Prayer of Forgiveness: Muhammad, Jesus & Us

A few days ago, a Muslim friend and I were about to share our thoughts on sin and forgiveness in Islam and Christianity, but we were interrupted. Later that evening, he sent me the words of a prayer which he treats as the number 1 best prayer to seek forgiveness (See picture). Since it is recommended by the prophet of Islam, he recites it everyday. The translation is as follows: “O Allah, you are my Lord. There is no god but you. You created me and I am your slave. I am abiding by your covenant and promise (to follow) as best as I can. I seek refuge in you from the evil I have committed. I acknowledge your favor upon me and I confess my sin. So forgive me because no one forgives sins except you.”

This prayer is mentioned several times in the books of traditions with some variations. My Muslim friend asked me if Jesus recommended anything like this or if Jesus prayed for forgiveness for the sins of his followers.

My Muslim friend is aware how the Qur’an mentions God telling Muhammad to ask for the forgiveness of his sins and for the sins of his people (Sura 47:19). Many traditions quote Muhammad as praying: “Please forgive my past and future sins and those sins which I did in secret or in public. It is You whom I worship, none has the right to be worshipped except You.” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 590; also Number 534)

Elsewhere he entreated, “O Allah! Forgive me my sins that I did in the past or will do in the future, and also the sins I did in secret or in public. You are my only God (Whom I worship) and there is no other God for me.” (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 9, Book 93, Number 482).

Here is another one where we see the anxiety and burden Muhammad carried: “O Allah! Wash away my sins with the water of snow and hail, and cleanse my heart from all the sins as a white garment is cleansed from the filth, and let there be a long distance between me and my sins, as You made East and West far from each other.”(Sahih Bukhari, Volume 8, Book 75, Number 379)

It is possible that Muhammad heard someone recite the following prayer King David had prayed around 1600 years before: 

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge…

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
Wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” (Psalm 51:1-4, 7)

Following Muhammad’s example, Muslims pray for forgiveness. However, there is a big difference between believers in Jesus asking for forgiveness and Muslims asking for forgiveness. According to the Scriptures, Christians present all supplications through the name of Jesus Christ (John 14:13-14).

Let me explain. When David cried to God, he received his answer through Messianic hope, that one day the Messiah would be his intercessor. Thus, he sang boldly, “as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us”(Psalm 103:12).

Now one may ask, “Why Jesus?”

Jesus was never commanded to pray for forgiveness because he was faultless. We never find him praying for forgiveness of any faults, wrongs and sins such as the Qur’an attributes in the verses quoted to other prophets.

Jesus did not commit any sin. From the time of His birth, He remained innocent and pure. In the Bible and in the Qur'an, several prophets like Abraham, Moses and David asked God for forgiveness, but there is no verse that says Jesus ever asked for forgiveness. He challenged His enemies openly: "Can any of you prove me guilty of sin?" (John 8:46)

No one was able to point out any fault in Him. Even at His trial before the Roman governor, Pilate was compelled to admit, "I find no basis for a charge against Him" (John 18:38; 19:4,6).

Now, it is very easy to claim that one is sinless, but the proof must surely come from one’s life and the testimony of others. Jesus' friends who lived with Him have the greatest testimony of all. Peter quotes a verse from the Old Testament with reference to Jesus: "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in His mouth." (I Peter 2:22; Isaiah 53:9). The Scriptures testifies that although Jesus was "tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin" (Hebrews 4:15).

Judaism, Christianity and Islam all agree that only God can forgive sins. However, due to his special place with God as the Word of God and being divine, Jesus has the same authority to forgive sins, according to the Bible.

Jesus himself proves the point. For example:

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick.

Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.

“When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” The Pharisees and the teachers of the law began thinking to themselves, “Who is this fellow who speaks blasphemy? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

Jesus knew what they were thinking and asked, “Why are you thinking these things in your hearts?  Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?  But I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.”

So he said to the paralyzed man, “I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.”  Immediately he stood up in front of them, took what he had been lying on and went home praising God.  Everyone was amazed and gave praise to God. They were filled with awe and said, “We have seen remarkable things today.” (Luke 5:17-26)

Another time Jesus said to a woman, "Your sins are forgiven ... Go in peace" after she had expressed sorrow for her sins by anointing His feet with perfume and her tears. (See Luke 7:36-50.)

Not only had He the authority to forgive sin, Jesus also had control over the normal workings of nature as well. People were amazed at His power and exclaimed, "Even the winds and the waves obey Him!" (See Matthew 8:23-27.)

God forgives us of our sins through Jesus Christ. As John the Baptist (known as Yahya in Islam) testifies, "The next day he saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, ‘Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’ " (John 1:29). The Scriptures also states that when we stumble and fall, we have an Advocate with the Father: Jesus Christ the Righteous One (1 John 2:1).

John 3:17-18 says: "For God did not send the Son into the world that He might condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. Anyone who believes in Him is not condemned; but anyone who does not believe has been condemned already because he has not believed in the name of the One and only Son of God." 

In the light of the Scriptures, not everyone will be saved. Scripture bears testimony that forgiveness of sins is available through Jesus Christ. Salvation comes only to those who repent of their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord. The best choice is to embrace Jesus and ask for forgiveness in His name.