of salvation and further, continues in the present era, to produce such individuals into whom the spirit of salvation has been fully breathed, then such a religion sets a seal on its own truthfulness and divine origin.
It is evident that in the face of countless forms of negligence, obscurity, onslaughts of the self, remissness, weakness, ignorance and darkness that glooms the way, as well as occasions where one stumbles, and due to constant peril, temptation and ever-abounding worldly afflictions and misfortunes, man naturally feels at heart that he stands in need of a mighty hand which can draw him out of all such evils. Inasmuch as man is weak by nature, he cannot for one moment trust himself to emerge from the darkness of the ego. This is the testimony of human conscience. Besides, if one reflects and ponders, it also becomes evident to one possessing sound intellect that an intercessor is needed for salvation. For God Almighty possesses the highest station of holiness and purity, while man is steeped in the deepest abyss of darkness, sin and impurity. Therefore, on account of a lack of association and affinity, the average human being is not fit to receive divine grace from God Almighty directly and in turn attain salvation through his own efforts. Thus, divine wisdom and mercy has ordained that certain exemplary individuals from humanity at large who possess a special distinction in their nature should serve as mediators between God Almighty and mankind. These people are such whose natures should have taken on a portion of divine qualities and the best of human qualities. Thus, on account of their affinity with the Divine, they draw the grace of God towards themselves and on account of their association with the earthly realm, they convey the grace, which they have received from above to their fellow man below. It is quite correct to say that people of this type, on account of the perfection of their heavenly and earthly qualities, possess a special distinction among men—as though they are a different species altogether. The passion with which such people are granted for the manifestation of God’s glory and greatness, and the degree of devotion with which their hearts are filled, and the overflowing sympathy for humanity with which they are bestowed, is such an extraordinary phenomenon that it is difficult for others to even fathom. Nonetheless, it ought to be remembered that all these individuals are not equal in rank and in these inherent excellences; some possess a loftier station than others, while some are lower in rank, and others even lower still. And so the undimmed conscience of an intellectual person can grasp that the question of intercession is not a hypothetical or man-made theory. On the contrary, from the very beginning there are examples of this phenomenon in the divine scheme of things. Furthermore, the law of nature, too, provides clear testimony to this effect.
The philosophy of intercession can be understood as such: the root word for intercession or shafa’at (شَفَاعَت) in Arabic is shaf’un (شَفْعٌ) which means ‘a pair’. Hence the very word ‘intercession’ or the Arabic shafa’at indicates that the necessary quality of an intercessor is that they possess a two-fold relation. On the one hand, the soul of such a person ought to have a deep relationship with God Almighty, as if through a perfect union he is paired with the One True God and bound to Him completely; and on the other, he ought to possess an unbreakable attachment to mankind, as if he were part of their limbs. Therefore, it is in reality these two aspects which are necessary for intercession and the foundation upon which its outcomes are based.
This secret is the reason that God in His wisdom created Adam in such a manner that from the very outset these two different relationships were instilled in his very nature. One relationship was established with God as is said in the Holy Quran:
3 فَاِذَا سَوَّيْتُهٗ وَ نَفَخْتُ فِيْهِ مِنْ رُّوْحِيْ فَقَعُوْا لَهٗ سٰجِدِيْنَ
Meaning, when I have perfected Adam and have breathed into him My spirit, fall down ye angels in prostration at once.4
The above-mentioned verse clearly proves that with the very creation of Adam, God instilled in his nature a relationship with Himself by breathing into him of His spirit. This was done so that man should have a natural relationship with God. In the same way, it was also necessary that man possess a natural relationship with his fellow-beings; as they would be bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh, they would also partake of the spirit which was breathed into Adam. And thus, Adam would naturally be their intercessor. On account of the righteousness vested in the nature of Adam due to the spirit having been breathed into him, it is necessary for those who spring from him to possess a portion of this righteousness as well. It is obvious that the young of an animal inherit the characteristics and behaviour of their progenitors. This also is the essence of intercession whereby a person becomes heir to their ancestor due to similarity of nature. As we have explained, the root word for ‘intercessor’ or shafa’at in Arabic derives from shaf’un which means to couple. Thus, a person who is by nature coupled with another will surely partake of the qualities of the latter. The transmission of qualities from the natural order of creation is based upon the same principles. In other words, a human child partakes of human faculties, the foal of a horse inherits the characteristics of a horse, and the offspring of a goat is born with the attributes of a goat. This inheritance under other but similar circumstances is known as deriving benefit from intercession. As the essence of intercession lies in the concept of pairs and couples, the entire basis upon which one derives benefit from intercession is that a person who desires to benefit from the intercession of another must have a natural relationship with that person so that he should be given whatever has been bestowed upon the nature of the other. A relationship between two human beings—as they are of the same species—has been established by nature without effort on their part, but it may be further increased through effort. When a person desires an increase in the inherent love and natural sympathy that they possess for mankind, such increase can be achieved in proportion to the scope of such a person’s disposition and affinity. The capacity for love surges forth in the same manner. At times a person increases their love for another, to the extent that they are unable to find comfort except by seeing their beloved. Finally, the intensity of such a person’s love touches the heart of the other as well. Only such an individual who burns in the love of another can be their greatest and sincerest well-wisher. As such, this fact is observed and noticed by mothers with respect to their children.
Thus, love is the fundamental basis of intercession when accompanied by a natural affinity; for without natural affinity, love can never reach the required height to fulfil the precondition for intercession. In order to invest human nature with this relationship, God Almighty did not create Eve independently of Adam, but rather created her from the rib of Adam, as is said in the Holy Quran:
5 وَ خَلَقَ مِنْهَا زَوْجَهَا
This means that it is from the being of Adam that we created Eve, his mate, so that Adam’s relationship to her and her progeny be natural and not artificial. This was done so that the affinity and sympathy between the children of Adam be enduring. Natural relations are always enduring but artificial relations are not, for the latter lack the attraction which characterizes the former. Hence, God instilled a natural love in Adam, as it ought to have been, on both fronts; i.e. love for God and love for humanity. So it is clearly evident from this exposition that the perfect man who is capable of being an intercessor must be one who partakes perfectly of both these relationships. Without these two forms of excellence no man can be perfect. It is for this reason that after Adam the practice of Allah ordained that both these relationships were necessary for all the exemplary men who could serve as intercessors after him: firstly, a relationship on account of the breathing of the heavenly spirit into them, enabling the establishment of a union with God as if He actually descended upon them; and secondly, the bond of human companionship, which had its origins in the mutual love and sympathy between Adam and Eve, and with which their characters resplendently shined to the greatest extent. This was also the reason they entered into ties of matrimony. This is the foremost sign that they possess a spirit of sympathy for mankind. Furthermore, this is the very fact that is indicated in the Hadith, which is as follows:
خَیْرُکُمْ خَیْرُکُمْ بِاَھْلِہٖ
That is to say, those most compassionate to mankind from among you can only be those who are most compassionate to their wives. However, he who treats his wife in a cruel and wicked manner cannot possibly behave beneficently towards others. For when God created Adam, it was his wife who was made the first object of his love. Therefore, he who does not love his wife or has no wife to love, cannot attain to the status of a perfect man and lacks one of the conditions of intercession. Even if he is sinless, he is not capable of intercession. However, he who marries a woman establishes for himself the basis on which sympathy for mankind is fostered, for a wife becomes the means for establishing a wide circle of relations, and when children are born they go on to marry too, then their children also come to have grandmothers and uncles etc. of their own. In this way, such a person becomes habituated towards love and sympathy and the sphere of this habit then extends to encompass everyone. But those who live a life of celibacy like yogis find no opportunity to extend this habit, and their hearts are left hard and arid.
Sinlessness has nothing to do with intercession because a sinless person only refrains from committing sin and the definition of sin is intentional disobedience to the commandments of God, thus rendering a person liable to divine punishment.6
Hence, it is clearly evident that there is no natural correlation between sinlessness and intercession because according to the aforementioned definition, children who are immature and those of unsound mind who are born as such, are also sinless, for they are incapable of wilful disobedience. Furthermore, they are not liable for punishment in the estimation of God Almighty on account of any action they may commit. Without doubt, they are entitled to be deemed sinless, but are they also entitled to be intercessors for mankind and to be hailed as saviours? This clearly demonstrates that there is no real relationship between being a saviour and being sinless. Reason cannot discern that sinlessness has any real connection with intercession, but it can surely understand that the intercessor must possess the aforementioned two-fold relationship. Reason unhesitatingly dictates that if a person possesses these two qualities: a strong relationship with God on the one hand and a relationship of love and sympathy with His creation on the other, then such a person will indeed intercede wholeheartedly for those people who have not deliberately broken their relationship with him, and his intercession will be accepted. For if the nature of an individual is imbued with these two relationships, the natural consequence must be that such a person draws in divine grace due to his perfect love of Allah and then transmits that grace to mankind due to his perfect love for them. This is the state which, in other words, is called intercession.
As I have just explained, it is necessary for an intercessor to hold such a deep relationship with God, as if God has descended upon his heart. The human self of such a person becomes extinct and the divine glory of Allah is manifested in their every hair. Their soul melts and flows like water towards God until it reaches the most extreme point of divine nearness. Moreover, it is also necessary for an intercessor that his heart soars in sympathy towards the one for whom he desires to intercede, as if he were about to faint, and the intense agony that he feels is as severe as if the limbs were parting from his body and his senses were scattered. His sympathy should carry him to a stage which exceeds that of a father, a mother and any well-wisher. When these two conditions take root in a person, he becomes united on the one side with the station of divinity and becomes paired with the earthly station on the other. Then both these aspects shall be present within him in equal measure. That is to say, he shall be a perfect manifestation of divinity as well as a perfect manifestation of humanity, and shall thus occupy the place of an intermediary between both realms, as shown below:
Referring to this very station of intercession, the Holy Quran alludes to the Holy Prophet in his grand position as intercessor in the following words:
7دَنَا فَتَدَلّٰى فَكَانَ قَابَ قَوْسَيْنِ اَوْ اَدْنٰى
Meaning, the Messenger ascended towards God and approached Him as far as is possible for man, soaring through all the exalted stations of divine nearness, thereby attaining his full share of the divine realm. He then returned complete to mankind and attained to the highest pinnacle of servitude to God, thus acquiring the greatest measure of the holy attributes of humanity, i.e. sympathy and love for mankind, which is known as earthly perfection. Thus, he arrived at the pinnacle of perfection in the love of God on the one hand, and in the love of mankind on the other. Since he attained perfect nearness to God and then attained perfect nearness to mankind, due to his equal nearness to both, he became, as it were, a chord between two bows. Therefore, the conditions that are necessary for intercession were present in him. This is the reason that in His Word, God put forth testimony that he stood between mankind and God just as a common chord between two arches.
In another instance, describing the nearness of the Holy Prophet to God, the Holy Quran says:
8قُلْ اِنَّ صَلَاتِيْ وَ نُسُكِيْ وَ مَحْيَايَ وَ مَمَاتِيْ لِلهِ رَبِّ الْعٰلَمِيْنَ
In other words, announce to the people that my condition is such that I have become lost to myself and all my worship is dedicated wholly to God. This alludes to the fact that until a person attains to perfection, they cannot purely worship God. A portion of his worship is devoted to God while a portion of it springs from selfish motives, because such a one seeks greatness and grandeur for their own self just as one ought to desire greatness and grandeur for God, this being the essence of worship. Similarly, a certain extent of his worship is for the sake of people because the majesty, greatness, power and authority which ought to be reserved for God alone, he ascribes in part to God’s creation as well. Therefore, he worships God just as he worships his own self and other creation; in fact, he offers a portion of his worship to worldly means at large, for he believes that these means, too, intervene in the process of creation and destruction in the face of God’s will and decree. Therefore, such a person cannot be a true worshipper of God Almighty, since at times he associates the grandeur of God with himself, at times with other creation, and still at other times, even with worldly means. On the contrary, a true worshipper is one who reserves all greatness, majesty and authority for God to the exclusion of all else. This is true Oneness of God and when an individual’s worship reaches such a level, it is then that he can be called a true worshipper of God. Just as such a person declares with his tongue that God is One and without partner, so does he testify to the Oneness of God in practice, i.e. through his worship. It is this very rank of perfection that is referred to in the above verse wherein the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was instructed to announce to the people that all his worship was for God alone, which means that his inner self, creation at large, and worldly means have no share in his worship.
Then the verse goes on to state: “My sacrifice is also devoted especially to God alone, and so is my life and my death.” Remember, the Arabic lexicon states that nasikah (نَسِیْکَہ) means sacrifice, and the word nusuk (نُسُک) which appears in this verse, is its plural form. Furthermore, this word also means worship. Hence, the word employed here applies to both meanings: worship and sacrifice. This demonstrates that worship in its perfect form, in which a person’s ego, creation at large, and worldly means have no part, is in fact a sacrifice; furthermore, perfect sacrifice is actually perfect worship. The verse then states: “My life as well as my death is for God.” This last phrase is an elaboration of the word ‘sacrifice’ so that no one misconstrues this to imply the slaughtering of a goat, cow or camel; and so that it is clearly understood that the words “my life and my death is for God alone,” signify that the purport of sacrifice in this instance is actually the sacrifice of one’s soul. The word qurbani (قُرْبَانِی) or sacrifice is taken from qurb (قُرْب), which means nearness and this alludes to the fact that the nearness of God is attained when all the desires and passions of the flesh are slain. In short, this verse is a great proof of the Holy Prophet’s perfect nearness to God. It serves as strong proof of the perfect divine nearness of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. The verse in discussion states that the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, had become so absorbed and lost in God that every breath of his life and even his death had become wholly God’s, and that ego, other creation and worldly means had no part in his being. His soul had fallen at the threshold of God so sincerely that not the slightest adulteration of anything other than God could be found in it. In this way, the Prophet fulfilled one of the two conditions which are essential for an intercessor. And the last part of the verse mentioned above is: “My life and my death are for God who is the Sustainer of all the worlds”. This explains that the sacrifice of the Prophet is also for the good of the whole world. Similarly, the second qualification for intercession is compassion for mankind. As such, we have just mentioned that in the verse: دَنٰی فَتَدَلّٰی, the latter word, tadalla (تَدَلّٰی), refers to this very compassion. Bear in mind that the triliteral root word of tadalla is dalwun (دَلْوٌ), which means to let the bucket into a well so that it may be filled with water. The word dalwun also means to take someone as an intercessor. And so, the meaning of tadalla here is to be moved to intercede with the utmost compassion and sympathy for a people who languish far off, and to draw extremely near to them so as to carry away their sullied water and to grant them pure water.
As the love of God and attaining a high station of nearness to Him is a matter of which others cannot be cognizant, God Almighty manifested such actions of the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, which established that he had truly given precedence to God over everything else. Every particle of the Holy Prophet, and his every vein and fibre was so permeated with the love and greatness of God that his own being served as a mirror to reflect in full the spectacle of God’s manifestations. All the signs of perfect love of God, which can possibly be fathomed, were present entirely in the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.
It is obvious that when a person loves someone, they do so on account of either the latter’s kindness or beauty, because ever since the creation of man, it has been the universal experience of mankind that kindness kindles love. Notwithstanding all the differences in human dispositions, it is a sure fact that every individual, according to their temperament, is inspired by kindness, and develops a love for the one who does them good. Even the vilest, most hard-hearted and ignoble class of society such as thieves, robbers and other criminals, who live on various forms of criminality, do not remain untouched by kindness. For instance, if a thief who commits burglary finds the opportunity to break into two houses, and if one of the houses belongs to a person who has done him some good while the other belongs to a mere stranger, the thief, despite being so impure of nature, would never deliberately leave the stranger’s house and rob his friend’s house instead. Let alone human beings, even animals and savage beasts display this quality and do not attack the one who is kind to them. In this respect, a dog’s nature and behaviour is well-known to human experience in that it obeys the one who is benevolent to it. So there is no doubt that kindness fosters love and it is evident that beauty also rouses love, for there is pleasure in observing beauty and man is naturally attracted towards that which is pleasing. Moreover, beauty does not imply physical features alone such as the eyes, nose, forehead and complexion. In fact, what beauty refers to is the merit, excellence and fineness inherent in the very nature of things, which are of such a degree that they command an allure on account of utmost symmetry and matchlessness. So, all such qualities which human nature views with admiration are included in ‘beauty’ and the heart of man is drawn towards them. For example, if there were a brave and renowned wrestler whom none could match—not only that, but if he could fight lions with his bare hands and were able to defeat a thousand men in the field of battle with his might and valour; and if he could emerge unharmed from the siege of a thousand enemies—such a man would naturally pull hearts towards himself and people would surely love him even if they derive no benefit from his unparalleled bravery and courage. In fact, even if this person resided in a distant land, which the people had never seen, or even if he lived in the past, yet they would still listen to his tales with admiration and would love him for his excellences. Now what is the cause of such love? Has this wrestler shown benevolence to anyone? Obviously he has not been kind to anyone, so the only cause for love in this case is beauty. Similarly, there is no doubt that all spiritual qualities are also a form of beauty—they are qualities which may be termed as beautiful morals and attributes, and they correspond to physical beauty. Now, the distinction between goodness and beauty of morals and attributes is that the excellent morals and attributes of a person are deemed goodness only when and only in relation to a person who actually derives benefit or advantage from the effects of the excellent moral or attribute. Therefore, excellent morals or qualities shall only be deemed goodness with relation to such a person who benefits from the virtuous deed or attribute and remembers the act with sentiments of praise and gratitude. But as for the rest, the excellent moral qualities of such a person would be deemed as beauty. For instance, the quality of munificence and generosity is goodness for the one who is benefited thereby, but so far as others are concerned, this is only beauty in terms of attributes.
In short, both the divine law as well as the law of nature—which has existed since time immemorial and from the very creation of mankind—teach us that in order to establish a deep relationship with God, it is essential to have benefited from His goodness and beauty. As I have written above, goodness refers to the divine morals which an individual personally witnesses with respect to their own being. For instance, in a time when man was helpless, poor, weak and orphaned, God became his guardian and Himself fulfilled his requirements in a time of need and necessity. God Almighty stood by him in times of inconsolable, back-breaking grief and He Himself became his guide without the intervention of any mortal guide or mentor when he set out in search for God. In actuality, divine beauty signifies the magnificent attributes of God, which are experienced in the form of goodness. For example, God’s perfect power, kindness, compassion, providence and mercy; and His general nourishment and provision, which may be observed; and the common favours abundantly bestowed on human beings for their comfort; and His knowledge which man acquires through His Prophets and thereby escapes from death and ruin; and His attribute of accepting the prayers of those who are distressed and helpless; and His attribute that when a people incline towards Him, He turns to them even more eagerly—all these divine attributes constitute God’s beauty. But when a person is especially blessed by these attributes, they are also termed as goodness in respect of that person, although so far as others are concerned, they merely represent beauty.
One who experiences these divine attributes of beauty and grace in the form of kindness as well, is vastly strengthened in faith and he is drawn towards God even as iron is drawn to a magnet. His love for God intensifies exponentially and his trust in God is reinforced powerfully. Since he has experienced that all his wellbeing depends on God, his hopes in the Divine gain immense strength and he is inclined towards God naturally without any affectation or pretension, and he finds himself ever and always dependent upon God for assistance. Moreover, in view of these perfect divine attributes, he firmly believes that he will surely succeed, for he has personally witnessed numerous examples of God’s grace, favour and kindness. Hence, his prayers spring forth from the fountain of power and certainty, and his determination is immensely firm and strong, and in the end, having witnessed divine blessings and favours, the light of certainty enters into him with great force so that his very being is entirely consumed. On account of his abundant contemplation of divine grandeur and power, his heart becomes the abode of God.
Just as man’s soul can never be parted from his body while he is still alive, so too the certainty with which he is instilled by the Glorious God of Power, never parts from him. The holy spirit which pervades his being surges forth within him at all times. He speaks by the instruction of that holy spirit, and divine verities and insights pour forth from within him, and the grandeur of the Lord of Honour and Majesty remains encamped in his heart. The pleasure of certainty, sincerity and love constantly flows within him like water, which irrigates his every organ and keeps them visibly blooming. A unique spark of satisfaction is noticeable in his eyes; his forehead beams indescribable light due to this satisfaction; his countenance is showered with the rain of divine love for all to see; and his tongue is also fully enriched by the bloom of divine light. A freshness visible in all his organs resembles the charming verdure observed after rainfall in spring on the branches and leaves of trees, as well as in flowers and fruit. But a person on whom this spirit has not descended and who has not been satiated by this water is like a dead corpse. This verdure, freshness, and bloom, which no pen can describe, cannot be attained by a lifeless heart which has not been vitalized by the spring of the light of certainty; rather, such a heart emits a rotten and foul stench. But as for the one to whom this light is bestowed and in whom this spring gushes forth, one of the signs of such a person is that they are ever desirous of seeking strength from God in their every matter, word and action. This alone is the cause of their pleasure and this alone gives them comfort. They simply cannot survive in any other way. And the term specified in the Word of God to seek strength is known as istighfar (اِسْتِغْفَار).
The true meaning and essence of seeking forgiveness or istighfar is to implore God so that no human weakness becomes manifest and so that God may support human nature with His strength and envelop it within the circle of His protection and succour. The word istighfar is derived from ghafrun (ٌغَفْر), which means to cover up. Hence, this supplication implores from God that He, with His power, may cover up the natural weakness of the person who seeks forgiveness from God. This meaning is then extended to the masses at large in that God may cover up such sins which have already been committed. However, the true and proper meaning is that God protects from human frailty the person who seeks forgiveness and performs istighfar with His own divine power and grants him strength from His own strength, and knowledge from His own knowledge, and light from His own light. For after having created man, God has not left him alone, but as He is man’s Creator and the Maker of all his external and internal faculties, He is also the Sustainer of man. In other words, He safeguards with His unique support everything that He has created. God is All-Sustaining and maintains creation through His own support. It is, therefore, incumbent on man that since he has come into existence by the creating hand of God, he should seek to safeguard the features of his creation from corruption through God’s support. For the divine attribute of creation has bestowed upon man the favour of creating him in God’s image. Hence, God’s support demands that the pure image of man, which God has fashioned with His own two hands be saved from adulteration and ruin. Therefore, through istighfar, man has been taught to seek strength from God’s support. So even if sin had no existence in the world, there would still be istighfar, because the true purpose of istighfar is that the edifice of humanity constructed by God’s attribute of creation does not collapse, but rather stands firm. And it is impossible for something to stand firm without divine support.
Therefore, this is a natural requirement of man for which he has been directed to perform istighfar. It is to this that the Holy Quran refers in the following:
9اَللهُ لَاۤ اِلٰهَ اِلَّا هُوَ اَلْحَيُّ الْقَيُّوْمُ
In other words, it is God alone who is worthy of worship because He alone is the one who grants life and it is by His support alone that man can survive. That is to say, the emergence of man required two things: a Creator and an All-Sustaining Being, so that the former could bring him into existence and the latter would preserve him from corruption. And so it is God who is both the Creator and Sustainer. The attribute of creation was manifested when man was brought into existence, but the divine function of providing sustenance was to work ceaselessly. Hence arose the need for constant istighfar. Every attribute of God bestows a form of grace and istighfar is needed to draw out the grace of God’s support. It is to this that the following verse of Surah Fatihah refers:
10اِيَّاكَ نَعْبُدُ وَ اِيَّاكَ نَسْتَعِيْنُ
This means, you alone do we worship and you alone do we implore so that your support and providence may uphold us and protect us from stumbling lest we fall prey to weakness and are unable to worship you.
It is obvious from this entire discourse that the true meaning of istighfar is not that a sin has occurred, but stems from the desire that no sin should occur. Human nature finding itself weak naturally seeks strength from God, as a child seeks milk from its mother. Therefore, as God has bestowed upon man from the beginning a tongue, eyes, a heart and ears etc., so has He impressed in him, from the beginning, the desire for istighfar and has made him feel that his own being stands in need of God’s assistance. This is indicated in the verse:
11وَ اسْتَغْفِرْ لِذَنْۢبِكَ وَ لِلْمُؤْمِنِيْنَ وَ الْمُؤْمِنٰتِ
This means that the Holy Prophet was directed to supplicate: pray to God that He may safeguard your nature against human weakness and that He may strengthen your disposition with His own strength, so that this weakness does not become manifest. Pray also by way of intercession for those men and women who believe in you so that they may be saved from punishment for faults they commit on account of the weakness of their nature and so that their subsequent course of life may be safeguarded against sin.
This verse comprises the sublime philosophy of protection against sin and intercession. Moreover, this indicates that a person can only achieve the lofty rank of sinlessness and intercession if they pray for the suppression of their own weakness and if they constantly implore God as well for the deliverance of others from the poison of sin; and only if they draw divine strength to themselves by earnestly supplicating God Almighty and then desire that others who are bound to them in faith also benefit from this strength. A sinless person is in need of seeking strength from God because human nature possesses no excellence of its own but at every moment, attains to perfection from God; and possesses no strength of its own but at every moment, receives strength from God; and possesses no perfect light of its own, but at every moment light descends upon it from God. The underlying secret here is that a perfect nature is bestowed an attraction so that it may draw to itself strength from on high, but it is God alone who is the treasure trove of power. It is from this very treasure that the angels too draw strength and so also the perfect man draws the strength of sinlessness and grace from this fountainhead of strength through the channel of devotion and servitude to God. And so, he alone from among men is perfectly sinless who draws divine power to himself through istighfar and occupies himself without fail in passionate and humble prayers so that light continues to descend upon him. Such a heart resembles the house whose doors open to the East and to the West and every other direction, and faces the sun from every aspect so that the sun illuminates it at all times. However, a person who does not seek strength from God is like the cell whose doors are shut on all sides, so that not a ray of light may creep into it.
Now, what is istighfar? If likened to a thing, it is the instrument through which power is obtained. The entire secret of God’s Oneness lies in the principle that the attribute of sinlesness be not regarded as the permanent possession of man, but that God be deemed the sole fountain from which it may be attained. By way of illustration it may be understood that God Almighty resembles the heart which houses a store of pure blood and the istighfar of a perfect man are like the veins and arteries which are connected with the heart and draw pure blood from it, conveying it to the limbs that stand in need.
1 In the name of Allah, the Gracious, the Merciful. [Publisher]
2 We praise Him and invoke blessings on His Noble Messenger (sa). [Publisher]
3 al-Hijr, 15:30
4 This verse reveals a profound secret—a sign of the highest excellence. That is to say, in the beginning man is only human in form but lifeless from within, devoid of spirituality. The angels do not serve him in this state because he is simply a shell—empty of substance. Then gradually a time comes when he who is blessed attains immense nearness to God and the soul comes face to face with the light of the Glorious God and there is no veil left to obstruct this light. It is then that the divine light, which in other words may be referred to as the spirit of God, enters such a person. It is this very special state about which it is said in the Divine Word that God breathed His spirit into Adam. Then, the angels are commanded to fall before him in prostration, i.e. to obey him completely as though they were prostrating before him. But this does not require any effort on their part and nor is this divine command like the orders given to men to follow a religious law. In fact, this command is inherent in the very nature of angels and not something new. This means that the angels themselves naturally feel that they ought to fall in service before such a one who takes on the image of God. Such parables related in the Word of God are not mere tales, rather the divine practice in the Holy Quran is such that there is always some intellectual truth underlying such stories. In this context, the underlying scholarly truth is that God Almighty has sought to expound by way of this parable the hallmark of a perfect man! So God states that the sign of the perfect man is that he must not be deficient in any aspect of his human nature, and his spiritual and physical faculties must be perfect in their human form, and his nature ought to be balanced completely. The second sign is that the divine spirit must have entered him. The third sign is that the angels prostrate before him, i.e. all the angels that are engaged in tasks of the heaven and earth become his servants and act according to his will. The truth is that when God Almighty stands by a person, His entire host of angels supports that individual as well and bow before him. It is then that the angels assist such a person in every field and at every time of difficulty, remaining ever-ready to obey him as if they were prostrating before him without fail, for such a one is the vicegerent of God. But men of earthly understanding cannot comprehend such matters because they are devoid of divine spirit. (Author)
5 an-Nisa, 4:2
6 This is so because the definition of sin, which commends itself to every just and reasonable person, is that an act is a sin when a person becomes worthy of punishment by breaking the command of God. Therefore, when this is the case it is necessary for a divine injunction to exist in the first place to precede the commission of sin. Moreover, this commandment must have been brought to the knowledge of the offender as well. Further still, reason must dictate that the individual guilty of offence has reasonably become liable to punishment as a consequence of his action. For example, if some person lives in a far off land where the divine law has not reached him, and if this person violates one or several commandments of the religious law, he is not a culprit on account of disobeying divine injunctions, for he is oblivious to religious law. However, if this person starts worshiping idols despite possessing reason and understanding, and turns away from the Oneness of God, he shall be guilty even though the religious law may not have reached him. The Oneness of God which the Quran presents is not like the Christian Trinity, which is not etched in the nature of man. In fact, since the very beginning of creation, the Oneness of God has been ingrained in the nature of man. Thus, to be deemed guilty of defying the Oneness of God it is not necessary for religious law to have first reached a person; the presence of human reason is all that is required. On the other hand, if a religious law exists and has also reached a person, but the individual is immature or mad, and commits an act, which according to divine law is known as sin, the person in question will not be worthy of punishment, for they are bereft of human reason and so are innocent despite the presence of religious law. (Author)
7 He drew nearer to God; then he came down to mankind. So that he became, as it were, one chord to two bows or closer still. (an-Najm, 53:9-10)
8 Say, ‘My Prayer and my sacrifice and my life and my death are all for Allah, the Lord of the worlds.’ (al-An’am, 6:163)
9 al-Baqarah, 2:256
10 al-Fatihah, 1:5
11 And ask forgiveness for thy frailties, and for believing men and believing women. (Muhammad, 47:20)