Everyone sins. The best of those who sin are those who seek forgiveness. Seeking forgiveness is a great virtue. Allah loves those who seek forgiveness. And Allah does not love those who are too arrogant to seek forgiveness or are too heedless to know that they need to seek forgiveness for all their sins. Knowing this, we should hasten to seek forgiveness whenever we fall into sin. Forgiveness demands that we are thinking about Allah on a regular basis, in fact constantly. Otherwise, we will forget and go about our lives as if it doesn’t mean anything. Seeking forgiveness sincerely is the equivalent of wiping the sins off our record of deeds to clean them as though they never ever existed. But the condition is that the person is sincerely seeking forgiveness and not just showing off or something. And obviously, forgiveness only has meaning when sought while the person is still alive. Once the person has passed on, the chance to seek forgiveness is not there anymore.
The essence of forgiveness is remorse for doing or saying something that we are not allowed to do or say and begs Allah sincerely for forgiveness. Additionally, seeking forgiveness requires that the person who has fallen into sin make a determination to not to fall into that sin and takes certain actions to prevent falling into that sin (perhaps moving from that location or changing jobs etc.).
Sins can fall into two categories: sinning against Allah and sinning against fellow human beings (or other creatures). Sinning against Allah includes not obeying His commands (or whatever the Prophet (ﷺ) has commanded us) to do something (for instance, the command to pray five times daily or to fast from sun up to sun down during the month of Ramadan every year etc.). Sinning against Allah also includes doing something that Allah (or His Messenger (ﷺ)) has commanded us not to do (for instance to eat pork or drink alcoholic beverages or to not cover our bodies properly etc.). Sinning against fellow human beings includes everything from lying to people, stealing from people, tricking or cheating people while doing business, hurting people in any way shape or form be it through our words or bodily harm etc.
To seek forgiveness from the first kind of sins, one simply has to feel remorse, ask that Allah forgive him or her and stop falling into it immediately and make amends to ensure not falling into it again. To seek forgiveness from the second kind of sins, one has to additionally seek forgiveness from the people whom they sinned against (returning the stolen property for example). Without this additional action, the forgiveness is incomplete. If for instance, it is not possible to ask the person wronged for forgiveness (because they moved or died) or impossible to return the stolen property because the property is destroyed or no longer in possession of it, then they have to make duaa for the one they have wronged.
Seeking forgiveness is serious business in Islam. If one doesn’t seek forgiveness from Allah or from the people wronged, it is possible that they will need to be recompensed for it in the hereafter. They may end up being punished in the hereafter or Allah may forgive them due to the other good deeds that they performed. Wronging someone is particularly serious because as a result of wronging them, we may end up having to give them our good deeds on the Day of Judgment. So don’t delay, seek forgiveness immediately while we are still breathing. We don’t know how much time we have on Earth so we cannot afford to delay it even for a single day. May Allah give us all the ability to recognize the importance of seeking forgiveness and the ability to seek forgiveness before we die.
And Allah knows best.