The second condition for obtaining forgiveness is to sincerely ask for this forgiveness even if the sins were very grave and were as numerous as the clouds in the sky or as far as the eye can see. In another narration of the same Hadith, there is the wording:
If you committed sins, even if your sins were to fill what is between the sky and earth, and then you were to ask for Allah's forgiveness, He would forgive you.
Seeking this forgiveness is to seek protection from the evil results of one's sins and for them to be concealed. Seeking forgiveness has been mentioned many times in the Quran. Sometimes, seeking forgiveness is commanded as in the statement of Allah:
And ask forgiveness from Allah. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving, Merciful.
[Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:199]
And His statement:
And seek forgiveness of your Lord and repent to Him.
[Surah Hood, 11:3]
At other times, Allah praises those who consistently seek His forgiveness such as:
…and those who seek forgiveness before dawn.
[Surah Aali-'Imraan, 3:17]
And He says:
And those who, if they commit an immoral deed or wrong themselves, they remember Allah and seek forgiveness for their sins. And who can forgive sins other than Allah?
[Surah Aali-'Imraan, 3:135]
Sometimes, it is mentioned that Allah forgives whoever asks His forgiveness.
And whoever commits an evil or wrongs himself but then asks for Allah's forgiveness, he will find Allah Forgiving, Merciful.
[Surah An-Nisaa, 4:110]
Often, seeking forgiveness is mentioned alongside repentance. In that case, seeking forgiveness would mean to actually ask for Allah's forgiveness with one's tongue while repentance would mean to refrain from sinning with the heart and limbs. Other times, seeking forgiveness is mentioned alone (without the mention of repentance) and the obtainment of Allah's forgiveness is mentioned as the result; such is the case with this Hadith (on pg. 3) and others like it.
It is said that whenever seeking forgiveness is mentioned, it is understood to also include repentance. It is also said that all of the texts that only mention seeking forgiveness are general, yet are still tied to the condition mentioned in the verse of Surah Aali-'Imraan in that there should be no insistence and continuation of the sin. In this verse, Allah promises forgiveness to whoever asks for forgiveness of his sin and does not persists upon committing it.
So with this understanding, the texts that are general in the mention of seeking forgiveness and are all understood to be with this condition. So when someone says, "Oh Allah, forgive me," he is requesting this forgiveness and supplicating for it. So the ruling of such is the same as any other supplication – if Allah wills, He may answer and forgive the supplicant, especially when such a supplication originates from a heart that has ceased committing the sins, or if it were made during one of the times or certain response such as before dawn or at the end of the prayers.
A Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah in the two authentic collections ("Sahih Al- Bukhari" & "Sahih Muslim") attests to this in which the Prophet says:
Indeed, there was a servant who committed a sin and said, "My Lord, I have sinned so forgive me." So his Lord replied, "Does My servant know that he has a Lord who forgives sins and takes them to account? I have forgiven My servant." Then, a period of time passed as Allah willed, and he sinned. He said, "My Lord, I have committed another sin so forgive it." He said, "Does My servant know that he has a Lord who forgives sins and takes them to account? I have forgiven My servant." Then, another period of time passed as Allah willed, and he committed another sin. He said, "My Lord, I have sinned again so forgive it." He said, "Does My servant know that he has a Lord who forgives sins and takes them to account? I have forgiven My servant," for the third time (then saying), "So let him do as he pleases."
Meaning: He will be forgiven as long as he continues in this state – whenever he sins, he asks for forgiveness. Apparently, it is understood that his seeking of forgiveness is without insisting on or intending to commit the same sin again. As for asking forgiveness only with the tongue while the heart is still intent on committing the sin again, this is merely a supplication; if Allah wills, He may forgive him, and if not, He may refuse. Perhaps his insistence upon committing the same sin could become the very factor that prevents his supplication from being answered.
In Imaam Ahmad's "Al-Musnad", there is the Hadith of Abdullah Ibn Umar:
Let the insistent sinners beware, those who insist on committing (their sins) while they know.
So the complete way to seek forgiveness, that which assures forgiveness, is done by also refraining from committing the sin again, as Allah has praised such people and promised them forgiveness.12 Undoubtedly, the best way to ask forgiveness of Allah is by not insisting on the sin. In this way, the servant is hopeful of a true, sincere repentance. If he says only by the tongue, "I seek forgiveness from Allah," while his heart has not fully renounced the sin, he is merely calling upon Allah to forgive him and this is still good, for it is hoped he will also be answered.
As for he who repents with a false repentance, this is not real repentance as some people believe.
It is true – certainly repentance is not possible unless one desists in committing the sin. So when one says, "I seek Allah's forgiveness and I repent to Him," then there are two possible scenarios:
The people have differed with regards to the permissibility of one (who continues to insist upon the sin) saying, "I repent to Allah." A group of the Salaf disliked this and they are the companions of Abu Hanifah. This is reported from them by At-Tahaawee.
Ar-Rabee Ibn Khaytham said that his saying, "I repent to Him," in this case is a lie and a sin. Instead, he should say, "Oh Allah, I seek Your forgiveness so forgive me." This is the case with the one who has not totally stopped committing the sin; his heart has not completely renounced it.
Muhammad Ibn Sawqah used to say when asking forgiveness, "I ask forgiveness from Allah, the Magnificent, other than Whom there is no (true) god, the Ever-Living, the Controller of everything, and I ask Him for a sincere repentance."
It is reported that Hudhayfah said, "It is sufficient enough as a lie for one to say, 'I seek Allah's forgiveness,' yet he returns to the same sin."
Mutarraf once heard a man saying, "I seek forgiveness from Allah and I repent to Him." So his heart was irritated and he said, "Perhaps you should not say this."
By this, it may be understood that it is disliked (by some) that one should say, "I repent to Allah." This is because true, sincere repentance is one in which the repentant never returns to commit the sin again. Therefore, if he does commit the same sin again, then at that time his statement, "I repent to You," would in fact be a lie.
Likewise, Muhammad Ibn Ka'b Al-Qurathee was asked about a person vowing to Allah that he would never disobey Him again. To this he replied, "Who would be a worse sinner than he? He swears an oath to Allah that His Decree will never be carried out upon him!?"
Abu Al-Faraj Ibn Al-Jawzee supported his statement in this and it has been reported that Sufyaan Ibn 'Uyaynah said a similar statement.
Despite this, the majority of scholars are of the opinion that it is permissible for the repentant servant to say, "I repent to Allah." And he may also promise Allah to never return to a particular act of disobedience because such a determination and intention is already obligated upon him in the first place (i.e. the intention not to sin). For this determination, Allah said to the one who kept returning to sins, "I have forgiven My servant so let him do as he pleases."
Another supporting evidence of the permissibility of saying this is the Hadith in which there occurs the supplication for one to say when concluding any sitting. In it, the Prophet concluded by saying:
"I seek Your forgiveness and I repent to You."
The best way to ask for forgiveness is to begin by praising his Lord, then commence to confessing the sin, and then ask for Allah's forgiveness. An illustration of this is in the Hadith of Shaddaad Ibn Aws that the Prophet said:
The best way to seek forgiveness is to say, "Oh Allah, You are my Lord. There is no god worthy of worship but You. You created me and I am Your servant. And I am upon Your covenant and promise as much as I am able. I seek refuge with You from the evil of what I have done. I acknowledge before You Your favors upon me. And I confess to You my sin, so forgive me, for certainly no one can forgive sins except You."
Abdullah Ibn Amr narrated that Abu Bakr As-Siddeeq said, "Oh Messenger of Allah, teach me a supplication that I may use in my prayer." He replied:
Say, "Oh Allah, indeed I have wronged myself with much transgression. And no one except You can forgive sins. So forgive me with a forgiveness from Yourself, and have mercy on me for surely You are the Forgiving, the Most Merciful."
And also from the reported ways to ask forgiveness is that a servant says:
"I ask forgiveness from Allah other than Whom there is no god worthy or worship, the Ever- Living, the Controller of everything. And I repent to Him."
Recorded in "Sahih Al-Bukhari" from Abu Hurairah that the Prophet said:
By Allah, I ask Allah's forgiveness and repent to Him during the day more than seventy times.
And in "Sahih Muslim," from Al-Agharr Al-Muzanee that the Prophet said:
Indeed, my heart becomes preoccupied, and indeed I seek Allah's forgiveness a hundred times in a day.
In conclusion, the remedy for sins is to seek forgiveness. And whoever's sins become so numerous and uncountable, then let him ask Allah's forgiveness for what He ( Allah) knows of, for surely Allah knows everything and counts it as He says:
On the day when Allah will resurrect them all and inform them of what they did. Allah had counted it, while they forgot it.
[Surah Al-Mujaadilah, 58:6]