After correcting Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam in the previous ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala is now commanding him to seek forgiveness. He says,
وَاسْتَغْفِرِ اللَّهِ إِنَّ اللَّهَ كَانَ غَفُوراً رَّحِيماً
“And seek forgiveness of Allah. Indeed, Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful.”
The Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam had not given his verdict, he had only intended to do this. Yet, he is being told to repent because the judgment he intended to pass was incorrect.
In ayah 2 of Surah al-Fath, we learn that all shortcomings of the Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam were forgiven by Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. The ayah says, “That Allah may forgive for you what preceded of your sin and what will follow and complete His favor upon and guide you to a straight path.”
Now one would wonder, if all his sins are forgiven then why is the Prophet being asked to repent? Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala’s Wisdom is Divine. He did this in order to set an example for the followers of Prophet Muhammad sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam.
When a Prophet is being asked to repent for something he intended to do, but didn’t do in reality then where do we stand? Day in and day out we keep doing sinful things without feeling any remorse or guilt. We assume Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala will forgive us because we are Muslims, because He loves us and many other similar self-created notions.
In this ayah, Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala doesn’t even spare His Beloved Prophet sallAllahu aalyhi wa sallam from seeking forgiveness because he is a role model for the Ummah. This ayah tells us that the higher your level is, the excellent you have to be.
Moreover, this ayah teaches us that in the position of leadership a person can make many mistakes. He is only human. He cannot be aware of each and everything that’s happening around him. In a day, he meets people from diverse backgrounds; each tells him a different story or incident. If he is to make a decision, he will decide according to what information has reached him or what he has been told. This judgment could be wrong, so later if he finds out that he was misinformed and he decided incorrectly then he must repent.
This instruction is for anyone who is in the position of leadership. It could be an employer, a lawyer, a teacher and even mother. If you are supporting someone and you have found out they are khayneen, then you must repent immediately. You cannot favor one child over another because you love them most. If you are in a position of authority, you have to honest. For Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala doesn’t like people who support others in their evil or oppression.